When you get hit by an automobile while riding your bike, you expect the driver to stop and check that you’re OK. You don’t expect them to get out of their vehicle and shove you.
That’s what happened to me recently, while commuting to work on a Monday morning.
As I biked downtown along the right lane of P Street, crossing 11th Street, a bright red Toyota Tacoma came blasting past and clipped my arm. I remember the dull throb in my arm, the discomforting thud of the side mirror as it smacked against the truck’s door and my panic as I swerved to stay upright.
The truck screeched to a stop in front of the secretary of state’s building. I pulled up alongside, looking for an explanation, or at least an apology. Instead, I found myself confronted by a very angry driver. He slammed his door, stormed over and pushed me.
Bicyclists downtown a face bad choice every day: ride on the sidewalk or take their chances on the streets. West of 15th Street, the grid has few bike lanes, and there are none near the Capitol, where two-wheel and four-wheel commuters tussle for space every day.
I normally pick the sidewalk. I know pedestrians hate it, but I see it mostly as a matter of self-preservation. I’d rather be the one zigzagging through foot traffic, responsible for avoiding an accident, than put myself at the mercy of 2 tons of speeding steel and plastic that will win in a collision every time.
Yet riding on the sidewalk is not always a great solution, either. P Street, for example, is a popular thoroughfare for state workers, who must frequently turn onto side streets to reach their parking garage.
When I arrive at a street corner on the sidewalk, appearing suddenly from behind parked cars and trees, I often catch drivers by surprise. That’s why I decided to take the street the morning I was hit – to assert my presence as an obstacle they should be aware of and drive around.
The altercation left me even more rattled than getting sideswiped – and it devolved after that. The driver accused me of intentionally reaching out to hit his truck; I yelled at him for not respecting my right of way.
By the time it was over, less than a minute later, I was shaking so hard I could barely hold my phone as I snapped a picture of his license plate. “Like that’ll do anything,” the driver sneered, before climbing back into the truck.
It turns out he was right on that point. The police informed me that because the driver stopped, it would not be considered a hit-and-run, and though I could press charges on misdemeanor assault, they said it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
When every bicyclist’s nightmare came true for me, I survived with barely a scrape. My run-in with the driver, however, was worse than anything I might have imagined.
I hopped back on my bike the next day and have every day since, weather permitting. After riding to school and then to work for most of the past 15 years, a modest bout of road rage wasn’t going to stop me.
Yet a little knot still forms in my stomach every morning as I get ready to cross 15th Street, anxiety momentarily creeping in while I survey the options before me and make that split-second decision before the bike lane abruptly ends.
I can only control what I can control. For now, I’m taking the sidewalk.