It was fall, 2013 and I had just started my new job at the Bike Fed.
I was biking into work wearing my best suit because later that morning I needed to testify at a legislative hearing on – of all things – our vulnerable users bill.
As I turned into the new contra flow lane on East Main Street I noticed a delivery van moving in the opposite direction toward the angle parking ahead of me. The driver didn’t seem to notice me as he continued to turn across my lane.
As I braced for a collision I let out a shout and the van stopped inches from my back wheel. I stopped, turned around and approached the driver who had rolled down his window and was in the midst of an apology.
But I would have none of it. I yelled at him. I repeatedly used a vulgar word describing one of life’s most pleasurable experiences. I slapped the door beneath his window. In short, I was sort of a jerk.
And then I started to feel bad about the whole thing. Here I was in a new job representing cyclists and I wasn’t giving us a very good name, was I? So, I gathered myself up and walked the two blocks back to the scene of the crime, intending to find the driver and issue an apology. But he was already gone.
For those of you who have been through something similar you might be able to relate to what happened. Your adrenaline spikes. Nature has programmed us to quickly move blood out of the brain and to other parts of our body so that reaction is unclouded by thought. Seconds after almost being clocked, my brain was still not fully back in control. I reacted strongly and emotionally. It wasn’t pretty.
I think about this now because we’ve had quite a “robust” (my candidate for the most pretentious and over-used word of the decade) discussion here on the blog about the Madison road rage incident of last month.
In the discussion thread I tried to plead for a little understanding on both sides. Most other commentators wanted none of that. I was called spineless for even suggesting that the cyclist in that case was wrong to do some of what I did in my own incident three years ago. I responded that I deserved some respect because without a spine it is hard to even sit up and type.
So, for those of you who believe we should give the driver in that incident no quarter, well okay, I’ll drop the shovel now. It did not help my case that many of you know the guy and he has given his neighbors reason not to like him because of other incidents.
What I would like to hear is your reaction to what I did in my situation. It was somewhat different because the driver in my case held no malice; he just wasn’t paying attention. And the contra flow lane was relatively new. He probably wasn’t expecting a cyclist coming in the opposite direction.
But in my own defense I couldn’t be expected to process all that in the seconds before, during and right after the incident. And whether or not my bike lane was new, what of it? Drivers are in charge of deadly force. They have a responsibility to be alert.
So, was I right to give him hell for almost hitting me? Did the net result of that make him a lot more careful to watch out for us? Or did I leave him with a negative impression of cyclists that only made everything worse?
Was I right, once I settled down, to go seek him out and try to apologize or was I being spineless for doing so? If I had found him, what should I have said?
Let’s discuss. Robustly.