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Morning Ride with a Side of Road Rage

by nicole on 2011/12/21

Saturday I had the scare of my life. A driver decided she did not like me cycling on the road and decided to act out at me from behind the wheel of her car. Yes, a grown woman decided it was appropriate to use a 2000 pound car to threaten another person on a bicycle. And no, I really have no idea why.

The law in DC is clear- “A person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance, but in no case less than 3 feet, when overtaking and passing a bicycle.” Additionally cyclists should “Ride with the flow of traffic on the right half of the roadway.” (They are allowed on the left when it is a one way road.)

Saturday I was running errands by bike as is my habit these days. I had just left Adams Morgan and was heading to Tenley Town via Connecticut Avenue when I was passed closer than I had ever been passed before by someone driving an orange Honda Element. There were mere inches between me and the vehicle when I was passed. The light had turned red just before this happened so I was next to the driver in a matter of seconds. “Three feet to pass, please!” I said loudly at her passenger side window, hoping she would hear me. She barely seemed to register that I was there. I moved up toward the top of the crosswalk since there were no pedestrians and I like to make sure I am visible to cars in traffic. Somehow the blinking rear red light, bright red jacket with reflective trim, and various bags I ride with does not always seem to alert them to my presence.

The light turned red and I started off, my focus split between the hill that is Connecticut Avenue in front of me (I really do not enjoy hills.) and listening for the approach of the too close driver again. The road is three lanes heading north, with two travel lanes and a parking lane. I was in the right half of the right travel lane putting me at a safe distance from getting doored by a parked car and completely in compliance with the law. Just as I started to wonder when I was going to be passed again by the driver in the orange Element, I heard a noise that made my heart leap. “HHHHHOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!” There was a really loud horn right behind me. I really dislike when frustrated drivers cannot control their impulse to use their horns in such close proximity to bicyclists and I have yelled at more then one for it. Then it happened again. “HHHHHOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!! HONK! HONK! HONK!” WTF? And I glanced around my left shoulder to see the driver of the orange Element directly behind me, less than a foot off my rear tire and refusing to go around. I decided to ignore her and deal with the hill. “HHHHHOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!! HONK! HONK! HONK!” Oh, no she did not! I stopped my bike, turned around and yelled “I have every legal right to be where I am in the road!” There may have been a F-bomb in there. Frankly, I would have been surprised if I did not use at least one. As I turned to start pedaling again I noticed a group of people on the opposite sidewalk staring. I started up the hill again, hoping she would finally just give up and go around. Unfortunately she did, even closer than the first pass prior to the traffic light. I do not know if she clipped me but I did lose my balance and luckily remained upright. I started reciting her license plate number over and over out loud “DL2472DL2472DL2472DL2472DL2472DL2472DL2472DL2472DL2472DL2472.” I tried to recall her features as I stopped, shaking, and pulled my phone out of my pannier to call 911. By the time the operator came on the line I was sobbing hysterically and still shaking. It took her a little while to get me calm enough to get the information she needed. I was told an officer would get there when they could.

It was cold out. I was dressed for moving and not standing in the open on a sidewalk but I was determined to file a report on this woman. I finished the last bit of coffee I had left and moved to a location on the sidewalk where I hoped it would be easier for the police to see me. I started to calm down and make a plan for how I was going to finish the rest of the day out on my bike. I had a lunch to get to in Bethesda at a specific time, but the rest of my day was flexible. Planning, and tweeting about what had just happened, began to calm me. AND THEN SHE DROVE BY AGAIN! In the opposite direction! The police were not in site yet so I called 911 again in a new panic and watched as she headed south and turned onto Calvert into Adams Morgan where I had come from prior to this happening.

An officer pulled up minutes after my second call to 911 and before I had a chance to calm down again. At first he seemed a little skeptical at my insistence that there needed to be a report. “What, exactly, do you think this should be written up as?” he asked me at one point. “She threatened me with a deadly weapon!”

I do not know if he was convinced at the beginning or if he felt doing some paper work was easier than dealing with the crazy lady, but he started to take down my information. The amount of detail I had seemed to help (description of the vehicle, license plate, some description of the driver) and I kept to the facts when he answered questions. At one point when he was writing, a person rode by with a child in a child seat on the back of their bike. We both saw them and I asked “What if she had been behind them and not me?”

Any initial reluctance or skepticism I felt the officer had displayed when he first arrived seemed to be gone at the end of our conversation, especially when I thanked him for taking the time to take this seriously and to make a report (the report was filed as “Threats” and contained her car information and a brief description of her). He told me he used to bike, a lot, but had given up over 30 years ago because of the way people drove. He was glad to see that more people were biking and the city was being more supportive in the way of infrastructure. I told him we needed the police too because those of us that are out there deal with crazy stuff from drivers every day and while you can brush most of it off, people like the woman that got behind me cannot be allowed to behave that way and have her actions go unchecked. He wrote all the information down for me regarding the report and his details and we wished each other a Merry Christmas and told one another to be safe out there.

One thing he did tell me before going, and that I hear from my SO a lot, is that while I was right about the 3 foot passing law I may not want to point that out to people. As crazy as that woman was, there are crazier people out there. Nearly every daily DC cyclist has a similar story. Evan Wilder films his rides and caught an example of just how insane people can be behind the wheel here. Another cyclist in my neighborhood, MG, who puts thousands of miles in on her bike on an annual basis had an equally scary experience recently. Another local cyclist was recently hit, is still recovering, and did not have nearly the good experience I did with the police. In probably what has become one of the best known incidents of driver on cyclist harassment in DC (at least in biking circles), a driver went after a female cyclist, who just happened to be an off-duty police officer and a bike cop no less, while she was on a bike. She gave a statement in court this morning and at last report this guy is scheduled to be sentenced on the 9th. I have mixed feelings about allowing this kind of behavior to pass without comment. I really do not want to be injured, or worse, riding my bike. However, if we let people act this way and they think they can get away with it they are just going to keep behaving inappropriately and the severity of these incidents will escalate.

I have to deal with stupid shit every day because people get behind the wheel of a car and decide they are the most important person out there and the laws do not apply to them when it is inconvenient or because they are in a hurry or because they are tired of traffic or for whatever excuse they make to themselves to justify their behavior. People make illegal u-turns across bike lanes without looking constantly in DC and are always ignoring the no turn signs and other traffic control signals near them (hint- if the traffic light displays a green bicycle but not a green light, you cannot go as the driver of a car and the same with a red arrow when you are making a turn). I have had people make turns on red without coming to a full stop and right into my right of way, even following me for blocks flipping me off in front of their child because I dared to say something about it. I have had people nearly hit me and never know it because they are too busy yapping away on their cell phones (cell phone use without a hands free device is also illegal in DC). Every day I deal with pedestrians that have little regard for the cross walk signs. They look at me and actually make eye contact as they step off the curb in front of me, forcing me to make a dangerous swerve to avoid crashing into them. The day after this incident, three teenagers walked right into my path when they had a “Don’t Walk” then cursed at me and tried to kick me because I told them to watch what they were doing as I swerved out of the bike lane and into traffic to avoid them. I am sure if any driver sees this post they will attempt to make me regret even posting anything condemning any driver, even one that threatened me with a vehicle, because as far as a majority of drivers are concerned everyone on a bicycle constantly breaks the law and cyclists do not act the way drivers do (they believe they are law abiding but a majority are not). The internet is strewn with vile comments made at people who have the audacity to get on a bike by people “forced” to sit in traffic all day and who feel constantly inconvenienced by it. You know what? I own a car and I drive it too and it would NEVER occur to me to behave this way toward anyone else on the road. I think, if anything, my time on a bike has made me a calmer and more courteous driver because I know there is always going to be more traffic and even if I get that jump on the other car, bike, or pedestrian right now there is just going to be another one down the line. Those few seconds here and there add up to a minute or two at most, which are not worth risking anyone’s safety for. When I am driving, it is not the bikes and pedestrians slowing me down it is everyone else in their cars.

I have nieces that are nearly 4 and nearly 5 years old. Over the past few months I have taught them to love bicycling through the use of a trail-a-bike. I love seeing their faces light up when I tell them that yes, I brought my bicycle with me for a visit and of course we can go for bike rides. They are getting their first bikes for Christmas and I cannot wait to see their faces. The older of the two, however, is deathly afraid of cars and even the suggestion that anyone would ride out on the main road is enough to cast a shadow on her face. She told me that if we rode near cars they would hit us and we would die. Couple that with a statistic that I heard when I attended WABA’s Women’s Bicycling Forum- the number of female bicyclists starts to drop in equal numbers from their male counterparts as early as age 8- and I am worried that there will come a point when my nieces do not see bicycling as something safe and fun that they can do any time, any where, and it will be relegated to a trail activity dependent upon someone driving them and their bikes to another location for riding. It certainly does not help that they live near the most dangerous stretch of road for bicyclists in their state. Honestly, I have yet to tackle it as an adult for the ~4.5 miles I would need to be on it from my father’s house to my sister’s house. (I used to sometimes ride it as a kid, but there was a lot less traffic 25 or so years ago.) Throw in the idea that you could be arrested for riding your bike to school and it is a wonder children’s bicycles have not been pulled from the market due to a class action law suit regarding safety.

As scared as I was on Saturday, I will not be giving up my bike any time soon. I will also not ride it less. I may consider who I make loud comments to a little more carefully but at my age it may be a bit of a hard habit to break. And because I love my nieces and it makes me happy to see how much they like their bikes now I am not only going to ride with them every chance I get, I will be filing a police report on any driver that threatens threatens me like I was threatened on Saturday to make the roads as safe as I can.

Lisa December 21, 2011 at 15:10

I am really sorry to hear that this happened to you, but glad to hear that you weren’t hurt, and that you had the presence of mind to report it to the police.

nicole December 21, 2011 at 17:59

Thanks Lisa!

Kevin December 21, 2011 at 16:21

So sorry you had to experience this. My first car incident I was afraid some sort of PTSD would keep me off the bike, but it didn’t. Biking brings me too much joy.

A note to scofflaw cyclists: your reckless riding effects us all. Please don’t feed the fire of these aggressive motorists.

nicole December 21, 2011 at 17:59

Thank you! I am sorry that you had to go through a bad experience as well. I hope I never have to find out what would kill my joy for bike riding.

IMGoph December 21, 2011 at 17:20

Nicole: I had a similar incident on Florida Avenue in front of Gallaudet University. The police were very helpful, and even brought me into the station to see a line-up of people. They wanted to bust the driver who tried to run me off the road, but I couldn’t make a positive identification.

Keep on cycling! In the end, the good guys win. You’re one of the good guys!

nicole December 21, 2011 at 17:58

I am glad to hear that you had a great experience with the police too, even if it was for a horrible reason. That is definitely encouraging. Stay safe out there!

Malnurtured Snay December 21, 2011 at 17:39

I love living in this city, and I’m a huge fan of walking around, and grabbing the bus, but I just can’t get over my fear of biking. I even have a Bikeshare membership that I rarely use. I hope this woman is held accountable for this.

nicole December 21, 2011 at 17:57

I used to worry about biking too and did a lot more busing and walking. WABA has a great series of classes and there are great group rides all over the city. It did take me a little while to become comfortable. It can be hard to figure out what works for you, but I encourage you to give it a try if you have even a passing interest because it is wonderful! Now I feel more comfortable riding in the city than around the suburbs where I grew up.

Mark @ GRAVELBIKE December 21, 2011 at 19:56

You are to be commended on your bravery. You definitely did the right thing. Stay strong.

nicole December 22, 2011 at 00:35

Thank you.

Dave December 22, 2011 at 00:16

Look up “chip on shoulder”. If you are riding so far out into the road that it would be impossible to get doored, and wouldn’t move over briefly to let this woman by (regardless of whether you were legally correct), you shouldn’t be too surprised when this sort of thing happens. Odd that you would take such chances with your life on the line.

nicole December 22, 2011 at 00:36

She had another lane entirely to use. And even if she did not, that does not giver her the right to bully or harass anyone.

IMGoph December 22, 2011 at 11:11

Amen, Nicole. You were wholly within your rights and within the law. If that means you have a chip on your shoulder, then flaunt the chip. The “me first” attitude belongs to the driver here, not you.

You're silly December 26, 2011 at 13:36

So you’re willing to get hit by a car to prove a point? What an odd mentality. Sounds like you were doing more than your fare share to contribute to this encounter.

nicole December 26, 2011 at 17:04

Sounds like I was just riding my bike when some crazy driver with an ax to grind targeted me for no good reason, actually. Defended yourself when confronted by harassing behavior is not “contributing.”

IMGoph December 27, 2011 at 13:00

Nicole: By this person’s logic, the fact that this person was driving a car at all also “contributed” to the confrontation. I don’t think this is a debate you can win, because the rules are already set to ensure that no one has the right to use the road (at least according to You’re silly‘s point-of-view.

You Missed The Point January 4, 2012 at 13:19

I agree with “You’re Silly” When dealing with a crazy driver, you need to take PRECAUTIONS, not flaunt your rights. So yes, you can be “in the right” and “defend yourself” and risk ESCALATING the confrontation. Or you can move over, stop if necessary, but DEFUSE the situation.

The next time this happens, and you are actually hit by the car, you can win in court but you will ultimately lose because you will be in the hospital (or worse). If you want to go toe-to-toe with a crazy driver, you are definitely contributing to the encounter.

Suse December 22, 2011 at 08:19

Nicole, you are absolutely right in word and deed. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

nicole December 22, 2011 at 12:20

Thanks Suse, I am trying not to :-)

sprite December 22, 2011 at 12:08

I live with one of those 5,000-mile-a-year cyclists and it is one of my deepest fears that someday some nut is going to severely injure him with a car — or worse. He’s had some scrapes before. He’s called the cops a number of times (particularly in D.C.) on drivers who are distracted or aggressive and on one who was bat-shit crazy and pursued him and some friends.

I know that living with him, though, has made me a better driver when it comes to sharing the road. Once upon a time, I would have given cyclists a wide berth, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to look over my shoulder to make sure one isn’t pedaling past me as I turn right or parallel park. Now it’s second nature to be mindful in those ways.

There are bad cyclists and there are bad drivers. Bad cyclists do the rest of us a disservice because they antagonize drivers, making those drivers more likely to take out their frustrations on other, law-abiding cyclists. But bad drivers endanger everyone because, as you point out, they’ve got a deadly weapon at their disposal to use intentionally or negligently.

Good luck! I hope they track down the driver who harassed you!

nicole December 22, 2011 at 12:21

Thanks for sharing that Sprite. My wish for the New Year is that every driver, cyclist, and pedestrian out there just takes a few seconds to consider other road users and maybe we will all have a little less of this to deal with.

Jameel Alsalam December 22, 2011 at 18:38

Nicole,

Thanks for sharing your story. I am glad that the police officer took your situation seriously and took down the information you provided. I would be very interested in hearing if you find out if there is any further follow-up by the police in this situation. I am not sure what route they might take, but I hate to think there is the possibility that they might have taken down the information just to satisfy you.

I ask because I participate in monthly community meetings about bicycling in DC that include an MPD representative, and thus the chance to follow up on unresolved issues with them. Thank you for taking the time to file the report with the police, and be safe out there,

Jameel

nicole December 22, 2011 at 18:48

Hi Jameel! Thank you for getting in touch. I cannot imagine it is a high priority for them to track the driver down. However, I was more concerned with having a record and getting the information out to the community in the event anyone has another encounter with her. I will use the email address you left with your comment and send you the police report information as well as anything I can find out about follow up.

Nicole

Lavon December 22, 2011 at 23:18

Jameel has it exactly correct. The officer was just appeasing you. Obviously the woman lives in the area. Had the officer been the least bit interested, he runs the tag and pays her a visit. If he had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, he would make the arrest. He clearly thought it much ado over nothing, as evidenced by his first comment to you. He was probably counting the minutes until he had done enough to keep you from complaining about him and could get back on patrol.

You're silly December 30, 2011 at 02:33

“If he had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, he would make the arrest.” What evidence was given to him that would support an arrest? LOL – you watch way too much TV. What the cop thought was that someone called an emergency number to report a non-emergency about which he had no authority to do anything about.

Exactly Right January 4, 2012 at 13:22

Check the DCMR’s and you will see that the police have a mandatory arrest policy when there is probable cause to believe an assault has been committed. A report from the victim is enough to establish probable cause. Take a trip down to Superior Court arraignments and see all the husbands who are in lockup because the wife said she was pushed or threatened verbally for that matter. The cop definitely thought this was silly and just listened politely until he could leave.

Rootchopper December 22, 2011 at 22:21

Add me to the list of folks who are sorry that you had to endure this. Thank you for taking the time to report the incident to police.

As a bike commuter, I count my lucky stars that my ride to work is mostly on the Mount Vernon Trail. That doesn’t make me immune to dangerous drivers, however. Saturday, while riding on Fort Hunt Road near my home in Mount Vernon, a car came dangerously close to me as it was passing. It was going 30 miles per hour (below the speed limit). I shook my head and watched as the driver, an elderly man with a death grip on the steering wheel, swerved across the white line on the side of the road about 200 yards ahead of me. He wasn’t aggressive or mean, it was just unable to control the car. He has no business being behind the wheel.

Last spring, my wife was run over by an inattentive driver. She spent 2 months in bed. She is still in pain and moves around like an arthritic old woman.

Please try not to let your emotions take over in these situations in the future. The driver of the Element was one flick of her ankle from killing you. It’s a sickening thought, I know, but worth keeping in mind.

nicole December 22, 2011 at 22:39

It does get scary out there. Thank you for your thoughts. I hope your wife is able to find some comfort from her pain. Stay safe out there.

You're silly December 26, 2011 at 13:33

What do you want the police to do? It’s your word against hers, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle (sounds like you were both looking for a confrontation). Don’t waste police resources by calling 911 (twice) just so you can complain about some mean driver whose only crime was a minor traffic infraction that you can’t prove (“I might have been clipped” – please, if you had been clipped, you would have known it). I’m a cyclist, and this ultra-militant, we-own-the-road bent the cycling community has taken is making things worse, not better. Advocate for dedicated lanes, not laws that only serve to create inevitable confrontation. You live in a city, and you ride your bike on the street. If you aren’t comfortable with either of those realities, you should alter them.

nicole December 26, 2011 at 17:00

I am perfectly comfortable living in the city and riding my bike in the street. I am not perfectly comfortable with people threatening me just because I do. I will continue to call the police on any driver that pass me that closely multiple times and harasses me just as I would if I was walking down the street and someone threatened me as well (which happens evey day yet people don’t bat an eye when people call 911 in those situations). I wasn’t out looking for confrontation, unless that is what you call having the audacity to use a bike to run errands in the city.

You're silly December 30, 2011 at 02:21

“Three feet to pass, please!” I said loudly at her passenger side window, hoping she would hear me. She barely seemed to register that I was there.

- I think you don’t know what “loudly” means (it doesn’t mean “yell,” which is what I bet you really did).

“I moved up toward the top of the crosswalk since there were no pedestrians and I like to make sure I am visible to cars in traffic.”

- I’m sure you were just trying to remain “visible.”

“The road is three lanes heading north, with two travel lanes and a parking lane. I was in the right half of the right travel lane putting me at a safe distance from getting doored by a parked car and completely in compliance with the law.”

- Again, I’m sure you decided to take the lane in front of a driver you just yelled at because you were concerned about getting “doored.”

“I stopped my bike, turned around and yelled “I have every legal right to be where I am in the road!” There may have been a F-bomb in there. Frankly, I would have been surprised if I did not use at least one.”

- Yeah, sounds like you weren’t looking for a confrontation at all.

Sounds like the driver was initially inattentive, you yelled at her, then did everything you could to escalate a confrontation that could have been avoided if you had just pulled over, counted to ten, and watch her drive away. Instead, you got passive-aggressive, wasted limited police resources with a futile effort, then ran to your blog to express some hard-earned righteous indignation. Again, learn how to ride in the city, or don’t ride in the city.

nicole December 30, 2011 at 11:24

You continue to miss the point and I am not in a patient mood this morning so bu-bye. Thanks for stopping by.

Exactly Right January 4, 2012 at 13:24

Apparently I am missing the point also. Is this one of those blogs where if you don’t agree you get slammed?

nicole January 4, 2012 at 13:30

No, but I am not going to continually argue with someone that deliberately ignores the information provided and thinks that inattentive drivers continually deserve a pass. If they want to do that, I am done with posting the comments. There are plenty of other places that will or they can start their own blog. Easy enough.

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