Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The sunny and warm weather is bringing people out in droves. As a result, I find myself having more interactions with my friendly (and maybe not so friendly) Chicago neighbors. I’ll start with the friendly-neutral interaction of the day.

(I cried like a baby the day Mister Rogers died)

(I cried like a baby the day Mister Rogers died)

On my way home I was riding near the middle of the lane on a busy road because  a parallel parked car ahead had its door wide open. A driver on the other side passed me extremely closely.  Lucky me, he soon had to stop at a red light and his window was open. Yay for warm weather and open windows! I got an incredible urge to talk to him, which I could not resist.

I pulled up next to his window and said in my absolute sweetest and friendliest voice,  “Hello, excuse me.” When he looked up at me, I continued, (smile) “Sorry, I know it was tight back there, but the law in Illinois is to pass cyclists with 3 feet of space, so maybe you could try to remember that in the future.” He was not mean or rude, more like a deer in headlights praying for the light to turn green. Without meeting my eyes, he mumbled, “What was I supposed to do?” Seriously, drivers seriously think like this.  This is the carhead problem that Tucson Bike Lawyer often talks about.  I could rave about how people should not be allowed to drive cars if they can’t rub two brain cells together, but I’m trying to push my mind away from that. Instead, I answered very sweetly, “You could try slowing down and waiting until it’s safe and legal to pass. Thank you!!!”  (smile)  Then we sat there awkwardly until the light turned green.

I know I probably shouldn’t approach strangers who are wrapped in tons of metal, but I have this urge to make drivers see that I am a human being. Certainly, I did no harm in this case and luckily the guy was not crazy. But my problem is that I assume everyone is as compassionate as I am (not to toot my own horn, but I am and have my mother to thank for that). Maybe most people don’t really give a shit one way or another. In the future I’ll probably resist the urge and save my energy.

Turning now to the friendly interactions. These were all with cyclists on the Lakefront Trail. Yesterday morning heading south, a woman passed in the other direction on a bike and then I heard, “DOTTIE!” I couldn’t get a good look at her, but I’m pretty sure it’s not one of my friends. Are you out there, nice lady? Step forth! You made my day. This morning I was standing on the side of the trail, waiting to merge, when a guy going by on a bike called out, “So you’re the owner of that Betty Foy! Nice bike!” And then he was gone, but I managed to talk to him later at the bike garage. Betty is totally famous. Ten minutes later, a guy passed me and said, “I like your Betty.” Aw, Betty blushed. All of this was super fun and it’s nice to feel plugged into the neighborhood that is Chicago.

How about everyone else? Anyone having more interaction while riding along? Thoughts on trying to reason with drivers?

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22 thoughts on “Won't You Be My Neighbor?

  1. academichic says:

    Hey Dottie, good for you for speaking up to the driver! And for doing it nicely, I think that changes a lot more attitudes than if you had chastised him and made him all defensive. Now I’m sure he’ll think of today when passing a bike! S.

  2. Tad Salyards says:

    I like your tactics and only wish I could be so political in my friction with idiot drivers.

    You’re a bike celebrity! That’s awesome! Can I get your autograph? :)

  3. I love it. He will never forget that interaction with you because it was so novel. Your kindness makes it memorable – certainly every time there is a cyclist in front of him who he wants to pass.

  4. It’s so good that you told that driver what the laws are.

    I never feel confident enough on the road to know who was in the right in most situations, so I just glare at them passive-aggressively.

  5. anna says:

    I think you should still do that and talk to people driving a car if they hazard you. As long as you stay calm that’s ok, I think. Cyclists can’t honk (and that probably wouldn’t help much), but showing car drivers that you are a humin being is important. Although many people agree that as a cyclist you have to be very careful in traffic as you have no safety zone, they don’t remember that when it gets down to overtake one..
    Unfortunately, I sometimes get really angry, especially when drivers shout at me that have endangered me before. Luckily that doesn’t happen too often.

  6. ksteinhoff says:

    I had a car come close to brushing my elbow the other day.

    It didn’t scare me so much as irritate me.

    Right after it passed me, it did an unsignaled right turn into a parking lot, so I followed it.

    When I saw it was an elderly woman, I backed up far enough that I wouldn’t intimidate her and waited for her to get out of the car.

    I gave her the “Mam, there’s a new state law in Florida that says vehicles have to allow three feet of space when passing bicycles. Your rearview mirror nearly clipped my elbow. You probably didn’t realize how close you came to me, but I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a little more space next time. I’d like to be around to watch my grandson grow up.”

    The woman had no clue what I was saying. She just looked right through me and shuffled off through the parking lot.

    That’s one of the hazards of living in what has been called God’s Waiting Room.

    You’re right, it’s cool when you are recognized. Here is an account of encountering my first Reader in the Wild.

  7. Cyclin Missy says:

    I think you did a great job confronting that guy in the car. Not mean but not watered down either. I respect that. It makes cyclists look good.

    I was actually hoping NOT to have interactions with people as I rode to work today. I didn’t see any other bikers – mostly busses. I pictured getting run off the road by a school bus and having a bunch of traumatized kids screaming at the driver that she had just killed someone on a bike. SO GLAD that didn’t really happen! So, I didn’t want to have to interact with a freaked out bus driver. lol

  8. Yep, I want to add my kudos to those of the group. You did the right thing speaking up, and you did it with a grace that I too seldom possess.

    I caught up a driver at a light recently, who had blitzed by me seconds before. The window was down, so I shouted “SLOW DOWN!!” just as I rolled past. The kid in the passenger seat nearly jumped out of her skin. The driver, on the other hand, barely glanced my direction.

    More often than not, I’ve found it far more productive to express my gratitude to drivers who are inclined to do the right thing than to confront the drivers who do not.

    • sarah says:

      Stupified Driver: “What was I supposed to do?”

      That is the most infuriating thing to me. As if they have a god given right to go 45 mph unimpeded and not till death or red light do they stop. There’s one intersection near my house that’s quite narrow and has frequent stop signs so I take up the whole lane and go on my usual speedy, merry way. But cars act like bikes in their lane is a personal affront. Stupified Driver: ” Look there is a bike in front of me, I must pull around them regardless of how fast they’re going or other traffic conditions.” So on this narrow, stop sign filled street they rev up and whip around me and a second later (ONE second) I pull up on their right and make my turn always thinking in my head “I hope you feel really good getting out from behind my exhaust fuming bike so that you could have that extra second to sit at the intersection. You’re so fast! That was totally worth it!”

      grumble, grumble, stupified drivers….

  9. Dottie,

    There’s a lot of rage on both sides of this issue. I’m sure you obey traffic laws but as you know, many cyclists routinely ignore them.

    Anyway, I’m not sure we want to fight it out at stop signs.

  10. Scott says:

    I think you did the right thing by saying something and keeping it polite with the driver. I do this all the time. I’m familiar with the deer in the headlights / “duh” response. They sometimes proceed straight to shouting profanity. I’ve had a few who insist that they did not pass me closely, and I am simply mistaken that the event in question occurred at all. But then there are those times where the driver apologizes, and these make a big difference in terms of being angry. I usually skip the part about the law, though. I just tell the driver he passed too closely and ask that he please be more careful.

  11. Doohickie says:

    I had one of those encounters where someone recognized me from the blog. Only we got to talk a bit. It was cool.

  12. Johnny says:

    If all cyclists were as out-going and plain nice as you, we might get more respect from drivers. I wish I could stay as calm as you:)

  13. ksteinhoff says:

    I use stoplights as an opportunity to reach out to folks in cars. If their window is down, I’ll take an opportunity to comment about the weather or just anything that comes to mind. If the windows are up and I catch the eye of the driver or passenger, I’ll at least smile and nod.

    The best times are when I can filter to the front of the line at a raised drawbridge where traffic can back up for as much as 10 minutes. I’ll start up a conversation with the lead car and say, “When the bridge goes down, would you mind starting out kind of slow to give me a buffer from all those other cars?”

    Suddenly, instead of seeing you as an obstacle, he’s part of a plan to make it safer for you. Nobody has ever turned me down and I always get a friendly wave when I get across the bridge.

    (Odds are I could have beaten the pack on my own, but this is a good chance to make a friendly impression on at least one driver.)

    Here’s what one of our many drawbridges looks like.

  14. Trisha says:

    I don’t think it hurts to say something in a friendly way. A lot of people (here at least) really don’t know the law when it comes sharing the road. As long as you’re pleasant about it, and leave the driver with a positive impression of cyclists, I think it’s worthwhile.

  15. I think your response to the driver was fantastic and totally appropriate to the circumstances. Maybe the next circumstances will call for a different response. But you weren’t mean and you did him a favor(and the rest of us, too!).

  16. John says:

    I ran into a couple of bike riders last night. A brief but friendly encounter with both. As usual, a couple of cars buzzed me. Not too close but just enough to let me know that they own the road.

    Unlike you, I don’t bother talking to any of them. I figure, “what’s the use”. You did well though. Good for you.

  17. sara says:

    The advantage I have interacting with drivers when commuting by bike is that my children are strapped in my bike in the cargo box. Of course, it raises the stakes in terms of being safe (& I am a bike who ALWAYS obey traffic rules). Many folks in cars find the novelty of our bakfiets so amusing and ‘cute’ that they tend to smile & give us lots of room. I have had a few interactions with unsafe drivers and I end up grumbling to myself (trying not to cuss aloud in front of the young’uns). I do like the friendly, educate-’em approach but not sure I could pull it off. I am tempted though to wear the 3Feet jersey all the time..

  18. Judy says:

    After carefully moving from the side of the road to the center and arm extended, signaling my left hand turn, a car roared past me at a speed far greater than the 35 mph of the business park where I was riding (and working). Needless to say, what slipped out of my mouth I can not write here, but the driver’s window was down.

    I made my turn and was pedaling on my way when a car pulls up beside me. It was my mad racer and I was sure I was now going to be run over or shot. He apologized, saying the sun was in his eyes and he couldn’t see me.

    Now I am a 5’10” woman with extra pounds on a bright blue street cruiser (read Walmart special) and makes me wonder if there was a semi in front of him could he have seen it?

    That’s the down side. The upside…..passing the guy getting ready to BBQ in his driveway and telling him I’ll be back in a couple of hours….and getting an invitation to eat with him and his mother.

  19. ksteinhoff says:

    When I pass someone barbecuing, I’ll often stop and say very seriously, “You may not be aware of the state law that was passed last October, so I thought I’d bring it to your attention.”

    “Section 243 says that any time smoke from a BBQ crosses the path of a person on a bicycle, that bicyclist must be invited to partake of the BBQ product.”

    Most people appreciate the joke and a fair number will invite you over.

    Either way, it’s a nice moment to share.

  20. Trisha says:

    Judy, I love that story!

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