It must be Spring!

Aahh. . .the sights and sounds of an early spring evening . . . birds singing, children playing in the yard before dinner, lawn mowers rumbling to life after a winter of disuse, obscenities yelled at a cyclist from the window of a passing vehicle. . .yes, it’s officially spring!

Amazing. . .not the profane language but the source.  This verbal assault came from a teen-aged, backseat passenger of a vehicle headed the opposite direction on a road with a raised median separating the opposing lanes of traffic.  There was literally two lanes and a grassy divider between him and me.  What was the problem?  I could not have been more out-of-the-way.  Was it just immaturity or a symptom of inexplicable intolerance of cyclists?

Daylight savings time combined with longer days brings out the bikes as weeknight rides reincorporate into the ride calendar.  The change of seasons includes drivers getting acclimated to the increased bike traffic on week nights and cyclists surviving the motorists’ learning curve.  With the number of ride opportunities increased, the chances of encountering an angry or inattentive driver rise as well.  With a new season of riding here, I thought I would dust off a story I wrote a couple of years ago.

It had been a nearly perfect ride. Cool but still-pleasant temperatures with little to no wind made our usual weeknight, 22-mile ride zip by quickly.

Riding on or near the white line and in single file, my neighbor and I were about three miles from home when a woman in a little white compact car pulled along, rolled down the window and, quite unprovoked, yelled a profanity before giving her car the gas.

Karma dealt the driver a red light and we had a chance to catch up. She had her window down again before we could ask what her problem was. She immediately launched into a tirade about how she didn’t appreciate us “clogging” up the road.

Really? We were as far to the right as we could go. Traffic was light and we were not impeding its flow. As I started to politely — well, at least not insultingly — explain the rules of the road and the rights of cyclists, she brandished her cell phone indicating she is going to call the police.

Although my avocation is cycling, my vocation is the practice of law.  I generally don’t get too worked up when someone resorts to threatening legal action. It makes me think of the Br’er Fox and Br’er Rabbit tale, where being thrown in the briar patch isn’t much of a threat to Br’er Rabbit since it’s where he makes his home.

In my case, the law field, although occasionally thorny, is where I make a living.

“Honk at me! Throw something at me! Do whatever you please,” thought Innocent Cyclist. “Only please, Angry Motorist, please don’t call the police!”

“Fine,” I replied to the driver. “Let’s pull over up ahead. I’ll be happy to wait for them to arrive.”

She was not receptive to the suggestion, so I again tried to communicate that bicycles share the road and we were not in the wrong.

Finally, she went for the big guns. “I work for 14 lawyers!” she screamed, apparently with the perception that working in close proximity to lawyers must make her well-versed in the law and clearly right.  A form of legal training by osmosis, I guess.

“Run me off the road! Run me over! Back up and run me over again! Do whatever you please,” thought Innocent Cyclist. “Only please, Angry Motorist, please don’t sic your 14 lawyers after me!”

Set up for a perfect and true retort, I replied, “Lady, I am a lawyer!”

The light turned green and she roared off with the middle digit of her left hand firmly extended.

Anti-cyclist road rage is apparently the “in” thing. Road rage against cyclists is increasingly reported as more and more people take to their bikes. According to the League of American Bicyclists, more than 9 million Americans describe themselves as “active cyclists” — weekend riders, off-road riders, commuters, and amateur or professional athletes.

All cyclists face the daily hazards of commuting in traffic, including dogs, road hazards, traffic codes, harassment and road rage. It’s unfortunate that harassment and road rage, intentional and potentially dangerous acts, are common.

Drivers feel aggrieved with anything or anyone that gets in the way of their smooth, speedy forward momentum. However, in the overall scheme of things, does a delay of 10 to 30 seconds in the driver’s otherwise carefully crafted schedule merit the abuse cyclists take?

We’ve all seen the “Share the Road” signs.  Contrary to what often seems the popular interpretation, these signs are not advertisements of abuse and entertainment options ahead. I’ve been on the receiving end of side-mirror brush backs. I’ve endured firecrackers thrown and air horns blown out the window of passing cars. I’ve been harrassed by motorists who seemingly feel that anything in the road other than a car deserves to be physically pushed off it.

Independence, MO recently took the sadly necessary step of protecting people who travel on its streets by a method other than the automobile by passing an ordinance forbidding the harassment of cyclists. Violators face a potential $500 fine and jail time.  Kansas has recently joined the list of states utilizing the 3-foot rule.  What is the 3-foot rule?  In its simplicity the 3 foot rule requires motorists to give bicyclists a minimum of a 3-foot margin when passing them. To date, 20 states and Washington D.C. have passed a mandatory 3-foot passing law.

Funny and sad at the same time, some enterprising cyclists have taken to marketing various versions of the 3-foot rule in the form of jerseys.  We can only hope passing motorists take notice.

Cyclists, walkers and joggers should not be subjected to scorn for using an alternative and healthy means of getting around. Of course, non-motorists, especially bicyclists, have a responsibility to obey laws governing their use of the roads. However, in return, we have every right to expect our presence to be respected.

A review of the applicable Missouri and Kansas statutes on bicycles is in order. In summary:

– Motorists may not do anything, even something that otherwise appears to be legal, that endangers a bicyclist, pedestrian, or other motorist. Safety, not speed, is the highest consideration in traffic law.

– Bicycles may ride on any street except travel lanes of interstate highways or where prevented by local law.

– In Kansas, bicyclists may ride two abreast on roadways without exception. In Missouri, bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.

– Bicyclists have the same rules, rights and responsibilities as other drivers. For example, bicyclists must stop at stop signs, signal turns, and drive on the right-hand side of the road.

– This means that motorists must treat bicycles as any other vehicle. For instance, do not pull out in front of a moving bicyclist, cut a bicyclist off, or pass a bicyclist unsafely.

– When traveling slower than traffic, bicyclists generally move to the right of the travel lanes, just as other slow-moving vehicles do. But do not expect bicyclists to hug the curb, dodge in and out between parked cars, or ride on a debris-covered shoulder. Bicycling that way is not safe, and the law requires bicyclists to ride safely.

– If the lane is too narrow to safely share between a bicycle and a motor vehicle, the bicycle may move towards the center of the lane to discourage motor vehicles from dangerously squeezing past in the lane. If you see a bicyclist riding in the middle of the lane in this way, the bicyclist is following the law. Slow and wait behind the bicyclist until it is safe to move into the next lane to pass.

– Bicyclists may sometimes ride the shoulder of the road when available. However, they are not required by law to do so. Obstacles in the shoulder such as glass, debris, or rough pavement may not be obvious to the motorist but may be very dangerous to the bicyclist.

– Bicycle lanes may not be blocked or used for parking. Motorists must signal and yield to any bicyclists in the lane before crossing a bicycle lane. As with shoulders, bicyclists may leave the bike lane for any number of reasons, including debris, obstacles, or to prepare for a turn.

A review of the driver’s handbooks for Missouri and Kansas reveals the following:

– On public streets and highways, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle operator.

– If you are following a bicyclist and need to make a right turn, you must yield to the cyclist. It is often safer to slow down and stay behind the cyclist until you are able to turn.

– Motorcyclists and bicyclists change speed and lane position when encountering bad road conditions, such as manhole covers, diagonal railroad tracks, road debris or in strong winds. Be ready to react.  Author’s note:  You drive most of these roads as much or more than cyclists ride on them.  You know where the big pot holes are on the bridges and streets.  If you won’t bounce through them with your precious BMW with its high-tech, shock absorbing ride, don’t expect me to do so on my bike.

– When you are passing, give motorcycles a full lane width. If possible, give a full lane to bicycles and mopeds, too. Do not squeeze past these road users. The bicycle is generally a slower moving vehicle and this may require you to slow down. Wait for a clear stretch of road before passing a cyclist in a lane too narrow to share.

– The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall leave a safe distance when passing the bicycle, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle. Passing unsafely is a traffic offense punishable by driver license points, fines, and even jail, if a collision results.

– The law says who must yield the right-of-way; it does not give anyone the right-of-way. You must do everything you can to prevent striking a bicyclist as you would a pedestrian or another vehicle, regardless of the circumstances.

– Sharing the road with others, in a considerate manner, makes the road safer for everybody!

So, Angry Motorist, before you enlist the aid of all 14 of the lawyers you work for, make sure they have brushed up on the law.

Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Br’er Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Br’er Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Br’er Fox’s fur stood straight up. Br’er Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence.

Br’er Fox cocked one ear toward the briar patch, listening for whimpers of pain. But he heard nothing. Br’er Fox cocked the other ear toward the briar patch, listening for Br’er Rabbit’s death rattle. He heard nothing.

Then Br’er Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Br’er Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug.

“I was bred and born in the briar patch, Br’er Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”

And Br’er Rabbit (Innocent Cyclist) skipped (pedaled) away as merry as a cricket while Br’er Fox (Angry Motorist) ground his (her) teeth in rage and went home.

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