02

Blog

Hostile Encounters: Deep Breaths and Making a Record

“How about I get out and f*** you up in front of your kid?,” says the person driving the car next to me. And a Happy Mother’s Day to you as well…

Here’s what happened and here’s how I fought back.

As someone who both drives a car and rides a bike, I consistently urge mutual respect and common courtesy among all people using our roads. I stop at red lights and stop signs regardless of my mode of transportation. When on my bike, I ride with the flow of traffic and use lights at night. I also give polite “please” and “thank you” waives. The world seems to operate more smoothly with such communication and pleasantries.

On Mother’s Day, I was on my bicycle with my toddler daughter, Colette, in tow behind me. We were heading to the New Orleans CycloFemme ride organized by Marin Tockman. I told Marin that I’d represent Bike Easy and be a ride ambassador to help with any issues along the way. I also wanted to share the experience with Colette for her first ride-along of this type. Colette primarily enjoys the ride with a squeaky toy, while checking out the passing scenery and looking forward to jumping out and playing in different spots along the way (for example, gardens of wildflowers in City Park).

Colette in Burley

Here’s the good news. For the vast majority of the ride, every person that passed our group in a car seemed to give us a wide berth and pass at a reasonable speed. The obvious risk of something very bad happening increases exponentially when these factors are disregarded. This is a public thank you to everyone driving that we encountered that day, except one.

Just before arriving at Dashing Bicycles on Rampart Street, I was riding on Esplanade heading towards the Mississippi River. This stretch of roadway is two-ways, separated by a median with one wide lane for travel next to a parking lane. While riding down Esplanade, many cars passed me with plenty of room. I was staying as far to the right as practicable to be as courteous to passing motorists. Then, one car whizzed by me. I felt the strong punch of moving air. The driver was going a significant amount above the speed limit. He also passed me inside the 3’ zone of no passing under La. R.S. 32:76.1. He then continued to speed to the red light at Rampart Street, where any saved-time advantage from speeding was negated. The car had an Alabama license plate. I decided to make contact with the driver to let him know about Louisiana’s 3’ passing law, especially as Alabama does not yet have a safe passing law.

Esplanade Avenue

I wanted to welcome him to Louisiana, a state that’s becoming more and more bicycle friendly. New Orleans has striped an average of 10 miles of bike lanes per year for the last decade. Our bicycle commuter rates are among the highest in the country. And we have bicycle advocacy groups across the state (Bike Easy, Bike Baton Rouge, Bike Lafayette, Bike Shreveport) that are attempting to make biking safer through education and enforcement. Everyone has a role, no matter how short-lived the traffic situation, to improve roadway relations.

In doing my part in this situation, I rolled up to the passenger’s side window of the offending car and asked him to roll his window down. He complied and stuck out his middle finger before the conversation even began. Keeping my cool in the spirit of trying to improve this dynamic on a larger scale, I told this guy that “in Louisiana, you have to leave 3 feet when passing a bicyclist.” The driver responded by trying to tell me that he’s from Louisiana despite the Alabama license plate: “I went to [name of all-male high school in New Orleans], asshole.” After a deep breath, I told this guy that he passed way too close to my daughter and me and to just be more careful. His response came back as a tough-guy yell: “How about I get out and f*** you up in front of your kid?” After this threat, I broke off the encounter knowing that he was likely having a bad day or perhaps not loved as a child. While it was not going to be productive or safe to further engage in futile conversation with this guy, I will nonetheless bring this matter to a just conclusion through other means.

People should be held accountable for breaking the law, whether behind a steering wheel or handlebars. This is especially true when their actions endanger others. It’s unclear whether the driver in my situation knew that Louisiana has a 3’ passing law. It is clear that he handled the situation poorly by rejecting the polite, educational heads-up and instead yelling threats from the driver’s seat of his car. Nevertheless, I doubt that he knew that I’m an attorney with a commitment to making the roads safer for all users. This driver has elected the enforcement consequence over the education option, which is fine as I’m armed with a pen and the laws that the Louisiana legislature passed to govern how we’re supposed to act in traffic. This includes the non-harassment of people on bicycles in La. R.S. 32:201.

In continuing to do my part, he will understand – through a traffic court citation, a letter to his insurance company putting them on notice of his driving disposition, and/or a civil action – that there are consequences for disregarding the rules of the road in a way that will make him think twice about endangering and threatening someone again.

Moving forward, the silver lining remains that only one incident like this happened on a multiple hour urban ride. I’m optimistic that all roadway users are realizing that working together with a small dose of patience will go much further than an instantly-combative approach. So let’s continue to try and take deep breaths and defuse situations when possible. And when this isn’t possible, make sure to get a picture of the offending person’s license plate with your cell phone and immediately type out what happened, quotes and all.

Comments

Rick Bernardi Sep 13, 2019

Stop as Yield. It was the legislative Holy Grail for Oregon cyclists. Idaho had pioneered the Stop As Yield concept—allowing cyclists to treat a stop sign as if it’s a yield sign—in 1982, and for decades, Idaho remained the only state where Stop as Yield was legal for cyclists, despite the actual practice being widespread, […]

Read More
Peter Wilborn Aug 20, 2019

A camera is necessary kit for every ride. But finding the right camera has been a challenge, until now. My rebuttable presumption: the Ricoh GR III is the best cycling camera of all time. Read on, and if you can prove there’s a better one, let me know. The Ideal Cycling Camera To find the […]

Read More
Human Shield Bike Lane
Bruce Hagen Jul 29, 2019

If you ride bikes around Atlanta, chances are that you know Niklas Vollmer and Andreas Wolfe.  They’re some of the many people in town who seem to live on their bikes and can be seen riding everywhere.  While they both have their “day jobs,” folks in the cycling world know them for their place in […]

Read More
Bruce Hagen Jul 19, 2019

This is a time when advocacy efforts are crucial to making our streets safer for everyone. Within 24 hours from the Two Wheel Tuesday gathering we suffered two more casualties.  On Wednesday morning, Marten Bijvank was on his way to work on his bicycle when he was struck and killed by an unlicensed DUI driver […]

Read More
AJ's Bicycle Shop in Iowa
Jim Freeman Jul 15, 2019

Bicycling Magazine recently published an article titled, “Hey, Bike Shops; Stop Treating Customers Like Garbage.”  The story follows a heavy-set 59 year old’s sad tale of how he was treated poorly from a number of local bike shops.   First and foremost, I would be clear that bikes are for almost everyone.  If you are big, […]

Read More
Bike accident scene
Rick Bernardi Jul 12, 2019

The big bike news out of the Oregon legislature this year was the passage of a Stop as Yield law. This was an enormous legislative victory for Oregon cyclists, the culmination of over a decade of advocacy. But it wasn’t the only legislative victory for Oregon cyclists this legislative session. A less glamorous but equally […]

Read More
Uber Biking Escort
Charlie Thomas Jul 11, 2019

I often find myself wanting to ride on a roadway corridor that doesn’t want me there. At best, I could make it across alive with some close calls and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. At worst, I wouldn’t be around to write this blog post.  Of course, a safer, alternate route […]

Read More
Cycling Without Age Bike Law
Brian Weiss Jul 11, 2019

The founder of the Lakewood Bicycle Advisory Team loves his life on two wheels. Gary Harty was born in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and raised in Colorado – Denver Metro area, and now makes bicycling in Lakewood, Colorado safe and fun.  Gary is part of the baby boomer generation. He attended Colorado State University (CSU) and […]

Read More
Rachael Maney Bike Law
Rachael Maney Jul 10, 2019

Outrage.  It is what drives action and engagement on the interwebs these days. If it’s not outrageous, it’s boring. The Election of 2018 proved that outrage increases TOS (“time on site”) more than friendship, sympathy, desire, or anything else.  Judgment. By definition it is necessary to reach any conclusion about anything. But passing it on […]

Read More
Stop as Yield for Cyclists
Rick Bernardi Jul 09, 2019

The Oregon Legislature made national news this past week, for all the wrong reasons. The State Senate, with a super-majority of Democrats in control, had been working on climate legislation which would have Oregon join a cap-and-trade market with California and Quebec. Unable to stop the legislation, Republican Senators fled the state en masse, preventing […]

Read More
Bike Law Alps
Charlie Thomas Jul 07, 2019

It’s Tour de France time. I follow the racing daily through the footage on TV feed and still photos. But I hadn’t ever considered what’s happening on the other side of the camera lens. Like, what actually goes into snapping these pictures that we see documenting the Tour’s happenings? I started to care more about […]

Read More
E Bike and insurance
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Jul 01, 2019

Prologue  Last month, I rode across the Casco Bay Bridge to talk e-bikes and insurance with Bob O’Brien, the Vice President of Noyes, Hall and Allen Insurance in South Portland, Maine.  Although I have yet to invest in an e-bike for myself, I have been captivated by e-bikes and their potential to get and keep […]

Read More
Load More