Friday, July 22, 2005

Where to begin?

The following incident happened a few weeks ago.


I’ll try to do a chronology of yesterday’s events.

I was riding home from work along that nasty stretch where some motorists believe I should be in the right turn lane. One of them passed very rapidly on my right, then swerved into the dedicated left turn lane. I stopped behind him. When the light changed, we both turned left onto the cross street. Before completing the turn, he jammed on his brakes and I almost ran into his bumper. He accelerated away.

He remained in the left lane, then made another left into a parking lot. I followed. He parked and threw open his door and began shouting that the roads are for cars, not bicycles. I shouted back and called him an asshole. He pulled out a can of Halt pepper spray and started toward me. I lifted the bike to keep him at a distance, but at about 6-8 feet, he sprayed the canister into my face and eyes.

I’ve never experienced pepper spray, though I carried it for a while as a deterrent against dogs. The effects are unpleasant but not incapacitating. I could see for a short time but it was difficult to keep my eyes open.

I dropped the bike, and before the spray overwhelmed my eyes, I ran at him. I did not want to be blind and defenseless if he attacked further, so the only alternative was to get close in. We fell into some shrubs with me on top. I couldn’t see at all. Another man showed up and separated us. I asked him several times to call the police.

I retrieved my bike from the parking lot and leaned it up against the building. I found a bench, sat down and started washing my eyes with a water bottle. Apparently the bench and a nearby planter had been overturned in the struggle. I don’t remember running into them and I certainly couldn’t see them.

Behind the bench were several credit cards and a set of car keys. I held up the keys. “Are these yours?” I asked. My assailant said they were. I threw them into the shrubs. He found them, got in his truck and started to leave. “Get his tag number!” I said to the other guy. Then I got up and walked to the parking lot. Despite my blurred vision, I got his tag and returned to the bench.

A woman came out of the optometrist’s office and said she’d called the police. Several officers responded and took reports. I remembered the credit cards behind the bench, and gave them to an officer. Sometime in there, my assailant returned to the parking lot, and a police car blocked his vehicle from moving again. The officer with me said that my assailant claimed I’d started the fight, and of course, I was saying that he started it. Without witnessing the fight himself, the officer couldn’t bring charges, though he said I could make a citizen’s arrest (?). Of course the other guy could then take the same action against me. I declined.

The officer took my driver’s license for identification, and said that the matter would go to the city’s prosecuting attorney. Also, he said that the incident report would be available in about a week.

I’ve thought that intersection would be the site of a confrontation sometime. Some motorists get very annoyed at a cyclist traveling north in the through lane. I’ve brought this to the attention of both the police and Public Works. The right-hand lane is separated from the through lane by a solid white stripe. According to both the MUTCD, that makes it a deceleration lane, not a through lane. There are no other markings or signs to indicate this.

Now, I’m not naïve. I realize that some motorists won’t care about proper signage. But some will, and that signage may make them more tolerant of cyclists. Then there are those who believe that cyclists have no place on our roads, and they’re willing to use their vehicles as weapons. Fortunately, these truly malicious people are very rare. We’re far more likely to meet inattentive, distracted drivers, and regardless of the motivation, the potential injury to a cyclist is just as real, just as painful.


Like I said, that was all written a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve talked with an attorney, a former police officer, and the records clerk at our local PD. To keep it short, no charges are likely to be filed against either party. Basically, it’s his word against mine, and there are no corroborating witnesses. So it’s probably over and done with, and believe me, I’m relieved about that. I don’t know the guy’s name, nor do I want to. I’ve learned much from this.

Will I confront another malicious motorist in similar circumstances? That’s something I just can’t answer yet. My gut feeling is that I will, if only because evil people have to be opposed. Remaining silent only encourages them.


Blogger George said...

I woulda done the same thing you had done if that makes you feel any better:-)

4:21 AM  
Blogger Fo said...

i would find out where he lives and go to work on his brake lines.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Fo said...

oh yeah....which intersection is this??? it would be good to know.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Messiah said...

Hey, here is my reply for you:
i am merely a messenger without extra power...
and i need YOUR help.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Fritz said...


I feel for you. Is there any possibility of posting his tag number online? :-)


11:51 AM  
Blogger John A. Ardelli said...

I had a similar incident myself. I posted the following story to the Velo Cape Breton Cycle Club (in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada) Yahoo! Group a couple of months ago:

This is a public service announcement for the members of Velo Cape Breton and ANYONE any of you know that cycles. Please make note of the following Nova Scotia license plate number:

DLR 267

It's a late model white van belonging to a man named Robert, 40s, somewhat pudgy (I didn't catch his last name). I can't remember the make of the vehicle. But if you see a white van with this license plate number while you're cycling, STEER CLEAR. Here's why:

Around 5:45 this afternoon, I was cycling west on Kings Road. I had a red light at the Keltic Drive intersection. I was going straight, so I stopped in the rightmost through lane. When I got the green light, I proceeded through the intersection. Moments later, DLR 267 passed me on my left within five centimeters of my handlebar. I honked a warning on my Air Zound so he wouldn't pull any further right and hit me. I thought that would be the end of it...

But then, I saw him slow down ahead, pull into the parking lot of the Sydney River Credit Union, get out of his van and STARE AT ME as I approached.

At this point, I evaluated my options. If this guy is some kind of psycho, if he gets back into his van now and gets behind me, he might harass me again. At that point, however, he was out of his vehicle. If I go over and talk to him NOW, regardless of how he feels or what his intentions are, my chances are a LOT better without him behind the wheel of 5000+ kilograms of steel...

So I pull into the parking lot. The following dialogue ensues:

HIM: Did you honk your horn at me?
ME: Yes.
HIM: Do you have a problem?
ME: Yes.
HIM: What?
ME: Too close.
HIM: Too close?
ME: Yeah.

So he indicates my bike:

HIM: You have insurance for that thing?

At that point, I attempt to explain Section 85 (1) of the Nova Scotia Motor Vehicle Act to him. He responds by threatening to RUN ME OFF THE ROAD. At that point, he gets back in his van and I attempt to leave. He deliberately BLOCKS MY PATH as I attempt to go around the Credit Union to the exit lane. I have to apply my brake hard enough to bring up my back wheel to avoid slamming into the back of his vehicle. So I get his plate number, pull to the side of the parking lot and pull out my cell phone...

He pulls up to me, rolls down his window and asks me if I'm calling the police. I tell him yes as I dial Crime Stoppers. He's so sure HE'S in the right that he pulls into a parking space and WAITS THERE for me to call the police. Crime Stoppers, in the meantime, tells me to call police dispatch. I was having trouble with my cell phone, but I manage to fumble in the correct number. He gets impatient waiting and leaves.

Anyway, after a 15-20 minute wait, Constable Russell Baker of the Cape Breton Regional Police Service drives up and takes my report. Constable Baker is extremely helpful, running a make on the license plate. Turns out to be a guy from Sydney River, so assuming he was heading home, he probably wasn't far. After taking my report, Constable Baker gave me his card and told me he'd call me by 9:00 AM tomorrow to let me know how his encounter with the driver went.

Despite the late arrival, I must express considerable admiration for the way Constable Baker handled the situation. He knew the law, knew I had the right to the road and did everything he could to identify the perpetrator, locate him and speak to him. The only thing that pisses me off is there was only one witness that even saw us there (a guy who pulled up in a truck) and he saw none of the incident itself. So it's basically my word against his...

So, if ANYONE sees this guy again, STAY AWAY FROM HIM. If he DOES do anything to harass you, keep your distance and CALL IT IN. The more reports this guy gets, the better the chances he'll get properly reprimanded for it (assuming he DOES do it again). HOPEFULLY, he was just making empty threats, trying to intimidate me. But, just in case, I wouldn't take any chances.

Anyway, ALL cyclists PLEASE watch out for this guy. He does NOT like you on "his" road... that's as clear as a steel toed boot to the temple... :P

Constable Russell Baker just called me the next morning. He said he spoke to the guy and explained to him that bicycles have the same right to the road that motor vehicles do despite their lack of insurance. According to Constable Baker, the man "saw the error of his ways" and now recognizes that bicycles have equal rights to the road.

Interestingly enough, he didn't mention having threatened to run me off the road, and Constable Baker didn't know about THAT part until this morning, either (apparently, though I told that to Crime Stoppers and the dispatcher, I forgot to mention that to the officer *BLUSH* :(). OTOH, I suppose the guy would have been foolish to mention it, and he probably thought the cop knew that part, anyway... so I'm sure I put a good scare into the guy at least...

Whether the guy actually DOES give cyclists more respect on the road from here on in remains to be seen, but at least something WAS done. I'm particularly pleased with that given that this incident report will give the next cyclist he harasses leverage if he does it again.

So, I'd still be careful if you see this guy out there. Better to steer clear if possible.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Interesting stuff. I've had many incidents with motorists when I used to do a lot of bicycling. It's like they think that they own the road. Sure, a little common sense on both sides would be ideal but we don't live in an ideal world!;) I had a nasty spill one time when I was out riding. I was cruising along down a residential street, I was close to someone in a small car. Apparently I was in her blind spot because she turned left right in front of me and I was unable to stop so I collided with her car and wiped out! She stopped and jumped out of the car. Her fce was white, she was so scared! She kept apologizing to me, etc. etc. I just sort of chuckled and told her I was ok, and so was my bike. It was kind of funny to see her reaction, she looked like she was about to start crying. Of course back then I was a rather rough looking character, long hair, lots of facial hair, I looked like a hippie so aybe she was afaraid of me. But, she had no need to be.

8:36 AM  

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