Being a Vulnerable User: Three Drivers

On Monday

In the middle of the afternoon, a ten day old baby in his mother’s arms, his mother and two of his grandparents were struck by the drunk driver of a pickup truck. Both of the baby’s grandparents were killed and he and his mother were both seriously injured. The driver had two previous arrests for driving drunk and was driving his car with a suspended license.

The crosswalk in North East Seattle where Mark Mullan, a completely unfit driver, finally killed two people and possibly killed two others including a newborn baby, was immediately in front of Eckstein Middle School. Eckstein is a school that many of us have heard of because of how successfully the community there has embraced biking to school. The intersection where the collision happened is well known as a dangerous one. The Seattle Bike Blog wrote eloquently on how we as a society have an obligation to prevent similar tragedies by fixing dangerous roads.

Baby and Momma are still in the hospital, in critical condition.

On Tuesday

When Little Oil and I were preparing to ride up to Tyler’s house, in North East Seattle, Tyler mentioned that taking 35th Ave could be hairy. It is wide and straight and I could imagine how some drivers could work up a good head of speed but I’ve ridden on there before and I thought I could handle it. I think I control traffic really well on such streets. I stay visible, take the lane with confidence, keep clear of dangerous passing and give other users a lot of room and respect. I very rarely hear or sense any frustration from drivers when I ride like that in downtown traffic with Little Oil on board or even when I ride on Rainier, (which I won’t be doing with Little Oil on board, I don’t think). Besides, there’s sharrows on 35th! Sharrows make it safe, right?

So we did take 35th. And it was fine. We were cruising along, riding with the assist and pedaling hard (we are riding an e-assist Edgerunner right now, I’ll be writing all about it soon!). All traffic was flowing smoothly until, out of nowhere, the pickup that was overtaking us suddenly swerved toward us. The driver slowed her truck and lurched it towards our side of the lane and shouted, shrieked,

Do you think that’s safe? With a kid on the back?

Then she sped ahead of us, revving her engines and halting suddenly at the red light one block up. Little Oil asked me why the driver was mad at us. I couldn’t answer. I hadn’t read the news about the tragic collision that had so violently harmed one family only blocks from where we were riding. I didn’t know what I now assume was on the mind of the driver of the pickup truck on Tuesday. That another driver had used a truck just like hers to kill those people. That cars kill. That streets are dangerous because of unsafe driving.

The thing is, while Tuesday’s driver pretended to be concerned for our safety she was the one who was creating the unsafe situation. We were riding a bike on a neighborhood street that the city actually marked specially for biking on. She was swerving all over the road and distracting us both from driving safely.

Tuesday’s driver forcefully implied that we weren’t safe on the street in that moment. After being verbally harangued by a careless driver dangerously weaving her truck at us, I agreed with her and turned the bike off 35th and continued on a parallel side street.

On Wednesday

Picking up Little from school downtown early this evening.

Another truck, this one disguised as a luxury vehicle. I swear that Wednesday’s driver looked exactly like Tuesday’s. They are not the same person but as I think of them, seeing red, they combine in my mind. This isn’t rational or fair. Its just my feelings.

My precious daughter, threatened this evening downtown. By an angry, shrieking driver who, I honestly don’t know why, felt the need to cut into our lane and swerve her enormous vehicle at us so that, just before she was caught by a red light, she could scream at the face of my three year-old baby,

You think you are so fucking smart!

And you know what, lady? You know what all you hostile drivers? You too-close passers and you comment thread concern-trolls? When it comes to getting around in the city I live in, I do think I am so fucking smart. Yes, I do. I think I am lucky, privileged and fortunate to be able to live with out driving a car. I also think that I, and everybody who does not drive any more than they must despite all of the forces hard at work to keep us driving as much as possible until the very bitter end are SO FUCKING SMART!

People have a right to use the road! We have a right to use it without being threatened! You are going to acknowledge that streets are dangerous from behind the wheel of your swerving truck? I don’t believe in your concern for my child’s safety. I believe that you are sincerely concerned that you could kill someone, too. And you could. Stop driving.

I know that auto-dependance is complex. I know that most of us live lives that basically require us to drive. This is unjust and unsustainable. We know this for a fact: driving is unsafe. We also know this: driving is unsustainable. And this: driving hurts others. We drive anyway, despite knowing that driving harms ourselves and others. This is not ethical behavior. This is a addiction. Safety for pedestrians, access to bicycles and funding for transit are what we need to break it and to start getting our life back together.