Last night, on my bike ride home, I got a little love tap from a car. It shook me up something awful, but then I had several thousand feet of elevation to gain over the next 2.5 miles, so I didn’t really have time to be upset about it (nothing inspires zen like a big hill).
The problem was this: I was riding home in rush hour traffic, downtown, and I was trying to make a left hand turn from a two lane road. I moved into the left hand lane at the red light, and patiently waited for the green arrow to indicate that I could make a left safely. But when the light turned, there was no green arrow, and I stood, dumbfounded, in front of a whole lane of cars wanting to go straight, faced with oncoming traffic. I certainly couldn’t turn left.
I balanced precariously on my bike between two lanes of traffic rushing by and one car deliberately gave me a little bump to show me his annoyance. It wasn’t particularly painful (more like an extremely hard shove from behind), but it was definitely deliberate. My pack took the brunt of the blow and I was unharmed except for a scratch on my leg where it was forced against the pedal.
I stumbled but caught myself before tumbling into the other lane of traffic and another lady in a car rolled down her window, “Are you okay? Did you get his license plate number?” she shouted over the cars, honking at her now.
“No, no, I’m fine. It was just a little whack,” I said, shaking out my arm to show it was okay. She looked unhappy but drove on. I still had to wait to turn left, and I hovered nervously on my bike, hoping no one else would want to teach me a lesson.
I still don’t know what I should have done there, or why there wasn’t ever a green left hand turn arrow. If I had been a car waiting to turn left, everyone behind me would have had to be patient.
It took me a long time to calm down after I got home. I love riding my bicycle, but I wish there wasn’t this antagonism between cyclists and cars. I try to be very respectful when I ride in traffic, and to follow all the traffic laws, as bicycles are considered vehicles.
But the fact is that bicycles are NOT cars and cyclists are very vulnerable on the road. If a cyclist makes a dumb move, they are not likely to hurt someone else (though they might hurt themselves), but a car could easily kill a cyclist. As an example, I was nearly killed by a Ford F150 (a substantial truck) a couple of weeks ago because the driver ran a red light while texting. If I had been a second slower in reacting, I would have been hit, and I would not have walked away from a crash like that. It can happen that quickly.
Years of riding have taught me to be paranoid and ever vigilant for cars making mistakes or deliberately cutting me off.
So the driver that tried to teach me a lesson for being in the way last night did achieve his immediate intent: he scared me. But he didn’t achieve his ultimate goal, because I will keep on riding, even though cars hate cyclists. And not even because I love riding (though I do). My bicycle is my primary mode of transportation and I believe that bicycles belong on the road. There has to be some way for cars to acknowledge and protect us, as opposed to being aggravated at our presence and attempting to drive* us off the road.
*literally in this case