Today’s ride, in which I chase a BMW and race a Porsche

January 29, 2009

I should have known it was going to be one of those rides.

Just three blocks from home, I come up to a 4-way stop, then went through the intersection the same time as a car going the opposite way. Only problem was, a car on the cross street began his left turn as soon as the other car passed, while I was still in the intersection — attempting to occupy the same space I was already in.

But I bit my tongue. Hard.

I mean, not one word or gesture. It wasn’t that I had suddenly become a pacifist. I just didn’t want to ruin this beautiful day. Not even when he pulled to the curb a couple blocks later, almost dooring me as he got out of his car.

Then just a few blocks after that, at another 4-way stop, some idiot on the cross street came to a full stop — in the middle of the intersection. Which meant he was blocking the path of every other person on the road, including me. Then he just sat there waiting to see if anyone else was going to go first.

Message received. Just one of those days.

So about a half-dozen minor incidents later, I found myself riding down San Vicente in Brentwood, when I noticed a large BMW preparing to enter the street from the parking lot at Soup Plantation.

Only problem is, there was a large truck parked next to the exit, completely blocking his view of the street. So he had no way of knowing if there was a bike, car, bus or the entire USC Marching Band bearing down on him.

The way this ride had already gone, I assumed the worst, and grabbed my brakes while swinging out wide into the lane. And sure enough, just as I rounded the corner of the truck, he gunned his engine to pull out, then jammed on the brakes when he saw me.

But when he saw I was slowing down, this gold-plated, double-dipped Richard-head gunned it again, clearly thinking he could lurch out in front me — except by then, I was already in front of his car. So he jammed on the brake again, as I rolled by with my hands out to the side in the universal “What the fuck?” gesture.

Once I was past, he gunned it again, then pulled up beside me with his window down, yelling something unintelligible. But it was pretty damn clear it wasn’t an apology. So that caveman portion of my brain kicked, punching out the standard fight or flight response.

And I sure as hell wasn’t going to run away.

So the chase was on.

I kicked it up a couple gears, assumed my best sprint position and picked up the cadence. And much to my surprise, I found I was actually gaining on him.

In fact, I was just about to catch up to him, prepared to give him one of the few pieces of my mind that I have left, when a Porsche pulled out from the curb directly ahead of me without looking.

So I swung hard to the left. And next thing I knew, I was racing down the left lane at about 30 mph, next to the driver’s door of a 911 — the operator of which was preoccupied with talking to his lovely passenger, and had no idea that I was there, since he hadn’t once looked in my direction.

Now, any sane person would have realized the complete idiocy of that situation, grabbed hard on the brakes, and let the Porsche go by.

But that would have meant that the esteemed Mr. Head would get away.

So I kicked it up to my smallest gear and cut in front of the Porsche. And causing the driver to jam on his brakes, with an expression that clearly said “What the holy f…!!!!”

And yes, I confess that there was a small part of my otherwise engaged brain that registered his expression, and truly enjoyed it.

But Mr. Head comma Dick was getting away, so I continued to hammer down the street. And I was only about 20 feet behind him when he pulled a U-turn and raced off in the other direction. Leaving me in the position of chasing him down once again, or getting on with my life.

I chose the latter.

I’d like to say the remainder of my ride was uneventful. Really, I would.

But I would be lying.

Maybe I’ll share it with you another time. Or maybe I’ll just pour a few fingers of good Irish Whiskey and try to forget the whole thing.

One last thing, though. All that adrenalin must have done some good.

Because I finished my usual 2-1/2 hour ride in just a hair under 2:10.

 

Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who had a challenging ride lately. Will documents the Anatomy of an Inattentive Driver, while Gary discusses a recent hit and run that put a Santa Monica cyclist in critical condition. My friend, the proprietor of the Altadena Blog, uncovers a slightly nauseating video of a fat tire ride down Echo Mountain. L.A.C.B.C announces Car-Free Friday; celebrate it by riding with City Council President Eric Garcetti. And Stephen Box marks the second anniversary of storming the L.A. Bicycle Advisory Committee’s figurative Bastille with an open letter to the new head of the Bikeways Engineering Group.


Control the intersection, part 2: Actually, it is polite to point

January 27, 2009

Just last week, I was riding towards a busy intersection. Ahead of me, there was a long line of cars facing me, waiting to make a left turn onto the cross street.

The driver of the first car had plenty of room to make his left before I got to the intersection, crossing my path and going on his way with room to spare.

The second car probably shouldn’t have gone. The driver’s view had been blocked by the first car, and he had no idea I was there until he followed the first driver in making his turn. Fortunately, I hadn’t quite entered the intersection, so he rounded the corner without posing an undue threat.

The third car was another matter.

It was clear that his view had been totally obscured by the cars ahead of him. And if he followed their lead, neither one of us would make it to the other side.

So I pointed at him.

I wasn’t trying to be rude. It’s just a little trick I’ve learned over the years. When a driver doesn’t seem to see me, I extend my arm and point at him. And invariably, they notice me, and respond appropriately.

Don’t ask me why it works. It just does.

In this case, I pointed at the driver as soon as he came into view, after the other car turned. We made eye contact, he nodded, and I rode safely through the intersection and on my merry way.

I’ve used the same technique as I’ve been stopped at a light, when it appeared a driver a going to try to get the jump on me as soon as the light changed. In that case, the driver appeared to be purposely ignoring me, refusing to make eye contact — always a bad sign.

Sure enough, the light changed and he gunned his engine, lurching into the intersection, despite the fact that I had the right of way. So again, I pointed.

And God help me, he stopped.

He sat there with an embarrassed look on his face and let me ride past. Then gunned his engine again, screeching through the corner and down the road.

Other times, I’ve used an extended digit — the first one, not the second, which I tend to employ all too often — to indicate where I intend to go. By pointing straight ahead, I could show that I was going to ride straight across an intersection, even though it was a situation where most drivers would have expected me to turn.

Or I’ve pointed out at a slight angle, to tell drivers that I was entering the lane briefly to go around some obstacle, rather than taking the full lane — or risk confusing them by making a left turn signal.

And in every case, it’s worked. Drivers slow down, and give me enough space to make my move or cross the street. And more amazingly, I’ve never gotten a single horn, shout or obscene gesture in response.

Don’t ask me why.

I’ve even been known to take it a step further by actually directing traffic.

Like at a four way stop, for instance, when no one knows who should go first. In some cases, it may have actually been my right of way. But only a fool would insist on taking it without knowing that the other vehicles intended to cede it.

And as they say down south, my Mama didn’t raise no fools.

So I point at one driver, and hold up my hand to indicate halt. Then point at the other driver and wave him through the intersection, before waving the first car through. And once the intersection is clear, I’ll go through myself — sometime holding out that same halt signal to tell a late arriving vehicle I’m going through.

I always expect the drivers to ignore me. Or laugh. Or get pissed off. But oddly, it never seems to happen.

Instead, they invariably respond to my points and hand commands as meekly as a herd of sheep with a border collie nipping at their flanks.

I can’t explain it. I won’t even try.

All I know is that it works. And the fact that I’m still here to tell you about it is all the proof you need that it does.

 

Bicycle Fixation offers their stylish Limited Edition Herringbone Knickers; very cool, but at that price, I think I’ll continue to wear my decided unstylish spandex. Meanwhile, another rider offers a jersey indicating the three foot passing distance we should all insist on — at least until our personal portable bike lanes hit the market. Gary relates his semi-soggy saga of riding to San Diego over the weekend. Another local bike path becomes a habitat for homeless humanity. Leave it to the Japanese to meld a parking garage with a bicycle vending machine. The Expo Construction Authority seeks an alternate for the Expo Bikeway through NIMBY-ist Cheviot Hills. Yeah, good luck with that. Bike paradise Boulder, Colorado is about to get a state-of-the-art off-road bike park, while Belmont, CA drivers are raging over the new bike lane. Finally, the Rearview Rider, aka the Bicycling Librarian, offers up her new blog of bike-worthy links.


Control the intersection, control your safety

January 26, 2009

 

Recently, my wife and I were driving up Doheny, just below Beverly, when we came upon a young woman riding slowly in the right lane.

She was nicely dressed, as if she was going out for the evening. Yet she seemed to know what she was doing, riding just inside the right lane — and just outside dooring range.

I made sure to give her a wide passing berth as I drove around her, as a courtesy from one cyclist to another, before stopping at a red light at the next intersection.

As we waited for the light to change, the rider carefully worked her way past the cars lined up behind us until she reached the intersection. Then she moved left, stopping in the crosswalk just in front of our car.

My wife was annoyed that she was in our way once again. But recognizing a skilled rider, I told her to be patient. And sure enough, as soon as the light turned green, she pulled to the right, allowing us — and the other cars behind us — to safely pass while she crossed the intersection, before reclaiming her space in the lane.

I could fault her for not wearing a helmet — while she looked great, her stylish tam wasn’t likely to offer much protection in the event of an accident — but I had to admire the way she rode. And the way she controlled the intersection.

Because an intersection — any intersection — can be a dangerous place for a cyclist. And too many make the mistake of letting traffic dictate how they ride, instead of taking control of the situation.

For instance, a lot of riders will just stop in place when traffic comes to a halt, and stay right where they are in the traffic lane behind the line of cars.

They probably think they’re doing the right thing. But drivers coming up from behind may not expect to find a bike there, and may not react in time. And waiting behind even a single car could hide a rider from cars coming from the opposite direction, dramatically increasing the risk of a collision.

Which is not to say that drivers shouldn’t be aware of everyone on the road — bikes and pedestrians included.

But this is the real world. And you shouldn’t risk your life based on the limited skills and attention spans of those sharing the road with you.

Moving up to the front of the line ensures that everyone can see you, no matter what direction they’re coming from. It also means that the cars behind you are stopped, instead of leaving you exposed and vulnerable to any cars that are still moving — and drivers who may not be paying attention.

But even riders who make a habit of moving up to the intersection sometimes stop there, and wait patiently next to the lead car.

That can present it’s own problems, though.

By waiting beside the lead car, you run the risk of blocking access to the right turn lane, preventing cars from being able to make the right turn on a red light that we Californians treasure as our God-given birthright. And that can mean having an angry, impatient driver behind you — which is never a good thing.

Then there’s the risk that the driver at the head of the line won’t notice you waiting there beside him, and make a sudden right turn across your path — or worse, directly into you.

But you can virtually eliminate that risk by moving slightly forward and to the left, coming to a stop in front of the driver’s right front bumper.

That way, the turning lane is clear for anyone who wants to go right. And you’re directly in the lead driver’s field of view, where he can’t help but see you — and blocking him from any sudden moves that could put you in danger. Yet you’re still close enough to the side that you can get out of the way quickly if anything goes wrong.

Then once the light changes, just move slightly to the right so the cars pass while you cross the road. And then back into the traffic lane when you reach the other side.

I’m usually faster off the line than most drivers, and often reach the other side long before they do. But I still move to the right when the light changes — both out of courtesy and to protect myself from any impatient jerks who feel the need to race me across the street.

Bob Mionske, the cycling lawyer, joins the debate on changing the law to treat stop signs as yields. A self-described mediocre cyclist wants your help to become a full-fledged racer. An Alaskan rider explains why some riders prefer the streets to a “perfectly good” bike trail. Green LA Girl notes that LACBC is looking for bilingual bike safety advocates. Finally, City Watch points the lack of bike parking — and quality crappers — at Downtown’s new LALive.

 


Massachusetts Bicyclist Safety Bill vs. Dr. Doom and his Disciples of Death

January 22, 2009

The last few days, I’ve been reading, with increasing degrees of stomach-churning disgust, the comments that followed the Times’ article about the good doctor’s not guilty plea on their L.A. Now blog

Stomach churning, because many of our fellow citizens seem to believe they are justified in using their car as a deadly weapon, should any cyclist have the audacity to annoy or inconvenience them — and that the good doctor did nothing wrong, despite intentionally injuring two fellow human beings.

Stomach churning, in that many of the comments said that the cyclists were to blame, accusing them of tailgating the good doctor — despite the fact that he admitted intentionally cutting in front of the riders, then slamming on his brakes to teach them a lesson. Or at the very least, that their obnoxious behavior somehow justified sending both to the emergency room.

And stomach churning, in the appalling lack of knowledge of regarding the rights of cyclists under California law — and the belief that roads were made exclusively for motorized vehicles.

While I recognize that some — but by no means most — cyclists may ride in a dangerously aggressive manner, it is disingenuous at best to blame all riders for the actions of a relative few. As I was discussing with an employee at a local bike shop over the weekend, many drivers remember the single rider they saw blow through a red light, but never notice the others who waited patiently for it to change.

Then there are those who don’t believe we even belong on bikeways that were designed and built for our safety.

So despite the progress made in L.A. with the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights, it’s clear that we still have a very long way to go.

Contrast that with the new bill that was recently signed into law in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Bicyclist Safety Bill applies common sense solutions to many of the problems we face everyday, on every ride.

Like making it clear that signals are not required when they would interfere with safe operation of the bike, such as when both hands are needed for braking or steering. Banning dooring, as well as cutting riders off after passing or when making a turn — something I’ve addressed previously.

And requiring that all police recruits receive training on “bicycle-related laws, bicyclist injuries, dangerous behavior by bicyclists, motorists actions that cause bicycle crashes, and motorists intentionally endangering bicyclists.” In-service training on the same subjects is optional for more experienced officers.

Imagine a police force that is actually knowledgeable, familiar with the rights and responsibilities of cyclists, and how motorists can cause cycling accidents — intentionally or otherwise.

I’ve been struggling lately with the question of what comes next, now that the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights is well on it’s way to becoming law.

As indicated above, I’ve made some suggestions for ways the California Vehicle Code could be changed to better protect riders and encourage cycling. (Scroll down to “Change the law. Change the world.”, then back up to see the individual suggestions.)

Another step would be to take the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights to the state level and make it part of the Vehicle Code. And require that drivers be tested on the full range of state cycling laws when they apply for their licenses.

As indicated in my previous post, Brayj had an excellent suggestion yesterday, when he said that the MTA could be sued to force funding of bicycle-related projects. And Ingrid Peterson of Rearview Rider added to his concept by suggesting that it’s time for a local coalition of cyclists and lawyers to protect our collective interests.

But we could do a lot worse than taking the full text of the Mass. law directly to our state representatives, and insisting that they use it as a platform for reforming our cycling laws.

Once they get off their collective asses and do something about the damn budget mess, that is.

 

Australian riders blame helmet laws for keeping cycling commuters off the road. Evidently, New York Police ignore hit-and-run accidents involving cyclists — as well as requests for more information. And cyclists fight back against bike thieves with exploding locks.


So that’s why you ride with your mouth closed

January 21, 2009

So there I was this morning, doing about 25 as I cruised down Ocean in Santa Monica, just trying to get a quick ride in before the weather turned.

But as I rode, I suddenly started having trouble breathing, as if something was blocking my airway. A quick personal inventory revealed something was stuck on the back of my throat. And being a semi-frequent practitioner of good dental hygiene, I quickly concluded that I must have inhaled something.

I observed that there was only a slight breeze, so using my brilliant powers of deduction, concluded that it probably wasn’t anything blowing in the wind. Not even an answer, with apologies to the formerly young Mr. Dylan — although I have choked on a few of those over the years, now that I think about it.

That left an insect, most likely of the flying variety.

Could have been a ladybug. Might have been a house fly. Or it could have been just about anything with wings, with the possible exception of the sea gulls and pigeons that frequent the area.

Of course, my fear was that it was a bee, since I didn’t get stung during the infamous beachfront bee encounter, and so still have no idea if I’m allergic or not.

So as I struggled to clear my airway, I anticipated a stinging — and I mean that literally — pain in my throat, followed by the inevitable swelling that would leave my airway constricted and unable to breathe. As well as the risk of anaphylaxis, leaving me a spasming heap in the middle of the roadway, and wondering if the paramedics would arrive before I suffered an inglorious death, surrounded by vegetable-carrying tourists from the farmer’s market.

Not that I tend to be overdramatic, or anything.

Fortunately, nothing happened.

Unfortunately, my instinct to swallow proved stronger than my gag reflex, providing me with an early, unplanned lunch. And with it, any possibility of discovering just what it was

And yes, I finished the rest of my ride with my mouth closed.

 

The cross-country Obama biker completes his trip — and I read about it first in a publication from Qatar? C.I.C.L.E. announces this weekend’s L.A. River ride. Bicycling talks to the CEO of Lance’s new LiveStrong foundation. Tips for Texas bike commuters. Timor has a brush with the law. And finally, Brayj starts a conversation about suing the MTA for more bike funding, and the Rearview Rider suggests starting a biking legal collective, ala NYC or Portland. Count me in.


My latest ride, in which I verify a verse from Proverbs

January 19, 2009

I admit it. I was already pissed off.

I was riding on as perfect a SoCal day as I have yet seen in nearly two decades as an Angeleno. Sunny, windless, mid-80s, cruising up the Santa Monica section on Main Street on the back end of a 32-mile ride, just a stone’s throw from the beach.

Unlike the blow-out induced hike earlier in the week, this ride had gone of without a hitch, reaffirming at the deepest levels of my being why we live in L.A., and why I ride.

Then just as I was about to pass an SUV parked on the side of the road, I started to get a funny feeling that things were about to go to hell fast. Nothing I could put my finger on, but it caused me to take a good look at the vehicle on my right.

No turn signal. No brake lights. I couldn’t even see if there was a driver behind the wheel.

But sure enough, just as I was about the pass the car, it lurched out from the curb, entering the lane as if I wasn’t there.

I swerved hard to the left, nearly crossing the center line, and yelled out a warning. Then yelled again. And again a third time, before the driver finally responded and let me pass.

As I rode by, I took a good look at the driver, and saw an expression that chilled me to my sweat-soaked chamois. Not the look of remorse that most drivers would bear under such circumstances. Nor the angry expression we’ve all seen too many times. Or even the blank, uncomprehending bovine gaze of a driver who has no idea what’s going on.

No, this time I saw the face of a man who knew exactly what he’d done. And didn’t care.

The moment I passed his vehicle and pulled back to the right, he gunned his engine and lurched around me. Then less than half a block away, he swerved back into the bike lane to pass another car on the right, before running the next red light and disappearing around a corner.

Needless to say, I was shaken. And shaking.

And I was pissed.

So I was in no mood to turn the other cheek a mile or so down the road, when I saw a pickup truck put on its turn signal and pull into the right lane to make a turn — without ever checking his mirrors to see that I was already there.

Fortunately, I was prepared this time. I grabbed my brakes, let him pull in front of me, then swung around to his left and pulled up next to him at the light.

His window was open, and he was looking the other way, preparing for his turn. So doing my best to keep my voice level and my anger under control, I leaned in and said, “Next time, check your mirrors first.”

And then the most amazing thing happened.

He turned around, revealing a young African-American man, and gave me one of the biggest, friendliest smiles I’ve ever had directed my way. And apologized profusely — and sincerely.

Taken aback, I mumbled something about how it was okay since I’d seen his turn signal, and just try to be more careful next time. He gave me that same smile again, nodded, and made his turn.

And I rode home, my mood restored, and thinking what a nice guy I’d just met. And I realized it’s true.

A soft answer really does turneth away wrath.

Something I might want to remember next time that I piss someone else off.

 

Hardrockgirl experiences a perfect Sunday riding through the Westside, while Gary celebrates his victory over a clueless cop an unfair ticket. LABikeRides and Streetsblog LA alert us to the upcoming Tour de Ballona II. A councilperson in Mad City, where it’s against the law to get doored, tries to put the responsibility back where it belongs. An Alaskan cyclist writes about the joys of riding at –15F (remember that next time we bitch about our 60 degree cold spells). Finally, the esteemed, and newly minted, Dr. Alex returns to blogdom with a meditation on cycling, activism and eternal summers. Welcome back, Alex — and when you’re ready to run for office, I’ll gladly manage your campaign.


This bike lane is mine, God gave this lane to me

January 15, 2009

Today’s vastly oversimplified and seemingly off-topic history lesson:

It wasn’t that long ago, a little less than a century, that there were very few Jews in Israel. In fact, there was no Israel.

At the end of the first World War, less than 90,000 Jews lived in what was then known as Palestine. Then the Zionist Movement encouraged the migration of Jews to Palestine, reclaiming the land the Romans expelled them from nearly two millennia before.

The turmoil preceding World War II led to further migration, as did the resettlement of refugees following the Holocaust — resulting in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

The only problem is, there were already people living there.

Over 700,000 Arab Palestinians became refugees virtually overnight. And a conflict began that defies resolution 60 years later, as two distinct groups claim their right to the same limited space.

Remind you of anything?

There was a time — a very brief time — when the bicycle was the king of the road; the cleaner, more efficient, new-fangled contraption that was to replace the horse and buggy. At least until the car came along and claimed the roads for themselves.

Bikes were relegated to the side of the road — or banned from the roadways entirely. Some cyclists and traffic planners believed the solution was to build segregated bike lanes and off-road paths; others felt the answer lay in reclaiming our space on road, just as any other form of vehicular traffic.

The problem was, drivers felt the streets belonged to them, and would not willingly give up any part of the road, or make way for what they considered an inferior mode of transportation invading their turf.

And so began the conflict we deal with every day. A cold — or sometimes, very hot — war between cyclists and drivers, as we fight for our right to ride, and the motorized world too often refuses to give an inch.

Does it compare to the tragedy currently unfolding in Gaza?

Of course not. But the roots of the conflict are similar, and a resolution just as unlikely.

Even the cycling community is divided as to what approach to take. Some riders refuse to be confined to a separate but unequal lifestyle; others are willing to utilize bike paths and lanes, but believe the solution lies in a better educated motoring public. Some believe in sharrows, while others are willing to fight for their bike lanes; yet even those who support those painted lines on the street accept that they may not always be the best solution.

Then there are those of us who want to take their bike lanes with them, and others who are just happy to stay off the sidewalk.

As for me, I suppose I have a wheel in both camps. I agree with Will, in that I believe the ideal solution lies in educating drivers, so they’re more willing to share the road. And make room for us as equal users of the streets.

I just don’t believe that will ever happen.

So unless, and until, it does, I will take my place on the road, while staking my claim to the bike lane — even if it doesn’t go anywhere. And fight to defend it from any form of abuse, encroachment or foreign invaders. Because separate and unequal may not be ideal, or even right, but it’s ours.

And right now, it’s the best we’ve got.

Gary reports on Bike Kill, complete with killer photos. Matt fills us in on L.A.’s upcoming tour de hills (and yes, we do have a few), while Will once again demonstrates his mastery of the cyclist’s revenge — with no blood, or anything else, spilled. C.I.C.L.E. announces their new office in Northeast L.A., courtesy of the brewers of my favorite beer. Denver follows up on its bike sharing program during the Democratic Convention with an affordable city-wide rent-a-ride plan. And Lauren, AKA hardrockgirl, fills us in on her first four months of L.A. riding, part 1 (and thanks for the kind word).


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