Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide

Courtesy of the Post-Gazette

Somewhere in Pittsburgh, a nervous and cowardly driver hides in the shadows. Around 5:00 a.m. yesterday morning, this driver barreled down Penn Avenue at high speeds, hit a cyclist, and continued on at around 60 m.p.h., leaving the mortally wounded cyclist by the side of the road like an animal.

James Price was a 46-year old father of an 11-year-old girl. For two years he has been cycling round the East End in the early morning hours. That’s not easy. Here was a man with dedication and resolve. During those two years, Price watched as he lost weight and his symptoms of diabetes faded away.

James Price — courtesy of the Post-Gazette

He wore a helmet and family members say that he’s never even had a flat tire. Not until he was struck and killed by a white car on Penn Ave. on Wednesday morning.

What happens to us when we get behind the wheel of a car? Far too often, we transform from normal, law-abiding, neighborly human beings into raging, aggressive assholes who take any sign of disrespect as an injustice to our family name. We flip people off, cut them off, tailgate them and generally do things that we would never ever do outside of that steel enclosure. I know. I’ve felt the rage creep through my veins. Why is this? I don’t feel the same way when someone cuts me off in the grocery store or at the ballgame. I may get a little irritated, but I feel no need to flip them off and ride their backside all through the canned vegetable aisle. But when someone races to the front of a construction line of traffic, turns on their signal, and sneaks their way in, I find myself wanting to do terribly hurtful things to them. And why? Does it really matter if I get where I’m going 6 seconds sooner?

Then there are those drivers who are set off by cyclists. This, I have a harder time understanding. Here’s a hard-peddling soul on a bike, getting exercise, saving fuel, and saving the environment… someone who is not a threat but rather dangerously exposed. And drivers have to get aggressive with them in a 4000+-pound vehicle? Sure, I get irritated when cyclists ride in the middle of a lane, not allowing me to pass but to follow them at 20 mph. (This is illegal, by the way.) I also get irritated when they demand I respect them but they think that basic traffic signals like stop lights are not for them. (Also illegal, by the way.) But 95% of the cyclists I see are law-biding folks just trying to get by on around two feet of pavement to the side of the road.

In April, a new Pennsylvania law went into effect. According to the Post-Gazette: “It  specifies that cars should pass a bike with a minimum of four feet of clearance space, prohibits the “classic right hook” in which a right turn by a motorist interferes with a bicyclist going straight, and says that bicycles must use the right-hand lane, or as close as possible to the right edge of the roadway, unless road conditions are unsafe….But the onus is on drivers to be mindful of the more physically vulnerable travelers.”

Yeah, right. Each year in Pittsburgh there are 50-60 serious car/bike crashes. Two or three of those are critical or fatal hit-and-run cases.

Let this be a reminder. Slow down, folks. Take it easy. Put on a zen CD. Listen to some Mahler, Brahms, or Yanni. (Unless, like me, that would just make you more crazed.) We’ll all get there. And I ain’t preachin’. I’m saying it to myself, too. And get comfortable with the notion of sharing city roads with bikes. It’s not going to hurt you. Bikers make our city a cleaner and greener place. Let ‘em have their four feet.

In the case of James Price, I hope justice is done. I hope this driver in hiding has a crisis of conscience. I hope the media coverage they read and hear burns in their gut over their cowardice. At the very least, I hope a neighbor notices the new dents and scratches on their white car. But mostly I pray comfort for an 11-year-old daughter.

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About carpetbagger

Tom and Jean are just a couple of Chicago transplants in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Posted on July 26, 2012, in Misc, Pittsburgh and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Excellent post as always. As a ‘burgh bicyclist, thank you. (and as a blogger, I’ve used your image of Mr. Price here http://type2-clydesdale.blogspot.com/2012/07/james-price-father-diabetic-cyclist-hit.html I hope that’s OK) Cheers, V.

  2. People act aggressively in cars for the same reasons they do on the Internet… they think they can act aggressively and get away with it safely and anonymously.

  3. Is it possible the driver did know he hit someone, at least originally, as it was dark? Seriously asking, as it is easy to look down at something you dropped, your radio, etc., and not realize what you did. But even so, surely once this story hit, the person would have recognized him or herself.

    A month or so ago, hubby was driving (in daylight), and we heard an awful noise, as if we ran over something or lost a major car part. But looking in our rear-view mirror, we saw nothing. Still cannot explain that.

    I do get frustrated by cyclists doing some of the things you said, but they have a lot more to lose than I do, and I try my best to give them extra room, law or not. Such a tragedy.

  4. Thank you for this post. Cyclists, just like other drivers, can be frustrating – but they are so much more vulnerable. Neil often bikes downtown to get to work and when he does I’m nervous. It’s easy to say to him in all capitols “ONE CONCUSSION PER HOUSEHOLD! BE CAREFUL” but my shouty words don’t reach all the people that drive past him. He knows the bike rules but sometimes drivers don’t (maybe both should be taught in driver’s ed). *sigh* or maybe he should just stick to vehicles with walls until his wife can get a grip.

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