The driver of the pickup truck was waiting for me at the stop sign, and he was angry. He’d already let me know that by leaning on the truck’s horn for a solid three seconds as he passed me on my bike, and that was before I gave him the finger.
Four blocks into my ride to work, I made my first mistake. A block-long stretch of Greenfield Avenue that is part of my commute is so rutted with potholes and failing asphalt patches that I usually ride on the sidewalk. I started doing this after I bottomed out on a four-inch deep crevice and blew out a front tire. But on this day, I chose to ride on the street.
Riding on the sidewalk violates one of the basic tenets of bicycling. The sidewalk is the domain of pedestrians, and riding there creates potential conflict with walkers. It is to be avoided, unless absolutely necessary.
That said, this stretch of street is so rough, that the sidewalk is the best choice. A zigzag route to dodge the ruts in the street is necessary, and that also violates bicycling safety rules. I am in a no-win situation on this stretch of my commute.
Riding to work, I approach the block at its highest point. This provides a clear view of the sidewalk, except for a one-house length where it curves out of sight at the hill’s bottom. I usually scan the block from the summit. If nobody’s walking, I’ll ride on the sidewalk, hands on brakes and eyes peeled for any cars backing out of driveways.
But on this day, I stayed on the street. As I concentrated on avoiding the roughest parts of the pavement, I became aware that a pickup truck was on my tail. I tried to pick a safe route to the side of the road, but wasn’t quick enough for the truck’s driver. He laid on the horn, and continued to blast his warning as he passed. I returned fire with a one-finger salute.
Immediately, I realized that I was in the wrong. The finger is disrespectful, and every person deserves to be treated with respect. And it is never smart for a bicyclist to antagonize the driver of a motor vehicle. The cyclist always loses. You must be bold around cars, every time that you make a left turn you need to take the lane, but you must also be respectful.
Not only was I acting disrespectfully, I had been riding erratically. Drivers hate it when they don’t know what a bicyclist will do next. Pick a line, and stick to it.
Just as I approached the stop sign a block past the crumbling stretch of pavement, I saw that the pickup truck driver was waiting for me. I slowed almost to a stop to think about my next move. I’d been in this spot before, and knew that I was about to receive a lecture, be sworn at, or both. I was in the mood for none of it.
I got up on the pegs and slowly rolled toward the truck, waiting for my opportunity. When I was about 10 feet behind him, I saw the driver open the door and place one foot on the ground. That’s when I made my break. In that position, I knew that he couldn’t drive or confront me on foot. I shot past, veering into the other lane, just out of his reach if he tried to grab me. I blew the stop sign, and sprinted down the street.
It was three blocks to the bike path, and safety. He couldn’t follow me there. At the first side street, I took a quick right, hoping to lose him. I didn’t look back, just rode as hard as I could. I figured that I’d hear him, if he was chasing me.
I made it to the bike path, and let out a sigh of relief. But I was not happy with myself. Reacting with anger to another person’s anger, only escalates the tension. It is not a solution. My erratic riding had gotten me into trouble. Since the incident, I have tried to ride more steadily and comply with traffic rules to avoid further confrontations.
The next day’s commute was a nervous one, looking over my shoulder for the pickup. I haven’t seen him since, but I think about him when I travel that block. And until the road is repaired, I’ll stick to the sidewalk on that stretch of Greenfield Avenue.