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Bicycle/driver confrontation philosophies: escalation vs. detente

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
Bicycling bliss is vulnerable. So much depends on maintaining peace with the automobiles swirling the streets, deadly as sharks.

Most of the time, bicycling around the city is borderline blissful. The rhythms of pedals lull, and following your front tire’s silent path through the ever-changing city can become addicting. People of all stripes hook themselves on the feeling, so far removed from the contained, tepid stress of driving.

But bicycling bliss is also vulnerable. So much depends on maintaining peace with the automobiles swirling the streets, deadly as sharks. And while most Twin Cities drivers are well behaved, eventually it happens. A horn honks behind you. A driver speeds up and turns in front of your tire as you squeeze the brakes. Someone yells out the window — “Get on the sidewalk!” or (yes, somehow I still hear this) “Hey Lance!” — or throws a fast-food bag at you.

The thin bubble of pleasure bursts in an instant, a trip ruined.

But then what? If a driver yells, honks, or brushes an inch off your elbow, what do you do?

Every bicyclist has a different answer, and attitudes vary from actual violence to nonconfrontation mantras. For some, these moments define their everyday journeys. For others, it’s another opportunity to transcend the stressful world of road rage. Either way, everyone has a unique approach to handling the inevitable bicycle confrontation. 

Two camps 

You can break down confrontation thinking into two broad camps. First, there are those who engage with the offending driver. These practices range from “having the talk” to yelling, to the inevitable middle digit, a cathartic gesture that likely goes unnoticed half the time. (The last time I deployed my middle digit to express my opinion about a car parked in the bike lane, something that I rarely do, the driver sped up and went around me to offer an earful of unintelligible anger.)

“Having the talk” can be difficult, and it’s not something that comes easily to a nonconfrontational Minnesotan. To get a feel for the intensity of one of these situations, check out the video from Mike Sonn, who bikes 5 miles through St. Paul each day. Like many Twin Cities cyclists, Sonn mounts a camera on his rear wheel simply for the purpose of documenting the often dangerous encounters with cars. 

Like many Twin Cities cyclists, Mike Sonn mounts a camera on his rear wheel simply for the purpose of documenting the often dangerous encounters with cars.

For many others, the moment of confrontation is more carefully considered.

“I had a friend who taught me a strategy of confronting a driver by being very calm and pretending the driver was very innocent,” a Minneapolis bicyclist named Hannah Kaplan told me. “Like ‘Oh! Maybe you didn't realize? Cars are legally required to leave 3 feet between them and a bike while passing!" or, "Oh! I see! You think bikes should stay on the sidewalk? That's actually illegal in Minneapolis, and I have to ride on the street!’ The theory behind this was to explain a cyclist's right to exist in the most fault-neutral way possible, and disarm someone's anger.”

All over the city, many bicyclists take it upon themselves to play peacemaker.

“I honestly don’t think most drivers understand what it’s like being in traffic on a bike,” said Linda Winsor, a St. Paul cyclist committed to pedagogy. “One thing I try and do is I try to make eye contact and show how scary it was for me. If there is a chance, I’ll go up to the window to talk. My first comments are usually, ‘Gosh, that was really close, you know. If I wasn’t extra cautious you could have killed me.’ ”

Both Winsor’s and Kaplan’s tactics seem almost impossibly difficult to me. Often, as the Sonn video demonstrates, a near miss leaves a cyclist full of adrenaline, in no state to have a reasoned conversation. But one way to dissolve tense situations is through mediation. 

“Sometimes I’ll see what appears to be a parent with a child — in middle school or high school in the car or something — sometimes those people are the most shocked that they did something dumb,” Winsor told me.

The gentle education strategy has its limits, though. Here’s a story that Hannah Kaplan told me (which I am including at length).

“One day I was riding in Dinkytown with the very woman who taught me the [gentle confrontation] strategy,” Kaplan said. “We were riding single file in a bike lane on University when a man in a 15-passenger van swerved into the bike lane and tried to deliberately run me over while screaming profanity out the window."

“We kept riding and pulled up next to him at a light, where my friend said (very calmly), ‘I'm not sure if you realize, but you almost killed her back there. Vehicular homicide carries a really long jail sentence; I hope for your family's sake that you will be more careful!" at which point the man let loose such a violent stream of profanity — directed, at me, not my friend — that it truly horrified me. And he then GOT OUT OF HIS VAN, abandoning it in the middle of traffic, and attacked us. We were physically uninjured, because two young women on bicycles are a lot more nimble than a fat man trying to run through traffic,” Kaplan continued.

“Honestly, it scared me sufficiently that I abandoned commuting by bicycle shortly thereafter and remain a much less confident cyclist than I was before this happened. It was very striking to me that being a woman on a bicycle left me completely vulnerable to any random anger from drivers, and in pretty much any conflict, I was going to come out on the losing end,” Kaplan said.

The story illustrates the danger of the confrontation approach. I have at least two friends who have found themselves in physical altercations after trying to talk to (or yell at) an angry driver.

Zen and the art of bicycle nonconfrontation

The opposite attitude — which, after Seinfeld, I call “serenity now!” — is to let driver's hostility wash right over you like water off a duck's back, to somehow rise above the menace or threat. Like a 9-year-old confronting a bully, you try to ignore the problem. 

“I simply avoid the people who cause problems," said Andrew Tubesing, a St. Paul bicyclist who embraces willful ignorance. “By engaging aggressive or angry drivers I can only make matters worse. A little zen goes a long way. I take a deep breath, stay clear of the danger as best I can, and ride on (or get off the road, if need be). I don't have to teach anybody anything, and if it's come to the 'confrontation' point already, they're obviously not in a mood to be receptive to any teachings I might have to offer. More likely, anything I say will be used by them to reinforce whatever gripe they already hold.” 

The same principle — one that I share, by the way — holds for Andrew Wambach, a Minneapolis cyclist who told me that “in my philosophy, it's better to ignore the person yelling at you and to not engage. Engaging risks aggravation, and if they are in a car a simple side swipe and you could be hurt or killed.”

Kids: the cure for the confrontation blues

It might be a cliché to say so, but in digging around and talking to people for this story, it came up multiple times: Motherhood can change you.

“Usually I just let it go and shake my head, but I had one lady in a Kia scream at me from her car to get on the sidewalk,” said Janell Walter, a St. Paul cyclist. “I had my 6-year-old on the tagalong behind me, and unfortunately for them they got stopped at the stoplight just ahead. So I rolled up on them and politely said, ‘We can legally be on the road,’ and then pulled up to the light and waited for it to turn green. It was a little more of a conversation with my 6-year-old after that, though, on why someone would do that. Pretty sad when a 6-year-old knows the rules better than most drivers.”

The same rule applies for Dana Demaster, a St. Paul cyclist and mother of two kids.

“When I was younger, if someone did something aggressive I would be up in their face, start yelling and screaming and go up to people’s windows and say ‘What are you doing? I’m a person!’ and remind them of that humanity,” Demaster explained. “But that’s not very effective, and I don’t think it ever changed anyone’s perspective.”

Since she has begun taking children along on rides, Demaster has switched her philosophy to one of contained protection.

“Riding with [my son] Quinn, generally speaking people are super nice and go way out of their way to give us space,” Demaster explained. “But a few people have yelled at us or thrown stuff at us, and it really freaks me out to have someone threaten my child. I get super heated, but I can’t respond because it freaks Quinn out and gets him really wound up. So I usually get to the safest spot possible and point out to him, ‘Well that person was really rude weren’t they?’ or ‘What did you think of what just happened?’ and he’ll say ‘That was scary’ and we’ll talk about how people make those kinds of choices.”

Next time a moment of confrontation happens — and like it or not, there will be a next time — now you have some choices. It’s best to consider it now, because in the moment of confrontation, there’s not much time to think.

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Comments (79)

US = high conflict, EU = low conflict, NL = no conflict (almost)

I try to take the zen approach but sometimes it is really really difficult. :-)

These are largely non issues riding around The Netherlands and similarly in much of Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and elsewhere. Slow bicycle riders have their own network to ride on and don't interfere with or irritate much faster drivers. Right-of-way is almost never ambiguous as it is here since they make ample use of shark's teeth to indicate it. Interactions are between bicycle riders and motor traffic are often eliminated through underpasses for bikeways or very detailed coordination through junctions that mostly eliminate conflict.

Conflict is also noticeably very much less in Shoreview with their protected paths than in neighboring communities like Vadnais Heights, Arden Hills, and St Paul.

Bicycle Safety

My number one complaint about bicyclists is their lack of use of headlights and tail lights while riding at night.
How are motorists supposed to see them?
This absence is noticed on most bicycles I encounter at night.
Often, it is obvious that the rider is a frequent, not an occasional, cyclist and should know better. Perhaps they are "daring" motorists to hit them.
Even reflectors are not in evidence.
If they want motorists respect and if they want us to share the road with them, then I believe they should equip their bicycles properly and for the situation.

Light 'Em Up!

I agree that bikers should have lights at night. I call them organ donors.

But I also have to as--how do you see pedestrians at night? They don't have lights on most of the time.

Personally, I advocate slowing down, leave the cell phone in your pocket, and being aware of your surroundings no matter what type of vehicle you're operating. That'll make the road much safer for everyone.

Pedestrians

Pedestrians should be wearing something reflective at night. I can't believe how often I see pedestrians walking along dark roads wearing all dark clothing. Reflective clothing (or vests, or tape, or whatever) is readily available, and there's really no good reason not to make use of it.

Pedestrians....

..... don't share the road with cars. They are either in the crosswalk or on the sidewalk.

Not always

In areas where there are no sidewalks, they walk along the sides of the road.

Yeah...

And that's where they get run over.

Yup

Hence my point about the need for them to be wearing reflective gear and not all dark clothing as is so often the case (in my experience).

It's not about respect

Saying "if they want motorists [sic] respect ... they should equip their bicycles properly and for the situation" implies that motorists are granting cyclists permission to be on the streets. By law, we require no permission from motorists, and, in fact, historically speaking, it was motorists who were the interlopers; streets used to be commons for all modes, only since the rise of the personal automobile has this ground been ceded to the motorist.

But yes, lights should be used by cyclists, no doubt whatsoever. And nobody in their right mind is "daring" a car to hit them. That is preposterous.

Lights? required

As a cyclist, most others I see DO ride with lights on.... to about the same percentage of drivers that I see who have their lights on after dusk - before sunrise (seriously, it is suprising how many drivers do not turn their lights on when they drive in the morning hours!).

But, lights are required at night and in dim light in Minnesota for cyclists, as per 169.222, subd. 6.

The fill list of cycling laws can be found here.
http://www.dot.state.mn.us/bike/pdfs/MN-BIKE-LAW-CARD.pdf

Nope

"If they want... respect..." Is never a fair statement. Their humanity should be enough to earn your respect.

Being unlit at night is behavior that endangers a cyclist and frustrates drivers who don't want to hit them, but they still deserve your respect.

Good Insight

Adam, you are a very wise and observant person.

Bike Safety

The issue that this article does not address is that many motor traffic drivers don't understand the rules of the road for bikers i.e. they have the same rights on the roadway; and too many bike riders don't follow the rules of the road. The most flagrant violation by bike riders is not stopping for stop signs or lights and thinking they can blow on through without stopping.

Stop It!

Actually, you just listed the second most flagrant violation for drivers too: blowing through stop signs and stop lights without actually stopping.

The top of the list is, of course, speeding.

Indeed

The fact of the matter is that car drivers flout traffic laws just as often as cyclists do, if not more often. The difference being that cyclists are a minority, an outlier, so people notice their infractions more often. Car drivers become inured to the daily scoffing of laws, and so tend to forget it when they see someone speeding or rolling through a stop sign.

Most importantly, one must consider what is at stake when laws are flouted. When motorists break a law, say, speeding, the potential for disastrous outcomes is many orders of magnitude higher than it is for cyclists. A couple thousand pounds of metal will easily kill someone (roughly 40,000 people every year in the US are killed in crashes, and roughly 4.5 million are injured), while cyclists very rarely kill anyone. And, as in boating law, the onus should be on the pilot of the more powerful craft to avoid doing bodily harm.

Cars are oftentimes used as deadly weapons against cyclists, and our legal code does not support bikers in this sense. It is fifth degree assault to threaten a cyclist with one's car (a misdemeanor at best). This strikes me as insufficient.

Ultimately, the reason that car drivers pick on cyclists is because they feel inconvenienced by the cyclist's presence. Feeling inconvenienced is not a good enough reason to threaten someone with bodily harm. But in a car, where you choose the temperature, the music, and the company, one's entire experience is about getting what you want. This selfishness perpetuates a hostile attitude towards those of us who are simply trying to be smart about our health, our financial wellbeing (bikes are way cheaper than cars), and about not unduly polluting the air.

You'd be amazed

I see drivers not stop at stop signs or red lights (either blowing through after it changes or turning right without stopping) all the time. Like almost literally every red light.

Informal Study

I did a little study once and parked my bike at a four way stop sign during rush hour to count all the cars that stopped. Fully 83% simply rolled on through. Of the 17% who fully stopped, most did so only because there was another car that came to the sign the same time they did and they had to sort out who got to go first.

I take a little umbrage at the people who complain that "if only" bikes stopped at the light, then the world would be just fine, all the while ignoring the easily verifiable fact that the majority of cars don't stop.

Did I say majority? I meant vast majority.

This really isn't an issue of bikes or cars stopping at a light, but rather of people not stopping. Generally speaking, people who ride bikes also drive cars and vice versa, so they're complaining about one and the same group.

Heck, that seems high!

Edina did a study to check if adding a red post to a stop sign would increase stopping behaviors (it didn't). BUT it did show 11% of drivers stop for stop signs, nearly as high a percentage as those who rolled the sign at 10 mph or more!

http://edina.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=1825&Me...

to put it another way

if they aim low, you go high

I can't conceive of an approach other than the Zen approach.

My first question is whether I was in the wrong, absentmindedly or otherwise. If so, I process it for the benefit of my future care and humility, and move on.

If not, as in other interactions with unpleasant or inconsiderate people, I remind myself that it's about them, not me, and let them move on or otherwise take myself out of harm's way. Any other response, even with the best intention, almost assuredly will be received in a way that will just escalate the matter. Why take the chance if you're outweighed by a few thousand pounds, and particularly if you've got a child with you, whom you will put at risk if the matter escalates? Use the opportunity to teach the kid later about the complex motivations and unhelpful behaviors of others that they will encounter in the world, how not to take them personally, and how to navigate around them.

My 2¢

I've not ridden a bike since about age 12 – that was 60 years ago – and arthritic knees will keep me from taking it up again, but since I'm a daily pedestrian, I'm not totally disconnected from the vulnerability that bike riders sometimes feel. I've occasionally felt the same way, not only with cars, but with bike riders.

As a pedestrian, I've found Minneapolis bike riders, at least in my part of the city, to be as boorish or oblivious regarding rules of the road in connection with pedestrians as far too many drivers are when interacting with cyclists and their vehicles.

I'm much more often a driver, then, and it helps that, in my neighborhood, there are several dedicated bike paths that are NOT on-street, so the probability of bicycle-automobile friction is considerably less than in on-street bike lane situations. I have at least one neighbor who's a regular bike commuter to downtown and the U. In general, I'm inclined to agree with Richard Johnson. Drivers thinking cyclists have no right to be on the road obviously don't understand traffic law and the rules, and cyclists who behave as if those rules apply to others, but not themselves, only aggravate potentially-dangerous situations.

I like to think I'm a more attentive driver than many, simply because I don't have a smart phone, and while I do carry an inexpensive cell phone, I make no attempt to answer it while I'm driving. Instead, I work hard to pay attention (fighter pilots call it "situational awareness"), not only to what's immediately ahead, but also behind me and on each side – and I'm aware of the 3-foot rule. I try to make sure I see cyclists, first of all, and secondly, that I'm giving any cyclist I encounter plenty of room – essentially treating them as somewhat unreliable fellow-travelers. Better safe than sorry.

bike riders

I am an old man, also, and have driven, ridden a bike, and run/walked for exercise for over 50 years. I, too, use a mobile phone only for emergencies and refuse to use it at all when I am behind the wheel of an automobile or on my bicycle.
In my 50 plus years of running/walking in the Lake Nokomis area, I have never had a bicycle stop when I have been in a pedestrian crosswalk. Fortunately, I try to be alert and careful when entering a crosswalk, not only for auto traffic, but bicyclists, also.

Agree

I agree that one place where cyclists, in my experience, could do a much better job, is to be more conscious of pedestrians, especially at crosswalks. I think the temptation is to skirt around them but if we truly think that the natural law of transportation is that the larger, faster thing defer to the smaller, slower, more fragile thing, we should be paying attention to pedestrians as cyclists.

Not only that . . . . . .

but if cyclists are, in fact, required to follow vehicular traffic laws, then they are legally *required* to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

I do this

But agree that it's rare thing among cyclists. To the point that pedestrians sometimes seem confused when it happens.

That said, pedestrians also regularly walk on the bike path when they aren't supposed to as well.

Don't even know

I'm at a loss. I was biking with my daughter on our cargo bike on a quiet residential street to her gymnastics class. There were very few cars parked. A driver was very aggressive - yelling, swerved at us, slammed on her brakes in front of us. Then, she turned into the gymnastics parking lot and got put of her car with her daughter, who is also in the class. Ugh. I parked and locked our bike and my daughter ran over to greet her classmate with the angry mom. The ride in the elevator was very awkward. I didn't know what to do or say. I gave the mom the Evil Eye while making small talk with our daughters. Who are these people? What example is she setting for her daughter? What if we'd been injured? Do I say something, like "What the hell were you thinking?????"

Oncoming!

I guess I'm more of a confrontational Minnesotan than a lot of other people. I would have asked them mom what that was all about on the road a few minutes ago. "Do you realize you were being very dangerous? Is that what you want to teach your daughter?"

I'm sure the mom would have got all defense and perhaps even more angry and confrontational, but my position on bullies is to stand up to them and confront their behavior. Take the high road and let them know their behavior is unacceptable in a polite society and if you see another incident like this, the authorities will get involved.

Be calm, direct, and hold your ground. 95% of the time that will take care of the bullies.

Don't change a thing

In that case, I think not following up with a comment is the right approach. Perhaps next time she will wonder if she knows the cyclist before threatening them with her car.

Zen and Art of Nonconfrontation = Typical MN Passive Aggressive

Cyclists legally riding on the road who allow drivers to infringe upon their rights to fair use without confronting them are simply enabling the behavior. Taking a calm, non-confrontational, and educational approach is key; brushing it off or saying nothing is ridiculous. Impatient drivers use their vehicles to intimidate cyclists. By not calling them out for their behavior, they'll simply continue and eventually will injure or kill a cyclist.

My approach is simple: I say "Excuse me, but we're both trying to get home to our families safely. Your actions are not only unlawful, but could have seriously injured me. I'm legally allowed to share this road, and I'm sorry you disagree but suggest that you call your local legislator if you want to share your frustration."

Drivers and cyclists alike need to review and understand MN law. It's quite clear and simple.

MN Statute §169.18 (for Motorists)
Subd. 3 (3) Passing
The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle shall leave a safe distance, but in no case less than three feet clearance, when passing the bicycle and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.

MN Statute §169.222 (for Cyclists)
Subd. 1 Traffic Laws Apply
Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle by this chapter.

Subd. 4 (c) Riding Rules
Persons operating bicycles upon a roadway or shoulder shall not ride more than TWO abreast... 

Approach

Dan, you are a sensible person. While it's true that confronting someone may not change their perception or behavior, saying nothing at all certainly won't change anything at all and will, perhaps make it worse. Unless someone tells the offender that their behavior is unacceptable, they'll leave the interaction with the perception that everything they've done is perfectly normal and they'll do the same thing in future interactions.

In the case where the women were chased around with the guy from the van, I would have done three things.

1. Run from him
2. Call 911
3. Record him

The first is personal safety. Number two is public safety. And number three is evidence for the court case.

Discretion, Meet Valor

Given how common the carrying of fire arms is, I prefer a non-confrontational interaction.

The grave yard is full of brave men.

Friendly Fire

I'm not as bright as most people, so I flip that one around the other way. Yes, they may be armed and may shoot me. But I may also be armed and they need to take that into account in their calculations.

That may mean you'll find me some morning on the side of the road with a bullet in my chest, but I've decided I'm not going to live my life afraid that every personal interaction will lead to a firefight. Perhaps it's just my nature as a result of being bullied as a kid. I go through life looking at these little interactions as an opportunity to educate people as well as myself.

-Did I get my point across?
-Did I operate in a calm manner in adverse conditions?
-What techniques can I use to educate them as well as de-escalate the situation?

Yeah, there's a certain amount of risk involved, but I'm willing to accept that and move the ball forward.

Heads Up!

By far the vast majority of interactions with drivers are pleasant. And of those few that are confrontational, most interactions will be just an exchange of a few words.

For the vert few that escalate from there, that's when you dial 911 and get the police involved. Once the driver's had a conversation with the guys in blue, he or she will most likely change the attitude. A smaller subset of those will be slow learners and won't memorize the memo, but then there will be a history of their behavior on record.

And who knows--they may already have a record out there and your call may be the last straw that sends them off to the pokey for an extended visit. In any case, you're doing the public a service.

At the end of the day everyone needs to find a system that works for them as their circumstances are going to vary from one situation to the next. Do you have kids to protect? Are you in a spot with lots of public around to support you? Can you readily get out your cell phone?

Run through various scenarios, plan ahead, and that will help a lot when a situation arises and time to think is at a premium.

Safety first, always. Here's a little tip...

Before I approach a driver at a stoplight (or if they pull into a parking lot) that has attempted to run me off the road (or any other blatant infraction requiring a confrontation) I always do something that seems to surprise and calm the driver. I pull past their car and roll around front, where I let them watch me take a picture of their license plate with my iPhone. Then I back up alongside their passenger window with iPhone in hand - which is usually rolled down by now so they can ask me why I took that picture. My response is always "For future reference, just in case."

This little gesture let's them know you're serious. That your bark has bite if need be. That you know the law and are calling them out for breaking it. And that if things escalate, you can quickly dial 911.

Obviously if you're going to confront someone, expect the unexpected and take precautions. Being able to identify vehicles should things go south is a smart move.

Goals

My wife says drivers and bikers/pedestrians have different goals. The goal of the driver is to not hit someone. The goal of the bikers and pedestrians is to feel safe.

The two differing goals lead to differing margins of safety on the roads, which contributes to some of these confrontations.

Not really

As a cyclist or pedestian, it is not my goal to "feel safe". It is my goal to survive the experience. In pursuit of that goal, I prefer to be the person who decides which risks to take. As a pedestrian, how large a gap in traffic do I need to cross a street? As a cyclist, which roads am I willing to use? Those decisions are made with some assumptions that other road users will behave in certain ways.

When drivers behave in unexpected ways, they may be putting me in more danger than I would choose. That is what I resent as a pedestrian/cyclist and try to remember when I'm a driver. When I bike on a busier street, yes, I'm putting myself in greater danger, but it is reasonable for me to expect other road users to not compound the risk.

To engage or not to engage

That is the question many cyclists ask themselves on a regular basis. Coincidentally, it's the same question I asked myself after reading the comments on this article.

After conducting a brief cost-benefit analysis, I have no comment at this time.

Bikes and pedestrian safety

I can understand cyclists' preoccupation with their safety vis-a-vis automotive traffic. But it's about time that attention gets directed to pedestrian safety vis-a-vis bicycles.

Take the new configuration of the Franklin Avenue bridge as a case in point. It may be great for cyclists, who now enjoy great protection from automobiles, but it's an abomination for pedestrians now put on the same pathway as the cyclists, without any grade separation. Cyclists, how do think a walker feels when a bicycle speeds past only a couple of inches away at twenty miles per hour on the same grade?

I write as a dedicated walker. I was once struck by a cyclist. Fortunately he was not speeding fast enough to case significant injury. One of my friends was struck on a same-grade park pathway and as a result nearly lost a leg. She spent the rest of her life partially crippled. And what about insurance in that case? There was none. The pedestrian victim in a bicycle collision would be lucky if the cyclist has a home owner's or renter's policy that provides even the most meager compensation.

Hennepin County needs to elevate the Franklin Avenue Bridge pedestrian lanes to sidewalk level. And adequate signage is needed to direct cyclists to ride on the correct side, in the correct direction, and to watch for pedestrians where bike paths cross pedestrian paths and sidewalks at the ends of the bridge. These are reasonable requests.

As to the obvious related problem, namely the newly restricted roadway for emergency vehicles, I guess we'll have to try to live with the results . . . so to speak..

Typical stereotype of a cyclist...

David, what exactly is behind your comment that a "pedestrian victim in a bicycle collision would be lucky if the cyclist has a home owner's or renter's policy that provides even the most meager compensation?"

A prime example of classism. Goes right alongside the driver that says "if bicycles want to ride on the road, they need to start paying their fair share of taxes." Pure hogwash.

Plenty of cyclists own homes and pay property taxes (which is where road construction funding comes from.) Many own a car and pay gas taxes. Most are insured and are simply making the choice to ride a bike instead of drive a car. Your comment perpetuates the notion that cyclists are second-class citizens who don't deserve to ride on the road as motorized vehicles do.

My wife and I own a house we built in St Louis Park in 2010. We pay $6,300 a year in property taxes. We own three cars. I also own 6 bikes and maintain a $25,000 rider on my insurance policy to cover any unfortunate theft or loss of said bicycles. I'm over-insured when it comes to personal injury/uninsured protection. I spend virtually no time riding a bike near pedestrians, but rest assured that if a collision ever occurred (which would likely be the fault of the less-than-predictable pedestrian, not me) I'm not some vagrant you'll need to worry about. I already pay (more) than my fair share to lawfully share the road with vehicles. I think the same can be said about most cyclists out there choosing to pedal instead of press a gas pedal.

It's not about "class" it's about insurance.

If you hit an injure a pedestrian while riding your bike would you're homeowner policy pay their medical bills? That's not a classist question. Likewise would your extensive personal injury or uninsured motorist coverage pay those bills? I have insurance, I ride bikes, I don't actually know.

Yes

I was pretty shocked when I discovered that Hennepin County had chosen not to separate the grade on the bike/ped area of the bridge. And the markings are far from sufficient. That being said, I think that once the south side of the bridge opens, it will get better. But, yes, you make a very good point about the bridge.

I agree with you about signage and the need for vigilance

But there is a ton of space -- far wider than the typical multi-use path. I think each side is 17 feet, which should be more than enough space for bikes and pedestrians to pass each other.

If you insist on grade separation between bikes and pedestrians, I don't think you're going to like the part of Washington Ave that's currently under construction.

Bikes and Peds

I think you are on to something. Far worse than automobiles and trucks, in my experience, are motorcycles. I HATE sharing the road with motorcycles if I'm biking. They cut so close when they pass it's terrifying, and they are much louder than most cars.

I think much of the problem is they know exactly where their edges are. They know that 12 inches of clearance is enough to not make contact. A car driver usually doesn't know exactly where the right side of their car really is, so they leave a little more margin just in case.

A bicycle/pedestrian encounter is similar. The bicyclist knows exactly where their borders are, and can see exactly where the edge of the pedestrian is. At the lower speed, and with the narrower path/sidewalk, even nine inches might seem plenty safe to the cyclist. But to the pedestrian, it's nowhere near enough. The shock of a 15 to 25 mph passing at 9 to 12 inches with no warning is quite startling. Same thing with a bicycle passed by a motorcycle doing 60 mph at 18 inches.

beg to differ

I prefer motorcycles. Other than the noise, motorcyclists are generally paying much more attention, have better visibility, are smaller, and give you more space in my experience.

Cyclists may ride on sidewalks...

This comes from the City of Minneapolis, July 2008:
"MYTH: Bikes must use the street. FACT: Cyclists may ride on sidewalks except in business districts or where posted. Studies have shown that it is often safer to ride on the street."

Classism?

Mr. Lind, you sound like a very solid and responsible citizen in every way. But I very much doubt that most people--including most cyclists--are very well insured for general personal liability. And "most people" is not classism.

Does anyone out there have good data on percentage of the population who have general liability insurance?

While on this subject, I'd like to point out the problem with cyclists riding on sidewalks, especially with speeding riders. I think it would be wise if there were a state-wide speed limit on sidewalks for all modes--on foot or by vehicle--which might clarify liability in pedestrian collisions and in cases where cyclists speed across intersections using pedestrian crosswalks (a serious liability hazard for motorists). Of course state law already forbids riding on sidewalks in business districts. Even at present we need a more careful definition of "sidewalk" (and of "business district").

Meanwhile, try walking around the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota during daytime class hours. I find that being near, or crossing, the marked bicycle paths requires great care--man, do they speed--and often the same not near those paths but for the same reason. I wonder how many of those students have good general liability insurance.

general liability insurance?

... let's say very close to zero. We need to think about other solutions.

I believe the very chaos of the U of MN campus is what makes is pretty safe. I love the way that the Green Line has changed the way people drive around the East Bank. It's pedestrian paradise compared to what it looked like before.

Biking in Traffic

I bike about 2,400 miles per year for exercise and commuting. I am no fan of the John Forester philosophy of biking that has become the norm in the US.
Putting bikes, often on the busiest bus/truck/auto routes, with painted lines for guidance, seems to be acquiescing to the false premise that bicycle transportation is not as important as automotive transportation. (I.e. There is not enough money to build separate/physically separated bike infrastructure..)

Until bikes have the same "political" status as autos, I will continue to ride 1 block parallel to major arteries, where there are no busses, semis, and almost no moving cars! It is very peaceful and safe.

Finally!

"...I will continue to ride 1 block parallel to major arteries, where there are no busses, semis, and almost no moving cars! It is very peaceful and safe."

I'm glad someone finally said this! I'm only a very occasional biker, but this has ALWAYS been my strategy -- learned from a map I purchased at a bike shop in south Minneapolis. It clearly shows the safest and most convenient paths around the city, and they are NEVER on main roads that don't have an explicitly marked bike lane. My version of the map is pretty old now, and there's probably an updated version out there with the many recent improvements Minneapolis has made. We're clearly moving toward a Golden Age for bicycles in Minneapolis, but it's not here yet.

So I have to say that I don't very much like the tone of this article. It's basically, "How can the vastly superior bicyclists deal with the infinitely less civilized drivers?" That approach does no good for either side of the equation. One of the reasons that the two modes don't get along very well is because each side tends to take an adversarial approach to the interaction. And that frame clearly underlies all of the condescending "approaches" listed in this article. Each approach seems to start with, "I'm obviously right, so how can I best convey my obvious rightness to the obviously wrong and rude motorist who crossed me?"

Indeed, if you are going to engage a driver who just made some sort of aggressive maneuver toward you (a VERY UNWISE idea, if ever I've heard one), each "approach" should start with some self-examination: "Did I do something -- even if it was legal -- that legitimately upset that driver?" If you were driving down the middle of Minnehaha Parkway when literally 10 feet away there is a paved bike path separated from the road, well, maybe the driver has a point -- even if it was expressed in a dangerously inappropriate way. (As you can guess, that's an example from my experience.)

Both bicyclists and motorists have a responsibility to play nice, and both groups are guilty of transgressions. If you are riding a bike down a main thoroughfare with no clearly marked bike lane (Lake Street during rush hour, for example), then you are part of the problem. Yes, I know it's legal, but that is not the point. Neither is it the point that drivers get mad. Of course they get mad. The road was designed for them.

Drivers have a similar responsibility to show respect and deference to cyclists who are riding legally, even if what they are doing is patently dangerous, impeding traffic, rude, or borderline insane -- despite what every cue is telling you as a driver about who the road was designed for. Until the day when there are physical separations everywhere, drivers have a responsibility to defer, for obvious safety reasons.

In fact, that's the point: Most Minneapolis streets were designed for cars with no consideration for the possibility of bikes. This is a significant problem which the city of Minneapolis has acknowledged and is beginning, slowly, to correct. But under current conditions, bikes are often moving through very dangerous circumstances that offer them no consideration (even if the drivers do). Thus, riders have a responsibility to acknowledge this fact and adjust accordingly. It's not enough for either side to say, "This is legal so I'm going to do it." That's just dumb.

Everyone seems to acknowledge that separation is the safest option. As roads are being rebuilt, separation is being created. But until then, riders would do well to avoid the dangerous collectors, and motorists would do well to defer and show extreme caution when riders do not make that choice.

As someone said above, we all just want to get home safely.

Adversaries

I appreciate your goal of even-handedness, but there are a few points with wrong premises:

"One of the reasons that the two modes don't get along very well is because each side tends to take an adversarial approach to the interaction."

While it's obviously true that both sides (in general) feel mutual animosity, this statement presupposes a physical equality between the two modes. The patent lack thereof fuels a very real sense of danger on the part of the cyclist, and, as Mr Lindeke notes, when you're riding a bike and someone in a car threatens you, your adrenal glands go into overdrive. But the adversarial attitude on the part of the driver surely cannot arise from a sense of feeling endangered. Sometimes there is the legitimate feeling of panic when a wrongheaded cyclist does something reckless that puts the driver in a position of almost having killed said cyclist. Those instances are lamentable and moreover bad PR for cyclists. But in my experience, most of the drivers' hostility arises from a sense of being inconvenienced by the cyclist's presence. So putting these two positions on the same footing seems irrational. In other words, the cyclists' adversarial attitude is fueled by a sense of personal danger, and the drivers' attitude by a sense of not getting what they want.

"Each approach seems to start with, 'I'm obviously right, so how can I best convey my obvious rightness to the obviously wrong and rude motorist who crossed me?' "

Yes, in those instances, the bikers are obviously right. If the City of Saint Paul designates a bike boulevard and marks it with on-street paint and signage to boot, and a car driver harasses a cyclist for using the facility, then the driver is simply wrong. If someone is riding down University Ave in the bike lane and some maniac tries to run them over, the driver is wrong. Obviously, there is self-righteousness in the bike community, but that exists among drivers as well, and, just to be self-righteous, at least we cyclists are making a real effort not to become a burden on the healthcare system by being out of shape, to be financially responsibly by not frittering away our incomes on rapidly depreciating assets, and to keep the air just a little cleaner by not motoring all over the place.

To treat these two modes as equal is fallacious. Speed boats must defer to canoes. Why the same deference for cyclists is such a tall order strains credulity (or doesn't), though I appreciate your plea for that very thing.

Thumbs Up

Jeremy's post wins the internet today for the most reasoned, measured, and articulate comment.

On inequality, adrenaline and motivations...

"...this statement presupposes a physical equality between the two modes."

I don't actually presuppose that. The physical inequality is undeniable. What I mean to say is that some motorists see bicyclists as, at best, competition for road space, or, at worst, an enemy -- AND VICE VERSA. Each side must stop this because it only makes things worse. Since the two modes must coexist, that will only be possible through cooperation, and there can be no cooperation when each side demonizes the other. (cf. Modern American Politics)

"...your adrenal glands go into overdrive."

I have no doubt that this is true, but it's also irrelevant. The driver's adrenaline may also have been raised through anger or frustration (or even other less salient reasons).

In case I was not clear, I think that the idea of either side confronting the other in the heat of an adrenaline rush is very bad. That type of escalation, whether initiated by the motorist or the cyclist, only reinforces the adversarial relationship. Deescalation and active disengagement in the heat of such a moment is the only "approach" that I think appropriate. Yes, I know, it doesn't feel as good, but it opens the door to Hope.

In other words, it is not a bicyclist's responsibility or prerogative to try and educate a rude or ignorant driver on the laws of the road. In fact, I'd say that's all but impossible -- especially when adrenaline is raised on all sides.

"But in my experience, most of the drivers' hostility arises from a sense of being inconvenienced by the cyclist's presence."

I'm hesitant to ascribe motivations to either side when talking about how they may peacefully interact. Motivations are too complex and essentially unknowable. As an example, when I'm driving, I don't get upset at cyclists unless I perceive that their actions are either reckless or provocative. As a bicyclist, I don't get upset at drivers unless I perceive that their actions are either reckless or provocative. But that's just me.

"Obviously, there is self-righteousness in the bike community, but that exists among drivers as well..."

Indeed, there is enough self-righteousness to go around. So, stated another way, my only point is that any interaction which comes from a place of self-righteousness is doomed. Both sides need to let that go and get on with figuring out how to embrace sharing the roads.

"...at least we cyclists are making a real effort not to become a burden on the healthcare system by being..."

This is not helpful. The relative physical fitness and environmental impacts of the two modes of travel is irrelevant to this discussion. Cyclists do not get to say, "I'm healthier and emit less greenhouse gas so I have more right to the road."

I can imagine a time when we collectively decide that this is true, and make public policy accordingly, but that's not how it works now. Until then, only our better natures will lead us to work together to solve this obvious problem.

Pragmatism

" What I mean to say is that some motorists see bicyclists as, at best, competition for road space, or, at worst, an enemy -- AND VICE VERSA. Each side must stop this because it only makes things worse. Since the two modes must coexist, that will only be possible through cooperation, and there can be no cooperation when each side demonizes the other. (cf. Modern American Politics)"

You make a pragmatic point about the reality of driver-biker interactions.

"In other words, it is not a bicyclist's responsibility or prerogative to try and educate a rude or ignorant driver on the laws of the road. In fact, I'd say that's all but impossible -- especially when adrenaline is raised on all sides."

Very much agree.

"Indeed, there is enough self-righteousness to go around. So, stated another way, my only point is that any interaction which comes from a place of self-righteousness is doomed. Both sides need to let that go and get on with figuring out how to embrace sharing the roads."

A very even-handed approach.

"This is not helpful. The relative physical fitness and environmental impacts of the two modes of travel is irrelevant to this discussion. Cyclists do not get to say, 'I'm healthier and emit less greenhouse gas so I have more right to the road.'

You are correct; it is not immediately relevant to the topic at hand. But you are only partly correct; none of my self-righteous tirade was relevant.

But I cannot shake the sense of injustice that the party engaged in a mode of transportation that is virtuous should be put on the same footing as the party engaged in a mode of transportation that is vicious. Hence my disparagement and my exhaustion at the idea that vice is equal to virtue.

But I guess no one ever said the world was fair.

Yes !

In the grand scheme of things it would make more sense to close side streets one block over from major arteries. Close Plillsbury for instance instance to all through traffic except for those who live on the street. Rather then ravage Blaisdell and etc. if my street were close to any one but bikes I would love it.

Yes but

You and the others on this thread are describing the "bike boulevard" concept. One problem is that many of the bike boulevards we have built are watered down to the point where they become irrelevant (e.g. Jefferson Avenue or Bryant Avenue). In order for these to function well they NEED median diverters to transform them away from being through streets.

The real problem though with your suggestion is that the shops and businesses that are the actual destinations for people on bicycles are on main arterials. That's why we need to create safe space for bikes on these roads. Lyndale Avenue is a great example, but there are many others.

Well...

Our streets are laid out on grids, you don't have to ride the full length of Lyndale if you're going to a coffee shop on 24th, you can ride on an adjacent street with less traffic until you get a block away and then cut over. Bicycles are not physical equivalents to cars so you shouldn't ride a bike as if it is. In other words you shouldn't ride a bike as if you're driving a car or motorcycle. When I drive to Uptown I take MTKA Blvd. or 394, When I ride to Uptown I stay off of MTKA Blvd. as much as possible and never ride on 394.

I'm not saying we shouldn't have bike lanes or anything but I think the observation that choosing a good cycling route isn't simply a matter of looking for bike lanes is a solid suggestion. You may well be better off riding on a adjacent street without painted lanes than on a busy street with a painted lane if you can.

I've just always thought that a cyclist has to adjust their mentality to account for the fact that cars, pedestrians, and cyclists are not equivalent. There are things you can do on a bike that you can't do in a car, and there are things you can do but you shouldn't in most cases.

Your comparison doesn't work

You don't ride on 394 because it's a limited access freeway on which bikes are prohibited.

Our commercial streets - like Lyndale - are not and should not be. Their businesses need to be accessible to everyone, especially those who are walking or have limited mobility, meaning those streets cannot be simply given over to cars.

Sometimes riding a block over for most of the trip works, and sometimes it doesn't. Our streets are not all grids, and not every street goes through or is unencumbered by excessive stop signs.

But even if that wasn't the case, a person on a bike still needs to make the last portion of their trip on the street where the actual businesses are, so those streets need safe bike facilities too.

Tony is right

Says:

"Putting bikes, often on the busiest bus/truck/auto routes, with painted lines for guidance, seems to be acquiescing to the false premise that bicycle transportation is not as important as automotive transportation. (I.e. There is not enough money to build separate/physically separated bike infrastructure..)"

Jeremy replies:

"While it's obviously true that both sides (in general) feel mutual animosity, this statement presupposes a physical equality between the two modes. "

Tony is right, its the placement of bike lanes on narrow parkways and busy thoroughfares and the mentality of vehicular riding that presupposes physical equivalence, and it's a really bad presupposition. While there's no excuse for the driver's behavior on display in the embedded video I found myself asking why someone would paint a bike lane on such a narrow parkway to begin with? That road is so narrow it nearly impossible to pass a cyclist with the three foot margin of safety required by law., especially if the cyclist is defending his/her lane. That design almost guarantees conflict between bikes and traffic.

I can understand the cyclist anger and frustration but frankly I would have moved closer to the curb since there were no cars parked there. On a different street, or a stretch full of parked cars the cyclist wouldn't have had that option but safe cycling is about reacting to immediate circumstances in a variety of situations. This driver was obviously whacked but I've had situations where cyclist keep trying to wave me around them rather than simply moving over the right for a few moments and it's silly. I'm trying to pass them safely and I shouldn't have to risk a head-on collision with oncoming traffic or drive out of my lane in order to do that.

I wouldn't recommend confrontations although I've been known to give pieces of my mind to the odd stranger or two. Confrontations are unlikely to be educational or productive and tend to escalate tensions and animosities.

"...Until bikes have the same "political" status as autos, I will continue to ride 1 block parallel to major arteries, where there are no busses, semis, and almost no moving cars! It is very peaceful and safe."

Again, I agree with Tony, and I've always recommended this. I route selection is one of the most important aspects of cycling safety and we can't trust "planners" who paint lanes on streets that put cyclist in the middle of busy traffic. Obviously for commuters options can be limited but if your in frequent conflict with drivers I'd reconsider the route. Is that "right"? No, you should be able to ride safely on any street, and cyclist are entitled to ride on any street. The problem is our streets were not designed for combined cycling and auto traffic and retro painting doesn't solve that problem.

Eventually we'll work this out but in the meantime everyone has to learn how to be a little more flexible while sharing the streets with each other.

By the way, not to fan flames but cyclists are only prohibited from sidewalks in the downtown business districts of MPLS and St. Paul. While drivers shouldn't expect cyclists to be on the sidewalks they are sometimes in short stretches a safer alternative for cyclists, although you have to slow down when riding on them.

As for pedestrians...

I have to say that as far as the riding I do now (more recreational than commuting) I rarely have problems with cars or trucks... but I'm constantly having problems with pedestrians. I couldn't begin to tell you the number of times I've had clueless pedestrians step in front of me or otherwise block the bike trail. One of the few times I've ever "confronted" anyone was when three middle aged women sauntered out into the bike path and caused a little girl on a bicycle to crash. They crept in front of her and her front wheel slipped off the edge of the path because she was trying to avoid hitting them. I asked them: "Would you step in front of a moving car like that?" If they'd just stopped for a few moments, like you would for a moving car... everything would have been fine.

These are things that will improve with time however. One reason they have fewer issues in Europe is that they've been doing it longer in addition to better infrastructure. I don't know if it's my imagination but this year pedestrians seem to be noticeably more cognizant of cyclist although most of my friends have noticed no such change.

My apologies to and for the comment section

Normally I enjoy Minnpost comments more than almost anywhere else, but this discussion makes me sad. It's reflective of just about every "bikes vs. cars" / "why don't we obey the law" debate that appears with just about every article on bicycling I've ever seen. These conversations are often frustratingly petty and miss the point.

I fear I didn't do a very good job framing the article and want to apologize. I tried hard to frame this piece, choosing the stories that I included here, in the hopes of focusing on one question: What do bicyclists do when confronted with (intentional or not) physical threats or verbal assault?

This question has nothing to do with riding on the sidewalk, "being aggressive", or running a stop light. The vast majority of the time, these issues arise when a bicyclist is simply riding down the street trying to get around. Inevitably, a person on a bike is faced with harassment or serious physical threats, and has to answer "the confrontation question." How do people deal with it?

To discuss legalistic tit-for-tat or to change the subject. Bringing up sidewalks, lights on bikes, etc., is irrelevant. I fear that much of the above discussion sidetracks from one key challenge that lies at the core of riding a bicycle in cities like ours: Pretty much no matter what they do, bicyclists are riding on streets where they are on the receiving end of a dangerous power dynamic. Bicyclists are subject to abuse that should not be shrugged off, as it can end in injury or trauma. (See Hannah's story above for an example; there are many other similar stories I could have used.)

The real problem as I see it is that we have designed streets that place the most vulnerable people in often terrible positions, and the everyday lived reality of that for people on bicycles can often be tough, depressing, or worse. People cope with it in different ways. That's the interesting question I was trying to raise. My apologies, and I'll attempt to write a better article next time!

My answer

Is, "I don't know." I really don't experience it that often.

There was one time an older guy who was two blocks away when he saw me not wait for a light at an open intersection who felt the need drive up to tell me that lights are for bikes too. Didn't really get the chance to say much to him as he sped off. It was annoying, but not really scary (and, of course, he's right, even if absurdly stupid to think he was accomplishing something).

There were two young men who yelled something at me (an anti-gay slur, maybe), while driving by at high speed when I was in a rush and decided to ride on North Lyndale to get home faster. Again, no real interaction.

There was a time someone revved their engine at me on Thomas Ave in St. Paul when they could not get to the next stop sign as quickly as they liked because I had to go around a parked car. Didn't talk to them either, but I did decide to move over to one of the quieter streets even though I was enjoying checking out the old commercial corners on Thomas.

So maybe the answer is I avoid confrontation, like a good Minnesotan and don't say anything, but I'm not sure that's really it, as I'd probably yell in the heat of the moment.

Mostly I ride on trails, quiet streets or where there are bike facilities that let should let drivers know to expect bikes. I rarely "take the lane" in traffic and typically defer to cars in ways that I technically shouldn't have to (e.g. waiting for them to clear instead of merging) and don't really experience that much driver anger.

Unduly gloomy Minnpost writers

No worries Mr. Lindeke, you're article and writing are fine, you'll never be able to control where readers go with it. I've frequently observed and written that it's almost impossible to have such discussions in the US because it always breaks down along legalistic lines and competing defense of entitlements. I think that American mentality may actually be part of the problem with these cycling vs. everyone else "conflicts". Frankly, I think too many people take their sense of entitlements with them wherever they go and however they go there.

I do think your perspective may be somewhat problematic because I'm not sure these harassment's and threats are as ubiquitous as you suppose. We have tens of thousands of people riding bikes in the Twin Cities and although we probably don't have any clear data, I suspect the vast majority don't run into these issues at problematic levels. In my 47 years of cycling both as a commuter (back before bike lanes and pathways were't even imagined) and recreationally, I can only remember a single incident where a driver made a threatening advance in an intersection.

I know for a fact that some riders are more prone to conflicts than others because of their riding style and mentality. Frequently when I try to have these discussion these riders will chime in as if they're their our finest reservoir of experience and wisdom. The problem is their "experience" tends to be based on all the collisions and near accidents they've had rather than a lifetime of riding safely without much incident. Obviously we wouldn't assume that style and mentality account for ALL cycling conflicts but we can't ignore their contributions.

On the other hand the perception of "conflicts" is not universally established. I've had some cyclist tell me that drivers seem to "target" them, while others ride around seemingly oblivious, most of us are somewhere in between. The situation where drivers actually chase cyclist with intent to harm is not typical. In the end I'm not sure what we're really talking about; almost every time I drive, or walk in a crowd of people I get bumped, cut off, etc. and those experiences are ubiquitous, but we aren't expected to "do" something every time they happen.

In the end when you ask cyclists how they handle these conflicts or what they "do" you may be talking to a smaller audience than you suppose. Many riders may not have these experiences and many others may not perceive them as being as problematic as others. Perhaps that's being reflected in the comments. Perhaps a better question would be: "What would you do?" rather than: "What DO you do?". Ultimately I do think this tension between different modes of transit will diminish over time as people become accustomed the mix, but maybe I'm being optimistic.

perception to some degree

First, thanks for the great comment. I'm glad you have had years of peaceful interactions with drivers on Twin Cities streets. For the most part, that's been my experience too, in 15+ years of riding around.

I admit that perception of what is a "confrontation" greatly varies, but I can still list the times when I've encountered an explicit threat. Most recently a few weeks ago was when I was biking down Plato and a car (an orange Dodge Charger) passed by me at a stoplight with only an inch to spare. There was another lane they could have used.

I had a confrontation with a UPS driver a year or so ago on Energy Park Drive, where I chased him down to tell him not to honk at bicyclists and to pass in the second lane. He claimed he was following his training.

The "flipping the bird" moment described above on Park Avenue with the driver of a white sedan, where he whipped around me, parked again in the bike lane, and then yelled something out the window.

Having garbage tossed at me from a Chevy Suburban on Rice Street earlier this year.

I can name two or three times in Saint Paul when people have yelled out the window -- get on the sidewalk! -- including a grey sedan with Iowa plates driven by two college-aged guys on Victoria Avenue.

The most freaked out I have ever been -- and that includes the time I was hit by a car on the high bridge in the winter, miraculously unscathed -- took place about five years ago, when biking down the Marshall Avenue hill toward the bridge (where the bike lane disappears). I was going down the hill and I heard the repeated honking of a horn from behind me. I was "taking the lane" directly next to a sign that says "bicyclists may have full lane." The honking persisted and I moved over to the right a foot or so, then a red pickup truck sped by me with only inches to spare, going quite fast. If I hadn't moved over, I'd likely be dead. It really shook me up and I still remember the moment vividly.

This is just my list, and I've been relatively lucky. Mostly I let these moments wash over me "like water off a duck's back" (my mantra for this). But they add up, and everyone has their own method of coping.

Perspective

Paul, you make a good point, and something that I try to remind myself all the time: most of the time, car drivers follow the rules. In fact, I rely on their following the rules, and am able to use the city's infrastructure appropriately because of that. It's far easier to remember the scary moments than the banal and normal ones.

As to the cyclists who mention being hit all the time, I too ask myself, "What were you doing that caused that crash?" All's I know is, I've been riding in Minneapolis for 20 years, and I've never been hit. Some close calls, sure, but when I hear some of these, let's face it, hipsters on fixed gear bikes which are completely impractical in the city, regale others with stories of getting hit all the time, I just think of all the fixies I see bombing into intersections without looking. A civilized Idaho Stop is one thing, but the "fixie stop" is, well, an oxymoron, and a really good way to get hit a lot.

picking on fixies is so 1999

There are plenty of good reasons to ride a fixed-gear bike, especially in a flat place like Minneapolis. I have one and like it, though I don't ride it very often. I suggest not stereotyping bicyclists if you can avoid it.

More like so 1999-2010

You are right: stereotyping is inherently bad because it's a generalization. But design, as you know, encourages certain kinds of behavior. So perhaps it's not fixed gears that are the problem, but brakeless fixed gears, which encourage blasting through red lights, as stopping is harder to do on them. And, yes, this does still occur all the time in Minneapolis.

Slow Down

Unrelated to bicycling per se, but a street interaction story nonetheless.

Sadly, a few minutes ago I watched a car cut off our bus at 8th & 2nd in downtown Minneapolis. The bus was pulling away from the stop and moving through the intersection and the car thought he could beat us while making a left turn onto 8th. He did indeed make it...and promptly hit a pedestrian. The poor guy flipped 270° in a cartwheel and landed hard on his side.

The incident is a stark reminder to slow down, look around you, and avoid target fixation. The driver was so intent on watching our bus that he didn't take the time to look around for other objects in the area. In this case, the object was another person, who is now going to have a lengthy hospital stay.

Engage your brain and don't be a jerk

About 60% of the time, the problem with cars and motorcycles and cyclists and pedestrians is simple brainlessness (distractions, fatigue, self-centeredness, lack of mindfulness).

The other 40% of the time, it's simply about being a jerk.

Both are preventable, and all are guilty (though not always all at once).

The fact of the matter is that the risk is, from lowest to highest, motorist, motorcyclist, bicyclist, and pedestrian. For the sake of safety, each should swallow their pride, engage their brains, and knock off the jerky behavior. Even more so, humbleness should be correlated to risk. The higher your risk of injury or death, the more humble you should be. Not fair, but life's not fair. And dead is dead.

While I, as a motorist should face murder charges for intentionally running over the jerk sauntering across the street kitty corner and in the middle of the block (wearing all black at night), I'm not going to be dead at the end of the incident. Also, make eye contact. Quit fooling with your phone for long enough to look up to see me glaring with frustration that you haven't crossed the street yet at the green light or the 4 way stop.

Similarly, motorcyclists deserve to be on the road as much as the more numerous cars (note, no one has the /right/ to operate a motor vehicle), but get out of the blind spot and quit rubbing your back tire on my front bumper as you pass (and quite frankly, your pipes are NOT saving lives--time to apply noise laws equally).

Cyclists, get off your high horse. You're at equal risk of being a jerk (maybe more, in my experience) than anyone else that at least occasionally encounters a road, a path, or a sidewalk. Motorists are out of line to threaten cyclists, no matter how horribly they ride. But it really is smart to avoid the busiest traffic as much as possible, and there's nothing more heart pounding than nearly hitting a cyclist that literally pops out of nowhere. Also, the street is not the place for slow riders. You can be there, but it's really not appropriate for a slow cyclist to be on a busy road with parked cars in both directions and no ability for a car to safely pass.

Finally, automobile drivers, tailgaiting and passing on the right is not only rude, it's dangerous. Turn your lights on, even when it's only a little bit dark (like when it's raining--it's the law). Use your blinkers! They're not optional and they aren't effective if you wait until you're already in the turn lane. Oh? You're turning? I couldn't tell. Sure wish I knew it before you stomped on your brakes to get into the turn lane. And, if I get the chance to throw that cigarette butt back into your car after it bounces off my car, I totally will, still smoldering or not.

I have never been the driver in an accident, but only by shear vigilance and no small amount of stress. I sound like a freaking sailor with Tourette's when driving in this area. Everyone pulls a dumb stunt once in a while. I get it. But lots and lots of people are regularly just awful on the road. I'm not terribly zen about it, but at least my windows are rolled up as I yell at the large number of jerks on the road.

what about design?

Saying "everyone should be better" feels nice, but overlooks the role of street design in creating situations and interactions between people. I believe that notions of "good" and "bad" drivers is vastly overstated. There are simply drivers reacting to the streets and situations that we create. I'm pretty deterministic about these things, and would love it if we started thinking about our built environment as playing a major role in creating often deadly conflicts.

In short, design is hugely important; people's desires to "be good" matter far less in my opinion.

Design

If design was so supremely powerful, then more people would be jerks because current designs make them into jerks. But the fact of the matter is, not everyone is being a jerk. More people are being inattentive, which maybe design can alleviate. But, really, what is a curb as a barrier when someone jumps it and hits a pedestrian because they're messing with their phone or they're so vastly superior to everyone else, they ignore the barriers in order to pass someone? Is there a design that makes people use their blinkers? Or not cut people off? Or walk on the sidewalk rather than in the street in my neighborhood? I'm afraid that you can't design away the need to assert selfishness to the detriment of others. Besides, while design could improve a lot of things, namely pedestrian safety on busier roads, I'm not sure the answer is to herd people into what they SHOULD be doing rather than expecting them to do it for themselves.

few people are active jerks

... but many people are passive jerks because our streets compel us to be so. You absolutely can design away the need to assert selfishness to the detriment of others. This is done in many cities around the world and even in some places in the US. The best local example might be the University of Minnesota East Bank campus, where drivers, jerks or no, are compelled to not be threatening with their cars.

As a percentage

That's true. But it only takes a few. East Bank is doing a very good job of making it easier to walk or take public transit to campus. As it should be. There are far fewer cars there than there used to be (a shocking difference, actually...in a good way) in the core of campus, so it's hard to say if the design made drivers better or simply kicked them out. Also, East Bank is a prime example of bone-headed pedestrians (maybe not the jerk type, but the lack of attention type). But then, I think that campus should belong to pedestrians, for the most part. I'm just surprised people don't get hit by the train, since many pedestrians seem to have complete disregard for their own safety there. But, maybe they give more respect to the train than the cars, and with fewer cars, they can wander campus more safely.

Education could help

One problem is that we keep making new rules without any organized effort to alert people. Different lines and signs just appear one day and we're all supposed to know what the new rule is and to follow it.

Is it OK to pass a cyclist on a narrow parkway as long as you're both in your respective lanes or does a driver have to try to measure out three feet? How come a cyclist riding 10MPH under the speed limit gets to have full lane on University Ave. and how do you pass such a rider? Why do we need those chevron arrow things painted on the street to tell us that cyclist can ride on the street (something they've always been entitled to do) and how do you pass a cyclist riding there? And how does the fact that the law requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as is practicable factor into all this? Could we get an article in the paper or a PSA or two once and while? Maybe one less story about the new Vikings stadium and a couple about the way our streets are changing in order to accommodate a new mix of transports?

In general people need to understand that as rule in this world your safety isn't any more important to anyone else than it is to you. You don't get to make stupid choices about your own safety and expect someone else to pick up the slack. Someone may put up a sign or paint some stuff on the street that gives you some legal access, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea, you still have to think for yourself and make your own choices.

New Rules

I'm not sure I agree that "we keep making new rules." The pedestrian crosswalk law, for example, has been around for at least three quarters of a century. Similarly, the laws on cyclists, to my knowledge, have note changed considerably within the last 10-15 years (except for a newish rule that allows cyclists to run a red light if it's not changing for them, provided there are no cars coming).

As for your questions: you always need to allow three feet in passing cyclists, and even a narrow lane is likely at least 10 feet wide so even if a cyclist is in the middle of the right lane, there should still be sufficient space to pass in the left. And you pass a slower-moving (even a fast- moving cyclist will be going probably at least 10 MPH under the limit) just like you would a tractor or other slow-moving vehicle, which is to say carefully, with a wide berth. We don't need those chevron arrows (sharrows) and you pass just as you would otherwise (crossing the center line only when it's clear that there is no oncoming traffic); they only reinforce to drivers that cyclists are allowed to be there and are pretty universally regarded as the worst possible type of cycling infrastructure available. How does the "cyclist must ride as far to the right as practicable" language impact all this? This is a pretty pragmatic section of the MN statutes on cycling but is so ripe to be misconstrued. It doesn't mean that the cyclist has to hug the right side of the road or ride in the gutter pan; it means the cyclist should stay to the right when the lane is clear. Shoulders often have debris and often a shoulder has sections that are heavily parked, making it more practicable for a cyclist to ride out in the lane. It's also practicable to right further to the left to avoid door zones, and in my opinion, to ride to the left even when there's a gap in parked cars since the alternative is to jut over and then jut back out when there are cars parked again, which a driver could think is erratic on the cyclist's part. I will admit to riding on the shoulder of the Lake Street bridge, though, since in my experience that shoulder is usually free of debris and riding in the right lane across the bridge is not going to win me any points with the driving populace.

Pragmatic?

I've found that one cannot assume that everyone understand the definition of "practicable" when it comes to cycling. Obviously cyclist are not required to ride in debris inches away from the curb or the requirement to ride to the right would not be modified by the term: "practicable". The problem is that in many discussions I've had with fellow cyclists they've decided that defending or taking they're lane, "calming" traffic, etc. are "practicable" reasons to ride further to the left than the should. Likewise, when we paint bike lanes on streets where are cyclist supposed to ride within those lanes? Are you supposed ride in the middle, or as far to the right in that lane as is practicable?

A ten foot wide road simply does not give everyone enough space by the way. The average car with the mirrors is around 7 feet wide so any cyclist who is not literally riding in the gutter will be closer than three feet, and that's assuming the car is likewise driving with their left wheels in the gutter. In practice even a 12 foot wide street would be a tight squeeze, especially at 24+MPH. In practice if you ride on a narrow parkway drivers are going to pass you three feet or no three feet.

Good points

I would still encourage riding to the right in bike lanes if safe and practical. But there are a lot of considerations to think about, and I don't think we can adequately address, or come up with a rule to cover all of them.

"Taking the lane" is actually encouraged on narrow facilities. If it would be impossible for a driver to safely pass you within a lane, you should move over in that lane to force the driver to pass you using the left lane. I discussed it with several traffic police officers, and they agreed with the interpretation on when bicyclists should take the lane (we were discussing sharrow placement at the time). And in specific regards to parkways... Yes, many parkways are narrow. They are also designed as a park road, meant to be driven for the enjoyment of the scenery. I know people do not use them this way, and we should reconsider and rework our entire transportation system. But that someone is misusing the system doesn't mean that it is now legal to pass a bicyclist within 3 feet, and if you or someone you know is in that scenario as a driver I would encourage calm. The only riders I see on most parkways instead of sidepaths, are either doing close to the speed limit or will pull over to let drivers by when it is safe to do so.

Good Questions, not a PSA but Hopefully This Helps

1 - Is it okay to pass a cyclist on a narrow parkway if you both are in your own lanes, or does a driver need to leave 3 feet? - A driver would still have to leave 3 feet. There have been court cases around the country which have noted that passing using part of an approaching lane, where sightlines allow you to know it to be safe, is not illegal. None of these have been in MN however.

2 - How come a cyclist riding 10MPH under the speed limit gets to have full lane on University Ave. and how do you pass such a rider? Because the speed limit is not a speed target, it is the limit. We joke of grandma driving 15 down the road, and she is able to, just as a bike can. How to pass such a rider? This depends on the portion of University, if you are in St. Paul, there is another lane, which if available should be used, if it is not available but the end of the queue is visible, you should reduce your speed further, such that you can add yourself to the queue for passing the bicyclist.

3 - Why do we need those chevron arrow things painted on the street to tell us that cyclist can ride on the street (something they've always been entitled to do) and how do you pass a cyclist riding there? This is actually a big debate... so let me avoid the why do we need them, because it is far too complex for a Minnpost comment. These are called sharrows, and they are meant to be used on streets or segments where more bikes would be expected. Such as an area where there are several bicyclists and no lane, or where a bike lane has to be dropped. They indicate proper and safe lane position to bicyclists, this is the engineer taking into consideration lane widths, such that there is room for a proper 3' pass; parking, keeping bicyclists out of the "door zone"; and possible turning movements. Thus, a bicyclist in a normal scenario should ride directly over the center of a sharrow.

PASSING in these scenarios is as if they weren't there. Give the bicyclist 3'. If this necessitates using the other lane, wait until it is safe to do so and then overtake the cyclist as you would a slow moving vehicle (tractors or construction vehicles are common examples).

4 - And how does the fact that the law requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as is practicable factor into all this? Sometimes it is not practicable to ride as far right as drivers think it would be, sharrows allow engineers to give confidence to bicyclists (and hopefully communicate with drivers) that the lane position is appropriate, even if it is not as far to the right as practicable.

5 - Why can't we get a newspaper to cover this? I don't know, I'm done with all the articles about the Vikings stadium, and I would really appreciate more of this kind of coverage. I don't know if it would sell enough papers to be worth their time... Maybe a few TV spots could help, but except for Fox 9's now 1.5 hour local news segment I doubt any other station "has the time".

Yeah...

Look, actual speeds are not determined by speed limits and if you get hit by a car it's going to be a REAL car going as fast as it's going whatever that speed may be. We're not talking about theoretical scenarios. Given the fact that cyclist are so much more vulnerable to injury in a collision with a car I think it's a really bad idea to deliberately put them in front of cars and trucks that are traveling at least 10 mph faster. A cyclist traveling 10 mph below the speed limit is far more vulnerable than a senior driving like a snail in a car. We have to remember that laws, signs, and lanes don't actually physically protect anyone.

But what you asked

This is a different discussion all together. You asked specifically about if it is okay to do certain things as an operator of a motor vehicle. Please do not take this as me being combative with you. You had questions and I tried my best to answer those which you asked, your response has little to do with your original question which was essentially if a careful, but close pass was allowed if the bicyclist was, in your opinion, going too slowly.