A Close Call, a Confrontation, a Conciliatory Ending

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Following two recent cyclist deaths in Brooklyn, conflicts between motor vehicles and bikes — and how to reduce them — are once again a subject of impassioned debate among Streetsblog commenters. Here is Colin Beavan, a.k.a. No Impact Man, with a story of a recent cyclist-motorist confrontation and an extraordinary resolution.

Riding my rickshaw on the bike lane on 9th Street on Thursday, the traffic was stopped and a car pulled to my left and overtook me by speeding along the parking lane and then swerving back out and through the bike lane, brushing my front tire.

I was fine, but he could have killed me. A bucket-load of adrenaline hit my bloodstream. He scared me so badly that I shook.

A red light stopped him up ahead and my adrenaline — read fight or flight weighing heavily towards fight — sped my bike up. I swerved my rickshaw in front of his car so he couldn’t move and started shouting.

I’m not a shouter, by the way, but I attracted a circle of people standing around to watch.

I’m not even sure what I screamed but something like "you nearly killed me" and "I’m going to call the police" and I waved my cell phone in the air like a crazy person.

He said, "Go ahead and call the police." He crossed his arms across his chest defiantly.

Then I shouted, with swear words I don’t write on the blog interspersed, "I don’t actually want to call the police. I just want you to apologize. I want you to realize that you nearly killed me so you could get somewhere five seconds faster."

Then another bicycle rides by. I shout at the man, "Do you want to kill him, too? Why don’t you just kill everyone. Is your rush so important to you?"

I’m not saying I wasn’t out of control because, well, I was definitely out of control.

But then the most amazing thing happened. Suddenly, the man walked back out into the street and he touched my arm and he said, "You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. I did a bad thing. It’s the job. I’d lose my job if I didn’t rush…"

I was still a crazy man. "Your job! You think your job is more important than my life?"

"You’re right," he said. "We are both immigrants," he said. "We should be kind to each other, and I was not kind. Please will you shake my hand and give me forgiveness."

And my heart broke open a little. I am not an immigrant, as he thought, but I am, like him, a human being. Suddenly I realized that he lived his life in fear. If he lost his job, how could he pay his bills? If he couldn’t pay his bills, how could he stay in the country?

"Will you shake my hand?" he said.

"I have a daughter, you should know," I said.

At that moment, I looked in his eyes and knew that he really understood what had happened. "I am sorry, my friend," he said.

"Will you be more careful of bicyclists from now on?"

"Yes," he said.

And we shook hands. We shook hands as friends.

Photo: threecee/Flickr

  • Great post. Good to hear of a near miss and a happy ending. Now, all we have to do is educate the millions of drivers out there; maybe this story should be made into an advert and put on YouTube – every little helps…

  • This is awesome and inspiring! Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Air

    That’s awesome!

    It reminds me of an Overheard in NY post:
    http://www.overheardinnewyork.com/archives/012478.html

    Angry guy in crosswalk: You should get a ticket!
    Yielding cyclist, seemingly sincere: I love you!
    Angry guy, passing: You should get a ticket!
    Cyclist, pedaling off: I love you!
    Angry guy, sheepishly: Thank you.

    –70th & Amsterdam

    Overheard by: Andreas

  • Perhaps No Impact Man had an impact this time. I hope so.

  • Komanoff

    Gripping story, Colin. Thank you for being honest about your emotions. Your plea to the driver to apologize (“I don’t actually want to call the police. I just want you to apologize. I want you to realize that you nearly killed me so you could get somewhere five seconds faster.”) was poignant and appropriate.

    As I was reading, though, I found myself wanting you to hear and accept his apology much sooner than you evidently did. If not when he said “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. I did a bad thing.”, then next, when he said, “You’re right … Please will you shake my hand and give me forgiveness.”

    It is so rare to hear those words, spoken so openly, from anyone, much less a stranger. Maybe I’m too soft, but I wish you had embraced him.

  • Maybe the next chapter for No Impact Man could be as Big Impact Man

    Maybe the next generation of environmentalism could be built around this kind of civility and humanism.

    The current questions that are guiding environmental culture are helpful for building awareness and responsibility, but are not ever going to really change the world or our relationship to it in the fundamental way that is necessary. In fact, I would argue that most environmental thinking is perpetuating the very problems we are trying to solve.

    Instead of asking questions about our actions like:
    Is it sustainable?
    Has it minimized its impact?
    Does it use the most ecological practices?
    Does it celebrate “nature”?

    Perhaps we should be asking questions like:
    Are we supporting or generating life?
    Are we helping life express its potential?
    Do our actions reflect a love and support for our surroundings (environmental, built, cultural, historical, social, economic, place)?
    Does it love and support the earth and the broader ecosystem of which we are a part?
    Do our actions reflect a love and support for people and their comfort?

    If we a start to think this way, I think our hearts can truly expand and we can see ourselves as not only avoiding a negative impact, but actually having a huge positive impact.

  • Ethan, that’s not environmentalism, that’s Buddhism!

  • spike

    This guy was on rickshaw not a bike. I think the rickshaws (and for that matter horse carriages) should be banned from NYC. You get one of those in a bike path and it shuts it down for everyone else because they are so wide, so clumsy, so slow. They have a hard time clearing the intersections so they block pedestrians. On the regular avenues they produce chaos all around them as the crazy drivers try to get by them, making it more dangerous for regular cyclists. I’m tired of dealing with them. They are a tourist thing, you can usually get somewhere much faster by walking or taking the subway. If NYC had infinite room, it would be fine, but bike lanes are already too crowded and they make a dangerous situation ever more so.

  • Mike

    In all fairness, you’re an immigrant, too. Unless you’re Native American.

  • eh?

    that’s not true – an immigrant is someone who immigrates in their lifetime, not the descendants thereof.
    and anyway, native americans immigrated here, too. just a lot longer ago.

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