Close encounter of the escalating kind- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Close encounter of the escalating kind

    So, to help reduce the adrenalin, I am posting a cautionary tale that will hopefully be of use to some of you out there...

    (Warning: Somewhat long, but there is a lot of adrenalin! Also, not proofed...)

    Background: I live in New Orleans, a city not particularly known for law-abiding drivers or low insurance rates. Post-Katrina, a lot of the streets were in horrendous condition, making a morning commute on main avenues more of an off-road adventure. Recently, a huge amount of construction began all over the city. The result is major traffic in affected areas, and wide streets becoming single non-shouldered lanes.

    Commute: The first part of my daily morning commute is down Carrollton Ave. starting at Palmer Park (for those interested). Carrollton is one of the streets that's been under construction, and it's 1/2 finished (beautiful tarmac). That is where I ride for my first mile or so, and I've had no issues. There's actually not too much traffic in the mornings and evenings, as people know they may get stuck behind a dump truck or detoured to a side street.

    Today: So I had to bring my car to the shop for new tires, and then home. I pulled my bike off the roof, and began along my usual route. I was doing about 20 MPH on Carrollton when I heard a honk. A verrrry close honk. OK, I thought, there's room to pass for a car. It'll be tight, but no worries (single lane, no shoulder remember). So I move to the side with my bar about three inches from the construction cones. The car that passes turns out to be a huge van, and I have to move those three inches to avoid being hit. I smack the side van that makes an amazing reverberation. The driver screeches to a halt, and I swerve through the cones into the torn-up section of the street. The driver jumps out and wants to kick ass. I know this because he says so. I yell and explain the law that you must pass a bike by three feet, he says use the sidewalk, and I yell back that that is actually illegal. I decide to pedal away, as this was not good.
    I turn of Carrollton to get away from the guy, as he would be back behind me if I continued as I had been. I look behind and he is following me. Crap. He is coming up fast, I see a pedestrian (witness), so I pull over onto the sidewalk. Once he pulls over, I turn my bike around and try to get moving, but my 17 x 48 single speed commuter was not meant for this. I yell to the pedestrian to call 911. The driver jumps out and runs towards me. He gets in my face, shoves the bike, shoves me a bit, and all the while he is yelling about how he should kick my ass, while I am very loudly giving him the mantra of "You broke the law. Three feet." and variations of that. This goes back and forth for a while, with me repeatedly asking him to call the cops if he thinks I was wrong, and him telling me he'll just kick my ass. Finally the pedestrian says "Hey, you were both wrong, why don't you just forget about it." At this point the driver has cooled down a bit, explaining how I was in his blind spot, and I explained that I hit the side of his van because he was about to hit me, and that the roads are a challenge for everyone right now. We shook hands, and that was it with him. After the driver left, the pedestrian said we were both feeding each others fire, and it wasn't worth it, and that he used to ride 30 miles a day, so he knew where I was coming from.

    So...

    Lessons Learned: I don't know what would have happened if the pedestrian was not there. I don't know if this guy was going to relent or not. Since I didn't respond in any physical way and kept my bike between me and him, and kept mentioning what the law was, I think it allowed him unwind a bit. I also think I need to rethink my route until the construction is done, as it just takes one really crazed and pissed driver to cause you real grief and injury. I should not have gone to the side of the road to let him pass, especially as I didn't look back to see who was honking. In a Miata, it would not have been a problem, but a van of this size was almost enough to get me hit. In hind sight, I should have held my line and turned off at the next intersection. But in truth, I have had traffic behind me before in these sections and never been honked at (also, in Louisiana, a bike can take a lane if the situation warrants).

    Final Points: The driver endangered my life and broke the law. When I hit the side of his van, I don't know if I made a legal mistake, but a vehicle about an inch from your handlebar really limits your foresight. Speaking of foresight, it was not (hasn't been?) the best plan to ride this street as it is currently set up. I have felt uneasy on it for a while, but have had no problems, so the unease was easily put to rest. No more. The simple fact of the matter is, and a point I made to the driver is that even with the law on your side, the car wins if hit. I am a little miffed at the pedestrian though, because if he rode 30 miles a day, but thought it wasn't a big deal that I almost got hit, was then pursued by the driver, threatened by him and assaulted (doesn't physical contact, even non-painful, constitute assault?), well, isn't that the type of complacency that makes riding all the riskier?

    So that's it. If you read this through, thanks for taking the time, and comments are welcome.

    --Chris

  2. #2
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    Wow. I probably would have done the exact same thing (hitting the van).

    I also agree that holding the lane and turning off at the next street would be a good way to deal. If I was you, I would keep riding the road, but use this tactic as a bail-out plan if something like that happened again. And give a glance back before you go letting a mack truck pass you
    It's a bad driving situation, but that driver was also an idiot. It's his job to see that he doesn't have room to pass and wait until he does. I don't think you should give up on the road just becuase of one idiot. It's just as much your road. 90% of people won't react like that. I say claim the road as your own, but in a similar situation, turn off at the next intersection or get over and stop if a big vehicle is being impatient.
    You have no excuse for driving to work
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    (no excuse for that either)

  3. #3
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    I like your thinking. My idea of changing routes doesn't sit well with me (knee-jerk response post situation), and the bail-out seems a viable alternative. It's funny, but the reason I didn't turn around to look at the honker is that I never want to give a driver the satisfaction of a honk eliciting a response. The Mack Attack is the risk there!

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by cleo
    .. It's funny, but the reason I didn't turn around to look at the honker is that I never want to give a driver the satisfaction of a honk eliciting a response. The Mack Attack is the risk there!
    Add a small bar end mirror?

  5. #5
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    I am glad he did not kick your a** as promised, it sounds like there was a real risk of that happening. If you'd had a heart rate monitor, I bet it would have been maxxed out.

  6. #6
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    btw, Carrollton? I was afraid to ride on that street before the construction.

  7. #7
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    I live in New Orleans right off of Carrolton as well, and I have to bike out to Veterans and Causeway. I definately agree with you about changing your route, as there are many parralell roads that are not very far out of the way. And what is up with all the road constructions ALL OF A SUDDEN. It seems like very major road is getting a facelift. It will be great when they finish, but all these major streets at once is a bit too much. I heard it is because we were about to get the new mayor, and all the departments were scared they were going to go though personel changes because they sat on their asses while Nagin was in office, so they all at once started trying to show that they were doing something.

    What's route? I have several, but my main route is to take Orleans to Carolton. Carolton to Bienvielle, Beienvielle to City Park Ave. City Park Ave to Canal Blvd., Canal blvd. to some side street that connects me to Veterans at lakeshore dr. I take a side street to the bridge on Vets that takes me over the canal. I cut accross canal, and take a side street to I-10 service road. I-10 servvice road to Whiteny (a side street) that pulls me up close to Vets and Causway where my office is.

    Good luck with new route.

    Quote Originally Posted by cleo
    So, to help reduce the adrenalin, I am posting a cautionary tale that will hopefully be of use to some of you out there...

    (Warning: Somewhat long, but there is a lot of adrenalin! Also, not proofed...)

    Background: I live in New Orleans, a city not particularly known for law-abiding drivers or low insurance rates. Post-Katrina, a lot of the streets were in horrendous condition, making a morning commute on main avenues more of an off-road adventure. Recently, a huge amount of construction began all over the city. The result is major traffic in affected areas, and wide streets becoming single non-shouldered lanes.

    Commute: The first part of my daily morning commute is down Carrollton Ave. starting at Palmer Park (for those interested). Carrollton is one of the streets that's been under construction, and it's 1/2 finished (beautiful tarmac). That is where I ride for my first mile or so, and I've had no issues. There's actually not too much traffic in the mornings and evenings, as people know they may get stuck behind a dump truck or detoured to a side street.

    Today: So I had to bring my car to the shop for new tires, and then home. I pulled my bike off the roof, and began along my usual route. I was doing about 20 MPH on Carrollton when I heard a honk. A verrrry close honk. OK, I thought, there's room to pass for a car. It'll be tight, but no worries (single lane, no shoulder remember). So I move to the side with my bar about three inches from the construction cones. The car that passes turns out to be a huge van, and I have to move those three inches to avoid being hit. I smack the side van that makes an amazing reverberation. The driver screeches to a halt, and I swerve through the cones into the torn-up section of the street. The driver jumps out and wants to kick ass. I know this because he says so. I yell and explain the law that you must pass a bike by three feet, he says use the sidewalk, and I yell back that that is actually illegal. I decide to pedal away, as this was not good.
    I turn of Carrollton to get away from the guy, as he would be back behind me if I continued as I had been. I look behind and he is following me. Crap. He is coming up fast, I see a pedestrian (witness), so I pull over onto the sidewalk. Once he pulls over, I turn my bike around and try to get moving, but my 17 x 48 single speed commuter was not meant for this. I yell to the pedestrian to call 911. The driver jumps out and runs towards me. He gets in my face, shoves the bike, shoves me a bit, and all the while he is yelling about how he should kick my ass, while I am very loudly giving him the mantra of "You broke the law. Three feet." and variations of that. This goes back and forth for a while, with me repeatedly asking him to call the cops if he thinks I was wrong, and him telling me he'll just kick my ass. Finally the pedestrian says "Hey, you were both wrong, why don't you just forget about it." At this point the driver has cooled down a bit, explaining how I was in his blind spot, and I explained that I hit the side of his van because he was about to hit me, and that the roads are a challenge for everyone right now. We shook hands, and that was it with him. After the driver left, the pedestrian said we were both feeding each others fire, and it wasn't worth it, and that he used to ride 30 miles a day, so he knew where I was coming from.

    So...

    Lessons Learned: I don't know what would have happened if the pedestrian was not there. I don't know if this guy was going to relent or not. Since I didn't respond in any physical way and kept my bike between me and him, and kept mentioning what the law was, I think it allowed him unwind a bit. I also think I need to rethink my route until the construction is done, as it just takes one really crazed and pissed driver to cause you real grief and injury. I should not have gone to the side of the road to let him pass, especially as I didn't look back to see who was honking. In a Miata, it would not have been a problem, but a van of this size was almost enough to get me hit. In hind sight, I should have held my line and turned off at the next intersection. But in truth, I have had traffic behind me before in these sections and never been honked at (also, in Louisiana, a bike can take a lane if the situation warrants).

    Final Points: The driver endangered my life and broke the law. When I hit the side of his van, I don't know if I made a legal mistake, but a vehicle about an inch from your handlebar really limits your foresight. Speaking of foresight, it was not (hasn't been?) the best plan to ride this street as it is currently set up. I have felt uneasy on it for a while, but have had no problems, so the unease was easily put to rest. No more. The simple fact of the matter is, and a point I made to the driver is that even with the law on your side, the car wins if hit. I am a little miffed at the pedestrian though, because if he rode 30 miles a day, but thought it wasn't a big deal that I almost got hit, was then pursued by the driver, threatened by him and assaulted (doesn't physical contact, even non-painful, constitute assault?), well, isn't that the type of complacency that makes riding all the riskier?

    So that's it. If you read this through, thanks for taking the time, and comments are welcome.

    --Chris

  8. #8
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    Hey Chris,

    I’m from Houma and have ridden a good bit in Nola (both on-road and off). Not to question your commute route, but I know a few others that commute there and post their routes here on bikely. I constantly fine-tune my commute to be the safest possible (granted Houma is not Nola). Sometimes in our neck of the woods to survive against the mentality of drivers here we have to bend the rules. Personally, I use shortcuts, back roads, even wrong-way on one ways to get me where I am going. If this prevents me from riding on roads with no shoulders (or more importantly no safe place to bail) so be it. If there was a bike lane maybe I would ride differently.

    I had a similar experience once riding on a road with no shoulder where a large truck blew the horn and since there was no place safe for me to pull over (besides the adjacent bayou) I rode on. Several horns later and then the truck blasted past me and her side mirror smacked my backside knocking me off in the mud at the edge of the bayou. The hit was more as a gentle push so I wasn’t hurt and the driver did pull over after she hit me. Similar scenario as yours (of course she wasn’t threatening to kick my ass) but I insisted I had the right of way and she insisted she did. I even used the example of what if I was a kid would she take them out too? She replied “If they get in my way, yeah.” Moral to the story, you can’t win with these idiots – best to scout your route around the roads with no shoulders are abundant traffic to safer roads (even if it takes a bit longer). Of course that’s not always feasible, but I would be tempted not to commute if I felt my safety was constantly in check.

    Where are you headed from Palmer Park? Mid City? Carrollton is a main road and I would use another parallel to it. You probably know your neighborhood better than I, but I know the city fairly well. Maybe there is a better route, maybe not.

    codwater - is that you Sully?

  9. #9
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    Indeed. Non-ass kicking was a fine outcome. Pedestrian presence = no punching. I rode the same route today, and as has been typical, was stuck in traffic due to the construction and had nary a toot in my direction.

  10. #10
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    I've been eying this: Italian Road Mirror. Subtle, and, well, hey, it's Italian!

  11. #11
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by cleo
    The driver jumps out and runs towards me. He gets in my face, shoves the bike, shoves me a bit, and all the while he is yelling about how he should kick my ass, while I am very loudly giving him the mantra of "You broke the law. Three feet." and variations of that.
    That's assault. Whether or not the pedestrian agreed with you he witnessed the assault. I would have called the cops my self and pressed charges.

    Edit: Even if you were breaking the law, it's his responsibility to inform the police not beat your ass. The moment he got out of his car and threatened you the initial encounter became irrelevant.
    Hey Butthead, are we gonna die? - Beavis

  13. #13
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    The funny thing is, I take that route because it's the longest that is still relatively direct, and has the fewest stops. It's the balance between safety and efficiency that's tough to achieve. There are tons or alternate routs that include lots of stop signs, and that impacts the joy of just cruising to and from work. Of course, if smacked down during said cruise, the impact (pun intended) could be no joy again.

  14. #14
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    That is my biggest regret. I don't know how a cop call would have turned out, I suspect that his tone would have changed substantially, as would the story, but I should have at least got his plate # and called it in. I think back to the doctor in Los Angeles who had a previous complaint, and that made a huge difference in the court case. I guess that's one more lesson learned.

  15. #15
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    I live at Fern and Pinola, so it's just a hop and skip to Carrollton. If I was Mid City, the route would look quite different.

  16. #16
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    Woah! Intense. The last time anything like that happened to me. The guy did not leave calm (that was my fault) And I met him the next day at my friends wedding (he was the Reverend) So yeah thar was an awkward moment. Him for threatening to run me over next time and then preaching about God's infinant forgivness during the ceremony. And me for threatning to shove a part of his body I to another part of his body. And then giving a speach later about how the bride was the only friend that really ever helped me get my anger in check. Minor epiphany that day for one and all.
    In the great Ford vs Chevy debate, I choose Porsche.

  17. #17
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    Sounds like the start of a good screenplay.

  18. #18
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    I donít have the time nor the patience for conflicts on my commutes anymore, I leave that to my good friend, Kimber Jet Protector JPX:

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  19. #19
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    I have to agree with Leo. I'm getting too old for side-of-the-road antics, that's why I carry Fox OC spray.

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    You have way more patience than I do, cleo. I'm fairly certain it would have become mutually violent had I been in your shoes. I tip my hat to you for maintaining your cool.

    That van driver doesn't sound like he was firing on all thrusters. Definitely needs some anger management classes, and maybe a few weeks or months without access to his vehicle. Nothing like a suspended licence to help with erroneous driving behaviour. I also think that he was trying to bring the encounter to a level that he understood (violence) instead of something confusing (a debate on traffic laws).

    The witness was full of it. If you were pushing back, then that constitutes "feeding the fire".

    Legally sounds like you were in the right, but like you said, that don't matter one iota if you are under a cars tires. Reroute, and may the construction be quickly finished.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by cleo
    I live at Fern and Pinola, so it's just a hop and skip to Carrollton. If I was Mid City, the route would look quite different.
    I asked if you were headed to Mid City, not from, you said lived near Palmer Park - if you are heading east on Carrollton, I figured Mid City.

    I was in Nola yest talking to several buddies about your situation and not one of us understand while you use Carrollton. It sounds as though from your replies you prefer the 'direct route' (danger) than opting for the safer route on the parallel streets (all the stop signs, as you said). None of us can see much justification for that reason, unless it's more than that.. If you stay on Carrollton, I have a feeling you'll have plenty of more stories...

  22. #22
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    Well, this was the first time I've had any problem on that route (towards the river), and I've been riding it for almost three years now. If I was heading towards the lake, then, yes, no way I would ride it. Even in a car its an utter nightmare. I did do that for a while when I worked in Metairie and the only bad part was going under I-10, but for that I took the sidewalk to pass the I-10 entrance, then just got back on Carrollton. Again, never had a problem.
    So far as the my route goes, pre-construction there was plenty of space, same as St. Charles until it splits into two lanes. Once the construction started, morning traffic was sloooow, as there were workers on the street, and heavy vehicles going along (still are) so I actually passed traffic on the neutral ground (the median in the rest of the world). I think time of day played a part in my situation.
    All I can say is that I look forward to the day all of this construction is done, as the finished product thus far is great, and will be a pleasure to pedal on.

  23. #23
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    Van driver should be sentenced to riding a bike for a month. That would be a good change of perspective for him.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by bme107
    Add a small bar end mirror?
    +1 The best safety (though nerdy) device I ever bought.

    I had one guy in Champaign almost 30 years ago, now, take exception to my taking the lane and honking at me at the light. He passed me in the dogleg intersection almost grazing me because I did not maitain the lane but cut the corner to let him by. Lesson learned. I was OK with dismissing him as a butthead, until he waved so smarmily at his nearly hitting me (my close cut saved me) that I gave him a sweeping one finger Italian Salute from my knee to full arm extension. He pulled over and stopped and I caught him in seconds. Apparently he didn't stand for being flipped off by anyone I thought if you didn't drive and act the butthead, you'd have no problem, but let him rant. He was about 5' 4" in lifts and maybe 130 pounds, about my age. I was 6"0" and a solid 190. So when he threatened to "kick my ass" as part of his short man syndrome fit, I just crossed my arms spread my feet and said "I don't much fancy your chances". Summoning my Clint Eastwood, "Do ya feel lucky, Punk? Well. do ya?" Squint and all. A stunned look came over his face as he looked up and truly saw for the first time he that had a fairly sizeable, fit, 30 year old man barely controlling his temper, and not some teenager he could intimidate. He turned sort of white, explained he had a pizza getting cold and his daughter to get home, and he made good time getting in and driving off. So keeping my cool helped. Beating him to a pulp in front of his 10 year old daughter would have been bad form whether he started the fracas and deserved it or not. I wonder if he has kept his original front teeth all these years....
    Last edited by BrianMc; 05-21-2010 at 06:56 PM.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by BrianMc
    +1 The best safety (though nerdy) device I ever bought.

    I had one guy in Champaign almost 30 years ago, now, take exception to my taking the lane and honking at me at the light. He passed me in the dogleg intersection almost grazing me because I did not maitain the lane but cut the corner to let him by. Lesson learned. I was OK with dismissing him as a butthead, until he waved so smarmily at his nearly hitting me (my close cut saved me) that I gave him a sweeping one finger Italian Salute from my knee to full arm extension. He pulled over and stopped and I caught him in seconds. Apparently he didn't stand for being flipped off by anyone I thought if you didn't drive and act the butthead, you'd have no problem, but let him rant. He was about 5' 4" in lifts and maybe 130 pounds, about my age. I was 6"0" and a solid 190. So when he threatened to "kick my ass" as part of his short man syndrome fit, I just crossed my arms spread my feet and said "I don't much fancy your chances". Summoning my Clint Eastwood, "Do ya feel lucky, Punk? Well. do ya?" Squint and all. A stunned look came over his face as he looked up and truly saw for the first time he that had a fairly sizeable, fit, 30 year old man barely controlling his temper, and not some teenager he could intimidate. He turned sort of white, explained he had a pizza getting cold and his daughter to get home, and he made good time getting in and driving off. So keeping my cool helped. Beating him to a pulp in front of his 10 year old daughter would have been bad form whether he started the fracas and deserved it or not. I wonder if he has kept his original front teeth all these years....
    LOL!! Classic!

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