To the asshole behind the steering wheel

Part I: Rant

A few weeks ago, I was biking in Seattle with two friends. It was a lovely (sunny!) Seattle summer day, and we decided to bike up to Gasworks park to enjoy a Whiteclaw (or three) and admire the city we get to call home.

Along a certain section of our route, a man in a car driving the opposite direction shouted at us: "GET OUT OF THE FUCKING ROAD."

This is a rather common phenomenon, admittedly. I can't count the number of times I've been screamed or honked at by a motorist while on my bike (despite having been biking as a primary mode of transportation only since around March of this year). But this particular incident struck a nerve.

Maybe it was because I was with my friends and felt the need to be hypervigilant of their safety. After all, the only thing worse than a cyclist is a gaggle of cyclists. We were riding two abreast after all (it's legal in Seattle and means we're generally less likely to be passed without nearly enough space for safety).

Maybe it was because I was conscious of the fact that if I had tried to stay closer to the row of parked cars to our right (thereby allowing cars to pass and ignoring the dangers that presents to cyclists), I could be easily killed by someone opening their car door. This is colloquially known as dooring by those who bicycle, and is especially a problem with so-called "bicycle gutters" (unprotected, paint-only bike lanes, often adjacent to parking for cars).

Maybe it was because we spent many minutes trying to figure out the safest route to take (i.e., the route that involved the fewest interaction with cars as possible). Maybe it was because the safer route that we had chosen was about three times as long as the direct route for motorists1. Maybe it was because this is a choice that has to be made constantly by cyclists.

A map showing the direct route via car from Belltown, Seattle to Gas Works Park (taking 11 minutes at 3.8 miles)
A map showing the rather roundabout route via car from Belltown, Seattle to Gas Works Park (taking 51 minutes at 8.9 miles)

The direct route for cars takes the Aurora bridge and lands just about directly at Gas Works Park where there is plenty of parking to accommodate. The rather indirect route for bicylists is about three times as long. This particular route avoids the Aurora and Ballard Bridges which are notoriously hostile towards cyclists 2. Admittedly, this route is absolutely lovely. The shoreline park along Puget Sound leads into a protected bike path through a trainyard in Interbay with its own charm, and the Ballard Locks are really neat (though you have to dismount your bike to traverse them). This is actually one of the reasons I enjoy biking: bike paths are always much more pleasant than freeways and stroads.

Maybe the reason the asshole's comment bothered me so much was because that brief section of road — the only section of path on our journey that was shared with cars — was the infamous missing link of the Burke-Gilman trail (a shared use bike and pedestrian trail that connects Golden Gardens Park, along the Sound to the west of Seattle, to Bothell, northeast of Seattle, modulo the aforementioned missing section). That this happened during the only two minutes of our journey shared with cars was an irony certainly lost to him, but not to myself.

Or maybe the reason the asshole's comment bothered me so much was that only a few weeks before, I had survived an intentional hit-and-run by a motorist in Chicago; a hit-and-run where the driver made eye contact with me and accelerated directly into me; a hit-and-run that occurred on a so-called designated safe bicycle path; a hit-and-run where multiple people witnessed the assault, where I got the assaulter's license plate, and where when I filed a police report, I was victim-blamed before ultimately the Chicago Police Department did exactly nothing.

But then again, maybe it was because I'm exhausted by trying to simply live my life while bicycling to work, to the grocery store, to the gym, to my friend's apartment for video games. I don't even consider myself a "bicycle person" (nor do many people who happen to be biking along the street) — just a person who likes getting around town (and who also has realized that biking is actually kind of fun — when you're able to avoid homicidal motorists).

Part II: Jesus fucking christ

We're experiencing a climate catastrophe. Getting personal-use cars off the road should be one of our top priorities (yes, this includes electric cars for myriad reasons). Traffic fatalities are at an all-time high. Car-centric infrastructure is bankrupting American cities.

Why the fuck are we not doing more? Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in this country is abysmal, to say the least. Even in Seattle, a comparatively bicycle-friendly city, Bicycle infrastructure always plays second fiddle to cars 3.

I should be able to bike to a fucking park without fearing for my life. As it stands today, I wince every time I notice an oncoming vehicle's headlights: How easy would it be for them to swerve every so slightly and kill me right now? is not an uncommon thought among people who bike (my two friends included).

If this post sounds indignant, it's only because that's how I feel. If you want to learn more, go watch some Not Just Bikes. If you're in Seattle, go read and donate to The Urbanist (word of caution: reading these articles might infuriate you if you're anything like me). Scream! Shout! Leave extra space when passing bicycles! Advocate for more bicycle infrastructure (I promise this benefits motorists too — we don't want to be in your way, y'all are crazy).

As for me, I'll keep biking.


Footnotes

  1. (Added after publishing due to feedback) Yes, I'm aware there are faster routes. This particular route was partially informed by the fact that it was a pleasure ride and was optimized for avoiding shared spaces with cars at all costs)

  2. Most cyclists elect to walk over any of the bridges, if they take them at all, since the Ballard, Fremont, and Aurora Bridges all have only four foot wide sidewalks and biking in automobile traffic over the bridge is incredibly nerve inducing. EDIT: Apparently, the Fremont bridge is significant more bike friendly that I thought (which was only based on second-hand comments). I still think the point of the post stands: we attempted to take the route that would put is in contact with the absolute fewest number of cars and still had to experience aforementioned asshole.

  3. This example is particularly egregious because it prioritizes cars being able to drive directly up to cruise ships, which themselves are a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions. Not to mention the fact that Seattle (which bills itself as a climate-friendly city in a climate-friendly state) has decided to rip up one waterfront highway only to replace it with another.