EDITOR’S NOTE: I received the following email today from West Seattle Greenways co-founder Jake Vanderplas. He describes in detail being on the receiving end of a road rage attack that started on the under-construction 26th Ave SW neighborhood greenway in the Delridge neighborhood.
Below is his email in full.
This morning, a mile or so into my daily bike commute, I was the victim of an intentional hit-and-run.
Now, before I start, I should calm any worries and emphasize that I’m mostly alright. The exception is some lingering pain and swelling in my left hand, which took the brunt of the impact when the woman aimed her dark sedan at my handlebars. And after the excitement was over — after speaking to witnesses and talking to the responding officer and adjusting my brakes and derailleur to make my bike rideable again — as I rode the ten miles to my work, I had to halt and rest occasionally because I was shaking uncontrollably. This was extremely scary.
But let me back up to the beginning. There’s a hint of irony in the events of this morning, because they took place on and around 26th Ave SW in the Delridge Neighborhood. 26th is in the midst of being redesigned as one of Seattle’s first few Neighborhood Greenways. Greenways are streets designated as safe, low-stress thoroughfares for all people of all ages, whether they travel by bicycle, skateboard, foot, car, or stroller; whether they’re aged 0 to 99 or beyond. I first proposed the 26th greenway to the community back in 2011, after hearing about the work of the nascent Seattle Greenways movement in other neighborhoods. The two years since then have been a whirlwind, as I’ve joined the city-wide Neighborhood Greenways team, joined the leadership of the North Delridge Neighborhood Council, co-founded West Seattle Greenways, and worked with the mayor’s office, the city council, and the legion of impassioned advocates around Seattle to bring our vision closer to reality: the vision of safe streets for all.
The work on 26th is ongoing this summer, but those of us close to the project are encouraged by the a few pieces which are already in place: speed humps along its length, wayfinding signs for bikes and pedestrians, and brand-new 20mph speed limit signs posted conspicuously along the route. It was one of those new signs, I think, that got me in trouble.
I ride 26th Ave from Hudson to Andover each day as the first stretch of my commute to the University of Washington. This morning I was heading northbound, just passing Alaska St and entering the wider stretch of 26th, when a woman sped past me at probably 30-35 mph, with shocks rattling as she hit the multiple speed humps in stride. I wasn’t sure what she’d do when she got to the roundabout a block north at Oregon st: it’s an eighties-era speed-calming measure that requires drivers to slow virtually to a halt as they navigate the tight radius between concrete barriers. Cyclists, on the other hand, have a narrow line that allows them through without slowing down. She stopped at the roundabout, and watched over her shoulder as I passed by.
We came to the 2-way stop sign at Genesee. I stopped in the center of the lane, as I normally do in order to allow cars to turn right as I wait for a clearing in traffic. Once it was safe, I proceeded across, with the woman in the car following behind me. As I crossed the intersection, I looked back at her while pointing to the brand new 20mph speed limit sign I’d worked for two years to bring to the street. I can only guess that that action is what set her off. I heard muffled cursing from inside the car behind me.
The stretch of 26th north of Genesee is typical of many Seattle neighborhood streets: parked cars on either side make it practical for only one car at a time to pass through. I slipped by an oncoming pickup truck, which in turn halted the progress of the woman behind me. Forty yards later, I looked back and saw them navigating the decision of who would yield to whom: I thought my piece of the interaction was finished. I was wrong.
With no warning, she was behind me. The roar of the engine announced her presence — I looked back to see her pushing her car within inches of my back wheel, as she layed steady on her horn for a block and a half approaching Andover. I yelled something back at her — I can’t remember what — and sped up. This was probably not the best decision given the circumstances, but hindsight comes easy in the comfort of a desk chair. I got to the intersection at Andover, stopped at the stop sign, and she pulled up next to me, screaming something unintelligible at me through the closed passenger window. I turned right onto Andover, and her tires screeched loudly as she pulled out beside me. A few meters later she jerked her steering wheel to the right, knocked me onto the sidewalk, and sped away.
Fortunately there were a few direct eyewitnesses, as well as a couple concerned folks who had seen the interaction along 26th and gone out of their way to check on the aftermath. I quickly called 911, reporting the number shown on the car’s California plates. There was a small crowd of cyclists and drivers who stopped to see if they could help — I’m grateful to Brent, Chris, Eric, Rebecca, and others who took time out of their morning to check on me, and to provide their information to officers.
I sat on the sidewalk, my bike in the gutter, for 15 minutes or so until Officer Wilson arrived. He seemed surprised that it was a vehicular assault case; it seems the 911 operator had relayed the incident an “accident”. Officer Wilson was extremely professional and friendly. He interviewed witnesses and took down information, and asked if I’d like to press charges. I said yes. There was a bit of unfortunate news though: because of the California license plate, it seems that the SPD may have trouble tracking down the driver. Officer Wilson lamented that at times, cases like these (with no major injuries, property loss, or death) can sometimes slip through the cracks.
But let me be clear: there was unmistakable intent behind the malice this woman displayed. She deliberately used her car as a weapon, assaulted me with it, and one can only assume she wanted to physically harm me. Her cowardice in fleeing of the scene only magnifies her culpability. I can only hope that Officer Wilson and others at the SPD are able to track this woman down and hold her responsible for her choices and her actions, before her rage leads to her injuring or killing someone else. This woman has shown that she is not fit to enjoy the privilege of driving, and we need to all work together to keep people like her off our streets, and to keep our families and friends safe.
As for me, this incident will double-down my desire to make sure everyone in Seattle has the ability to get around safely. Sure, you might argue that no amount of safe infrastructure will protect us from crazy, intentionally reckless people like the woman I encountered this morning. But in my experience, intentional incidents like this one make up only a small fraction of the scary interactions between cyclists, pedestrians, drivers, and others. It’s time that we as a city prioritize safety for all.