Commentary: When Bikelash Follows you into the Market
The phenomenon of drivers bullying cyclists sometimes extends beyond the street
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Victor Gutierrez, senior manager at the Sprouts grocery store in Oakland, called me Tuesday morning to apologize for his security guard and a deputy manager not allowing me to take my bike with me into the store to buy some eggs.
I’ve been shopping at that Sprouts for years, usually walking my bike with me as I scoop items and place them in the bike’s panniers. But a couple of months ago I was stopped at the door by a new security guard. The guy said I’d need to leave my bike in the front foyer or lock it up outside. I questioned him as to why the sudden change and we had some back and forth.
He told me to “get a car.”
I left, biked around the corner, called the store, asked for the manager, and told him what happened. Gutierrez was on duty at the time. He came out and met me, apologized, and told the security guard, who works for an outside firm, to let me in with my bike.
Everything was fine until a few weeks ago, when a different security guard and manager was on duty. This time the manager stopped me inside the store and said he couldn’t let me walk my bike with me for “insurance reasons.” This time I wasn’t in the mood to argue, so I left, deciding I’d just shop elsewhere.
Sprouts, like most grocery stores, has a giant parking lot, so every time I buy a mango or a chicken I’m helping to pay yet another subsidy to people in cars. I think I’ve earned the right to lock my bike outside or take it in with me when I choose.
Anyway, I live in Jack London Square; a notorious food desert. Sprouts is easy to stop at because it’s on the way to a class I take on Piedmont Avenue. So yesterday evening when it was pouring rain out and I was annoyed that I didn’t have anything fresh to eat, I emailed Sprouts corporate and grumbled about the bike-in-store issue.
They forwarded my complaint to Victor again, who called me. He reiterated that it’s definitely not Sprouts policy to block people with bikes, wagons, shopping carts, backpacks, or whatever else people use to bring home their groceries. He invited me to come back, with my bike at my side. And he told me he was holding a meeting with his deputies and the security firm to inform them not to block people from walking their bikes with them while shopping.
Sprouts isn’t the enemy. This has happened at a few other grocery stores over the years, including Whole Foods, Ralph’s in L.A., and Safeway. That said, 99 percent of the time when I bring in a bike, supermarket workers don’t say anything except “hi” or sometimes even “nice bike.”
But when a security guard says “get a car,” I suspect there’s something larger than confusion about store policies going on. I think the irksome security guards and managers are part of the same group who, when behind the wheel, honk angrily and close-pass and scream at people on bikes. They’re having a bad day, or a bad year, and, I think, they just take it out on somebody on (or with) a bike, because they can get away with it.
And I wonder how many people who exhibit this kind of behavior will one day be out driving and let their ire get away and actually hit a cyclist. Of course, they’ll just stay at the scene and “cooperate with police” and claim the bike “came out of nowhere,” when in reality they were intentionally taking out their frustrations on a random person just out trying to buy some eggs.