Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cyclist harassment

Today Kerie and I took advantage of the great weather and rode to Tysons to drop off some FABB rack cards at the Performance bike shop there. We've been taking the cards to all Fairfax bike shops. It's a chance to discuss with shop owners and/or staff the work of FABB if they don't know us already. We know many of the people involved in the retail bike business but it's a big county and we don't know everyone.

Our route to Tysons is one used by many bike commuters riding into Tysons from Vienna and Oakton. From the W&OD Trail in Vienna there are various routes that come together at the entry to Tysons on Old Courthouse Rd. The pinch point is headed uphill past Freedom Hill Park where the road is narrow, a place where many cyclists are harassed by impatient motorists. At Gosnell we headed L toward Route 7. 

After dropping rack cards at the shop we headed back on Gosnell up a long incline toward Old Courthouse. This is where the harassment began. First two snot-nosed kids on screaming mopeds honked their high-pitched horns and buzzed us within a foot or so. As they passed they motioned as if we should be on the sidewalk. That got our attention. 

Shortly afterward a red Jeep came up behind us very close and revved his engine. He continued to do that to the Old Courthouse intersection even though he could easily have passed us.

This type of harassment happens on a regular basis. When we complain to the police we are told there's nothing they can do, even when we have a tag number and description of the motorist. 

This week we've heard about two other similar incidents; both cyclists had video evidence and reported to the incidents to the police, and both were basically ignored by the police. Maybe Delegate Comstock, who cast deciding votes in the defeat of two measures that would benefit cyclists in these situations, the following too close bill and the due care bill, should try riding along with these cyclists for a day or two to get a feel for what we encounter on a regular basis. Maybe that would change her mind.

There are several roads in the greater Tysons/Merrifield area where cyclists have frequent conflicts with motorists. These are usually narrow or very busy commuter routes. Examples include the above two sections of Old Courthouse Rd and Gosnell Rd. Others include Idylwood Rd near Idyl Lane and Gallows Rd at the I-66 bridge. These roads need better accommodations for cyclists. A start would be placement of Shared Lane Markings and Bicycles May Use Full Lane signs.

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Do the police take a record of your complaint when you call?

Just wondering - I've never called anyone in, but if there was an official record I might think of it, as it might then have bearing should the person ever actually hit someone.
I doubt it. It would be excluded as hearsay evidence. Not admissible.

The unfortunate reality is that we are largely naked out there on the road with little to know actual legal protection. We have a traffic culture that shrugs its shoulders because, when to cars get into it - its a dent, a few $100 dollars damage, and insurance takes care of it. We are the bastard step children who step into car culture and live be car rules - and car culture in our area says, dont enforce the rules, just rely on air bags and insurance.
It looks like they are putting in a concrete sidewalk on the west side of Gosnell Road from Raglan Road to Tyspring St. I will sometimes use the sidewalk during the afternoon rush to avoid harassment from drivers.

When I reported an incident in the Town of Vienna the police were very reluctant to take a report. They said the infraction (passing too close) had to be observed by an officer. I insisted on filing a report. No action was going to be taken; I was told I could file a complaint with the magistrate. When I called the magistrate's office, I was told that even though I had a license plate number, and had reported it tot he police, police don't know who was driving the car. I said I could pick the person out of a lineup and the magistrate said I should ask the police for a lineup. At that point I stopped pursuing it.

At one time there was an online form for reporting aggressive drivers. A letter was then sent to the owner of the vehicle noting the incident. I used the form frequently. It is no longer available due to cost cuts. However you can still report a litterer.
On Wednesday I was riding home from work and was passed by a large Fairfax County school bus on a busy stretch of Vale Road. While the driver’s maneuver was technically not illegal it left me shaking my head. At worst it showed poor judgment and at best exemplified the kind of driver impatience that puts cyclists at unnecessary risk. A few hundred yards up the road was a T-intersection with a long light that is always hosed with traffic this time of day. The bus driver knew this but had to get past me to sit at that light.

What will it take to instill a bit of patience and courtesy in drivers? I’ve complained about this stretch of road to the Fairfax county Police multiple times and even met with an officer there last week. He said there is nothing they can do. What he meant was there is nothing the police WANT to do.
The 2 mile part of my ride along route 123 from Jermantown Rd to Nutley Street I take to work every day never fails to elicit a honk or a yell from passing motorists at least once twice a week, even though there are two lanes in each direction. Road signage and education for motorists is definitely needed.
I wonder if it would be better to report incidents to driver's insurance companies. Most insurance companies do not want to pay out costly personal liability damages. If we could find a way to pool insuarnce companies together so that if we had a compalint about a license plate number the information would get to the correct company. Best part since it's not a criminal complaint the burden of proof would be less.
We 100% agree that the laws on the books continue to push for more vehicular priorities, at a time when politicians boast that they are making Fairfax more progressive with transportation options. To date they seem to still not understand that fixing pedestrian and bicyclist issues in this county remain an almost negligible cost (look at the Tysons cost estimates for transportation for proof), and yet they continue to focus on mega projects and grandiose concepts.

Start the change with actions FFX, not just trendy words, and maybe your residents will stop being cynical as to the "change" you are creating.
I bike along route 7 to the west falls metro from pimmit hills daily.

I ride on the sidewalk to avoid these issues. (there aren't many pedestrians around here).

I constantly have trouble at the route 7/idylwood road intersection with cars totally ignoring my right to cross the streets.
Let’s face it; cops will never be an answer. Sitting on 123 where the speed limit goes down to 25 with a radar gun is about as hard as they are willing to work to enforce the law (read that, take in revenue). I’ve never met one that had any concern for cyclist’s rights. 9 out of 10 people I meet (educated law abiding citizens) don't even know that the law guarantees my right to ride the road. When they find out, they usually pause, then move ahead ready to abide by the law. Another law is not required. Visibility of the existing law is what is needed. That’s why my cars have a "2 feet, It’s the Law" magnet on them. I had them made myself after doing a failed search of all the advocacy groups for any type of bumper stickers, outward visibility, etc. If you want people to follow the law, they have to first know what it says. Most people follow the law, even if they don’t like it. There will always be some as&*ole in a jeep that’s in a hurry to be the last one in and the first to bitch about how bad the company is, that’s why abortion is legal. I have two extra magnets in my glove box. If you see me, ask and I will hand one over. I keep offering them to any cop I see, but no takers (interest) yet.
Post the videos on YouTube and enhance the driver's face. Keep doing it. You'll get a following.
How would you structure "legal protection?" Just curious.
Thanks for all the comments and sorry for the delayed in publishing some of them. After dealing with lots of spam early on I now moderate all comments and since I was out taking advantage of this great weather to ride to the local farmer's market and work in the garden yesterday I wasn't able to check email until this morning.

This post has certainly struck a nerve with area cyclists. It's an unfortunate reality that cyclists are occasionally harassed by motorists. When the bike plan meetings were held recently this issue was brought up numerous times. We're hoping this will result in more being done to educate motorists about cyclist rights. When we meet with police and the Board of Supervisors we will repeat many of these comments to ensure they get the message that we need more respect on the roads.

I have noticed that I am harassed much less often than in the past. I think attitudes are changing in Fairfax. As more people ride, more drivers will be riders and will be able to empathize with our situation out on the road.

After writing this blog post I wrote to a VDOT staff person to request that Shared Lane Markings (sharrows) be placed on some of the routes mentioned at the end of the post. I was told that since sharrows are relatively new, VDOT is finalizing guidance for their placement to help prioritize their use. The first sharrows will start to appear this Spring, and the locations we mentioned, which were part of an earlier list we had sent a year ago, are being considered. This is great news and we look forward to seeing sharrows on Fairfax roads in the near future.

I'm sorry to read about these experiences. Although I think it is worthwhile to get a record of harassment since it can sometimes be used in future trials ... see the California doctor who stopped short in front of those cyclists.

With regards to SHARROWs, have you seen the SHARROWs installed in Arlington?
Sounds like there is no law enforcement in Virgina.

§ 46.2-868.1. Aggressive driving; penalties.

(ii) that person is a hazard to another person or commits an offense in clause (i) with the intent to harass, intimidate, injure or obstruct another person.

Aggressive driving shall be punished as a Class 2 misdemeanor.

For a class 2 misdeameanor, you could face up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1000.
Or maybe you could all be a bit more courteous to drivers rather than always making them out to be a blood enemy. Here is another idea. If you want to ride on the streets with cars obey all the same laws they have to. i.e. lane discipline, signals, red lights, not slapping mirrors when you drive by. Just a thought get off the high horse your as much the problem as the folks in the cars. In closing I am a cyclist too so I know we all have some blame in these issues.

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