Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bummer Encounters

I actually find it mostly pleasant interacting with cars in the city. There is a type of negative interaction that always sticks with me in a bad way. It happens maybe once every 4 rides, and I've taken to calling them "Bummer Encounters." These are interactions with motorists in which neither party really does anything wrong, but both sides leave with reinforced stereotypes and general bad vibes. Here's an example:

I took my first ride up Rocky Butte a couple of days ago. It's about 11 miles from the apartment, and instead of using a map, I decided to make a game of following the bike route markers (little bike symbols marking turns on the pavement and occasional junction signs) to get home. I rolled up to a stop sign at a busy cross street intersection. A minivan opposite me was already there, waiting to turn left onto the busy street. Since the van had the right-of-way, I took the opportunity to check out the sunset and have a drink (of water!). Little did I know a Bummer Encounter was unfolding. Either the driver didn't realize he had gotten to the intersection first, or he had been trying to yield his right-of-way to me. In other words, he'd been waiting for me to go and had maybe passed up a chance or two of his own. I gathered this quickly as he rolled down his window, leaned out, and looked like a person about to yell something not-too-nice at me.

Well, just before he did, a horn--beep-beep friendly style--signalled me that the cross traffic wanted to let me through. I took the opportunity to ride straight across and up to the minivan's window. I'm not a confrontational person, and I really wanted to diffuse this potential Bummer Encounter by explaining that the right-of-way was his, and I'm sorry if I missed your signals, but we cyclers would rather you just do your legal thing here. So, I rolled up to the window, and closer inspection reveals he's more upset than maybe I realized. A little confused, I say something really erudite: "Hey, what's up, man?" As I say this, the driver turns away and the power window winds slowly up in my face--comically slowly, really. I see he has a couple of car seats in back.

I stand there a second by the closed window sort of befuddled (more than usual). He keeps his head turned, and that's that. Who knows, but my guess is at best he likes cyclers on the road a little bit less, and at worst, he confused my action as aggressive, critical mass style biker dude. Neither of us really did anything wrong. He should have been more aware of his right-of-way, and I should have payed him more attention. But, nothing 10 seconds of chatting couldn't have straightened out. Shoot, a real Bummer Encounter.

These things happen between cars at intersections all the time. You know what I mean. People wind up mouthing things behind glass, but they get over it pretty quickly. From my time logging complaints about cyclers in Missoula, I think that these incidents make more of an impression when a bicycle is involved. Probably, it's just because Bummer Encounters are so common between cars and so uncommon (even in Portland) car-to-bike.

I still haven't successfully diffused a BE-in-the-making. I feel like it's hard to communicate verbally with drivers without coming off as aggressive, especially when there's already a "situation," however silly it may be. Anyone have any stories with happy endings?

On a more positive note, the ride up Rocky Butte was well worth it. Best panorama of SE Portland and the Cascades I've seen so far from the nifty park up top. The climb's not bad, either, a little sketchy through the tunnel maybe. Oh, and the bike route that took me back home worked great. I think there was only one intersection where I was left guessing a little. Portland's on to something with the bike route markings, for sure. Thanks to all those responsible!



Blogger Greg! said...

Here's one with a happy ending, courtesy of "Crazy Biker Chick".

10:01 PM  
Anonymous boner said...

i would put the blame on you. everyone should be putting there full attention when on the road. if you want to view the sunset or drink water pull off the road. if you were paying attention you would see the driver wave you thru or you could wave him thru. accidents and bumner encounters would dissapear if we just payed more attension. sorry if this sounds preachy but face it is it true. thank you and safe riding and driveing, boner

12:48 PM  
Blogger ScruffySpokes said...

Yay, another portland cyclist!
I don't know my way around a map from a papersack, have any awesome trails or views via bike you'd recomend? I'd appreciate it.

Anyway, I for the most part have a smooth time of it with traffic too(knocok on wood, the only real issues happen like this, when they try to be polite and yield a right of way resulitng in confusion or a biker out in the open when others aren't so keen on yielding. It seems a drivers attempt to be extra nice to a cyclist can often result in more misunderstanding. A little more patience and education though will hopefully dwindle these "bummer encounters."

3:53 PM  
Blogger BicycleCommuter said...

Greetings from the East coast!

About two weeks ago, I ended up with a good ending to what started as a bad encounter. On my way to work, I had a minivan dash around me, as we approached a red light; I guess they had to be first. Unfortunately, there was a left turn lane, full of cars. The van just didn't have enough room to make it and ended up cutting me off. We both slammed on our breaks and we had one of those awkward moments of who goes first. I sit still, wanting to be sure I know where this driver is going. A little way down the road, I hop onto a bike trail and he continues down the road. About a half mile down the bike trail, I'm approaching a road crossing and sure enough, the same van is approaching the intersection. I dutifully stop, he stops at the crosswalk and waves me through, even though I had the stop sign. Apology accepted.

BTW, I like the blog. I post some of my musings at http://dtrick.org. I'm not car free, but put nearly as many miles on bike in a year as I do a car.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Thanks bicyclecommuter. Congrats on achieving car/bike balance the hard way! I had to get rid of the car to make it. Happy riding this year.

2:29 PM  

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