So there I am, riding my fat bike on a grey and rainy Alaska spring breakup day. The roads are flooded with meltwater, the sidewalks and bike trails are either choked with snow and slush or coated in slick ice, and the cars are traveling three times as fast as normal because there’s finally no ice on the roads. Therefore I’m riding in the road; about six feet from the snowbank because there’s so much debris and so many deep puddles on the side of the road, making it not possible to use the sidewalk or bike lane. It’s a small street, very little traffic anyway. As I head down a hill, a municipal snowplow truck turns onto the road headed my way. The driver sees two pedestrians on his side of the road, and opts to give them a wide berth – pulling straight into my lane, aiming for a certain head-on collision if I don’t act.
I slam on my brakes with no other option, and my bike skids sideways. The plow truck ponderously goes back to its own lane; my angry shouts are met by a shrug from the Municipal employee whom I’m currently trying my best to contact via the city government. I shake my head in disbelief. The plow truck driver had seen me coming; all he had to do was wait until I rode past before he moved to pass the pedestrians. But because I’m on a bike, it’s OK to try to hit me head-on?
A few seconds later the Subaru behind me passes me, so close that its door brushes my pogie. I gesture even more rudely at that driver, who also offers a “what can I do?” shrug. There was no traffic headed towards us; the driver clearly came that close on purpose. Naturally this aggressive move gets him nowhere for he is stopped by a red light, at which I catch up to him and confront him.* “That was way too close, man!” I say. “One mistake and I’d be dead. Is it worth it to you?”
“You were too far out into the road, acting like you had every right to be there,” he says, confirming my belief that he grazed me on purpose.
“I do have every right to be there,” I reply. “Look it up. You could have killed me, and why? To make a point? Because you’re in a car and I’m on a bike, you think it’s OK to risk killing me because YOU think I’m too far onto the road?”
“You are giving every biker a bad name!” sputters the man.
“We ride bikes, too!” Injects his wife, who you’ll recall was about two inches away from my bike as her husband passed me moments earlier.
“Good,” I say. “The next time a driver scares the hell out of you when you’re riding, I hope you think back on this day and realize what a jackass you were and how dangerous your actions have been.”
What gets me about this episode that the pedestrians in the picture were given a wide berth. If I had been walking instead of riding a bike, no doubt the Subaru driver would have given me space. Hell, if I’d been driving my truck there is NO WAY they would have tried to drive that close just to try to make their point.
What is it about being a on a bike that makes people think it’s OK to try purposefully to scare you or make you swerve or try to hurt you? What is it that makes them think your life is worthless and that the fact that they’re in a car means that you could be jelly under their wheels and not only would they not care, but they’d think you got what you deserved? It’s chilling.
Last year I met with the Anchorage mayor, police chief, and other planners and staff about bike safety in the Municipality. The general consensus from the group was that public safety messages should be directed towards bikers, telling them how to ride more safely; that bike riders should take classes to teach them how to ride in traffic. No messages for drivers at all. No confirmations that people on bikes are, you know, people – humans. Nothing indicating that maybe drivers should chill out, slow down, be courteous and safe around bicycles, or else someone could get hurt.
Nope. Evidently you only have value as a human until you get on a bicycle. Then, anything that happens to you seems to be A-OK with a whole bunch of people out there.