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Man in the Arena

December 4, 2007

Sometimes I get the feeling I embarrass drivers while I'm commuting by bike--mainly people with young kids in their car.


This morning I was riding toward a stop sign on a residential street and could hear a car speeding up behind me (because that's what people do here in California, speed up to stop signs). I signaled with my arm that I was turning left, then stopped at the line.


The driver honked once and then pulled his black SUV up next to me on my right. I looked over at him. "What's the problem?" I said, holding my hands out. Not so much confrontational as much as an is-my-backpack-open kind of question. He neglected to look at me at all. He peered around mecoffee in one handchecked the traffic, then peeled out, making a dangerous left-hand turn between traffic (and around me). The whole time, his doe-eyed son was sitting in the front passenger seat staring right at me.


I can hear it now, "Daddy, why did you honk at that guy on the bike?"


"Because he was slowing us down, son. We're in a SUV. He should have pulled over to the sidewalk and waited until I was past before getting back on my road. Don't grow up to be a cyclist son, you'll only have drivers hating you."


"But dad, you gave me a bike for my birthday. And you're always telling me to go ride my bike when you're watching tv."


"Well, you can ride your bike until you're 16, then I'll buy you a car. That way I can spend even more time ignoring your needs."


A similar thing happened to me not ten minutes later. I pulled up to an intersection and watched as a woman rolled through it, completely ignoring me while her two kids in the car stared in awe at the fact that I can ride my bike whenever I want.


To be fair, there are as many people who wave me through an intersection or go out of their way to give me space as there are that ignore me or try to see how close they can drive by without actually touching my bike. But parents with kids in the car seem to try especially hard to pretend I'm not there. Reminds me of the woman in the mini-van who used to drive 35 mph around the residential neighborhood where I used to live in Boston.


Parents: I'm just trying to get to work alive. I know you're trying to get your kids to school on time. And that the line at Starbucks was longer than usual so you're running late, but please: if you want your kids to have safe streets to ride their bikes on, you have to set an example.


In the meantime, check out this example of drivers gone wild.

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