Francesco DeLuca

That’s the goal of a cadre of Philly cyclists who dream of turning the city into a bike-friendly paradise. In their way: one cranky Daily News columnist … and a whole lot of angry (sometimes punch-throwing) Philly drivers

“Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.”
 — H.G. Wells

THE SECOND SCARIEST THING that ever happened to Michael Sanders occurred on a sunny Saturday in June, as he was pedaling to his job as a bike mechanic at Bicycle Therapy on South Street. Clad in his usual “work” clothes — that would be shorts, tennis shoes, t-shirt — the sinewy 36-year-old sailed north in the bike lane on 22nd Street on his black road bicycle. He’d gone about 12 blocks, zipping along at a good pace and passing slower bikers on the left, when he heard a car behind him. Then a man’s voice, shouting something.

The words were indistinguishable, but Sanders recognized the tone. Am I doing something wrong? he wondered, checking under him to make sure he was still inside the white stripe of the bike lane. Then he heard more shouting. This time, he heard it loud and clear: “GET OUT OF THE ROAD!”

He turned to see a sleek black Saab 900 and its driver — “a normal-looking guy” — well-groomed, in a baseball cap and polo shirt.

“I’m in the bike lane!” Sanders yelled back. He was, in fact, on its far edge, but the guy still had enough space to pass easily. The Saab edged over menacingly; Sanders slowed down. The driver then cut him off, pulling over to the curb near 22nd and Christian, barking at Sanders to pull over, too.

Pulse pounding, Sanders dismounted. “He tries to run me off the road, and wants to pull over to tell me that I’m the jerk? I was dumbfounded. Aggravated. Angry. I wanted to tell him I did nothing wrong.”

The driver got out, and the arguing began in earnest. “He told me if I didn’t get out of his face, he was going to punch me,” Sanders says. The two men stood, inches apart. “Really? You’re going to punch me?” Sanders prodded.

And then it happened.

Even though he saw the swing coming, the thunk of knuckle on cranium, right at the point where the side of his stubbled head met his neck, was a surprise. It hurt. Sanders stumbled backward. A moment later, he righted himself, walked around to the back of the car, texted the Saab’s license number into his phone, then dialed 911. Meanwhile, a resident across the street — coincidentally, an acquaintance of Sanders’s — raced out; he’d seen the whole thing. The Saab driver was back in his car, revving the engine. Sanders stood in front of the car.

“You’re not leaving!” Sanders told the driver.

“I’ll run you over!” the driver threatened.

Sanders didn’t move. The Saab lurched into reverse, zooming backward down to Carpenter Street, where it swerved around the corner and disappeared.

Police eventually tracked down the driver, and in August arrested him on charges of assault, threat and reckless endangerment. Sanders plans to testify in court against him.

“That’s the second-scariest thing that’s ever happened to me biking in this city,” he says.

The first?

“Well, one time a driver pulled a gun on me.”