For the record, Jens is an accomplished cyclist: used to race, works a side-job at one of our super-awesome LBSs, goes way out of his way to encourage n00bs — and remains the kind of guy who, at nearly twice my age, could ride single-speed beach cruiser up a tree. Whenever I have a bike problem I can't sort out, he volunteers to help me diagnose it and, if we've got the tools on hand, repair it.
He's also a seasoned year-round commuter who respects and plays by the rules of the road. He's not the kind of guy who makes boneheaded moves in traffic and then gets mad when drivers don't like it — in fact, he's more than willing to admit it when he does something dumb. He's the real deal, the kind of cyclist we should really all aspire to be. (On an unrelated note, he's also a fantastic bassist.)
I say all this to frame his experience in the proper light. I think I've put down enough of an introduction; his story really kind of stands on its own. It's a repost (with permission) from a commuter forum entry.
“So I was riding home yesterday, taking my lane on a 4 lane stretch of road with a 35mph speed limit. Normally cars speed along the road at more than 45mph and I've gotten clipped many times in the past. I've tried to file police reports since I had vehicle tag numbers but the answer I usually get is that there aren't any witnesses to the incidents so nothing can be done. Apparently there has to be physical evidence and/or 3rd party testimony to the fact otherwise essentially the incident never happened.
Yesterday I almost got clipped yet again by a road-rager but this guy came to a full stop about 20ft ahead of me and started yelling and cussing. The next thing I know he steps out of his car and is in my face calling me a punk a** b**** along with a few other things. Then he spits in my face so I think I called him an a**h***. He punches me in the face but I keep calm even though I want to kick the living crap out of him. At that moment his daughter steps between us and keeps pleading her dad to stop and get back in the car. Eventually he cools down enough but doesn't leave since he saw me get on my phone to report his vehicle tag number and the whole incident. Eventually a police officer shows up and takes statements.
Long story short I cannot press charges because I have no physical proof that any altercation occurred. He punched me hard enough that I was knocked back while straddling my bike and carrying a 30 lb backpack but no bruises or cuts were on my face. Despite having the phone number of a witness who stopped and tried to help me but couldn't wait for the police to show up, her testimony would be dismissed because she wasn't there when the police officer showed up. This was evening rush hour with several dozen witnesses to the incident yet only one person came forward.
This is just absolute BS. I can't believe that I have to resort to buying a video camera and recording my rides to prove what commuters have to go through and the pure hatred displayed towards us. What's the alternative... that I have to be severely maimed or left for dead as proof before 'the law' recognizes that a cyclist was assaulted?”
This is the kind of thing that I find most frustrating about the ongoing, unnecessary hostilities between drivers and cyclists. I'll be the first to say that Louisville is a better place than many — maybe most — to be a bike commuter, but when it rains here, it pours.
Likewise, incidents that would automatically get a driver tagged with reckless endangerment, assault, or similar charges if the victim was in another car or on foot are handled very differently if the one who gets hurt is on a bike.
There's a going assumption that if you're riding a bike and you get hit by a car, you were asking for it. Sounds a lot like a common attitude towards a certain other offense — an attitude lots of people used to hold, but which is now generally recognized as one of the prominent identifying characteristics of that species known as 'Douchebaggia Totalis.'
Props to Jens for taking the high road and not kicking the living crap out of this dude, because I'm dead sure he could have (trust me, he could break someone's neck with those legs). Props also for the daughter for stepping up: I hope she grows up to be the forthright, brave person it sounds like she's working on becoming, and that her Dad is usually a hell of a lot more reasonable.
That last paragraph, in particular, speaks lout and clear. Yes, the burden of proof does fall on the victim — but that burden should not be made unbearably heavy just because the victim rides a bike.
It would be interesting to collect helmet-cam footage from commuters around the country and put together a documentary about what life really looks like in the bike lane (for values of 'bike lane' equal to 'any lane in which the bike happens to be traveling'). It might open a few eyes, and might help us get organized.
If nothing else, some video footage might come in handy next time someone who likes to ride in a metal box decides he's more important than someone who likes to ride on a metal (or carbon) pony and thus has a right to assault his two-wheeled foe.