Sunday, January 30, 2011

Be Vigilant, Not A Vigilante

I was reviewing some old scribblings today and came across this gem that begs to be remembered.

In the Summer of 2008, in Portland, Oregon, of all places, a most unusual confrontation between cyclist and driver occurred. You can read it here, as well as in the slightingly embellished recap below.

47-year-old Colin Yates, a self-described 30-year cycling advocate, was driving with his family on July 6, when a cyclist passed him on the left and ran a stoplight. Yates, trying to be Mr. Greatest American Hero to his wife and two teens, caught up with the balky biker at the next intersection. He honked his horn, leaned out his window, and reproached the cyclist for making other wheelmen look bad and that he [Yates] was a responsible bicycle rider who gets upset when he sees fellow riders disobeying traffic signals. For all we know, he may have also threatened to call the cyclist’s mommy as well.

The rolling confrontation continued to the next intersection where the bicyclist, Steven McAtee, 31, a Portland city employee, rode up to the driver's window, dismounted while allegedly cursing at Yates in an aggravated manner, and challenged him to a fight, all the while deciding to decorate the Yates’ Subaru Legacy with McAtee Signature custom cycle imprints. Eventually, the altercation escalated to a schoolyard-like, deke-and-duck affair with the driver futilely attempting to leave the scene. That failed when the cyclist blocked the way and continued the vehicular remodeling, which prompted Yates to face the assailant once more.

It gets even stranger.

As Yates stepped from his car again, he was repeatedly struck by Cycleboy, who was still brandishing the cumbersome weapon of choice. Suddenly, out of the gathering crowd stepped another do-gooder who floored the cyclist. But, as quickly as McAtee hit the ground, a dozen people allegedly swarmed Yates and accused him of roughing up Cycleboy.

Police were summoned via 9-1-1, which was relayed as, "Car hit bicycle, and people yelling." The first responders found a confusing scene with over two dozen hostile warriors ready to lynch the motorist. His teenagers were huddled on the rear floorboard, although most likely from fear of being recognized as being related to Super Dad. His wife was seen frantically texting an attorney, possibly for a divorce (okay, I’m embellishing a bit more here).

Still, one witness on a bicycle, who refused to make a statement at the scene because of the throng, later talked to police by phone and corroborated Yates' story.

In the end, Steven McAtee was cited for third-degree assault, criminal mischief, driving under the influence of intoxicants and disorderly conduct. Colin Yates left the scene with a chain imprint on his forearm and grease stains on his shoulder.

What is wrong with this story? Perhaps a simpler, easier to answer, question might be, "What is right with this story?"

While no ‘responsible rider’ likes either the recalcitrant motorist or the negligent cyclist, it is incumbent on us, as cyclists, to help effect the best outcome—in any situation.

Vigilante 101 is not a subject found in the Responsible Cyclist core curriculum. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances, Cyclist Nation will not wax strong with great respect for our rights by non-cyclists until we, as a whole, understand that our advocacy arms are known as leagues, alliances, associations, and so forth, for a reason—they are greater in number, and thus more effective, than any one person.

A couple of personal examples here: First, as with any bicyclist faced with danger, my adrenaline has soared at times due to inconsiderate drivers. I have flipped fingers, cursed exclamations in the air, and even stopped to challenge one driver who nearly ran me into a ditch while turning his car into a local Bubba’s Beers and Butts. Nothing has positively resulted for me at in those moments of incitation. Thankfully, nothing negative has happened as well.

Second, on a recent ride one evening, I was passed by a cyclist heading in the opposite direction on the same side of the road. Should I have turned around to chase down the cyclist and lecture him as Colin Yates did to Steven McAtee? I didn’t because a) he should have been cited by police at some point and, b) except for being directional-challenged; he was a law-abiding adult who observed proper helmet use. Since my focus remained ahead, I do not know that he wasn’t turning in at a local store. He was still wrong, and he should have been wiser, but I would have only made an enemy.

There is a right way to effect change, a non-violent way that does not create a scene of anarchy. Colin Yates family car, along with the wife and kids social reputation, would have appreciated a bit more thought by Super Dad.

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