Just say’in, sometimes angry motorists deserve a little visit from our friends in blue
The Harassment Incident
Guest Contributor: Bill Palladino
Yesterday, while taking a loop downtown on my sweet little Purple cyclocross bike, on my way to a local cafe’, I was accosted by a driver in a Subaru. I was heading eastbound on State Street in the left-hand lane, more or less in front of Modes’. I was preparing to turn left on Cass Street, so this was a reasonable and perfectly legal maneuver. I could hear a car to my left-rear obviously laboring to pass me, but I held my lane, keeping myself positioned in the middle of the lane.
As I pulled even with Max’s Service the car lunged by me on my right revving his little four-cylinder engine (reenactment). The occupant, a middle-aged man in a scraggly beard, then began yelling out the window and pointing insistently. “There’s an entire #^%&ing bike lane over there you @#$%ing #$%hole. Get in the %^%ing bike lane.” (Reenactment not available).
I said nothing in response at this point, but accelerated to get a better look at his license plate. He kept yelling at me through his open window as he sped off. I imagine he was greatly intimidated by the 19 pound aluminum and steel beast I was riding. Boo, yah!
The quick of it is, it’s my right to be in that lane, or any lane I choose to be, as long as I’m not unreasonably impeding traffic flow. The bike lane is an extra-added solution that is completely optional. It’s also my right to be in the city where I live, and to not be called nasty names by a complete stranger!
Who ya going to call?
This type of verbal assault is a nuisance, no doubt. But it’s also this simple type of incident that often easily escalates to physical violence. I feel pretty strongly that people need to understand the rules of the road, so I jotted down the guy’s license plate and quickly did what I’ve been told to do by both City Police staff and by my friends at the Cherry Capital Cycling Club. I called the City Of Traverse City non-emergency line to begin the process of making an official report. This number is for problems that don’t require calling 911, and is: (231) 995-5150 .
Again, that’s (231) 995-5150.
Calling this number will get you a quick recording reminding you of its non-emergency use. And after pushing a button or two I was then forwarded very quickly to a pleasant-sounding woman who heard my complaint.
I said, “I want to make a complaint about a person in a car verbally abusing a bicyclist in downtown Traverse City.”
She replied, “Very good. And are you the bicyclist?” I confirmed and I gave her my name.
She then asked me what had transpired, where, and if I was able to provide a description of the vehicle. I relayed all this to her, and she asked one last question: “Do you want me to send an officer out to take an official report?” I told her I wanted to do whatever it would take to ensure that this guy in the Subaru got a talking to by an officer. She replied, “That’s exactly what will happen, I’ll dispatch an officer right away.“
About 20 minutes later TC Police Officer Jeremy Medeppennigen showed up on my doorstep. “How’s it goin’?” he said casually. ”Fine,” I said and we introduced each other. Then I told him the whole story. ”You did the right thing calling us. You have a right to be in that lane. The bike lane is there as an option and a courtesy,” he replied.
I asked him if he would track down the driver, and he said they’d already done the check on the license number, and that yes, he’d get a talking to when they found him. He also said this is something they do a lot of at the Police Department, and that it works. He said, “sometimes people just need to have the law explained to them.“
Summing it up, I have to admit that my experience with the TC Police was right on point. They were supportive, fact-based, and very friendly. More importantly, I never got the feeling that calling them in on something like this was either an annoyance or a bother. This is something I’d encourage you all to do when you come across unreasonable people who feel a need to toss verbal abuse your way… whether they be car drivers or cyclists. Learning to live together here is something we should all have as a priority.
From the Michigan Penal Code and Motor Vehicle Handbook, the applicable law, emphasized in bold is the most appropriate section:
257.660a Operation of bicycle upon highway or street; riding close to right-hand curb or edge of roadway; exceptions. A person operating a bicycle upon a highway or street at less than the existing speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except as follows:
(a) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
(b) When preparing to turn left.
(c) When conditions make the right-hand edge of the roadway unsafe or reasonably unusable by bicycles, including, but not limited to, surface hazards, an uneven roadway surface, drain openings, debris, parked or moving vehicles or bicycles, pedestrians, animals, or other obstacles, or if the lane is too narrow to permit a vehicle to safely overtake and pass a bicycle.
(d) When operating a bicycle in a lane in which the traffic is turning right but the individual intends to go straight through the intersection.
(e) When operating a bicycle upon a 1-way highway or street that has 2 or more marked traffic lanes, in which case the individual may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.
(Laws are available online, which M-Bike has kindly posted links to, as well as the full text of bicycle laws. Thanks, Todd!)