Monday, August 11, 2008

A Precursor to All-Out War

Now that I got your attention with that title, let's all hope that it does not and never comes to that. However if you've been paying attention to the Bike/Ped news from around the nation, it may seem like things on the streets are truely getting close to all-out war.

Moving Targets
The New York Times • Friday, August 8, 2008


Pedal vs. Metal
• Monday, July 28, 2008

I know that many of you have already read the article "Moving Targets" in The New York Times. If not, it is a good quick read. The article goes over the willful and deliberate aggression perpetrated on cyclists by motorists and vice versa as well as some of the tension between cyclists and pedestrians. Fortunately and refreshingly the article is mostly sympathetic to the plight of cyclists just trying to go on with their business as they ply the mean streets of the U.S. It even mentions the anti-cycling bias found in our justice system, something very rarely mentioned in the non-cycling press.

Unfortunately, as many longtime experienced cyclists will tell you, the "Cold War" between motorists and cyclists is nothing new and has been going on for decades.

Let me give you one personal example:

On July 3rd of this year I was riding to work on a bright and sunny morning at 8am
. Being the Thursday right before the July 4th Holiday, traffic was lighter than normal. I was riding my 3-speed folding bike wearing "normal" cloths and a helmet. My ride takes me down 1.5 miles of Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick where the (supposed) speed limit is only 25mph. It is 55 foot wide, 4 lane road with parking on each side (that is about 50% occupied over the whole stretch). Even at morning rush hour, the road never even begins to approaches capacity. There are no bike-lanes.

Despite these somewhat ideal conditions, my totally unimposing dress (and ride) , my strict adherence to the motor vehicle code and good vehicular cycling technique, I was passed dangerously close by three drivers. Unfortunately, on top of those dangerous overtaking maneuvers the worst was yet to come.

As I was well into the downhill, homestretch of Livingston Ave traveling at the 25mph speed limit, I took the lane to avoid some nasty bumps and a big pothole on the right side of the lane. The whole time I am
keeping pace with a car only 30ft in front of me. At the point of my maximum speed I was honked at by the car behind me in a very aggressive manner. The driver then quickly accelerated next to me, told me the get the "F" out of the road and then very purposefully and deliberatively moved into the right lane to push me off the road. All of this happened as we sped towards a red light that we both had to stop for immediately after the incident was over. As we both waited for for the light to change (at least 20 seconds) and began to exchange "pleasantries" (mine, despite my anger at nearly being MURDERED, were an attempt at reason and legal rights, his were anything but) I saw that he had half a bowl of oatmeal on his lap.

Great! Not only homicidal but also distracted while behind the wheel!

AND, all this and the three dangerous passes happened to me in just the ten minutes it takes for me to get to work! Exceptional yes, but not at all unprecedented in my 2 years riding to work down Livingston Avenue everyday.

Now I have always felt that it is a real tragedy, beyond which words can describe, that road cycling in the United States continues under a
siege mentality. For me bicycling is a pastime that I love beyond all others and after a good ride I truely attain a relaxed, zen-like state of mind; totally high on life. However, every time I begin a ride (whether that's my short hop to work, out on a 3 hour-40 mile spin or on a multiday self supported tour) I always have an apprehensive feeling that I will be forced into unprovoked battle for which I am out-gunned and out-classed, due to the inattentiveness, ignorance or plane ol' willful homicidal belligerence of drivers.

Unfortunately, what happened to me
while going to work and the incidents described in the two news articles are nothing new and are typical for those trying to ride a bicycle in peace on the roads of New Jersey and elsewhere. Ultimately the "war" on the streets needs to end and hopefully very soon.

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