“Ain’t no bike lane on this street.”
Tonight while riding east on Spring Street, I was nearly hit by a driver trying to make a right turn onto Broadway from the left lane. Typically a bell has no hope of penetrating steel and glass sound chamber of a car, but I guess I was lucky. The driver had his window open and either heard or saw me at the last second, stopping just inches from my left leg. I froze for a moment, and then gave him one of those angry “I’m biking here!” stare-downs that New Yorkers tend to do when on the receiving end of such potentially deadly stupidity.
If the moment had been captured in a photograph it would have shown his car straddling two lanes, attempting to make his turn. There would be no question that it was the driver, and not the cyclist in the far right side of Spring Street riding with the light, who was in the wrong. But the moment passed, and I was in no real mood to debate the finer points of making a right turn to man trying to drive through Manhattan on a weeknight at 6 PM. I continued across Broadway and the driver turned behind me. As he did, he shouted through an open window, “Get off the street, asshole!”
Last week, I was riding from my apartment on 4th Avenue to run some errands on 5th Avenue and beyond. As I rode up Baltic Street, I passed a double-parked bus on the right side of the road. As I did, the driver of a minivan behind me started blaring her horn. (It was an experience with which any cyclist is familiar: instead of being mad at the bus driver for double-parking and inconveniencing everyone, the driver was mad at the cyclist who reduced the time she’d spend waiting at the red light at the end of the street by four seconds.)
I passed the bus and pulled to the side to let the minivan pass. The driver sped around me, and then veered to the right very suddenly, cutting me off and slamming on her brakes. I stared into the angry red tail lights and backed away quickly – who knew if if the driver intended to back up and mow me down? But she pulled away and back into the street. As I continued down Baltic, however, she slowed down enough so that I wound up along side her.
“You’re blocking the road, faggot!” the passenger yelled at me from an open window.
“Go fuck yourself,” I said, admittedly not letting my better angels win out in this encounter.
The driver leaned over her passenger and screamed, “Ain’t no bike lane on this street!”
At that point, I rode to the corner, pulled my bike up onto the sidewalk, and waited as the minivan turned left on 5th and disappeared down the street. There was no point in explaining New York State VTL to the driver, since I’m of the opinion that it’s better to be alive than be right.
“Get off the street, asshole!”
“You’re blocking the road, faggot!”
“Ain’t no bike lane on this street!”
Those encounters bring to mind this amazing post from n8than, in which he describes similar experiences and theorizes as to the root of their causes.
It’s socially acceptable to threaten pedestrians and cyclists with death, both vocally and physically—and it is socially acceptable to kill them accidentally. You can’t separate the two; each requires and supports the other. And whatever is socially acceptable is legally acceptable, in theory and in practice.
You could come up with any number of explanations for the surge of road rage happening right now. The DOT bears responsibility for the Bowery detour and the chaos at Houston, but given the structural violence of our streets there are going to be serious problems any time that events force cyclists outside of the few safer routes that have been carved out for us. Until those structural problems are fixed the DOT can only offer band-aids, as they have done.
And the slander against cyclists that has been woven into the death rattle of old media certainly doesn’t help. But mostly I think it’s the belated, furious realization of some city motorists that things really have changed. The “bike lanes!”, formerly hated for just taking a up a few feet of asphalt, are now despised for actually working.
As my experience shows, not every interaction a cyclist has with an angry motorist takes place on a street with a bike lane, but n8than’s point still applies. If I can add anything to his brilliant post, it’s only to say that bike lanes are not only despised for working, but, perhaps more subconsciously, they are despised because they prove that cars never did, at least not in an urban environment.
The fact is that it’s always been frustrating to drive and park a car in New York City, only now there’s a much more vulnerable class of street users on whom motorists can take out some of that frustration. Doing anything else would require drivers to look inward and at each other and think, “Get off the street, asshole!”