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I don't drive, preferring instead to ride my bike, and get my fair share of rather nasty comments (all the worse when I'm toting my three boys around town), even though I'm probably about the safest, most law-abiding rider on the planet. I'm always struggling to put appropriate words to my anger and sense of unfairness when I'm faced with a many-ton vehicle driven by someone who clearly misunderstands our relative rights to use the roadways. (In other words: We both have them, and I'm pretty sure I have a right to not be run over by you.) Now I have them.

No-Impact Man, Colin Beavan, is famous for trying to live his life without any impact on our carbon footprint. As part of this commitment, he rides his bike to work in New York City. Yesterday, while riding his bike and wearing a purple helmet, he got in an altercation with New York state senator Jeff Klein -- who almost hit him with his large black Mercedes, and then called him a "f-cking a--hole" for knocking on his window to alert him of his presence.

Beavan wrote an amazingly calm and eloquent letter to Jeff Klein, posting it on his blog and promising to hand-deliver it to Klein's office.

Part of his letter reads:

You said, "You better not touch other people's cars. You might find that touching other people's cars is more dangerous than traffic."

This gave me the impression that you were threatening me.

I said, "I think my life is more precious than your car."

You said, "I didn't see you."

I said, "If you're driving a car, it's your responsibility to see what's in road space before you veer into it. That's what your driver side mirror is for."

He goes on to describe the rest of the altercation, then says,

I'd like to point out, however, that, as mad as you were about my touching your car window with my hand, you could double or triple that strength of emotion when it comes to how frightening it is to be on the other side of the Mercedes driving wheel, especially when that particular Mercedes is coming toward you.

Weigh it up: "he might scratch my black Mercedes" against "he might cause my little girl to be left fatherless."

Weigh it up again: One guy is riding a bike that weighs a grand total of 22 pounds and has a relatively small potential to harm others. The other guy is in charge of a powerful machine that weighs a couple of tons. Which person has the greater responsibility to watch out for the care and welfare of people who may get in their path, by their own fault or not?

As a State Senator, I'm sure you especially feel the weight of the obligation to look out for the welfare of others, no?

It's common here in Portland and in other cities where bicycles and cars often vy for the same space for car owners to claim that they, as tax-paying citizens, deserve the road. Well, certainly, all tax-paying citizens deserve to utilize the roads. ALL. But those of us who choose to save our pennies dollars thousands of dollars each year on automobile transportation, riding bikes instead, should not be at greater risk of dying because of our frugality (or poverty, or environmental choice, or love for the feel of the wind in our hair, or whatever is inspiring us to choose alternative transportation). Hopefully Klein's near-impact with No-Impact Man will straighten this out a bit.

And perhaps we can all think logically about it and realize that, not only do bike riders also pay property taxes, income taxes and sales taxes; but also save the rest of the taxpayers money on future road upgrades and environmental cleanup. Klein and other angry or inattentive motorists: please, be gentle out there.


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