Monday, July 26, 2010

Report a Bad Driver

Yesterday I decided to take a 20 mile ride from Saugerties to Woodstock in upstate New York. It was a relatively nice day and I was in a good mood.

The route I took is normally a pretty tame one, though on one stretch which travels along the ridge of the Blue Mountains in the Catskills, linking the two towns, it's a straightaway and drivers often exploit the lack of police presence to go faster than the posted 45 mph.

The area is a mix of vacation home occupants who drive the car of choice, Subaru, to get through the snow in the winter, and regular working people who often drive pick-up trucks.  There is also the occasional red-neck a-hole, excuse my verbiage, who drives something in between and today it was a blue Corvette, a new model.

I could hear him behind me more than a half a mile away his engine was so loud, and I could judge, based on experience, that the driver was traveling very fast and was an angry person. I put my arm out in a gesture to give me space on the narrow road, but as the loud roar of his engine approached I had a feeling there was going to be no room given. I rode straight into the side of the road, into the dirt, grass and stones of the ditch, and as he roared by scaring the daylights out of me, I saw he gave me exactly one half a foot of clearance--from the ditch. If I hadn't moved I would have been dead.

In my anger and fear I didn't see his license plate. But further down the road I encountered two walkers, walking on the other side of the road. They confirmed they saw the driver, "really booking it," and the model of the car, but not the license plate.

When I got to Woodstock, I saw a police officer on bicycle duty, and reported the incident to him. Later I called the Saugerties Police Dept., and gave them the same report. Even without a license plate, a car like his is sure to draw attention and be unique in an area like this, and if and when he repeats his gross indifference to human life, there will be a record of what he has been doing on file.

Five minutes later another cyclist pulled up: he was out of breath and scared, and said he had almost been killed. I motioned for him to come over and make a report. He hesitated. How many times have you hesitated between making a report, and saving time?

He came over, and told Woodstock Police Officer Tony Smith that he had been descending Rock City Road at about 11:40 am when a driver in a silver Sienna van came to the edge of lower Byrdcliffe road, looked him straight in the eye and pulled out in front of him. The cyclist, James van Alstine, 47, of Palenville, NY said he had to swerve into the oncoming traffic lane to avoid hitting the car because he was going 30 mph. "If there had been a car coming in the other direction I would have been a hood ornament," he said. "He didn't care," if he hit me, said Alstine. But he didn't have a license plate number.

Woodstock was one of the first communities in Ulster County to have a police force on bicycles said Smith who helped start it in 1992.  Both Woodstock and Ellenville started the bike police forces so they could get through traffic, respond to incidents more quickly, and travel down trails and other off road locations where police are often necessary.

The van had disappeared, and had two occupants, a male driver and female front seat passenger.  We looked around the parking lots to see if they had parked nearby, but James gave up and went off to the Overlook Bike Shop to pick up some brake pads. Lo and behold, what did he find on the way there the silver Sienna, license plates EMU8801. He called back Officer Smith, and made a report.

I asked Alstine how often these types of experiences happen to him and whether he usually reports them to the police. "If I see an officer right away, yes. But if time passes, and I don't see one, I let it go," he said.

And how many times a year does this type of event happen to him? "Once or twice a year," he responded. "Really?" I replied. It happens to me several times on a ride, I noted. "But this was a near death experience," said Alstine.

BBB is starting a new service: For any near brushes with cars, if you are buzzed, pushed off the road, screamed at, threatened, knocked off your bike, or the object of aggressive riding, please report the driver's license plate, location and time of the accident, your name and email address, as well as what happened. We will publish every single bad license plate incident, and keep a record of the incidents.  Please email your reports to

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