Opinion: The Drivers I’ve Angered While Riding My Bike On Chicago’s Streets

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I’m not one of those year-round bikers, traversing through sub-zero temps and blizzards. I’m a fair-weather friend, biking six miles to work the three months of the year it’s reliably over 70 degrees. Once temperatures dip back into the 50s, I abandon ship.

So it is with a heavy heart that I officially announce the retirement of my bike… for at least seven to eight months.

To honor my two-wheeled friend, I wanted to reflect on a few of the drivers who yelled, honked and swore at me during my last two-bike rides of the season.

To the woman who wouldn’t stop yelling “Why?!” at me out her window… I’m not sure I understand what you were asking.

Why was I riding my bikes? To get from point A to point B.

Why was I riding in the street? Because that’s where I’m legally supposed to be.

I have some questions for you…

Why did you quickly change lanes without looking, nearly mowing me down? You were in heavy traffic coming up to a red light… You couldn’t turn right at the intersection… What was your motivation?

To the guy who laid on his horn as I changed lanes… What’s so confusing about a bike going from one designated bike line to another?

Seriously, I signaled, I looked, I saw you far behind me. You were nowhere near me, let alone in danger of hitting me, when you glued your hand firmly to your horn. Most baffling, you kept your hand on your horn long after I made it to the bike turning lane, scowling at me as you passed, before coming to a screeching halt at the red light. What’s your deal?

To the person who rode up next to me and repeatedly called me a “dumb firetruck” for no discernible reason… Thanks!

(To be clear, she didn’t call me a “firetruck.” She called me something that rhymes with “firetruck.”)

When I heard the uncontrollable anger in your voice; when I looked to my left and saw the red-hot rage in your face… I couldn’t help but smile. I want you to know that it is your rage that fuels me as I peddle my bike six miles home at night.

I’m not sure what exactly angered you. I remember turning my head and seeing your SUV far off in the background before I passed another biker. Maybe it was this intrusion on your lane that made you speed up, roll down your window and scream obscenities at me. Sure, you eventually rolled up your window and stopped yelling, but only after coming to a sudden halt at a red light (a common occurrence for angry drivers, apparently). I guess yelling at me was only acceptable when it was easy for you to drive away?

Thankfully for both of us, I said nothing back. I didn’t try to argue with you, or throw any of the names you called me back at you. I just sat their next to your car on my bike, the smuggest smirk I could muster on my face.

The worst part about these examples?

It’d invariably be worse if I were a woman.

As a man, I’m not burdened with the other kinds of harassment women have to deal with. I do not have to worry about men yelling from the streets and sidewalks about what I’m wearing or the shape of my body.

“As a woman, I’m constantly operating with the low-level fear that any man might attack me,” one woman told the Washington Post when asked about street harassment while biking in the Washington D.C. area.

The article’s great, you should read it. One of the many aspects it tackles is the misconception that street harassment isn’t a widespread. As it turns out, women, along with individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, experience harassment while biking constantly.

So guys, don’t harass people. Don’t “compliment” people as they ride their bikes down the street. Keep your jokes to yourself. Don’t catcall, wolf whistle or honk. And if your friends do this kinda crap, it is your responsibility to yell at them.

Anyway, back to my dumber topic: the eternal, exaggerated and ridiculous war between bikers and drivers.

In the hopes of helping to end this war, I have a gift for all three of the fearless drivers that apparently hate me…

A lesson on traffic laws in Chicago!

So where is a biker supposed to legally ride their bike? Well, it depends on the situation. Generally, bikers are supposed to ride “as near as practicable and safe to the right-hand side of the roadway.”

There are several exceptions to this rule though. For example, if I want to pass another vehicle or bike, it is legal to do so. If I want to get into the left lane to turn, it is legal for me to do so. If the right-hand side of the street or the bike lane is blocked by absolutely anything — an illegally parked car, construction, or whatever else you can think of — I’m legally allowed to move farther left to avoid those obstacles. If I want to avoid a right-turn lane, it is legal for me to move farther left.

So, yes, there are plenty of moments where I’m allowed to intrude on your precious lanes. I just have to make sure to signal.

And those pesky bikers who weave through traffic to get ahead of cars at red lights? I’m one of those people. Why? Because the Chicago Department of Transportation recommends it.

“Pull in front of traffic when waiting at intersections,” they recommend in their Safe Cycling in Chicago booklet. “This allows you to be seen by stopped motorists…”

Can you see me?!

Do these laws exempt cyclists from following the law or being jerks? Of course not.

The truth is, plenty of bikers are jerks.

In fact, if there’s anything I’ve learned from driving, biking and using public transportation, it’s that people are jerks. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a car, on a bike or walking across the street.

Most people are jerks.

So it’s not drivers vs bikers vs pedestrians. It’s jerks vs the rest of us. And, honestly, if you’re the kind of person drawing lines in the sand when it comes to a person’s choice of transportation, you’re probably at least a little bit of a jerk. There are jerk drivers, there are jerk bikers, there are jerk pedestrians. The only difference is that drivers happen to be in control of one-ton killing machines on wheels.

Knowing that I’m surrounded by jerks at all times, I do my best to let go of the anger that wells up inside of me when jaywalkers step out in front of my bike without looking, bikers nearly mow me down because they refuse to slow down at red lights and drivers throw fits that they have to share the same streets with me.

When I find myself getting angry, I tell myself to chill out.

Maybe you should do the same?

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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