Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Publish Day - of bikes and idiotic motorists

Note from Carmi: If you're just joining us, this entry refers to the newspaper column I wrote after being smacked in the face by a road raging motorist earlier this week. The other blog entries in this series are:
Enjoy! Now, on with the journalistic show...
I hope someone in London reads his newspaper this morning. He might be not-so-pleasantly surprised to discover he's made the Op-Ed page. My column, Add irate motorists to cycling dangers, is in today's London Free Press.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to e-mail me with your thoughts and kind wishes in the wake of this unfortunate incident. I'm happy to share with you that I'm perfectly fine, and am looking forward to seeing this individual be called to account for so violating the basic rules of society that are in place to protect us all.

This isn't even close to being over, and I'll keep you all updated as this moves closer to its logical conclusion.

Here's the published piece:
Add irate motorists to cycling dangers
Published April 20, 2005
The London Free Press

I ride my bicycle to work for a lot of reasons: save money on gas, preserve the environment, and get in shape. I hardly expect to be assaulted along the way.

But that's precisely what happened earlier this week, and that's precisely why I think it's time motorists and cyclists get real about their respective roles on London's – and any city's – roads.

My morning started out like most weekdays. I was cruising on a bike path, minding my own business and trying to keep out of harm's way. When I noticed that an approaching motorist was looking the other way while his car rapidly approached me, I yelled, loudly, for him to watch out.

Now, when you're on a bike, the first order of business is to ensure you are seen and heard. Drivers are surrounded by a few thousand pounds of steel, plastic and glass. Cyclists aren't. A minor fender-bender to a driver could be lights out for the cyclist.

The car braked quickly, and I continued past. The story should end here, except my newfound friend apparently decided I needed to be taught a lesson. He pulled onto the road, opened his passenger side window and began to berate me. Much of what he said can't be printed in this newspaper. But he did mention how he felt bikes shouldn't be allowed on the road.

I waved my hand and told him to go away. I am many things, but my lack of height, weight and musculature, combined with my general bookish nature have kept me out of fights for my entire life. Until then.

Things went from bad to worse as he exited his car, confronted me, and, after ignoring my requests for him to get back into his car, he punched me in the face and knocked my glasses to the ground. Note to Mom: this is why I always wear my helmet.

The police officer who responded was as professional as can be. What I remember most was how he gave me the option of letting this person off with a simple warning, or of pressing a charge.

I hardly have the time or the energy to put up with the hassle of going to court. Beyond my pride and some sting on my face, I wasn't really injured.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how differently this could have ended up. Had there been a weapon, or had this individual decided to continue his attack, I'd be writing this from a hospital bed. Or not at all. I decided the cycle that drove this individual to this point needed to be broken.

Clearly, I came across someone who doesn't think cyclists deserve their rightful place on the road network. I beg to differ, and Ontario's Highway Traffic Act, which defines a bicycle as a vehicle subject to the same rules as a car, is on my side.

But no amount of legislation can do you much good when a stranger threatens you with bodily harm. That there are those around us who would allow themselves to so rapidly lose control is frightening to my very core. And I simply cannot let it go.

All I'm trying to do is get to work in one piece. The fun factor is somewhat reduced by the number of Type A motorists who think nothing of yelling at me as they ride by. If I had a dollar for every time a driver has told me to get off the road, I'd have enough to buy a car. The intolerance saddens me, because I'd like to think London drivers are somewhat more enlightened than that. Maybe I was wrong.

Somewhere out there, someone sits and wonders if he could have behaved differently that morning. Perhaps the next time he gets behind the wheel, he'll give the cyclists around him a little more room to maneuver, and a little more respect.


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