LETTER TO THE EDITOR: HighVizGuy and "Umbrage"

Reader feedback is the lifeblood of any good internet writing enterprise and it's also the lifeblood of this blog. It happens that sometimes I write about other bicyclists and sometimes those other bicyclists happen to read about it and it also happens that sometimes I receive lengthy email responses and videos concerning their riding and my writing. Ok, this has actually only ever happened once- this instance I'm publishing now. It's in response to this post and more specifically this paragraph:

There were bicyclists aplenty on 11th. There were also a few on R, including one man in a bright orange coat who took umbrage at more than one driver who partially blocked the bike lane in anticipation of making a right turn. His umbrage took the form of touching the side panel of a taxi and it also took the form of verbally scolding a driver a few blocks later. That's a lot of umbrage. He was the bike lane defender and he was going to defend the sanctity of the bike lane against all interlopers. I never know how to feel about these sorts of people. I am very much not one of them and part of me is deeply embarrassed by their levels of righteous extroversion. But on the other hand, much of me is deeply in awe of their self-assuredness and unwillingness to be slighted.
Now I shall I present  the email I received from HighVizGuy. Bike commuting "style" is definitely a subjective thing and I'm really interested in having people write about it (that's why I try to solicit guest posts) and I want to thank him for reading, writing, and wish him all the best in the new year! 

I'm not sure when on this video I pick you up. Is it just after FL Ave or do I go around you @ 15th? I think I know which rider you are, blue bag?, but let me know. Video starts at 1st and R NE (?), by Big Bear CafeThe action doesn't start till a few minutes in but I included the guy I saw near FL Ave to see if it was you.  Here's the link to an excerpt of my morning commute on 12/20/2012: https://vimeo.com/56607875 [Ed Note: My part in the video starts at about the 4:30 mark]

I start my ride just outside the District, in MD. It’s about 14 miles round trip to work and back. A good portion of my ride is fairly suburban in nature so good sense and, frankly, my wife and dog's desire to see me at the end of the day dictate that I be as visible as possible and somewhat militant in re: protecting my space around motorists who may or may not be at the top of their game at an early hour. It's possible that I'm a little to intense sometimes, and a little quick with the "umbrage". It's also possible I'm getting older and the idea of things running into me or me into things at speed is losing it's appeal.

Between 15th and 16th Streets-
I tapped on the taxi cab. I'd invite anyone to give me an explanation about his vehicle being half in the bike lane. There are no hails nearby. He is near a driveway but clearly not heading towards it, and 3/4 of a block and a bunch of vehicles away from the next intersection. He has no indicator on. There doesn't appear to be a fare in the cab.

We'll give a little leeway to the emergency vehicle with tires inside the bike lane. A. It's an emergency vehicle. B. It's a little larger than the norm. No worries. Roll slow yeah?

The lady in front has maybe a third of her red Dodge in the lane? Again, for no reason I can fathom? She'd have better visibility if she moved left and into the large truck's driver side mirror. She is not taking a right turn at the next intersection (16th), she's taking a left. You see the window come down b/c, presumably, the guy is about to tell me what I'm doing wrong. Again, I'd love to hear a good argument for why she's there, but I wouldn't be where she was if I was driving. I'm certainly capable of keeping a 68.8" vehicle between a set of lines that are I think 11' apart. It's not a tough bit of skill that...it's Driving 101. We let too many drivers not do the basics and that's not OK to me. Again, I see no good reason why she’s there.

Between 13th and 14th-
Perhaps I take too much offense at the blacked out white suburban who muscled his way into the bike lane and split the group of bikers to take a right and head north? This can be the only driver you refer to as taking a right. I'll concede a little here, I don't think I anticipated that drivers movements well and figured I'd get a little more space through that road work. My bad..should have been a bit more patient. S/he probably should have slowed to yield and not split the bikers however, I was even with her front bumper...but that's on me for pressing the issue.

Between 9th and 10th-
I was a little wordy/harsh to these drivers. The Infinity was on a cell and the Excursion didn't give enough space (there's a bit of a pinch point created by a large white work truck parked off the curb a bit). Both drivers had a case of the "Must pass cyclist to get to the red light" syndrome. I think both drivers had it covered though..no harm.

R + 16th to YMCA-
I won't say much about the incident w/ the container truck. I like 17th a lot b/c there are a lot of options for cyclists. I generally favor the right-most lane with all the delivery vehicles, taxis pulling to the right for hails, etc. It gives me a little more room to maneuver and speeds are generally 20-25 most of the way, pretty comfortable. I'm in the bike lane if it's clear. Crossing Mass Ave. the smart move for bikes is to stay one lane from the right. There are often vehicles getting into the alleys and driveways and cars pulling out of N. It's also the most natural direction following the bike lane. I think this would be a great place for DDOT to put down some hash marks and green paint. Really make it clear that cyclists can have that lane. If you start where I did, at R and 17 and do 20-25 mph YOU WILL ALWAYS get the red light next to the YMCA @ RI Ave and 17th, so there is never any reason for vehicles to try and pass people at that point, especially not in a truck that large. He was in no danger of missing the light at Mass. Ave. He says I should have had to yield to him because "I have a truck", as if that conferred privilege. I was pretty amped so I'm loud but he was clearly trying to intimidate. That's not acceptable to me, and it shouldn't be to anyone. I don't think I did much wrong while riding, but I'm open to criticism of the moments leading up to our confrontation.

I like your blog btw. This was the second post I read..ever. I was looking for bike related blogs today and had heard of this, but never visited. Kind of serendipitous that you mentioned me, more so that I have video. I knew instantly. It's a new jacket, a Christmas present to myself and my wife and dogs from me. I also bought myself that ridiculously bright Lumintrex headlight, 1,000 lumens. All to be a little more visible to drivers. I'd prefer to not make a fool of myself, but I'll take visible and garish and alive any day. I'm tough to miss at the moment so that’s one less excuse someone can use to explain away a careless mistake or act of hostility.

I can appreciate both your embarrassment at my umbrage (it is mine as well, I assure you) and your sense of awe that I speak up. The first time a driver did something foolish around me I thought "Small victory! I have joined the ranks of a persecuted class and am virtuous for it!" That shit gets old real quick though. I'm far more militant now. Prudent, but militant. I am a pessimistic optimist. I only really go off when stuff is dangerous or stupid, but I know I'm sometimes too quick to anger over modest slights.

I just started taking video. My buddy is the guy that got hit by the retired MPD officer on RI Ave., NE last year. I'm sure you know the video. I've wanted a camera and more visible equipment since then. I'd like video to speak for me if I can't speak for myself. I'm hoping it keeps me and drivers around me a little more accountable. I'd also like to occasionally show drivers and idiot WaPo commentators what bicyclists deal with. I wouldn't mind being DC's version of the "Traffic Droid" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z_o7XLKAvk) I'd like to document the community of bike riders in the district in my own small way. Mostly I want a record of all the great (and not great) things that happen on my rides. You never know when you capture something special right?

Anyway, I felt I needed to respond to your post. Keep up with the blog and the next time you see me out there, say hello! I've only been commuting since June so it's good to meet new people riding. I love that I get to do something that makes me feel like a kid again every day. I love that I get to be outside and not in a box all day. I like that I get to eat things I want and not worry about it b/c I know I'm working my body every day. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Cheers and safe and happy riding!


  1. I think it's important to let other road users know when they're doing something dumb and/or dangerous. Many are just ignorant and not actually trying to kill cyclists. And it's both important and difficult to do this in an effective manner - criticism, however helpful, is rarely well-received from a stranger on the street, especially one who very recently feared for his/her life at your hands.

    I can't watch the video at work, but it doesn't sound like you're being unreasonable.

  2. OMG! It's almost like in When Harry Met Sally!

    Marie: "Restaurants are to people in the 80s what theater was to people in the 60s." I read that in a magazine.
    Jess: I wrote that.
    Marie: Get out of here.
    Jess: No, I did. I wrote that.
    Marie: I've never quoted anything from a magazine in my life! That's amazing. Don't you think it's amazing? And you wrote it?

    Anyway. Glad to see you are getting recognized. Too bad for those who haven't yet discovered me. They are missing out!

  3. I got seasick after 37 seconds of video, so I couldn't continue to watch. Doesn't sound like he was totally out of hand, and I appreciate him speaking up on behalf of the BikeDC community. My only issue with yelling at drivers is that 99% of the time, they are defensive in their responses. Not once have I ever had a driver say "Oops, so sorry" to me when I've given them a dirty look, tapped on their car, or yelled at them.

    My tactic is to maintain my right-of-way as much as possible, with the hopes that near misses with cars and pedestrians will passively teach them the error of their ways. Occasionally I toss out snarky, non-profane statements, especially when their windows are open. Though I appreciate HighVizGuy's point that he would like to remain alive, so perhaps his method is more life-preserving.

  4. Nice vid. Seemed like a quality ride. The umbrage was definitely out in full force and appeared guided in the appropriate direction. Not so sure how much it helped. My comments:

    Large trucks have a difficult time navigating this city and tend to put their blinkers on with cars/bikes right next to them and expect to get some leeway. I tend to give it to them before they have an opportunity to forcefully take it. Had they tried to forcefully take it unexpectedly, they’re essentially trying to run you over and it would be difficult to overreact to such a situation.

    I don’t tap on cars, although I have had a few tap on me.

    Not sure what the point of the RLJ out to the median at Rhode Island Ave is. Seemed to be a small bike party going on out there.

  5. There's something in that video so dulling and mesmerizing and depressing about watching all those cars sit nearly completely still while the bikes whiz by. Given how mind-numbingly boring it must be to drive in such conditions, it's maybe not surprising that drivers stop paying attention?

  6. I read the blog post and thought "what a stressful commute this guy has." Then I watched the video even though it gave me acute motion sickness. I can see being upset at the car that squeezes the bike lane and the taxi. The truck driver may have had a point. Was the bike in his blind spot? Could he see the bike? Also, the bike was riding outside the bike lane for a long stretch. This is legal of course, but if we're going to get all high and mighty about cars impinging on the bike lane, shouldn't we use the bike lane when we have one?

  7. I struggle with the line between advising/yelling at drivers who are putting my safety at risk and a situation escalating into a non-constructive place. I've evolved from immediately being scared by near-misses and resorting to profanity laden diatribes to a more considered and lengthy public shaming of the perpetrator without cursing at them. My most memorable recent incident was when a lady left turned into me and another cyclist + child, and only stopped about a foot away (we had the light) from striking us. We had both stopped and since we were both blocking her progress, I yelled that she was a terrible driver, had nearly hit two cyclists and a child, and was desperately in need of a driving lesson. I think repeating over and over that someone is a bad driver, and a threat to the lives anyone around them, and themselves is the way to reinforce the humanity that is so often lost in traffic incidents. We're all human, but your careless behavior may have maimed or killed me.

    Of course, while she was apologizing for almost striking us, the driver in the car behind her rolled down his window and started cursing at us. Luckily, it's DC, and so several pedestrians who saw the whole thing walked over to his car and started yelling back at him. It's nice to have backup.