Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 7th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
an interesting exchange.
(Photo © J. Maus)
For the second time in about as many months, I got into an interaction with someone driving a car while riding home from work. But unlike last time — when my middle finger contributed to a heated argument and the man in the car sped away — last night something amazing happened.
Here’s what went down…
I was riding west on Skidmore during the height of the evening rush hour, just having rode past several cars backed up at a red light on N. Vancouver. This section of Skidmore has one lane of travel and a parking lane in each direction. I was riding along in the travel lane so as to avoid any door zone hazard and to discourage anyone from trying to squeeze around me (see photo above).
“I almost hit you man, you’ve gotta’ get over. Why don’t you get over?! I could have run you over!”
As the cars from Vancouver Avenue caught up and began to pass and I heard someone yelling, “You gotta yield man! Yield! Yield! Get over!” and I watched a car pass with a man’s left hand outstretched from the driver’s side window pointing in a “get over” motion.
I immediately reacted because I felt like I had every reason to be where I was and I was not riding illegally. I didn’t react with anger or a middle finger (he didn’t pass me dangerously like the guy did back in April). I just nodded, smiled, yelled (nothing of substance), and waved my arms back at him. My objective was simply to make him aware that I heard him and that I would not be intimidated.
As I watched him drive away he suddenly swerved into the parking lane and stopped. ‘Great,’ I thought, now we’ll get a chance to talk about this face-to-face.
“I almost hit you man, you’ve gotta’ get over. Why don’t you get over?! I could have run you over!” he said repeatedly. I was smiling and nodding as I took off my glasses and helmet to make myself more human. Unlike the guy in April, this guy was not threatening me. Rather, he seemed to be expressing a sincere fear of hitting me and he decided it was my fault he felt that way.
“I hear you, but what about me?” I replied. “I was just riding trying to ride safely!” I tried as best I could to explain to him that I have the right to ride in the road to avoid a dooring hazard and that I felt it was safer to ride in the lane than to swerve in and and out of gaps in the parking lane.
For several moments, we went back and forth trying to explain to each other why we behaved like we did. For both of us, fear was the main motivator.
Then, the man introduced another thing into the equation. Race.
“I grew up riding on these streets… I rode all over this neighborhood… but I never rode out in the lane like that. Then you guys [referring to white people I presumed, given that he was black] move up in here and you start riding in the road.”
As we continued to go back and forth, he suddenly put out his hand and said, “By the way man, my name is Jeff.” After we shook hands we both laughed and smiled a bit. We had both made our feelings known and we were ready to move on.
After he pulled away, my mind buzzed from the exchange. In just a few short minutes, I think we gained a much better understanding of each other, and more importantly, of the “communities” both of us represented.
The interaction made me think about how I’ve been riding on these types of streets. Yes, I feel taking the lane is necessary, but I also could stand to move over just a bit more to let cars pass when there’s room. It was also helpful for me to hear first-hand something I have known for years — that biking and gentrification are complex and intertwined issues in North and Northeast Portland.
Our roads and the laws that govern them are not perfect — especially as they pertain to traveling by bike. As I try to make the best out of the situation on my daily rides, this interaction will help me remember the perspective from the other side of the windshield. As for Jeff, I hope he realizes that the people on bikes he passes by everyday are just people; trying to survive and get home safely just like he is.