It Really Is A Two-Way Street

I just got road-raged on my own suburban street. I was stopped at a red light, doing exactly what the law and safety required me to do. But that simply wasn’t good enough for this particular motorist. He pulled up behind me. Then honked, clearly wanting me to get out of his way. But where could I go?

  • Through the red light? No – that’s illegal (and often dangerous).
  • Pick up my bike and move to either edge of the lane? No – the lane is too narrow for a car to squeeze by safely. And, come on, just because my vehicle is light enough to pick up and move doesn’t mean I should have to.
  • Into the left-turn lane? No – there were already cars waiting there.

So I waited a few more seconds, the light turned green and I started pedaling across the street. The motorist, rather than just make his right turn, felt it was important to yell at me for not getting out of his way (as if I had been selfish), then drop an f-bomb when I reminded him, more or less politely, of my right to be on the road. The whole incident probably lasted 15 seconds.

Motorists often accuse bicyclists of wanting it both ways: Wanting drivers to respect us on the road, while ignoring traffic laws at will. OK, there’s some truth to that.

But motorists often seem to want it both ways too: Wanting bicyclists to follow the law, except when it inconveniences motorists. Then they prefer us to break whatever law is necessary, or put ourselves in danger, or just get the heck out of the way, just so they don’t have to slow down or wait a few seconds.

How about this for a thought: Nobody can have it both ways. If we all keep sending each other mixed messages, then getting to work, school, home, or the store will continue to be a competitive sport. People will continue to kill or be killed (sometimes literally) simply to save a few seconds. Or we, as individuals and as a society, can choose a different way.

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12 Responses to It Really Is A Two-Way Street

  1. matt February 2, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

    yes there are some nasty cagers out there. and certainly many drivers get annoyed when they are forced to wait several seconds, let along a minute or two. I would wager that many of those folks would likewise be nasty to other cars in their way.

    but I think many motorists sincerely believe that it is illegal for bicycles to be on the road. they sincerely believe that cyclists are required to ride on the sidewalk and stay out of traffic. It’s hard for me to come to any other conclusion without feeling hopeless.

  2. Sweetman February 3, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    Great post. It is true that there are a handful (although many cyclists would swear it’s a legion) of motorists who become annoyed at the sight of a cyclist in traffic, following the rules of the road which means the bike is taking the place of a car. I am not sure why that irks some drivers. all I can think is these are aggressive drivers who zoom through cross walks with pedestrians in them and charge around stopped school busses.

    There is a lot of road rage. I try to remember my goal is to get from one place to another without getting flattened. As cyclists, you are so much more vulnerable to injury or worse with an irate driver. As satisfying as it may be to get into a screaming match, the best response would be reporting the incident to the police if it escalated.

    Cheers, Sweetman

  3. Sarah February 3, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    This definitely seems to be a common thing around our glorious city, and I think you are all right. The same people that challenge cyclists, are most likely the same ones that try to run over pedestrians.
    So my question is, when reporting these angry drivers, (which I really think we should all do, it’s our responsibility to one another to protect us and teach motorists that we do have the right to “replace” a motorcar on the roadways.) How do we contact the police; 911?
    I don’t know if as I child I was taught to not use 911 unless someone is dying, but I always worry about “tying” up the line. Is there a more appropriate number to call, since it isn’t really immediately urgent?
    Also, I read somewhere on the internet that language matters in terms of reporting an incident to the police. For example, if you call and just say “Motorist WBD 145 honked their horn at me, and then sped by, and made me nervous”, isn’t good enough. You have to say “Motorist WBD 145 made a threat at me with a deadly weapon.”
    Is anyone familiar with this?
    Because one sentence sounds a little more like “they hurt my feelings”, and the other obviously sounds more dangerous, when in fact they are the same situation.
    Thanks so much!


  4. Agnes Kearon February 3, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Many cyclists and even more motor vehicle drivers are ignorant of the rules of the road. Some people would be less rude if they knew cyclists are behaving legally. It would prevent a lot of rudeness and accidents if rules were described in motor vehicle manuals and tested when people apply for drivers liscences and it would be reinforced if there were public service ads on tv & radio. More people would ride bikes as transportation reducing oil use , pollution, obesity if they felt safer.People would be happier & smile more as they ride safely reducing grouchiness & rudeness.

  5. David February 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    Thanks for the great comments. Here’s more info:

    Knowing The Rules. It’s clear that many people don’t know what the rules are and what they’re supposed to be doing, although the survey we did last Fall showed us that the knowledge gap is much bigger among motorists. So our new safety campaign Same Roads Same Rules is aimed at both bicyclists and motorists. We’ll be doing a big push in the Spring on this with our state agency partners.

    Reporting Incidents. There used to be a statewide process through the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) for citizens to report road rage incidents. I say “used to be” because the RMV discontinued the program last year, after determining that it wasn’t effective because few victims or accused drivers actually showed up for hearings. You can still send a letter describing the incident to RMV’s Driver Control Unit, PO Box 55896, Boston, MA 02205, but there is no longer a formal process that requires them to do anything. MassBike has talked with RMV about the need for a real complaint process, and we will continue to push for this. You can, and should, file a local police report. The problem is that many police officers don’t know that RMV stopped taking complaints, so they still tell people to use the RMV process. But you can insist that the officer take a report and you are entitled to get a copy. The police might not be able or willing to pursue charges unless there is actual injury or property damage, or witnesses other than you and the driver, but they still have to take a report if you want them to, so don’t let them talk you out of it.

    Calling 911. It’s up to you whether to call 911 if you think a crime has been committed or you are in imminent danger. If you got hurt, or your bike got damaged, or there is evidence or witnesses at the scene, you should probably call 911. But you can always call the non-emergency number for the local police if you want.

    Confronting Drivers. We recommend not confronting drivers in road rage incidents. They are already angry at you (that’s why it’s called “rage”). They are sitting in a 2000-pound deadly weapon and have already demonstrated that they have little regard for your safety. You might try to get a picture of their license plate with your cell phone camera, or at least write it down or memorize it, but be careful because they might get even more enraged if they realize you can identify them.

    Drivers Manual & Test. There actually is a lot of information in the Drivers Manual about bike safety, but it is mostly aimed at bicyclists. The RMV has been cooperative in working with MassBike to revise the manual in the past, and we plan to ask them to include more information for motorists about interacting with bicyclists. There is supposed to be a question on the written test about bicycles; has anyone taken the test recently and seen it?

  6. janice February 3, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    that’s a really unfortunate incident, the kind that leaves me shaking. i think we all have our car-rage stories.

    about 6 years ago i was narrowly missed on my bike by an off-duty cop (his uniform was hanging in the SUV) who ran a stop sign on the SE Corridor, then made a right on red from the left lane at the Jackson Square T stop (where RoR is not allowed). I got his plate (“FEARGD”, can you believe it)? and reported it to the RMV and to his desk sergeant. [I forgot how i figured out which station he worked at.] Anyway, nothing happened. :(

    anyway, hope to see you pedal by peet’s sometime!

    ~ janice

  7. Rob Graves February 4, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    I live in West Hartford, CT , which is a total freakout raceway. Many roads here are fast two laners, and road rage every where. SUV soccer moms, we call them “breeders”.

    Try this: as you approach an intersection, stay to the right side of each lane, and try to always let one vehicle ahead of you. You actually want the “blockage”, just like a running back in football. The reason you want this is in case there’s an accident in the intersection the rebounding driver (like in a game of pool) will bounce off the car in front of you rather than hit you as you are a sitting duck.

    1. right lane: Let’s say you are ahead of a pack of Hummers. Pull over to the curb for a sec about 40 feet from the corner, and just chill. Let one or two ahead of you, more if the intersection allows right turns on red. Pay attention to that. That’s why most drivers get teed off, you are blocking their turn. so don’t do that. Be nice. Even to the ones who don’t bother to signal. They may be heavily medicated or something.

    Use your mirror (invaluable! I use a helmet mirror) to “profile” the driver behind you, who has just seen you be nice to two cars. Chances are they will now be more accomodating. If they don’t look insane, in a hurry, give them a quick over the shoulder glance. Wave hello and nod. Chances are they won’t buzz you now. So now you have “rear blockage”. They will hang behind you supporting you in a way. You just need to go 100 feet across….

    Be aware that the vehicles in front of you may turn right without signalling. DO NOT EVER PASS A CAR ON THE RIGHT!!!!! Proceed through the intersection quickly and efficiently. Look out for vehicles turning left in front of you, but you are protected from this a bit as vehicles in front of you are going straight, you have “blockage”.

    Stay toward the middle of right lane of the intersection then get over to the right onto the new shoulder or bike lane. Stay off the sidewalk. Pedal hard, so you don’t hold up the line of 17 hummers behind you, everybody makes the light, and is now happy!!!! Be careful of making too much direct eye contact with drivers, some find it antagonizing, homophobic men might think a male cyclist is hitting on them. :)

    2. Left turn, again try to let Arnold Swarzenneger get ahead of you in his H2. stay on his right bumper. You do NOT want to be to the left of the left lane all alone, you can easily get clipped by someone turning left from your right. They often look “through you”.
    …let Arnold make his turn, follow behind, then get into the right side of the lane after making the left turn. watch out for pedestrians, and vehicles turning right at the corner across the street.

    3. Clothing DOES matter. If you are wearing safety colors and ride predictably, you won’t get hassled 99% of the time. A headlamp even in daytime has saved my life numerous times. again they look “through you”.

    4. If someone starts rolling down the window to harass you, consider immediately asking in a military tone “how can I help you? Do you need directions? Most of the time this slows them down.
    If you’re really not in the mood, you could say “I’m sorry, no speak english”, with a russian accent, but that should be used sparingly.

    If a vehicle full of drunken rednecks appears to be setting you up (they are “creeping up”, “stalking you”, hit the brakes HARD. It takes them longer to stop because they weigh more, more momentum.

    They will zoom past you, and probably stop.

    Now you are in their blind spot. They will now think twice about having to back up to hassle you, especially with more traffic approaching. Chances are they will give up. You can also proceed to reach for your cell phone, for all they know you could be reaching for a 9MM. This usually works, and they leave.

    My helmet mounted strobe light looks like it could be a video camera whan it’s shut off. If someone really wants to escalate, shut it off, then say in a controlled voice “sir, just to make you aware, you are now on video. I also have your plate number. Harassing me is a class 3 misdemeanor. My brother is a police officer here in town also. What is the problem?”

    Look around you and point to other motorists who may help you out as witnesses. Chances are the harasser will back down with whatever stupidity they had in mind. You can be a nice person and let the cars by, but you are not a doormat. You have to stay one step ahead of them at all times, take away their ammunition. Get good at memorizing plate numbers, remembering faces on your daily commute. Get to know the cops, thank them!

    As you approach a right turn and plan on going straight, check your mirror. Today as I climbed a hill, I saw a guy behind me signalling,
    a right turn, so I waved him past. It was a condo complex, he was probably headed home.

    You should have seen how fast he zipped past me, but it was ok, I saw it coming. but he could have blinked his lights and waited literally half a second, the time it took me to go 12 feet past the entrance. He was wearing an Esteban style cowboy hat. Driving a honda civic. LXZ 251. CT.

    Yes be careful on those hill climbs too. Also beware of when motorists have the sun in their eyes.

  8. Rob Graves February 4, 2010 at 6:07 pm #

    I just wanted to add this thought. remember that they are the ones who are desperately in a hurry, because they are self empowered to be. If they weren’t they’d be on a bicycle.

    The whole point with my own “back off and let them by at the turn” is, you are recognizing that. Let them be in a hurry! So let as many as possible make that turn, then it will stop when the fourth vehicle pulls into the right lane to go straight. He’s now “your blocker”. Essentially, you have “purged away the violence”.

    The amazing thing that will happen is, people who work in your area will get to know you, and will later let you turn ahead of them , say when you want to make a left turn. They will remember you by your HEADLAMP(s). Which no one else uses.

    This is called spreading good Karma, takes practice. I highly reccomend reading John Forester’s Effective Cycling. He’s been screaming this for 30 years. But if you want to continue to suffer from the “cyclist inferiority complex”, he writes, that is your choice.

  9. Randy Stern February 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    I think David did exactly the right thing. However, in similar circumstances I do sometimes pick up my bike and move it to the left edge of the lane (never the right!) It seems safe (the right turning drivers are on your side and are unlikely to hit you) and is another way of sharing the road, albeit not required. But in this case, if there was no space for that, holding your ground seems required.

  10. Tom Revay February 10, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    I’ve unfortunately concluded that there really isn’t much an individual cyclist can do about road rage. Complaining to the police is useless, in my experience, and I have significant experience. As noted above, the RMV complaint process no longer exists, and even when it did, it required the complainant to identify his name and address to the assailant.

    I see our situation as like domestic violence victims before the 1980s, when incidents were downplayed or ignored by police. It will take years of organized, concerted efforts to change the minds of law enforcement officials, and while these efforts are being made, I don’t anticipate much progress in my lifetime. I hope I’m wrong.

    I left the following account in the BayStateCycling Google group, which inherited the MassBike listserv. It came with a query about the experiences of those who complained about road rage, and the results of those complaints. The responses I received were sympathetic, but they did not offer anything useful to rectify the situation I encountered.

    At about 10:15am on Saturday, June 27, 2009, I was riding my
    bike northeast on Rt. 1A / Upland Road in Norwood, Mass. The weather
    was clear and surfaces were dry. I’ve ridden this section of road
    over a thousand times since I moved to this area 15 years ago, so I’m
    very familiar with this area.

    Here’s a Google view:

    which will bring you to,-71.190162&sll=42.190402,-71.202522&sspn=0.046776,0.02514&ie=UTF8&ll=42.213695,-71.190089&spn=0.001494,0.002411&t=h&z=19

    I was moving from bottom to top in that view.

    I approached the traffic light at the Clapboardtree Road / Everett
    Street crossroad, which forms the boundary of Norwood and Westwood.
    In the northbound direction, Upland Road has two travel lanes and a
    left-turn lane at this intersection. The right lane permits traffic
    to turn right onto Everett Street.

    I was riding in the middle of the rightmost lane. I chose this
    location because the right edge of the road had potholes and broken
    paving that made it impossible to ride through at the speed I was
    moving. I was going between 25 and 20 MPH, descending a hill, slowing
    as I approached the intersection where I could see that the light was

    Also, because I was not going to turn right at the intersection, I
    approached the intersection at the center of the rightmost lane, where
    I would stop in the traffic queue and wait for the green light. I’m
    aware that positioning myself this way reduces my chances of being
    right- or left-hooked by a motorist taking the popular turn onto
    Everett Street.

    There was traffic in the passing lane to my left, which was also
    slowing as it approached the red light.

    Suddenly, I was cut-off from the left by a silver-haired man driving a
    silver four-door sedan. He passed me with less than two inches
    clearance, then pulled up hard to a stop, in order to avoid crashing
    into the motorist stopped in front of him at the light. There was no
    logical need for him to cut me off that I could ascertain, since he
    and I were at the same red light almost simultaneously.

    I pulled up along the left side of his car to speak with him. As best
    I can recall (and I rely on voice notes that I recorded about half an
    hour after this incident), our conversation at the light went like

    Cyclist: You passed me too closely. You were less than two inches
    away from me.

    Motorist: (Shouting) Yeah, I know I did, and you’re a G** d****d
    a*****e! Get to the side of the road!

    C: You should learn what the law says about bicycling and about
    passing bicyclists.

    M: I know the G** d****d law! I’m a police officer! (He was dressed
    in ordinary trousers and a button-down shirt. He didn’t appear to be
    wearing any police insignia, nor did he show me a badge.)

    C: Which department are you with?

    M: I don’t have to tell you a G** d****d thing! Get off the road,
    get on the sidewalk, you a*****e!

    C: What’s your name?

    M: What’s yours, a*****e?

    C: Tom Revay, and I’m not an a*****e. What’s your name?

    M: You are an a*****e! I’m Mike Ross! Lieutenant Mike Ross!

    C: Okay, Lt. Ross, what department are you with!

    M: The State Police!

    C: Okay, I’ll be in touch. (He offered a few more cuss words in response.)

    The light changed to green. I let him go in front of me. He traveled
    in traffic less than 0.2 mile. Then he turned right into the parking
    lot of the Dunkin Donuts at 400 Washington Street, Westwood.

    As I continued on my way behind him, I thought about the interaction,
    and I considered that maybe I could try to explain to this guy what
    the law actually says. I also wondered if he’d heard about the bill
    passed earlier this year that mandates police training, and changes
    the ticketing process for bicyclists.

    He was getting out of his car as I rode into the lot. Rather than
    turn towards the donut shop, he instead strode across the parking lot
    towards me, clearly agitated. He appeared to be over six feet, with
    thinning grey hair, and he looked his late 50s or early 60s.

    Then, before I could speak, he was shouting again.

    He said, “Listen, a*****e! I’m gonna get a coffee, and then I’m going
    back on the road. If I see you on that road, I’m going to charge

    “With what?”, I asked. “Try me, a*****e. I’ll kick your G** d****d
    a**!”, he replied.

    “Do your job,” I said, as I rode away.

    I turned right onto Washington Street, which I continued riding on
    into Dedham. I didn’t change my route because of his threats, nor did
    I notice Lt. Ross anywhere else along my route that took me to the
    Walgreen’s Pharmacy Drive-thru on Providence Highway.

    I guess I should be glad he didn’t see me do that!

  11. Mark Atkinson March 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    I can sympathize with Tom’s story. I was Just cut off and almost killed about an hour ago on Washington Street and Federal Street in Weymouth. I was headed south on Washington Street when a Bus turned in front of me. I slowed until it left the intersection and proceeded forward in my direction when all the sudden I was met with a grill of a Ford F-150. I lost it and yelled that, “I had right of way” and he yelled several obscenities at me and said I didn’t because “A bus was turning!” It’s obvious I may have jumped the gun in crossing a little too quickly when I should have checked but, Needless to say, I did have right of way. I even checked with the Police on this one and he was in the wrong.
    In talking with the police I realized this. 1. You need to be accountable for your own safety and WATCH YOUR A**. 2. You Need to check what other people are doing and WATCH YOUR A**. It seems unfair that the bicycle rider has to do all the work and that the Motorists get away with everything. It’s True! We all know it. They get away with it! I’m speaking as a person that has been hit by a car in 1994 when I had all the rights in the world to be on the road and I lost at the cost of my health. Let’s face it. People are Idiots and there is no excuse for it. The reality of it is, it’s going to happen. The other thing is,…. When it does, 3. “You have the right to defend yourself.” which is part of #1. and #2.. I’m not advocating violence nor will I encourage it in other people but, If you are met with violence, assault with a motor vehicle, and obscenities and the guy is going to get away with it,…. Show em’ they wrong. Hopefully you can do what I did and that’s find this guy and bring it to the Police. Otherwise, Be judged by twelve than carried by six.
    That’s just my opinion.

    Mark Atkinson.