Open Letters Upon Close Calls

Dear Mr. Business Suit in White Lexus,

I was the cyclist on Embarcadero, in the bike lane, when you almost hit me. I thought you were drunk- but you were on a cell phone.

I wanted to catch up with you at a stop sign- and tell you to get off your effen phone before you kill someone, but you managed to dash off waving your big fat Lexus butt around the car lane. Who knows, maybe it’s not the cell phone- you just don’t know how to steer. Maybe you had two martinis at lunch. Maybe you just hate people exercising on a beautiful winter day, bitter about your own entrapment in a career you detest, setting out on a two hour commute to your home in Alviso. I don’t know, I just know that seeing a stretch of white paint on a 1-ton car an inch from your handlebars is terrifying.

Thank you,

Someone That Now Understands Why Cyclists Have Attitude

Next: Almost killed by train


Last night in Emeryville, I got a green light to turn left on 65th street crossing the tracks. In the middle of the very small intersection, the railroad lights flashed and the bar came down within 15 seconds, start to finish. 20 seconds later, an Amtrak going the speed of light flew by. I’ve never been on a train, especially an American train, going that fast. Please re-think the 65th street intersection. Me, the white stationwagon guy behind me who refused to backup, and all commuters at 5:10PM will be very grateful in the future, as we will have our lives intact. By the way, the railroad crossing arm does not bonk your car and scratch the paint, it lightly bounces off. I never knew that.

Thank you,

An Adventurous, Courageous Carpooler

16 Comments so far

  1. itworksbothways (unregistered) on November 29th, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

    Dear "cool" bike rider,

    I was the driver on 4th St today who nearly hit you when you crossed three lanes of traffic without looking. I thought you were just an idiot – but you were on a cell phone.

    I wanted to catch up with you at a stop sign- and tell you to get off your effen phone before you cause a serious accident and injure or kill someone, but you managed to dash off waving your big fat biker butt around while going through stop lights. Who knows, maybe it’s not the cell phone- you just don’t know how to ride. Maybe you had two tokes at lunch. Maybe you just don’t give a damn about anyone else — the world owes you and is responsible if it doesn’t protect you from your own stupidity. I don’t know, I just know that seeing careen just inches from catastrophe is terrifying.

    Thank you,

    Someone That Now Understands Why Motorists Have Attitude

  2. anna (unregistered) on November 29th, 2007 @ 5:33 pm

    While your comment was funny, and mimickry being the best form of flattery, etc. I don’t think reversal , in this case works, because one party is 1-ton, the other is 150 or so odd lbs. The feeling of being complicit in someone else’s stupidity,a bit different than having a car swerve into your lane and …. almost kill you.

    Yet, I think we agree on a common thread which is people mistakenly thinking they can multitask with a cell phone.

    Oh, and I’ve been a victim of a tweaked out bike messenger with anger issues. Don’t get me started on fixies.

  3. anna (unregistered) on November 29th, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

    california law PDF

    1/2008: illegal to drive with "wireless telephone".

  4. Ramon (unregistered) on November 29th, 2007 @ 6:51 pm

    I second that rebuttal, concurring with Anna and NOT the petulant humorist who is also a lazy rhetorician. Simply supplanting "cyclist" for "driver" doesn’t serve to illustrate a double standard in favor of cyclists at large.

    I think this largely because a cyclist don’t have the same connotation for near-collisions and gruesome statistics in the public mind as the driver who "wields" an automobile, exponentially heavier and faster than a bicycle. Who appears to be more defenseless in such a situation? Presented in court, a jury is not without a sense of scale.

    In addition, the scenarios are not comparable. Were the cyclist also on his mobile, there would be some basis for your argument, however spurious. The University of Utah conducted a scientific experiment in which some 40 partcipants drove a simulator while chatting away on their mobiles. Frank Drews, the study’s co-author concludes, "we found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit" of 0.08 percent, which is the minimum level that defines illegal drunken driving in most U.S. states." The cyclist was justified in her consternation and then irritation. She obseves that she was in the bicycle lane at the time and by the account presented, does not seem in the wrong for observing the rules of the road. Exactly what is it that you take issue with?

    I concede that a careless cyclist is just as potentially lethal on the road as a careless motorist is, but I emphasize that it is up to the driver of whatever vehicle (be it golf-cart, scooter, SUV, or jalopy, etc.) to drive cautiously and charitably. If the driver is thoughtless enough to drive while on the phone, his attention diverted and reaction time handicapped, doesn’t this sound blameworthy?

    So in short, don’t be a dick, dick.

  5. iBarna (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 8:15 am


    I don’t know about you, but I see a lot more car drivers on cell phones than bikers. If anything, drivers should pay MORE attention than bikers, because, as has been pointed out, the potential of causing damage is much higher in a car.

    I love biking, and wish I could do it in this city. But after too many close calls and just plain stressful rides, I have switched to walking (and cursing Muni).

  6. TinMan (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 8:40 am

    Say, aren’t you supposed to use Craigslist rant-and-rave for this sort of stuff?

  7. saintsaens (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 8:46 am

    First off, I have no sympathy for the guy in the Lexus and I have often wanted to shoot to kill people using cell phones while driving and not paying attention.

    But I would also have a LOT more sympathy for bicyclists if I ever saw one – JUST ONCE – stop for a stop sign. I’ve almost been flattened, as a pedestrian, on more than one occasion by a cyclist shooting through a stop sign without slowing down.

    Everyone should be able to share the road and respect each others’ rights to use it, but cyclists, if you want to be taken seriously, start obeying the law yourselves.

    No offense to you personally, Anna, just getting it off my chest.

  8. cd (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 9:57 am

    Last year, while driving in midtown Sacramento, I pulled up to a stop sign behind a small blue car. Both that car and I were waiting to turn right onto a street (that street had no stop signs). The driver came to a full stop in front of me. Then she carefully proceeded out further so she could see around parked cars and safely turn onto a busy street.

    From the right, on the sidewalk, riding against traffic, came a guy on a bike, talking on a cell phone, who didn’t so much as pause, as he ran into and bounced off the side of the car.

    He lept up, cell phone still in hand, as the driver of the car got out, clearly shaking.

    It was lunch time, so there were plenty of people out. A woman came across the street specifically, it seemed, to yell at the driver about her inattention to the cyclist. Like it was her fault he rode into the side of her car.

    Everyone can be a moron, either behind the wheel, the handlebars, or on foot.

  9. iBarna (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 11:12 am

    U.S. traffic laws were created with cars in mind, and bikes were an afterthought at most. As such, some traffic laws are moronic when applied to bikes.

    Treating stop signs like yield signs as a biker is legal in some countries and I wish it was legal here. It can actually be safer than stopping. I speak from years of experience… people consider me intelligent, I don’t have anything to prove, I want to stay alive, and I have brakes on my bike. And I have purposefully run red lights and stop signs all the time (only if it was safe, of course) because it would very effectively *reduce* the number of cars I had to deal with on the road. It often gives you the half-block advantage you need to get away from cars and avoid being sharply cut off at the next intersection (just one example). Stopping for a stop sign only keeps you in the middle of a bunch of cars, and cars are always to be considered unpredictable and dangerous.

    It’s true that there are morons everywhere. But cars are potentially more dangerous because they are larger, and because driving them is much more relaxing than riding a bike. They give the driver a (sometimes false) sense of security, so they will be more tempted to talk on the phone, do their makeup, or whatever.

  10. anna (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

    And, somewhat apropos, there’s a benefit for someone who didn’t have a close call, but was hit:

  11. anna (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

    Image didn’t post: get it here Amy’s Benefit

  12. itworksbothways (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

    The reason I chose to "mimic" the original post was because the similarities between what happened to both of us were so striking; only the roles and vehicles were reversed. (@Ramon, the cyclist WAS on his cell phone — that was the whole point).

    It’s true that cars can inflict a lot more damage than a bicycle in the same way cars are no match for 18-wheelers and, no doubt, the larger the vehicle the more care and caution its driver must exercise. However, as our two experience show, depending on someone else’s good sense to keep you safe is a recipe for disaster. As my parents used to drill into me, "you may have had the right of way but you’ll still be dead". Driving/riding defensively is a necessity.

    There are way too many people who think that operating a vehicle is an opportunity to multi-task. There are also way too many people who think that taking gross liberties with the rules-of-the-road somehow doesn’t have the potential to affect their safety and the safety of those around them.

    We can trade horror stories all day long. But the bottom line is we have to find ways to share the road safely. It’s pretty simple actually — (1) concentrate on your driving/riding — leave the cell phone/iPod/lunch for a more appropriate time (2) follow a common set of rules to avoid surprising other drivers/riders, (3) signal your intentions IN ADVANCE — it doesn’t do much good once you’ve started your lane change or turn.

  13. Wayne (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

    I lack the motivation the write this up in parody of the original, so I’ll just take the direct approach.

    Before I moved to SF, I LOVED the idea of people riding bikes. Saves gas, provides exercise, easy to park, cheap to make, smaller footprint in the landfill, etc. But after having lived here for about a year and half, I have to say I HATE people who ride bikes. I gave mine away and I will never buy another one. I don’t want to be associated with people who ride bicycles.

    They NEVER obey any sort of traffic laws. Stop signs? forget it. Red lights? nope. But here’s the worst thing: sidewalks. Sidewalks are for walking, NOT riding bikes. A decent-sized chunk of the useable driving space in the entire city is devoted to bike lanes and yet you bike idiots still ride on the sidewalk.

    I have actually been hit TWICE (both times from behind) in the last six months by people riding bikes on the sidewalk. I’m a pretty big guy so the bike rider fell over both times. I still ended up with some nice bruises, though. And the bastards simply picked up their bikes and rode away. No apology; nothing.

    I understand why you’re fearful of car drivers. My primary means of transportation (60 mile per day round-trip commute) is a motorcycle. I can’t count the number of times some inattentive car (or more usually SUV) driver has nearly killed me. But that doesn’t mean I ride my motorcycle on the sidewalk. If you’re afraid to ride in the street with the other vehicles, then I suggest you buy a car. But whatever you do, don’t try walking on the sidewalk. In SF those are for bikes only.

    In addition to disregarding traffic laws and rules about riding bikes on sidewalks, bike riders are vandals. For a month or so (until the city painted over it) there was graffiti scrawled in ugly blue spray paint on a concrete support base along the Embarcadero: "Ride a bike.". No thanks.

    If bicycle riders in SF want to do something to save the planet, they should strongly consider suicide.

  14. anna (unregistered) on November 30th, 2007 @ 7:24 pm

    general responses…


    I know there are obnoxious cyclists, but does that mean the entire breed, or mode, is bad? In a way you could interpret these renegade, illegal acts as a albeit knee-jerk response to a critical condition. Unlike the earlier satirist, I’m not a "cool" biker (oh but to have the vanity!) I wear/own all the uncool things: handlebars that give me better visibility (not a road bike bars), flashing lights, reflectors, I stop at lights, I wear a helmet, basically I’m a dork, riding a bike. My only concession is to go fast, and I try to bike everywhere, because it’s the fastest (and healthier). Cars need to be parked, pollute the planet, all the obvious stuff. I’m hoping there are more folks like me- and that we’ll turn SF into a happy city where the two can co-exist. On another note- someone told me bike messengers are going out of business because of the Internet.

    On that note, I rode out to Rainbow the other day and almost got creamed by a white van, but it was a confusing bit of Howard, where right turns emerge, it was rush hour, just generally more understandable.

    It works both ways- your second post really described the situation to me better. Completely agree w/ you re: multitasking.

  15. Kamil (unregistered) on December 1st, 2007 @ 8:50 am

    Wayne…people who ride on the sidewalk are not cyclists, they are pedestrians disguised in cyclists clothing, or people who don’t normally ride their bike in the city. I’d be willing to bet that they even had a Blazing Saddles pouch mounted on the bike.

  16. Nancy (unregistered) on December 1st, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

    My personal mission in 2008 is going to be to take as many photos of drivers on their cellphones – license plates in the image – and post them on a website, so there’s more awareness that this WILL be an illegal action, and there WILL be an element of accountability.

    Maybe the SFPD could use the site as a resource for id’ing and citing violators of the new law.

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