Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Road Cavemen!

My daughter was quite upset when she got home from work yesterday.

Turns out she had an unpleasant encounter with a motorist.

Her route requires her to cross Orchard Street at a non-signaled intersection. (For those not familiar, Orchard is a connector-type street, 2 lanes in each direction, and gets very busy during rush hour.)

It's always somewhat of a challenge, but it was particularly busy yesterday, for whatever reason.

As she sat there (on bicycle, of course) waiting for an opening to cross, a guy in a pickup truck pulled up behind her.

He began by revving his engine. (In this day and age of $4 gas, that is a definite clue that the gas-pedal operator may be a bit... shall we say... "challenged." What's the point?)

As she continued to watch anxiously for an opening in the traffic, Pickup Boy started honking. Then he rolled his window down and started shouting at her, when he thought she had adequate space to proceed.

The shouting quickly devolved. Soon he was shouting expletives at her. I suspect that if it had been another 30 seconds, he might have resorted to chest-pounding and angry Neanderthal gibberish.

Eventually she saw an opening, and proceeded. Pickup Boy probably accelerated on home and kicked his dog, or beat his woman.


(Actually this is merely rhetorical. I doubt he has the capacity to read. But maybe somebody else will read it, scratching head thoughtfully.)

1) Don't gun that engine, dude! It has absolutely NO constructive purpose, and wastes expensive fuel!

(If I'm wrong - if that somehow helps, clue me in! Biker dudes like to do that, too... twist the throttle, snort, snort, snort! Since I ride a motorsickle from time to time, let me know if that's something I should be doing, because I've never really understood it.)

2) In fact, if it looks like it might be awhile - like more than 15 seconds - you might as well just shut that motor down. Be a hypermiler! Serenity now!!

3) Casual road cyclists - like my daughter - perceive rude and impatient and generally-bad motorists to be one of the primary deterrents to bicycle riding. (Maybe in your eyes that's a good thing. But if so, you're wrong.)

4) A bicycle rider has as much right to that pavement as you do. That rider also has to determine when it is safe to proceed into traffic. You make the call for you. The cyclist makes the call for her/himself. So CHILL, huh?


1) It's sad but true. Among all motorists, you have to figure that exactly half will be worse than average. And a few - maybe 5 percent - are going to be idiots. (There's no IQ test to get a driver's license. Some orangutans are smarter than some motorists.) I'd make a case that among pickup drivers, the percentage runs a little higher than among the motoring population in general. Most people will be patient and understanding, and give you the space you need to operate. So try to overlook those that don't. (Your encounter with them is over in seconds... they have to live with themselves 24 hours a day!)

2) You DO have as much right - by law - to the road as any motorist. So refuse to be intimidated.

3) Personal practice: I totally ignore that gunning-motor thing. If somebody has the audacity to holler at me, I try to react by smiling broadly, waving joyously, and saying in my pseudo-foreigner voice, "I'm fine! How are you?" It'll usually take a little wind out of their sails. (And reassures them that you know they are there, at least.)

(NOTE: It's rare that I get honked at, or hollered at. I'd say it happens 2 or 3 times a year, average. I suspect that this guy would've waited patiently for me, even if he honks and hollers at a woman. It's a "coward" thing, really.)

4) If it persists, or becomes truly harassing or threatening, I encourage you to get a good look at the driver in question, make note of the vehicle type and license plate number, and call the police. It is against the law to threaten other people on the road. It's called "road rage" - maybe you've heard of it. And the police will generally take your complaint seriously and have a heart-to-heart talk with the perpetrator.

Finally, in the words of one of the Elder Statesman of Road Neanderthals, Rodney King... "Can't we all just get along?"


Anonymous said...

What a nuisance. I cross Orchard myself, twice daily, and it's often a bear to find a suitable opening.

I'd love to see your daughter get a concealed weapon license, and pull out a nice big pistol and point it at the next truck-idiot that pulls such a stunt.

Okay, not really -- but it's a funny thought! Gun-totin' cyclists, unite!

Anonymous said...

When I pull up to a signaled intersection and know there's a car behind me, I generally look back for evidence of a turn signal. If they want to turn right, I'll pull to the left side of the lane so they can slide up and make the right on red. Many motorists seem surprised at this move (or that a biker is paying any courtesies to cars at all), and all are grateful. This surely wasn't the situation you described -- I'm picturing her at Cassia & Orchard, a disaster of an intersection for bikes and motorists alike. I'm sure the Neanderthal's karma already works against him in hideous ways.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of bad intersections, does anyone have any advice on how to deal with Federal Way and Gowen? Heading away from the big chip plant on FW with the intent to take a left onto Gowen leaves a couple options; All bad.

1: Cross Gowen at the light, wait for the next light and cross FW. This places you between the FW merge lane and 2 traffic lanes, which immediately places you between 2 freeway onramp lanes, one of which you must cross to get into Gowen's traffic lane. Then scramble to get under the shoulderless bridge without getting run over.

2: Get in the far left turn lane on FW and take a left onto Gowen. Then ride in the Gowen turn lane past the onramp, cross Gowen, and then scramble to get under the shoulderless bridge without getting run over.

I feel much safer doing (2), but I'm not sure of the legality of this approach. Going westbound under the overpass always sucks, but I can take the lane for a couple hundred yards fairly confident that I won't be run over. Adrenaline makes you pedal faster.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I wish that I could help but I'm not familiar with that part of Boise. The way you described the intersection it sounds quite challenging. Glad that I don't have to deal with anything like it on my commute.

Bikeboy, I'm sorry to hear that your daughter had to go through that unpleasant experience.

db said...

Scott, often-times the way to deal with a bad intersection is to find a way to avoid it. But given nature of that area (more open, fewer roads), I'm not sure that is applicable.

Like Bob, I'm not really familiar with that area, but I would explore the possibility of using another route, even if it adds a few miles to your trip. Bikeboy might be able to help you build a better route.

Bikeboy said...

Scott... I'm familiar with Federal Way / Gowen, but usually not traveling in the direction you describe, nor during rush hour. (I like to ride away from town on Gowen, then ride back in on Federal Way. And my rides out there are usually evenings and weekends.)

I'd probably lean toward your #2 approach. Ya know, the vast majority of motorists are sympathetic to cyclists - I feel that in my heart. They're willing to cut you some slack. And even the self-centered motorists who figure their schedule is the world's #1 priority will NOT run you down as long as they see you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks all. I'll stick with what I've been doing (#2) until told otherwise by The Man.

I agree that most motorists are cooperative, and I've never had a problem in that spot with aggressive drivers (Too many witnesses?). I'm more concerned with distracted drivers trying to negotiate that intersection/on-ramp and not seeing me than with hostility. Even going under the overpass, if drivers see you making an effort to cooperate with them (Yielding when appropriate and scrambling to get past the bridge when you impede traffic), they usually cut you some slack.