Moving Targets

Photo © The New York Times

It’s getting crazy out there. Twice in the past two weeks I was riding along in a clearly marked bike lane minding my own business when I was harassed by aggressive motorists. One time it was someone shouting obscenities at me for no reason, and the other time it was someone spitting on me for no reason. In both cases I’m pretty sure it was not personal; more likely, it was a symptom of the growing tension between motorists and cyclists due to the large influx of bike riders to hit the road this summer as a result of rising gas prices.

From the Brentwood doctor who was charged with assault for slamming his brakes in front of pair of cyclists (injuring both riders), to the Portland man who sped down a street with a cyclist on the hood of his car (made famous in this video), it seems like a new, over-the-top cyclist/motorist clash makes the news just about every week.

These excerpts are from a story in yesterday’s New York Times titled “Moving Targets”:

“Every year, the war of the wheels breaks out in the sweet summer months, as four-wheelers react with aggravation and anger to the two-wheelers competing for the same limited real estate.”

“We’ve had a car culture for so long and suddenly the roads become saturated with bicyclists trying to save gas. No one knows how to share the road.”

“… the newbies are lured by improved bike lanes as well as the benefits of exercise, a smaller carbon footprint and gas savings. But talk about a vicious cycle! With more bikes on the road, the driver-cyclist, Hatfield-McCoy hostility seems to be ratcheting up. Cycling: good for the environment, bad for mental health?”

“In this dogfight, bigger’s impact is always much, much badder. But smaller is hardly better-behaved. It’s especially true in city traffic, where pedestrians add a third volatile element to a compound already wildly unstable.”

Hopefully, as motorists become more accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists, cooler heads will prevail and things will settle down. In the meantime, remember that a cyclist on a 30 lb. bicycle is no match for a motorist in a 2500 lb. SUV. Stay safe out there!

Read the full story in the NYT →

14 Responses to “Moving Targets”

  • Goldebrowns says:

    Hey, wait a minute NYTImes. Are you sure it’s all the newbies who are pissing off the all-too-easy-to-piss-off drivers? My impression is that it’s the experienced and lycra-clad who are more likely to see the aggression. Finally, don’t you think it’s more likely that the aggressive drivers have developed a grudge over a period of time (possibly over their whole life behind the wheel), instead of just developing a homicidal hatred towards bikers just in a few months?

  • andy parmentier says:

    my canadian friend spent many years living on a bicycle, and new york is his favorite place to ride. he told me the statistics (one cyclist dies every month on average) and about all the riders who go sans brakes. i know he’s not masochistic, he’s just a friendly canadian of native descent. and i know some other folks of native descent who just have this super chipperness about them. my green bay cousins are or were into demolition derby, (they’re native) my native nephew loves to wrestle, and i myself having a bit o’ the irish have said for a long time that i can’t drive a car because i need bumper-car contact to help me feel my way along (or at least bump into the wind, or cracks in the sidewalk) it’s kind of like sonar.
    so if i had my way, traffic would be bumper-car, and like shakespeare said, “first knock off the insurance companies” i’m paraphrasing but they DO rule the world you know

  • Rick says:

    Tell them you can’t wait until gas goes to $5/gallon! That always seems to cheer them up…

  • Norm says:

    Living in a rural area on Vancouver Island I don’t find too much aggression towards cyclists but I see so many cyclists doing whatever they want to on the roads. Riding on the wrong side of the road, slicing through intersections with no regard for the lights, riding on sidewalks , not signalling etc.. I often see drivers totally puzzled when I am on my bike at intersections and following the rules of the road. They are expecting me to do something different. We have a local bicycle advocacy group and I can’t count the number of times I have seen their spokes person riding down the wrong side of the road. Until we have separate bicycle paths I think bicycles have to follow the rules of the road so that drivers can predict where they are going. By cyclists following the rules, I feel a better attitude towards cyclists would be fostered. There seems to be no enforcement of the laws by the police with regards to bicycles so riders have no reason to change.

  • EZ Biker says:

    One thing you can do is practice getting a snapshot of the license plate as a vehicle goes by. It will take some time to master the response, but once done you then can contact the police, and report the… Spitting, hurrassing are whatever towards a cyclist or anyone on the street is no different than battery.

  • Andoni says:

    In the same day, I can be a driver on my way to the train station, a cyclist as soon as I arrive to my train destination, a pedestrian when stepping out from the office for a coffe at the corner bar. There are no “Us vs. Them” reality .
    There are good car drivers, and bad car drivers, good cycle riders and bad ones, etc ..
    I see the problem with the whole collection of road users
    One of the problems is about not being used or not being taught to drive with cyclist or cycle with motor vehicles.
    As a car driver, I have been taught to deal with car traffic upwards along the “road traffic species” ( taxi and lorries included) ; however, cyclist are …. Sunday campers who don’t belong in the road ecosystem ( like fish out of the water): annoying slow bottoms in front of my windscreen, moving their bums up-and-down …. I may want to show you that you don’t belong here.
    As a cyclist, the mere fact of having a cycle allows me to use the road ecosystem without passing any test nor trainning: motor vehicles are the predators that I have to avoid by all means ( traffic laws will be “forgotten” if considered necessary).It is not my problem if they have to stop or avoid me abruptly because I didn’t stop with the red traffic light or jumped from the pedesrtrian’s kerb into the road. Life is tough for a littlel fish.
    My point: we are all responsible, and our behaviour influences the rest of road users’ behaviour; there is no “us vs. them” I am afraid. We have to educate and be educated about how share the same environment, with mutual respect . ;o) !

  • bestianera says:

    Traffic lanes congested because more motorists choose bicycles as their means of transportation?
    Frankly, that makes no sense. Since most cars carry just one person per ride, 1 more bicycle on the road = 1 or so less car on the same road. I believe most cars will take more space than bikes. Or trikes

  • Alan says:

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of more or less space on the roads. It’s more likely that there is a small minority of motorists that are not happy about the prospect of sharing the road with an increasing number of cyclists, some of which may not be obeying the rules of the road themselves. One conflict leads to bad attitudes which leads to further conflicts and we’re off to the races. As I mentioned in the OP, hopefully cooler heads will eventually prevail as all parties settle into this new dynamic and learn to co-exist.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    Try 5000lb SUV. Your average car these days weighs in at around 3000-3500lbs.

  • Alan says:


    Wow, 5000 lbs – I had no idea. It seems insane when you think about it: a 5000 lb. machine to move around a 200 lb. body.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    Yep, it is insane. Cars have actually gotten much heavier in the last twenty years, largely due to the addition of safety features (multiple airbags, etc) as well as luxury features.

    Here’s the spec sheet for a 2500 Chevy Suburban. Admittedly on the large side, but it’s 7000lbs:

    Even a “mid-size” SUV like the Ford Explorer is around 4500lbs:

  • Nate Briggs says:

    As a dedicated bicycle commuter (riding these machines has actually saved my life), I have written about this at length in other venues.

    Here’s a summary of the areas of friction, reflecting the views of a lot of automobile commuters I have spoken to:

    – In the context of American culture, bicycles are toys: so the people who ride them for practical purposes are either stuck in a pre-adolescent phase … or are just being eccentric for the sake of eccentricity.

    – Bicycle riders do not “pay their way”. They don’t pay gasoline taxes, so they are not entitled to use the roads those taxes have purchased.

    – Bicycle riders are escaping the cost of gasoline completely, through a loophole in the current traffic laws. (Some motorists – and legislators – argue that bicycles should be banned from city streets altogether).

    – The current American culture is “accelerated”: and Speed is of the essence. Bicycles will always have a lower velocity than cars, so (again) they are not a serious transportation option.

    – Bicycle riders only observe the traffic laws they WANT to observe. This sense of Entitlement is particularly irritating to motorists, who feel that – if anyone is Entitled to feel Entitled – it should be them.

    Hope these insights prove helpful.

    Nate (SLC)

  • KevinH says:

    “Hope these insights prove helpful.”

    Unfortunate but realistic. Also cyclists may feel the need to take risks at times to get where they want to go. This tends to scare motorists, which then makes them angry. I have heard this statement: “If they want to share the road with me, they can share the risks”. I heard the same as a motorcyclist and being able to go faster made it no more comforting. I understand the rider who feels they must “shoot the hole”, but I’m afraid for them too. I can’t imagine it changing anytime soon. I think for me its a question of “Ride smarter, not harder”.

  • Ken P says:

    No, it is personal. There seem to be “people” for whom the mere sight of a bike ruins their day or life. Perhaps there are some yellers who lost a little sister at age 7 to a bike car accident. So they are compelled to warn and order one off the street. In MI we have some who can’t pass a bike without honking their horns. They all seem to know that the best time to honk is just as the horn is even with the riders hip. Yelling and honking is a nearly daily thing here. If this is new to you your lucky. Perhaps it has to do with the puritanical anti fun thing. They don’t understand why the biker is doing what he is doing and don’t care to learn. Today was a bad commute day. I was yelled at twice, honked at once and a woman who may have missed her turn made a left turn in my right of way with out once seeing me. Just to cut through a parking lot to return to the missed street. Disc brakes are wonderful! All this fun in a 23k round trip. Thank God for flat bars which keep all the controls right where the hands are always located. My strategy is to expect that drivers will not see me. Keep my head on a swivel See the danger and not put myself into dangerous situations. Bicycle commuting I do love it so.

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