Just when I thought I’d seen it all, a motorized metal apparition appeared before me on Aspinwall Avenue in Brookline, MA. OK, it wasn’t an apparition; it was a real-life motor vehicle. But my brain, which has a tendency to want to make sense of the world around it, told me that it couldn’t exist.
You see, the motor vehicle was facing me, but traveling away from me at a fairly high rate of speed. In the distance, a car was traveling towards it, on a collision course of epic proportions. I practically held my breath as I realized that the oncoming car would never expect to encounter a car speeding towards it, in the same lane, in reverse. Would the driver of that car be able to comprehend the situation in time to stop? Or would the absurdity of it all cause him to freeze in indecision and get sucked into a crash?
One does not often see such a spectacle, so I slowed down to observe it more closely. As I watched, partly in awe and partly in horror, the crazy wrong-direction car sped a full block in reverse to the intersection of Aspinwall and Kent Street.
As if this weren’t enough, it backed through the intersection, all the way to the other side, until it had traveled far enough to make a right-hand turn onto Kent Street. I could not believe my eyes.
The driver of this car had made a daring and dangerous move in front of a fully occupied playground, in broad daylight, with rush hour traffic bustling around it. What, I wondered, could have possibly precipitated such insanity on a narrow, residential road?
I sped up a bit, with the thought of trying to follow that car. I was headed in a different direction, but something made me want to know who was behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, traffic picked up at that moment, almost on cue, to fill the void where the reverse car had traveled. I could not make the left-hand turn onto Kent in time to reach him before several cars turned in front of me and the light turned red.
For a moment, I thought about what I would have done if I had been riding my bike down that side of the road when the car started to travel in reverse. It would have been coming at me in a wavering pattern, since cars never steer quite as well in reverse as when driving forward. I would have been trapped in an aisle of uncertainty between the curb to the right and the reversing car rushing towards me on the left.
The unpredictability of the car’s direction and intention would have made stopping as dangerous as traveling forward. It was an inordinately strange predicament. No matter how I looked at the road and the problem, I couldn’t see a clear escape route for a bicycle.
All over Brookline there are bike lanes and Share the Road signs depicting the presence of bicycles on the road. Many bikes travel along Aspinwall Avenue. And pedestrians line the sidewalks during rush hour. Yet, the driver of the reversing car never considered anyone or anything around him before risking the lives of everyone along that stretch of road.
As one who takes cycling safety seriously, and who plans my moves well in advance to avoid running into dangerous situations, I was alarmed to see how the audacity of drivers could foil the best laid plans, and put my life at risk. No amount of caution, no amount of anticipation, no amount of riding experience could have protected me from what happened on that road. This brought home the realization of how vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians are when using the roads — and how little control they have over the behavior of drivers.
Drivers can rant as much as they want about the “entitlement” mentality of cyclists. Their mouths say one thing, but their behavior tells another story. The actions they take on the roads go beyond entitlement to unbounded insolence. With lordly bearing, they take possession of the roads — rules be damned — and charge onward to their personal agendas, while sacrificing everyone in their path.
Reflecting upon this brought a particular idea to mind. Drivers possess one thing cyclists can’t afford to express: unmitigated nerve. They have the nerve to try the unthinkable because, encased in their metal boxes, they feel immune from the consequences of illicit maneuvers.
After mulling it over for a while, this idea crystallized into the realization that, unlike cyclists who feel vulnerable surrounded by two ton masses of steel, drivers feel impervious, impenetrable, incontestable and invincible.
They feel safe and secure in their cocoons of steel, which they guide like missiles through the night, to part any obstacles in their way. It’s difficult to say whether this attitude comes from stupidity or denial — or both. Either way, as long as drivers feel invincible, they will practice some form of endangerment with temerity.
Cyclists, who must share the roads with such drivers, can do little more than remember to expect the unexpected. One can never put anything past drivers, for their audacity knows no bounds, and logic is often a missing component in their diminutive driving skill repertoire.