The road rage heard ’round the world

Posted by on July 29th, 2008 at 10:12 am

Screenshot from Newsweek.com.

It’s been almost three weeks since an Oregonian story about a alcohol-related traffic altercation was blown up into a “bikes vs. cars” war and now Newsweek has taken the bait.

A story published yesterday in their National Affairs section is ominously titled, Road Rage in Portland: Bikes Cars Clash and Pedal vs. Metal: A surge in bike ridership spurs a new kind of road rage.

This is just the latest bit of national attention focused on Portland for this issue. An Associated Press story written shortly after the initial Oregonian story has been picked up by media outlets in numerous cities. That story positioned the incident as the symptom of a larger problem of “uneasiness” on our roadways: The title of the story used in many cities was Clash of wheels mars Portland’s bike-friendly fame.

The Newsweek piece takes a familiar road and sets up the story by saying Portland’s surge in bike ridership has been followed by an increased tension:

“But the cycling surge has created conflict, as the new breed of commuters bumps up against the old, oil-powered kind.”

The story then details the four road rage incidents that made headlines within a week or so of each other and then posits:

“But there’s also clearly plenty of tension on Portland’s streets, and the strange two-week spate of clashes this summer that has people wondering whether the incidents are a sign of further trouble to come.”

After citing statistics that prove our roads are actually much safer for biking than they were 10 years ago, the reporter asked the question, “So why the recent road rage?”

According to the Portland Police Bureau’s Public Information Officer Brian Schmautz, it has to do with a, “militant” attitude among citizens:

“We have a protest culture,” he said. “We see a certain willingness to speak out in a way that’s not completely legal.”

Read the entire story on Newsweek.com.

It’s been interesting to see how these headline-grabbing incidents have captivated media outlets all over the country.

Is this portrayal of conditions on Portland’s streets accurate? Have conditions worsened in recent months? Or are increased tensions on the road a result of the intense media scrutiny of a “bikes vs. car” war over the past few weeks?

What are your thoughts?

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Torfinn
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Torfinn

Americans speaking out ways that aren\’t completely LEGAL?!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Tea_Party

Sounds like par for the course.

BURR
Guest
BURR

\”Motorists who hit bikers face tough penalties here.\”

This is the biggest piece of misinformation in that story.

BURR
Guest
BURR

My thoughts are that cylist-motorist conflict sure seems to sell a lot of papers and magazines…

Elisabeth
Guest
Elisabeth

Did anybody see the great video piece CBS did this week on the resurgance in bicycling in America? It was awesome. They had a huge section on Portland.

Richard S
Guest
Richard S

I have not noticed any change is attitude / behavior on the part of either motorists or bicyclists – despite the medias best attempts to create a crisis. 95% of either are courteous / considerate / law abiding, and 5% are idiots. It really doesn\’t matter what mode of transport an idiot uses, they are still idiots

Donald
Guest
Donald

My commute remains today what it was when I began doing it over 20 years ago: 30 minutes of peace often punctuated by 6 seconds of terror. The neighborhoods have changed, but the experience remains the same.

I\’ve noticed no increased antipathy from drivers, professional or otherwise.

I get the look from some fellow pedlars when I lock into a draft unannounced, but, hey, that summer wind outta the north is beatch.

Don\’t believe the hype.

JayS.
Guest
JayS.

If Motorcycles (our closest siblings on the road) telling off a bicycle with kids and adult on board for riding on NE Thompson, \”in the middle of the road\” ie. out of door range of cars is a sign. Then yes tension is up.

Otherwise seems like the same great biking city. Perhaps the media should stop fueling the flames and report news instead of sensationilising it and making the situation worse. Seems responsible news organizations would bring facts to educate us instead of fanning the flames

a.O
Guest
a.O

Just so you know, in my interview with Mr Ross I made clear my view that there is not more conflict on the streets of PDX lately, that the use of alcohol likely explained much about the recent incidents, and that the buzz around this was almost entirely media-driven hype done for the purpose of selling papers.

As for Mr Schmautz\’s comments, I\’d say that the militant attitude of some citizens is unfortunately shared, in a non-productive way, by some of our PPB officers. And more important than our \”protest culture\” is our \”car culture\” that has created a large group of roadway users who are not used to and occasionally reluctant to share the road with others.

Forseti
Guest
Forseti

Awesome!

\”95% of either [motorists or bicyclists] are courteous / considerate / law abiding, and 5% are idiots. It really doesn\’t matter what mode of transport an idiot uses…\”

Malex
Guest
Malex

I was backpacking when the \”road rage\” incidents happened, and didn\’t hear about them until yesterday. I biked all last week and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I call it largely media hype.

nudists vs rafters
Guest
nudists vs rafters
Dude
Guest
Dude

As I see it, all this coverage is less a reflection of the situation in the streets and more a sign of how defensive and agressive the car culture gets at the slightest threat to its hegemony and radical monopoly. Not that everyone involved is a conscious agent of the automobile lobby – but I definetely suspect that there is a coordinated effort behind this defamation campaign against bikes.

Paul
Guest
Paul

This morning I had two nice auto-bike interactions on my ride in. The first had me stopped in a bike lane waiting at a red light. A motorist pulled up and asked if it was ok to make a right on red around me.

Then a van that had room to make a right turn across a bike lane ahead of me an another cyclist decided to pause and let us pass first, though he could\’ve made it.

Two nice interactions to start the day.

Chad
Guest
Chad

\”protest culture\”

Very much the truth.

When I moved out here from the Great Midwest six years ago this was one of the first culture shocks I experienced. For better or worse, even though Portland is very kindly in general, people like to announce to the world, whether the world cares or not, their point of view (just read through the more feisty bikeportland blogs or read someone\’s bumper stickers for evidence of that).

After six years of assimilation I have to say I enjoy the free sharing of opinions…people just need to be more aware of when their opinions or actions infringe on other people\’s existence in a hurtful or harmful way.

I still love biking in Portland, no matter what the media wants others to believe.

greenkrypto
Guest
greenkrypto

There really hasn\’t been much change in attitudes lately, but I\’m trying to be more alert for drivers who may feel like creating more news.

Did anyone else waste their time reading the fictional dark tale in the Oregonian Op-Ed section yesterday?

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2008/07/apocalypse_now_and_then.html

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

On the lighter side, the Orgroanian did have a funny op-ed yesterday about the bike-car wars. (Even though they are the ones that fabricated it).
I for one have had 99% courtious driver interactions and 1% idiots, in cars and on bikes.

Geezer Guy
Guest
Geezer Guy

As a daily bike commuter for more then 3 years I have noticed a very large increase in the number of bikes on my S. E. Portland commute and I have also noticed about 90% of the bike commuters do not stop at stop signs or give cars their right of way when they should so I think car drivers are getting more and more upset with us. I have had more near miss\’s this year then ever before.
I\’m kind of thinking I\’ll start driving again.

Pete
Guest
Pete

I\’ve noticed a big difference in the past several months. There are noticeably more bikers on the road, many open up conversations saying they are \”newbies\”, people at work approach me for biking advice, and motorists in general seem much more aware and courteous. For the first time ever drivers have talked to me politely at lights, asking about my bike or what it\’s like to ride! In fact, I don\’t think I\’ve had \”get off the road\” or \”ride on the sidewalk\” shouted at me for a while now. On the negative side, I have noticed more cyclists riding on sidewalks, which I personally think is less safe than a known roadway.

Sure there\’s a \”cars vs bikes\” war going on, though – in blogs on the Internet by a very small handful of opinionated people (who love to generalize). OK, maybe it\’s not \”war\” but an \”engagement\”? 😉

Rasputin
Guest
Rasputin

It seems largely a construct of the media, though I believe tensions have risen.
I bike to work sometimes and drive sometimes if I have several meetings around town.
There seems to be a creeping sense of entitelement within the cycling community which allows them ro blow red lights, stop signs, etc. They\’ll even run right by corsisng guards as kids are walking to school. I see it happen daily.
As a cyclist, it boils my blood to see not just a small percentage, but a majority of us being completely terrible ambasadors.
When I\’m in my car it\’s unbelievable how often I have to dodge a biker doing something both stupid and illegal.
If people truly want to \”share the road\” they\’ll start abiding by the laws in place to protect themselves and others.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Geezer Guy, I\’m curious. Why start driving again? What\’s the correlation between your decision for this and people who think they\’re not supposed to obey rules? Why do you bike commute?

My approach has been to introduce people to safe riding by going with them, talking about laws (and Ray\’s book \”Pedal Power\” and his classes), and acting as a role model for whomever I can. I think it\’s called \’doing the right thing\’, but then again some seem to call it \”self-righteousness\” (whatever that is).

Nick
Guest
Nick

I must add that I have noticed a few folks take it within their rights to make comments to me on my bike more these last few weeks. My standard response is \”are you my mother?… Then please worry about your own driving.\”

I have been so frustrated there may have been an expletive inserted here or there. I always regret that later on.

~n

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Rasputin: I agree 100%

Forseti
Guest
Forseti

Rasputin, I fixed your post for you:

There seems to be a creeping sense of entitelement within the [driving] community which allows them ro blow red lights, stop signs, [speed,] etc. They\’ll even run right by [crossing] guards as kids are walking to school. I see it happen daily.
As a [driver], it boils my blood to see not just a small percentage, but a majority of us being completely terrible ambasadors.
When I\’m [on] my [bike] it\’s unbelievable how often I have to dodge a [driver] doing something both stupid and illegal.
If people truly want to \”share the road\” they\’ll start abiding by the laws in place to protect themselves and others.

KruckieBoy
Guest
KruckieBoy

More tension? Absolutely. I now avoid SE Lincoln and SE Clinton for fear of my well being. I have had 2 high speed close calls in the last week alone with 2 bikers who felt the need to blow through their stop signs at speed and cause the bike with the right of way (me) to come to a screeching halt.

In my case the tension is bike on bike. I can only imagine that driving around bikers in this town is tense too.

KruckieBoy
Guest
KruckieBoy

Forseti- People aren\’t entitled to their opinions? Can you honestly tell me bikers in PDX don\’t constantly break the law? Give me a break. You act all indignant when someone calls it like they see it.

Graham
Guest
Graham

\”We have a protest culture,\”

A lot of what it takes to establish a bike as a vehicle on the road probably seems like \”protest.\” I know that, before I came to Portland (I\’m originally from semi-rural northeast), the idea of claiming a lane when the shoulder was dangerous seemed pretty foreign to me, and getting in front of, and slowing down cars seemed rude. Doing it anyway because it\’s my right – and knowing I have to exercise my right if I wanted to keep it – feels a little like protest to me. Same goes for walking into crosswalk where it seems like cars might not stop.

Putting oneself on the line to claim one\’s rights.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Graham makes a good point. On my ride to the gym I cross Allen at Hall in Beaverton and take the lane just past the \”Bikes on Roadway\” sign. There\’s a stop light there and traffic, which I don\’t dare pass on the right as the space is tight and curb high. I regularly sprint to 30 with traffic when the light changes (speed limit is 25), and it\’s only for a half-mile or so, but I wonder how often the driver behind me is thinking \”damn bikers think they own the road\” while he/she has to \’wait\’ in the congestion that cyclists are often accused of causing. I suspect the thousands of times I\’m safely passed daily go unnoticed, though.

A habit I\’ve adopted while waiting at the light is to look at the driver\’s face and smile, and point that I\’m going straight. Mostly the reception is positive, sometimes with a wave or pointing that they plan to turn right (whether signaling or not). This is not unlike how I behave when driving, though I rarely get thank-you waves then.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

Kruckie—no, no, no Forseti likes telling people what they think and how they should feel…everyone here is genreally wrong in the eyes of Forseti.

complete tool.

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

cars are just as rude as ever. my personal favorite: passing you quickly so in 20 meters they can stop and wait behind cars at a stop light.

steve
Guest
steve

Takes one to know one, eh bahueh?

I speak from experience.

Forseti
Guest
Forseti

No, Kruckie Boy, I agree that plenty of people riding bikes break laws. I was just pointing out that Rasputin\’s statement is equally true regardless of which way it\’s worded. It\’s just like Richard S said in #5.

I also want to point out that, if you want a textbook example of both irony and hypocrisy, go see bahueh\’s recent posts constantly complaining ad nauseum about cyclists and then \”telling them\” that they need to obey the law. Then, re-read #27 in which Bahueh accuses me of telling people how they should feel.

Bahueh, Jonathan has asked several times that people refrain from name-calling here. So it would be best if you apologize to me, but since I don\’t think that\’s going to happen, I\’m asking you to consider sticking to the merits of the issue and stopping the personal attacks. Or don\’t you want to have a productive discussion?

Paul Souders
Guest

So did anyone else notice the 10 minutes we got on CBS Sunday Morning? I don\’t know if more people read Newsweek than watch CBS Sunday Morning but if the latter were your only source of info you\’d think it was a 24/7 car/bike lovefest in the City of Roses.

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=4297826n

FWIW I have noticed no great difference in driver friendliness on the roads.

But I\’ve had many conversations with coworkers, transit riders, folks waiting in line at the grocery etc., and the message is pretty universally \”I wish I could ride my bike everywhere like you do, what with the gas prices these days\”

BURR
Guest
BURR

people usually resort to name calling when they\’ve lost an argument and can\’t think of anything else to say

spotter
Guest
spotter

\”Where is the national media on this?\”

Here\’s a nice story from last week. Not sure if anyone posted it previously.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92836910

Chad
Guest
Chad

I don\’t know if Bahueh stole Forseti and steve\’s high school crush at the dance, but you guys\’ should figure this out because the rest of us would rather talk about…oh…bike issues…NOT who called who names and who should apologize.

I think a bike race going south on N Williams during the afternoon commute would help establish to all of us who is truly the smartest and most correct.

Winner gets to be self-righteous and condescending for one week and the loser(s) has his blogging privileges revoked?

Ideas?

Matter Guy
Guest
Matter Guy

I ride daily in the southeast, usually solo, but recently with my son on the back of an Xtracycle. I\’ve ridden 5-days a week for about 10 years in Portland, doing commutes from 2 to 15 miles.

Recent Observations on my Rides:
1. Lots more riders on the roads. Some with bad road manners.
2. Since the recent media circus, many more courteous, cautious actions by drivers in my neighborhood.

My belief: Portlanders are good, community-oriented people, and want to do the right thing. They are also more interested in living in a happy, thriving community (instead of a \’war zone\’). The recent swell of sensationalism, although uncomfortable and annoying, will have a positive effect by increasing everybody\’s awareness of one-another. Drivers are trying harder to make eye contact with riders, and that feels very healthy.

It doesn\’t matter how you get around town. Newspaper headlines come and go. As Portlanders, we\’re trying to build a great community, not tear it down.

Donald
Guest
Donald

@ Chad

While I\’m all for Calves and Thighs at High Noon to determine a pecking order, I think you may have your directions reversed.

Racing southbound on Williams at rush crush would certainly be a scene. And, luckily, there\’s a handy trauma center nearby.

BURR
Guest
BURR

my take on it is that once you leave inner SE PDX, cooperation and consideration from the motorists tends to drop off dramatically…

Matthew Denton
Guest
Matthew Denton

Last Friday night at 2am, I [just for the record, completely sober,] was going down SW 10th at the speed of the lights in the center lane and this car pulled up behind me and flashed his lights and honked his horn and was generally being annoying, and then raced passed me on the right, (on the streetcar tracks,) and pulled up right behind a cab that was stopped at the red light half a block ahead. So I slowed down because I thought the guy was crazy and didn\’t want to be next to him. And when the cab didn\’t move right when the light turn green, the guy honked his horn and flashed his lights and the cab put on his reverse lights and just sat there. And the guy was too close to go around, so he honked some more and I promptly got on the sidewalk and waited for the guy to go ahead and back up and drive away, (which took him an entire light cycle, during which he rolled down his window and swore at the cab driver.)

The problem with bicycle on car road rage vs car on car road rage is that what that cab did in the same situation I was in would have resulted in me being on the hood of this guy\’s car.

Dan
Guest
Dan

My interactions with motorists are overwhelmingly more positive than negative. Last night a guy in a tricked out rice burner followed me at a safe distance down Germantown Road until I had a good place to pull over and let him by. Cars on Skyline and going up Thompson also gave me lots of room when passing.

I always try to give a courtesy wave and/or say \”thank you\” when motorists go out of their way to pass safely – don\’t know if they hear me/see me in their rear view mirrors, but I hope they do.

Forseti
Guest
Forseti

Ha! Funny yall should mention racing – because Bahueh has about the same chance of beating me in a bike race as he does of apologizing and admitting it was juvenile and inappropriate for him to engage in personal attacks rather than post on the merits. And that\’s approximately zero.

Chad
Guest
Chad

@ Donald…no, my directions are spot on for this pissing match.

There should be enough self rightousness to make going the wrong way somehow right.

More on topic, just got the print version of Newsweek today and there\’s a dramatic sounding paragraph or two about cars and bikes in Portland directing people to their website story that is being discussed in this blog.

At the very least this \”media attention\” seems to be allowing a little steam to vent from the minds of the general public whether for or against bikes or somewhere in the middle. Just like therapy, venting your frustrations through something contructive like talking with your co-workers, blogging on bikeportland, oregonlive, or other outlets is therapeutic and releases pent up emotions that can lead to road rage itself.

Drivers are reading about other drivers who are frustrated by the presence of bikes on the road and bike riders are doing the same. True, this does at first sound like a fostering of the us and them world view, but it seems to me this communication would make one feel less alone in their frustrations and therefore provide a healthy outlet for their fears. And somewhere in all of this everbody, whether they\’re aware of it or not, is learning about bicycling and it\’s place on today\’s roads.

I still feel the net effect of all this will be for the postive.

(Yes, my water bottle is always half full).

Eileen
Guest
Eileen

Do I live in a parallel universe or am I just really naive? Don\’t answer that. I just don\’t see this militant portland run amok with vigilantes. Must be happening in the west hills because it\’s not in my neighborhood. I know that Portland has a lot of counterculture and conspiracy theorists, but I don\’t see them taking action against other citizens. The key point of the article that stood out to me was that while bicycling has doubled, injuries to cyclists has remained flat. So the percentage has actually gone down. But whatever, maybe the article will help slow the population growth for awhile.

I honestly still think, and I have said this before, that 99.999% of drivers are not psychopathic killers out to get bicyclists. In fact, any irritation expressed by drivers comes from a fear of hurting you. It seems to me that articles like these do actually raise awareness for drivers that there are a lot of cyclists out there and they might do some crazy stuff so be careful. I\’m also pretty sure that most of the people involved in road rage incidents that were publicized are probably embarrassed of their actions. Nobody sees that and says, yeah, let\’s go get the cyclists, or let\’s go knock out some cars (again, am I just totally naive?). I think it makes people cringe and want to be more careful.

Donald
Guest
Donald

@ Chad.

That\’s it then. I don\’t care if anyone else joins me: I\’m taking Williams in tomorrow morning!

And if I survive, look for me on \’Couver coming home!

One Way signs are just the man trying to keep us down.

jimbo
Guest
jimbo

Driving home from the groceri store the other night I had a bike at an intersection where he should have stopped for a red light,(Interstate ave) instead he did the fake right turn- do a youi and keep on going through the intersection as if he had done nothing wrong, except I had to plow on the brakes for my green light spilling my groceries all over my car. Don\’t be mad at me if you see me blasting my horn at bikes blowing through red lights while i\’m sitting there waiting. Your time is no more valueable than mine.

jimbo
Guest
jimbo

Looks like road rage is CHADS FAULT. Hope he gets a bunch of tickets and his biking pliveleges revoked. Another reason for bicyclists to be licensed and insured.

Joe
Guest
Joe

These attempts by the media to manufacture a crisis are not evidenced on the road, from what I experience on Portland streets. Like several people have mentioned in earlier posts, there are the actions of a small percentage of hot heads behind both the handle bar and the steering wheel that the media feeds on, particularly the actions of drunk hot heads on a vehicle. I suppose this is similar to drunk pedestrians.. maybe someone should suggest we have pedestrians licensed and insured as well?

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Just read the Newsweek story. It\’s o.k. (although Newsweek uses the abbreviation \’vs\’ in the title, like the O did in some editions of the paper).

I doubt Portland is experiencing a media fueled infection of road rage between people on bikes and drivers of cars. More people on bikes occurring over a short period of time raises the intensity of the adjustment period between the two during which time they learn to share the road and coexist amicably with each other.

If any \’versus\’ between people on bikes and people driving cars is to be found, a more likely place to look might be Seattle and Critical Mass.

Eileen
Guest
Eileen

\”More people on bikes occurring over a short period of time raises the intensity of the adjustment period between the two during which time they learn to share the road and coexist amicably with each other. \”

WEll-put Bob. It\’s the \”implementation dip\”. Things always get worse before they get better.

Donald
Guest
Donald

Yo, Jimbo.

Sorry, just wanted to say that.

Relax. Don\’t do it.

On another topic, completely away from tossled groceries:

Does anyone remember when it was roving gangs of thugs attacking cyclists that was the headline of the week?

And what happened with that?

Again, as the New Yorker once said of the movie Jaws: Don\’t bite.