We’re here. We ride. Get used to it.

July 21, 2008

Let’s go back to those Letters to the Editor we were discussing yesterday, now that the Times finally has them online. (You may have to search for the letters the paper printed on Saturday.)

The first printed letter, signed by Cecelia Grace of Los Angeles, ends with this: Motorists will respect cyclists when cyclists respect the rules of the road.

In other words, drivers don’t need to drive safely around us, because we just don’t deserve it. It’s our fault that, because of our bad behavior, they get mad and run us off the road. Isn’t that the same excuse every spouse batterer used? It’s not my fault, because you made me do it.

Or from the second letter they published on Saturday, from Lillie Reines of L.A., referring to those bad, bad people who ride for recreation: They are the ones who come steaming down the curves and cut off cars pulling out of driveways. They are the ones who encourage road rage.

Yes, she actually wrote that we encourage road rage. And the Times, for reasons that will forever escape me, actually printed it.

So let’s just make this as clear as humanly possible:

No one encourages a road rage incident, any more than they encourage a drive-by shooting.

Yes, there are rude cyclists, as well as riders who seem to feel the law does not apply to them, just as there are drivers — and pedestrians, for that matter — who demonstrate the same dangerous traits.

But no one deserves to be the victim of violence. Not drivers. Not pedestrians. And certainly not cyclists, no matter how egregiously rude or law-flaunting they may or may not be.

The simple fact is, a motor vehicle is not a weapon, nor is it an instrument of justice. It is not a tool of divine retribution or an outlet for even the most righteous anger. It is, simply, a car. A means of transportation. A way of getting from here to there.

And we are not your victims.

Cyclists may or may not deserve your respect, but you are required to give it, nonetheless. That is the agreement you make when you accept a drivers license. We are legally entitled to use the roadway, and you are legally required to let us do so, no more or less than you would any other vehicle.

And there is nothing we can do on or from the seat of a bicycle that would justify anyone using a vehicle as a weapon against any one of us, or any other human being. Nothing we may do gives you the right to kill, maim, injure or threaten us in any way.

Nothing.

So if a cyclist impedes your progress or breaks the law, call the police. It’s their job, let them deal with it.

If a rider is rude or insulting in any way, feel free to be rude in return. Give him the finger. Yell something. Or better yet, be the better man — or woman — and turn the other cheek. Just grit your teeth, go around him and get on with your life. You can tell your friends all about it later, as they nod in agreement and chime in with their own stories about all those rude and aggressive cyclists.

And we can go home to our wives, husbands, children, dogs, cats and/or goldfish.

Because, like it or not, we have a right to ride.

We have a right to the road.

We have a right to live.

And we’re not going anywhere.

 

According to yesterday’s article in the Times, anecdotal evidence suggests that more people are taking up cycling (sorry, drivers), and we need to find a way to live together. If you don’t like sharing the streets with us, it could be worse — according to the Bottleneck Blog’s Steve Hymon, we could be passing you the next time you’re stuck in gridlock on the 405. And LAist points out that those on two feet can be just as annoying as those of us on two wheels.

 


Socially conscious commuters? Or law-flaunting demons from hell?

July 21, 2008

There’s an intersection in front of my building with a 4-way stop. You don’t have to stand there very long to note that most cars passing through fail to come to anything near a complete stop; many go right through without even slowing down, as if the stop sign wasn’t there. Or as if standard traffic laws don’t apply to them.

And don’t get me started on turn signals. The drivers who actually signal their intentions, at this or any other Los Angeles intersection, sometimes seem rare enough to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Based on those observations, I could assume that everyone behind the wheel in Los Angeles is a bad driver.

I know that’s not true, though. I’m a driver myself — one who actually takes the time to observe stop signs and use his turn signals. And everyday, I see other people driving courteously and carefully; they’re just not the ones who stand out.

Or any time I’m out on Santa Monica Blvd, it’s almost a given that I’ll see someone in an expensive sports car — or driving like he wishes he had one — weaving dangerously in and out of traffic at speeds far above the posted limit. That could lead me to assume that all drivers of high-performance vehicles speed and drive recklessly; yet, again, I often see Porsches, Ferraris, Vantages and other high-powered vehicles driven as placidly as a soccer mom’s minivan.

So why do so many people in this town think that all bicyclists are alike?

You see it all the time in the comments that follow virtually any online post about bicycling, such as the comments on the Times website concerning the good  doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake test, or on bulletin boards such as  Craigslist, like this comment.  Or you could have seen it again in the Times’ Letters to the Editor on Saturday, in response to the paper’s editorial urging drivers to stop harassing cyclists. (Inexplicably, the Times has posted letters from everyday except Saturday on their site; I’m including the link on the off chance that they might rectify their oversight.)

Bicyclists are aggressive. They flaunt the law. They (gasp!) ride two or more abreast.

Take this excerpt from one of Saturday’s letters: Cyclists are insistent about their right to equal use of the road (ed: actually, the California vehicle code is insistent on that), but they couldn’t care less about following the rules of the road. Only the privileges apply to them, not the responsibilities.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The biking community includes everyone from casual beach cruisers to off roaders to fixies to road racers, with a multitude of attitudes and riding styles in between. Some flaunt the law, others — I dare say, most — observe it to varying degrees.

Others carve out an exemption of one sort or another from the greater mass of evil riders, such as the next writer, who distinguishes from those “going green” and riding for transportation purposes, and other riders simply out for recreation. Of course, in her eyes, the “green” riders are the ones who observe riding etiquette, while the “pleasure riders” are the ones who “encourage road rage.” (Ed: more on that tomorrow.)

Isn’t it just possible, however, that some cyclists ride for both pleasure and transportation? Couldn’t someone commute on two wheels during the week, then don spandex before hitting the road for pleasure on the weekends?

As I’ve noted before, I try to ride safely and courteously, stopping for stop signs and red lights, and giving drivers room to pass whenever possible. And from what I’ve seen on the road, I’m not the only one. I often find myself striking up a conversation with other riders waiting patiently for the light to change — including, on occasion, members of professional racing teams in town for one reason or another.

Sure, there are rude and dangerous riders out there, just as there are rude and dangerous drivers. And they aren’t all high-speed roadies; I’ve seen as many — if not more — casual riders blow through red lights as I have those on high-end racing bikes. But my own personal experience tells me they are the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Judging from comments like these, though, there seem to be a number of people here in the City of Fallen Angels who assume we all have 666 birthmarks hidden somewhere under our spandex.

 

The Times discusses rage-less road sharing today, Westside Bikeside! recounts the comments of a clueless councilman in neighboring Santa Monica, and Streetsblog talks with an expert on remorseless, horn-blaring sociopaths.


What goes around…

July 17, 2008

There’s an intersection near my home, with a short, steep hill leading down on one side, and an equally short, steep hill leading back up the other.

And a stop sign in between.

If there’s no cross traffic, you can gain enough speed on the way down to blow through the stop sign and roll up the next hill without having to pedal — which comes in pretty handy at the end of a long, hard ride.

That’s what I always did, anyway. Until one time there was a little boy waiting on the corner with his father. And as I blew through the intersection, he pointed at me and said, “I want to be just like him.”

And I realized that I’d just taught a little kid to run stop signs.

So that was the last time I ever did that. Sure, I may roll through an intersection after braking almost to a stop — the same way most drivers do in this town. But blast through a stop sign like it isn’t even there?

No mas.

Then again, I also stop for red lights. As a driver, as well as a cyclist, I know how annoying it is to see a cyclist blow through a light while I’m stuck there waiting for it to change. And I’ve seen too many close calls when cross traffic suddenly appears out of nowhere.

I wave cars through the intersection if there’s any question over who has the right of way — or if it looks like they won’t let me have it — and wave them around me if they’re reluctant to pass when I can see it’s safe to do so.

I try to stay out of the way of traffic as much as possible, whether by riding in a bike lane or sticking as close to the right as I think is safe under the circumstances. And if I need to take a lane, I’ll signal my intention and cut over once someone makes room for me, then try to match the speed of traffic and move back over as soon as possible — and give the driver behind me a wave to thank him for following safely.

Do I ride this way because I’m some goody-two-shoes who doesn’t have the, uh…guts to ride more aggressively?

Yeah, right. I have X-rays that would argue otherwise.

No, I do it because I’ve learned that discretion really is the better part of valor, and that riding is more fun when you get back home in the same condition you were in when you left. Or reasonably close to it, anyway.

And because I hope that by showing a little courtesy and respect to the drivers around me, they may show the same consideration to the next rider they meet.

And that might just be you.

A couple quick links: The L.A. Times encourages drivers to share the road (thanks to Mike Wally for posting the link; I missed somehow it the first time around). Our cycling troubles make news across the pond. Hizzoner blows off Damien Newton and Joe Linton, along with our lousy 1% — we need to remind him that cyclists vote, too. And according to LAist, skateboarders do the crime, cyclists do the time.


The ugly side of an ugly incident

July 16, 2008

It was a shocking, disturbing and hideous case of road rage that sent two local cyclists to the Emergency Room — one made worse by the realization it could just as easily have happened to any of us.

But surprisingly, some good has come out of the good doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake test. The Cyclist’s Bill of Rights has gained some traction as a result, in the hope that we can keep things like this from happening in the future. A real dialogue has finally begun between cyclists and Canyon residents. And for the first time, we saw an overwhelming response from our new-found biking community.

Unfortunately, we also saw how ugly that community can be.

As you may have noticed, I go out of my way not to name of the doctor who cause the injuries to those riders — and who reportedly refused to offer any medical assistance afterwards.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s not like it’s hard to find his name online. And as outraged as I was when I read about the incident, I was just as  sickened to read on LAist’s followup to the incident: *Note: There are other Dr. (name deleted)s in the Los Angeles area who work in medicine and unfortunately some are being wrongly threatened.

And this from the moderator of the Socal Bike Forum’s thread on the Mandeville Incident:

Just to clarify on the “name” issue. We all know who the guy is now, where he lives and where he works… but there is no good reason for posting his personal information on a public board. On another bike site, his name and phone number was displayed and some yokels thought it would be fun to start systematic harassment. Turns out, they posted the number of the wrong guy. (EDIT: LAist just closed their “Comments” feature because a number of men with the same name have been threatened.) Similarly, the hospital where the doctor works undoubtedly has more pressing issues than dealing with phone calls from a bunch of angry cyclists. That is why we do not want such information posted. The two riders have asked that no one take matters into their own hands, and to let the police do their job…

As my friend, and author of the excellent Altadena Blog that covers life in Pasadena’s less pretentious northern neighbor, put it, “…but it’s OK the threaten the RIGHT one? Anonymous phone calls to HIS mailbox are OK? I’m with the bikers on this one, but…let the cops do the threatening! That’s what they’re paid for!”

I wonder what the doctors who were mistakenly threatened think about cyclists now? Our public perception is bad enough in this town without going around threatening innocent people.

If you’ve been following the story online, like I have, you’ve undoubtedly seen countless comments threatening the doctor, or vowing retaliation against other drivers — just as there have been comments that the riders had it coming. And countless others vowing mass traffic disruptions if the charges are dropped, or if the good doctor should somehow be acquitted.

This isn’t the time for violence — as if there ever is a right time — or aggressive civil disobedience. That would only undo the progress our community has made over the past two weeks.

No, this is a time for action.

Contact the mayor’s office and your local council member to support passage of the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights, and demand prosecution of all violent acts against cyclists, as well as an end to police bias in favor of motorists. Contact the governor’s office, as well as your local representatives in the state legislature, and ask them to take real action to protect cyclists and encourage safe cycling everywhere in California.

And while you’re at it, remind them that you bike.

And you vote.


A quick morning update

July 16, 2008

Just a short update this morning. Not that I don’t have anything to say, but it’s a beautiful morning and I just tuned the bike, so I hear the road calling. I’m thinking a quick run down the coast to Hermosa and back — should be roughly a half-century ride by the time I’m done. So if you see a guy in a yellow jersey on a black LeMond, please hold your fire.

In the meantime, the author of Westside Bikeside! has a good write-up on his life as a red-light scofflaw. LAist responds with a citation from the California Vehicle Code that indicates he might not be breaking the law after all, though I suspect most cops might respond with a different kind of citation. LAist also has an open letter to the community from Bill Rosendahl on “A new attitude and new culture of road sharing.

And this fat tire girl is looking for suggestions for traffic and red light-free routes around here (yeah, good luck with that).


Blame bikers first

July 15, 2008

Normally, I try to avoid try to avoid the Santa Monica and Venice sections of the Marvin Braude bike path, aka Santa Monica bike path, this time of year. But I got out a little earlier than usual yesterday, so I thought I’d try to squeeze in a quick ride along the beach before it to got too late and the path became overrun with tourists and pedestrians.

And it was, for the most part, a pleasant experience. I did my best to ride safely and courteously, keeping my speed down and waiting behind slower riders until it was safe to pass, and announcing to the assorted riders, skaters, walkers, shopping cart jockeys, et al, that I was passing whenever appropriate.

Of course, there was that one incident. As there usually is.

A couple of surfers stepped out onto the path, without looking, maybe 10 feet in front of me, their surf boards parallel to the ground and blocking most of the path. So I yelled out a warning, then swung quickly to the left and immediately back to the right, avoiding them safely so we could all continue enjoying our day.

And that was when I heard a woman on my right yelling something about “aggressive cyclists.”

Of course, there was no way she could have seen what had just happened, so it was clear that she had just heard my warning, and immediately went into the ever popular Blame Bicyclists First mode.

Which left me to wonder just what it was that I had done wrong. Was that I warned them to avoid an accident? Or simply that I had the audacity to actually ride a bicycle on the bike path?

Or was it the mere fact of my spandex clad existence?

Of course, this sort of thing is nothing new. A few weeks ago, I was riding along a busy street with heavy traffic buzzing past my shoulder, when I saw a couple of young women standing in the middle of the bike lane up ahead as they waited to cross the street (illegally, of course).

They continued to just stand there as I approached, blocking my path as they gazed mindlessly at the cyclist bearing down on them. Finally, I yelled for them to get out of the way; their response, as their feet stood firmly planted in the bike lane in front of me, was “Fuck you.”

My only option was to jam on my brakes, coming to a stop just feet in front them. Which lead to a argument, of course. And sure enough, within a few moments, one of the local shop owners — who had no idea what had started the argument — came out and threatened to call the police and have me arrested.

Why? Because I’m a cyclist. And as we all know, cyclists are evil.

Which leads to this: last night’s public meeting to discuss the problems in Mandeville Canyon was cancelled, replaced by the first meeting of a task force to discuss the issue. (LAist has also posted a new video from Dual Chase productions on how to ride the canyon safely.)

Meanwhile, a group of bike and pedestrian advocates are collecting signatures to request that a mere 2 percent of Metro’s planned 1/2 cent sales tax increase be allocated for bike and pedestrian issues — that’s just 1% each to help keep bikers and pedestrians safe and alive.

And councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is rapidly turning into the biking community’s best friend, continues to support the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, and is calling for a larger discussion of the issues confronting bicyclists and drivers throughout the city later this year.

If you ask me, that can’t happen soon enough.

 


Let’s live to fight another day

July 12, 2008

Kudos to the Los Angeles Times for having the good taste to quote your truly in a recent online article about the ongoing war between L.A. drivers and cyclists. By my calculation, this means I should have roughly 12 minutes and 37 seconds of fame remaining.

Frankly, when I started this blog a few weeks back, I really didn’t know where I was planning to go with it. But I certainly didn’t think expect to be dealing with the sort of topics we have this week.

In nearly 30 years as a serious biker, I’ve ridden all across the country, from backwater bayous and Colorado canyons to high-speed highways and crowded city streets. But I can honestly say this City of Fallen Angels is the only place I’ve ever been afraid to ride.

It didn’t take long to learn that most local roads have no shoulders, forcing you into traffic lanes with drivers who routinely ignore the speed limit, turning 35 mph boulevards in 50+ mph freeways. That what little bike lane system we do enjoy starts and stops at random, in what could only be an attempt to thin the herd. That local drivers have no patience for bicyclists, and won’t share the road if it means a few seconds of inconvenience. And that the local police usually operate from a policy of blame the cyclist first.

The simple fact is, even the most careless or aggressive cyclists represent little more than a minor annoyance to most drivers, easily passed and quickly forgotten.

Yet for us riders, it’s a different matter entirely. For us, cars represent potentially lethal weapons, fully locked and loaded, and, too often, pointed directly at us. Unlike the driver, we have no seat belts or airbags — let alone a few tons of steel — to protect us. So even in a minor collision can be, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Like Stoehr and Peterson, we’ve all been confronted with angry motorists — though in most cases, not so extreme as the good doctor, who it turns out may have done this before. I dealt with mine by signaling for my next turn with just one finger extended, which got my rear wheel intimately acquainted with the chrome bumper behind it, and got me 4 weeks in a sling followed by 6 weeks of rehab.

So I’ve learned my lesson. Now when I’m confronted with an angry driver, I just pull to the right, stop my bike, and let them pass. Because I may have a legal right to the road, but it’s not worth defending my rights if it means my wife is going to get another call saying which Emergency Room she can find me in.

A Cyclists’ Bill of Rights would certainly help. But so does a strong self-preservation instinct, and enough sense to know which battles are winnable.

And car vs. bike isn’t one of them.


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