Lessons learned from a close call
Editor’s note: I’ve introduced a new blog category for posts like this, which are more personal and contain limited reporting. The post will still appear on the main page, but will be categorized as a blog.
Yesterday on my way home from the El Grupo points ride I was nearly sandwiched between a turning vehicle and a police car.
The incident occurred one block north of Mountain Avenue and Grant Road.
I was heading north on Mountain Avenue and crossed the intersection at about 20 miles per hour. On my left, a person was trying to turn left onto Grant despite it being before 9 a.m., which means it was illegal to make the left. While that left didn’t affect me, it made the driver behind them angry and aggressive.
As I crossed the intersection, I noticed that a police car parked a block up the road was slightly in the bike lane. There was certainly enough room to safely pass and continue in the bike lane, but I moved to the left side of the bike lane.
Just at the moment I began to pass the police car on my right, a driver in a Toyota 4Runner began turning right onto Spring Street and into me. He had not passed me and then decided to turn, he was turning into me at the same time I was crossing the intersection.
I made the turn with him and had to navigate between the police car and the 4Runner.
I started yelling to try to get his attention to so that he would stop turning, which would give me more space to maneuver.
Somehow, and I an not sure how, I ended up on the left side of the street with the driver behind me. As he passed he started screaming, “F*** you, I didn’t see you.” I screamed back saying he could have killed me. At which point he screamed the same thing at me.
This time I responded with a curse of my own.
He then told me he would be parked up the street and insinuated he wanted to fight me. I thought better of following him, but instead went to talk to one of the police officers who saw the whole thing happen.
I asked Officer Hansen, who was one of two officers responding to a fender bender, if she would follow him.
She told me that since I didn’t get hit, there wasn’t anything she could do. I said, “So what you are telling me, to get you to do something, I would have had to have been hit by a car?”
When I continued to protest, she told me she was a community officer, which meant she couldn’t perform traffic stops, something which Erik Ryberg of TucsonBikeLawyer.com said he believed to be accurate.
Ryberg said that although the officer may not have been able to do anything based on her community officer designation, the driver could have been cited for many things including making an improper turn, failure to yield or threatening to fight me, which is a misdemeanor.
I continued to protest with the officer saying that he had threatened to fight me or run me over with his car. Eventually, to her credit, she got in her car and drove down the street looking for the driver.
A few blocks down, she located the driver and told him he had violated the law and needed to pay attention.
I wanted to speak with him as well since we had both calmed down. I wanted to illustrate that I am a human being and that not seeing me was not an excuse.
The first thing I did was take off my sunglasses and introduce myself. He gave me all the excuses he could think of. He argued that if the person at Grant had not made the illegal left turn, he would have been long gone before I ever got to the intersection. He also told me again that he just didn’t see me when he made the turn.
I was wearing my bright red, white and blue jersey so I was hard to miss. I suspect he was paying attention to the police cars on the side of the road rather than anything else.
In a respectful way, I told him that not seeing me wasn’t an excuse and that not seeing a cyclist doesn’t keep him or her alive.
It was frustrating that it took so much convincing to get the police officer to follow up with the driver, but I was glad she finally did. I hope that because the officer took the time to tell him he violated the law, combined with the conversation that we had — that he learned that cyclists do have rights, that we are people just like him and that he needs to pay attention.
I am also hopeful the encounter left him without the anger that most road altercations create between cyclists and motorists.
What do you think? Would you have done something differently?