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Road rage incident sparks media frenzy, spurs us-them mentality

Posted by on July 10th, 2008 at 8:17 am

This is the newsstand edition of today’s Oregonian.

“Cyclist clubs driver with his bike”

“Bike-car clash morphs into melee: Police say a drunken cyclist used his ride to club a motorist as a mob formed”.

These are the front-page, above-the-fold, lead headlines in the Oregonian today that have quickly caused a frenzy in the local media and among many Portlanders since reported by the Oregonian last night.

Here’s the opening line:

“The cultural clash between Portland bicyclists and motorists took a surreal turn Sunday night when a motorist involved in a tiff with a bicycle rider turned out to be a long-time advocate for cycling.”

The situation involved a man in a car, Colin Yates, who was driving in Southeast Portland and then got into an altercation after he chided a guy on a bike, Mike Steven McAtee, for blowing a stop light.

(The story reminds me of when I got flipped off for doing the same thing — except I was on my bike.)

McAtee’s booking photo.

Yates and McAtee reportedly met up a few blocks later, things escalated, and a melee ensued. Since the incident took place on one of Portland’s busiest bikeways, according to the Oregonian story, many other people (the “angry bicyclists” as the Oregonian referred to them) stopped and stood around while things unfolded. McAtee was reportedly very upset and confrontational, perhaps spurred on by the fact that he was allegedly intoxicated.

McAtee was ultimately charged with third-degree assault, criminal mischief, driving under the influence of intoxicants and disorderly conduct.

Officer Robert Pickett (a regular contributor to BikePortland.org) is quoted in the story as saying, “It’s almost kind of quintessentially a Portland thing.” This quote is being misunderstood. I believe Pickett is referring to the fact that even the person driving the car was someone who also regularly rides a bike (which is illustrative of how many people ride in Portland), not that McAtee’s reaction (or the resulting incident) was normal for Portland or somehow indicative of the community in general.

Not surprisingly, based largely on the way the story was reported, comments on the Oregonian’s online story (and letters to the editor will no doubt take a similar tone) are rife with the same anger and venom we have seen many times in the past.

“Portland bicycling community seriously needs to try to reign in these outlaws.”

“Typical stupid bicyclist. They break the law, you call them on it and they flip out. Too bad he didn’t get beat up some more.”

One commenter even posits that I’m purposely keeping quiet on the story:

“Convenient time for the bikeportland.org forums to be “down for maintenance… “We’ll be back soon” (after our extremist sub-culture’s media exposure on this event has passed)”

A bike/car road rage fight would have been enough red meat, but the fact that Yates (the guy in the car) is a self-described “bike advocate for more than 30 years,” and the fact that McAtee was allegedly drinking and seems to have gone ballistic (swinging his bike like a weapon toward Yates), are a story that is simply irresistible to the local media.

This incident is unfortunate on many levels.

First, let’s remember that the Oregonian reporter was not on the scene. The source of her information should be kept in mind as you read the story.

Most troubling to me is the fact that it will be covered so broadly in the local media (so far this morning I’ve already done interviews with KPAM and KINK radio morning shows). Why does this bother me? Is it because I don’t want to face the music that some Portlanders have bad traffic etiquette? No.

One fact is that I am contacted frequently by people on bikes who are the victims of road rage and near-misses. They call or email me after being run off the road or being scared by the intentionally aggressive behavior of someone else on the road. I rarely cover these stories, in part because it is so common, but also because I realize interactions between road users is a part of being in traffic.

It’s similar to how I don’t cover all the bike/car collisions I hear about. They are unfortunate, but they are expected outcomes of sharing the road (and hopefully they’ll happen less as we learn more about multi-modal street designs).

But more importantly, I do not see the world from the view of someone being a “bicyclist” or a “motorist”. Close readers of this site will notice that for several months now I have never used the terms myself.

I feel that the “-ists” are nothing more than labels and that they only lead toward more us vs. them reactions.

I am not a bicyclist or a motorist, I am a person. I hope someday everyone begins to understand that the way we choose to move around the city does not define who we are.

I also look forward to the day when an argument in the street between two people (even if they are both, gasp, “cyclists!”) does not end up all over the news.

[Editor’s note: I heard about this incident right after it happened, but I was working on another story and decided not to follow up on it right away.]

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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miguelaron
Guest

please try not to blow stop signs.

KT
Guest
KT

Well written, J.

I agree, we are all people; our mode of transportation shouldn\’t matter. We should treat everyone the same way we want to be treated: with respect.

In the paper-paper (as opposed to the online-paper), this story was front page news: top of the page, above the fold, the first headline you see. This will definitely spur more \”bikes vs car\”, \”us vs them\” behaviors, and not necessarily positive ones.

KT
Guest
KT

PS: When will the forums come back? I really miss them!

btodd
Guest
btodd

The bicycle is for escape. Let\’s build some trails and hit the woods.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

I think it is actually good when a cyclist stands up to a motorist. It lets motorists know that they can\’t push all of us around, that some of us may fight back. They reason motorists pull most of the sh!t they pull is because they think there won\’t be repurcussions.

never heard of him?
Guest
never heard of him?

Who is Colin Yates, anyone know? Seems like our town has a lot more self described cycling advocates than cycling advocates sometimes?

Jill
Guest
Jill

2% of the population are yahoos. They are cutting people off in cars, or jerks in line at the grocery store, or fighting at a bar. Occasionally they happen to be on bikes.

Tasha
Guest
Tasha

Sometimes it\’s nice to be both, so that you can understand both points of view. I bike a lot. I drive a little. I get both sides of the picture and I do my best to be courteous whatever mode of transport I\’m using that day. It saddens me when I see this aggressiveness on either side when we\’re all just trying to get to work/school/home. It annoys me when I see people, whether in a car or on a bike, blow stop signs and/or lights without even slowing down. It irks me when people, whether in a car or on a bike, feel a sense of entitlement to breaking the law and putting others in danger. The attitude on the roads needs to change. No one is \”better\” than anyone else on the road. You may choose to only bike, you may choose to drive a Prius. Good for you. But being self-righteous about it doesn\’t get anyone anywhere. Be respectful. Be courteous. Remember the cliche: you catch more flies with honey than vinager. End of soap box. Thank you.

Ben
Guest
Ben

Really good point. Bikeportland.org rarely covers any of the car-nearly-hits-bike stories or driver-swerves-and-shouts stories… because \”interactions between road users is a part of being in traffic\”. And also because generally, the cyclist is unable to identify the driver — who accelerates away.

You rarely cover these. The mainstream media NEVER covers these. Editors don\’t think stories about car-nearly-hits-biker are sexy.

That said, this story is hurting the bicycle community. If Yates really is a cyclist who was trying to caution a reckless fellow biker (and didn\’t use his car recklessly to stop the guy), he ought to be getting applause from us. I bike everywhere and cautioned young guys about blowing reds and gotten the same F-you attitude the story says he got.

shooter
Guest
shooter

I couldn\’t agree more J. The reality is that I both drive a car and ride a bike. I\’m not either/or. A car pushing me off the road pisses me off just like a bike blowing a stop sign in front of me.

It all gets back to people and their behavior, not the type of vehicle they choose to use.

bean
Guest
bean

Hey Skidmark:
That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. So, the only reason you personally don\’t break laws is because of the possible repercussions? Otherwise you would act like an rude, stinkin\’ idiot all of the time?
J: great point of view in your article. I can only imagine what you had to stew on before writing it.

Personally, I don\’t think it is advisable for anyone to \”police\” someone else\’s actions. You never know who you are dealing with. Its a big world with a lot of freaks.

Russell
Guest
Russell

SkidMark, there\’s a massive difference between someone standing up when an injustice is visited upon them and someone acting belligerently when another person has, to all evidence, simply pointed out a wrong. All evidence, including another cyclist\’s witness statement, points to McAtee attacking, not \’standing up to,\’ Yates.

Riding a bike does not give one a free pass to violate laws (i.e. stop sign/light laws) and then get indignant when they are confronted about violating those laws. Being a one ton metal box does not give one the right to act like a dickhead either. I, much like Tasha, ride A LOT, walk a lot, and drive very little. I understand the need for people using either mode of transportation to show respect and patience to each other. This respect includes following the rules of the road.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”That said, this story is hurting the bicycle community.\”

Ben,

We must stop self-marginalizing ourselves by using labels like \”bike community\”. This incident hurts the Portland community.. it is not about solely the \”bike community\”. the sooner we stop trying to label people and place them in definable groups the better.

in my mind, there is no \”bike community\”… we simply live in a community where a lot of people ride bikes and a lot of people love them, create things around them, advocate for them, etc.. … there\’s a major difference

Bobkat
Guest
Bobkat

This wasn\’t a confrontation between a \”bicyclist\” and a \”motorist,\” but rather a drunken hothead and someone who should have saved his critique of the other\’s actions for a more constructive moment. Yelling at anyone, either from a bike or a car, isn\’t going to change anybody\’s mind about anything. Throwing your bike onto someone for yelling at you is just f-ing stupid. (sigh…)

Todd Waddell
Guest
Todd Waddell

Colin Yates is, or was since he appears to be moving to Colorado, a mechanic at the downtown Bike Gallery. I think he may have been the lead mechanic there.

He\’s certainly one hell of a good wrench. Whenever I needed my bike tuned \”just so\” Colin was the guy to see. I\’ll really miss seeing him there.

I will also say that in my interactions with him, Colin seemed like a down to earth guy. I\’m really sorry that his last interaction with the Portland bike scene was so negative.

Regarding the coverage, I\’m glad the Oregonian seems to have ferreted out what actually happened. I\’m just sorry the lead of the story didn\’t say, \”Drunk moron accosts fellow cyclist who happened to be driving his car.\”

-Todd

B.C.
Guest
B.C.

Excellent post. I hope the people who are making comments on Oregonlive would read this and see that Mike McAtee does not represent all bikers in the city, but was just some drunk idiot that happened to be riding a bike.

http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2008/07/angry_bicyclists_gang_up_on_th.html

Read the comments. Pretty scary.

Rando-Nista
Guest
Rando-Nista

it\’s like every discussion ever had in the comments and forums on this site just happened in one incident… the perfect storm.

Mark P.
Guest
Mark P.

Great post Jonathan. It is sad that it\’s making such big headlines since as you pointed out, road rage against people on bicycles happens with greater frequency. I guess it\’s a classic case of man bites dog.

JH
Guest
JH

This drunken idiot should be made to publicly apologize for his actions. There are a lot of people doing a lot of hard work for the bicycle community. And as cyclists we need to chastise these people who undermine the efforts of people working hard for us. We are all in this together.

Andy
Guest
Andy

Just as Jill\’s said, there\’s yahoo\’s everywhere. (although I\’d venture to guess it\’s more than 2% ;)) Just so happens this time it\’s someone who decides using a bike as a melee weapon would be the way to go.

Just like the guy who nearly runs me off the road while he\’s making a right turn into traffic, decides *I* am to blame and flips me off.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Thanks for posting this, Jonathan. Granted, this is indeed a bit of an asshole vs. asshole rather than bike vs. car thing.

My wife and I came up with an analogy for what Mr. Yates was doing though (Mr. McAtee\’s response was wholly inappropriate, of course): Driving in a car and chastising a cyclist for his riding behavior is very much like waving a loaded gun and telling someone to watch out where he\’s swinging a very small stick.

Metal Cowboy
Guest

Hot time, summer in the city, back of my neck getting awful gritty.

Jonathan\’s point about shifting our speak and mindset away from a bike community to a city where one of our major ways of getting around is by bike, this is key – I\’m getting a guest column together about how this is why cities in Italy felt so biek friendly even though they did not have major bike infrastructure, or could have used more. It\’s the attitudes of people, in cars, on bikes andd on foot that make the difference, that said, stupidity is a resource that, unlike oil, will never run out, so in any situation you find yourself in on the streets, outbursts and hand gestures and blowing lights, whatever you are using to get around, this helps no one.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”Driving in a car and chastising a cyclist for his riding behavior is very much like waving a loaded gun and telling someone to watch out where he’s swinging a very small stick.\”

that\’s a very important point Jason. I agree. Many of the vitriolic commenters, bike haters, and members of the local media who don\’t regularly ride a bike, don\’t understand the psychological stuff going on in situations like this.

Jed
Guest
Jed

According to the Oregonian, the guy\’s name is Steven McAtee. Jonathan… your article says his name was Mike McAtee….. Which is correct?

Aka
Guest
Aka

It\’s hard not to blow stop sign. you guys know what I mean…

SmartPatrol
Guest
SmartPatrol

STEVEN McAtree is an idiot, to be sure. No excuse for his actions. But Yates should have kept his thoughts to himself. Confronting people on the street is risky (obviously). And did he really believe that this guy was going to modify his behavior? Come on.

What always surprises me is the vitriol of the motorists comments. What is it about drivers that makes them so upset when they see bikers break the law? How does it affect them in any way?

prtlndntv
Guest
prtlndntv

While the actions of McAtee can be written off as those of a drunken hothead, the more telling part of the article is how a mob of fellow cyclists formed around the scene as McAtee accosted the driver. This group behavior speaks to the us v. them angle that is so appealing for the media to pick up on, and which makes it such a hot button issue for motorists.

\”About 25 to 30 people were gathered, and police described the atmosphere as hostile towards the motorist. Some witnesses were afraid to speak up for Yates.\”

JP
Guest
JP

JH – What?? We don\’t live in a dictatorship. Do you think further dividing people is going to help?

Lynne
Guest
Lynne

+1 for Colin. He was the manager of Beaverton Bike Gallery a few years back before moving to another store. I can\’t imagine him doing anything more than telling the cyclist he ran the red and it doesn\’t help the general perception of cyclists any.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”the more telling part of the article is how a mob of fellow cyclists formed around the scene as McAtee accosted the driver.\”

prtlndntv… remember that this is a very popular bike boulevard street with a lot of bike traffic… and there was likely confusion at the scene as to what happened.

also remember that the Portland Police were quick to characterize a spontaneous dancing episode on Alberta Street during Last Thursday as a \”riot\”… so don\’t believe everything you read in the paper.

brian
Guest
brian

\”Driving in a car and chastising a cyclist for his riding behavior is very much like waving a loaded gun and telling someone to watch out where he’s swinging a very small stick.\”

I fully disagree with this statement. And it does not seem to apply to the situation.

Someone who see\’s someone else acting like an idiot should speak up. This sounds dorky but.. Traffic is a community, all particpants need to speak up and \’chastize\’ the IDIOTS what ever they may be riding/driving. That is how community/cooperative environments work.

Enforcement can\’t do everything.

Education does next to nothing.

If you behave like an idiot on the road and all you neighbors tell you so, and the fellow road users tell you your an idiot. You are probally going to be stop being an idiot.

I applaud Yates for being speaking out.

I hope McAtee gets jail time.

I will continue to speak out against idiots when ever I encounter them. Be they on bikes or driving Hummers.

Lazlo
Guest
Lazlo

This is just great. The Oregonian leads with \”Cyclist clubs driver with his bike\”, in huge type; below this is \”Iran tests missiles in range of Israel\”. Makes me wonder if Rupert Murdock bought the Oregonian. I\’m already getting the comments from coworkers, like \”I think it\’s great that more people are riding bikes, but a lot of them are rude jerks.\” Or \”I know you\’re not like that, but I think your the minority.\” This is an unfortunate road rage incident, and I\’m glas Jonathan characterized it that way. One traveler attacked another on the road, regardless of bike vs. car. And SkidMark, this guy was not standing up to a motorist, he violently attacked someone who verbally chastised him. I\’ll only point out bad cycling behavior if someone actually does me some perceived harm, like running a stop sign when I have the right of way, or passing too close without warning. I also bike and drive; whichever I choose on a given day does not categorize me. What really gets me is The Oregonian devoting nearly the entire top half of their front page to this dog bites man story.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

perhaps people should mind there own business more often. if you dont want to run red lights, then dont. if your not a cop, keep your opinions to yourself. otherwise you come off as a self richeous asshole.

Dave
Guest

It\’s unfortunate that 1) we all get put into categories and groups (race, religion, transportation, take your pick) 2) those categories and groups always contain belligerent, angry, self-centered people and 3) people are really eager to find those belligerent, angry, self-centered people acting out in society and then say \”see, those people are all angry and belligerent and don\’t care about anyone else!\” I think it\’s unfortunate whenever that happens, no matter which group of people it is that is getting unfairly labeled.

John
Guest

There are a lot of latent death-threats in the Oregonians comments section, which is scary. I like you distinction that we are all people, Mr. Maus. It\’s good to keep in mind.

kg
Guest
kg

Thanks a lot McAtee. What a jerk. The reaction of the crowd which according to the story really formed after said jerk had just gotten a little of what was owed to him speaks to the ever present feeling of threat most frequent cyclists feel from some motorists. I\’m sure most of use have been intimidated by someone in a car, it happens all day every day. So if you come on a scene of a conflict of this nature it would be easy to make errant assumptions. That is the problem with stereo types and assumptions, they are just as likely to be wrong as not.

PoPo
Guest
PoPo

Very thoughtful commentary, Jonathan, and thanks for clarifying the intent of my \”quintessential\” comment–that people who ride bikes and people who drive cars are often the same people, particularly in Portland.

I also kept saying that we are all traffic, and that we are all simply trying to get to where we are going via different modes of transportation, but that stuff didn\’t make it into the article.

Robin
Guest

Jonathan,

I want to give you props on the language points your making. I love the \”bike Community\” as much as I love the \”Visual Arts Community\” as well as some others. I be involved as much as I can but sometimes feel bit looked down on because of a perceived lack dedication to \”the group\”.

It\’s terrible this happened, but I\’m happy to see we are having a respectful dialog about some really important stuff.

Steve Brown
Guest

I am mildly amused by the incident. It really illustrates just how much our behavior on the road impacts others. On foot, two wheels or four, the golden rule is the only rule.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

I encourage all of you to write the Oregonian to complain about their trashy, sensationalist approach:

maxinebernstein@news.oregonian.com
srowe@news.oregonian.com
michaelwalden@news.oregonian.com

Grimm
Guest
Grimm

I love that a road rage between someone on a bike and in a car in Portland is front page news. When in other cities if a road rage incident happened and someone was shot and possibly killed, itd be lucky to see page 4.

Its amazing how this town gets so worked up over the details of what makes a functional society.

Brad
Guest
Brad

Jonathan,

Much of your coverage on a site that has become the de facto voice of cycling in this city does give credence to the notions of \”bike community\”, \”bike culture\”, and all manner of \”bikey\” labeling. In fact, many posters on this site revel in those labels.

While I am not suggesting that this become a sanitized and PC site but when new riders and non-cyclists hear about BikePortland.org and visit what do they see? Lots of fringe culture, weirdos, n\’er do well \”activists\”, run-ins with police, etc. (Pedalpalooza coverage for example) If they look at the posts, they read loads of anger and anti-everything-but-bikes sentiment. My question is, are we putting our best face forward? Or are we reinforcing the negative stereotypes put forth in the old media? In many ways, the attitudes expressed here are as frightening as those posted at OregonLive.

We as cyclists really need to clean up our act. Car drivers are the majority and feel a sense of entitlement and righteousness. That\’s a fact. We should rightfully hold them to account for stupid and dangerous behavior while also displaying zero tolerance for our own kind that engage in similar acts. We should stop publically celebrating outlaw events like the Zoobomb, Critical Mass, Naked Ride, etc. if their acts engender ill will towards the greater number of people that happen to utilize bikes. How pissed would the bike community be if someone organized an outlaw \”Drive Your Cars on the Springwater Day\” or an evening series of \”No Headlights on Bike Boulevard Drives\”? Yet, we do similar things under the guise of \”bike fun\” and \”protest\” and tell non-cyclists to get bent when they object.

We have reached a very critical juncture in Portland. High oil prices, environmental awareness, and traffic gridlock are putting more people on bikes and disrupting the comfortable lifestyle that most commuters have taken for granted. We are mixing on the roads in ever increasing numbers. How do we want this to evolve? As a peaceful coexistence with motorists based on predictable behavior and mutual respect? Or as an \”Us vs. Them\” pitched battle with many real casualties? I believe that we are headed down the path of confrontation largely because Portland\’s bike community lacks the maturity and common sense to affect compromise and take the long view. In my opinion, BikePortland should focus on those truly rallying for positive change and stop glorifying / enabling the aspects of our community that most Portlander\’s see as the \”bike problem\”.

Leat
Guest
Leat

I commute to work by bike, but drive for longer trips. And I am all for people speaking out when they see something sketchy happen, we wouldn\’t need the cops so much if we all looked out for each other. But this is a little scary sounding, a mob of people acting aggressively towards a guy simply because he was in a car. We need a new attitude than the flip off in your face one we have adopted for dealing with crazy people in cars.

Patrickz
Guest
Patrickz

Jonathan\’s position is right on. I\’m not surprised at how fast the the extreme reactions float to the surface, but I\’m also relieved to see how most of us choose to be civilized, however difficult it may be sometimes.

Cruizer
Guest

Aka (#25) McAtee didn\’t run a stop sign, he ran a stop light. IMHO there\’s a big difference.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

SkidMark: \”I think it is actually good when a cyclist stands up to a motorist. It lets motorists know that they can\’t push all of us around, that some of us may fight back. They reason motorists pull most of the sh!t they pull is because they think there won\’t be repurcussions.\”

Exactly. As I rode to work this morning it dawned on me that I\’d probably think twice now about yelling at a motorist for doing something stupid and potentially life-threatening for fear of repercussion spurned by this very story. That\’s so very, very wrong! Cyclists and pedestrians need to make their presence known and respected, and some loud words are just the tip of the iceberg– sometimes it feels like a struggle to simply not be killed, much less feel like an equal user of our public roadways.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

Leat: \”But this is a little scary sounding, a mob of people acting aggressively towards a guy simply because he was in a car.\”

If I saw two people fighting in the street after an accident– car vs. bike or car vs. car or bike vs. bike– I\’d probably stop to intervene, call the cops and take video with my cell phone. It\’s what any responsible citizen would do these days, not the action of a \”mob\”.

thornton
Guest
thornton

two guys get in to a fight, it happens all the time, rarely is it on the cover of the paper. people fight , we cannot stop that, we need to stop labling it as some kind of culture war

aaron hayes
Guest

The headline for this story is so large, I could read it from the street as I rode by a paper box. Please write the Oregonian and ask them to stop this kind of sensational coverage.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

bean, I wasn\’t talking about myself. I make my choices on the street based on my own safety and the safety of others. I do put me first, as a matter of self-preservation, because those those big tin boxes on wheels can kill you.

Russell, plenty of motorists get indignant when you point out that the moving violation they just made almost killed you. Some of them even get violent. Is that OK? I just think it is about time that the shoe is on the other foot. I don\’t agree with what he did, it was way over the line and uncalled for, but at the same time, I think it is important for motorists to know that they can\’t bully cyclists, that we are not all wimpy little peaceniks, and they they may not be as safe as they think they are in their tin box.