Road Rage ’16

This is one of those entries I write that make me sound like a bitter jerk.  My actual intent is just a couple thousand words on yet another symptom of the breakdown of America as a civilized culture…but whatcha gonna do?

PDX has once again been ranked as one of the top bike-friendly towns in America.

Apparently, it does not have to follow that our cyclists are friendly folks.

Well, that’s not a fair statement.  For a couple of reasons, actually.

First, in my mind, there are many types of cyclists and the group that prompts my statement is the group I call bike commuters.  People who ride to get around town versus people like me who ride for exercise or for pleasure versus people who ride for sport, who are the legitimate cyclists, in my opinion.

Second, I’m not saying they don’t have a reason for the unfriendly displays I have witnessed more and more in recent weeks…more often than not, I witness the outbursts that are the inspiration for this blog entry because a driver has been careless in sharing the road with a cyclist.

Sorry, bike commuter.

Although they may have started off a little angry since Portland only ranked as the 3rd best bike-friendly town in America behind Chicago and San Francisco.  But at least Seattle placed 5th…so there’s that.

I’ve been a frustrated cyclist since my doctor told me that I didn’t have the leg bones for running any longer.  I guess that actually makes me a frustrated runner, but hey.  Anyway, that gives me a frame of reference for what behaviors cyclists face on the streets from cars.  It’s a real concern.  In the last two weeks, I’ve seen some crazy close calls and a not close call at all.  Luckily, the cyclists weren’t injured in any of these incidents.

The first one I noticed was on Glisan while I was walking to get coffee one morning when someone suddenly started shouting behind me.  “Hey!” thunk, thunk “You just hit me!”  thunk, thunk.  I turned to see a guy riding his bike alongside a vehicle, banging on the side and roof as he continued to yell expletives at the driver while screaming some variant of “You hit me!” through the closed window.  I thought it was curious that he wasn’t yelling at the driver to pull over.

Then last night, I saw a car on Everett – these one way streets are apparently tough to navigate – turn left from the right-hand lane and almost get T-Boned by a biker.  I probably wouldn’t have noticed that at all except the guy on the bike let out a terrified “Aaaaahhh!” for the 10 feet before successfully coming to a stop.  Ironically, the driver heard his scream and slowed down, ensuring that the cyclist would have hit the car if he hadn’t been able to stop.

I hear at least one cyclist a day calling a motorist an asshole or something equally mean while I’m walking around town, usually for some mild infraction that didn’t really involve safety so much as a projected concern on the cyclist’s part.

So, yeah…drivers suck.  I know.  I’m a pedestrian.  But in Portland, people are so famously nice.  Even drivers.  I see examples multiple times daily.  Usually at a four-way intersection where drivers go out of their way to yield their right of way to another driver, prompting a cheerfully awkward exchange of waves and smiles as people try to let someone else go first.  Watch the clip in the link…that seriously happens here.

How do we get from being “those guys” to being guys yelling at each other?

Well, as a pedestrian, one thing that I noticed in moving back to Portland is that the walking skills I had honed in Seattle – you know, waiting for cars and buses to pass before I jay walk – were no good here.  

Portland has light rail and street cars.

Neener-neener-neener, Seattle.

Lucky for me, I’m pretty observant and have parlayed my success avoiding cars and buses into a similar success with trains.

Less luckily, there are also bike commuters.

Those fuckers really come off as entitled, let me tell you.

As a walker – in Portland – these sucky drivers would see me on the corner and stop so I could cross because they’re so friggin’ nice!

Cars waiting for me to cross, no trains coming…I’m gonna cross.  And just as I step off the curb, I feel the cruel breeze of a bike commuter whizzing past me.

Because why would a bike commuter stop when traffic has stopped?

So, here I am having my confidence as a pedestrian handed to me on several occasions in similar scenarios.  Not wanting to die the humiliating death of getting hit by a bike, I adjusted my awareness to include not just trains, but the more likely to be dangerous bicycles, too.

So, why doesn’t that same Portland friendliness extend to basic cyclist etiquette, too?  It’s really mind boggling.  I lived in Portland when bike commuting was a much less common occurrence.   I remember the uproar over the first few bike commuter deaths.  They were widely reported and I remember thinking that the inequity between a cyclist death and a pedestrian death was pretty obvious.  It didn’t necessarily gel with me, but I was still glad that the city took measures to make the roads more biker friendly.  And that desire to make the roads car/bike compatible has gone through many an incarnation in the last 20 years.

Not that that has mattered to our cyclists.

To them, it’s a Mad Max world out there.

With all the traffic and street revisions that Portland has performed to get to a safer place – Chicago, by the way, beat us out and was ranked number one in bike-friendliness primarily because they are the first major city in the country to have bike only streets downtown – you would think our cyclists would do their part for making the streets a friendly place for everyone and be at least partially accountable for their safety.

You know, little things…like obeying traffic laws, which apply to cars and bikes equally.  That story about nearly getting run over by a bike as a pedestrian?  Yeah, I still have the right of way, even if I’m jay walking.  Sure, I should get a ticket for it if I’m caught or cause an accident, but cyclists do not seem to give a figurative fuck about pedestrians.

They’re cyclists.  Long suffering cyclists…so you bow your ass down to them.

Or other little things, like wearing a bike helmet.  I would wager that there are more cyclists who forgo their brain buckets than there are pedestrians that jay walk.

Or hand signals so cars know what cyclists are doing.

How about those bike commuters and their California stops…seen those?  Sure, I cross against the light at intersections as a pedestrian.  Still, I’m not sure how I feel about bike commuters doing the same thing.  If they’re on the road versus the sidewalk, my gut reaction is that they should obey the lights.  People would lose their minds if a car violated a red light because there was not cross traffic.

That first guy I told you about?  The one who banged on the car that “hit” him and then berated the driver?

A)  No helmet.

B)  This all happened on Glisan between 12th and 13th, as far as I could tell, the driver winged him just after the intersection of 12th and Glisan.  The cyclist banged and yelled for 3/4 of a block and then he took a right turn onto 13th without signaling.  At first I thought he was pulling off to check out his bike for any damage, but he was gone by the time I rounded that same corner a moment later.

So, I’m left standing there wondering if the driver hit him or if he just got his tire clipped.  It was morning rush hour and no one was moving very fast, crawl would be an appropriate description of the pace cars were moving at.  The real danger this guy faced from getting “hit” was falling on his unprotected head.

But, no…he’s a cyclist.  So, he can do no wrong – regardless of what rules he chooses to not follow.

 Like I mentioned earlier, I cross against crosswalk signage.  I cross in the middle of the block.  I know it’s wrong, but I do employ good common sense while crossing traffic’s right of way.  If a cop chose to ticket me for my illegal act, I’d take my punishment.  When I drove, if I sped and got caught, I paid the price.  I’d like to see cyclists – bike commuters – model this same accountability…particularly those that ride without helmets.  I really wish there were a safe and logistically sound manner to pull bike commuters over for breaking laws – like the helmet law – or for just riding like a dick.

I guess at the end of the day, I just have to be content knowing that these bike commuters riding like dicks are less of a menace than they’d be in a vehicle…driving like an asshole.

But while I’m sitting there at the end of the day, being all content, I’m wondering if these cyclists that have been the victims of injury or death at the wheels of a vehicle weren’t maybe some of these demonstrably entitled riders…it would still be a tragic and senseless death, albeit somewhat more palatable on a karmic scale.

Road Rage ’16

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