Intersectional Conflict

As I approached an intersection with no cars close behind me, I took the lane. By which I mean I moved left, positioned my bike in the center traffic lane and proceeded to the stoplight. Since I was traveling straight through the intersection, I made sure to leave room for cars turning right to do so. When the light changed, I would cross quickly and angle right so that I would be as far right as safely possible by the time I reached the other side. 

I was a bit winded, but the sun felt good on my back as I waited for the green. Suddenly I was engulfed in cigarette smoke. Someone near me had been hotboxing Marlboros. I breathed slowly thorough my nose, trying to avoid an asthma attack.

A blue car rolled through the turn lane on my right, and the driver asked if I was turning or going straight. 

"I'm going straight," I smiled, wondering how he was confused. I wasn't in the left-turn lane, I wasn't in the right-turn lane, I was in the center lane. The going-straight lane. The place I would be if I were driving a car straight through the intersection.

"Well," he started yelling, "You...need to be over....on the....." he gestured through the haze with his cigarette, too agitated to continue.

I waited for him to finish, watching him get progressively angrier. I wasn't sure where he thought I should be. In front of him blocking the turn lane? Should I explain that it actually is legal for me to be in traffic while I travel through the intersection*? Point out that I had left plenty of room for him to turn right? Could I inhale to speak without triggering an asthma attack? Not that he paused long enough for me to say anything at all. He was wildly more angry than the situation warranted, even if I had been in the wrong. Did he have a gun in the car? 

I listened politely as he became even more furious, "You...need to follow...the right...rules!" he spit-shouted, and then he peeled off.

Okay, then.

The light changed, and I crossed the street, angling right, doing my best to ride courteously and leave room for cars to pass. Hyper aware of my own vulnerability. At the next corner, I signaled and turned right. 

The dude in the blue car was waiting for me! He had circled around out of his way to yell at me some more.  I caught a glimpse of red goatee and long-fingered hands as he screamed, "STAY...OUT...OF...TRAFFIC!" at me. I ignored him and kept riding, evaluating escape routes if he tried to run me down. Listening hard  for him to double-back and scanning the bank building nearby for exterior cameras.

No one, not even Angry Dude, wanted me out of traffic in that moment more than I did. That's where I was going anyway: to the trails that are out of traffic. But I have to ride about a mile on mixed use trails and streets to get there. 

The intersectional conflict of drivers and cyclists is an ongoing flashpoint, where cyclists are always on the losing side. Most cyclists are reasonable, and just doing the best they can amid constantly changing traffic conditions and roadside hazards that occasionally push bikes out into a traffic lane. We're frustrated by the few cyclist jerks too. Most of us are also drivers. We get it.

I love watching how other people and social groups come into conflict. I hate having conflict of my own. I suspect that the angry dude was actually angry about something else entirely, and seeing me set him off somehow. Or maybe he hates all cyclists and yells at every single one. Or maybe he just yells at cyclists who are riding alone. Or who are riding while female. Whether or not he intended to be threatening, I certainly thought he was dangerous. Which is why I will be reporting him. 

* From Colorado statute 42-4-1412. Operation of bicycles and other human-powered vehicles, 5.a.III: 

  1. A bicyclist may use a lane other than the right-hand lane when:
    1. Preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private roadway or driveway;
    2. Overtaking a slower vehicle; or
    3. Taking reasonably necessary precautions to avoid hazards or road conditions.
  2. Upon approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right-turn lane, a bicyclist may ride on the left-hand portion of the dedicated right-turn lane even if the bicyclist does not intend to turn right.

Update: I emailed with a helpful local police officer who is also a cyclist. Here's what he had to say:

As irritating as rude/vocal drivers can be, it is generally not illegal to yell at cyclists (or pedestrians, or other drivers) for practices they (incorrectly) view as violations to traffic rules.  The most common exception to this would be if the subject addresses abusive language or threats to a person which creates a clear and present danger of violence (for example: a driver yells that he/she is going to beat you up and the threat is presented in a manner that leads you to believe the aggressor will follow through with the threat).  This would be considered Disorderly Conduct.  In that case I would suggest obtaining the license plate and report the situation to police.  

We commiserated about a general lack of driver education about cycling rules/rights, and he's going to put together a PSA type of message for the area neighborhood watch newsletter. Hopefully word will trickle out to drivers.