Content warning: This blog post describes and contains images of aggressive and/or violent interactions between motorists and cyclists.
A number of instances of cyclist harassment have been reported to Asheville on Bikes and law enforcement this summer, most notably Buncombe County resident Bill Miller’s hit and run experience. Due to this rise in cyclist harassment and the growing aggression surrounding these events, it’s more important than ever for Asheville cyclists to stay safe and vigilant while biking our city’s roads.
Harassment is defined as “aggressive pressure or intimidation.”
Cyclist harassment by the numbers
In 2014, North Carolina was ranked one of the top 10 most dangerous states for cyclists. And though Asheville has gained a reputation as a cycling mecca, harassment of cyclists has been increasing in Asheville and Buncombe County over the past decade. Consider the following events:
North Carolina has been ranked one of the top 10 most dangerous states for cyclists.
You may remember in 2018 when an Asheville cyclist was forced off the road by a motorist who was trying to pass her in oncoming traffic. The driver, who was charged with a misdemeanor, verbally threatened the cyclist through the window of his pickup truck as he forced her into the grass.
You may also recall the Asheville cyclist who was punched in the face at the intersection of Sand Hill Road and Sardis Road back in 2017. Thankfully, the incident was caught on camera by another driver, although the assailant was merely charged with simple assault.
Then there was the 2009 incident where a former Asheville firefighter shot and nearly killed an Asheville cyclist because he thought the child bike seat his son was riding in was unsafe. The assailant got away with serving just 4 months in prison and paying $1,200 in medical expenses.
Most recently, we were informed of a few other incidences of harassment towards cyclists, including the following story:
Abby and Austin’s story
Just after 11 am on July 31, 2021, AoB’s Executive Assistant, Abby Walker, and her husband Austin were riding single file up a long stretch of hill on Turkey Creek Road, when a man driving a Honda CR-V began screaming at the group out of his car window. The man and his young child proceeded to follow Abby and Austin, berating them with obscenities as they climbed.
The driver cursed at Abby and Austin, and prevented them from escaping by refusing to move his vehicle from the road.
When the pair eventually found a driveway to pull into, the driver got out of his car and proceeded to tell Abby and Austin that they were “creating a dangerous situation” and being “disrespectful” because they were cycling. The man told them that biking was not considered “transportation” but rather “a hobby.” When another vehicle stopped to make sure the cyclists were okay, the man told her she should mind her own business and leave them alone. He continued cursing at Abby and Austin and prevented them from escaping by refusing to move his vehicle from the road.
Warning: This video contains explicit language and aggression.
It is clear that aggression and violence towards cyclists is a serious problem in the Asheville area, and dangerous motorists aren’t always prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Migration to Buncombe County, coupled with urban expansion into previously rural areas, has created a growing tension between motorists and cyclists.
What to do if you’re harassed
The unfortunate truth is that if you ride a bike in the Asheville area, you may experience harassment. While you may not be able to avoid confrontation with motorists, there are a few actions you can take if you are harassed:
- Contact local law enforcement. If you are threatened by a motorist in any way while biking, immediately call 911. While this may feel like overreacting (and the driver very well may tell you it is), you never know when a situation is going to escalate out of control and necessitate a police officer.
- Keep yourself safe. If you are threatened by an aggressive motorist, maintain your physical safety by being prepared to get off your bike and away from the aggressor, or biking away to a safe distance (unless you are injured). Do not engage the motorist, and use concise, neutral language (like Austin’s responses in the above video) to diffuse a situation, or say nothing at all.
- Document as much as you can. Make a concerted effort to get the motorist’s license plate, vehicle make and model, and his or her physical description. If you’re unable to get this information yourself, ask a bystander to record this information. If you have a smartphone or other recording device, take video and/or photos of the incident to share with authorities. Also, try to collect the names and phone numbers of any witnesses present.
- File a report with law enforcement. Once the authorities have arrived and you are safe, file a police report.
- Fill out our Road Violence Report. Help AoB gather information about aggressive interactions between motorists and cyclists in Asheville by filling out our Road Violence Report. This data will help us raise awareness around bike safety and prosecute irresponsible motorists.
Take these steps to stay safe on the road
Practicing proper bike safety, like fitting your bike with lights and riding responsibly, can help prevent and mitigate some (but not all) dangerous motorist-cyclist interactions. To ensure your safety during every ride, make sure you:
- Wear protective equipment. More cyclists are starting to wear a combination of front and rear lights and video cameras to make themselves seen, and to record any adverse events with motor vehicles. And, of course, always wear a helmet!
- Claim your space. If you don’t have a bike lane, bike advocacy organization Bike Law suggests in their Ride Guide that you should ride far enough towards the center of the lane to make it clear to motorists that they must move into the next lane to pass you. If you’re not used to road biking, this may seem dangerous; however, a motorist is more likely to try to pass you when they shouldn’t (resulting in you getting hit or run off the road) if you try to ride on the shoulder or in the gutter. Riding closer to the center of the lane also makes you more visible to motorists, which is especially important when crossing driveways and intersections.
Remember, cyclists have the right to the full width of the road (except interstates and highways) as long as they follow traffic laws, and drivers are legally required to give you 3 feet of room when passing.
Asheville on Bikes is dedicated to increasing bike safety
Asheville on Bikes has been advocating for safe biking conditions and bike infrastructure for over 15 years. Learn more about our mission and how to get involved on our website. As always, stay safe and enjoy the ride!