Road Rage Incident Is Inexcusable

It’s gone viral.

A Madison cyclist wearing a GoPro or similar recording device is riding on Jenifer Street on Madison’s east side when a motorist comes up fast from behind him and tries to run him off the road – three times.

When he finally succeeds in stopping the cyclist, he gets out of his car and advances toward the cyclist in a threatening manner. They exchange strong language but it appears that the motorist is angry because the cyclist has taken the lane. He apparently doesn’t understand that the cyclist is within his legal rights. There are even sharrows on the street in these blocks underscoring that very point: motor vehicles and bikes can share the lane.

The incident, posted to You Tube on Friday morning, has had lots of views. But as ugly as it is, it’s also a teachable moment.

Cyclists have every right to take the lane when they feel it is the safest option. In this case, with a solid line of parked cars on a relatively quiet street, the cyclist was smart to stay out of the door zone. In addition, from the looks of the video, he was moving along briskly and not impeding auto traffic.

The driver in this case was clearly in the wrong and his identity should not be hard to track down. The Bike Fed has asked the Madison Police Department to find him, talk to him about what he did, and press any appropriate charges. His behavior was dangerous and inexcusable.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

18 thoughts on “Road Rage Incident Is Inexcusable

  1. On first viewing, it seems clear-cut. But watch again and you wonder what the POV video doesn’t show. Specifically, as the red car begins to pull out but then stops to yield, what is the bicyclist doing as he stares the car down for 3-4 seconds? That’s too long for stink eye alone. The driver (in youtube comments) claims the bicyclist flipped him off.

    That’s no excuse for the driver’s behavior, of course. But I wonder what the outcome would have been if the biker had just continued with his hands on his handlebars…

    • Hope that’s a wry comment. Deescalation and disarmament is what the Bike Fed’s about. Turn your swords into bike frames.

      • I like this but deescalation is not what the bicyclist in this case engaged in.

        I am sure you agree to some extent that the bicyclist holds at least a small amount of responsibility for the level to which this escalated. Right?

        FWIW: I agree that it is entirely inexcusable, but it went way farther than it needed to go.

  2. Although it’s not easy to see on the video, there are at least two instances where the bicyclist flips the driver off, one of them is even after the confrontation where the driver gets back into his car after the confrontation and the bicyclist rides away.

    I am not condoning this behavior in any way, but it seems that this city is full of self-righteous folks with some strange obligation or desire to always get the last word or prove they are right (even when they may not be). Combine this trait with unpredictable and unstable people like the driver of the car, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    The bicyclist was within his rights, both in where he was riding as well as the way he expressed his frustration with the driver. That being said, it’s probably the latter that escalated this encounter to a dangerous level.

    TL;DR: This may not have escalated to this level had the bicyclist not given vulgar hand gestures to the driver of the car.

  3. @Andrew & Craig – Flipping a person off doesn’t have the potential to leave the person paralyzed or even dead, causal attempts at vehicular manslaughter do.

    • Road rage is road rage. Whether or not one person is on a bike is irrelevant. I agree that the guy in the car went way too far — that’s not in dispute. What I am questioning is what we didn’t see. What precipitated the encounter in the first place? A nasty stare, a hand gesture, or even mouthing a vulgarity?

      Like I said before, I am in no way condoning the behavior of the car driver. I don’t believe the bicyclist was completely innocent, either. He could have just waved at the guy, or even when the guy drove up to him with the window down, said something as simple as “Thanks for stopping back there. I wasn’t sure you saw me.” Instead, he decided to engage and further enrage the guy, not only once, but twice. To me, that doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do.

      So I guess, to respond more succinctly to your original comment: Yes, flipping a person off _does_ have the potential to leave someone paralyzed or even dead, if the person you flip off isn’t mentally stable and is driving a 3,000 pound car. It’s a dangerous world out there and you never know who you will encounter.

  4. UPDATE: The driver contacted me with the message below. I’m not listing his name because the Madison Police already have it. The MPD has been great, by the way. They contacted me asking if I could identify the cyclist who was the subject of the incident. I couldn’t, but it’s important that he come forward so that they can take proper action. In any event, I thought it was fair to post the driver’s side of the story and here it is:

    Mr. Cieslewicz,
    I am the angry motorist depicted in the video on youtube last week. However, what isn’t shown on that video is the cyclist flipping me off as he passed me while I yielded to him on Jenifer Street. I went to pass him but he rode practically in the center of the street as some kind of retaliatory gesture (I assume he felt I almost hit him, although I don’t think I came close to hitting him), just to the right of the yellow line. I pulled up next to him to suggest he move over to share the road, at which time he cursed me and spat on my car. I immediately pulled over to confront him, but he continued to ride. I caught up to him and told him to pull over, he refused. When we finally stopped, you can hear me ask, as I got out of my car, “Why did you spit on my car?” You can also hear him refer to my car being “rained on” at the very end of the clip–rain being slang for spit.

    I have lived on Spaight Street for more than 25 years. I bike to Lazy Jane’s, Ace Hardware, Farmer’s market and especially to my studio on Paterson/Williamson Street. When I bike, and I hear a car coming, I move over and share the road. I think it’s unacceptable for someone to flip anyone off, drive in the middle of the road, spit on cars and consider it their right to do so. What recourse does a driver have? There’s no license number on the bike. How am I to convey that it’s unacceptable behavior? There’s no consequences for his actions? This is the kind of cyclist you want to represent?

    I realize that there are better ways to resolve this issue than the way I chose. And I do want to apologize to the rider and my community if I could. And I never considered, traveling at the speed of 10 mph (by the end of our confrontation), that anyone’s life or safety was in peril, even though that is a possibility. Perhaps you can suggest a better way. And maybe I was feeling territorial of my neighborhood, where I expect some kind of decency and a willingness to share the road, regardless of what vehicle you’re operating.

    • Driver rolled through a stop sign, but stopped short of hitting him. Riding in the door zone is dangerous and scary, but the drive cannot comprehend that. Then the driver tried to teach the cyclist a lesson both in person screaming at him, and through an email to the bike fed on “how he thinks that a good cyclist should act”.

      Driver cannot even register his car properly, how can he tell people how to ride a bike. I’m sure the cyclist was an !@#$, but if you are too fragile to have somebody show you a finger you need to get over yourself.

  5. Appears that both the person driving and the person cycling behaved badly. Both could have chosen not to escalate, and instead this.

    The difference between them is the asymmetry of deadly force in a car-bike encounter. The person driving has it at their fingertips, and has a responsibility to not to let emotion influence what they do with it. Even if provoked.

    The person driving is very lucky the person cycling didn’t crash in this interaction. Then this unnecessary incident could have involved criminal charges with life-changing consequences. Verbal (and gestural and salivary) provocation would not justify vehicular assault.

    The person driving asks above, ” What recourse does a driver have?” How about smile, wave, and say “have a nice day” in your best deadpan sarcastic voice? Then go on with your day and your life. When riding a bike, I do that (mentally) all the time.

  6. He (the driver) did the same thing to my kids and x-wife a handful of years ago. They did not provoke him in any way, except by biking down Jenny street. He used the same language and aggressive tactics with my young kids as he did with this adult on the video. I’m my opinion, that disgusting.

  7. So, first off, the guy on the bike is a dick. He intentionally takes the lane when there’s no need, simply because the guy in the car almost ran the stop sign. In essence, the cyclist is trying to piss the guy off, and it’s working. This cyclist is an idiot; he probably wears a GoPro just so he can make people rage, then capture them on camera. Trolling, is what he’s doing.

    That said, the guy in the car is even more of a dick than the guy on the bike.

    Another point; when someone gets out of their car and approaches you, the proper response is to drop the bike to the ground and take a fighting stance between the bike and the driver. Never trust someone who gets out of their car to come after you. I have done this multiple times, and every time the driver has backed off. Sometimes they try to damage the bike and run away. But they always back down. Bullies always do.

    Also, note the homophobic slur the driver uses. Anyone surprised by that?

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