Home > Guest Writer, Public Anecdotes, Safety Issues > Just say’in, sometimes angry motorists deserve a little visit from our friends in blue

Just say’in, sometimes angry motorists deserve a little visit from our friends in blue

The Harassment Incident

Guest Contributor: Bill Palladino

Yesterday, while taking a loop downtown on my sweet little Purple cyclocross bike, on my way to a local cafe’, I was accosted by a driver in a Subaru.  I was heading eastbound on State Street in the left-hand lane, more or less in front of Modes’.   I was preparing to turn left on Cass Street, so this was a reasonable and perfectly legal maneuver. I could hear a car to my left-rear obviously laboring to pass me, but I held my lane, keeping myself positioned in the middle of the lane.

As I pulled even with Max’s Service the car lunged by me on my right revving his little four-cylinder engine (reenactment). The occupant, a middle-aged man in a scraggly beard, then began yelling out the window and pointing insistently. “There’s an entire  #^%&ing bike lane over there you @#$%ing   #$%hole.  Get in the %^%ing bike lane.” (Reenactment not available).

I said nothing in response at this point, but accelerated to get a better look at his license plate. He kept yelling at me through his open window as he sped off. I imagine he was greatly intimidated by the 19 pound aluminum and steel beast I was riding.  Boo, yah!

The quick of it is, it’s my right to be in that lane, or any lane I choose to be, as long as I’m not unreasonably impeding traffic flow.  The bike lane is an extra-added solution that is completely optional.  It’s also my right to be in the city where I live, and to not be called nasty names by a complete stranger!

Who ya going to call?

This type of verbal assault is a nuisance, no doubt.  But it’s also this simple type of incident that often easily escalates to physical violence.  I feel pretty strongly that people need to understand the rules of the road, so I jotted down the guy’s license plate and quickly did what I’ve been told to do by both City Police staff and by my friends at the Cherry Capital Cycling Club.  I called the City Of Traverse City non-emergency line to begin the process of making an official report.  This number is for problems that don’t require calling 911, and is: (231) 995-5150 .

Again, that’s (231) 995-5150.

The author describing the incident to the dispatched officer.

Calling this number will get you a quick recording reminding you of its non-emergency use.  And after pushing a button or two I was then forwarded very quickly to a pleasant-sounding woman who heard my complaint.

I said, “I want to make a complaint about a person in a car verbally abusing a bicyclist in downtown Traverse City.”

She replied, “Very good. And are you the bicyclist?” I confirmed and I gave her my name.

She then asked me what had transpired, where, and if I was able to provide a description of the vehicle.  I relayed all this to her, and she asked one last question: “Do you want me to send an officer out to take an official report?”  I told her I wanted to do whatever it would take to ensure that this guy in the Subaru got a talking to by an officer.  She replied, “That’s exactly what will happen, I’ll dispatch an officer right away.

About 20 minutes later TC Police Officer Jeremy Medeppennigen showed up on my doorstep. “How’s it goin’?” he said casually.  “Fine,” I said and we introduced each other.  Then I told him the whole story.  “You did the right thing calling us.  You have a right to be in that lane. The bike lane is there as an option and a courtesy,” he replied.

Sometimes a reminder is neededGive them a call

I asked him if he would track down the driver, and he said they’d already done the check on the license number, and that yes, he’d get a talking to when they found him.  He also said this is something they do a lot of at the Police Department, and that it works. He said, “sometimes people just need to have the law explained to them.

Summing it up, I have to admit that my experience with the TC Police was right on point.  They were supportive, fact-based, and very friendly.  More importantly, I never got the feeling that calling them in on something like this was either an annoyance or a bother.  This is something I’d encourage you all to do when you come across unreasonable people who feel a need to toss verbal abuse your way… whether they be car drivers or cyclists. Learning to live together here is something we should all have as a priority.


Editor’s Extra:

From the Michigan Penal Code and Motor Vehicle Handbook, the applicable law, emphasized in bold is the most appropriate section:

257.660a Operation of bicycle upon highway or street; riding close to right-hand curb or edge of roadway; exceptions. A person operating a bicycle upon a highway or street at less than the existing speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except as follows:

(a) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

(b) When preparing to turn left.

(c) When conditions make the right-hand edge of the roadway unsafe or reasonably unusable by bicycles, including, but not limited to, surface hazards, an uneven roadway surface, drain openings, debris, parked or moving vehicles or bicycles, pedestrians, animals, or other obstacles, or if the lane is too narrow to permit a vehicle to safely overtake and pass a bicycle.

(d) When operating a bicycle in a lane in which the traffic is turning right but the individual intends to go straight through the intersection.

(e) When operating a bicycle upon a 1-way highway or street that has 2 or more marked traffic lanes, in which case the individual may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

(Laws are available online, which M-Bike has kindly posted links to, as well as the full text of bicycle laws. Thanks, Todd!)

  1. Will
    August 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Thanks Bill. This gives me more confidence no knowing my rights are supported by local police. Great story.

  2. JohnRobertWilliams
    August 19, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Bill, once again, the combination of a confusing one-way street system and a confused, short-fused driver are a potent mix. If State Street was NOT one-way street, chances are you would not be riding way over on the left to make a left turn.
    Traverse City is stuck with a 1960’s traffic experiment, to move traffic faster, by having two lane drag strips downtown. Some day, sanity and rational thought will prevail and we will not continue to set up this road course to confuse bad drivers and lost visitors.

    Join with me to eradicate this road nonsense and bring civility to to the streets of Traverse City. (if one-way streets are such a good idea, name another downtown up here with a one-way street)

  3. Henry Morgenstein
    August 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Wonderful. Terrific. Educate me. Educated others. Raise important issues. Spark debate. A well told tale.

    I really know very little about the rules of the road when it comes to bicycles. As the Brits would say “good on ya” — and how great to hear the very sane response from all the authorities involved.

  4. August 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    JRW, I like the idea of putting effort into making State Street a two-way street again. Even if it is separate from a Front Street campaign. Actually, the more I think about it, it makes sense to have this designed ASAP, along side any support for the West End parking deck. My main criticism of that project is the generated traffic and where does it go. As is, it will be forced to circulate through downtown center no matter what direction it is going. Thinking….

    Chatter at the MyWHaT Facebook page is good too. Way to spark the discussion, Bill.

    From Kate: Nicely done Bill. I have similar experiences, way too frequently. I usually respond with my middle finger, but your approach sounds more productive. I’ll give it a try next time 🙂

    Gary: You know, I don’t have this happen that often, however, when it does happen it amplifies itself and dominates my experience for longer than need be allowed. I like the approach of calling it in, creating a report and broadcasting the license plate number.

    Emily: Thanks for sharing this story, Bill. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have escaped this level of harassment so far… I have found that impatience with cyclists (and pedestrians) and the accompanying rudeness that seems to stem from a…n ignorance of traffic laws is all too common in this town. For years I tried to carry “Share the Road” pamphlets with me in hopes of handing them out to offending motorists. Of course, I discovered it’s fairly impossible to give a pamphlet to an idiot who’s squealing out to make a right hand turn right in from of me or tearing out from that position on a driveway that’s blocking the sidewalk. So, I just put that phone # in my cell phone “favorites”… no foolin’!

    Bill: Well said Emily. It’s important to note that handing someone something when they don’t want it can be seen as an invasion of their personal space. So I tend to stay away from that. Typically I smile and wave to these fools as if I mis-heard their rants. It really confuses them, and leaves me with a small victory. Big props go out to TC Police Officer Jeremy Medeppennigen for the honorable way he handled this. I suspect they don’t get enough of that.

  5. August 20, 2010 at 3:03 am

    Fantastic! We could use a lot more stories like this.

  6. August 20, 2010 at 6:34 am

    I had a very similar exchange with a Front Street motorist. I was turning left on to Union. I asked him/her – as i couldn’t tell through the darkness of my lens and the early morning light – if he/she would rather me cut across two lanes at the last moment. He/she mumbled something and drove off.

  7. Dave
    December 16, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Interesting. I wonder what the threshold is before a police officer would come out in any city I ride in. I get tired of these antics but I should probably make sure I’m educated more in full–though I’ve read this law before.

    Is there a certain legality to a police officer addressing such behavior? Would it proably require some type of foul language on the part of a driver? I get beeped at and told to get off the road OR on the sidewalk not on every ride, but more often than I’d like. I’m the type that would rather people be educated at least of the basics.

  8. Bill Palladino
    December 17, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Dave; My experience is that you can create your own threshold in your community. Work with the cops. The lesson I’ve learned though is that once engaged you must understand that such engagement from law enforcement comes with a second and very sharp edge. It requires that bicyclists too be civil and respect the rules of the road, lest they be reported too. Last summer I was out in a rural area some 15 miles from town and I did one of those rolling stops at a stop sign. Small community that it is, a farmer saw me, recognized me, and called it in. I came home to a flurry of embarrassing emails and phone messages. It was a mea culpa moment that I deserved.

  9. Dave
    December 17, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Thanks Bill. Rules are rules I suppose is one defense, but people should use logic. No one is going to call on a car for doing that, and it happens often (maybe not there though–I don’t know). Not to mention speeding, and a bicycle is very different from a car in terms of stopping or slowing and starting. I’d love to present a case with science (physics) backing it up, if it’s not already there–thought I saw something.

    Bikes are not a concern, therefore rules aren’t made separately for them in most cases. This being near a farmer, it couldn’t have been THAT busy (unless it was only near a farmer, but not a farm). Farmer needs to get a life. I enjoy a simple activity and tire of people harassing me. I’ve never created a danger by such activity that I’m aware of.

    The only thing I actually have any trouble with and wouldn’t mind doing research on, is gauging the distance and speed of cars behind me with my mirror in a limited amount of time, if possible, without turning my head to look behind me.

  10. Breanne
    July 9, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Excellent, excellent post.

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