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Bikes and Cars - Will We Ever Get Along?

Critical Mass SF

Photo courtesy of SFGate

A friend of mine spends 99% of her commuting hours on a bicycle. Last week, it was a rare night that she needed her car in the city. She approached the Fell St. left turn on Scott St. a.k.a. the Wiggle. Seeing a bike lane on the left and another on the right, she inched left, as she was planning to turn left.

 As they do on the Wiggle, cyclists with blinking white beams approached and gathered in front of her car. The light turned green and they all dispersed, except for one. The guy sat on his bike in front of her car and prevented her from moving. Perplexed, she sat there, the light changed to red, and he rode off. 

At the next red light at Divisadero, the same guy, again, sat in front of her car as everybody proceeded through the green light. She threw up her hands, “What are you doing?” The bike guy pounded her window and screamed, “YOU WERE IN THE BIKE LANE!” Then rode off again.

Confused and not quite clear on her mistake, she shook her head, and at the next light somewhere within the Panhandle, the same guy repeated the same story. She opened her window and shrieked, “I commute every day on a bike! Get off that bike and we’ll talk about this right now, right here!” But the dude repeatedly slammed the hood of her car with his fist and rode off into the darkness.

It’s a familiar story, especially to anyone who watched Critical Mass cruise by last Friday. Traffic was backed up for blocks and some motorists were absolutely enraged. If they dared to intercept the procession of thousands, their cars were swarmed with bikers on all sides like bees to honey.

Cars inched forward pushing bikes over, bikers banged and kicked cars, people screamed out windows, “Let him go!” and “Fuck you assholes!” and this crazy woman attacked bikers with a road flare. It was an intense scene that seemed to be on the tipping point of a much larger mutiny.

One confusing aspect of all of this was that many Critical Mass bikers appeared to have something against pedestrians, who played the game of Frogger while attempting the crosswalk. As I stood on a corner watching the spectacle, cyclists screamed condescendingly at me “Where’s your bike? Get a bike!” (Actually, I have two, and I commute on one of them daily.)

Are cyclists and cars and buses and people ever going to live harmoniously?

Hey, I relate to the biker road rage. I’ve shaken my fist at cars, screamed obscenities at the lack of a blinker, and even yelled “What the F**K are you doing?!” at a very old man who sharply cut me off for a parking space on Townsend St. Afterward, I felt guilty. Maybe a more productive response would have been to kindly remind him to be more cautious of the bike lane as he drives. But in the moment, it’s hard to realize that.

The reality is, biking in the city is a fun and fast way to get around. But, the animosity and resentment between bicyclists and vehicles is rising. Is Critical Mass inconvenient for someone trying to get from point A to point B? Absolutely. But so is Bay to Breakers, the Pride Parade, the Chinese New Year Parade, and pretty much any procession of cars or people (or bikes) that clogs a city’s main arteries.

Just like with any transit, there are the bad drivers, there are the rule-followers, and there are the self-righteous motherfuckers who blow through red lights, pound cars, and give the rest of us cyclists a bad rap.

The majority of us bikers are just trying to get to and from work, or an event, or a friend’s house, which on a bike usually means one-third of the time it would take on MUNI. There’s been a 71% increase in SF biking in the past six years. Cars are still getting used to us. And cyclists are still getting used to them. Can’t we all try to get along?

 

@marypolizzotti