30 September 2008

I am not a vehicle - rant

bicycle car share the road sign vehicle
Last night, as I tried to make an unprotected left turn against 3 lanes of cars I thought to myself "This just proves that I am not a vehicle". I have neither the power nor the safety features to compete on a level with the cars.

This morning that was brought home again to me, in a scary way.

I live on a one-way 1.5 lane urban street (enough room to double-park, but not really two lanes). My husband and I rode to the red light and stopped, as is the law. There was a car behind us who wanted to make a right on red. Being reasonable people we moved to the left, me more than he, and the car turned right.

The light then changed. I proceeded into the intersection, crossing it somewhat diagonally to make my way over to the right-hand side of the street. While I was in the intersection a BMW SUV going about 45 miles per hour swerves and honks and nearly clips me. She was insistent on her "right" to go about 2X the speed limit down this tiny one-way residential street. Thank God I wasn't turning left, I would be dead.

Naturally we caught her at the first red light. I was able to see into the car and saw she was looking over her new parking ticket. I imagine that played into her algorithm of aggression towards me.

I told her "You need to chill out". She told me to get out of the road. I started to get really angry at this point and told her it was the law that I ride in the road. She said I had to be at the side of the road. In retrospect I could have tried to explain what had happened with the other car, but really - is there anything I can do in the road that merits that kind of aggression? She just kept repeating that she had a car and all I have is a bike. This is the exact same statement another man used for acting in the same way towards my husband a while ago.

With people like that in cars I know we will never be equals. There is evasive action I must take as a cyclist in order to stay safe.

Later this morning I was stopped at a red light. There were at least 10 cars stopped with me. I looked ahead and there was a Construction Zone sign taking up the bike lane. I knew that I would have to move left into the car's lane in order to get past it. I looked both ways and ran the red light, getting beyond the sign and back in the bike lane before the cars caught up, making the whole thing less confusing and thus safer for everyone. This is a violation of the "Same Road, Same Rights, Same Rules" idea, but for the better.

There were some cops directing traffic outside my office this morning. I was shaken up enough to stop and run all these experiences past them.
  1. With respect to running the red light (I confessed!!!) they said that what I did this morning was reasonable and courteous, despite the tickets given in Cambridge to cyclists running reds.
  2. In the situation with the lady in the SUV, they said that I should just get the plate number. I can submit it to the RMV and get a hearing. They will listen to both of us and possibly take disciplinary action. I asked if it would help create a history of aggressive behavior, should she do worse next time and he said it would. I think it is worth getting the license plate next time, just in case.
I am now 100% in favor of "slow, then go"-style Idaho bike laws. While the concept of courtesy is more difficult to legislate and enforce, I know that I am not a vehicle.


bibliogrrl said...

Hey - I am really sorry that all of this happened to you. But you make a LOT of valid points and all of what you said is REALLY reasonable.

I do a lot of the same. I'm lucky to live in a city with a whole lot of bike traffic (Chicago), so I do not have to worry quite as much about crazies in cars. BUt these are things we all have to worry about at some point.

Thanks for this post. Ride safe!

Tiago said...

I don't know why but everytime I hace a problem whith cars it's a BMW !!! Why is that ? Just f***ing crazy !!!

Tom said...


I know this is a rant.... and you probably just want to vent, and you certainly don't need advice, but you are a vehicle (well your bike is). I think you have to say it over and over and over (at least ten times aloud). Be encouraged! Don't let a few drivers squeeze you into a mold of their choosing.

whenever a driver gives me a hard time I try remember the 1000 other drivers that treated me with respect- as a vehicle.

You ride an awesome vehicle!!

I think back at a person like Rosa Parks who wasn't treated as a person. But she was an awesome person- much more than her opponents. Bicycling may not be as an important rights issue as race.... but it is an important issue. Be the vehicle.

Thom said...

Wow, you're going to get a lot of comments on this one. I think we've all felt like this at one time or another, and since you're out there every day, your chances of encountering a lot of such behavior goes way up. It's so easy to get discouraged when this is what you're faced with every day. But you know as well as anybody that your bike certainly is a vehicle, just like a scooter, a motorcycle, or a car, but that a lot of drivers don't respect that fact. You know this, I know, but if we let drivers bully us into believing that we are not vehicles (or riding vehicles, at least), what hope do we have to change *their* minds? Hang in there, get on your bike tonight, and tomorrow morning, and every day after that, and change a few minds by riding safe and obeying the law, as usual.

Charlotte said...


If she'd hit me she'd have hurt a lot more than just a fender or a crumple zone.

Pedestrians have their own rights and responsibilities, I think bikes should have their own rights and responsibilities.

What do I gain by being a vehicle? Pedestrians certainly get a lot more respect in the road than I do.

-Charlotte, cooling off now

Charlotte said...

I guess I need to better understand what makes it a vehicle. A skateboard is not a vehicle. Rollerskates are not a vehicle. As far as I can tell a bicycle is the only human-powered contraption that is considered a vehicle.

On the water a powered boat yields to a sailboat yields to a rowboat. They don't pretend that all boats are equal because they aren't.

That makes a lot of sense to me.

burrito said...

I agree with you 1000%. Vehicles are 2ton hulks of steel with 200+ horsepower. That is not what I am on my bike. At all. Not even close. It's RIDICULOUS that I'm expected to share space with steel hulks that could kill me with an ill timed turn/swerve. The only similarity between me and cars is that we both use wheels. That's it. I don't have a roll cage or airbags or seatbelts or the ability to go 0-60 in 10 seconds.

No city with a major cycling culture asks bikes to mix with cars - they all have huge networks of physically separated bike lanes, eg: cities in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, etc. That's because only a small percentage of the population is willing to risk their life on a daily basis by mixing with cars.

They say the true test of a whether a bike network is successful is if 80 year olds and 8 year olds feel safe using it.

[end rant]

Anonymous said...

I hate to sound like I'm selling something, but I just began reading "Bicycling and the Law" by Bob Mionske, and it is really eye opening in defining WHY we are vehicles, and just what rights and duties that allows us. Definitely check it out. When we're on bikes, we absolutely are vehicles, and want and deserve the same rights as MOTOR vehicles.

That being said; assholes drive cars, ride bikes, and sail, and in every instance rules will be broken and they will behave unsafely, even with a well meaning hierarchal structure in place.

be safe, - Alex

Anonymous said...

One of the main problems with this discussion (not just on this blog, but everywhere) is that we only have two designations to work with: "vehicle" and "non-vehicle". I agree that bicycles should be treated as "vehicles" in that they should be entitled to the benefit of vehicular facilities, but it is also obvious that they are in no way identical to motor vehicles. They have many abilities that motor vehicles do not, and many vulnerabilities, as well. What is needed is for the laws and the traffic engineers to take these differences into account and to create a more varigated definition of "vehicle". This may be difficult in our prevailing political atmosphere, because it does, indeed, amount to "special treatment for bicycles". "Special" in this case meaning different, appropriate, and currently nonexistent. It will hapen, though. It's just a gradual process. Val

Anonymous said...

Personally, I defer to the cars because they _are_ bigger and I don't like being dead-right.

Understanding that a pedestrian legally has much more law on his side than a cyclist, I frequently make myself a pedestrian by getting off my bike, entering into the marked crosswalk, and wallking my bike through and/or across certain intersections. I may still get hit by a right-turner but at least then there can be _no_ argument over who had the right-of-way. I also never ever assert myself as a vehicle in order to occupy a full lane for making a left turn. Again, I then become a pedestrian and use the crosswalks, two of them in the case of a left turn.

I'll grant that I'm not commuting so I needn't ride like I was on a mission, but then, neither do all of you nor do the car driver commuters. Just develop the habit of leaving earlier and enjoy a less stressful commute.

burrito said...

Yes - by LAW - bikes are vehicles. I think we're all aware of that...

I think the point (correct me if I'm wrong) is that maybe we should have our own space, like pedestrians do, like bikes do in Copenhagen (where 36% of all trips are by bike). You know, instead of being told - "hey, you're a vehicle too - go play with the 2 ton steel cars!"

It's not that drivers are giving me a hard time when I take my allotted-by-law space on the road... it's that they RISK MY LIFE with their behaviour. I should be able to travel to work by bike without the fear of death!

There are 2 schools of thought on this topic, generally, people who think cyclists should embrace their status as vehicles and wait for drivers to be enlightened and accept this fact/act appropriately and on the other hand, chicken cyclists like me that just want my own physically separated space like in Copenhagen so I can cycle in dignity without fear of death.

I think gutsy cyclists don't understand that the bulk of the population is chicken cyclists like me who will only ride if they're safe. If we ever want a true cycling culture like you find in Europe, we have to cater to the chickens, the 80 year olds, and the 8 year olds.

The Stouts said...

I know this goes against everything I practice (I am car-free w/ 2 kids in suburbia), but I think I have to agree with Charlotte on this one. I am no match for the cars whizzing by me. For some reason, I have never had an altercation w/ a car. Maybe it's b/c my dad is always praying for me, maybe it's b/c there are other cyclists on the road too. I don't know. But I sure would like it if the USA would invest in bike infrastructure like they did in Holland or Colombia. The former mayor of Bogata said, "bikes and pedestrians need separate paths because they go different speeds". He said it with such cool, relaxed authority-like it wasn't up for debate. I think the same applies in this context. Cars and bikes go different speeds. We need different roads. I would certainly oppose not being allowed on the roads. I'll keep riding roads as I have no other choice, but in a perfect world, we'd have our own roads.

Carice said...

Man- there must have been something in the air in Boston this morning!
I dodged the joggers in the bike lane over the Longfellow, and got to my least favorite intersection (Longfellow bridge/Charles street/ Cambridge street) and as my custom pulled out well in front at the light so the guy in the panel van in the right lane (but no right turn signal) could see me. The light changed and I began to go straight only the realize he was swerving into me (and the three cyclists behind me). I yelled at him and he cursed and shook his fist at me (with a cell phone in it).
At the next red light I pulled to the left of someone waiting to turn right (to avoid a right hook) and as I crossed and moved over the exact same thing you described happened. I could have touched her car without completely extending my arm. Due to the hill up Cambridge, I didn't catch her, but it was a tough ride in.. At least we made it safely..

I have to try to remember the old lady who smiled at me as I rode by, woman who double checked and waited to turn right until I'd passed, and the guy who complimented my helmet as I sat at a light.

I personally am glad that they are ticketing red light runners (as they were doing near MIT this morning). I agree that Idaho style laws would be great, and I've broken the letter if not the spirit to avoid a dangerous situation more than once. But I see so many people completely ignoring basic common sense traffic laws. Last night I saw a guy all in black, no lights, riding no hands and apparently texting (!!!!) run through a red light without even stopping to check and nearly get creamed by a SUV.

As to the "vehicle" designation that's the only thing that "allows" us to ride on the road, but boy I wish there was a separate infrastructure for "Human powered vehicles!.
Good luck on the ride back home! Maybe whatever it was will have blown out to sea. Ride safe

RidingPretty said...

I actually developed what I felt to be a case of 'car phobia' after a near accident with a car. It didn't help that not long after a friend suffered head trauma sustained from an accident with a car AND this was while she was wearing a helmet!

Fear is what keeps a lot of girl riders off their bicycles. It happened to me. It can be so intimidating to deal with the aggression that one may encounter in busy city streets.

After not riding for a very long time, I just got back on my bicycle one day. For others I recommend taking one of the many Bicycle Riding Safety Classes that are offered in so many cities and communities. Also back roads(with very little traffic) may be a comfort. OR you can go vacation or move to a car free city as an option..though of course this is just not feasible for the vast majority.

You just learn to deal and keep on riding!

Charlotte said...

I agree that if I had to choose between being a "vehicle" and being restricted from the roads, then I'm going to choose vehicle. I just know that humans made the laws, and any human can see that there are more than two classes of transport.

Carice, there is definitely something in the air. I saw two altercations yesterday between bikes and cars. Yesterday I attributed it to Monday after a weekend of solid rain, people were grouchy. Today? I don't know.

Riding Pretty, I think the problem here is less cyclist-education and more motorist-education. I'm not sure what they would teach me that would help in the situation described.

Perhaps next time I'll get off my bike, jaywalk as a pedestrian illegally against the red light, and continue safely on my way. I'd be better off!


RidingPretty said...

Just a little clarification. What I meant by taking a Bicycle Safety Class was not meant for a seasoned and skilled cyclist such as yourself. It was meant for anyone reading this thread and finding that they may identify with a case of car phobia.
Classes could be
1) Good for anyone who may never have taken such a class before
2) Good for any seasoned riders who now have the jitters after a near miss with vehicle

One can have much to gain from riding in a group with other so as to feel the camaraderie, encouragement the group may offer. Group riding often works well until solid confidence is gained.

Just trying to shake off the jitters can be daunting. Trying to offer some thoughts to get back on a bicycle gain...short of a therapist.

Anonymous said...

The Officer is entirely incorrect, the RMV does not take ( though they should....someone tell them about this comment ! )the citizen complaints from cyclists. I am a seasoned urban commuter and as a result experience outrageous and violent aggression from idiots in cars in Boston all the time. One occasion especially peeved me cuz MA doesn't have a simple assault law and this guy seriously assaulted ( but didn't batter me) on my bike with his big ol' truck. I filed a complaint, gee, it was articulate too, I'm an atty by trade. Called the RMV weekly for 4 months, never answered the phone, never responded to the complaint. It's a farse, and did I mention I tried to get in touch with the legal department ? "We don't take phone calls for the legal department " is the policy. Yea, complaints and hearings for cyclists, that 's the sound bite they like to promote.

Charlotte said...

Oh Riding Pretty, it was never my intention to scare off a newbie. Any newbies out there, if you want to ride together, I'm all for a group ride at the moment!

Carice, I was thinking about your comment during ballet class today. I think that I firmly support ticketing cyclists for 1) failure to yield (to peds, to cars; depending on the scenario in question) and 2) reckless riding. Those are the two infractions I think can make life dangerous for everyone; cyclists, peds, cars, everyone. I think the fine should be steeper than $20 to make it serious, maybe $40(?), and the fine can be waived by going to a safe cycling class. Maybe in the class they'll show the pumpkin thrown against a wall at 20mph, like they do in Driver's Education. If I ruled the world, that's what I'd do. Cars would be taught that cyclists have a right to the road, and that they should avoid road rage or they'll end up a cyclist themselves!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, interesting post. It certainly does piss me off, however, when I am in my SUV and some bicyclist thinks I should move for them. Get the hell out of my way, don't you know that I could end you without hardly feeling the bump?? I think as I speed by, spewing exhaust into their choking faces.

Ridonkulus said...

i would love to take some bike safety classes if they offered them in chicago. it's part of the reason i don't ride my bike to work. in relation to your story, i love how the driver cuts you off and then still ends up at the same destination at the VERY SAME TIME you did. i mean seriously, these people save 5 seconds? 30 seconds off their commute?

antbikemike said...


I am sorry to hear about your negitive car encouters. I go back and forth on how I deal with these things and how I ride. I go by my gut feeling [like how you said something was in the air]. Somedays I assert myself and others I pull over a lot and let the traffic go by [and then I feel a lot safer]. As the years have gone by I do more of the latter, ride a lot slower and let the a-holes go on their way...they are brain dead and miserable. By being on your bike I know that you influence people in a positive way, so just stay safe and keep it up.

Charlotte said...

If you are overtaking a cyclist, one that is in front of you and presumably does not have eyes in the back of her head, do you expect her to already be out of your way before you catch her? Your statement seems needlessly aggressive to me.

It seems to me that there is no amount of training or evasive action that can avoid a driver using their vehicle as an intentional weapon.

Had I been allowed to run the red light I would have been through it and on my way by the time this driver caught me. Would that have helped? I don't know. I think she wanted to threaten someone to vent her rage. If it hadn't been me it would be her kids, or maybe she would have kicked the dog. As far as I can tell merely existing and being vulnerable was opening enough for her.

lagatta à montréal said...

I really like the Idaho law that recognises the difference between human-powered vehicles (also, sensibly, including electric wheechairs and similar mobility devices) and motor vehicles.

Because we are vehicles, and often have to fight for the right to use the roads and not be seen as toys or simply sporting goods. But it is absurd to place us in the same category as several tonnes of steel and plastic.

I know that by default car drivers are in the wrong in the Netherlands (or at least have the burdern of proof - no doubt Amsterdamize or some other Dutch friend could provide the specifics). It is amazing how cars just stop dead for bicycles and pedestrians at crossings.

I've sent this rant to some cycling friends.

Tiago, I've been seeing BMW and Mercedes SUVs! (4x4s). Not only are they showing off all their €€€€$$$$££££ or whatever, but the fact that they can waste still more money on excess gasoline and take up valuable urban space (especially in European cities or older North American cities such as Boston or Montréal that don't have wide roads everywhere). Grrrr.

Tom, bicycling may not be as important as the struggle for racial equality, but not killing the planet certainly is - and it is people suffering from social, economic and racial hardship and discrimination that are liable to suffer the most with the predicted short-term 4c temperature increase.

Rainy and grey here too. Trying not to get even more worked up about such autocentric cretins.

Ray said...

Anonymous 4:07-
I also never ever assert myself as a vehicle in order to occupy a full lane for making a left turn.
Why not?

Anonymous 6:34 -

How do I report a bad driver? To file a complaint about a driver who drove so as to endanger you, whether through extreme carelessness or malevolence, send a letter describing the incident with the license plate number to: Registry of Motor Vehicles Office of Driver Control PO Box 199150 Boston, MA 02119-9150 or use the RMV's Driving Complaint Form (PDF). If the complaint is regarding an MBTA bus driver, write to: MBTA Director of Bus Operations Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Ten Park Plaza Boston, MA 02116-3974 Send the 4-digit bus number, the route number, where you were, direction of travel, description of bus driver, and so on. Ask for a written response and include your phone number.

KT said...

Hey Charlotte, sorry to hear about this unfortunate incident! Sounds like you struck a chord with many of your readers. These suggestions are awesome. Hope you're feeling safe again!

miss sarah said...

It absolutely sucks that you had such a crappy bike/vehicle experience:( That woman totally needs to chill out and realize that having a car doesn't make her better than us... actually, I think the complete opposite is true!

Here it's always pick up trucks and SUVs. I'm not sure if it's because they're so high off the ground and they don't really shoulder check when they're turning? Almost getting run over is quite common here and I don't understand why we have to put up with life threatening situations daily when people are obviously crappy drivers.

Also, why is it that when we almost get run over it's OUR fault? The least somebody can do is apologize profusely and then learn to be more careful with their cars. Instead, we get honked at and told to get off the road... if any driver is lame enough not to focus when they're driving, THEY should get off the road. Also, they should stay at home and not bring their negative and awful attitude out into public.

I'm so sorry you had this experiences. And it makes me even more angry that you're not alone:(

MarkSF said...

I think all DRIVERS should be required to take a bicycle safety class before being able to get a license to operate a motor vehicle. I took a bicycle safety class when I began bicycling to work and it has made me musch more aware of cyclists and their rights when I'm driving.

Anonymous said...

(Sorry for coming in on a dead thread.) As someone new to cycling and old to driving, I'll say that when I see someone on a bike do something I perceive as dangerous in front of me, I get angry, because I have a car and they have a bike. I could kill them! At worst, my car will get dented. That scares me. I always try to drive and cycle safely, but when I drive, I get scared by cyclists. (My city has particularly dangerous cyclists, though, I guess. The majority seem to be riding on the wrong side of the street against traffic.)

Charlotte said...

When I see a cyclist do something genuinely dangerous I get angry too, because I think they give all of us a bad name.
When acting *explicitly* within the law I think it's really scary to be on the receiving end of such profound aggression.