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04/29/2001 Entry: "Atlanta by Motorcycle"

I've been riding motorcycles for 21 years now; and for the last 10 years motorcycles have been my primary mode of transportation. During this time, I've never had a motorcycle accident. When I lived in the Bay Area, I commuted over the Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco nearly every work day--rain or shine--for 3 straight years. On the freeways in California you're allowed to "lane split," that is ride between cars in between marked lanes. During the decade or so I commuted by motorcycle in the Bay Area, I could count on my hands and toes the number of times I came across drivers who tried to injure me, either as a result of indifference or active malice. As you might imagine, the majority of these people were car drivers resentful of lane-splitting motorcyclists who were going to be home eating dinner before they had finished crossing the bridge. I had people try to "door" me, grab me as I went by, "squeeze" me into another car as I came alongside them (I only count the times that I could see the driver's eyes watching me in their rear or side view mirrors on the "squeezes), and I even had one guy swerve and try and run me into a concrete barrier. When you look at the number of commutes, however, versus the number of people who tried to injure me, the percentages are actually pretty small.

Atlanta, however, is a completely different story. At least once a week I encounter a driver who I can tell sees me, either because of the manner in which they move their vehicle or because I can see their eyes focus on me, but who nonetheless does something that can hardly be characterized as other than an attempt to injure me. People regularly try to beat me across intersections, making left turns in front of me even when I've already entered the intersection, move into my lane even though I can see them watching me in their mirrors, run red lights while looking directly at me, you name the dangerous situation and it's happened to me.

These dangerous drivers seem to come in two flavors, those who simply don't care if they hit you and those who want you to have an accident. A perfect example of the former happened within a mile of my house about 1 year ago. I was headed east on 14th Street across the 75/85 overpass and entered the intersection with Williams on a green light. Just as I entered the intersection at about 35 mph, a police officer in an unmarked vehicle swung wide around a car stopped at the red light in the northbound right lane on Williams and made a right turn directly in front of me. I know he didn't miss seeing me since he looked directly at me as I blew my 120 decibel airhorn while working my brakes to avoid a collision. His eyes didn't even widen in surprise. It was clearly a matter of profound indifference to him whether he killed me or not. I also know that he wasn't on a call--not that that would be an excuse--because a block later I saw him pull into a gas station and fill his tank.

An example of the other type of dangerous driver also happened within less than a mile of my house about a month ago. Driving west on 14th coming up on the driveway for Georgia Public TV and GCATT, I noticed a guy talking on a cell phone while coming up the driveway towards 14th in his black Ford Expedition. As I came even with the driveway he continued to roll forward, looking directly at me as he talked on his cell phone. I tapped my horn, not giving the full effect, to remind him that I had the right of way. He stopped with the front of his SUV sticking into my lane and as I passed him by I could see him screaming curses at me. Stupidly, I gave him the bird and he pealed out behind me and proceeded to put his big Expedition about a foot off of my rear wheel as we came up on the traffic stopped at the intersection of 14th and Techwood. I flashed my brake lights to let him know I was going to have to stop but he kept right on coming. Finally, I had to deke out into the space between the lanes to avoid being rear-ended. Now, I know that I provoked this driver to some extent, but his response was not atypical for Atlanta drivers of this type.

So, what does this mean? I don't think there's a big lesson here, other than a strong reminder to drive defensively and not react to other drivers and their idiocy. It's just another example of why I dislike Atlanta.