I didn’t see him there,” says syndicated columnist and all-around asshole Robert Novak, after a pedestrian he hit in DC was splayed across his windshield.
In 2001, Novak screamed at a pedestrian in DC. After the incident he was quoted as saying:

“He was crossing on the red light. I really hate jaywalkers. I despise them. Since I don’t run the country, all I can do is yell at ’em. The other option is to run ’em over, but as a compassionate conservative, I would never do that.”

I had a car once. A really nice Mazda Tribute with lots of room, a moon roof and primo air conditioning. But I had to get rid of it, fortunately before the gas prices started rising. I really liked it a lot, but my friends were all very thankful because apparently I’m a bit of an aggressive driver, much like Novak. So I have some insight into Novak’s angry mindset towards the lower-caste carless. Pedestrians in DC can be an infuriating bunch – from self-absorbed cell phone conversationalists wandering their way across the street, herds of Jennifers walking 4 abreast in a classic Roman phalanx (OMG just like Sex and the City!!!), or people just taking their time jaywalking where they will go.
DC bicyclists have a bad reputation too, mostly due to the road habits of those cool bike messengers you can find any weekday afternoon at the Big Hunt happy hour. They are as arrogant and condescending as Novak, as they are the hippest of the hip and usually in a great amount of agony from being so painfully subversive all the time. It hurts to be so cool, and that’s why they’re grumpy all the time. This anger from being so hip clouds their judgement and causes them to be reckless bicyclists on both road and sidewalk.
Another reason bicyclists can be so grumpy is that by the time you see their grumpy selves on the street, they’ve probably almost died several times that day. I come close to death every time I ride my bike to the gym. As bad as the shots have been around my ‘hood, I’m still more likely to die from an auto collision than a gunshot wound. A lot of DC motorists are talking on their cell phone (illegal), smoking pot (more common than you’d think), are generally aggressive, or just don’t see bicyclists at all when driving. It’s that or they don’t think bicyclists are valid or worthy of any respect on the road. And red lights seem to be just as optional to motorists as they are for bicyclists.
Photo by M.V. JantzenWhen you’re on a bike and you nearly die, it makes you kind of grumpy. It makes you want to avoid drivers any way you can, and if that means running a red light if it’s clear on your left and right, especially if it gets you that much further away from the pot smoking driver that you are afraid of.
And don’t get me started on pedestrian and motorist use of designated bike lanes. Those are the narrow aisles on the right side of some streets that have the bicycle symbol. In case you didn’t know, they’re for bicyclists, not for double parking, hailing a cab, or for you to use when you need to pass someone on the right. That’s my lane, not yours. You get 95% of the rest of the paved world, so let me use what little is allowed for me.
So the debate between motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists continues. Bicyclist and writer Andrew Sullivan has covered the conflict for some time.
Thanks to M.V. Jantzen for the photo of the bike lane.

6 Comments

  1. stebbins says:

    There were giving our tickets (perhaps just warnings) to bicyclists riding the wrong way down my one-way street this morning. There was about 8 of them stopped (they weren’t together) in front of my building. A cop was waving down another bicyclist coming up the wrong way every 30 seconds or so. And none of them had helmets.
    Apparently the woman who was killed by a garbage truck last week was going up R Street the wrong way. Not that that justifies the death, but it makes you wonder.
    I’m all for biking, but follow the rules of the road.

  2. jredmond.myopenid.com says:

    I like the term “phalanx”… it certainly conveys the speed and impenetrability of Jennifer-herds.

  3. Ohio Tom says:

    On a weekend, I’ll bike 45 miles round trip to Granville, Ohio, for joy of it. Wednesday nights, we guys will peddle 20 to 30 miles just for pizza and beer. For me, work is a short 12 miles one way, but it’s 12 miles into the hell zone of downtown Columbus. I’ve nearly been hit 3 of the last 3 times I tried to bike to work. Your post reminds me that I need to get more active in opening a safe route.
    Columbus needs to get serious about the WAD!

  4. ed says:

    Trying to drive in this town is infuriating. Just in the past couple of months several newspaper articles have sited studies showing: DC drivers are in the top 5 rudest, #1 for accidents, in the top 5 regions for traffic. Running red lights (“but it was yellow when I gunned it half a block away”), double parking during rush hour, taxis going 5 mph looking for fares, etc. What do you have to do in DC to get stopped by the cops? Oh yeh, actually hit someone. Remember last year when MPD started ticketing jaywalkers in Dupont and elsewhere? What happened with that?
    By the way, Hillary is a bigger asshole.

  5. Jessica says:

    Sing it brother. Seriously I am so tired of drivers discussing how bad cyclists are at following the rules of the road. Are you kidding me? I think ever driver should have to bike around DC for just one day (maybe just an hour) to understand what we go through.
    And yes, I run the occasional red light. I run the red light on Massachusetts west of Union Station (where H crosses Mass and cars think they have already entered the highway) because if I don’t, I will surely die. I run the lights to save my life and that is a fact. I can’t even count how many times I have been almost hit just in that spot.
    And when I was hit (an on-purpose bump by a motorist) and reported it with license plate number, the cops just laughed and said they couldn’t do anything because the driver fled the scene. But I can get a ticket for running a red light to save my life.
    And stop signs are not optional. For you or me. I stop and I expect the same courtesy. There is no caste system in the States, if I was at the sign before you, I get to go first. Thems the rules.
    The rules of the road include sharing it with cyclists. In every state — I’ve checked.

  6. Tim says:

    haha I love it when bicyclist give all kinds of excuses for running red lights but than bag on car drivers for doing the same thing. If your going o bitch about following the law, than FOLLOW THE LAWS. I cannot say how many times i have had cyclists driving on the wrong side of the road, running red lights, not signaling, or generally making a nuance of themselves, swerving in front of you when you try to give them room. I’m all for bike lanes and sharing the road but remember that means you have to SHARE, not take up the whole lane going four miles an hour and than act indignant when someone passes you.
    sorry personal vent there. I agree that most drivers don’t give enough respect to bicyclist