Last night, a cyclist nearly hit a van blocking the L Street cycletrack and decided to report it to the police. That’s when he met Fred and Fran Smith, the husband-and-wife heads of a conservative think tank who started berating him for “minding other people’s business.”
Rob, who tweets as @the_baseband, captured the interaction on his helmet camera and posted it online yesterday. It not only shows the need for more public education about cycling laws in the District, but also the divisive attitude some have towards cyclists, even when they’re following the law.
Rob was turning left from 19th Street NW to L Street when he almost slammed into the back of a white van parked in the lane. He walks his bike onto the sidewalk and can be heard calling the police, when a woman approaches and asks if he’s going to report the van.
As Rob reads out the license plate of the truck over the phone, an older man in a suit walks over and the two begin screaming at him. The two are later identified as Fred Smith and Fran Smith, founder and board member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes free-market economics and denies global warming.
The interaction is brief, but it says a lot about lingering attitudes towards cycling and cyclists in DC. While the driver of the van broke the law by parking in a bike lane, it happens so frequently that people like Fred Smith either assume that it’s acceptable, or that it’s not actually a bike lane.
When Rob explains that he almost hit the van, Fred yells, “The truck is not in the bike lane at all!” He walks out into the street, points to the striped buffer between the bike lane and the general traffic lanes, and says that’s the bike lane.
It’s also interesting the way that Fred and Fran immediately try to paint Rob as the aggressor for trying to report the driver, chiding him for “minding other people’s business.” Fred makes multiple assumptions about Rob, saying he “hasn’t worked a day in his life” and is “mad” at the driver for not being a cyclist.
When another couple walking by stops to see what’s going on, Fred tries to rope them in and marginalize Rob (and by extension, other cyclists, or other young adults) as an outsider. Holding a cigarette, he says to them, “This used to be a nice town where people actually got along.” It’s hard to hear what he says next, but it’s clear he’s pointing at Rob.
On YouTube, Rob notes that he stayed to wait for the police, then “I realized it would be better for me to leave.”
Our streets have limited space, and tension between different users is unavoidable. But as the ranks of cyclists in DC grow and the cycling infrastructure needed to serve them becomes more common, they won’t be seen as outsiders anymore. Fred and Fran Smith may be a lost cause, but hopefully others will be more willing to accept cyclists and acknowledge their rights to the road.