The D.C. Driver that Stalked Me on my Bike Commute

Last week after work I rode my bike to Georgetown. It was the day after Thanksgiving so the roads were pretty quiet. Still some activity, but not the normal frenetic pace of the workday.

I pedaled to the corner of “S” and Wisconsin, and got in line behind a truck waiting at a stop light. To my right was a parked car that was preparing to leave his parking spot and head out into the street.

Our country has a proud history of respecting the waiting line and looking down on budgers. Because I had gotten there first, the driver had to wait his turn in line and exit his parking spot and turn onto Wisconsin after I did.

The light at the intersection turned green, the truck in front of me entered the intersection to make its left turn, and I made my right turn onto Wisconsin.

As I made my turn, the driver of the car emerging from the parking spot laid on his horn. Geez, I must have really impaired his forward progress from a complete stop with my slow bike (sarcasm). His horn blaring was completely unnecessary. I turned back, looked at him, and raised my left arm in a “What’s up, buddy?” gesture.

In return, the driver lifted both hands off of his steering wheel in agitation and, instead of passing me and going on about his business, proceeded to ride directly behind me.

Given that the driver had been in such a hurry just moments before, it perplexed me that he now needed to be inching up the hill at my back. Further, Wisconsin Avenue is a four-lane road and the lane next to me was wide open. Not a car in sight.

At first I thought that maybe the driver was going to make a right turn into one of the many businesses along Wisconsin, but he did not turn. He kept following me.

Having this driver menace me in plain sight was totally disconcerting. No one else was aware of what he was doing, but I was. Pedal pedal pedal. The car crept along just behind my rear wheel.

After a few blocks, I saw a stoplight that looked about ready to turn. I slowed my pace, and as it became a stale yellow, I pedaled through. The only way for the driver to continue stalking me down the road would be for him to run the red light. The driver reluctantly stopped (thank God), and gave me one more horn blaring. “Take that, you cyclist!”

I then U-turned away from the driver made my escape off onto a side street. He did not follow me any further.

In all my years of cycling, I have never encountered this type of driver. So many thoughts ran through my head. Should I not have raised my hand to the driver when he rudely honked at me? Would the driver have done this if I was a man? If the traffic light hadn’t stopped him, what would he have done?

It is completely wrong to bully or threaten someone with a vehicle, but when it comes down to it, a cyclist is the immediate loser in a brute force showdown with a car. If I could revisit that moment at the corner of “S” and Wisconsin, I would probably have tried to not engage the driver at all. Accept his rude horn honk, and move on. Instead, I fed into his aggression by responding with a gesture and a look, and a creepy commuting moment ensued, putting me in a vulnerable position. I’m grateful he did not do anything more than follow me for a few blocks.

This unfortunate occurrence made me appreciate that most of the motorists I encounter are reasonable people. There are some angry/crazy/dangerous ones out there, but overall I’ve had mostly positive experiences commuting in Washington, D.C.

Nevertheless, I’ve been reminded that I don’t know who else is on these streets we’re supposed to be sharing, and the best practice is to exercise caution and restraint, even though bikes belong on the streets just as much as the drivers do.

11 thoughts on “The D.C. Driver that Stalked Me on my Bike Commute”

  1. my initial response was SHEESH. but then i thought: “i am SO glad you are OK.”

    even though we riders have as much right to the open road as does a motor vehicle, the vehicle is larger and much more intimidating than a bicycle is to that vehicle.

    i sometimes encounter the angry and the dangerous in my neighbourhood: i give that person wide berth and see my pause as an opportunity to stay in the moment and enjoy my immediate surroundings.

    what a great reminder to remain alert and aware.

    thanks for sharing….

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  2. I’ve had this on both bike and car — although very rarely. A policeman once gave me great advice.

    “Go out of your way to try to shake them. If they persist, call us. We’ll be glad to join the parade.”

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  3. Yeah. Drive / ride to your local police station. And….. cameras cameras cameras. I dont yet have a bike camera – but I always carry my pocket camera.

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  4. It sounds like you have a handle on it. It’s hard not to respond instantaneously to yardbirds (yet another reminder to myself) but it is prudent not to do so (pot to kettle). Please be careful, I enjoy reading your blog.

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  5. Mary,

    I am glad you are okay.

    These incidents are about power. It’s hard not to respond but it is almost always best to ignore these crazy people.

    We should all keep in mind that we encounter hundreds of motorists, cyclsits, and pedestrians every week. Some of these people are stressed out, mentally ill, physically impaired, or intoxicated. I’ve had several eye surgeries and you’d be surprised how many people over the age of 40 have vision problems. It’s surprising to me how infrequent these confrontations are.

    Stay safe.

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  6. There are two ways this can play out for this motard. One is that he might have a soul and a conscience and will later realize, even if he never admits it to another person, that he stupidly wasted time trying to intimidate someone he already felt was vulnerable (the man is a coward and would not have done this to someone he feared would fight back). The other is that he has no soul, nor a conscience and nothing you or anyone could ever say or do would keep him from thinking this was an appropriate response. If it turns out he is of the latter type, some other much bigger jerk will eventually come along to intimidate and jerk him around.

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  7. Glad you’re safe. I agree with the camera idea. Grab your “panda camera” and take a pic of the driver and his vehicle. Make sure you stay in public places. With the amount of miles you put in, I’m a little surprised you don’t encounter folks like this jerk more often. I guess you were due for your “skirmish” in the “motorist-cyclist war.”

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  8. Thanks to everybody for your comments and the good advice. I’m definitely going to be more prepared next time. I prefer to use my camera for my panda shots, but I’m happy to branch out to ill-tempered motorists. And I plan to keep my phone w/in easy grasp, too.

    Also, I recognize that the situation could have been much worse. I just read this thread today on one of our local bike forums (thanks for sending the link, Rootchopper) of a cyclist who was deliberately hit by a driver while he was commuting: http://bikearlingtonforum.com/showthread.php?1499-I-was-hit-yesterday-by-a-wreckless-driver…&p=11405#post11405. Unconscionable.

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