“You’re the reason we don’t like bicycles!”
I looked to the left to see a Honda minivan, complete with 2 kids in car seats, traveling next to me. The driver had rolled down the passenger’s window and was screaming at me.
“You broke the law. You didn’t stop at that stop sign and I hate you for it. Every car driver hates bicycles because you think you can break the law. Wha-whaa-wah-wha-wha-wha…”
I gave her a thumb up and nodded my head to signal “OK, I’m done with this,” and then grabbed the back break so she shot past me. She slowed to match my speed and continued to yell at me. I hit the gas and shot past her only to grab the brakes again as soon as she pulled up beside me. She got the point and drove off still yelling through the passenger’s window.
In all fairness, I did break the law. Instead of waiting a full 3 seconds at the stop sign, I only came to a quick stop and then rolled through the intersection (she was beside me; no cars were approaching from any other direction). So, she had a valid argument. But, was that enough reason for her to “hate” me and waste time telling me about it? I wonder how she would respond if I jumped in my car and followed her around the city, pointing out every one of her minor law infractions.
This little incident, just like every run in with a car driver, brought endless questions to mind. I kept coming back to one thought for the rest of the ride: Do I care if car drivers hate me? My answer was and will probably always be no. What I want is for them to not crash in to me. Otherwise, we are strangers passing on the road. I guess wanting them to not hit me infers that I expect their respect at a minimum. Continuing that line of thinking might be the reason so many drivers have problems with cyclists: they don’t see us as individuals on bikes. Instead, we are just another group of people lumped together to be hated as a whole.
That might be the real lesson for cyclists. Change won’t happen overnight or even in a summer or two. But, if we all take on the role of ambassador of goodwill, maybe over time motorists can be swayed. I know I have spoken with a few different irate drivers that, after a calm conversation, came to see things a bit differently. I also had to call the cops on a driver that became so pissed off he threatened to shoot me. But, if the cycling community rallied around obeying all laws—even full 3-second stops at stop signs—and respecting the car’s right of way, maybe, just maybe the positive approach will help drivers to respect our right to the roadway.