Bicyclists cruise along the Beltline past a mural by HENSE under Virginia Avenue. (Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com)
Photo: Ben Gray
Photo: Ben Gray

Obnoxious on two wheels: A lesson in bicycle rights

Let’s start with this as a given: Atlanta drivers are nuts. And a mea culpa. We’re impatient, unfocused and generally dyspeptic.

Now, on to bicyclists. Many of them are doing their share to make drivers angry — often intentionally so.

For years, there has been an uneasy co-existence between cars and bikes, a struggle to share the road between two camps who often see the worst in each other.

To bicyclists, motorists are pushy, lazy, exhaust-belching blockheads. To drivers, bicyclists are preachy, preening, sanctimonious prigs.

To that point, I encountered one of the latter the other afternoon.

I was driving through the Candler Park neighborhood, north on Clifton Road, when I got behind a young guy and woman riding side-by-side in the two-lane street. They were going 12 mph and the road was doubled-lined, a no-pass zone. No sweat, I figured, there are parked cars off to the right and one of the bikers will ease over when given the chance.

Finally, there was an opening for them to pull over — three or four houses of no parked cars. But, they didn’t. The dude kept pedaling (barely) in the middle of the lane.

After a block or so, I gave him a love tap with my horn, a light toot, mind you, to let him know there was a growing cavalcade behind him.

The rider turned, yelled something, made a hand gesture and then … went slower. In fact, there was a slight decline in the road, so he had to be applying his brakes. He was punishing me.

When I did finally pass, I rolled down the passenger window and hollered that he didn’t need to be such a jerk. He shouted that bikes are allowed by law to ride side-by side and then started yelling something else. I ended the conversation diplomatically, suggesting he perform an act that is physically impossible. He then went off, shouting and cursing and finally riding faster, like he wanted to catch me.

Part of me wanted to stop and see what he had. Instead, I accelerated. AJC management frowns on their employees’ mugshots appearing on local TV.

My first thought driving away was, “I’m glad you guys lost out on getting those bike lanes on Peachtree Road!”

And, I venture, bicyclists like that are a good reason 70 percent of the 2,000 residents commenting to the Georgia Department of Transportation said, “No way!” when it came to the Peachtree lanes.

Sample comments:

     
  • “While encouraging bicycling is an admirable goal, it should not come at the expense of ease of flow of automobile traffic nor should it be a safety hazard, which four-foot-wide bike lanes certainly are.”
  •  
  • “Please be realistic. People need their cars to commute or shop along Peachtree. Add turn lanes, do not reduce lanes.”
  •  
  • There was also support: “I use Ponce de Leon as both a cyclist and a driver several times per week. Restriping (there) has made it far safer and more usable for me as a cyclist, and as a driver, I haven’t noticed any negative impact on congestion.”
  •  

As a driver, I curse, mutter and think the worst of my fellow man. As a citizen, though, I try to reach for my better self and listen to those who think differently than I.

I have written about biking and bike lanes and “traffic calming” (Orwellian for “sticking it to cars”) and have gotten many responses, several of them from reasonable, decent people who happen to sometimes dress in Spandex.

One was a fellow named Dru Satori, a computer developer from Alpharetta who has biked for 30 years and who often cycles on GA-9, from Alpharetta to Cumming, a 15-mile leg up a busy suburban thoroughfare.

He said Atlanta-area drivers have, in fact, become more accommodating about bicycles, although they pay way less attention, thanks to mobile devices.

“They are not angry at cyclists for being there; they’re angry at cyclists for popping out of nowhere,” he said. “But they didn’t pop out of nowhere.”

Satori has been cursed at and had items thrown at him, including a dirty diaper. He said bicyclists “are taught to ride in a predictable line. Going in and out is dangerous for cyclists. Drivers don’t accurately judge how much a cyclist needs.”

In fact, he was against the bike lanes on Peachtree and would prefer “sharrows,” large arrows painted on the pavement that let drivers know bicycles have a right not to be squished.

He, too, said riding two abreast is an acceptable riding strategy.

“It’s all about courtesy and being practical and safe,” he said. “We give our space when we can and take it when we need to.”

Well, I asked, who was the knucklehead here?

“Candidly, it’s probably both your fault,” he said.

Huh?

I called Ray Glier, an independent sportswriter who is sympatico with me on the issue. Glier lives in Decatur, a land, he said, for “bike militants” where “politicians are almost intimidated by these people. They are the ones speaking the loudest and we’re smog-loving road hogs.”

Glier said he routinely notices bicyclists being “almost intentionally disruptive.” Hear, hear!

“Don’t ride in tandem 15 miles an hour like you own the road,” he said. “I don’t see you at (the county tax office) Memorial Drive buying vehicle tags.”

This week, a bicyclist flipped Glier off. “He was just joy-riding, blocking a whole lane of Commerce” Avenue, a busy street in downtown Decatur. “C’mon, be cognizant of people behind you.”

I called Becky Katz, Atlanta’s new bike czar.

Her charge is to push for bike lanes and other traffic infrastructure that can more easily and safely accommodate bicycles. That, I suppose, is admirable, although it swims upstream amid decades of cars-first, actually, cars-only planning.

We see it through our own lens, said Katz. And everyone is right, even if you’re not. She likened it to the jaywalker yelling at drivers.

“There needs to be a lot of empathy between those using different modes,” she said. “People feel entitled whatever mode they are in.”

If I were a pop psychoanalyst — which, of course, I am — I’d define this as a case of “I’m OK. You’re not OK.”

It certainly was in my case. I think.

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