Last Friday, a woman was hit by a car riding her bike in Brooklyn, scraping her chin on the pavement. A friend posted about the incident in a post on Tumblr, describing the following altercation between the five feet tall bike rider and the driver.

The driver rolled down his window and called her a, “Stupid bitch!” My friend, who was understandably angry, responded by smearing some of her blood on his windshield. The driver then stormed of out his car and punched her in the face. Not once, but twice.

His license plate number was GRC1130, and it was handed over to the police.

But that was more than a week ago, and the NYPD still hasn’t done anything. And that’s the reason why I’m posting this…

The tactic to draw attention to the violent incident that left the woman with two black eyes and a broken nose may have worked, as the post has been taken down and our hope is that it is because the NYPD has began an investigation of the violent assailant.

So far this year, half of the ANIMAL staff has been hit by careless and forceful drivers while riding bikes and many of our friends reported incidents of road aggression. We asked Steve Vaccaro, attorney for Transportation Alternatives, whether this is an increasing phenomena.

It’s hard to say with certainty that road rage incidents against cyclists have increased, because of underreporting. But I believe they have increased, based on the following:

Our firm, which specializes in representing cyclists and pedestrians, is getting more calls from victims of road rage incidents, probably 1 a month. It was more like 1-2 a year five years ago.

There is increased awareness by cyclists concerning their rights to the road. Bike lanes, Citibike and and other infrastructure (and related press coverage) means more cyclists “get” what the law has always said: that cyclists “have the same right to the road” as motorists. This leads to greater assertiveness by cyclists concerning their safety and right to the road, and greater aggressiveness by a certain breed of motorists in pushing back.

Over the last 6 years a very small amount of road space has been reallocated from motorists to cyclists and pedestrians, in the form of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. Although empirical data show these transfers have not slowed motor vehicle traffic, the tabloids have shrieked that the city is waging a war on motorists and giving the roads away to cyclists. In this environment, it is easy to imagine that motorists frustrated by congestion misperceived cyclists and pedestrians to be the cause of their frustration.

In my experience, police have treated intentional strikes by motorists no differently than negligent ones–they consider them “accidents,” complete an accident report, and do nothing to investigate the criminal aspect of the incident.  I have several cases in which police have refused to investigate a deliberate strike by a motorist upon a cyclist as a crime, most notably, the John Kelly case. Another is the Melody Wu case. In contrast, NYPD have been more responsive to cyclists victimized by pedestrian road rage, arresting the assailants in several cases I’ve handled, including the Michael Mandiberg and Courtney Fullilove cases.

I think the difference is telling: police generally view harm done by a motorist as an “accident,” regardless of how much evidence there is indicating a deliberate strike, unless the driver actually knew the victim before the crash and had a motive to attempt assault or murder. When there is no car involved, police seem more open to consider the possibility of an intentional assault by a pedestrian on a cyclist.

Be careful out there.

(Image: Tumblr)