A Bike Commuter’s Perspective

In recent days, a rather large spotlight has been shone on cyclists in the city stemming from the tragic death of bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard.  I’m rather conflicted over the entire thing; trying not to take sides with the motorist or the cyclist, coming from my own frame of reference as a bike commuter.

I really don’t have a clue what happened that night when the courier was killed.  I can say that grabbing onto a car in a blind rage about a minor collision isn’t smart, nor is driving away in a blind rage with a cyclist attached to your car.  The complexities of the incident are a little overwhelming.

In any event, as a bike commuter, I am often at odds with motorists on the streets of the city.  All the complaints seem to boil down to one common theme – being invisible.  That’s not to say I don’t wear sufficient reflective gear, or that I don’t have a bell to signal said motorists; they just seem to completely ignore anything that’s not surrounded by a huge metal box, hurtling down the street at excessive speeds.

One afternoon, on my way home from work, I was travelling eastbound on Dundas, just having passed Yonge.  I was travelling at a good speed.  The upcoming light at Victoria Street and Dundas was green (and the little white walky dude was still showing) so I didn’t need to slow down.  As I approached the light, a car came up beside me, passed me and immediately proceeded to turn directly into my path as they went right onto Victoria.  The car at the time that it cut me off and forced me to brake was about two feet in front of my front wheel.

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I had to slam on my brakes, causing my bike to nearly throw me.  I shouted, “What the FUCK are you doing?!” and proceeded to punch the back right hand part of the car (which I could reach without getting off my bike, by the way).  It wasn’t until about ten yards down Victoria that the passenger of the car notified the driver that she’d nearly hit me.

I’ve had similar incidents to this one, where my bike is my own personal invisible jet (except that when riding it, I don’t look like a Barbie doll at all – I am also invisible!).  For the most part, motorists seem to not be tuned in to watching for cyclists.

There is the other side, though, and I am as likely to complain about fellow cyclists on the road as I am to complain about inattentive motorists. The flagrant disregard for traffic laws, most commonly the red light or stop sign, really makes my blood boil.  I honestly don’t know how cyclists expect to be given specific lanes on traffic roads and have no eye towards the actual laws that govern its use.  I commonly (just this morning, in fact) see people come whizzing past me as I’m waiting patiently at a stop light.

Being a 95% law abiding commuter1, it also annoys me when other commuters, through a disregard for the law, put my life in danger.  This morning, I had to pass an older woman who rides along the same route as me (at a much slower pace, mind you).  This is fine – I have no issue passing a slow cyclist once.  My issue comes when instead of lining up single file at a stop light, they’ll ride up beside, or more commonly just go right in front of me, and then start up at the green – plodding and screeching their way through the intersection.  Or, as said above, they won’t stop at all…they’ll meander slowly through the intersection and continue on their merry way.  My issue arises from the fact that not only have I had to go into traffic to pass them once, but their complete boobery when it comes to stop signs or etiquette has now forced me to pass them twice.  If you’re slow, stay slow – don’t use someone’s following the rules to gain an advantage on them (we call that cheating in other circles…).

I couldn’t give a crap if they themselves get mowed down through this activity – to be perfectly frank, if you’re stupid enough to go flying into an intersection on a bike without seeing what traffic might be approaching, you’re too stupid to live.  On the other hand, if they do this on bikes, who is to say what they do when behind the wheel of a car?  Certainly a bike provides minimal protection from an impact.  The thought of being behind the wheel of a steel beast with shiny chrome fenders must galvanize their resolve to give laws, the city and their own life, the middle finger.

A more interesting issue that’s been discussed in light of the courier death is that of road rage.  The aftermath and ultimate death of the courier were entirely based on blind rage getting out of hand.  The collision itself was just that – an accident, but everything that followed was under the complete control of the driver of the car and the driver of the bike.  Even I count myself among the suffers of road rage – my punching the car that cut me off was entirely uncalled for.

It did feel fantastic, though…

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1I often head down the street behind my office building going against the flow of traffic – it’s one-way – but a total of about 10 cars per day use the road so it’s not like I’m re-enacting the freeway scene from the Matrix Reloaded, people)

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~ by seangstm on September 3, 2009.

2 Responses to “A Bike Commuter’s Perspective”

  1. I think you had every right to hit that car *without damaging it* as a warning and a wake up call. It sounds like the driver thought they could get past you in time and should be aware that they weren’t even close.

    As a newbie bike commuter and in light of last Monday’s incident I’ve been noting a lot of what you’re talking about. Last night I saw a cyclist blow through a red light wearing iPod ‘phones and avoided a streetcar smush by seconds. Up in Rosedale, cars barely stop or signal their intentions in residential four way stops.

    There will always be assholes. I wish we could limit the assholes behind wheels (car or bike) with stronger testing, etc.

    • People have become so selfish in everything they do, there is no such thing as “sharing” the road, it’s everyone for themselves… I’m surprised cars don’t ride on the sidewalks when their way is blocked.

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