Get On the Sidewalk!

Most days, riding my bike is one of the most pleasurable activities of my day. Fresh air, exercise, breeze on my face, and pride in my mode of transport abound.

Every once in a while, though, something happens to disrupt these moments of reverie. Like yesterday, for example, when I was riding to dinner with a couple of friends. We approached a stoplight and a driver rolled down the window of his car to yell out, “Get on the sidewalk!”

Upon hearing these words, righteous indignation coursed through my body. It enraged me to hear a driver advise me to “Get on the sidewalk!” when we have just as much right to be on the road as he does.

This comment was completely unprovoked. We were not in his lane, stopped at a stoplight (as the light was red), minding our own business, and doing nothing to impede his progress.

Rather, our mere existence and presence on the same street was enough to compel this man to roll down the window of his vehicle and bully us. The nerve of those cyclists. Riding on the street. In the District of Columbia. In Dupont Circle. The NERVE!

Shocked and initially speechless, I looked over at the man. I then responded, “Hey! Be nice to me!” I wanted to have a longer conversation with him about cyclists’ rights to the road, the illegalities of riding on sidewalks in downtown, the problems sidewalk cycling presents to pedestrians, as well an exploration of where the anger comes from. Alas, stoplights only stay red for so long.

I read a post once that said that drivers’ saying these kinds of things is an issue of a lack of education. If drivers were more educated about cyclists’ rights to the road, we would all coexist much better. I’m not so sure. I believe many drivers feel the roads are for only for cars or other motorized vehicles, and sharing roads with other groups such as bicycles is absolutely unacceptable. Even if you showed them a physical copy of the law and recited it to them, they would still resist the fact that bicyclists have a right to the road, too.

This man was a bully behind the wheel, a bully who was vocally averse to sharing the road with bicycles. Fortunately he did no more than mouth off to us and did not threaten us with his car.

While they rattle me, encounters like this do have an up-side. Drivers like this make me appreciate every single one of the considerate drivers out on the road so a shout-out to them. Thank you, nice drivers!

Perhaps I should have kept my head down and my mouth shut when I heard “Get on the sidewalk!” Don’t engage, pedal on, and forget about it. In the interest of safety, that’s probably a best practice. But that is hard to do all the time, especially when the comment is wrong, unwarranted, and idiotic. And I hate to be bulled by someone who thinks their superior just because they happen to be in a car.

I had temporarily fooled myself into thinking that D.C.-area residents were embracing multiple moods of transportation. To some extent we are. More people in the area are choosing bicycling as a mode of transportation, we have a robust Bikeshare program, and gradually our city is seeing more dedicated bike lanes.

However, my encounter with this motorist reminded me that we still have work to do. I don’t know how long it takes for a city to be fully inclusive of cyclists. Maybe there will always be some people yelling disparaging things out their car windows at us. However, I dream of a day when these kinds of interactions cease and we are a fully accepted presence on our streets.

29 responses to “Get On the Sidewalk!

  1. I think that like many things in life, travelers of all types (drivers, pedestrians, cyclists) generally get along, and where they each choose to skirt the law, most do it in a way that is reasonably safe and reasonably courteous to other road users.

    But I think the 90-10 rule is in full effect here, in that 90% of the problems, outbursts, acrimony are caused by 10% of the people on the road. And when the aggressive folks are driving 1- to 2-ton metal cages, it’s really aggressive!

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  2. There’s always a troll. On every comment board, on every road. They just like to be nasty. It’s always a rude awakening, just when you’re enjoying the good life, to have ugliness pop up.
    The only cure: MOAR BIKE RIDING! :)

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  3. Great post. Thank you.
    In my “yell back” days I often replied, “Get on the Beltway!”. I felt smug and better for a moment, but it didn’t help.

    I face this sort of thing every day… I think a lot of us do. It has helped me to spend a little time, at least mentally, in their shoes. Being stuck in traffic sucks. It is frustrating and it builds on the nerves even when there isn’t traffic there. People sometimes let it out in inappropriate ways. That doesn’t excuse the behavior. It makes it a little easier to understand.

    I have done a lot to change my outlook on things over the last 5 years. I found myself getting the same kind of frustration with drivers who, out of neglect or malice, threaten me on the road. The progress I’ve made has helped me be a happier and safer cyclist.

    Thanks again.

    Pete

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  4. No worries. It happens to us all now and then. Something about being in a car changes people. It’s as if they are yelling at the TV or something.

    I had the quote wrong earlier today on Twitter but I looked up my exchange with a driver in New Eagle PA on my 2003 bike tour from Indiana to Pennsylvania:

    “In the town of Monongahela, a young woman rolled down her passenger side window and yelled “Get your f–ing bicycle on the sidewalk where it belongs.” She was obviously really stressed out. It must be hard living in the big city like Monongahela, driving a beat up wreck, and smoking ‘boros at $3 a pack. Despite being really hot and tired, I passed up the opportunity to stop and educate her about intolerance, the medical implications of consuming tar and nicotine, and vehicular preventive maintenance. Her loss.”

    From “A Fistful of Advil” at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/INDC2003.

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  5. Yeah, I’ve experienced a bit of that. Even on western roads with a 10 foot shoulder, I’ve had people yell expletives and honk at me. True this isn’t fun and when folks drive aggressively past you, dangerous.

    But I think of it as the schoolyard bully syndrome. People are pissed off driving around in their car, rushing to get to the next thing in their stressed out and overfilled lives. When they see someone in great health, making a conscious decision to take the time to ride and enjoy life, they get jealous and lash out to feel more in control. So, I just remind myself of that whenever engagements happen and I don’t get as angry… more so I feel sorry for them.

    And I never shout or shake my fist because that just gives them more of a feeling of empowerment in their car. I smile. I wave. I shout “Have a nice day!” This probably only pisses them off further, but at least it reminds them that I’m a polite, breathing human being on a bicycle.

    Of course bike advocacy and driver education shouldn’t be ignored.

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    • Yeah, there is something bullying about the whole thing. Sorry you’re stressed out in your car, but really. And you are right… bike advocacy and driver education should not be ignored.

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  6. Those sorts of encounters really gnaw at me, far more than they should. I’ve reacted in almost every way (lecturing, humor, ignoring, screaming, taking pictures), and nothing really leaves me feeling anything but pessimistic after the interaction. Blurg.

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    • Me too! It always surprises me how emotional they are. I think that “Blurg” pretty much sums up how I felt about the whole thing at the end of it all.

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      • i’ve almost stopped hoping for any sort of solution, and really just am looking for a standard reaction that I can give to these inevitable blowups that leaves me feeling OK about them.

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  7. In the suburban city in which I live, it is actually legal to ride on the sidewalks, although bikes have to defer to pedestrians at all times. On roads where there is no shoulder, heavy traffic and on street parking – a bad combination – I sometimes take the safer route and swing onto the sidewalk for a few blocks. A few years ago, in just such a situation, I was yelled at by a passing driver to “get off the sidewalk”, even though I was within my rights and there weren’t even any pedestrians around. My initial thought was that the driver was obviously unfamiliar with the local bylaws. A few minutes later, back on the road and waiting in an intersection traffic lane at a red light, I was yelled at by another driver to “get on the sidewalk”. Sometimes you just can’t win!

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  8. I was never fully able to empathize with minorities and their issues until I realized I was a part of one: cyclists, and specifically, utility/commuter cyclists. It’s hard, but these are opportunities to feel and learn from discrimination. It still sucks, yes. I’ve felt the best when I’ve been able to forgive them, smile with love, and learn (usually it’s “what a narrow-minded bigot!”) but at least it’s something.

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  9. Mary, those that say “Get on the sidewalk” are complete morons! It seems to be a US thing, unfortunately. Mostly a-holes who drive SUVs, pick-ups, but in general a lack of knowledge. When gas at the pump goes over $5 and higher, and it WILL, those who think cycling is a joke, will soon be on a bike or walking. PS – many motorist where I cycle, in the Midwest, have never heard of the 3-foot law, or they don’t care. They will when they can’t afford to put gas in their over-sized cocoon.

    Keep the posts coming. :)

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    • Thanks, Rick! I have also wondered how high the price of gas has to go until people start looking at alternative forms of transport more seriously.

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  10. i hate cars. i hate traffic engineers more.

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  11. outstanding post…I just bragged to all my Facebook friends that I “know” you…well done

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  12. I wish motorists would realize that as a cyclist, I am one less car on the road…. I’m also a father, a brother, an uncle and someone’s son. If every motorist would treat cyclists as if they were a relative, I think the relationship between drivers and bikers would be a better one.

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  13. Thanks for this post. I had an interesting interaction with a motorist yesterday who seemed amazed at my speed dropping down onto Beach Drive from 16th St. on Sherrill Drive. He pulled along-side me after the turn onto Beach Dr. and told me I was going faster than 25mph. I gave him a “thumbs-up” sign and he moved on.

    How we change the car-bike road-sharing dynamic is one of the most difficult issues for the bike commuter community. I think we need an educational campaign that demonstrates that bike commuters are not involved in a recreational activity when they are commuting with their bikes. That might spark the culture change we need.

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  14. The last time someone yelled “Get on the sidewalk” to me, I was lucky enough to be almost on the “Allowed Full Use of Road” sign which has a picture of a bicycle on it.

    I simply pointed up at the sign and yelled back, “Learn the law!”

    I probably added another colorful adjective comparing him to a member of the horse family as well… Would have been on firmer moral ground had I avoided it, but he got me angry.

    It is tough dealing with those types of people. Sorry you had that happen!

    Ty

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  15. Been about 6 months since my last “get on the sidewalk” drive-by. They’re always as horrid as the previous one, although I generally just ignore them now. Guess I’m due for one!

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  16. I recently read a study of commuters that found 61% of women and 56% of men had experienced road rage and 9% of all commuters reportedly actually getting into a fight with another driver. 24% of commuters were involved in an accident while driving to work and 30% reported texting during their commutes.

    With that sort of animus occuring amongst the drivers, you can expert a fair share of hate to spew your way as well. Cyclists are not immune from road rage; sadly they’re just another target.

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    • Interesting statistics you cite, Steve, and they actually don’t sound unrealistic. You’re right. We are another outlet for people’s frustration on the road.

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  17. Your story reminds of this BikeyFace cartoon:
    http://bikeyface.com/2012/09/20/thick-skin/

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  18. Rusty Shackleford

    Raise your fist in the air and say “Today the streets, tomorrow the sidewalks.” For bonus points ask them to “bump the rock”

    Like

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