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Middle fingers don’t lead to productive dialogue and other lessons from my road rage interaction

Posted by on April 28th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

new bike lane on Naito

When too close leads to up-close.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The other day riding home from work I had an interesting interaction.

I was riding my bike up N. Mississippi Ave. just past Widmer Brewing (map) when I noticed a big car door swing open ahead of me. Without making a sudden move, I positioned myself into the center of the lane to avoid the hazard. A few seconds later I heard the all too familiar roar of a car engine. Soon, just a few inches from my thigh, a car buzzed angrily by. It was obviously done on purpose (trust me, I’ve been riding on city streets long enough to know).

I was operating completely within the law. I was on a small side street were traffic should move slowly. There was no need for this man in the car to pass me like that. I was angry. So, in order to make sure I got the guy’s attention, I looked square into his rear-view mirror and flipped him off.

Now, I realize in hindsight I shouldn’t have done that — but my anger, mixed with wanting to make sure he noticed me, somehow automatically produced a middle finger.

“You wanna flip me off!? You wanna flip me off?! You flip me off, I’ll run you over!!”
— Last words from a guy who equates the action of being flipped off with serious bodily harm caused by plowing a 3,000 pound vehicle into a human body

Suffice it to say my gesture didn’t go over well.

He immediately slammed on his brakes and stopped right in the middle of the road. Before he could get out of his car, I had rolled over to his driver-side window. I was looking forward to talking with him about what had just transpired.

Unfortunately, I think my middle finger dashed any hopes of a productive dialogue.

The man was visibly angry and was trying to unbuckle his seat belt (my bike was right next to his door so he couldn’t swing it open). I was smiling and calm. He yelled, “You were riding in the middle the street!” I replied (with a smile), “Yes I know, did you see that car door I was trying to avoid?” Not sure if he heard me or cared because he then started saying, “You wanna flip me off!? You wanna flip me off?! You flip me off, I’ll run you over!!”

I have no doubt that if I would have matched his level of anger he would have assaulted me right there in the street. But, because I did nothing further to provoke him, he turned away and sped off.

The interaction spurred a lot of thoughts.

What would have been a better way for both of us to respond? Should I notify the police about him almost hitting me and then threatening to run me over?

I got some good advice right away via friends on Facebook and Twitter. One person said, “The peace sign only takes one more finger.” I liked that one.

Others wondered if I’d gotten the license plate number (I didn’t). I think because I flipped the bird and feel like the man’s aggression — while not warranted — was on some level understandable, I was less inclined to want to pursue the matter.

I did however give Officer Robert Pickett, our bicycle issue liaison at the Police Bureau, a phone call. He recommended that in the future, if I feel someone is a “menacing vehicle operator,” I should call 911 and report them. But first, he suggested, “get yourself safe.” It’s also helpful to document or remember the following information:

  • description of the vehicle;
  • license plate number;
  • direction of travel;
  • description of the driver (this is because many times alleged suspects will say, “I’m just borrowing this car, I wasn’t driving it during the incident”).

If I was upset at being buzzed closely and that’s all that happened, Pickett says I could have called it in. He said there’s no guarantee they’d respond to it in force, but it’s worth a try. “It [the police response] depends on a variety of factors… It could come out over the air as a reckless driver and if there happens to be an officer nearby they’ll keep an eye out… But having them run a plate, track them down, and go to their house probably wouldn’t happen.” Given how stretched our police force is, that’s understandable.

Pickett also reminded me — in his reasonable and diplomatic style — that I should think of a way to communicate with other road users that doesn’t escalate emotions so quickly. I agree, but if my goal was to have the guy stop and chat, is there really any other gesture that would cut through the fog as quickly as a middle finger?

I learned a lot in this encounter as it was the most up-close and personal road rage situation I’ve ever been in. I’d love to hear how others respond to being purposely buzzed by another vehicle operator (I’ve almost flipped off other people on bikes that pass close without warning!). For me, I guess I’ve got to re-program my brain and remember that “The peace sign only takes one more finger.”

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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

  • Matthew April 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Nice post. I’m also guilty of road rage towards inconsiderate drivers (it’s one of the many reasons I no longer drive myself), and it’s good to hear about incidents like this which remind me that flipping someone off, far from being a productive solution to really ANY situation, indeed has the potential to make things much worse. Thanks for sharing, sincerely.

    That driver basically threatened to murder you, though. I’d report him.

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  • BURR April 28, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    As the PPB liason to the BAC, Officer Pickett should offer to handle these incidents himself as non emergencies.

    Just get him the info he needs (plus the date, time, location and incident description), and he can look up the plate number and have a friendly phone conversation with the registered owner of the vehicle.

    The last PBB officer that served on the BAC, Carl Rilling, used to assist cyclists this way all the time back in the 90s.

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  • Richard Masoner April 28, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Yep, doubtful the motorist has seen the error of his ways, but I don’t have any good suggestions.

    One time after I yelled at a motorist for nearly running me over, he stopped & rolled down his window and I thought “Uh oh, here it comes.” But then the guy took the high road and apologized! I was astounded and a little bit ashamed.

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  • Marty Barfowitz April 28, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I think you’d have been within your rights to fling open this guy’s car door, drag him out of the driver’s seat and beat him about the head and crotch with your Kryptonite lock. At least, that’s how we do it in Brooklyn.

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  • Aaronf April 28, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I think it’s better to shake your fist at people… that’s just four more fingers.

    I usually yell “hey!” in an alarmed, surprised type voice when someone buzzes me. Sort of giving them the benefit of the doubt…

    I mean, there isn’t much you can do to spark an interaction unless they decide to pull over or hit a stop light. At a stop light you could say “Hey, did you see me back there?”

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  • Josh King April 28, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Jonathan, this is a great post. As a daily bike commuter in Seattle, I understand and struggle with the instinctive reaction to flip someone off when they do something dangerous (or even annoying).

    I haven’t found a solution short of self-control – and I’m a long way from arriving THERE. This last winter I used bike mitts instead of gloves, and discover that flipping the bird didn’t work very well (and yes, I tried – more than once). Out of necessity, I resorted to the “ass pat” when someone honked at me for taking the lane. I found it less in-your-face yet oddly more satisfying than the middle finger I couldn’t produce.

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  • aaron April 28, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I’m glad to hear you were not injured..sounds like a very close call!

    whether on my bike or in a car…when road rage occurs TOWARDS me, I have found that waving “hi” is the best response. However, it’s hard not to respond with 1 finger too 🙂

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  • Burk April 28, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I’ve always had good luck with a smile and a wave. A look of recognition on your face helps, if the pissed off driver sees you acting like you know him/her it kind of kicks their brain into the “do I know that person?” mode. “Was that my neighbor? My boss?”

    Cyclists pretty much look alike, especially in the rear view mirror.

    Then the driver spends the rest of the day trying to figure out who they buzzed.

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  • Hollie Teal April 28, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I was “purposely buzzed” (and honked at) a few weeks ago on my ride to work. I was on a quiet street in an affluent neighborhood, riding safely and legally. It was so egregious that it left me too flabbergasted to gesture, inappropriately or not. This woman’s casual disregard for my life was so staggering that all I could do was burst into tears.

    When I got to work, I told my coworkers. They suggested I call the police since I had the driver’s plate number. I did so and was made to feel so terrible by the officer, like I was at fault, that I just gave up. I don’t suggest calling PPD.

    Basically, there’s nothing I could do. Nothing any of us can do in that situation. The sad fact is that if a driver of a 3000 lb. car feels I am “in the way” on the road she is entitled to, she will emerge the winner through either the anonymity of being in a car that is able to speed away after threatening me, or by physically harming me. And even though I had her license plate number, it was made clear to me by PPD that it was a “he said/she said” that they were not going to pursue.

    I wish I had something more positive to contribute to this discussion, but day after day of it in the supposed bike capitol of the US has left me worn out.

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  • q'Tzal April 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Anybody seen a handlebar mount that will suitably hold one of those disposable underwater cameras?
    Just leave it there until you need to document stupdity than SNAP!

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  • Nick V April 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    The half-Italian in me normally raises my entire hand as if to say, “What are you thinking?”

    I REALLY snap these days if someone is being ignorant AND talking on the phone. Then I make sure to get their attention, mime the hanging up of a receiver, and yell “GET OFF THE PHONE!”

    I do try to avoid using the middle finger if possible. In certain east coast cities, the middle finger is right up there with burning the flag, spitting on a picture of somebody’s mom, etc. Silly but true.

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  • Jordan April 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    I’ll be honest…I love the finger. Granted, it is not the best solution, but there is something satisfying about expressing your anger to road jerks in such a provoking way.

    With that being said: I don’t recommend it.

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  • nuovorecord April 28, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I’ve gotten pretty zen-like over this whole matter over the years. There are just some people in the world who are a-holes, inattentive, mean, etc.

    I can’t control them. I can only control me. I ride with the expectation that I’ll get honked at, buzzed, yelled at – whatever. But the vast majority of the drivers I encounter are courteous, or at the very least, not trying to kill me, even if I’m slowing them down for a block or three.

    I take comfort in the fact that more and more people are taking to the streets on their bikes every year. Most people in the city of Portland are in favor of bikes and want safe places to ride. And, more and more drivers are getting used to that fact. It’s only a war if we make it one. Let’s ride as if the battle’s already won.

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  • JAT in Seattle April 28, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Sometimes I wonder if that all too familar roar of a car engine and the buzzing angrily by – which always sound and feel at the time like intentional threats are just crappy out of control drivers. That’s not to say you misread the situation or even overreacted, but since I can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s mind, I prefer the dopey wave to the unambiguous finger.

    But as Matthew @ 1 correctly points out, this guy did threaten to murder you. If nothin else this points out the fallacy of the make-cyclists-have-license-plates-so-we-can-report-them crowd. This guy stopped and threatened to kill you but in the heat of the moment you didn’t get his license number…

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  • Patrick April 28, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Whenever I get the chance to speak to a driver who endangered me I tell them “that really scared me!” As opposed to telling them they passed too close & fast this statement is something that cannot be denied. It also moves the dialogue down to a personal level. Frequently it works. (The problem is remembering to be calm.)

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  • Josh April 28, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Good tips. Had a similar experience a week ago. After exchanging some words the driver also slammed on their brakes and was attempting to get out. Instead of approaching the vehicle I made my way to the sidewalk. I figured being near his van would put me in greater danger if he wanted to do some harm. Somehow he decided not to get out and he went on his way.

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  • Steve April 28, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Wear mittens.

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  • Brian April 28, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    It’s disturbing that someone willing to endanger a human life because they could not be bothered to wait for 20 seconds can be so offended by getting flipped off. The person was obviously not rational. This is the problem with public streets. You must share them.

    I don’t trust the PPB would do anything with a report of this sort. It is my understanding that the won’t even take an accident report unless an ambulance is involved. The are really going to track down a driver who does this sort of thing?? I doubt it.

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  • Steve B April 28, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, Jonathan. I’ve definitely been in this position before, although usually these incidents occur in other cities.

    My favorite salute when I’m frustrated with a driver is to blow them kisses. I picked this up in Critical Mass in NYC many years ago. If the driver is still heated after they get their blown kiss, you can rest assured you’ve let go of the negative energy and it’s on them to sit there and be upset. Try variations like “I really care about you and I want to make sure we’re all safe.” or “I love you.” It’s really fun to see the interactions. More than once this sort of thing has turned tense situations into smiles on both ends.

    The key thing to remember about road rage is that it is almost always PROJECTION. In this case, for instance, the driver may not have been incensed to the point of violence simply because you were taking the lane, it may just be the latest thing to activate him and send him into a rage. More than likely, like most of us, this guy is carrying around a lot of stuff he hasn’t processed, and he’s projecting it on you. If you can remember this in those situations, it’s a bit easier to handle and not take personally.

    That said, there’s no excuse for vehicular violence, I wish we could hold drivers like this accountable. Sadly, this sort of behavior rarely leads to a consequence that would actually impact a person’s right to drive. I’d like to see more dangerous drivers taken off the streets until they get the proper education and therapy necessary to operate a machine that can easily take someone’s life.

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  • Jeff April 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Grab him by the collar and punch him in the ear a couple times. He’ll come around.

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  • thefuture April 28, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I’ve never experienced that level of rage to the point where I thought they were going to get out and come after me, but in lesser road rage experiences or close calls I like to (making sure i’m in full view of the driver) take out my cell phone and take (or at least pretend to take) a photo of their car and license plate and take a look at my watch to note the time.

    Passive aggressive? Sure, but i’d like to think it puts the fear in them somehow and maybe they’d think twice about doing it again.

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  • Matt W April 28, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I get buzzed a lot on Broadway, btw 24th and Williams, that usually piss me off… BUT, I ride this route 4 days a week and cannot give onto drivers’ taunts.
    My usual standby is the peace sign, yes, but I am guilty of having given
    the “bird” to the worst drivers (turning in front of you at the last minute without a signal, while on a cell phone, etc).
    Hopefully, the driver thought about the whole interaction later (after his blood pressure went down) and maybe, just maybe, regretted his action as much as you did yours.

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  • Anonymous April 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Hate to say it but where I come from blowing a kiss is the same as flipping the bird.

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  • JakeM April 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I’ve had several similar confrontations. One in particular happened shortly after Tracy Sparling was killed. A driver accelerated her car toward me, and probably would’ve hit me had I not moved. I did everything as the officer above suggested, and I was treated with complete disrespect and dismissed as overreacting.

    It’s not understandable to me that they wouldn’t do anything because resources are stretched. I’m with others who say, calling the police is pointless. History has taught us nothing happens to drivers who kill cyclists, why would it be different if I survived?

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  • Stigx April 28, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Some thoughts:

    -The peace sign is a good idea, but still carries some risk.

    -If you make a hand gesture of any kind, it may not be seen clearly and misinterpreted by the driver.

    -Admitting that you ‘gestured with your hand’ could be used against you in court.

    -When your life is put at risk, your body gets an adrenaline rush and survival mode kicks in. It’s very hard to keep the birdie in check.

    -Responding at all to the driver, in any way, may justify in their mind further action against you.

    -I’d recommend keeping a poker face and just continue riding, avoiding any confrontation. Better to have the best chance of getting home safely to your family than taking any risk to educate a motorist who clearly doesn’t give a damn.

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  • kgb April 28, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I use a thumbs down.

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  • Julie April 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Hi Johnathon
    Thank you for a very thought provoking post. I wrote about a very similar experience I had ( and one of the lessons I learned is that it’s easy for the cyclist who is a lot more vulnerable to overlook the possibility that drivers sometimes react angrily out of fear. Not to excuse the buzzing or any other inappropriate response, but I think for me it’s good to remember that I, as a cyclist, can provoke fear in drivers because of my behavior.

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  • Rich April 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I use the “L” for loser with a straight face. Usually results in a “wha?” type of look from the piece of ****.

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  • chad April 28, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    three weeks ago I was pushed, yes literally pushed off a bicycle blvd by a guy in a minivan less than a block from my house.

    I got his plate #, I called 911 and heard nothing more.

    The next day I spent close to three hours on the phone with different parts of the PPD trying to find out if anything had been done (all the while being made to feel like I was the one doing something wrong).

    After talking to the fifth person, a dispatcher, I was told nothing was done. I then responded with “so it’s legal to push a bike off the road with a car?”. He then told me a police officer would come and talk with me.

    The officer was nice enough, but it made it pretty obvious that this was not that important, and that he MIGHT speak with the guy. I then asked him “well, then what”, to which he responded “just forget about it”.

    Gotta love it!

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  • GLV April 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    This is why I think everyone should both drive and ride. When you have both perspectives you’re a lot less to fly off the handle, regardless of the situation.

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  • Dominic April 28, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I always like to holler “Jesus loves you”. I have noticed a strong relation between Christians and road-ragers. 🙂

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  • Anonymous April 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Blow kisses and wink!

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  • KJ April 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Not that I don’t succumb to the bird myself sometimes, or yelling an obscenity…

    I generally try to make eye contact with people driving who have purposely done something aggressive towards me or who have made some driving error and give them the stink eye and exaggeratedly shake my head no. Basicly trying to visually say “I am dissapointed in you, you should be ashamed.” And keep on going my way.
    I find even eye contact alone, when it can be had can have a desired affect.

    I figure if they are trying to get a reaction out of me they won’t get what they want. I treat them like the kids at work who are misbehaving. I figure disappointment and shaming are better at curbing behavior than anger or chest beating.

    Aggressivly reacting to agression or stupidity/inattention(and there by starting a conflict) and then trying to confront them is basicaly pointless. They have already closed thier mind to whatever you have to say. The window for a dialogue has been closed.

    If you end up speaking to someone, being cool, calm and collected may get you heard. Berating them and lecturing them and beating on their car will get you nothing but someone who now hates cyclists even more than they may already have.
    You just make yourself into a crazed violent irrational cyclist. And no better than the crazed irrational violent person driving.

    I have never been verbally threatened, I have had verbal interactions a few times and they have not escalated.(Including a Trimet driver who I then reported and got a excellent response and follow up from Trimet) And I have never had anyone say they will run me down, get off the road etc.
    Could be luck, could be not having the desired or expected response. But *I* feel better if I can keep my blood pressure down.

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  • tony April 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I had a completely insane encounter with a person driving a company van a few weeks ago on SE 41st and SE Salmon. The driver was trying to insist that I pass him so that I “don’t hit [his] van.” He was completely crazy and eventually drove off but not before screaming a racial epithet at me (one that very obviously does not even apply). It was bizarre.

    Sadly, even though I am normally very observant, I didn’t take my eyes off this guy for a second and failed to note the license # or even the company the van was for (I think it had blue and red lettering on a white van and it may have been a heating/cooling type of business).

    In this situation I didn’t flip him off or swear at him, he was just real mad at cyclists for some reason (I blame the Oregonian). Josh (#16) this isn’t the kind of van you had an encounter with, was it?

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  • steve April 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    It totally stinks when this happens. It would be great if:
    The PPB did follow up with drivers such as this.
    Stronger Laws were in place to hold drivers accountable for vehicular menacing and vehicular homicide

    I had a much worse situation that left me practically powerless and afraid to ride public streets for months.

    I was riding on the streets of Anchorage, which have no bike lanes and a culture were some are totally with it and others are scary people. I was in a left hand turn lane behind a truck, waiting for the green arrow. The driver waited until just the arrow turned yellow, spun there tires out, began turning left, went up on opposite curb, tires still spinning, turned directly towards me, fish-tailing back and forth, and skidded towards me. At which time, I cut directly across the road to the opposite curb, way to scared to look carefully. While I did this the driver was heading straight for me, fish tailed back out and turned down the opposite lane, 3-5 feet away from where I was standing.

    I share this story for a few reasons.
    – 1 it scared the crap out of me and I always try not to escalate a situation (despite having no interaction with this driver other than being in the road). If they want to, they will win
    – 2 The police wouldn’t do a thing
    – 3 We have a long way to go

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  • fredlf April 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Similar things have happened to me a large number of times, especially in areas with fewer bikes (e.g. Durham, North Carolina).
    It’s taken a while, but I was eventually able to channel the many years I spent many years working in retail, and train myself to smile and wave with the biggest, phoniest smile I can muster. I call it “smiling on the outside.” Usually, this disarms people enough so that I can say, “sorry I was in your way briefly, but I had to avoid x so I didn’t get seriously injured.” I try to say this with a smile even if I am completely in the right and was nearly killed. Again. I don’t always succeed. But I do believe it’s a “teachable moment” and that you catch more flies with sugar than with s*%t.

    That is, I honestly think that most drivers are simply unaware of the hazards that cyclists face on the side of the road, and so they assume you are making a “statement” by not sharing. This, of course, is exacerbated by cyclists who like to make a statement by resolutely not sharing.

    Of course, smiling on the outside doesn’t always work. Some people are just out of control. Lately I’ve been working on training myself to whip out the cell phone and at least pretend to take a picture. My theory is that it will make people worry about consequences (posting to the internet, sending to police, etc.), and so they won’t go any further. But I’ve yet to need to put it to the test. Which is a good thing.

    Bottom line, for me, is to try to treat it like a dog fight. The worst thing you can do for everyone involved is to escalate it with a lot excitement and yelling.

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  • BURR April 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    It’s actually quite amazing what a friendly, non-treatening follow-up phone call from a knowledgeable police officer can do to help educate these people about cyclists rights and motorists responsibilities to other road users. It’s a much better attitude changing motivator than arguing in the street with these jackasses.

    It’s really too bad that Officer Pickett isn’t assigned to assist cyclists in this manner.

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  • soundguysean April 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I have found when encountering rude drivers that a thumbs down and the parental “I am not mad just disappointed” slow head shake goes along way. This coming from an ex bouncer who weighs 250 and is 6 foot. Pick your battles and…Bad drivers have right of way!

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  • matthew vilhauer April 28, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    i thought giving someone the finger meant “you’re number 1”. oops…. my bad.

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  • John April 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Interesting exchanges. I am a Vietnam era veteran and am an every day bike riding commuter. I’ve experienced close calls and a couple of crashes in Portland: 1) cab door opened in my path, 2) forced to and over the curb because of no right turn signal from a car and 3) had to lay down my bike on an icy patch because a car failed to yield – all over the last 30 years of biking in PDX. That said I biked from Ha Noi to Sai Gon in 1994 – 1200 miles and no crashes! Funny that, eh?

    One thing I have observed, is that too many Americans do have an over-blown sense of entitlement (be you a driver or a biker). So keep yourself safe, report as best you can incidents and breathe deep. If you can when you are on a bike, speak to the offending driver. Let them know you were there and it WAS close. Best deal is to ride pro-actively – takes two to tango.

    Be safe my roadies! – John

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  • Joe April 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    This Story reminds me of when I lived in San Jose Ca. Road Rage Day!

    one day riding home from work, a driver
    pulled up to me started yelling that i didnt yeild for a stop sign, and buzzed me, after flipped him off. * huge mistake * he tried many times to put me in the curb and break checked me many times all in bike lane, i know he would have hurt me if i did’nt act fast. This all happen for about a mile. soon he sped off i then again thought things were ok, but he drove up the road and pulled over and waited for me. so was thinking oh man he’s going to tackle me?
    what the heck, so i picked up lotta speed and shot across traffic to avoid this wacko, but had to come back since cars were coming, long story short he jumped at me along with me power sliding to avoid killing him if i hit him.

    wild story i know, but ive been on the roads for many years, and some don’t care!

    peace sign or just letting go helps get away from the rage. glad your ok but this
    brings many feeling back to me. I got a lic number cops ran it but they couldn’t
    find the car or driver. many have told me
    if you want to live stay out of my way.

    be safe all,
    Wilsonville remote Island 🙂

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  • are April 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    get the plate and report it. that doctor in california was busted only because he had done the same thing previously and it had been reported. that said, i have never had any follow up from portland police, and i have taken to calling these people in as possible drunks.

    if you are able to have a civil interaction with the motorist, great, teachable moment, etc. but it is hard to remain calm when your life is threatened.

    plus one to comment 17, incidentally. in winter i often wear the lobster claw mitten, so in effect i am giving the vulcan salute . . .

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  • hank2125 April 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I would flip the dude off and pull over to the curb, if someone wants to take a shot at me after almost running me over it’s up to them, I wouldn’t bother with the portland police, they are useless unless it comes to beating up or killing the helpless.

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  • Peter Smith April 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    when i’m in the mood to defend myself, i try to catch up to them, roll up to their driver-side window, and start talking to them — sometimes angrily. i’ll ask them accusatory questions like ‘why did you honk at me?’ and ‘do you feel you have the right to terrorize me?’ and all that stuff — never answer anything they say, just vent at them.

    but in the case of getting buzzed like you did — whew — it’d probably have been escalation city for me. i don’t do the middle finger thing — i think it’s just dorky — i want them to fear my wrath, and it seems they do. i love the uncertainty they experience. they know they’ve done wrong, and it may be time to pay the piper. they start looking in their rearview to see if that guy they just terrorized is trying to catch up — you can see all the thoughts racing through their head — they start to get jittery — they’re changing lanes — trying to get through reds, yellows, etc.

    and then, finally — boom — they get stuck at a light. so they take a deep breath and wait — now they’re thinking, “wtf is about to happen to me now that i’ve gone and terrorized an innocent person?”

    talk about turning the tables on a power trip — wow. great feeling. just summon up all the collective terror you’ve experienced at the hands of terrorist drivers and go forth and prosper. 🙂

    in this case, assuming i was going to defend myself, i’d have rolled up to his window with the “Do you have a problem?” bar-fight-machismo line, and then taken it from there (it’s almost always men).

    i’m trying to not do that these days, but i’ve only ever had one driver get out of his car — i give him credit for that — most are too cowardly, and after i had my turn at intimidating him for a change (“You’re not so tough, now, are you?!”), we parted ways — no physical exchanges. i like to think he’ll never bother a biker ever again, but i don’t know. i know i sure felt better for having stood up for myself and the community.

    i don’t bring any of the machismo thing when confronting women/elderly/etc. mostly because i don’t think my ego could recover from getting knocked out by a senior citizen. ;-D

    i’ve realized i can’t educate the world by myself — i just have to wait for infrastructure changes to go through. so, just knowing that most drivers are ignorant of existing laws definitely helps control my anger — but in the case of a close buzzing like that — yeah, that pretty much requires a response.

    some guy honked at me the other day on a residential street in emeryville/oakland — i was in the middle of this close-to-zero-traffic road, just avoiding a parked-car door zone, and he layed on the horn. i stayed in the middle of the road and turned around over my left shoulder with the left palm up and the ‘what?’ coming out of my mouth, and he echoed the sentiment with a ‘wtf are you doing?’ gesture. i moved aside, let him go by, caught up to him a few blocks later only because i decided to pursue him casually for a few blocks to make him sweat, and then i just rolled right by.

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  • Quentin April 28, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    What would a New Yorker do? When some asshole intentionally endangers your life you shouldn’t feel an ounce of guilt or remorse for giving them the finger. They deserve it and on some level deep down inside they know it.
    As far as your hand gesture being used against you in court, the person who escalates the situation by getting out of his car is going to have some serious explaining to do.

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  • Paul Johnson April 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    You should have done the world a favor and shot him in the face.

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  •! the other one April 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    So Jonathan, reading these posts there are a wide variety of responses. Take your pick, and the number one response is highly used, to what end. I try to be positive, I wave my hand and SHOUT, with a big smile on my face HAVE A NICE DAY! because its obvious they are NOT. Most humans will either respond with the shock that you are not going to be goaded into a like exchange and may change their attitude, or still be mad that you did not respond in kind.
    I know its simplistic, but be the change you want to see. Others can only see the change in US! Its the choice only you can make.

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  • spare_wheel April 28, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    “Aggressivly reacting to agression or stupidity/inattention(and there by starting a conflict) and then trying to confront them is basicaly pointless.”

    Inattentive and road ragey drivers threaten lives. Confronting them is absolutely not pointless! I’ve confronted several dozen car/truck drivers and at least half of them apologized.

    Its amazing that this is the first time something like this has happed to Jonathan. For someone who takes the lane frequently I heartily recommend dinotte tail lights:

    Drivers keep their distance. *smirk*

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  • Jackattak April 28, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I won’t share my road rage story with you verbatim and it turned ugly, authorities were involved, and fines/damages were paid. I’ll spare you the details and just say this:

    It is never, ever, EVER worth getting into a physical confrontation with anyone, regardless of who was right or who was wrong.

    I felt threatened and reacted (it seemed at the time) accordingly. I’ll put it to you this way: Marty @ #4 and Jeff @ #20 are pretty freakin’ close.

    I am a humbler human being after my incident and hope I can help others by promoting peaceful confrontation (what is that, like the paradox “military intelligence” LOL) through my story of rash judgment.

    Great story, Jonathan, and thanks for sharing. Goes to show us all that we’re simply human after all and capable of making the wrong decision in the heat of the battle from time to time.

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  • Jerry April 28, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    I usually go with the blowing kisses and winking response. I think most of the road ragers I encounter are more afraid of homosexuals than anything else. If they think that buzzing a cyclist could be misconstrued as a gay flirting thing, they get scared. Maybe they’ll stop because it is not manly?
    Of course the more common danger is the inattentive driver who doesn’t see you or your gesture. Then if the opportunity arises I will use the concerned grandmotherly approach and make sure they are OK because something terrible must be taking there attention off the road because they clearly did not see me. Do you need some help Sonny? Can I call someone for you?
    I guess they are both passive aggressive, but neither is potentially lethal.

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  • Andrew April 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    I am sometimes guilty of the gesture. Recently, however, I was in a very similar situation except that the motorist p lled up beside me and started cussing me out. Being uncharacteristically mellow that day, I said, “tell you what: why don’t you just pull over up here, I’ll call and police officer and you can tell him or her your complaint. That way, if I broke the law, you can have me cited.” He just kept cussing me out, so I took out my cell phone and snapped his picture. At that point, he drove off.

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  • naomi April 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I agree – the thumbs down is the most effective.

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  • Jackattak April 28, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Thumbs-down! Hadn’t ever thought of that one. I will see about incorporating it.


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  • El Biciclero April 28, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    “The person was obviously not rational.” — Brian (#18)

    Obviously. Here is how it breaks down:

    – Driver is apparently miffed that J was “riding in the middle of the street”. Why was he miffed?
    + He was cheesed off at being slowed down. If so, why was he then willing to STOP and waste more time in a pointless confrontation? Irrational.
    + He was cheesed off that J was putting himself in “danger” by taking the lane. If so, then why would the driver create a greater danger by accelerating and passing closely? Irrational.
    + He was freaked out and afraid that he would run over J. Why was he freaked out and afraid?
    – He doesn’t trust his own driving skills. If so, why take it out on someone else? Irrational.
    – He is afraid J will do something unpredictable and further endanger himself. If so, then again, why create greater danger by accelerating and passing too close? Irrational.

    I have found that most of the psychology exhibited on roadways is completely irrational. Why is it fine if one driver has to wait for another driver to make a left turn, but an outrage if they have to slow down behind a cyclist for a block or less? Why is it normal for drivers to look for and wait for pedestrians to clear the crosswalk before making a turn, but such a bizarre concept (and horrendous inconvenience) to look for cyclists and wait for the bike lane to clear before making the same turn? Irrational.

    And speaking of irrational, why will a manhunt ensue if someone is reported waving a loaded gun (or, *ahem*, X-Acto knife) around in public (not firing it, just waving it), yet if someone intentionally pilots a motor vehicle at someone else, or better yet, intentionally makes contact in an effort to actually do bodily harm, it is “no big deal” and we should “forget about it”, because “there’s nothing we can do”? “Irrational”. The word of the day.

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  • dan April 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Smile and wave for me. It takes the high road, and doesn’t give them the satisfaction of knowing that you’re upset.

    Shame the police won’t do anything about this.

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  • KJ April 28, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    that light is rad.

    I concede, where I am coming from on the pointless is coming from seeing other people yell at drivers who are yelling back and no one is listening. And the drivers leave clearly unhappy with the situation. I haven’t seen an apology myself. =(

    Do you speak to them rationally yet sternly? or yell at them? I am curious because I have only seen yellin’.

    I’d love to know since sometimes I feel like chasing someone down to say “hey you! what were you thinkin’ back there eh?”

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  • Bjorn April 28, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Can officer pickett point to one case in which a cyclist was not seriously injured where calling and reporting such an incident caused police to do anything? I was involved in a crash right when I moved to portland in which someone came around me very fast whipped in and slammed on the brakes intentionally causing me to hit the back of their car. I was on it and so slowed enough that neither me nor my bike was significantly damaged. He started to drive off so I slammed my hand down on his trunk and yelled stop. At that point he got out of his car and started chasing me around his vehicle. I called 911 immediately, I had an exact description of car/driver/license plate. I was told a police officer would be dispatched immediately. I waited for over an hour and no one came. Over the next week I made a series of phone calls to police but was told they would do nothing because my bike wasn’t damaged and I wasn’t hurt even though the guy had caused the accident intentionally.

    I’d love to think that pickett is giving good advice but in my experience it isn’t worth bothering because the cops have no interest in helping you unless you are in the hospital and at that point it is pretty hit or miss.

    I think this is really too bad because usually the times when these crazy motorists hurt someone badly enough to pay attention they got messed up badly enough that they don’t have things like license plate number and accurate description of the driver. Maybe if a little more attention were paid to road rage cases where no one was hurt we’d have less of this:

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  • jim April 28, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    calling the police is the best thing to do. sometimes it is a drunk/ high driver and you may have just saved someone else

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  • Bob_M April 28, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    A buddy of mine and I were on NW 23 when some mook in an Acura cut my pal off, then had to stop in traffic. We rode on and my friend slapped the hood of the car.

    Well traffic eases and this guy burns rubber down at us, I shout for my friend to get up on the sidewalk, and he does in the nick of time. The guy gets out of the car and he is a little peanut of a guy. My pal is 6’5″ and I’m 6’1″ and the driver is suddenly less agressive, then something beautiful happened. Strangers on the street started backing us up as well. The driver tucked his tail between his legs and drove away.

    Now however I am much in the camp of Jackattack. Not for his reasons, but because people carry guns.

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  • PoPo April 28, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    This is a thoughtful post on the psychology and emotion of close calls on the road.

    I recently had a friend tell me that when she attempts to communicate with a someone on another vehicle who scared her, she tries to start it with a statement about emotion–“that really frightened me”, or “my heart is really pounding right now.” This human appeal, using “I language” will often set a better tone for the exchange that follows, and put the offender less on the defensive.

    One of these incidents can really put me in a sour mood. To combat that, sometimes I try to keep track of all the positive interactions I have with strangers on my journey someplace–people who pass with lots of room, people who stop and wave me through, etc. Those fortunately add up much faster than the lousy ones.

    And just to correct Mr. BURR. I am not the “PPB liaison to the BAC.” I am a normal member of the BAC, like everyone else. My day job happens to be that of a police officer. The Bureau usually sends a Traffic Division lieutenant to BAC meetings as a liaison.

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  • Spencer Boomhower April 28, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Matthew, #1, basically summed it up:

    “That driver basically threatened to murder you, though. I’d report him.”

    We cut too much slack to threats of violence, acts of violence, and acts of negligence when they come from people behind the wheel. We become desensitized to the danger posed by cars because of their sheer ubiquity. But these are really dangerous machines.

    To get my head around that, I sometimes imagine, in place of an automobile, another dangerous piece of machinery: a chainsaw. This road-rager said to Jonathan, “You wanna flip me off!? You wanna flip me off?! You flip me off, I’ll run you over!!” He said that while he was in a car, so he could have followed through with that threat. Now imagine him standing there, revving a chainsaw: “You wanna flip me off!? You wanna flip me off?! You flip me off, I’ll chop you in half!!” From the sounds of it, the police are unlikely to investigate the former threat; so would they not investigate the latter threat? I would think they would look into someone threatening your life with a chainsaw.

    And really, a chainsaw is less dangerous than a car. At the very least you stand a better chance of outrunning someone threatening you with a chainsaw!

    Fear quite easily transmutates into anger. (And I think Julie in #27 is quite right in saying that it works both ways: the fear of hurting someone on a bike can turn into anger toward that rider.) With someone threatening you that overtly, and with that kind of deadly force to back up the threat, you’d have to have zen-master command of your emotions not to get mad.

    In cool, rational hindsight, flipping the bird may not have been the most advisable response, but it was a totally understandable response.

    I have tremendous respect for people who can keep their cool in situations like this. That Jonathan was at all able to talk calmly to this guy is commendable.

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  • Duncan Idaho-Stop April 28, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    We have it good here. During my time in Austin, it happened a few times a year that a motorist would say to me “I should have run you over/I will run you over”. Thankfully that attitude is rare here.

    Back then there was a free or cheap service to look up license plate information in Texas. On one occasion I mailed a letter to an elderly gentleman who said he would run me over next time, enclosing baby pictures of my kids. I don’t expect it made any difference, but I hoped to make the point that there are more important things in life than being able to reach 45 MPH between each stoplight.

    It’s hard not to flip the bird (or worse) in fight-or-flight situations like this, but it’s a very rewarding exercise to practice shrugging off other people’s traffic misdeeds, whether you’re on a bike, on foot, or in a car.

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  • SilkySlim April 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    I think the offending driver is usually a lost cause. You probably won’t change their habits with any quick hand gesture!

    On the flip side, I strive to use body language that other drivers/bikes/pedestrians (maybe the next car back) will see and understand.

    After a close buzz, try sitting up a bit, maybe doing a slow “negative” head turn or two. Let everyone on the block see how you were affected by that car, and the good will reverberate back around.

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  • Michael April 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Sorry, but this guy doesn’t deserve the consideration you are expressing. If he intentionally crowded you then that is assault with a deadly weapon. Then he threatened to kill you outright, and that most assuredly is assault (given he had the means to do it–an immediate threat of danger). He should be in jail, end of story. You should absolutely contact the police. Par for the course, though, and why I totally disagree with any further attempts to get along with drivers. It really and truly is a war to be won, not a compromise to be negotiated. I want car-free cities, not better drivers.

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  • spare_wheel April 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    “Do you speak to them rationally yet sternly?”

    I typically start with something like: “If I had hit a pot-hole you could have killed me.” That tends to engage the sympathies of sane drivers (everyone hate pot holes). I also think its important to inform drivers of the law (e.g. safe passing distance in OR is 3′).

    The ability to rapidly take a picture with a camera phone is a critical commuter skill. Its amazing how quickly road rage dissipates when they know they will be held responsible for their actions.

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  • wsbob April 28, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    “…Without making a sudden move, I positioned myself into the center of the lane to avoid the hazard. …” j maus

    Did you signal before moving over? In that kind of situation, there isn’t always enough time, but even a last minute gesture provides better justification. Something big and bold too…the full arm stretched out, not one of those wimpy index finger points from an arm down at the side, that people can barely see or understand.

    Staying cool is good…license number is good…the finger bird is bad unless you’re prepared for a possible evil surprise. Homicidal maniacs drive cars too.

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  • spare_wheel April 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Interestingly, one of my recent interactions was with a popo who apologized.

    (Although I must admit he did tell me to aim my tail-light at the road.)

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  • Peter Smith April 28, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    why don’t we just get rid of this slower-traffic must move to the right nonsense?

    the specific details of implementation would have to be tweaked over the years, but we should pursue it.

    before you dismiss it out of hand, think of living streets/woonerfs/neighborhood greenways model.

    specifically in the case of woonerfs (the Dutch version), pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over motorists. i’m not exactly sure what that means, but i like the sound of it.

    and it shouldn’t just be confined to little/minor/side streets — these woonerf-style rules should be applied everywhere. i often think of buses following me and others around — right on our asses. if we fall/hit a pothole/etc. — boom — eaten up.

    many folks are generally fond of bikers being forced to share lanes with buses — as with Paris’ version of BRT, Mobilien — i think it’s absurd, but if we forced bus drivers to stay _way_ behind cyclists — 50 feet minimum, 100 feet preferred minimum — then it could be workable as an interim solution.

    if a cyclist happens to be occupying a road, then s/he was there first, possession is nine-tenths, and unhappy motorist will just have to suck lemons and wait — too bad.

    if spoiled motorist wants to go faster, they can hop on a bike and do their best Lance Armstrong impersonation — just make sure to slow down for pedestrians.

    woonerfs also have a 12 mph speed limit — sounds good to me. all motorized traffic should be not be allowed to exceed 20 MPH on any road into/out of/through a populated area (unless, possibly, if roadway grade-separated and for motorized vehicles only).

    there will still be rules — like pedestrians can’t be in the middle of travel thoroughfares (they are still confined, generally, to sidewalks), and bikers can’t purposefully slow down or stop in the middle of the road, etc. — but this is the direction we need to move in.

    as a city/society, is it more important that we allow motorists to speed/accelerate around/pass us cyclists while forcing us into an even-riskier situation? who gains with a policy like this?

    if motorized, four+ wheeled traffic wants to pass a non-motorized vehicle, the motorized vehicle must change lanes if there’s another lane available, and if not, they wait — simple. if the cyclist wants to risk his her life, they can feel free to move over, but they’re not required to by law.

    and no motorized vehicle should ever come close to a non-motorized vehicle (bike, for short) — say, no closer than 50 feet, for any reason whatsoever, and about 50 feet of distance for every 10 mph of speed that the approaching car is moving (the math here could get complicated, but we’re talking about ‘closing speed/distance’ — a sort of correlation to ‘aggressive/reckless/intimidation driving’).

    so, the point is — challenge this notion/law that ‘non-motorized traffic must move to the right’ — it just leads to us cyclists getting terrorized all over the streets, and putting ourselves in danger in various ways.

    we don’t have to abide by the car-first paradigm forever. remember that, back in the day when cars were first introduced, there were at least efforts, if not implemented laws, that made cars pull off the road and stop their engines when horses were coming the other way (the horses would get spooked by the crappy engine).

    point being — if there’s not a compelling reason to keep a law on the books, then it needs to be done away with/changed. the damage caused by these ‘slower traffic move right’ laws is immense — resulting not only the intimidation/terrorizing of dozens/hundreds of innocents on a daily basis in Portland alone, and probably countless injuries/deaths-through-doorings, but also prevents hundreds/thousands of would be cyclists from venturing out on a bike.

    ok — tirade over. it’s a stupid f***ing law and it needs to be done away with. 🙂

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  • BURR April 28, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    And just to correct Mr. BURR. I am not the “PPB liaison to the BAC.” I am a normal member of the BAC, like everyone else. My day job happens to be that of a police officer. The Bureau usually sends a Traffic Division lieutenant to BAC meetings as a liaison.

    Well, that’s probably the same role that Officer Rilling used to have, I don’t think he was an official rep, just a cop on the committee; nevertheless, he was always willing to take a report from a citizen and contact the motorist in situations like this, are you?

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  • R-doodly April 28, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    My favorite way of sending a message is simply to stare at them with a serious face and point. It only takes one finger, but a different one. The accusing one. The one that says “I saw what you did. And all these people around here, they saw what you did. And those who didn’t, I am drawing their attention to you as well. And God Himself saw what you did. It is written across the universe for all to see.” Extend the arm fully when you do it. Don’t say a word. As they move left, right, or away, keep that finger pointing right at them. “The Holy Judgment of the Lord follows you, move ye left or move ye right. Yea verily, even when thou dost flee the scene like a pussy, even when thou art in thy bed tonight, the Lord’s Judgment is upon thee.” I like to think this simple action shakes them to their core, but of course I usually can’t see their reactions. I know it satisfies me though.

    However, I LOOOVE the thumbs-down. Because it essentially “pans” (gives a bad review of) their driving. It says, “FAIL.” Plus it’s the sign the Roman emperors are (mistakenly it turns out) believed to have given when it was time to kill the gladiator.

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  • Red Five April 28, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    wow the dumb comments just keep coming on Bike….. a “link between Christians and road-ragers”….really?

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  • Paul in the Couve April 28, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Been there, done that and same results – several times. Also been unjustifiably on the receiving end from a cyclist who is ignorant of the friendly horn tap that is common among cyclists in small towns and rural areas (note: this is a two tap beep beep deliver AFTER passing the cyclist if coming from behind)

    I don’t have many good solutions. On my best days I take the peace and love / grin and bear it / offer it up approach and it feels good sometimes. On my worst days I fantasize about having paint defacing spurs installed on my handlebar and pedals so I can lean into the car and inflict some damage, or a brass knuckle on my left hand for smashing windows.

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  • Zaphod April 28, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    The deep anger that I feel when threatened by a vehicle runs deep. It is saddening that it is even possible for otherwise reasonable citizens to find it OK to choose real risk for another human to gain a few seconds in their commute. It’s truly unforgivable. I don’t care about the social, historical or cultural reasons. The very small percentage of people who think it’s remotely OK or funny need to stop and think.

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  • Timbo April 28, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Middle finger is not the way to win any support for bicycle causes…period.

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  • Timbo April 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    And another comment from me. Last year I rode my bike to the polish festival. Some old guy was letting his 80 year old wife/sister off and she could barily get out of the car. Kudos for her to get out and have some fun. Anyway the old guy did park in the bike line to accomcodate getting her out of the car. And here comes one of my peeps on a bike in the bike line. Absolutley no cars around to cause anyone danger and he is all over the old guy yelling and flipping the old guy off. I was embarrassed.

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  • Bjorn April 28, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    kind of telling that in 75 comments not one person reports that they contacted police after being endangered by a motorist and had a positive outcome as a result…

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  • Mike Fish April 28, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Seems like lots of people like taking pictures of the offenders and their vehicles, but then don’t have anything to do with the photos. Someone should start a blog where people can send in pictures of the offending drivers and their cars along with their story. It would be nice to have the documentation out there in the world and being able to share your story with others – and Portland’s not that big a city, maybe some people will be recognized.

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  • BURR April 28, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    incorrect, I have posted that I had positive experiences in the 90s, before the cops started ignoring and harassing cyclists instead of supporting them.

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  • Victor April 28, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I was riding and could hear a sports car rapidly approaching from behind and decided to move further to the right to let them pass more safely. As i was moving over, they passed me on the right in what are technically parking spots and just about hit me (i was as far right in the lane as possible without being in the parking spots which occasionally had cars in them). It scared the hell out of me and the car actually kicked dirt and debris up on me. I saw a police officer at a four-way stop, told him what happened, and he chased them down further down the road. As i rolled by them where they were pulled over, they actually yelled something at me while the cop was talking to them and i flicked them off. The cop immediately jumped in his car and chased me down! then lectured me and asked what the hell my problem was (me thinking the near-death experience may have something to do with it). My heart was still racing from almost getting hit and i was furious and just reacted which apparently, right or wrong, is a more serious crime than almost killing someone.

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  • q`Tzal April 28, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    chad #29 :
    Got names of any of these PPD employees? WE may need to start a list of PPD employees complicit in the attempted vehicular homicide of cyclists.
    spare_wheel #48 :
    +1 on Dinotte tail lights. It seems that people have trouble pretending they don’t know that a Dinotte tail light in front of them from over a mile away. It’s not just visible; it is blatantly obvious. Of course this does nothing for drivers with an attitude problem – they just can’t claim that it was accidental. If someone hits a cyclist with a Dinotte tail light from behind they are either legally blind or legally insane.

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  • Cheryl April 28, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    It is sad that the PPD does not respond or responds so unsympathetically to cyclists’ complaints. This also happened to me after being forced off the road by a motor vehicle driver while I was driving my car. So it doesn’t just happen to cyclists.

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  • Steve Brown April 28, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Very good post. For every 9 times you Zen an incident, sometimes that tenth one you really have a desire to flip someone off. Just knowing someone else has the same problem, may help me to Zen more and react less. I am always searching for the best way to react. I will not be bullied on the road. Yet flipping people off is very dangerous. There is not good solution because there is no reasonable legal remedy. But I have yet to give up showing displeasure at motorists who seek to endanger or intimidate. It will be a longer and harder battle, but we need to find a legal recourse to the danger we all face on a daily basis.

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  • antny April 28, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    has happened to me many o time. but i’ve deffenitly noticed it less in the last 3,4 years. he had no right to do that to ya, but the bird never works. last time i tried that move the pickimup truck that nearly ran me down slammed on his brakes in front of me, I guess hoping i would hit’em. lucky enough for me it was rush hour and the cars behind me started to honk cause he was the one slowin’ traffic down not me. Then we were treated to an awesome display of squealing tires. don’t think he learned anything on that one, but I sure did. going my normal super fast speed(10-12mph) I past him a few blocks later. That did way more than the bird ever could.

    cheers, ride safe, drive safer, and stay calm

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  • trail user April 29, 2010 at 12:41 am

    I wear a construction vest and helmet mounted camera. My tool belt is loaded.

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  • natallica April 29, 2010 at 1:37 am

    i sympathize with the problem of not knowing what to do when someone angers you while biking.

    where i’m living now (city of ~150k in spain) cars aren’t used to bikes. i get honked at quite a bit.

    i used to yell back, show my anger, and attempt to assert my right to use the road. i don’t think i changed any minds. i would always leave those incidents with a racing pulse. fighting back never made me feel better.

    i stumbled upon a method of responding to angry drivers that i am fond of. because this city is relatively small, it is common for people to honk and wave at pedestrians or other drivers to say “hi”. so, now when i get honked at in anger, i just play dumb and smile and wave hello. sometimes i even blow a kiss! it’s a great way to strip someone of their ability to express their anger at you. plus it leaves me feeling happy!

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  • Tourbiker April 29, 2010 at 3:11 am

    perfectly normal to react with anger, your life threatened. I always respond at nearly the same level. even a cop would verify the adrenalin flowing after nearly being killed is substantial. a 3000lb guided missile (or unguided at times)
    Thing is, unless you manage to imprint something shocking enough on the drivers brain as to remind them to pay attention, you have done nothing to educate. they go on, sometimes feeling more powerful than ever.
    Finger is passive,and shrugged off. willing to drag em out the car and take their keys is more my style.
    But not before getting back in their face and reminding them they could have killed me.
    and for the record, after being threatened with being run over, by a driver.
    taking their keys could be considered self defense.

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  • Jeremy April 29, 2010 at 3:19 am

    It would seem initially that “the bird” would be an appropriate response to a “buzz.” When you think about it, he only needed a few more inches to make it “vehicular homocide.” I don’t know about the peace sign bit, it seems a little weak. No offense. I like the ass-pat idea though. Regardless of what you use to get their attention, engaging in hostilities will never solve a problem. If you have the oppurtunity, let the driver know how serious his infraction was. Due it calmly. If the driver is in that much of a hurry already, chances are something else is already bothering him. If he won’t listen to reason, that’s his choice and you can’t change that by getting escalating tensions. If nothing else, the driver might actually think about you and how calmly you handled the situation and in return do the same the next time, “pay it forward.”

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  • Al from PA April 29, 2010 at 4:39 am

    Being buzzed like this is just a fact of life here in central PA. In rural areas, we cyclists might as well be bizarre (and threatening) aliens from Mars.

    With this martial metaphor in mind, I usually just make a saluting gesture (as in the Army), ironically, with a smile.

    Since there is a cult of the military around here, this may hit home.

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  • Jeff Bernards April 29, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Jonathan, This is where a mirror comes in handy, a quick glance into the mirror tells you someone is behind you, a quick hand signal to let them know of the impending danger ahead and that you are about to take the lane. That probably would have satisfied the drivers concerns about you moving into the vehicle lane.
    The mirror is a life safer, once you get one it’s like a seat belt in a car, you feel uncomfortable without it.
    Try it, you’ll like it.

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  • BB April 29, 2010 at 8:07 am

    This is where I carry a copy of the bicycle laws.

    (insert witty conversation) and then hand them a copy.

    I usually say. “I am sorry for your frustration if you want to change the laws. (handing them the paper) Here are the laws you need to change to validate your opinion. ”

    Have a safe day!

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  • Loren April 29, 2010 at 8:22 am

    Wow, 90 responses in no time! Obviously this happens all too often. I’ve been there, have had an officer standing in my living room telling me that there’s nothing I can do about a person repeatedly buzzing me with his truck on my way home from work. EXTREMELY frustrating! I can’t understand why this isn’t treated the same as pointing a loaded gun at a person.

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  • chrisg April 29, 2010 at 8:30 am

    I’ve been both.

    When on my bike, I usually just yell. Usually, the F-Bomb. Its a knee-jerk reaction to protect myself from actually getting hit.

    Once in my car, I must have turned right and cut off a bicyclist. It was raining, around 5 p.m. in the winter. They guy had no lights. I didn’t even see the guy (and I am usually a very careful driver), but he pulled up right in front of me, slowed down, flipped me off, and kept blocking my way for a while. I didn’t rev my engine, I didn’t honk. I just felt awful.

    When I pulled up to the next light, he was on my passenger side in the bike lane. I rolled down the window and apologized. He just gave me an angry look and didn’t say anything.

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  • Andrew April 29, 2010 at 8:43 am

    A first step in reducing this problem is to understand why the police don’t do anything. I know some of them don’t like bikes. Even without this, law enforcement has to set priorities and this doesn’t seem to be one of them. Finally, if there are no witnesses and the officer didn’t observe the incident he/she probably doesn’t think it can be pursued.

    In Grants Pass, there are periodic well-publicized “stings” where plain clothes police nab motorists who don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Just a few of these per year makes the point quite effectively. Perhaps PPD could be convinced to do something similar.

    I believe that there is a perception among some motorists that they can do this sort of thing with impunity and until that perception changes they will keep doing it.

    Even if you don’t like my suggestion, the key seems to be to find a way to work cooperatively with PPD to find a viable enforcement strategy.

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  • mp April 29, 2010 at 8:58 am

    When it comes to not flipping the bird or otherwise “raging” the problem is often that such extreme poor behavior by motorists is more the exception than the rule, so you never get a chance to practice/develop a calm response. Instead, the adrenalin kicks in and you give the finger or yell or what have you.

    When I first started biking in my city (the other Portland), even though the majority of the drivers are OK, there were enough who honked/yelled/whatever that at first I found myself engaging with them in kind. But eventually I realized this wasn’t helping and the anger could kind of ruin my day. So I learned to remain calm, get license plate if possible, decide what to do next, try and talk calmly if at a light, not let it stick in my mind all day, etc.

    Now I am on a different route and the negative actions from drivers are few and far between. This is *good* but it means when it does happen I am actually worse at keeping calm than I was before because I get out of practice of cutting off the adrenalin flow, etc. So it is a bit more effort, but I’m always working towards the measured reaction because it is more useful in the long run.

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  • aljee April 29, 2010 at 9:20 am

    the only way to effectively get police to enforce this would be to become a cop yourself. seriously. be a cop, ride your bike to work, use your cop powers when it happens to you, or when you see it happen. make them not do it again.

    it’s happened to so many people. i am just glad i am not the only one that wants to rip people out of their cars, slash tires, etc. i am quite forgiving when it comes to motorists making honest mistakes – i know i have made mistakes, had it done to me in ALL modes on both sides.
    threatening is a whole other story. i have had difficulties keeping my cool many times, and i never feel like i ‘won’. it seems to happen less and less the more experience i get. not sure if that is because of my predictability skills getting fine-tuned or if motorists themselves are getting better. probably both.

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  • are April 29, 2010 at 9:22 am

    re comment 89, frankly there is no reason not to just take the lane on that stretch of mississippi. the travel lane is too narrow to share, period, door or no door.

    re comment 76, i did have a positive experience with the police, but not yet in portland . . .

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  • Jackattak April 29, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Welp…so much for my learning anything from this thread.

    Just last night I was in a crosswalk on PSU campus with my mother-in-law who has bad knees and moves quite slowly. I was assisting her in getting across the crosswalk by having her hold my arm.

    We were halfway through the crosswalk when a driver came blasting through at a rampant speed (honestly came from nowhere…I never even saw anyone a block away from us when we entered the crosswalk) as far to the right as he could possibly get (to avoid smearing us across the pavement, I suppose).

    I screamed “a-hole” at him. Oops. What can I say, I was with my somewhat disabled mother-in-law and he honestly scared the bejeezus out of us.

    He came to a grinding halt. As we were nearly across the crosswalk, I allowed my mother-in-law to finish on her own and immediately approached his vehicle at a march. His car door opened. My adrenaline escalated way too quickly.

    I shoved my finger at his face and shouted at him, “YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN! You could’ve killed us! We were in the MIDDLE OF THE CROSSWALK!”

    He was calm and asked me to lower my finger and not to shove it at him again. I immediately calmed down after realizing that I was the aggressive a-hole. He apologized and said he would be more cautious in the future and waved to my mother-in-law and apologized to her.

    I placed my hand on the back of his arm gently and extended my hand, apologizing for jumping the gun so rapidly and calling him an a-hole. We shook hands and shared apologies again.

    Now I can sincerely say that I’ve been humbled. What an experience.

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  • Jackattak April 29, 2010 at 9:36 am

    @ Andrew #92 –

    No chance of that ever happening here. I’ve written the Mayor several times about the possiblity of a crosswalk “sting” and haven’t been granted so much as a “no” response. Nothing doing.

    *Disclaimer before reading on: I’m not a Mayor Adams basher. I rather like the fellow, as a matter of fact.

    With that out of the way, I know a few years ago Tom POtter did a sting himself, accompanied by some hidden cops watching as the Mayor crossed the crosswalk. If a car didn’t stop, the police would get them at the red light (this was on 10th Downtown by Safeway) and if the infraction didn’t look terribly egregious they would give them a polite warning and inform them of the Oregon crosswalk law. If it was fairly blatant or even threatening, they would ticket them.

    I would love to see this happen once per week, and at 7AM on Market at Park, catching the suburbanites on their way into Portland.

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  • eljefe April 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Drivers don’t need to be educated and more courteous. They need to afraid of the consequences of their actions. Half the drivers that cut me off are polite, well-intentioned, and oblivious. Confrontation works on these people, and confrontation only happens if you first get them to stop.
    Most of Portland lives every day with the knowledge that the police will not help them. It’s a class issue. That may be news to a privileged person, but get on a bike, now you know how everyone else feels.

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  • ME 2 April 29, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I strongly disagree with all those people who say don’t bother calling the PoPo because they will dismiss it. You are correct that the officer will likely be dismissive because these types of incidents are seldom reported, but there is strength in numbers. It will get to the point that they can no longer ignore it.

    I had a similar experience several years ago. The officers who came to my house were completely dismissive and said they could nothing. I was reporting that my identity was stolen. I can bet when someone reports identity theft today the officers are more sympathetic and actually have some resources to investigate.

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  • Aperture April 29, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I witnessed a guy in a luxury car blow by a coveted parking space in midtown Manhattan and back up at high rate of speed to get it, in the process knocking a biker behind him to the pavement. The guy gets out of his car and starts yelling at the bloodied biker, who was still on the pavement, for getting in his way. I gave the biker my phone number in case he needed a witness, but he just shook it off and I never heard from him. Perhaps we’re being too forgiving?

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  • Helen McConnell April 29, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Don’t mean to sound all Pollyanna-ish, but I figure I’m the ambassador for the cycling world – each and every day. When someone honks at me (which is rare,) I wave in a friendly manner – as if I recognize them. If nothing else, this diminishes my own irritation. People who drive cars all the time know NOTHING about riding a bike. They are full of rage, as I would be if I had to drive everywhere. The “bad” drivers really are rare in Portland. Just as the asshole cyclists are rare. But they’re there, and they make a bad name for all of their group.

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  • alice's adventures April 29, 2010 at 10:32 am

    I love the thumbs down idea. I have tried the peace sign. If anything it makes me feel better, knowing that I have control over my emotions.

    I vote for paintball guns on bikes.

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  • Joe April 29, 2010 at 10:39 am

    wow after reading all the comments i no longer feel alone in this battle of just tring to ride on the streets these days.

    I also thumbs-down bad drivers! something
    is telling me things will get better with time? but just the other day semi took the
    sholder as he passed me as to make a point?

    be safe all,

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  • boneshaker April 29, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I ride up Williams most days and a cyclist in front of me got honked at for moving into the right auto-lane while passing. A small pickup honked at him and then zoomed by. The cyclists flipped him off. At the light at Shaver the pickup was turning right and glared at us both.

    Nice story? I guess my point… flipping people off doesn’t DO anything except make people angry. Is the guy in the pickup going to act differently next time or just get angry in anticipation of being flipped off? No useful dialog can happen if a conversation turns to anger before it even starts.

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  • A.K. April 29, 2010 at 11:02 am

    I have been lucky enough to not have any crazy experiences with drivers, however I did have a very bad experience with a pedestrian this last weekend.

    I was on the Springwater trail, headed east, maybe a mile or two past the big orange bridge after everything opens up once you emerge out of the “canyon”.

    I was riding along side my riding partner, at a fairly slow pace, probably 10-12 MPH.

    As we approached a man and women who were walking a dog, the man started speaking very loudly, saying “WE SHOULD ALL WALK SIDE BY SIDE LIKE HOW BIKERS RIDE SIDE BY SIDE”.

    As we passed, he then proceeded to enter my space and pushed his shoulder into mine rather hard.

    It took me a minute to register what had happened… a pedestrian, who is fed up with cyclists, went out of his way to push into me. We would have passed with plenty of room to spare.

    I stopped, and yelled at him to watch what he was doing. He then shouted at me “you ran into me!”, and which point I replied that he was the one who pushed ME, cussed at him, and flipped him off before riding away. Not my finest moment, but I was shaken up and mad.

    I can understand that many cyclists can be jerk riders on shared paths, but for a pedestrian to go out of his way to punish a cyclists for riding two abreast seems silly. I ride single file when there are a lot of people, and considering walkers will go two, three, or more abreast while on the path, it seemed all the more silly.

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  • Elly April 29, 2010 at 11:06 am

    I wonder if anyone reading this has an inside line to 911 dispatcher training. I’ve called 911 a handful of times over the years about people driving while obviously wasted. The dispatcher has always been eager and determined to get all the details—I get the sense they welcome these calls. Until the last time, a few months ago, when the person driving erratically missed by inches hitting someone on a bike. The second I mentioned the bike, the dispatcher’s tone went from professional to sarcastic. I clearly should’ve saved that detail for last…who knew?

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  • John April 29, 2010 at 11:27 am

    I had a road rage incident that is a bit different in nature. I was traveling behind a car going around a narrow road bending to the right.. I was in MY car at that time, BTW. That’s what makes this interesting.. The car in front of me almost brushed the cyclist and gave him a honk at the same time.. the cyclist, guess what.. gave him the bird.. I immediately got the rage going, being a fellow cyclist, passed the cyclist safely and floored the car.. was going about 40mph faster than the car and slammed on the brakes where the tires smoked a bit and I was within 2 feet of their bumper, road their ass for about 30 seconds.. needless to say, they were a little freaked out.. raising their hands in the air.. what what.. what did I do.. surprisingly, they turned down a side road and I just left it at that.. I was shaking I was so pissed, was a good thing I didn’t follow them on the turn.. its good to let folks who F with cyclists that other motorists will stick up for them and DO HAVE the ability to chase.. Maybe not act aggressive like I did.. but at least get the license plate and follow to see where they end up.. or block/protect the cyclist when appropriate with a vehicle.. I realize this may be counterproductive in the grand scheme, and being in TX.. folks may be carrying guns.. so always the risk of that..

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  • Jackattak April 29, 2010 at 11:31 am

    @ A.K. –

    Good on you for showing such restraint, I’d say. I find it odd you even think poorly of your reaction.

    That guy is insanely lucky he didn’t catch a bike lock upside his head. If he continues to pull stunts like those, I think that’s what he has in store for him in the future.

    I walk nearly everywhere I go, and my wife does the same. We walk side-by-side on the sidewalks until someone needs to pass or is coming the other way. When that happens I respectfully stop and let my wife pass me, then walk behind her for the couple steps it takes to be overtaken or passed.

    It’s really quite simple. SHARE THE ROAD! 🙂

    Sorry that guy did that to you.

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  • Bill E April 29, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I don’t know how the law is written out there, but I’m in PA, and here, the operator of a vehicle must be in complete control of the vehicle at all times, NO MATTER WHAT THE LEAD VEHICLE DOES. In this case, you were the lead vehicle, you could have done donuts in the street and this guy would have been responsible to stop. If you had been a car would he have run into you?
    I have no problem with “flipping the bird” when someone is operating a vehicle dangerously, if that’s what it takes to get their attention. If they stop, you get to explain the law to them. If they choose to escalate the situation, you pull out your cell, snap their picture, their vehicle, their license plate, and call 911.

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  • A.K. April 29, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Jackattak (#108):

    Yes, I did have a temporary fantasy of waiting a few minutes, then doubling back to ride past him at speed and smacking him upside the head… but I thought better of it. 🙂 I’ve never been arrested, and an assault charge isn’t something I really desire.

    I was disappointed in myself for cussing and flipping him off, as it doesn’t look “cool” for an adult to be screaming the F-word at someone else… it just makes you look crazy, heh.

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  • q'Tzal April 29, 2010 at 11:45 am

    I understand the way some police are dismissive of our mode of travel and am willing to ignore them like you ignore nazis or klan but when these Authority Figures act on their petty greivances they are violation their original mission: “Serve and protect”.
    No where does it say serve and protect cars and no where are the police instructed to value the life of a cyclist as that of a cockroach.
    This behavour dirctly endangers the citzens paying for said police force.

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  • Andy Trail April 29, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I’ve been a long time fan of the thumbs down. Somehow it seems more…imperial. But I think it’s important to have the correct set of expectations with regard to what our police are for. It’s not the duty of law enforcement to referee every interaction between the citizens of Portland. While these driver/biker interactions might get the emotions up and hash words might be used, there’s no reason, nor should there be for the police. Instead, it’s up to us to either find the proper resolution, or take the necessary steps to exit the situation. Basically, it’s called being an adult. If you get assaulted, run over, or have your property damaged, then the police have a role. Otherwise, as a member of a free society, you have to take the good with the bad. Oh, and coming from Pittsburgh, PA where “I will run you over” is available as a custom license plate, you don’t know how good you have it Portland.

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  • Jackattak April 29, 2010 at 11:57 am

    @ A.K. –

    See my original post # 49. That got me an assault charge. Nothing I’m proud of and nothing good has ever come from it.

    As for your final words, see my post #97. Exactly how I felt last night (and this morning).

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  • jim April 29, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Jack I remember seeing Potters sting on the news. He would just walk right out into the traffic in an unappropriate manor. If you read the crosswalk law the ped does need to use some caution, they cannot just step out in front of a car.

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  • esther c April 29, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Hmmm, makes me think we all need helmet cams which really isn’t too far fetched an idea. I know you can buy ski googles with cams for $150 bucks.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to instantly document every driver that almost kills us, or threatens us or does something boneheaded intentionally.

    And then on the other hand you have the drivers that make unintentional mistakes and wave apologetically and you wave and smile back and everyone is happy. No harm, no foul. And its a happy bike friendly city in general.

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  • Jackattak April 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    @ Jim –

    I watched it, too. He had a cop standing right next to him, instructing him on the “proper way” (the way you just mentioned) to enter the crosswalk.

    You’re wrong.

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  • Kt April 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    When someone passes me too close, I usually shake my head and say, VERY LOUDLY (without yelling), “STUPID” or I yell, “HEY!” and wave my entire hand at them.

    I have had one man stop to ask what I was shaking my head about and why I yelled at him. I explained that I was startled and frightened that he would pass me so closely on a blind corner.

    He told me that he has been driving on those roads for 20 years and has never had a problem and he knows these roads like the back of his hand and that I don’t– as he’s saying this, a minivan full of children goes by the opposite direction.

    I pointed out that he could have run into that minivan full of children because it was a blind corner, that I just wanted everyone to stay safe on the roads, and he shrugged me off and drove away.

    So. What have I learned? People ready for a confrontation are not going to listen to you. Anger escalates anger. And most people act angry because they are frightened, embarrassed, or angry.

    All these posts about how J should have but the literal smack-down on the driver, should have pulled the driver out of the car and beat him with a U-lock– now THAT’S scary, that so many people immediately jump to violence as a solution.

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  • Kt April 29, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    To clarify my last sentence: I am not a pacifist. I admit I sometimes get angry and lose my cool. I admit to being born under an angry sign. But is violence ALWAYS the answer with you people??

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  • scott April 29, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    I was recently buzzed by a tri-met bus on lower Belmont on a Sunday afternoon (very light traffic) while riding a tandem with my nine-year-old daughter. We were in a clearly marked bicycle lane while the bus drove unbearably close to us and honked the horn. When we continued after stopping at a red light, the bus driver steered into the bike lane and forced us into the parking strip.
    I immediately reported this obviously intentional act of intimidation to tri-met and several days later received a reply that perhaps this driver needed more training in sharing the road!

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  • Jackattak April 29, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    @ Kt –

    Depends on whether or not my life was/is being threatened.

    Back me in a corner and the claws come out. I’m not perfect, and I’ve been in my fair share of situations after serving in the Army for six years in two combat theaters under two Presidents (one who fought quietly and sneaky, and one who liked brute force). I know my restraints. However, when I feel my life is threatened, I will react accordingly.

    That’s instinctive, and very few Zen Masters ever achieve the level of control it takes to overcome instinct.

    “Is violence ALWAYS the answer?”

    Hell, no. But it is sometimes the answer.

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  • Shawn Small April 29, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    all interesting responses, I also commute 11 miles everyday and tend to give a variety of “gesture” replies: most often it is a sarcastic thumbs-up.

    But similar to other’s comments is that I like to use my camera phone and document their license plate, car, and photo and then call the police if it warrants it.

    Swerving drivers could be on drugs/alcohol and the police tend to respond to it quicker.

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  • da April 29, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I followed a person home one day who had been repeatedly harassing me in my neighborhood.
    I used his address to looked up his phone number in the reverse directory at the library.
    My boyfriend then called him and went off on him. He hung up quite a few times on my boyfriend but each time my boyfriend called back, he would answer the phone. They finally had a reasonable conversation. Come to find out the guy drives for a living. Never had another problem with him.

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  • Scott E April 29, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Perhaps when reporting to the police just say your “vehicle” was forced off the road or whatever. Oregon code includes bikes as a vehicle. Police might take the reports more seriously in that case (sounds as if that’s the case in the examples listed above).


    801.590 “Vehicle.” “Vehicle” means any
    device in, upon or by which any person or
    property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway and includes vehicles that are propelled or powered by any means. “Vehicle” does not include a manufactured structure.

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  • Spiffy April 29, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    a lot of people are inconsiderate assholes… it doesn’t matter what mode of transport they use… and you’ll never get through to them no matter how respectful you try to be…

    as #47 “david….no! the other one” says, be the change you want to be… you can’t help most of these people, so try and be a better person than them…

    I’ve been on both ends of road rage, on multiple forms of transit… when somebody is angry they aren’t going to listen to reason…

    and calling the police does nothing… they don’t care unless somebody is hurt… they’ve told me point blank that even though that person is the truck is throwing bottles at me until one of them hurts me or my property they don’t care… but you should still call the police… they need to know that this is happening and that we care even if they don’t…

    and we do have a place to post pictures of people that cut you off… it’s the Report Your Close Calls section of the forums…

    the best idea for a response I’ve read so far is the thumbs down and disappointed head-shaking…

    I still think a bike-mounted video camera catching the action would cause the police to react to your report…

    I’ve also never heard of police doing a sting for cyclists, only against them (to catch cyclists not stopping or signaling)…

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  • rrandom rider April 29, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    I react differently depending on factors such as how dangerous their action was, whether they seemed to be acting out of malice, indifference or cluelessness, and, of course, my personal mood at the moment. If I’m particularly startled or angry I tend to yell “Hey!” loudly enough that they can hear me even with their windows closed and radio on. If they hadn’t noticed me, they will usually look startled and then give an apologetic wave or even mouth “sorry” to me.

    If they react defensively but not overly hostile, I will usually do an open handed “wtf” gesture. I wear a neon jacket or vest at all times in town, so there isn’t a legitimate excuse for not seeing me.

    I have had some folks react angrily and yell back or stop. Depending on the circumstances I will either respond with a “you really scared me when you cut me off/ didn’t yield the right of way” or whatever. Most of the time they will either apologize or just drive off.

    I have had a few instances where the driver escalates the yelling or threatens me. Depending on my mood I will either react calmly, angrily myself or completely dismissively. I have dropped more than a few f-bombs in my time. I am not saying any of these reactions on my part were appropriate; this is more a confession than advice. Fortunately, I have never had anyone actually physically threaten me.

    The big question I have is when and how to confront other bicyclists who do something stupid or dangerous. What is the protocol for “policing our own”?

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  • ac April 29, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    i followed a driver into a parking garage after getting right hooked. i pulled in front of the barrier before it raised to let her it. from there i said you almost killed me. the response ” i didn’t see you”. so i said,”well let me see YOU…i looked for turn signals from you and didn’t see any” she apologized and hopefully she will be more careful

    while following someone into a closed space may not be the best advice, having the subsequent “chat” from the distance of the front of their car seems to have been sufficient distance to get some focus from the driver without appearing to threaten bodily harm

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  • Peter Smith April 29, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Just want to point out an excellent, more-recent article on BikePortland about the rules of the road and the important role that journalists have to play in educating the public — especially the car-driving public — the one thing that could really help us stop getting harassed/terrorized in the short term.

    This comment is more for folks who are not yet regular readers of, as i’m sure this article will get plenty more attention.

    Also, the major corporate SF paper, The San Francisco Chronicle, syndicates the stories from a few local SF blogs onto the Chronicle’s website, including SF Streetsblog — I’m hoping it helps to educate the car-driving public. Read more about the agreement here. It’s not possible to find the blog from the Chronicle’s home page, but hopefully that changes.

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  • Jackattak April 29, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    @ ac –

    I would highly suggest you not be in front of their car for a confrontation, particularly in a closed space, particularly while they’re still behind the wheel, in the future.

    Good way to get run over.

    Which brings up a good point:

    If you’re planning on confronting anyone, ever, who is in a car, don’t go to their side of the car and don’t get in front of them. Do whatever talking you need to do from the passenger’s side window. Putting yourself in arm’s reach, easy gunshot view, or in a position to get run over easily is never a good thing.

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  • q'Tzal April 29, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Kt #118
    Unfortunately some people only respond to pain and punishment, having no concern for the feelings, safety or indeed the lives of anyone around them.
    Much as I would prefer the peaceful path to shared road space and repect on said roads I have begun to worry that this problem won’t be properly dealt with until some angry cyclist guns down an offending motorist. The cyclist in question would rightly be processcuted for murder but the motorists would be left with the lingering thought that there might be consequences for bad driving.
    I hope this is not the case.

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  • mh April 29, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    I yell a lot. I don’t expect that many drivers actually hear me, but it’s always possible something gets through. I yelled at a cab that backed out of a driveway and almost took me out. That driver heard me – she chased me down to the next controlled intersection and chewed me out, asserting that she had the right of way. Backing out of a driveway?

    Once again, I’m all for making drivers re-take at least the written test every so often. Otherwise, the only people who know about changes in traffic laws (i.e. “stop and stay stopped”) are the folks who lobbied for the changes.

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  • Pete April 30, 2010 at 12:15 am

    I buzzed the comments as there are so many (not surprisingly – we’ve all been there). Helen McConnell (#102) gets my vote for best comment – I too ride as an ambassador (eye contact, hand signals, smiles and waves, learned to contain the finger). I like the thumbs down idea too.

    Also, learn to instantly note and recite the license plate. With time it will become second nature. If you are confronted by the driver, address him/her by license plate number. “You broke the law when you endangered my life back there XMX375, are you aware of the state law requiring three feet of clearance Mr. XMX375?”. You’ll be amazed at the power this has, especially if you casually pull out a cell phone while doing so. Above all maintain your calm and composure – that’s the battle won right there. (Trust me, I know it’s easier said than done ;).

    My personal practice is to note full moons. You may disagree, but I believe they affect us, and my conflicts have *all* occurred under full moons (including getting jumped and beaten by a gang). I take more conservative routes and ride with extra caution and at off-commute hours in the few days before and after. FWIW.

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  • Waltzing Matilda April 30, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Was the person driving a SUV? Most of the really scary incidents with motor vehicles and all of the road rage incidents I’ve had involved SUV’s. I would really like to see a study done on the mentality of urban SUV drivers.

    I was going to work a couple of weeks ago. I was sitting at a stop light waiting for the light to change or for traffic to at least slow up. A SUV came up behind me. I put up my left arm to indicate that I was going to go right as soon as it was safe. I was actually going right and then doing an almost immediate left, but there’s no signal for that. The driver must’ve thought I was making a rude gesture because she buzzed me on my right passing me within inches. She then cut me off missing my front wheel by inches. If I hadn’t been pulling into a turning lane, I would have run into her. As it was, I damn near lost my balance because I had to turn hard.

    A few weeks before that, I was riding home from work. I was going straight. I completely had the right of way. A woman in an SUV was coming out of a parking lot, looked dead at me, stuck up her middle finger at me, and cut me off. I was able to put on my brakes and put down me feet. I had never seen this woman before in my life. I was not doing anything reckless or illegal. Unfortunately for her (and much to my amusement)she was so focused on me, that she didn’t notice the motorcycle cop that was right behind me. She got a ticket for Failure to Yield AND Recless Driving, but I heard the Reckless Driving got dismissed.

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  • That Canuck April 30, 2010 at 9:25 am

    There are many strategies one can use when dealing with aggressive drivers… flipping them off is one but hard to do in mittens.

    And some folks really hate birds.

    You can blow kisses and wave although the homophobic pick up driving rednecks could run you over for that.

    If someone decides they are going to exit their car to possibly assault you I have found that kicking the door shut on their legs / arms is an effective and painful deterrent.

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  • spare_wheel April 30, 2010 at 9:36 am

    “That driver heard me – she chased me down to the next controlled intersection and chewed me out, asserting that she had the right of way.”

    I hope you called her cab company to complain. I would also lodge a complain at the Portland Bureau of Licensing: Taxicab Permits and issues 503-865-2487.

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  • Jackattak April 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

    If it was a Broadway Cab (the yellow ones), I wouldn’t bother calling. You’d get a more effective phone call out of calling Cheney to complain about his war crimes.

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  • Memo April 30, 2010 at 10:36 am

    …my nephew was even telling me how pervasive rudeness is in transportation in general. Especially when he told me stories about how offensive many boaters have become at the boat launches. Rudes behind the wheel/handlebar/throttle/running shoes, whatever, seems to just be steadily on the rise.

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  • Jackattak April 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Memo –

    People get angry when their money is taken away, their livelihoods destroyed, their families made to be hungry.

    Recessions caused by the financial industry will do that to people. There is a huge influx of aggression and “rudeness” all over, by some of the last people on Earth you’d ever expect it from.

    The best thing you can do is smile and be happy. Remember, smiles are contagious. Try it. I walk through the Park Blocks every day to and from work, shopping, and home and can attest to this practice. It works, and I like to think that it helps people be nicer throughout the day.

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  • trail user April 30, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    When cops need to stop dangerous drivers immediately, they lay down spike strips. I’ve even heard of them using balls and jacks in a pinch.

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  • Velophile in Exile April 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Only someone who truly had a death wish or no respect for their own safety would respond to menacing/assault with a peace sign. People like this guy need to understand that menacing is a criminal act that has consequences and a middle finger is the least severe result that can and should occur.

    Only if you start dialing 911 when motorists menace you while you are riding and then insist that such acts be prosecuted will this ever stop.

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  • jered April 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    let’s change the topic to graphic design.

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  • Tim April 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    What about drivers flipping off bicyclists?

    Today a lady flipped me off who previously ran a stop sign, buzzed by me and told me to get on the sidewalk when I motioned for her to slow down. She then proceeded to threaten me that her husband was a cop and was going to come and beat me up. I reported it to the sheriff’s office and the deputy that I talked with was going to have a talk with this lady. I thought that was the end of it, but today the lady flipped me off.

    I would like to write her a letter, but want to make sure that I have the right person. I think I know who this person is, but do not want to make false accusations.

    Two questions: How do I find out for sure who owns a car? Should I include my name when I write the letter?

    If this is the person that I think it is, they have not been paying their taxes while they drive a BMW convertible and tell bicyclists they should get off the road. Her husband is a chubby middle aged real estate salesman, not a cop.

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  • greg April 30, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    The opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s indifference. I usually pretend I didn’t notice. People are looking for reactions, and if you don’t give them one they’ll go away. Laughing is also good. No one likes being laughed at.

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  • SkidMark May 1, 2010 at 12:05 am

    This is why it is important to size up who you are flipping off before you do. Never flip off anyone that you don’t think you can defend yourself against if they stop.

    This is just as important as looking for cops before you make a moving violation.

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  • TREK 3900 May 1, 2010 at 12:17 am

    I have had people threaten to run me over before. There are a lot of assholes that will react violently to you on occasion. Some people deserve to be flipped off, plain and simple. I think you have a right to do that. I also think they do not have a right to threaten you or to hit you or run over you no matter how many times you threaten them or what you might call them. Would an attorney please correct me if I am wrong?

    What will I do if I am assaulted or threatened again? I now have one of the LARGE cans of bear spray, available from REI, mounted in a water bottle cage. I wrapped the can of spray in foam and stuck it in a water bottle that I cut the top off of. It’s secure and ready to go if needed. I can incapacitate a whole car load of assholes if needed.

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  • TREK 3900 May 1, 2010 at 12:38 am

    Sadly, Stigx in post 25 above got it right. If you do not want to be in a potentially violent confrontation you cannot do ANYTHING to them.

    However if you are going to try to educate the public via middle finger, I have to recommend having a self defense weapon handy such as the bear spray I mentioned above.

    Unfortunately, because we live in a society with liberal, unjust laws that favor the bad guys, and since we have a police department/justice system that is inept and corrupt, if YOU THE CYCLIST harm the asshole beyond that necessary to defend yourself, even though he deserved it, YOU THE INNOCENT CYCLIST will do the time in jail, not the bad guy. So, best to only use the spray/weapon as self defense.

    That’s my plan. Use if for self defense only if needed.

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  • TREK 3900 May 1, 2010 at 12:46 am

    I mistakenly wrote above: “I also think they do not have a right to threaten you or to hit you or run over you no matter how many times you threaten them or what you might call them. Would an attorney please correct me if I am wrong?”

    I meant to write that… “they do not have a right to threaten you or to hit you or run over you no matter how many times you FLIP THEM OFF………” I don’t think it is legal to threaten someone, unless possibly in self defense. An attorney could confirm.


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  • Jen May 1, 2010 at 1:20 am

    I am admitting to all reading this that I was once an angry bike menacing driver (and I drove a 1970 Buick Skylark). And now I bike commute 15 miles a day (up the OHSU hill no less) and every time someone cuts me off or tries to right hook me or gets pissed that I am “in their way”, I get a flash of shame for who I was and how I drove. I strive for a friendly wave, hoping to communicate that we are all just human out there….

    And there is a man who caught me at the next light… who told me how much I scared him…shook his head in dismay and shame… and he told me of his two children waiting for him to get home… yeah, I remember him too…

    And I can only hope it doesn’t take as long for the self invoved asswipe most important gotta-get-there-fast drivers as long to see that EVERYONE has someone waiting to see them again.

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  • Kurt May 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    If I make any kind of a gesture at an errant, inconsiderate driver, it is holding up my hand with my thumb and forefinger about two inches apart. It is indicates how close they came to me or …………… well, I can come up with several satisfactorily insulting interpretations if they choose to stop and chat.

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  • TREK 3900 May 1, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    I’ve also had a-holes follow me after I flipped them off when I was driving my car. An a-hole followed me until I stopped after I flipped him off. He wanted to kill me but I was able to defuse the situation. I felt like a wimp, but I did not want to go to jail or the hospital over it. He deserved to have his butt kicked, or worse, but then I’d have been the one to pay the price, not the a-hole. However, ever since I rarely go outside the house without a device I can use to defend myself against any problem.

    So, again, bottom line, whether you are riding a bike, driving a car, walking, or just sitting in your yard, if an asshole does something to you, you have to either take it OR if you show defiance then you have to be able to back it up. Most of the time, even though the asshole deserves to be shot, the best thing is to let them go.

    Remember, many people are alive only because it is illegal to kill them.

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  • AdamG May 2, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    +1 for not mentioning that your vehicle is non-motorized when calling the police. I’ve had much better responses from the police when I leave out that (usually) irrelevant detail.

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  • Aaron May 2, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    I know this is over 100 comments. But I’ve had LOTS of experiences with angry drivers. Mostly in NYC, but here too. Not withstanding the many articles and advice above, this is mainly a psychological issue. When a person is threatened they either fight or run. Since a bicycle (or pedestrian, etc) is threatend by a car, there’s no way to fight given the difference in size and power and there’s no way to run given the speed difference. So the anger runs very high. Drivers are led to believe (through TV adds etc) that a car will allow them to go as fast as they want on empty streets. But the reality as we know is the opposite. This results in anger at anything that slows the person down. Some people can deal with this in a positive mannor but many cannot. There’s wonderful research by two psychologists-Dr. Lang and Dr. Nahl
    Unfortunately since discussing a person’s driving skills is about as productive as trying to school a parent in how to raise their child, there cannot be instruction. The brain protects itself by focusing on it’s own positive traits while demonizing anyone that criticizes. I just don’t see a way to help the situation until poverty or an oil shortage forces more people to extract their head from their ass.

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  • David Zundel May 3, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    When I hear a car behind me, and passing is completely unreasonable, such as at a red light or a stop sign, I take more of the lane.
    When I get buzzed past, I follow the car closely to make obvious that they save no time.
    I have learnt that calling the police has no use. We need to change that.
    The left end of my handlebar is sharp metal without a plug. And we need to import more riders from Brooklyn. Also, more vc.
    All of that said, we have some delightfully courteous drivers in this town.

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  • trail user May 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I ride ATV’s and motorcycles at the Oregon Dunes. It’s mandatory to have a bright red (or orange) flag about 8 feet high off the back of an ATV so that others can see you approaching on the other side of a dune. We should stick these on bicycles sideways into the lane…4 feet perhaps.

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  • El Biciclero May 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    #154– They make something like that; it is a red reflector on a flip-out arm that extends about a foot or foot-and-a-half to the left.

    Yesterday on my way home, I was overtaken by a carload of youths (I was riding well in the bike lane; they passed me in their lane). As they pulled ahead of me, I noticed that a couple of the youths were turned around staring at me out their back window–one with the mono-digital salutation flying. Not just a quick flip of the bird, but a continuous display of the middle finger for several seconds as they slowly pulled past and ahead of me. I gave them the smile-‘n’-wave. No altercation ensued.

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  • Duncan May 5, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Despite having lived out here for 21 years I have never been a fan of NW passive-aggressive behavior (blowing kisses/peace signs) I speak my mind with my mouth or my gestures- behave like an asshole and I will call you just that. Dont like it? Get over your big bad self.

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  • jeff May 5, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I’m with you Duncan. As a former east-coaster, the passive-aggressive approach prevalent here never really made sense to me (along with the black and white interpretation of traffic laws). It’s not like that in NYC or Boston. It’s not like that in Europe.

    I’m pretty calm and understanding on my bike, I wave and smile 98% to the motorists who see me (even when I have the right of way). But I’m not going to curl up like an opossum when actively threatened. My finger stays tucked well away most of the time but when it comes out it is with good reason, I mean it, and I stand behind it.

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  • El Biciclero May 5, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Not sure what some people mean when they say “passive-aggressive”. To me, passive-aggressive is when I decide I’m going to take the lane and ride extra slow–I’m not really being aggressive, but I’m sticking it to you anyway. Passive-aggressive is when I move into the center of the lane at a stop sign, and then come to a fuuulll and cooommmmpleeeete stop, in exaggerated compliance with the stop-means-stop rule, just so the driver behind my has to feel the pain of waiting a few extra seconds. Many forms of civil disobedience could be considered “passive-aggressive”, because they intentionally cause someone else hardship but are not overtly aggressive.

    Responding to hostility with friendliness–even if it is fake friendliness–is called either “taking the high road” or “not stooping to their level”, but I wouldn’t consider it passive-aggressive.

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  • jeff May 5, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    I would call that passive-aggressive. You are responding in a passive way, with the goal of continuing the confrontation.

    Not responding at all would be “taking the high road”, or “not stooping to their level”, or as I see it – “not standing up for oneself when one’s life is threatened.”

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  • El Biciclero May 5, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I guess I don’t see the “aggressive” part of passive-aggressive if I’m not causing the other party any hardship. I don’t see how you can know what someone’s goal is in responding in such a way–it might be to deescalate the situation and avoid a confrontation.

    As for “not standing up for oneself” (implication seeming to be that anyone who doesn’t pursue a confrontation is weaker than someone who does), I think it depends on the situation. If someone yells at me in a hostile or insulting way, but doesn’t threaten me with their vehicle, am I failing to “stand up for myself” if I don’t yell back and flip them off (thereby inviting them to threaten me with their vehicle)? If, as happened to me the other day, a carload of punks with nothing better to do than flip off cyclists cruises by and flips me off, am I not standing up for myself if don’t chase them down and confront them with a WTF (thereby inviting them to get out of their car and show me–at 5 against 1–the true extent of their disdain)?

    Maybe you pack heat when you ride or have experience with martial arts or street fighting–which ultimately is what will decide any confrontation that is allowed to escalate that far–but not everyone is eager to find out what the arsenal or fighting skills of every aggressive driver might look like.

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  • John Peterson May 5, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    ….If someone is an asshole and/or clearly in the wrong I should be able to let them know quickly and effectively….hence the bird….I’ts kinda a free speech issue as well….I should be able to tell someone what I think without fear of physical harm….If they wanna yell back at me and call me names…that’s cool, I can take it, I will not threaten or instigate physical violence….
    If someone is going to escalate a bird flipping (biker or driver) to physical violence they need to be taken off the streets and have their license suspended.
    And so I would say flip the bird if it merits….be prepared to get a license number, defend yourself, and/or run….

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  • MeghanH May 5, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    A guy in a car honked at me today, as I was biking (at a decent clip) up Glisan in the Pearl District. He had two lanes to choose from, but was desperate to be in the one I was also in. First he honked, then passed me with a couple inches to spare. I had a lizard-brain instinct to give him the bird, but remembered this dialogue and chose not to. Instead, gave him a “no, after you” sweep of the arm and shook my head in amazement at his impatience and idiocy.

    You can’t fix stupid, not with a middle finger or anything else.

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  • Jim May 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    What I do to mitigate things in a door-out situation is: signal aggressively, open my palm as expression of thanks, ride hard and get back over quickly, and continue life. Not saying you didn’t do these things, but some little actions go a long way in showing the driver behind some operator competence on the cyclist’s part. Honestly, many cyclists don’t exhibit much situational awareness.
    Having said this, if the driver is going to be aggro and strafe me there are a number of options, almost all of which I’ve partaken.
    I don’t live in Portland, but I have to say I was surprised at the number of redneck/hostile drivers there during an extended stay last summer. Also was surprised at the number of clueless riders. One tends to beget the other, I suppose.

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  • Dan May 5, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    The middle finger is instinctive…hard not to do it when you get buzzed like that. I have to say that I’ve never gotten satisfaction from the verbal exchange that follows though (if there is one). I’ve been using more restraint, like throwing my hands up in the air like “really?”.

    I think I’ll move on to the peace sign. I like that suggestion.

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  • jeff May 6, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Cellphone (preferably with a camera). Maybe just pull it out when people get animated, if you ever find yourself in a face-off. Just a thought. A peace sign, for sure.

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  • misenhei May 7, 2010 at 10:46 am

    On my way home on Vancouver last night a cab rolled through a side street stop sign and almost hit me. Because of this article I responded only with a plaintive “hey!” Something familiar to most of us, he pulled over about a block later to let me pass and drove behind me until the next red light. Stopped, he pulled up next to me, rolled down his window, and I steeled myself for the coming altercation. Instead, he leaned over and said “Hey, what happened back there? I’m sorry for that.”

    I wonder if things would have turned out differently had I initially reacted with anger.

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  • Joe May 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

    middle finger reminds me of the ” trunk monkey ” lol wish i had one to release 🙂

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  • Grey September 29, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    had to share an experience of my own that lead me to stop flipping people off all together. I was riding on SE stark around 16th, going uphill. I find that a lot of cars get frustrated in this stretch of road, because I can’t match the speed of traffic. So when a minivan starting riding my tail, I was braced for road rage. Sure enough after a few seconds their horn blared. I flipped them off.

    The car sped past me, as expected. But then it pulled over and the window rolled down. The woman behind the wheel was stunned that I could have done something so rude, so much so that she was nearly speechless. It turns out she wanted to tell me that the cash in back pocket was about to fall out.

    I wanted to crawl under a rock and DIE. I haven’t flipped off any other road users since.

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  • wsbob September 29, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Grey #168…loved your story !!

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