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.