As an occasional driver, I know what it's like to have to slam on the brakes while some oblivious cyclist cuts me off in traffic, endangering himself and scaring the crap out of me.
I know what it's like to be stuck in traffic, grumbling as a cyclist runs the red light a line of cars is waiting for.
I know what it's like, even, to get trapped behind a Critical Mass demonstration, stuck in place while a wall of cyclists takes over the road.
But, as a cyclist, I also know what it's like to be yelled at and intimidated by drivers who resent my presence on "their" road.
I know what it's like to have people spit on me because I'm not surrounded by two tons of steel.
I know what it's like to deal with police when I've been hit or threatened by a car—the presumption that of course the cyclist is always to blame and the total lack of interest in pursuing people who "only" spat on me, or screamed obscenities, or tried to bump me off the road.
And I know what it's like to be struck by a carelessly driven car and wake up, dazed, 20 feet down the street, my arm dislocated and pebbles and dirt lodged a half-inch deep in my back.
What we know about what happened at last week's Critical Mass melee: A bunch of cyclists engaged in an act of civil disobedience. A driver got pissed. He lost his temper, revved his engine, yelled at the cyclists ("I have a reservation!"), and slammed his car into several of them. A few of the cyclists, enraged, responded inappropriately, busting his windshield, assaulting him with a U-lock, and slashing his tires.
I don't think the cyclists' response was right—because it was assault, yes, but also (perhaps like the anarchic tradition of Critical Mass itself) because it did nothing to promote the idea that drivers need to share the road.
But I do understand their frustration.
The driver in the Friday, July 25, incident, who wasn't arrested or cited by police, said he didn't mean to hurt anybody. He was just in a hurry, and he wanted the cyclists out of the way. So he hit a few of them with his car.
Think about an analogous situation. The police wouldn't take the side of an angry husband who lost his temper and threw his wife against the wall—nor would the media. Should an angry driver get a pass?
Of course not.
Cyclists are angry for a reason. They're angry that many drivers don't respect them, angry that cops disregard their rights, angry that the city's infrastructure ignores their existence. Until the city addresses that anger—by strengthening the laws governing vehicular assault, creating a real network of bike lanes and grade-separated trails, and training police to treat cyclists' claims as seriously as they do drivers'—incidents like last Friday's are going to keep happening.