Friday, September 19, 2008

"My Life Is More Precious Than Your Car"

There's a crazy rash of road rage going on nationwide, drivers against cyclists. I recently found out someone I know was involved in the recent attack on cyclists by a Hummer driver, and No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, recently had a run-in with a New York state senator in his Mercedes. In an open letter to Senator Jeff Klein, he says:

Though you may not know my name, you may recall that you and I met today under rather unpleasant circumstances on New York City's Broadway, just north of City Hall. You were driving your black Mercedes. I was riding a small folding bicycle and wearing a purple helmet.

To refresh your memory:

Traffic was moving rather slowly and you were heading in the downtown direction, as was I. You were in the far left lane and I was riding on the curbside of that lane, near your rear passenger door. Suddenly, you began to veer your Mercedes to the left, potentially crushing me between your car and the cars parked on the side of the road.

With nowhere to go to get out of your way, and to avoid serious injury or death, in desperation, I chose to knock on your window to let you know that I was there and that you should avoid veering further in my direction.

At this point, you brought your vehicle to an abrupt halt, not to avoid hitting me, but because you apparently needed to communicate something to me. You rolled down your window and said, "Get your hands off my car, you fucking asshole."

I said, "You were veering into me and going to crush me."

You said, "You better not touch other people's cars. You might find that touching other people's cars is more dangerous than traffic."

This gave me the impression that you were threatening me.

I said, "I think my life is more precious than your car."

You said, "I didn't see you."

I said, "If you're driving a car, it's your responsibility to see what's in road space before you veer into it. That's what your driver side mirror is for."

You said, "I looked in my mirror."

I said, "You should also turn and look over your shoulder since you know there could be a bicyclist."

You said, "Yeah. Well, maybe you should watch where you're going."

I said, "Where was I supposed to go? I was there. And you were veering into me."

I was about to remind you that, in the past week, two cyclists have been killed by automobiles in New York City, but you made a gesture which implied you considered this conversation a waste of time and drove off. That is when I saw that your car had special license plates proclaiming your membership of the New York State Senate.

A red light stopped you at the next intersection. I rode alongside you and, more cautiously, tapped again on your window. You rolled it down. I could tell by your face that you weren't happy to be talking again to this particular New York State citizen, on whose behalf you govern.

I asked you, "What is your name, Senator?"

You said, "Senator Jeff Klein." This is how I know it was you.

Now, the thing is, Senator, I don't particularly call you to task for calling me a fucking asshole. If the roles had been reversed, and I had a big black Mercedes and you came up in a purple helmet, knocking on my window, and I didn't realize I was on the verge of crushing your legs, I might have called you a fucking asshole, too.

I'd like to point out, however, that, as mad as you were about my touching your car window with my hand, you could double or triple that strength of emotion when it comes to how frightening it is to be on the other side of the Mercedes driving wheel, especially when that particular Mercedes is coming toward you.

Weigh it up: "he might scratch my black Mercedes" against "he might cause my little girl to be left fatherless."

Weigh it up again: One guy is riding a bike that weighs a grand total of 22 pounds and has a relatively small potential to harm others. The other guy is in charge of a powerful machine that weighs a couple of tons. Which person has the greater responsibility to watch out for the care and welfare of people who may get in their path, by their own fault or not?

(Ain't he eloquent?)

Since I've talked before about how I walk every where, you might've noticed by now that I'm not currently a bike rider. So why the hell do I care? Well, besides feeling threatened by drivers who don't pay attention on a fairly regular basis myself, I used to bike to work every single day back in what I call my fat period.

Seriously, I'd gained 100 pounds (or more) in a year (or so) when I was living in Pennsylvania and I got a job working 3rd shift at a call center 6 miles away. Being carl-ess (then as always), I biked the 6 miles to and from work every day. Man, was that hell. But after 2 months, I'd dropped 80% of the weight and things started getting easier.

When I biked I didn't usually have to worry about a lot of traffic. Like I said, I worked 3rd shift, so when I'd ride out there, usually with my little brother and our neighbor who also worked there, there wasn't much traffic even though I was technically riding all the way across town. Coming back in the mornings was the most dangerous, though usually only if I picked up a few extra hours and was coming home later than usual.

For some reason people who pay attention when they drive are very rare. I was knocked over by a pickup truck that didn't look to the right before he turned right, though he was at a cross walk. Since he went from a stop, it wasn't too bad, but getting hit with a freaking car is never fun. I had several other close calls, but mostly I was okay.

And you know what? Not a single accident or near-miss was ever my fault. It was always because a driver wasn't following the most simple of driving rules, like look both ways before you turn. I wish people would remember that traffic involves foot, bike and motorcycle traffic too. I swear, there is something about the ego-feeding mechanism of driving that'll turn ya into a complete moron behind the wheel.

Just one more reason I'm happy living car-free.

Related posts:
Kurt Vonnegut On Substance Abuse
How To Live Car-Free In the Midwest
How To Go Green Without Really Trying

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Joe Pontillo said...

I hate to victim-blame here, and I'll completely agree that the majority of drivers are incompetent and should be stripped of their licenses, but...

The particular account you quoted here describes a bicyclist driving perfectly and completely in a car's blind spot. Obviously I wasn't there, and I can't say for certain what the senator did or didn't do. But there is a region on the driver's rear-left that cannot be seen, even when a driver looks in the rearview mirror, side mirror, and turns around to look behind. Entire cars can disappear in this region, and bikes certainly moreso.

But a gentle tap on the window is a good way to alert the driver that something is there. The senator obviously overreacted to that.

Tony said...

Damn, you consistently have awesome posts that I disagree with completely . . . I think. However, I'm still linking because I see your point.