Thursday, May 20, 2010

Six-wheeled, rolling testosterone road rage confrontation on Monroe Street

Sometimes you're just too startled by something unfolding in front of you to pull the point-and-shoot video out of your pocket to document it. This was one of those times. I wish I had the video, with sound effects.

I was near Trader Joe's when I heard a car horn blaring steadily from far away. It sounded as if it were up by Edgewood. It sounded like a car alarm. I was thinking the usual irritable thoughts like, why the hell do people have to pollute an entire neighborhood with noise every time somebody brushes against their precious vehicle? Then I realized it wasn't a car alarm. It was a moving car, getting closer and louder.

As it drew closer I saw it was a large minivan. Was the horn broken? No. The driver was a big, middle-aged guy with a round face and an idiotic, angry grin, and he seemed to be pressing down on the horn with all his enraged might.

The cause of his wrath was visible right in front of him. There was a bicyclist in the middle of the one eastbound traffic lane in front of him, going about the limit (it's a long downhill run, and he was pedaling hard) in a place where people usually drive at least ten miles over. He was tall, young, and the absolute archetype of everything that would trigger a bike-hater's rage: expensive bike with racing wheels, helmet, black Lycra shorts andred and black racing shirt.

Two cultures in direct conflict and neither willing to back down: The driver kept steadily pressing the horn at maximum volume, following the biker just a little too close, enraged that somebody was blocking his constitutional right to speed.

For his part, the bicyclist clearly did not want to ride in the parking lane and risk being sideswiped by a car, or have a door from a parked car open in his face at 25 mph. So he rode right down the middle of the traffic lane, where the only way to get past him was to drive right over him. Even the angry driver was unwilling to do that, so he vented with his horn. Could the biker have pulled over and let traffic pass? Sure. Did he feel like it? No. Was it because the driver was being such a jerk? Maybe. Or maybe the bicyclist was a jerk too.

The bicyclist kept turning around and gesturing angrily -- probably obscenely from the look of it -- at the driver. The driver just held down the horn. They proceeded like this for nearly a mile, locked together in mutual testosterone rage, all the way to Regent and Monroe, where one or the other must have turned at last and the honking stopped. Wow.

Lucky nobody was hurt. The bicyclist could have hit something or someone as he kept turning around to taunt the driver. The driver could easily have rear-ended him if the biker had stopped suddenly. Neither seemed to care.

Have I ever ridden down the middle of a traffic lane, slowing traffic? Yes, but only in a tight space where it's unsafe to be at the side of the road, like the old Park Street underpass or similar situations. Otherwise I yield to traffic -- and use a bike path when I can.

That's what was so ironic about this little drama. The city of Madison and the federal government spent a lot of money constructing a beautiful bike path, the Southwest Bike Path, that makes for a great ride downtown and parallels Monroe Street its entire length. Why not use it?


Emily said...

Because 25mph is entirely too fast for the Southwest Path's normal traffic levels. If it's between about 3pm and 7pm, the path has really dense traffic. Lots of bike commuters, lots of pedestrians, lots of little kids just learning how to ride... all in a space just one car lane wide. Average speed is about 10mph for bikes, and that's on the fast side for the level of pedestrian traffic.

Morning rush hour usually seems to be over by 10am, and then the traffic levels drop down to levels comparable to a minor arterial. It isn't the greatest idea to go a lot faster than 15mph during the day, since sight lines are pretty awful.

Which doesn't excuse the rude gestures and lane hogging. You can leave yourself a safe distance from parked cars and leave people room to pass you slowly. I know because I've done it. It will feel tight for both you and the car driver, but the traffic lane and parking lane are wide enough... if no one is trying to speed.

thechrisproject said...

Yeah, I've gotten yelled at by people for doing 20mph on a path before. In my opinion, in situations like that, we should give the benefit of the doubt to the person operating their vehicle safely and according to the rules of the road. In this case, it sounds like the automobile driver was following too close to be safe and was trying to speed.

thechrisproject said...

Although I guess drivers would argue the cyclist wasn't being safe. Though I'd submit that when someone in a giant multi-ton steel cage is tailgating you, it's a good idea to turn around a lot.

I can see both sides of this. When I'm in a car, any inconvenience annoys me. But when I see that it's a bicyclist, I calm down. But I really wish they'd teach bicycle related rules in driver's ed and included it on drivers license tests.

k*thy said...

Pig-headed meets pit-headed, I'd say, though I'd give the nod to driver of the car. I do both, ride and drive, though I don't take my riding as seriously as the lycra crowd (I avoid Monroe-type streets as much as is possible). The reality is that the car has a bigger obligation, here, due to it's size and potential harm. As a rider, I'm very aware of this and will concede. As the driver, how much am I inconvenienced? Turns out, not that much.