An idea whose time has come — the L.A. League of Bicycling Voters

May 29, 2009

I’ve spent the better part of the last four months focused on politics here.

Not that I had planned to, of course.

But it’s clear that things aren’t going to get better for cyclists around here until we start electing more politicians who clearly support our right to ride safely. And the longer I waited for someone else to step up and ask the candidates about bicycling issues, the more it became clear that our local cycling organizations, such as the LACBC, had no intention of getting involved in the recent elections, even on an impartial basis.

So I did.

To be honest, I didn’t really expect anyone to take me seriously. After all, I’m just a pissed-off biker with a blog.

But much to my surprise, the candidates did. In fact, four of the six CD5 candidates responded to my request for comments in the primary, as well as both candidates in the general election. And three of the eight SD26 candidates did responded, as well.

On the other hand, the press didn’t. With the exception of Damien Newton at Streetsblog and Zach Behrens of LAist — both of which I highly recommend if you don’t already read them — I was unable to interest any media outlet in getting this information out to a wider audience, so that voters could make a more informed choice.

Throughout this whole process, though, I kept wishing that it was more than just me doing this, and thinking how much more impact we could have with an actual organization behind us. One that could host candidate forums and debates, endorse candidates and truly influence the political process.

And maybe even get noticed by the local press.

Then one day, I stumbled on this.

When Austin, Texas, passed a mandatory helmet law, a group of cyclists banded together to successfully fight it. And when the city considered it again a few years ago, these cyclists came back together — and the League of Bicycling Voters was born.

According to League President Rob D’Amico, not only were they successful in defeating the helmet law once again, they also helped create the mayor’s Street Smarts Task Force (scroll down) and have been instrumental in delaying a major planned development until changes were made to accommodate safe cycling. They’ve also played an active role in influencing the political process through bicycle political forums and volunteer work, as well as highly sought endorsements, and helped elect bike-friendly candidates in the last election.

And yes, the local press takes them very seriously.

As a non-profit 501c(4) organization, they’re limited in the amount of money they can spend in support of a candidate, but plan to form an associated Political Action Committee, which will allow them to raise and spend significant amounts of money to support — or fight — political candidates and causes.

Clearly though, much of their success comes from a membership that reaches across all aspects of the cycling community, with board members drawn from other bicycle organizations such as the Austin Cycling Association and the Yellow Bike Project.

Imagine what we could do here with an organization made up of cyclists from across the spectrum, representing groups ranging from the Midnight Ridazz to La Grange, as well as the Wheelmen, C.I.C.L.E, LACBC and the Bike Writers Collective. As well as any and every other group, club and non-affiliated rider on the streets.

An organization that could speak with authority and command respect from our elected officials, and get political candidates to address biking issues as an integral part of their campaigns. And wake the enormous sleeping giant of bicycling voters.

I’m in.

Now who’s with me?

 

Stephen Box takes on Metro, and the driver who forced his wife off the road. Streetsblog reports that our council actually wants to get cyclists more involved in bike planning, and leaks the city’s top-secret bike plan. The author of the Pedaling Revolution hits L.A. this weekend. Bicyling reports on L.A.’s DIY bike scene. A New York court protects cyclists by ruling that bicycling is a leisure, rather than sporting, activity. And finally, a Chinese inventor ignores classic advice and reinvents the wheel.


An idea whose time has come — waking the sleeping giant

May 27, 2009

Here it is, over a week later, and we still don’t know who won Los Angeles 5th Council District. And from the looks of it, it may be a very long time before we know for sure.

But one thing is certain. Whichever candidate is ultimately declared the winner, we should have another friend on the city council. That’s because both candidates addressed local cycling issues as part of their campaign, and each pledged to support bicycling as an integral part of the overall transportation plan.

But something else is also clear.

As important as this election was, only a handful of eligible voters even bothered to cast a ballot. In fact, it’s a pretty safe bet that more L.A. cyclists voted for the loser of American Idol last week in last weeks’s election.

And that has to change.

The cycling community is the sleeping giant of local politics. Based on statistics provided by Bikes Belong, up to 38% of all Americans ride bikes — which means that as many as 3.8 million residents of L.A. County may get around on two wheels at least part of the time.

Even if we use the significantly lower estimate of 12.4% of Americans who ride bikes, that still makes cyclists one of the largest potential voting blocks in L.A. politics — certainly larger, and potentially more powerful, than many of the special interest groups who currently hold sway at City Hall.

And yet, we still can’t get sharrows. Let alone the respect we deserve from the LADOT — or the LAPD. Or our fair share of transportation funding.

It’s time to wake to that giant up.

Lately, some L.A. cyclists have been trying to flex their political muscle. And our government leaders are finally starting to take notice.

But we need to do more.

You only have to take a look at the streets of this city to understand the kind of cycling city Los Angeles could be — a potential that lead Bicycling magazine to name it a Future Best City for bicycling. And you only have to ride those streets to realize how little has been done.

If you’re not pissed off yet, maybe you should be.

Next up: Waking the sleeping giant. And taking back our government — and our streets.


L.A.’s best-named bike shop now offers an American-made alternative to Dutch cargo bikes, and a Pasadena firm introduces its new commuter bike. Gary nearly gets hit over the weekend, even while walking his bike. The Eastside’s Random Hero rides the Marathon route. An Oregon writer offers a half-baked attack on the Idaho Stop Law. Dublin officials support cycling, as does London’s mayor, who barely survived a recent exploratory ride. A recent incident in Boulder, CO offers a reminder of why we all have to be careful on off-road paths. A New York writer insists that cyclists should be licensed and insured, while an Examiner writer asks why we can’t get insurance. New Zealand police say there’s nothing suspicious about finding a dead cyclist in a ditch. And finally, New York’s latest Broadway hit may not win a Tony, but seems to be winning fans.


There’s a reason for this weekend — and oddly, it’s not biking or shopping

May 22, 2009

When I was a boy, I used to love watching war movies with my Dad.

I hadn’t yet developed any sense of the terrible toll that war inflicts; of the lives taken and torn, both on the battlefield and at home. I was far too young for that. All I knew was that he had fought in the second world war, both in Europe and the Pacific, and to me, he was a much of a hero as any of the brave men who battled across our TV screen.

Why he enjoyed those movies, I don’t really know. But I think he took pride in having been part of a struggle that, quite literally, saved the world — and that his sacrifice, and the greater sacrifice of those who didn’t come home, was worth the cost.

Yet it was also clear that, as much as he tried, he could never forget the things that he’d seen, and done. Or the fellow soldiers who didn’t come back home with him.

One moment in particular stands out in my mind.

We were watching a scene in which an American soldier was being tortured by the enemy. In my naïveté, I turned and asked if the Americans ever tortured anyone.

“No,” he said. “We wouldn’t do that. We were the good guys.”

Maybe that’s why I get so upset when I hear Dick Cheney defend the torture of terror suspects. It feels like a betrayal of everything this country has stood for, and everything my father and hundreds of thousands of his fellow men and women fought for.

This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day.

Most Americans will spend it at the beach or outdoor barbeques; at the mall or any of the countless sales that encourage us to mark the occasion by going further into debt. Meanwhile, those of us in the two-wheeled set are likely to take advantage of the three-day weekend and mark the unofficial start of summer with the year’s first big ride.

All I ask is that you take just a moment this weekend to remember those who gave their lives for this country, as well as those who, like my father, surrendered too much their lives to battles they could never forget.

And don’t forget those who are serving their country as we speak — and the sacrifices their loved ones make worrying about, and living without, them.

We’ll have plenty of time to talk about biking next week.

 

Gary provides an insightful analysis of the failure of Class III bike routes. Seriously, read it. In the comments, Scott directs readers to this criticism of the LAB’s Bike Friendly Cities program. Streetsblog provides insight into the Hummer incident by interviewing the victim, Andres Tena. The new Secretary of Transportation notes that biking is healthy when you do it safely, while OHS reminds drivers that we share the road, too. The Tucson Bike Lawyer asks why the Pima County sheriff is entrapping cyclists, and the Safe Passing Bill moves forward in Texas. San Francisco moves forward with a plan to phase out cars and phase in bikes on Market Street, while a Toronto writer notes that bikes are good for business. And finally, the Brooklyn Eagle notes that sharing the road has never come easy.


The hit-and-run epidemic continues — and almost takes a local legend

May 20, 2009

Only by the grace of God, or good fortune, or karma, or whatever you happen to believe in, did local riders avoid yet another ghost bike ceremony this week.

Late Monday night, Roadblock, one of the original Midnight Ridazz and a leader in the L.A. bike community, was struck from behind at high speed while riding on Glendale Boulevard and flipped up onto the hood of the car. The driver then braked, dumping him onto the pavement, before speeding off without so much as pausing to see if he was injured or dead.

Fortunately — miraculously — he avoided serious injuries and was able to get the first six digits of the license plate number, along with a general description of the vehicle as it sped off.

And yes, he was riding legally, using both a headlight and rear light, as well as reflectors on his shoes, and was wearing a helmet.

In some ways, he may be lucky that the driver fled the scene, making it a crime rather than a mere traffic accident. Otherwise, the LAPD Traffic Division might be twisting itself in knots to come up with evidence proving he backed into the car at high speed.

There are two things that have to be done in response to this. The first is to get the a**hole who did this off the streets, and behind bars. Fortunately, the police take hit-and-run very seriously, and will do their best to catch the people responsible.

But we can help, too.

There are far more cyclists than there are police on the streets of L.A. So let’s be their eyes and ears, and keep a close lookout for a dark sedan — Roadblock describes it as dark gray — with a license plate reading 6GYC11-.

If you see it, don’t try to do anything yourself. Call the police and let them deal with it. And if you have any information, call the tip line at 213/972-1825 or email BikeHitAndRun@gmail.com.

Secondly, call or email your councilmember today and demand action to stop the epidemic of hit-and-runs in this city. There’s a reason that was the first question I asked both of the candidates for CD5 (which remains too close to call).

You can read more about Roadblock’s incident — based on his description, I can’t call it an “accident” — on Streetsblog and LAist, as well as the original thread on the Midnight Ridazz website.

And on a semi-related note, tonight is the annual worldwide Ride of Silence to honor fallen cyclists; maybe next year, we can hold one here. And maybe, with luck, we won’t have any local riders to honor.

I’ll leave the last words to Roadblock, on a comment he left today as part of that thread:

You guys are crackin me up. Love you guise seriously. Feels great to be part of this big family of caring ridazz.

Just fed myself a big ole breakfast and I’m on my way to grab some wood and spray paint…. gonna put up some big signs and see if I can get more witnesses. There was a witness last night who said she saw the driver and gave the cops a description, so that coupled with hopefully an accurate plate and boom, fingers crossed this guy gets caught…

Sorry for my angry words up there, I was so steamed up that someone could be that careless and ruthless. The law will run its course and hopefully this guy had insurance or something I can sue for in a civil suit. I’m hobbling around cause I’m sore as hell but again, I got lucky nothing broke.

Thanks everyone.

Wear your helmets, use bright bike lights in the daytime as well…. you need to be 100% and even then something like this can still happen and it won’t change until there is paint on the streets and traffic is tamed… wow.

 

According to Streetsblog, we may actually see an Expo Bikeway in our lifetime; they also ask if there’s too much emphasis on safety. Uh, no. Russ Roca offers good advice on how to introduce sharrows to the driving public. Ubrayj suggests that now may be the time to break up the LADOT. Green LA Girl calls your attention to the upcoming World Naked Bike Ride. Finally, an Aussie writer suggests cyclists should be forced to register their bikes, but only so the government knows where to send the checks for all the good we do — and adds that all drivers should be required to spend 100 hours on a bike before they can get a license.

And as for that post I promised on Election Day, it’s still coming. I promise. But somehow, this seemed more important.


An earthquake and an endorsement

May 18, 2009

Nothing like a little earthquake to get your attention.

Appropriately, it struck last night just as I was reading about the LADOT’s absolutely moronic and incredibly short-sighted plan to eliminate the entire bikeways department and cut all bicycle funding in Los Angeles.

450-Vahedi-StickerNo more endlessly delayed bicycle master plan. No more non-existent sharrows. No more attempting to put off the required environmental review for the Expo bikeway.

In other words, pretty much what they’re not doing right now, but without all the meaningless excuses.

But instead of cracking the whip and telling LADOT to get off their collective asses and do something — anything — to make cycling a legitimate part of the city’s transportation plan, the city may seriously consider just cutting their losses, and politely tell every cyclist in the city to just go screw themselves.

If you’re really surprised, you haven’t been paying attention.

Oh, and did I mention that there is a vital city council election for L.A.’s 5th Council District on Tuesday?

Are you starting to get why it matters?

As cyclists, we do seem to have friends on the council, as evidenced by the adoption of the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights. But it will take a lot more than just words to make this city safer for the most vulnerable road users.

It takes real resolve, support and action from our civic leaders. And as this proposal clearly shows, that seems to be sadly lacking these days.

And that is why it is so important to vote for David Vahedi tomorrow.

No offense to Paul Koretz. He has an impressive background in local and state government, and had some great responses to my recent questions about biking and transportation issues.

But David Vahedi clearly understands the importance of bicycling and the issues facing cyclists in this city.

As a lawyer, he fought to protect the rights of cyclists. And as a community activist and a member of his local homeowner’s association and co-founder of his neighborhood council — as well as a lifelong resident of the 5th District — he has worked to protect and improve the quality of life around here.

He has also proven to be exceptionally responsive — which is a breath of fresh air after 8 years of Jack Weiss.

When I first got involved in this race, I reached out to each of the six candidates in the primary election for their comments on biking and transportation issues. Much to my surprise, four of the candidates — Vahedi, Adeena Bleich, Robert Schwartz and Robyn Ritter Simon – responded; only two candidates — Paul Kortez and Ron Galperin — did not. (As the above link shows, Koretz did respond to the second set of questions I submitted for the general election, however.)

Only one of those candidates reached out to me, though.

Instead of just talking about the need for more bike lanes, Vahedi wanted to understand the issues from a rider’s perspective. So he picked up the phone and asked me. And then he did something so rare for a political candidate that I was actually stunned.

He listened. Then responded with more questions, until he truly understood what I was trying to say.

That was the first time I ever spoke with him. And the first time I seriously thought of him as someone who could make a real difference in Los Angeles.

Since then, we’ve spoken a number of times. Each time, he’s made it clear that cyclists will have a friend on the council and a genuine voice in city government if he is elected.

He’s also made it clear that he may not always agree with us. But he’s committed to always being open, honest and objective, and listening to whatever we have to say before making a decision. Then casting his vote based on what’s best for his district and for the city, rather than the special interests that currently run city hall.

And that’s all we can ask of any elected official.

I’m not the only one he’s impressed. Vahedi has been endorsed by The L.A. Times and the Daily News, as well as former Daily News editor Ran Kaye. And you can read more about both candidates in the L.A. Weekly and in this article from yesterday’s Times.

There will also be a bike ride tomorrow to help support David Vahedi in tomorrow’s election. You can see the details on Facebook, or just show up at Vehedi headquarters at 10 am on Tuesday, May 19 at 10714 Santa Monica Blvd, on the southeast corner Overland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

But whatever you do tomorrow, please — get out and vote.


Uh…thanks, BMW dude

May 15, 2009

So I was riding through Westwood this afternoon, on the backside of today’s 35 miler, when a black BMW pulled up next to me. (Why is it always a BMW?)

The passenger window rolled down, and the young man riding shotgun gave me a big thumbs-up and yelled out “Great ass!”

What could I say? When he’s right, he’s right.

So I just nodded in acknowledgment and continued on my way. And, failing to get a rise out of me, they did the same.

 

A writer on Bob Mioske’s personal blog clarifies his earlier post to say yes, you need to stop when the cops tell you to, and no, you can’t always count on a judge who knows the law. Gary and Will both feel a little let down by Bike to Work Day; Lisa has better luck in Santa Monica, while Nate takes a bike bus to work and Damien offers an overview of the week. Santa Monica founds a local chapter of the LACBC. Mickey Wally, Happyland and El-Brayjerino both add to the debate over LAPD’s failure to investigate itself in the Hummer Incident. A Scottish paper says safety fears are up for Edinburgh cyclists; after reading the comments, I can see why.  The Politburo at Flying Pigeon prepares to host a Pedaling Revolution at the end of the month; speaking of which, I saw my first Flying Pigeon on the Santa Monica bike path last week. And finally, my new Long Beach biking friend writes a letter to his councilman on the right way to roll out sharrows — at least he’s getting them.


LAPD investigates, and finds itself not guilty

May 14, 2009

I was planning to write something tonight about the LAPD absolving itself of any errors in the Hummer incident. About how angry I am to see them defy all logic, as well as the evidence, once again. And once again, blame cyclists first.

And how it really isn’t surprising that they see nothing whatsoever wrong with their own actions. Biased people — or city agencies — usually don’t.

But instead, I was tied up all evening trading emails about the forthcoming election, and the media, and what I intend to write about next Tuesday — Election Day. Which should be worth coming back here for, so mark your calendar.

No, seriously.

Besides, Damien pretty much took the words right out of my mouth. Or laptop, as the case may be. So if you haven’t read it yet, read it. Watch the video. And if you really want my take on it, you can scroll down through the comments until you get to mine.

You can also read more on Metblogs, and on Ron Kaye’s excellent blog, which I really need to find room for over there on the right side somewhere.


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