A Positive Outcome, A Negative Outcome

Over at StreetsBlog, Colin Beaven, aka “No Impact Man“, recounts two recent curbside confrontations he had with motorists that ended with very different outcomes:

A Close Call, a Confrontation, a Conciliatory Ending
by Brad Aaron at Streetsblog

Sen. Jeff Klein to No Impact Man: “Hands Off My Car, You F—king A—hole”
by Brad Aaron at Streetsblog

I’m sympathetic to Beaven’s frustration with careless motorists, but tapping on windows (he could have hit his brakes instead) and pulling your bike in front of a car to block its passage are dangerous activities in today’s world. I’m not saying one way or the other whether his actions are justified, but as recent reports have shown us, when cyclists aggressively confront motorists, it’s often the cyclist that ends up on the short end.

I found it interesting that in the first confrontation, the motorist was the peacemaker. It makes me wonder whether we cyclists are riding around with chips on our shoulders; I have to admit that I probably am. Since we’re so vulnerable while sharing the road with automobiles, and even small lapses of driver attention can lead to such horrific outcomes, it’s understandable. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that motorists are intentionally out to get us. I believe that in most cases (not all), motorists are simply distracted or ignorant when accidents or near misses occur. This is no excuse for unsafe driving, but partaking in curbside confrontations is unlikely to resolve anything, and may lead to unanticipated, unfortunate consequences.

It’ll be interesting to see if Senator Klein takes Beaven up on his offer to meet.

***UPDATE*** It looks as if Senator Klein has accepted Beaven’s offer to meet. More here

11 Responses to “A Positive Outcome, A Negative Outcome”

  • Nate Briggs says:

    Motorists are all in a terrible hurry, distracted, and sometimes half-asleep – but one guiding principle of my commuting life is: NOBODY WANTS TO HIT YOU.

    The legal consequences of a bicyclist/motorist collision are just too much psychological pain for most drivers to take on. They don’t want to litigate … they don’t want to hire a lawyer … and they don’t want to take the chance that they can get away as a hit-and-run.

    The exception to this is when the Rider floats a challenge, and – according to some well-established Darwinian principles – the motorist feels obligated to respond.

    These situations can escalate in ways that are just unbelievable to someone who is not involved – and they are eminently unfair, since the motorist has a deadly weapon at his disposal … and the Rider is defended only by a sense of righteous indignation.

    And maybe the Law … if the cops finally get there. (In my neighborhood, they are busy fighting the War on Drugs. Traffic can sort itself out.)

    In particular, I would caution Riders to be very circumspect as far as touching a motorist’s vehicle … or launching anything (like a water bottle) in the vehicle’s direction.

    A motorist’s vehicle is not a physical object. It is an extension of the person inside – like their clothes. Once the confrontation reaches this level the encounter can get very intense … very fast.

    A Rider here in Salt Lake City was almost killed as a result of just tapping on the window of the wrong van at the wrong time. The motorist has never been caught … and the Rider is crippled for life. If he had it to do over again, that Rider would not have tapped on that window.

  • brad says:

    Same goes for pedestrians. I was walking across a street in Cambridge, Massachusetts about 20 years ago with a friend, and a car pulled into the street when we were halfway across, without slowing down. My friend punched the trunk of the car as it went by and two seconds later the driver screeched to a halt, jumped out of the car and pointed a gun at us. We stood there petrified; the guy looked around and realized there would be a lot of witnesses if he killed us, so he jumped back in and drove off. We were both in such shock that we didn’t have the presence of mind to even look at his license plate. There are a lot of crazy people out there; it’s not worth risking your life to try to teach them better manners or biker awareness.

  • Mike says:

    The guy above said:

    “Motorists are all in a terrible hurry, distracted, and sometimes half-asleep – but one guiding principle of my commuting life is: NOBODY WANTS TO HIT YOU.”

    Hope not, but those could be famous last words.

    Your better practice for survival is to assume that no one sees you, and that they don’t really care if they hit you or not. In fact, when I’m on my motorcycle (more frequently on that than on my bike), I take it one step further and assume that everyone on the road is out to kill me.

    Knock on wood: it’s worked so far.

    And back OT: I agree that one shouldn’t provoke a confrontation with a driver. It’s stupid and unlikely to “solve” anything.

  • Elaine says:

    I’d split the difference between Brad & Mike: assume that no one WANTS to hit you, but that they DON’T SEE you, either. The first half breeds a better emotional outlook, then 2nd a cautious behavior. I think that’s genuinely true in that first story, as well.

  • Elaine says:

    Er, split the difference between NATE & Mike. :)

  • andy parmentier says:

    motor vehicles bring out the redneck in folks. but they’re the ones with a mobile roof over their heads and necks.

  • Rik A. says:

    I got hit last week in really slow traffic in Cambridge, MA (driver didn’t see me when they were turning right at a light) and I ended up on the hood of the car that hit me. Really weird, I wasn’t injured and my bike was fine, but the car got a bit scratched up. The driver was a jerk and the pedestrians who helped me off the car started yelling at him. I just walked away, dazed. And this was on a street with bike lanes.

  • Jim Reilly says:

    The confrontation with the Senator is one very familiar to me. It’s ugly out there. As for our cyclist friend, he did not help himself by riding on the left side between flowing traffic and parked cars. That’s a bad spot for drivers to see other vehicles let alone a cyclist.

  • Scott Wayland says:

    All these stories make me glad I don’t have to ride in dense urban areas, especially NYC. Jeez, what a war zone.

    Be safe.


  • Croupier says:

    Totally unrelated, but certainly the finniest thing I’ve had happen to me that was bicycle related in a long time:
    This kid was locking his mountain bike up outside of a Mexican restaurant near my house. I was on foot, strolling by and his friend was already walking into the building when he turned around and said to his buddy:
    “Matt! Come on we’re only going to be in here for like five minutes!”
    Then I decide to respond to this shrieky-voiced kid and said:
    “I could steal his bike in 5 minutes!”
    The kid looked surprised I’d say anything in this situation for a second and then yelled at me:
    “Shut up, old man!”
    I’m 22… but I shut up and walked away.

  • Scott Wayland says:

    Croupier: Freakin’ hilarious!


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