Four days after being struck by an aggressive driver at this month’s East Bay Bike Party, an Oakland resident is hesitant to get back in the saddle.
Tom, a local engineer who asked that his last name not be published, told The Oaklandside that his right leg is sore and his right elbow and arm were bloodied and bruised from being knocked to the ground on Alcatraz Avenue by someone who drove a gray car recklessly through a crowd of cyclists.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to me,” Tom said. “I don’t know if I really want to go biking around the city much.”
Tom was riding alongside hundreds of other people at the East Bay Bike Party, a monthly group ride that has been ongoing for more than ten years.
The party-on-wheels is seen by many as a way for residents to highlight green transportation options and celebrate biking. On social media, organizers urge participants to “ride fun and safe” with stops along the way to dance and socialize.
The apparent road rage incident occurred near the start of Friday’s ride at 8 p.m. The group was riding east on Alcatraz Avenue before turning left onto Shattuck Avenue, where the collision happened.
The driver who hit Tom and another bike rider, has not been identified. The Oakland Police Department, who were provided eyewitness accounts and a license plate number, has not apprehended anyone. In an email comment to KTVU last night, an OPD officer appeared to blame the riders, saying the department received “multiple calls” from citizens “advising of several dozen bicyclists in the area near Alcatraz Avenue and Telegraph Avenue creating a hazard causing vehicular traffic. There were no reports of a vehicle collision with any bicyclists.”
The OPD told The Oaklandside that it is currently investigating the hit-and-run.
Resident Matthew Lewis said on Twitter that he’d like to know what the police are doing to get to the bottom of the incident.
According to witnesses, the car, a gray sedan driven by a white man, surprised everyone when it drove through the group without slowing or stopping.
“I didn’t really know what happened,” Tom said. “I was looking back at my friend, having a conversation and then the next thing I knew I was on the ground. I thought a cyclist hit me actually. But then everyone started freaking out because it was a car.”
Ben Eichenberg, an Albany resident, was riding with his 13-year-old son and his son’s friend when he saw Tom get hit. He then dismounted to avoid being struck but his bike was struck, as can be seen in the video. Eichenberg said it appeared the driver was purposefully trying to cause havoc.
“People were yelling at him to stop and he had his window down. I knew he could hear but he just started going faster and faster, like he accelerated right into [Tom],” Eichenberg said. “There was no doubt in my mind he just did it on purpose. He looked mad and was using his car as a weapon.”
Eichenberg said that he didn’t realize how close he came to getting hit until he saw the video on social media. Even more frightening was that his teenage son was almost hit.
“My kid felt like it was a scary situation. But he also kind of feels like he was able to stay safe. The other kid that was with us was really shaken and wanted to go home right away.”
East Bay Bike Party participants view their rides as family events and not a protest. The organizers also publish safety slogans on social media, which are chanted throughout the ride to help people avoid potential conflicts.
“Stop at lights. Stay to the right. Pack your trash. Don’t get smashed. Ride straight. And don’t hate,” are some of the chants riders were using the other night.
Organizers also say they encourage people to not use fireworks, as they can be shot off too close to unsuspecting people.
Sometimes participants do take up both lanes of traffic, causing cars to pause for a short amount of time.
Brad Johnson, a resident who lives on the 700 block of Alcatraz, said a few minutes before the collisions a different unidentified person decided to briefly drive their car in the westbound lane of Alcatraz to bypass other cars and bicyclists. This caused vehicle traffic to have to slow down and wait a few minutes, which could have made the driver even less patient.
Robert Prinz, a director of Bike East Bay, a nonprofit bike advocacy group that is not affiliated with and is not involved in organizing the monthly bike parties, said this is only the latest in a long string of hit-and-run crashes against cyclists and that bike riders are often blamed even though people driving cars have much more power and can seriously hurt or kill someone.
“We have seen comments on this story victim-blaming the bike riders, which is a sad testament to how dysfunctional and cruel some peoples’ perceptions of mobility and public space have become,” Prinz said. Even if they were on the wrong side of the road, said Prinz, “this in no way excuses a person from using their vehicle as a weapon to assault them, and for leaving the scene of the crash.”
Several people said these instances of driver aggression could be entirely avoided with better biking infrastructure. Tom said he would be more inclined to start riding again if he knew he could use protected bike lanes.
“That’s an easy solution. In general, Oakland and the bay has a pretty good biking path system, but there’s still a lot of places where there just aren’t good, or any, bike lanes,” he said.