Crusader Rabid

April 17th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

madWell, I was wrong, but nowhere near as much as the screaming, puerile cyclist following me. I’ve never seen that maybe apocryphal Critical Mass cyclist who smashes car windshields with his bike lock, but I got a glimpse into such a soul in downtown Dedham this afternoon.

My ideal, surely utopian, image of cylists are green, peaceful types, co-existing with all. Yet, let us accept that Masshole-ism knows not from two or four wheels or none. While on two wheesl, as I normally am, I have never threatened a driver, though quite a few have buzzed me, three have hit me on my bike, and many have screamed to get on the sidewalk or other such craziness.

I’d like to think that nice people ride bikes and that riding a bike makes or reinforces niceness. As I think that, I remember that I have a similar fantasy about good cooks. My-hand-to-your-mouth mentality and the lush wholesomeness of food should engender kindness. Yet in my own family, my maternal grandmother was a magnificent cook, particularly of baked goods, but she often was nasty to many of her relatives. I have never come to terms with what seems dissonance. In reality, the conflict lies in my ideal, my fantasy.

Today, I turned left on red. That switched on the rage and abuse of a middle-aged cyclist beside me.

I note, as I have before, that I am such a law-abiding driver that people make fun of me for signaling exits from rotaries and switching lanes, never running red lights and so forth. My confession is that I am working on red light behavior as a cyclist. I always stop for stop signs and red lights, and I always signal a turn unless as the law says it is unsafe to take a hand off the bars (as in descending a steep hill). Yet if the road is clear, I may treat the light as a sign and advance. I’m working on this, but it is a long-time habit. I would like to see us pass laws permitting such behavior as a few places have done. I’ll introduce that bill and testify for it again, but meanwhile, I know what is sensible and safe in this case is still illegal in Massachusetts.

So the enraged guy came behind me bellowing self-righteous scolding, many times at increasing volume. I could see others looking at him, seemingly thinking from their expressions, “Who is this ass on the bike?” I looked at him that way too.

He held forth with numerous profanities and schoolyard insults. The gentlest thing was ordering me to trade my bike in for a tricycle. Most were raw obscenities far beyond the level my transgression.

I did notice in my mirror that the light changed a couple of seconds after I turned. He then took several turns behind me, yelling the whole time, but never signaling. I don’t suppose his illegal actions gave him reason to berate  himself.

He was such a cartoon and so out of proportion, as well as of no more authority to enforce the law than he would trying to make a citizen’s arrest for a driver’s violation.  He didn’t anger me because he was such a Yosemite Sam character. In this case, had he come at me and attacked me physically, I certainly would have been willing to mix it up with him, and I don’t pick fights.

I did extrapolate that he likely spewed his self-righteous vitriol toward drivers who offended him as well. He might have sense enough not to scream obscenities at someone driving a ton or two vehicle, but with his out-of-control mouth, I doubt that. One of those might be as immature and lacking in executive function as he, and then run him over. In my case, had he wanted to criticize and perhaps change my single bad behavior, approaching me to discuss it calmly and rationally would have been his best bet.

He left Dedham center still screaming swear words. I did my business and then headed on my next leg a little sadder. I like my fantasy of nice cyclists and don’t care for screaming bullies. I have been known to pooh pooh drivers and pedestrians who swear that every cyclist is a mad man or wild woman trying to run them down and never even slowing for traffic signals. I fear today’s aging screamer will color my mind. People that out of control and emotionally volatile shouldn’t be in public at all, much less on two wheels.

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9 Responses

  1. Uncle says:

    I wonder if he performs the same office for pedestrians. That would explain a few things. I fear my weakness is going the wrong way on quiet one-way streets

  2. Harrumpher says:

    Someone pointed out that many non-Boomers, younger and older, may not be familiar with Crusader Rabbit, the play for the title here. That’s easy to fix — try this recap.

  3. Aaron says:

    While the crusading cyclist definitely could’ve and should’ve handled it in a better way, you have to recognize that he was right about one thing: You broke the law by running a red.

    I agree that the law should probably allow cyclists to treat most stop lights as stop signs, but until it changes I think we’d do well to obey it.

    I get annoyed at everyone who breaks laws while driving, cycling, walking, etc., but especially cyclists. I’ve been commuting in and around Boston for 10 years now, and while drivers may be learning to live with us, we have a long way to go. Personally, I think we can use all the good will we can get, and choosing a double-standard because we disagree with the law isn’t going to help win the hearts and minds of any drivers.

  4. Harrumpher says:

    Well, Aaron, thanks for the largely sensible comment. It would be good if you actually read the post. I admitted up front that I acted illegally and said I was working on that.

    The bellower was also mostly wrong. He turned twice without signals – also illegal. He swore loudly and quite obscenely, creating illegal public disturbance and nuisance. No doubt anyone observing us both would find his behavior far more reprehensible and creating a far worse impression of cyclists.

    There are ways, ways and ways to get your point across. Being a threatening, swearing lout is not among the best. Moreover, I’m working on being more patient at lights. I have no reason to believe he’ll enroll in anger-management classes. Awareness of our problems is a key step, on his part as well as mine.

  5. Aaron says:

    I did read your post, sorry if it came across as if I hadn’t.
    You’re right that the yelling, turning-without-signalling moron creates a worse impression of cyclists, but he didn’t blog about how he did that (or I didn’t find it if he did), so there’s nothing I or anyone can do about it right now. Furthermore, him doing something wrong doesn’t excuse you doing something wrong, too.

    It’s great that you’re working on not running lights, I hope you find that waiting, resting, and looking around is more relaxing and safe than having to decide whether it’s safe to cross an intersection against the light. I ride almost exclusively in urban settings at rush-hour, so the opportunity to safely cross through a red is so rare I never even bother to consider it.

    My main question is this: How would you prefer someone like me–who is concerned that any cyclists breaking any rules in front of drivers/pedestrians/police/horseback riders/etc. will only serve to slow acceptance of bikes on the road–request that you stop breaking laws?

    What are your suggestions for ways (and ways and ways) I can get this complex point across to other cyclists who I see breaking laws? I don’t often yell or swear, but when I see someone with headphones, no helmet and flip-flops cross Commonwealth Avenue against the light, I feel a lot like doing both.

  6. Harrumpher says:

    Your concluding questions are more than fair. In a Newtonian sense, I know that my long-term answer involves, first working to change the law and bucking what I consider a wrong-headed “same-road/same-rules” mantra that can endanger cyclists by not recognizing the very real physical differences among modes as well as the way most drivers behave when passing or starting off the line with cyclists. That’s the make it legal for cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs. I know that is a long furrow to plow with iterations of a bill.

    LIkewise, I hear from the likes of Nicole Freedman and Cara Seiderman that the lower-case critical mass of cyclists when reached will make drivers nicer to cyclists and cyclists more law abiding. Both of those require real law enforcement as well, which they say comes with more cyclists. Nicole’s goal is that mass of 5 times the present in Boston in a decade.

    Meanwhile, your attitude of being an example is surely the right one. As I am an unusually safe and law-abiding driver when I go by car, I surely can retrain myself from my one very bad biking habit.

    I have gotten along enough to be calm when driver say crazy things. I think of being told in absolute terms that cycle belong on the sidewalk, not on the street, and of being buzzed even on places like the BU bridge with its signs reading that cycles can take a lane as needed. When there is the opportunity, I calmly explain the law to drivers and I don’t gesticulate my displeasure when there is no oral communication.

    I have a couple of sons who bike and I have taught them to wear helmets always and to always stop at red lights and signs among other things. As impatient as I am, I somewhat hypocritically make myself wait for lights with them as an example.

    I’m wired and it is really hard sometimes to see clear roads, no traffic, no one to be endangered or frightened, and not to get out in front of the cars and trucks to let them pass me rather than wonder where I am.

    You may or may not be amused to know that I have told cyclists I pull up to or pass things as you notice. Having been hit several times by inattentive drivers, I am quick to suggest wearing a helmet, in particular. However, I virtually never swear and learned in elementary school that screaming and badgering people is not the way to win their minds and hearts.

    If Nicole and Cara are right, you’ll see the change as more people join us tooling around the Boston area. If you notice a bill I request for changing the light law, you should probably testify.

  7. Harrumpher says:

    Aaron, as to my collisions, none of them related to my bad habit. First came getting T-boned by a young woman turning left across three lanes of traffic in Hyde Park. I’m big and was on a bright yellow and green mountain bike. She apparently was looking at and talking to her infant and not the road. Pedestrians as well as I screamed to her to look as I had nowhere to escape. That was three long cracks in my helmet, a serious concussion and broken fingers (and ruined bike).

    Another was when I had the light and a driver in a big pickup jumped off the perpendicular line ahead of the light change…a broken wrist and ruined wheel that time.

    Then I was hit from behind and beside on Rte. 138 in Stoughton. I was in the broad delineated shoulder/bike lane. It was hit and run. That was a mild concussion, broken mirror and wheel that needed truing.

    All three times, I was blameless and obeying laws and regulations. That isn’t always enough, but that doesn’t justify my leaving lights early…until the law changes.

  8. Aaron says:

    If there is some critical mass of cyclists to be reached, I look forward to it. That said, I already notice a significant difference in the way people drive around me. In part, I’ve gotten older and calmer, but I also think driving around more cyclists gives drivers more practice about what is safe.

  9. Harrumpher says:

    I think you’re right on the attitude. I’ve biked in Boston and around it for nearly 30 years. The biggest distinction I’ve seen still has been rolling into Cambridge. There are many more cyclists there and have been for a long time. The drivers are more aware of bikes there, even when delivery trucks block bike lanes, drivers give the necessary space to go around. Most in Boston aren’t there yet, but I suspect they will get there with more practice because of more of us.

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