Cyclists v. drivers — who’s to bless and who’s to blame

February 12, 2009

So let’s pick up where we left off the other day.

I ended on Monday by saying, if I may be allowed to briefly quote myself:

…While it is in everyone’s best interest to encourage everyone to ride safely, as cyclists, we bear no more collective responsibility for the two-wheeled jerks, than other drivers do for the four-wheeled ones who are undoubtedly speeding down the 101 or 405 at this very moment.

Which is to say, none at all.

Later that day, I was flipping through the March issue of Bicycling, and found an excerpt from a truly devastating article by David Feherty, the bike riding CBS golf analyst who was nearly killed last year in a collision with a truck:

…I am sick up to my coin purse of hearing cyclists apologize for the behavior of a tiny minority of morons on two wheels. Sure, they give the rest of us a bad name. Get over it. This problem is caused by careless and inattentive drivers, period.

Read the article. Seriously.

But read it on an empty stomach. Because his description of the accident and its aftermath will make whatever you have in there want to come back out — the hard way.

I can’t agree with his contention that drivers are the only ones responsible for bicycling accidents. I’ve seen riders do some damn stupid things. Myself included.

But he’s absolutely right that it’s time to stop apologizing for the actions of a small minority of riders.

I am not responsible for the jerk I saw drafting on a Big Blue Bus through Santa Monica traffic last year. Neither are you. Unless you happen to be that jerk, in which case I’d really like to have a serious conversation with you.

No more than I am responsible for the driver who followed a city bus through a stop sign in Westwood yesterday, without even pausing. And nearly hit my car in the process.

We see it every day, whether we’re in the saddle or behind the wheel, crossing the street or riding the bus. Drivers speeding and weaving, running red lights and stop signs, making U-turns in traffic, reading behind the wheel, chatting on their cell phones or putting on makeup.

Yet no one would suggest that drivers are responsible for the careless and irresponsible actions of other drivers.

Frankly, I’m tired of being blamed for things I didn’t do. And having my life endangered by drivers who can’t be bothered to observe their legal responsibility to drive safely and attentively.

The problem is, we live in a society where most drivers aren’t held accountable for their actions. The legal requirement that all drivers carry liability insurance means that there is no financial penalty for having an accident — except in the most extreme cases — other than a possible increase in insurance rates.

And drivers are seldom held legally responsible for their actions, simply because we as a society insist on believing that most collisions are simply “accidents,” rather than the result of carelessness or a failure to drive safely and maintain control of the vehicle, as required by law.

Meanwhile, as noted by Bob Mionske, we face an institutional bias against cyclists, both in law enforcement and in the media, and an attitude of blame bicyclists first.

It’s not going to change.

Not unless we demand that it does. Demand that our elected officials enact laws that protect our right to the road, and place the burden of responsibility on the operator of the more dangerous vehicle. And support candidates who support cycling.

Demand educated and unbiased law enforcement, knowledgeable in the rights, as well as the responsibilities, of cyclists. And insist that the press report cycling incidents fairly and objectively, rather than just parroting police reports.


A Santa Barbara writer insists on her right to be irritated when a cyclist impedes the progress of her Suburban, while another writer encourages bikers to increase their chances of survival by riding responsibly. An Austin cyclists befriends other riders — and steals their bikes. CityWatch’s Stephen Box notes that LADOT’s bikeway successes remain works in progress. And Fox News discovers four of the country’s deadliest highways are right here in Southern California.

That’s so unL.A. — A formerly pedestrian-free crosswalk

February 11, 2009

Last week I posted a photo last week of the world’s first working, no-pedestrians-allowed crosswalk. And the last thing I expected was that someone would actually do something about it.

Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

For nearly three full days, no one even noticed. Then Damien Newton reposted it on Streetsblog LA. And then the snarky, justifiably outraged comments started pouring in. Traffic to my site went through the ceiling — well, it is a pretty low ceiling, after all. Other sites picked it up (thank you, Green LA Girl).

And then Damien had to go and ruin it all.

He emailed someone at L.A.’s Department of Transportation. And actually got a response.

Next thing you know, there’s a work crew on its way to take down the signs and turn it back into a real, functional crosswalk that actually allows pedestrians.

Sure enough, I went by this morning, and the signs are down. People were actually using it. No one was getting a ticket. And no one was getting run over.


So far, at least.

Now, if someone could just do something about the street next to my building, which is starting to look — and feel — like the famed cobblestones of Paris – Roubaix.

Pandora Street, between Eastborne and Santa Monica Blvd.

Pandora Street, between Eastborne and Santa Monica Blvd.


Reaview Rider gets challenged to a race, cyclist vs. motorcycle cop. Clean-up is completed along the Orange Line bikeway. Wisconsin lawmakers finally consider changing the law that penalizes the biking dooree, instead of the doorer. Cleveland riders are going to get their very own Bikestation, complete with lockers, showers and repair facilities; we can’t even get sharrows. And the stud factor for local cyclists just went up dramatically — evidently, Mr. Gyllenhaal is one of us.

An open letter to the candidates in L.A. Council District 5

February 10, 2009

As cyclists, we have to get more involved in the political process if we want to see things get any better around here.

So earlier this morning, I sent the following email to each of the candidates running to replace Jack Weiss as council member for Los Angeles’ Council District 5, based on the list provided by The League of Women Voters:

Dear Mr. (or Ms.) ….

As you are no doubt aware, the election for L.A.’s 5th City Council District is just three weeks away. While you, and the other candidates, have addressed any number of various community groups, the concerns of one highly motivated group have largely been ignored up to this point.

There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of bicyclists over voting age here in the 5th District. Some, such as myself, ride for recreation and fitness. Others ride for social or environmental reasona, while for still others, cycling is their primary means of transportation.

Whatever their reason for riding, virtually all are concerned with such vital issues as safe streets and infrastructure, clean air and fair, unbiased enforcement of traffic laws, as well as the effective implementation of the recently approved Cyclist’s Bill of Rights.

I am offering you, as well as the other candidates in the race, an opportunity to address this constituency — at no cost to your campaign.

A resident and active voter in this district, I also operate a popular blog about bicycling in Los Angeles. I’m offering to turn this forum over to your campaign for one day, in order to speak directly to this city’s bicycling community.

You are free to discuss anything you want, from the roll bicycles can play in reducing traffic congestion, to seemingly unrelated issues such as crime rates or responsiveness to your future constituents. If you are an active cyclist, tell us. Or if you want to confront cyclists in some way, feel free. Whatever you send me, I will publish — unedited and without comment — in the order that it’s received.

It may only be seen by a relative handful of district voters; however, with so many candidates, even that could be enough to influence the outcome. Or it could be linked to by other influential blogs, and seen by thousands of eligible voters with an interest in cycling.

All I ask is that you send your statement to me in the body of your email or as a Word attachment, with a maximum of 1,000 words (although less is usually better online). And the sooner I receive it the better, to allow voters time to make an informed choice.

Of course, you’re under no obligation to participate; however, if some of the other campaigns submit a statement and you don’t, it could speak volumes to the biking community.

Besides, it’s free. So what do you have to lose?

I’ve already received a commitment from CD5 candidate Adeena Bleich, who notes that her brother is an urban cyclist who survived a collision with a car.

We’ll have to see if anyone else takes the time to respond. If they do, I’ll post it on here as quickly as I can get it online, as well as creating link or separate page to keep it active at the top of this site.

Because what the candidates have to say to us — or whether they even respond — will have a lot to do with how I cast my vote next month.

And I hope it will yours, as well.


Thanks to Damien at Streetsblog LA for linking to a couple of my recent posts, and pointing out that Brentwood boutiques aren’t the only retailers who are clueless about Ghost Bikes. Gary picks up the “That’s so L.A.” theme — hey, we may be on to something here! — with photos of a fast and furious Viper wipe-out. L.A.’s leading biking actress/activists couple tip us to the city’s upcoming bike rack design contest, here and here. Los Angeles rides contributes more well-thought-out ways to get from here to there. Santa Clarita sponsors a century ride at the end of this month. And Portland may, or possibly may not, have its own cycling version of the mask-wearing Lone Ranger.

A jerk by any other name

February 9, 2009

Let’s talk about jerks.

I mean, it’s not like there’s any shortage of them around here. Like the one I ran into — almost literally — on the bike path in Venice last week.

Thanks to the winter-time lack of crowds, it was easy to maintain a good head of speed. So I made a point of letting slower riders know I was there before I passed them, and gave them as much clearance as possible when I did. No point in ruining someone else’s day just so I could enjoy mine.

Unfortunately, not everyone felt the same.

Just as I was rounding a sharp bend in the path and about to swing around couple slower riders — in other words, at the worst possible moment — a cyclist suddenly appeared on my left. No warning, and passing so close that he actually brushed against me as he went by.

Needless to say, I was pissed. But the massive over-the-ear headphones he wore suggested that he wasn’t likely to hear a word of it, so I saved my breath.

Instead, I warned the other riders ahead that I was about to pass. And about the jerk who was also passing them right in front of me.

As it turned out, he wasn’t that much faster than me. So I watched as he passed other riders in the same fashion; at one point, nearly knocking over a young mother riding with a small child on the back of her bike.

And that, in my book, pretty much defines the word “jerk.” Along with several others I’d rather not use right now.

Problem is, to much of the non-riding public — and even some members of the cycling world — such riders are the rule rather than the exception. They see us as a rude, arrogant and lawless band hellbent on obstructing their God-given right to the road, and flaunting every law and courtesy in the process.

And people like him — the ones Bob Mionske calls scofflaw cyclists — offer all the proof they need.

I have another theory.

As far as I’m concerned, a jerk is a jerk. And it doesn’t matter if that jerk is on two wheels or four. Or pushing a shopping cart through a crowded market, for that matter.

Because really, what’s the difference between an aggressive driver who weaves in and out of traffic at high speed, and a cyclist who blows through red lights even in the presence of oncoming traffic?

They both operate as if the law doesn’t apply to them, with total disregard for the havoc they leave in their wake. To people like that, it doesn’t seem to matter if they cause an accident, as long as it doesn’t involve them.

It appears to be exactly the same mentality at work when a driver intentionally cuts off a cyclist, as when a cyclist blows through an intersection and forces everyone else to swerve or brake to avoid him. Or her.

A jerk is a jerk is a jerk.

And while it is in everyone’s best interest to encourage everyone to ride safely, as cyclists, we bear no more collective responsibility for the two-wheeled jerks, than other drivers do for the four-wheeled ones who are undoubtedly speeding down the 101 or 405 at this very moment.

Which is to say, none at all.

Evidently, cycling isn’t the only sport with a doping problem. Even Arkansas considers sharrows, so what’s taking L.A. so long? Following Bob Mionske’s final column for Velo News, comes word he’s moving to Bicycling Magazine. A New York writer says bike lanes aren’t the whole solution; you have to learn to ride safely in traffic, tooA Santa Monica columnist, who gave up cycling because it was too dangerous, insists that creating livable streets and making the roads safer for bikes is wrong if it means slowing down traffic, and rails against the “small cadre” of “snarky” “gonzo cyclists” who dare to disagree with him. And finally, a current Santa Monica cyclist sells his Burley bike trailer, only to see it in the pages of People. Welcome to the bike blogosphere, J.

That’s so L.A. — Pedestrian-free crosswalks

February 6, 2009


They say no one walks in L.A. And that may be true soon, if our local department of transportation continues their policy of removing crosswalks for the safety of pedestrians.

No, seriously.

Then there’s this intersection in Westwood, which features what may be the world’s first crosswalk where no pedestrians are allowed — despite the presence of a working pedestrian signal.

Kind of makes you wonder just who it’s intended for, doesn’t it?


On a totally unrelated note — after two decades as an Angeleno, I had long ago given up any hope of finding a decent tamale in this town. At least without making a pilgrimage to East L.A.

Then a few weeks ago, we took a trip to MacArthur Park and discovered Mama’s Hot Tamales Café. Absolutely the best tamales I’ve ever had in this town. And the best part is, it’s a non-profit restaurant established to help train people for careers in the restaurant industry, while helping to reclaim and revitalize the MacArthur Park area.

So check it out if you get a chance. Because a cyclist has to eat. And be sure to try the Mexican Mocha — by far, the single best cuppa joe I’ve had in years.

Open for lunch 11 am — 3:30 pm, 7 days a week.

The Cycling Lawyer says goodbye to Velo News. A new database has been established to track dangerous and threatening drivers here in Los Angeles. And a Belgian cyclist has been found dead in his hotel room during the Tour of Qatar.


That’s so L.A.: Parking meters — Should I pay or should I go?

February 5, 2009

In honor of Los Angeles’ new advertising slogan, I’m starting a new semi-recurring feature highlighting the things that make this city just so L.A.

And while the focus of this blog is cycling, let’s kick it off with something that might be more appropriate for Streetsblog or maybe LAist.


More specifically, the new parking meters in Brentwood.

As I mentioned previously, we went out to dinner in Brentwood over the weekend. And after doing my part to contribute to high gas prices, smog and global warming by repeatedly circling a several block radius looking for a parking space, we finally found one in front of the Whole Foods on San Vicente.

As soon as we got out of the car, we noticed that the city’s attempt to gouge every last dime out of its citizens free up parking spaces and increase revenues— without providing viable alternatives — had spread to Brentwood.

Meters that had previously cost $1 an hour now cost $2. And the hours of operation, which had previously allowed free parking after 6 pm, had now been extended to 8 pm.


It might have been nice if they had posted something about the rates going up — after all, I ride through there at least a couple times a week, so I would have noticed.

But this is L.A., after all.

So we started digging for quarters, until we looked up and noticed this sign directly over our parking space:


To pay or not pay? That was the question.

The sign suggested we could just walk off and enjoy our meal without worrying about a ticket, since it was well after 6. Yet the meter insisted we would be ticketed if we didn’t pay.

We finally concluded that a handful of quarters were cheap insurance against a ticket, even if we could — or at least, should — beat it in court. But it just wasn’t work risking the aggravation.

So the city got an undeserved buck out of us. And reinforced once again how deeply dysfunctional this city is.

And that’s just so L.A.

Next: New and improved pedestrian-free crosswalks!

A couple of must-reads: A great, in-depth report on the problems with traffic and bike lanes in the Big Apple, with lessons that could easily apply here. And an article on why California cyclists need bike lawyers, including insights on fallacy of the “I just didn’t see him defense” (#3) and the sanctity of bike lanes (#7). The increase in cycling means more riders are getting injured, while a cyclist in Japan dies after being refused treatment. Is that what we have to look forward to? Finally, the Governator takes to the road, with security — and without a helmet. Way to set the example, Arnold.

How many cyclists have died in this Brentwood boutique?

February 3, 2009

Will the carnage never end?

Ghost bike used as a display in Brentwood boutique

Ghost bike used as a display in Brentwood boutique

I noticed this window display the other night when my wife and I stopped in Brentwood for a bite to eat, and stopped by on my ride today to take a picture.

My best guess is, whoever does their displays saw a ghost bike along the road somewhere, and thought it looked cool — without realizing the symbolism. Or maybe they did know what it was, and wanted to send a subtle public service warning to the many riders on San Vicente Blvd to be careful out there.

It could be a not-so-subtle warning to Critical Mass riders to keep out of their store. Or maybe a cyclist really was killed trying to ride between their display racks.


Or am I the only one who thinks it’s incredibly poor taste to use a memorial to dead cyclists to pimp women’s athletic wear?



Will relates a truly frightening tale of a roadway confrontation. Maybe I really am lucky mine got away last week. The Sunday Santa Monica Farmers Market now has a bike valet. Which brings up Stephen Box’s latest post about bicycle parking in Hollywood, or more precisely, the lack thereof. And he picks up the story of how the Orange Line Bikeway became a homeless encampment.


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