Encounter with a Motorist

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007
By John A. Ardelli


I had a surprising experience this past Saturday on my way to the Velo Cape Breton Season Opening Banquet.

I was heading north on Keltic Drive approaching the train trestle just before the bridge. For those who don't know the area, as you pass the lights at the entrance to the Cape Breton Shopping Plaza, the road "pinches" down from three lanes to one just prior to the trestle. To prevent motorists from trying to squeeze past me, I generally "take the lane" here. There simply isn't room to share once you're under that trestle.

Anyway, as I pass under the trestle, a pickup truck brushes by me within centimeters of my elbow. Startled and incensed, I yell out, "Hey!"

He heard me...

Just beyond the trestle is a wide gravel shoulder. He pulls over, looking back at me as I approach. Now I evaluate my options. There are no buildings there whatsoever. There are no people around save the cars passing. I figure getting into a confrontation with this guy there, where there is no possibility of help should I get into trouble, would be unwise. So, I stand out of my saddle and sprint past him, hoping that would be the end of it.

After getting past the bridge and preparing to make my turn onto Westmount Road, I look back and, to my astonishment, the guy is still there, following me. I'm a pretty fast cyclist, but not that fast, particularly since that whole route going north is uphill. There was no way this guy would still be behind me if he wasn't deliberately following me...

Getting nervous now, I make my turn onto Westmount and, sure enough, the guy makes the same turn right behind me. I look around again. This time, I'm in an area where there are several houses and there's a couple of people getting out of a car in front of a house. Good. I've got help if I need it, and I'd rather pull over and confront this guy face to face than confront him while he's still behind the wheel of 5000 kilograms of steel...

So, I pull over. He passes me and pulls over about 20 meters ahead. He gets out of his truck and heads right for me. OK, so I wasn't imagining things. He was following me. I tense as he approaches, ready to defend myself in case this gets ugly...

He walks up to me and says: "Sorry about that, bud. I thought you were going to stay in the other lane."

Whoa. Hold on. Back up. Rewind...

This guy went to all that trouble, pacing me, following me for a good minute only to pull over and apologize...?

Wow...

I was so impressed with this guy that I stepped out of my saddle and reached out to shake his hand. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. That was, bar none, the classiest interaction I've ever had with a fellow road user, cyclist or motorist.

Velo Cape Breton's educational efforts appear to be paying off. Motorists are finally starting to understand: cyclists are vehicle operators with the same rights as any other road user.

I only wish I had had time to find out who that guy was. He deserves to be recognized for his courtesy.


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Comments:
Generally, I always try to put traffic between me and cagers who want an unfriendly confrontation.
 
A simple wave to you after the problem would have been sufficient. Too bad this nice gesture came with such an expanse of wasted energy and unnecessary anxiety. If a well designed bike lane was available this wouldn't have happened. Trouble is most bike lanes are not well designed and neither are the roads being shared.

Jack
 
wow, that was nice of him..... but its funny that we expect a reaction out of him, just not that reaction...
 
Cool story.

Jack, John A is one of those bike-lane-haters you mentioned in an earlier conversation :-)
 
It is great that he apologized, but hopefully the incident will get this guy to pay better attention while driving in the future. Close calls like that are always scary. The fact that driver was a nice guy would not have been much of a consolation if he had actually hit you. I guess my point is that the many inattentive drivers out there scare me more than the few blatantly belligerent ones.
 
Fritz,

That is why people like John A. get hassled...they don't normally receive the respect they deserve and are amazed when they get it. If they had a place at the planing table, John A. wouldn't have been surprised. Simply sharing the road can create great anxiety and wasted energy/emotions when you're up against the 5000 kg of Goliath steel and you're the 100 kg of David. John's reaction speaks for itself.

We need complete streets, not excuses. Examples about people who care to be fair are nice, but too infrequent, to be considered normal behavior.

Jack
 
Paul, as far as putting traffic between me and him in this instance, there was no opportunity to. The road from the trestle on, including following my turn onto Westmount, is only two lanes. There is no place for me to go that would put someone between me and him.

Jack, bike lanes only complicate an already elegant system that allows users of all vehicles to share the road without conflict, and most are designed badly, encouraging cyclists into dangerous practices. It's easier, cheaper and safer to educate (cyclists and motorists alike) people in how bicycles and motor vehicles should interact with each other when out on the road.
 
John A., in a "perfect world" I would agree, but this may surprise you but most of us don't live in such a world. By the way, this phrase "pw" has real meaning and to understand look at how biking is being seriously damaged in St. Louis.

As exemplified by cities in the US and around the world that have successfully integrated cycling into transportation, bike lanes are important for numerous reasons.

Bike lanes don't prevent STR but do enhance the ability to include bike planners in the process of street design and construction. In addition, these lanes are constant reminders to vehicles that cyclists have rights too! In other words, these lanes serve as continuing education!

As you admit, bike lanes are too often poorly designed as are our streets. Complete streets addresses these issues but THERE WILL ALWAYS BE AN INHERENT CONFLICT between motorized vehicles and pedestrian-cyclists. This is a fact and is recognized as such for obvious reasons. Successful planners incorporate this fact into their plans which help creates friendlier environments for all road users.

Like you, I'll ride on any street but I have been riding for over fifty years. However, I know that my wife and many friends will not comfortably ride on streets without bike lanes. Your personal view is not helping them and its pervasiveness is preventing the cycling world from having needed riders to create more critical mass.

Perhaps drivers in your area are much more considerate than in our area and you're fortunate. Gee I wish you were right but numerous studies and successful cities say otherwise.

Jack
 
Jack, since you put this same comment on my personal blog, I responded there:

http://pedalingprince.blogspot.com/2007/05/share-road.html
 
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