Yesterday morning, as I rode my typical route to work, I was almost hit – and then yelled at in language that would make a sailor blush – by a fellow road user.
I was on my usual commuter bike, riding around 20 mph in a 25 mph zone alone R Street, NW, when a man in a metallic slate Land Rover pulled up close behind me, intending to pass me in a double-yellow zone. As this stretch of road is a bit of a breakover hill, I had the motorist’s best needs in mind: two cyclists and a Mini approached going in the opposite direction, and I wasn’t sure that the driver could pass me before crashing into the opposing lane’s traffic. And this is a road where drivers can park on the curb, which makes it a narrow, two-lane stretch where most cyclists need to take the center of the lane to avoid the door zone.
So I used the internationally-recognized hand signal for slowing (left hand out and down, palm facing toward the following traffic) to inform the driver that he’d best wait to pass.
He honked and yelled at me, and pulled to within a few inches of my rear wheel. I was not amused.
He then revved his engine and tried to pass again, even as the oncoming cyclists still hadn’t cleared his way. So I held out my hand forcefully and yelled “slow down, man!” to the driver.
Again, the horn. Again, the yelling and swearing:
“Get off the fucking road! You don’t fucking belong there, in the lane, in my way!”
I stick to my ground, as is my legal right, and proceed to the light at Wisconsin Avenue, which is red.
And I pull to a stop at the intersection, positioning my bike across the single, wide lane, blocking this guy from racing onward.
And he yells at me again, using the same tired arguments as before. I just let him do it.
And I notice his license plate: DC tags, 433.
Yup – a low-number tag, which is a political pay-off for high-roller supporters of the mayor.
It’s one of the ultimate statements of political vanity in DC’s incestuous political system.
And as a motorist, it makes you extremely easy to identify if you get into any tussle with a fellow user of the road.
So I sit there through the entire 56-second cycle of the traffic light.
As this goes on, he’s fuming. I eventually say to him “check the bike laws – and check with your friend, Mayor Fenty – I think he’s a cyclist, too.”
The light on R Street then changed to green, and I rode off, continuing to work. As he rounded the corner, he held his arm out as if to go after me, but was far short of his goal.
This autumn has seen an increase in bad blood between cyclists and motorists, as more cyclists take to the road and motorists are forced to accept their legal right to be on these same streets. Many times, these interactions are simple to diffuse and mutual understanding can be achieved, to the benefit of all parties involved.
And then there are the political asshats who feel an extra entitlement to “their roads.” To them I say: grow up, get real, and coexist. It’s not that hard to do.
And vanity (plates) will get you nowhere good in these situations.