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.