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“Ain’t no bike lane on this street.”

August 9, 2011

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!”

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18 Comments
  1. hrfhudsonHolly permalink
    August 9, 2011 9:51 pm

    I completely empathize with you. I’ve had a driver rev her engine while continuously blowing her horn because I was in front of her rather than lane splitting on top of a snow berm — and I was stopped behind another car at a light, so I don’t know where she thought she was going to go. And this past weekend, again going crosstown without enough room in the door zone to ride to the side, I had a motorcoach honking behind me — again while we were all stopped at a light with a long train of barely-moving cars ahead of us for several blocks. The driver of the motorcoach actually pulled around to the side of me, with his door inches from my leg (I was *smack* in the middle of the road), so I banged on his door and asked him what on earth he thought he was doing.

    What we really really need are more parking protected lanes. Take advantage of the fact that more people are biking, less have to drive, and take out some car lanes for protected bike lanes. The door zone lanes are designed to put everyone in conflict and breed this kind of behavior, they’re deadly for cyclists and a double-parking magnets for cars.

  2. August 9, 2011 10:21 pm

    The bottom line is that driving in NYC turns too many people into angry, dangerous sociopaths. Once I started riding a bike, I got a totally different perspective of our streets, and it’s made me a calmer, safer driver. Life’s too short to drive around mad.

    • August 10, 2011 11:34 am

      It’s not just that driving in NYC turns people into sociopaths, it’s that people who choose to drive in NYC *are* sociopaths. You have to be a selfish, arrogant, entitled person to take up space to transport yourself with two tons of metal when so many other options are available. So, these people drive exactly the way they are – selfish, arrogant, and entitled.

      • August 11, 2011 9:53 am

        I don’t really agree. Many people simply need to drive, although obviously the city could benefit if far more people redefined “need” and chose other options.

        Choosing to drive in NYC doesn’t make one an arrogant, entitled sociopath. But expecting to drive through a crowded city as if one owns the road and ignoring basic traffic laws while doing it is a different story altogether.

      • stillif permalink
        August 11, 2011 10:00 am

        Dude, I’m not a sociopath! I have three kids that I drive to their grandparents every few weeks, I make a run to Costco to feed the clan on a freelancer’s salary, and my wife has a business that I need to stock from a restaurant supply store twice a week. The rest of the time the car is parked on the street, and I am walking, biking or MTA’ing around.

      • Sasha permalink
        August 11, 2011 10:45 am

        Have to admit that, by and large, I’m with you, Chris. Of course it’s not true 100% of the time: people with access to cars are certainly not overstepping their societal bounds by driving kids to grandparents’ houses, transporting supplies, commuting to odd-timed shifts at hours that feel unsafe to be in the subway, or just wanting to use the cars they have every now and then. But the able-bodied 9 to 5er who “needs” to drive every day — I do agree that that’s a selfish use of resources.

      • August 12, 2011 10:52 am

        You’re right – I was generalizing a bit, and in many cases, there is a need for a car in New York. But I was speaking more, as Sasha says, of “the able-bodied 9 to 5er who ‘needs’ to drive every day.” It’s remarkable how many of the negative encounters I’ve had with drivers tend to be middle-aged, able-bodied drivers in single-occupied vehicles.

    • geck permalink
      August 11, 2011 9:39 am

      Just this morning, after watching a half-dozen cyclists squeeze by a large SUV parked at a fire hydrant on Smith Street straddling the bike lane, I politely asked the driver to pull it all the way the the curb next time. I am not sure what turned him into a sociopath, but he got out of the vehicle and came at me in a very threatened manner. There was clearly no reasoning with the man, so I cycled off to avoid getting beat up. His parting words were of course to call me a faggot.

  3. Brooklynite Sick of It permalink
    August 10, 2011 4:09 am

    I believe that NYC’s local media bears huge responsibility for this aggression toward cyclists. Gersh Kuntzman at the Brooklyn Paper, Marcia Kramer at CBS2, even Michael Grynbaum at the New York Times. These guys have all been pumping out anti-cyclist garbage for months now. It creates an atmosphere that makes it OK to turn cyclists into scapegoats and targets. Add to that the NYPD, District Attorneys’ and New York City government’s treatment of virtually every road crash, injury and fatality as an “accident” and you have a recipe for outright aggression and hostility toward the most vulnerable users of our streets. Kuntzman, Kramer and Grynbaum need to realize that they’re going to have blood on their hands. Their irresponsible reporting and incitement has real life consequences.

  4. Maris permalink
    August 10, 2011 9:41 am

    Yep – riding west on 9th street in Brooklyn this morning, was cut-off by a car when crossing 4th Avenue (I had the light and right-of-way, she was making a left across oncoming traffic). I swerved to avoid the car, made eye contact with the driver as I passed and the lovely lady yelled “asshole!” On the upside, the ambulance that is ususally parked in the 9th street bike lane just past Smith Street wasn’t there today.

    Thanks for letting me vent. I love riding in NYC and think that its getting much safer and saner. As advocates, we need to continue pushing the value and benefits of cycling so that more people join us and make riding even safer. For me, benefits are; 1) I get to work as fast or faster than by subway, 2) I get a daily work-out – not easy for a parent with young kids and 3) I save a few dollars.

  5. August 11, 2011 9:16 am

    Doug, great post, and great exegesis on N8than’s post. I like Chris’s point above, but in my own experience in Manhattan, it’s been easier and easier to ride for the past two years, with less and less of the kind of aggression you describe.

    • August 11, 2011 9:25 am

      Thanks! I should add that, like n8than, nothing could stop me from riding. It’s much more pleasant than it’s ever been and it’s still a great way to get around the city. Like you, I’ve noticed a big change in the last two years alone and I can only imagine it will get better.

      I agree with the commenter who said that what may be fueling some of this anger is a media that’s stoking the flames of anger on our roads. (N8than made a similar point too; and all roads go back to his great post.) The woman who told me, “Ain’t no bike lane on this street,” got the idea that I had to be on a street with a bike lane from somewhere, possibly the Post. I can’t imagine she came to it on her own.

      With each new poll showing growing support for bike lanes, perhaps some smart editors and publishers will realize that a positive take on safe, livable streets is good for business! There’s certainly a void waiting to be filled and an audience waiting to be served.

  6. Tom permalink
    August 11, 2011 10:09 am

    I think of every car on the road as a loaded gun. If the driver/holder of that gun gets angry or more often, just careless,that gun goes off and someone is injured or killed or scared witless. And those of us without these weapons must tread cautiously, always giving wide berth and deference to those so armed.

  7. August 11, 2011 11:04 am

    Its just road rage. Its nothing new even if it looks particularly intense from a bike.

    Its best to avoid such drivers. I’ve been confrontational while dealing with stupid drivers and eventually realized that people just respond to the confrontation. It literally doesn’t matter if they’re driving the wrong way down a one way street, they’re not going to listen to anyone.

    Give stupid a wide berth.

  8. August 11, 2011 11:53 am

    Great post. The same things happens to me every day. People that use their cars as a weapon to bully others shouldn’t be allowed to drive a motorized vehicle. Full stop.

  9. Dr. Dr. permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:42 pm

    I believe that cycling will only get better in the coming years, and the angry car people will become less and less acceptable. Once a proper bike share program takes root (anyone know when thats supposed to happen?), cycling will have reached a saturation point where people will not cross that dangerous offensive angry line. I (while driving a car) actually saw a motorist who was intimidating a cyclist get a nyc talking to by another motorist in the car beside him. It was so awesome.

  10. daSpookster permalink
    August 18, 2011 9:42 am

    Where is the addressing of assholes on bikes? They are to blame for all the hostility. Cutting in front of cars without hand signals, running red, not signaling when turning, etc. etc.

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