Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No sooner posted than ...

In my last entry I praised the overwhelming majority of Seattle drivers for their attention and their general consideration in sharing the road with bicyclists, pedestrians, and each other. There are bad apples, of course, as I acknowledged at the time, just as there are bad apples in every city, but of all the major cities in this country that I've ever bicycled or driven in, Seattle has some of the most attentive and polite drivers, generally speaking.

On the theory that once you make such an unambiguous judgment the sky is sure to fall in on you, I posted that last entry with some trepidation. But I was mostly concerned with my own responsibility as a driver to stay attentive to bicyclists and pedestrians. I hardly gave my behavior as a bicyclist a second thought. So it was with some surprise that two weeks ago, when I made my last bike commute, just before the first big snowstorm hit Seattle (but after a smaller one from which a little ice was still on the roads), and just before I posted my last entry, I had myself a little run-in with one of those bad Seattle apples. Not so bad that someone got hurt, but certainly what I consider an exception that proves the rule.

I was half a block from home, having taken a bus most of the way back from work, complemented by 3.5 miles of bicycling in between. I rode more that morning, but coming home it was dark as well as cold and still a little icy. I turned right onto my (residential) block, noticing as I did that there was a car coming from my left, which I expected would soon catch up. It seemed to be going a little fast for a residential street, but it was also coming into a big intersection planter that would check its immediate speed, so I was safe in turning ahead of him, and as I reached the unsigned intersection a couple seconds ahead of him I clearly had the right of way.

Because I knew there was ice on the street, and also because I would be turning left into my driveway half a block later, I didn't want this driver speeding past on my left, so I rode down the middle of the street, probably going 12-15 mph. A quarter of a block later, the driver starts honking.

I stop in the middle of the street, placing my bike perpendicular to our direction of travel, turn back at the driver, and give him the universal "slow down" signal by pushing my palm downward. He's driving a BMW. Then I give him the "hang loose" sign, waggling my thumb and pinky finger, and turn to continue home. The driver rolls down his window and starts yelling.

He's not profane, but he's really mad. Doubtless he'd been continuing through the neighborhood faster than the speed limit while bypassing traffic lights on the parallel arterial just one block away. This happens a lot on my block.

I'm really angry myself, to the point where it's hard for me to actually talk. I point to the street in front of me. "That's ice!" I manage.

He's quiet for a moment, then says "I take it back."

Got It?!" I ask, probably unnecessarily.

"Got it," he replies. I continue with him following, and two houses later signal my left turn, then pull over to the left side of the street in front of my house to watch him pass.

He stops, rolling down his window to say "What you're doing is illegal. I talked to a cop about it and he backed me up."

"You're wrong about that," I say, thinking of RCW 46.61.770, "and besides that, this is a residential street," referring to what I expect is his cut-through driving.

He drives off. I can't help but imagine that we'll meet again. I should probably print out a copy of RCW 46.61.770 and put it into my bike backpack in case we do, as I figure he still has no clue about what's legal and what's not, and is probably still feeling aggrieved about being made to slow down for a few seconds that day.

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