I went for a bike ride this Wednesday that was a bit more than I had bargained for. Not more than I could handle, but more than I had planned. By “bike” of course, I mean on my recumbent trike.
A long time friend, who I met originally riding with a local bike club, passed away in Florida recently. Her husband and family held a memorial picnic for her friends here in Mayor’s Park in North Tonawanda. Gloria and her husband, Chuck, had met through the ski club I also belonged to, and we had been on several ski trips together. They were good people and good friends and I wanted to attend.
I decided that, since we had met through cycling originally, I would ride to the event. The distance was doable and it was along a route I had ridden many times. The only questionable aspect was the time, it started at 5pm and lasted until 8pm. If I didn’t stay too late, I could ride home most of the way before dark.
The day, however, turned out to be cool and overcast. The rain stayed well south of Buffalo, but the clouds cut at least a half-hour of daylight out. I talked to my son, who had plans to meet some friends in N. Tonawanda that evening and I asked him to drive my truck, so that if it rained, I could meet up with him.
The ride to the park was uneventful. It’s mostly rural roads, even the last leg in N. Tonawanda is along Tonawanda Creek/Erie Canal and is a winding residential road. I got to the park and found the picnic easily.
I enjoyed the event and spent time talking with a number of friends and time passed quickly. Before I knew it, it was 8 o’clock. I should have left earlier, but I decided that I’d take the bail out and catch up with my son. I rode over to the place he and his friends were supposed to be at, only to find that he had already left. We exchanged a couple texts and I decided to head home on my own. It was just going to be a dark ride.
Now, riding in the dark doesn’t intimidate me. I enjoy it. I often ride after dark in the summer when it is too hot to ride during the day. My trike has more than adequate lighting and I had charged the headlight in anticipation of the ride. I had spare batteries for the DiNotte tail light that I use at all times and would also use the new Cateye Reflex that I put on last year, but have never really used. The headlight is one of those Nightsun imports that are extremely bright. I’ve had cars flash their high beams at me using it before, so I set it to the low level. I still had bright reflections coming back at me off of road signs more than a block away. I was ready.
Now that I had ridden a couple miles further, I checked a map on my phone and quickly memorized the route that would take me back to the route I rode in and knew. It wasn’t too complicated and I knew the major streets. The last bit was a small street I had never heard of, Sherwood Ave. Most of the distance, about 2.5 miles, was on Walck Rd. a major street in NT that runs east-west. It’s still a residential street, though and only two lanes with curb parking and frequent stop signs. But it was direct and avoided other, busier roads and intersections.
I rode on, by now in twilight and turning dark quickly. The overcast sky really had cut some time out. On a sunny day, like we had the day before, it would have been light out until after 9pm. As I rode, I noticed the surface of the road was very bad and full of potholes. We had a winter last year that was really bad for the roads, but it didn’t seem like any effort had been made to repair this road’s surface. Even the bankrupt little town I live in, Lockport, is at least making a token effort to fix the damage.
So, anyway, I ride along doing my best to avoid the worst of the potholes in the dark, avoid parked cars, and generally take my position in the roadway as I know I am allowed like any other vehicle. Traffic was light. I estimate I encountered about three vehicles per minute, counting both directions. Not one had any problem passing me by changing lanes and going around. Only if they were timed right so that a car behind me was facing an oncoming car, would they need to slow and wait. Even then, delay was minimal and it only happened once or twice. I was not an obstacle, I was just another vehicle using the road. Of course, I would run into one car driver, motorist, who didn’t feel that way.
Somewhere before Nash Rd. a blue minivan passed me. A female voice yelled out the window “Get out of the road!” I yelled back, as I sometimes do, “No, you get out of my road.” hoping they would get the message that I had a right to use the road as well. The minivan turned left onto a side street ahead and as I approached, I saw that they had turned around and come back. They sat at the stop sign and waited until I rode by and yelled something again. I don’t recall what, but they didn’t do anything further. Or so I thought.
About a mile later, after I had just made a left turn onto Erie Ave., a police cruiser pulled up alongside me. The officer rolled down his window and began conversing with me. I don’t remember the exact conversation and it went on for some distance, but it went something like this:
NTPD: I need you to get off the road.
Me: Sir, I have every right to use the road.
NTPD: I got a call from our dispatcher that said you were blocking the road and a motorist felt they might hit you.
Let me take a second here. When a driver says they might hit a bicyclist, they are trying to blame the bicyclist for their inability to control their vehicle. What they really are doing is admitting that they should not be driving, because they are required to be in control of their vehicle and be able to stop or at least avoid any object in the road at any time. I mean anything, a tree branch, a garbage can. It's their responsibility. Don't blame the object.
Me: I am well lit and very visible. I’ve had no problem with other drivers seeing me.
NTPD: Well I need you to at least ride on the shoulder.
Me: I am riding on the shoulder.
NTPD: well, you weren’t back there a ways.
Me: Sir, I had just made a left turn. How else do you expect me to do that?
NTPD: I want to talk to you. Stop here.
And he accelerates ahead, pulls off onto the shoulder and I roll up behind him while he gets out. By the way during this time, which included other dialog, which I don’t remember, he never turned on his cruisers light bar or, that I could see, so much as put on four-way flashers. He just drove next to me, blocking the only traffic lane in that direction. Another police car arrived shortly after we had stopped and he did use his safety lights.
So our conversation resumes with the officer standing in front of me and I still sitting in my trike.
NTPD: Look, you can’t be blocking traffic in the road, especially at night.
Me: I’m not blocking any traffic. I am traffic.
NTPD: It’s a 40 mph speed zone. Do you expect to hold up a dozen cars behind you because you are going slower?
Me: First of all, it a speed LIMIT, not a minimum speed, and I wasn’t holding anyone up. Most vehicles simply go around me safely by changing lanes.
NTPD: So you expect vehicles to cross that (pointing to the road on Erie Ave) double yellow line to pass you?
Me: I don’t expect anything. How another driver passes is their responsibility. I’m not telling them how to drive. And I don’t see any problem with them crossing a double yellow line, if it’s safe to do so. Would you ticket them for doing that? Besides, there was no center line or shoulder on Walck.
NTPD: Do you have ID?
NTPD: Well can I see it?
Me: Yes, of course.
I get out my wallet and hand him my drivers license as the other office snickers. The officer calls in my license and the word comes back that I’m not a dangerous criminal.
NTPD: Where are you going?
NTPD: Lockport? You’re going all the way to Lockport? Are you going to ride down Shawnee? (A busy road, Route 425, the same road we are on, just the name changes at the city line.)
Me: No, I’m trying to get over to Lockport St. (Actually Ave.) and then I follow the canal and Bear Ridge. The same way I came here.
NTPD: Well, stay on the shoulder.
Me: I will. It’s the law.
And both cops left. There was more to the conversation, but I don’t remember it all. There was a point where I told him I had studied the vehicle and traffic code as it pertains to bicycles and knew my rights. I think between that and the fact that I was going to Lockport and it wasn’t going to be reasonable to request me to walk or ride on a sidewalk, he simply lost interest. Once he knew I was headed out of his city he was satisfied.
But, when he mentioned Shawnee Rd. I realized that I had missed the street I had wanted to turn on to get over to Old Falls Blvd. and Lockport Ave. I continued on Erie Ave. until I reached Niagara Falls Blvd. a very busy, 4-lane arterial that I didn’t want to ride on if I could avoid it. I might have rode it if only to get to the next road headed back east, but I decided to go back and look for the street I missed.
So, I turned around, and headed back towards Walck, half expecting Barney Fife to come along and check on whether I was going where I told him I was. I never saw the side street I wanted (stupid GPS) but I knew if i just took Walck to the end, it met Old Falls near where Lockport Ave. came in. The other street only saved a couple tenths of a mile.
I rode down the shoulder southbound on Erie until the shoulder was closed by construction. Apparently this was where they were fixing their streets. No shoulder, one lane each direction, left turn ahead, where should I ride? In the driving lane, of course. Come along and tell me to ride the shoulder now, Deputy Dawg! But I never saw him, had an uneventful ride to the intersection and turned left onto Walck again.
The rest of the ride home was strictly routine. I enjoyed the night air. The stars were out. I saw no bears on Bear Ridge, not even a skunk, which would have bothered me more. It’s not a trivial ride. It took a while, but I had no problem getting home, even in the dark.
The Niagara County Sheriff deputy that passed me later on seemed unconcerned by my presence. He barely slowed down.
What I wish I had thought of at the time, but didn’t was to ask the officer to please follow up on a road rage/harassment complaint by me towards the driver of the minivan. Odds are almost certain that they (and I only say “they” because I think the female voice I heard was a passenger.) were who called the police dispatcher, probably using 911. They made a false report to use the police to further harass me. I’d like them to at least be straightened out on the fact that bicycles are permitted to use the road and that aggressive behavior towards them is not allowed. If the police don’t care about that, maybe they could just avoid future unnecessary calls to their dispatch.