Asheville cyclist forced off road in apparent road rage incident
ASHEVILLE — A cyclist out for a spin with a group of friends said she was forced off the road in what she called a road rage incident.
Christi Britt, an ICU nurse and avid cyclist, said her cycling group of about 20 were traveling along Terry's Gap Road toward Fletcher in Henderson County on Aug. 18.
Britt, who had pulled 20 feet in front of the rest of her group, said a white pickup truck then attempted to pass the bulk of the cyclists.
"I think he was going slow and didn't realize how fast we were going until he tried to pass us," Britt said. "He went to the left of them — directly into oncoming traffic — and immediately all oncoming traffic had to stop in its tracks because he had no room."
With no space to maneuver, Britt said the driver pulled into the lane where she was traveling, forcing her onto the shoulder. But instead of traveling ahead, she said, the driver continued to pull toward the cyclist until he had forced her off the road into the grass.
Britt said the driver was so close, she was able to scream through the passenger window for him to stop.
Cyclist escaped injury
She said her prowess with a bicycle likely kept her from injury. "If he'd moved another inch, he would have bumped me."
Several motorists, at least one of which called 911, witnessed the incident. Another cyclist snapped a picture of the truck, recording the license plate number.
After a brief search this week by Henderson County deputies, Onnie Nathan Fowler, 87, of Fletcher, was charged with a misdemeanor for communicating threats in connection to the incident. His court date is set for Oct. 19.
Britt told her story in hopes to highlight what she says is a rise in road rage incidents.
"It seems like the last few months it's gotten worse and all of the cycling groups have noticed," she said. "It seems as though they're trying to hurt us or scare us so bad that we don't ever want to get on a bike again — and that's what happened after this incident."
Drivers need to know the laws
Britt said she thinks knowledge of statewide traffic laws could help.
Laws implemented in 2016 allow motorists to cross the center line to pass cyclists when there is enough sight distance to do so, and cars can put at least 4 feet between themselves and the cyclist.
Mike Sule, director of Asheville on Bikes, said lack of patience is a major impetus for road rage.
Sule said improving infrastructure to accommodate people traveling in a variety of modes, as well as adding adequate signage for bike lanes, could help assuage aggression.
"It should be clear what people should be doing where," he said.
Better transportation education could also help, with a focus not just on drivers' education, but also cycling and public transit rules. "Right now, we are focused primarily on teaching one mode," Sule said.
He also noted cyclists have the right to the full width of the road — any road, excepting interstates and highways — as long as they follow traffic laws.
And what may seem like unnecessarily impeding traffic might be a case of a cyclist maneuvering in a way to keep everyone on the road safe, Sule said. "We have to compensate for a lack of infrastructure that makes things clear."
Part of the onus for safe travel lies on cyclists as well, he noted, which is why cyclists should look for more opportunities to let motorists pass safely.
And he said road raging drivers should be aware that cyclists are now on high alert — and they're equipped with more technology than ever before.
"What's happening is that cyclists are becoming more empowered to record and document incidents and spread the word," he said.
Cyclists are humans, too
But above all, he said, common courtesy and basic anger management could go a long way toward easing road rage.
"No. 1 is that people should think about it in terms of people using roads, not motorists or bicyclists," Sule said. "These are people, and you should conduct yourself accordingly. We don't treat each other like this in the grocery store — people's lives matter."
Britt echoed Sule's notion.
"We are your doctors, your nurses, your preachers and the teachers of your children," she said. "We are mothers, fathers, daughters and sons."