THE CORRIDORS of Connect Savannah were abuzz last week. What was causing all the commotion?
The fourth anniversary of the News Cycle column! Or maybe everyone was excited about the annual Best of Savannah awards party. Probably both.
On my way home from the party, I was riding in the Washington Avenue bike lane when I checked my rearview mirror and saw a minivan approaching at a high rate of speed. I almost didn’t notice it because, despite the fact that it was dark out and raining, the van’s headlights were off.
Just before overtaking me, it briefly entered the bike lane. I moved right to put more room between my bicycle and the minivan.
The driver steered back into the main travel lane a few seconds after passing me.
I have no way of knowing if the close pass was intentional. I tried to get a look at the driver, but tinted windows made it impossible for me to see inside.
The day before, a Savannah Bicycle Campaign member was menaced by a man in a pickup truck while riding her bike home from work. She has no doubt this was done on purpose.
“The driver would pace my speed and his mirror was mere inches from my left shoulder,” she said.
Finally, she turned to look into the cab and saw him laughing at her.
She said, “At this point I screamed at the closed window, ‘Are you trying to kill me?’”
The driver then pulled ahead and in front of her, forcing her onto the sidewalk.
“Luckily, I was very close to home at this point,” she said.
Still riding on the sidewalk, which she prefers not to do because it is illegal, she managed to look at the driver once more.
“He was laughing again and still driving aggressively. His passenger did nothing but look on,” she said.
Angry and shaken, she still cannot make sense of the driver’s behavior.
“My question for anyone who deliberately drives close to cyclists or simply won’t allow enough room between you and them is this: Do you really intend to potentially kill or severely injure someone today? If the answer is no, then revise your priorities and driving habits,” she said.
I spend a lot of time on a bicycle and I’m lucky that no one has ever tried to harm me on purpose. At least not that I know of.
However, while most people would never intentionally endanger another person, the way we talk about people who ride bikes can discourage others from trying this healthy form of transportation and recreation.
It’s also important to note that many people in our community ride bikes out of necessity, not choice.
Last week a local journalist who writes for another publication posted a photo on his Facebook page and complained about being delayed by a group of people on bicycles.
The cyclist in the photo had apparently moved to the center of the lane as permitted by state law when a street or road is too narrow to safely share. I perform this maneuver on a daily basis, otherwise people in cars could attempt to squeeze by me in violation of Georgia’s three-foot passing law.
“Taking the lane,” as it is called can anger and confuse some people, but I much prefer the occasional horn blast or unkind word to the unsettling sensation of a close pass. When it is safe to do so, I return to the right side of the lane.
Evidently the cyclist in the photo did not do this quickly enough, and the man who posted it admonished people on bikes to, “get your asses out of the middle of the road.”
The good news is that despite his frustration, he seems to have waited until it was safe before passing.
One of his friends suggested he should have taken a different course of action:
“Nudge him a bit,” the friend commented on the Facebook post.
Most comments like these are simply people venting and not actual threats. But as another person thoughtfully suggested, even when posted in jest, social media comments describing the desire to run over someone encourages an “us vs. them mentality” that makes her fearful when riding her bike.
And that’s a critically important point. While the man, who posted the photo, called people who ride bikes “two-wheeled traffic terrorists,” the terror is clearly directed in the opposite direction.
Since I started writing this column in 2011, I’ve talked with plenty of people who have stopped riding bikes because they are afraid of aggressive drivers.
I’ve never met anyone who has given up driving because he or she is scared of people on bicycles.