For The Convenience of Your Car Ride, I’ll Veer Right: A Story About the Freedom to Bicycle

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I think the driver that pressed down on the gas to blow past me may have it in for me. Subconscious thoughts as a car whizzes past on my left side. I’m on a bicycle. I’m on my way to work in Downtown Saint Paul. I second-guess my bike ethics when favoring a road to bike down that has no bike lane drawn out for me. I’ve been hit by a car before. That memory will never leave me, and frankly I don’t want it to. I’ll tell you why.

I was born and raised in Minneapolis. I was practically raised on a bike. My father and mother, both strong bike enthusiasts, placed me on a bike as soon as I could walk a straight line. By the time I hit my teens I had spent countless summers biking throughout the winding city. My parents made sure to have extra bikes on hand for my friends, finding used bikes and fixing them to make sure they were able to ride efficiently. I never felt more free than those summers, riding without time or worry, no commitment but the hills ahead of me. Sweet sixteen rolled around and when asked if I wanted to enroll in Driver’s Ed I simply said that I was fine without a license. I didn’t see the point in learning something I would never use. I live in a city full of sidewalks, was very knowledgeable about public transportation, and had a functioning bicycle. I dismissed the idea. The more years I biked, the more this idea solidified for me. But the more years I biked, the more I seemed to become an annoyance to the streets I once cherished.

The first time I was badly hit by a car was when I was 18 years old. I was biking from work to a friend’s birthday dinner one humid July evening. I was hit by a car that ran through a stop sign. It was a smaller car driven by a young woman who was talking on her cell phone. I was thrown off my bike and landed somewhere between my right shoulder and head and was badly bruised where the car hit me on my left leg. I came-to and was greeted into consciousness by the young woman who hit me, overly concerned for my well-being. I started panicking, patting my body to see if I was all in one piece. I was in such shock that I collected no information from the young woman and in the end she got away hassle-free.

Looking back, I get angry at myself for not exchanging information and getting nothing in exchange for being side-swiped by a woman carelessly driving while talking on her cell phone. But I wasn’t used to this. I wasn’t used to being overly cautious of myself biking so drivers could be under cautious about their driving. I try not to plan my trips around a car accidentally sideswiping me. But this is the harsh truth my young urban-bicyclist self had to learn growing up. Graduating from the sidewalk to the road meant I was an annoyance in some driver’s eyes and something that needed to be sped past. I wasn’t an innocent child that could be willingly waited on, I was now a rebellious teen who was ruining drivers’ commuting experiences.

Sometimes I slip into in the worry-free, timeless bike mode of my past. It’s very easy on a warm summer evening in the Twin Cities. I’ll quickly get awakened by a driver honking and yelling out their window to keep to the right. I’m subconsciously reminded of getting hit by the last car and I veer furthest right, putting my child-like thoughts in my back pocket. I keep my cool and try to remain loyal to the streets as I deviously whisper, “I’ll keep to the right as soon as you stop killing the poor polar bears. And start approving of the Saint Paul bike lane proposals”. 


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12 Responses to For The Convenience of Your Car Ride, I’ll Veer Right: A Story About the Freedom to Bicycle

  1. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD July 5, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    It is so difficult to remember to call 911 and get the driver’s insurance information in a crash. I’ve been hit three times. The first time was a hit and run and I was so shocked I didn’t call the police. The second time I remembered to get the driver’s insurance information, but forgot to call the police. The final time I called the police, but the driver left while I was in the ambulance being checked out by the EMTs and the police didn’t get the driver’s insurance information and I didn’t get a chance.

    It is so easy for people to admonish someone for not getting this information or calling the police, but it is so hard to remember all that when you’re shaking, scared, unsure if you’re injured, and pumped up on adrenaline. The last time I consciously had to tell myself, “Call the police before you don’t. Call the police before you don’t.” For me there is a real aversion to staying on the scene and it was very difficult to call and wait when all I wanted to do was go home.

    Calling the police was great, though! I highly recommend it. If I get hit again (and I probably will), I will certainly be calling the police. The look on the driver’s face when they showed up – two squads, a fire truck, and an ambulance – was priceless. That alone made it worth it, beside the benefits of medical attention and getting into crash statistics.

  2. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn July 5, 2016 at 9:39 am #

    Thank you for sharing. I often feel the same way. Riding a bike is so awesome and amazing and I sometimes get lost in the moment until some jerk driver feels the need to harass me. It brings me screeching back to the reality that the city does not care for me or my choice of transportation – that I am just an annoyance.

    But the best thing we can do is to keep riding. It is like a big middle finger to those that would rather have us in cars destroying our communities and planet. RIDE ON!

  3. Rosa July 5, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    it’s not just cyclists – there’s this whole cultural attitude about anything that slows down traffic. It even infects cyclists (though I assume the people who buzz everyone on their bikes learned that behavior as drivers.) If you listen to radio call-in shows about “what is the worst kind of driver” it’s all about being slow in the right lane or following the speed limit, not “drivers who kill people” or “drivers who get drunk and drive into the fronts of houses” or “drivers who block the crosswalk”. A friend of mine was just jokingly complaining about pedestrians who walk across the street too slow when she wants to turn, and don’t even act apologetic.

    It’s a sick attitude we have to change.

    • NiMo July 5, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

      Radio call-in shows are the forerunner to the modern internet comments section. Lotta callers WHO SPEAK WITH CAPS LOCK ON.

      The thing about it is, I don’t know if those attitudes are as pervasive as they would seem from the comments/call ins. I’ve had a decent share of run-ins with drivers, but for the most part there is a peaceful coexistence between people in cars, other people in cars, and everyone not in cars. The guy who hit me when I was on my bike was courteous enough to personally call the police/ambulance and provide his insurance information! Society! I think some of the general good may sort of get lost in the noise of the few about whom I theorize below.

      This is completely based on no sort of actual data, but intuitively I would bet that a huge proportion of bad driver actions are created by a relatively small proportion of drivers. A few antisocial drivers have the power to make things miserable for a of people, and to comment LOUDLY on it as well, making it seem more common than it actually is. One way to look at this hypothetical phenomenon if you were more inclined and had data, would be to look at the percentage of all drivers who have DWIs (a small % i hope!) and then look at the total number of DWIs held by individuals who have at least one DUI (the average in this subset I would guess is greater than 1). With that information in hand, I would bet that a disconcertingly small percentage of all drivers are responsible for a huge percentage of all DWIs. I picked DWIs for my example because it seems to be the most consistently enforced driving law.

      A couple of illustrative corollaries are:
      1. ~50% of alcohol is consumed by the top 10% of drinkers 2. Despite there being 1.1 guns per person in the US, only 31% of households contain guns

      • Rosa July 5, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

        it may be a relatively small proportion (though if you judge by metrics like “doesn’t speed” or “stops before the crosswalk” it’s not a very small proportion) but it’s not just the shouty internet types – check out any chatty FB link about “where are the drivers worst?” and it’s all about slow drivers.

        And just now I was biking home down 24th street in S. Minneapolis and a car was courteously waiting for all the people going out for post-fasting dinner to cross the street, when another car came up behind them and just laid on the horn. I see/hear that basically every day and I only travel 10-20 miles a day.

  4. Hilda July 5, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing. I truly hope that my kids feel the same way you do as they grow older, as we have raised them to be considerate, safe, and really skilled urban cyclists in NYC. And we are able to share the wonderful thrill that is biking in a city, at the same time as we sit around the dinner table sharing our bike adventures (and often irate moments) from that day.
    Stay riding, enjoy the beauty of what a bike ride can be, and keep advocating for safer streets.

  5. Andy Singer
    Andy Singer July 6, 2016 at 2:17 am #

    Nice meditation on biking. You are GREAT!!!!!!

  6. robsk July 7, 2016 at 10:27 pm #

    I was with you until “I’ll keep to the right as soon as you stop killing the poor polar bears…”

    You wouldn’t have streets to ride a bike on if it wasn’t for CO2 emitting construction equipment to build them. They didn’t mine the metals or cultivate the rubber for your bike in a carbon free environment either. Sorry, but you are also “killing poor polar bears”.

    Why must this blog be divisive?

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman July 8, 2016 at 9:21 am #

      Probably because this blog more or less lets people write what they feel like provided it’s G-Rated and relevant to local land use and transportation, rather than by professional writers that are worried about losing advertising revenue. I’ve generated a bit of controversy with my advocacy for highway expansion and going back to building affordable houses, but they still accept my articles. Maybe write your own article about how you’re annoyed at bicyclists that won’t follow the law and move to the right when there’s no obstacles preventing them from doing so.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini July 8, 2016 at 10:39 am #

      Wait a throwaway, tongue-in-cheek comment at the end of the article invalidates everything that came before it?

      As far as bicycles moving to the right, I often find that the people who are least knowledgeable about riding on a street (in general or that particular street) without a dedicated lane are the most vocal about how far to the right is “practicable.”

      • robsk July 8, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

        No, it doesn’t invalidate it. I think the personal perspective adds value. Maybe I said something because of all of the bridges I’ve burned (figuratively) in my time.

        I know better than to write an article about the dangers of riding 2×2 or 3×3 on winding, hilly, country roads with no paved shoulder. Or an article asking that bike riders use turn signals and teach their young children to do the same. But I’ll make a comment or two.

        My sister is the only bicycle rider I know who was hit by a car and cited for not following traffic laws.

        If I get around to contributing something, I’ll expect and welcome all counter-points.

  7. Kelly July 9, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    I’m fortunate – so far – but I feel the way you do every day. I work at home and ride locally for 90 percent of my errands. Most of my trips are very short ones — but as I said, I feel the way you do when I ride. Every time. Wish it wasn’t that way, but I’m determined to stay out there, enjoy my ride, and hopefully educate one or two motorists each day. Thank you for sharing – this is a great post.