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“There is literally nothing I can do that makes people madder than just riding my bike the way I am supposed to.”

April 25, 2014

On Thursday morning, as I was riding to work via Jay Street, I happened to find the bike lane blocked by a van, as one often does on this rather chaotic corridor. So I did everything by the book: I looked behind me, stretched my hand out to signal that I was merging with the car lane, and merged left, taking the northbound lane.

jaystreetblockedbikelane

The Jay Street bike lane is blocked so frequently that you can drop in on Google Streetview just about anywhere and find an example.

Just as I passed the offending van, I heard a car speed up behind me, some honking and then a person screaming at the top of her lungs. The driver of a brown sedan pulled into oncoming traffic to pass me, and as she did she yelled through her open passenger-side window, “Get in the bike lane! Stay in the bike lane!” (She may or may not have used an obscenity to describe said bike lane.)

Mere feet later at Willoughby, the light was red — drivers always need to speed up to the red, don’t they? — and I pulled up next to the woman’s car.  She continued screaming through her open window, “You need to stay in the bike lane!”

At first I remained calm. “Ma’am, see that van back there? I had to pass it.  So you’re welcome to go back and tell the driver to stay out of the bike lane if you want me to stay in it.”  She nodded sarcastically, flashing what could politely be called an excrement-eating grin. (When she told me once again that I needed to stay in the bike lane anyway, I may or may not have told the driver to go have intercourse with herself.)

Then the light turned green and I was on my way. The woman, of course, was stuck behind a number of buses and slow-moving traffic, and I’m almost certain that I was halfway up to the on-ramp to the Manhattan Bridge bike path before she probably turned right on Tillary to get to the BQE. If there was something that delayed this woman en route to her destination, I was a mere speck in the giant cosmos of traffic.

There was nothing particularly special or different about my experience on Jay Street yesterday. It was a sign that the thoroughfare, like so many streets in our city, doesn’t work for anyone. Did this woman want to become so enraged that she could have killed a father of two, taking out another driver and some pedestrians in the process?  Did I need to lose my cool at this woman?  So I mostly chalked the episode up to just one of those things that we’re trying to fix. We’re trying to build streets that foster not only safety, but civility.

In light of all that, I found this epic rant posted on Craiglist Toronto very satisfying. It’s exactly what I would have wanted to say to the driver, had I thought it had any chance of sinking in. It’s titled, “You almost ran me down while screaming ‘get the fuck out of the way’.”

Some choice bits:

…I have something very startling to tell you about the material world: it is not possible for a person on a bicycle to drive THROUGH a parked truck. The person will somehow have to go around it, even if that means minorly inconveniencing you, comfortably sitting in your vehicle with your friends, for a few seconds.

And this is what I had the gall to do today, westbound on Bloor, about 20 feet east of Christie, after signalling, well ahead of you. You, lady in your blue BMW with three friends who were hopefully embarrassed to be seen with you, drove directly up behind me, laid down on the horn, yelled, “get the fuck out of the way!”, and then swerved around me in a way that made me feel really, really unsafe.

People who have purchased/rented/borrowed vehicles capable of going fast have not actually puchased/rented/borrowed the ability to move through a congested city fast. You have purchased a certain amount of comfort and freedom of movement (in distance and direction) not available to those using other modes of transportation. 

Imagine being in line at the grocery store and, feeling that the person in front of you was taking too long to get out their money, standing directly behind them while yelling at them to fuck off. That would be really, really weird! And it happens to me as a person who travels by bicycle all of the time. 

Look: I am a friggin rule follower extraordinaire, a goody-two-shoes, and a people pleaser. There is literally nothing I can do that makes people madder than just riding my bike the way I am supposed to. I feel bad and scared doing something I love and have the right to do, something that is good for the roads, the planet, and the cardiovascular system. It fucking sucks. Your attitude is terrible. 

It’s that bolded sentence, empasis mine, that really sticks with me. I was doing everything right – I signaled, merged, and then quickly pedaled back into the bike lane – but it wasn’t enough for this woman.

Why? Because.

Let’s design better roads, please. For my sake and hers.

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5 Comments
  1. Brandon permalink
    April 25, 2014 4:35 pm

    Even if we assume the bike lanes on Jay St function as intended (you mean theyre NOT intended to keep cyclists in the door zone? somebody should tell the DOT), at rush hour theres often too many bikes for their narrow width and bikes end up all over the road, passing cars on the right and the left.

    This really should be the first NYC street to get a proper bikeway, and all routes on both sides of the bridge should be highly upgraded priority routes as well to feed this bikeway.

    Yes, we can take parking from the street, isnt it a security risk to allow parking right in front of the courthouse anyway? Im surprised they didnt rope it off after 9/11 or put bollards.

    • April 25, 2014 4:52 pm

      Brandon, thanks for your comment. You’re 100% right. The bike lanes as they are currently configured hardly work for cyclists in the best of circumstances. Ideally on busy bike corridors the city would construct lanes wide enough for faster riders to pass slower ones safely without having to veer into car traffic in any way.

      All of the approaches to the bridges need a complete rethink.

  2. Joanne permalink
    April 25, 2014 4:53 pm

    Wow… Canadians are supposed to be so calm and polite!

    • April 28, 2014 12:00 am

      Are we not living up to stereotypes? I’m sorry. (See what I did there?)

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