I recently asked about safety and security concerns while cycling through your neighborhood, and I mentioned that I feel very safe in my neighborhood. That answer stands, but after more than a year of daily riding, I had my first tense, non-traffic-related cycling safety incident.
I was riding home alone with Betty Foy at 9 p.m. on a residential one-way street that I take all the time – not deserted, but not a major thoroughfare. I didn’t hear any cars, but noticed through my rear view mirror the dark outline of a car behind me with its headlights off. The car did not pass me, but stayed creeping behind (I was going about 14 mph, I’d guess).
The situation felt wrong, so I picked up the pace and when I came to a stop sign where traffic can only keep straight or take a right, I quickly took a right. I saw in my mirror that the car turned right after me without stopping first or using its turn signal. No one turns right on that street because it is only one block long, solely residential. I pedaled as fast as I could and considered but rejected the idea of turning down an alley. The street ended at a one-way cross road, so I turned the wrong way and rode on the sidewalk. At that point I lost the car and was grateful for one-way streets and the maneuverability of bikes. I kept riding as fast as I could, zigzagging through the neighborhood before finally riding the rest of the way home in record time. I was sure the car was not still following me because I had gone quite a distance; otherwise I would have gone to a public place like a restaurant or police station instead of going home.
The entire event could have been a coincidence – perhaps the car drove slowly behind me because it was planning to turn right ahead and was being super nice … and forgot to turn its lights on or signal its turn. Or maybe the guy was bored and messing around. I was not going to stick around to find out – I had pepper spray, a u-lock and a loud scream, but I would prefer to avoid using any of that.
I am not entirely comfortable posting about this because: I could have overreacted; I don’t want to contribute to a culture of fear; and I don’t want comments lecturing me to be more careful – I am hyper careful and aware of the safety precautions that go with living while female. But Let’s Go Ride a Bike is all about documenting our own experiences with city cycling as they happen, and this particular experience is a good reminder for everyone, especially women, always to be aware of your surroundings and follow your gut. Rear view mirrors are essential for me riding in traffic and here’s another reason to have one. Take advantage of your bike’s speed and maneuverability. I’m not going to say don’t travel alone after dark because that’s impractical, especially in winter when the sun sets before the evening commute, but consider choosing major streets over side streets after dark if an assessment of the situation shows that would be safer. Depending on the variables, the devil you know (traffic) may be better than the devil you don’t (creepy stalker).