Bike rage? Heated encounter tests 3-feet law

A driver is supposed to stay three feet away from a bicycler, but that law is rarely prosecuted. File photo A driver is supposed to stay three feet away from a bicycler, but that law is rarely prosecuted. File photo

Liz Herlevsen and Ken Ward agree on one thing: When he passed her on her bike on Craigs Store Road, he came really close. From there, their stories diverge—and highlight the challenges for bikers and for drivers on Albemarle’s most rural roads.

Herlevsen, who describes herself as an “intense” biker who goes out three to five times a week, says Ward came up behind her April 15. “He didn’t slow down; he didn’t give me three feet,” she says, referring to legislation the General Assembly passed last year that requires motorists to allow a minimum of three feet of space when passing a bicyclist.

“It scared the bejeezus out of me,” she says. “I yelled, ‘three feet,’ with three fingers up in the air.” According to Herlevsen, Ward went down a hill, pulled into a driveway and then followed right behind her for a half mile to the Batesville Market.

“I’m a single woman on a bike,” she says. “You’re riding in the country with no one else around and this guy is tailing me in this big SUV. I don’t know how he can justify putting someone’s life at risk because he didn’t want to slow down.”

At the market, she jumped off her bike, and says Ward was screaming, “Get the f*ck off the road. You’re a bitch.”

Ward denies that, but he does say he asked Herlevsen, “Why are you being such a bitch?”

In his account, he says, “I went around her swiftly. I did get close to her and I said that in court. I was approaching a blind hill. When I whipped back into the lane, I spilled coffee on my lap. That’s why I pulled over.”

According to Ward, “I heard her scream ‘FU’ and put one finger up.” He says he was right behind Herlevsen, but wasn’t chasing her.

And at the Batesville Market, says Ward, “I couldn’t believe she was screaming at me. I would never deliberately hurt someone.”

But it sounds like a bad morning. “I was pissed after she gave me the finger and said FU and spilling my coffee,” he says. On top of that, it was Tax Day. “And I was concerned I could have hit an oncoming vehicle,” he says.

Herlevsen called the Albemarle County Police, and she says the officer told her cases invoking the three-feet law are usually thrown out because they have to be witnessed by a cop, but he encouraged her to file a complaint with the magistrate.

Albemarle has never charged anyone under the three-feet law, and Charlottesville has cited one person, according to their respective police spokespersons.

Two days later, an officer delivered a summons to Ward at his Crozet business that charged him with reckless driving. In court May 4, he was convicted of improper driving and paid $167 in fine and court costs. “It was a waste of taxpayer money and my time,” he says.

To Ward, the problem stems from bicyclists riding 1½-lane roads like Craigs Store or Miller School Road. “It’s such a narrow, winding road, it’s hard to avoid bicyclists,” he says. “It’s a very dangerous road.”

Ward says he bikes, but would only do so on roads with bike lanes.

“I’m not being a bitch,” says Herlevsen. “He terrified me. It’s no small thing to get clipped by a car.” The mother of four says she’s out there to enjoy the road and pursue a healthy lifestyle. “I pull off to make things easier for cars,” she says. “I wish I could sway that cross-section that sees this as an inconvenience or that it impedes their needs.”

Mainly she wants to draw awareness to bike and car safety, and encourage “kindness toward each other,” she says. Herlevsen declined to be photographed for this article because a family member said it would put her in more danger on the road in the future.

Ward insists he would never intentionally hurt someone, and seems a bit taken aback that Herlevsen is still fearful of him. He says, “Tell Elizabeth I’m not after her.”

For more on driving in Charlottesville, continue reading here.

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