Just as we were rounding a corner in east Federal Way the other day, cycling partner Tony and I were suddenly cut off by a light blue SUV, which deliberately swerved into our clearly marked bike lane, narrowly missing us as we braked hard to avoid slamming into this vengeful motorist.
While I’ve been harassed by passing motorists plenty of times, most often on the rural back roads of Western Washington, never through decades of cycling have I witnessed such flagrant and aggressive behavior. Neither of us could believe it. I asked Tony, pedaling close behind, if he had done anything to possibly antagonize this driver, like drift left into the road. He assured me he had not, leaving us to conclude that this idiot was just, in his or her own way, trying to send us a strong message in the form of a near physical assault by some 2½ tons of metal on a couple of 22-pound bikes and their unprotected riders.
It was a message I only partially received. Had I been hit or forced down and a bloody mess on the pavement, I would still be struggling with trying to understand and validate such an assault.
I get that there are folks out there who passionately feel roads are for cars only. After all, they pay their taxes for road construction and maintenance while cyclists pedal for free, right? Cyclists have their own designated trails to ride on and should just stay on those, right? Another cyclist hogged the middle of the lane right in front of me last week, so this one should pay for that one’s bad behavior, right? Wrong on all counts, but even if true, would that justify what I regard as attempted murder? It is correct that in motorist vs. bicycle collisions, the cyclist most always loses, and often badly.
Unfortunately, these types of incidents are far too common. I hit a nerve with my fellow cycling enthusiasts after relating the incident both on a local cycling club’s Facebook site and on my personal feed. Many had their own tales of hits, near misses and falls due to similarly deliberate actions. A few pedestrian victims also chimed in. Some even argued that it is time for cyclists to ride with both front and rear cameras.
“The blatant ones are so maddening,” said one. “I think they are jealous because they are in their cars stuck in traffic hating life, and we are enjoying ourselves on our bikes.”
“There’s so much hate in this country, and cyclists are so vulnerable,” offered another. A woman I once worked with shared that after being struck three times over the years, including one terrible incident that cracked her hip and broke her cycling mate’s femur, she finally resigned herself to riding exclusively on mountain and road bike trails.
Still others offered their encouragement, urging me that by giving up I would be letting these traffic terrorists win.
“Please keep riding, and don’t let this one (driver) take away your joy!” one wrote.
I am inclined to do just that, despite the scary and incomprehensible behavior of a few like the cretin we encountered. I am also pleased to say that most motorists seem willing to share the road, giving cyclists plenty of room while passing just as the law requires.
I also implore my fellow cyclists to ride responsibly. As a cyclist and motorist, I shake my head when I see cyclists riding two or three abreast along a busy arterial oblivious to approaching traffic, or simply not staying as far to the right while riding as safety allows. And what is there to say about drivers who think responding to their latest text message or social media post is far more important than paying attention to the road before them? Just turn off your phone, please. We have lost far too many cyclists to distracted driving. (Cyclists on bike paths also need to give pedestrians fair warning of their passing.)
This is not an issue that is going away, especially with the current surge in popularity of cycling as a choice for transportation and recreation. Despite education campaigns by both public transportation officials and cycling advocacy groups, my scare (and ones like it) tell that we still have many miles to ride before we reach the level of common and mutual respect between cyclists and motorists. Untold improvements in public infrastructure need to be made to safely accommodate both as well.
To the driver of the blue SUV, please just put aside your rage as you pass other cyclists and pedestrians. Threatening — or possibly killing — us is not the answer.