Driving along at 35 MPH on a 2-lane avenue around 10 PM, a single headlight appeared in my car's path. I swerved onto a side street, shaken and uncomprehending. Leering down at me, astride a high tech bike, I could see in the light of the street lamp the person responsible for the near-miss. I rolled down the window and said -- remaining surprisingly noncombative -- "Hey man, I barely missed hitting you. You could have been killed."
Expecting a thank you or an apology, instead I was the victim of an insane tirade, to the effect: "Hey buddy, you couldn't kill me. You don't know my strength." Taken aback, I realized he had been "playing chicken" by pointing his bike at my car in my lane on purpose. My dander was up. "Are you crazy?" I asked.
He replied: "You old people in your gas-guzzlers need to die."
A week later, I narrowly missed a jogger, once again in my lane, heading right into me on a curve. I swerved and looked back. The runner had stopped 30 yards behind me, hands on hips, defiantly gesticulating, as if to say I was at fault for the near-miss. I opened the car door and asked, just what did he think he was doing running right into me? "I could have killed you," I explained.
(Get ready:) He said," You old people need to die." He pulled on his bright green T-shirt. "Can't you see this?", as if he had done all he should do by donning a loud item of clothing. So it was my fault he said, although he was running into me. I fired back an expletive. He began walking my way, screaming: "You want some of me, buddy?" I said yes and opened the back door of my car, looking for a walking stick I thought was lying on the seat.
It wasn't there, but he must have thought I was reaching for a gun. I looked up and he was gone.
Contemplating my penchant for attracting nut cases, immediately after the incident I heard on the radio that a bicyclist in his 50s was killed zooming down a hill on a busy thoroughfare training for an upcoming race. I walked into a room where a television report displayed a mug shot of the poor guy who hit the cyclist, as if he was a murder suspect. He is a respected retired surgeon who is now burdened with the emotions of killing a person when fault in the accident is unclear: can a driver of an automobile be responsible for hitting a cyclist zooming down a steep hill at full speed? The doctor has been charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. The cyclist leaves behind his wife, two daughters, a son and four grandchildren.
This tragedy should not have happened. But it did because a zealous percentage of bicyclists believe they own the roads built for motor vehicles. This cadre of extreme cyclists appears to be increasing in numbers, some imbued with righteous dedication that makes them think they have the moral right-of-way, as well as blamelessness when they place themselves in harm's way against motorized vehicles.
It's the rule of the sea that motor-powered watercraft must yield to sail boats, but there is no comparable protocol for bicyclists and motor vehicles. In most states, the regulations are clear that cyclists must obey the rules of the road for automobiles. A look at laws in Illinois, Minnesota, and California for example, echo the universal protocol that bikes must follow the rules required of motor vehicles. But in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg issues edicts and implements policies in a manner reminiscent of Mussolini, new laws are emerging specifically for bicyclists applicable to Gotham's newly installed bike paths.
One letter writer summed up the new trend in Big Apple biker rights: "Mayor Bloomberg's bicycle crusade has snarled traffic, made signage more confusing, crosswalks more perilous, parking more scarce and sidewalks more congested -- all for a tiny demographic using a vehicle whose practicality wanes in the winter months and on rainy days.
Adding insult to injury, most cyclists treat the lanes and traffic lights as mere suggestions -- blowing through reds, snaking in between traffic and even taking to the curb when they wish... It's a recipe for disaster. In the end, bicycles have the same right to the streets as cars -- but have no more right to segregated lanes than scooters or motorcycles. If bikers to want ride in traffic, they should be licensed, insured and made to wear helmets."
The more juiced-up bike riders in New York and other cities are helping force rule changes in their hometowns, or, more commonly, making up rules of their own to suit their superior attitude, fueled by combination of automobile-loathing environmentalism and the popular trend of extreme sports now in vogue.
The battle between bicyclists and autos is being played out every hour across America. In some northeastern states such as New Jersey, statute encourages bikers to "command the road" by blocking lanes until motor-vehicle drivers can safely pass. In San Francisco last year, where bikers crowd busy intersections in protest against cars and trucks, a grand jury report found mutual distrust among motorists and cyclists, leading to the inevitable conclusion that "motorists and bike users need to understand each other better." Motorists saw cyclists, among other things, as "arrogant" and "irresponsible." Cyclists described motorists as "selfish" and "an impediment."
This biker arrogance can be partly attributed to cities and towns that empower cyclists by trumpeting bike-riding as green and healthful. The trend in planning is to accommodate biking, spending funds on signs and special lanes. Although encouraging the sport is politically correct, the subtle endorsement of biking by cities and towns communicates they are on the biker side when they break the rules of the road. The cocktail of official sympathy, endorphins, green righteousness and empowerment is a dangerous brew.
The disturbed cyclist who played chicken with me for what appear to be political motivations -- ageism, deep environmentalism, and special rights that elevate him in his own mind to Lord of the Universe -- is an exception to the normal bicycle culture. I assume that the majority of bike riders are careful. But like moderate Muslims, sensible bikers are stained by this bizarre jihad perpetrated by the extreme cycling lunatic fringe.
The solution should be mandatory licensing of bicycle owners, for several reasons. Had the guy who played chicken with me displayed a sticker on his bike, he could have been reported and prevented from repeating his dangerous antics. If licenses are granted only after passing a test -- as we do for autos -- cyclists and motorists would be forced to read the regulations and, it is hoped, act accordingly. If cyclists desire to change the laws, they can apply to the political entity that issues bicycle licenses rather than arbitrarily inflict their interpretation of the rules of the road on the rest of us.