It hadn’t happened in a while, so it came as a bit of a surprise, though it shouldn’t have. I was riding my bike down the four-lane, shoulder-free Elmwood Avenue in Brighton, New York, when a man in a black SUV drove by me, just slow enough to shout “Get on the sidewalk!” Immediately after he sped away, likely 15mph over the speed limit before rolling through a right on red at about 20mph at the next stoplight.
Let’s review. First off, as everyone should know by now, bikes are meant to be ridden in the road with traffic… which is what I was doing. Second, this was a 4-lane road in a suburb on a Sunday, so there were literally no other cars in sight. All this driver had to do was switch lanes and go around. Instead, he made the choice to stay in the right lane, pass with very little room and tell me to illegally bike on the sidewalk as he drove by. After that, he hit the gas, showing his anger and “manliness” which I thought was kind of amusing from the driver of a Nissan Rogue. Misplaced overcompensation much? 😉
After driving away while exceeding the speed limit, like I said, the man rolled through a right on red without stopping… on the contrary, he barely slowed down.
The irony? This man needed to make a simple lane change to move around me without losing any speed as I pedaled legally in the road. Then he told me to break the law and ride on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, he went ahead and broke two more laws (speeding, not stopping for a right on red) in the seconds after he passed.
Folks, ask any cyclist and they will tell you the same thing. This is every single day. Maybe not this exact set of circumstances, but every time we ride, we see drivers that break laws, act above laws, don’t understand laws, or don’t care about laws. We see drivers that have zero appreciation and responsibility for the fact that they are piloting 3000+ pounds of steel that, at any moment, can become a weapon via either neglect or outright aggression. With nearly every light change, a driver runs a red. Almost no driver adheres to the speed limit, and most don’t even come close. Nearly every driver enters the crosswalk when stopping at an intersection… and many don’t even look for who might be walking along the adjacent sidewalk. These and a thousand other things that you really only understand when you’re NOT in a car open your eyes to what driving behavior is more than not… reckless and aggressive.
For kicks, I posted this story on social media. And while many of my friends were sympathetic, many more used the opportunity to launch into a “cyclists break the law too” narrative. I kindly reminded them that while there may be bad drivers and bad cyclists, the cyclist is piloting a 20 pound vehicle while the driver is piloting at least a ton and a half machine capable of 100mph speeds. The difference with regard to potential damage and loss of life between cyclist and a driver is night and day. It’s honestly kind of disturbing that people who know me and know that I’m a good person immediately jumped to question my story or my motive. This is the all-encompassing power of car culture at its best… the belief that your ability to drive however you want to is more important than the message of safe and responsible driving from a close friend.
Has a driver ever once feared that a neglectful cyclist might kill them? Probably not. Has a cyclist feared that a driver might kill them? Every. Single. Day. That will continue as long as we continue to prioritize automobile dominance over all other forms of mobility.