Watch out for drivers today, because they probably won’t be watching for you

December 24, 2010

Let’s be careful out there.

The closer we get to the holidays, the more drivers are focused on finding that elusive parking space and their frenzied search for those last minute gifts. And many may have started their Christmas drinking long before they’d consider tippling any other time of the year, and may be in no condition to drive — yet think they can do it anyway.

And the last thing most drivers are likely to be looking for on the road is a bike. Let alone anyone on one.

We’ve already had one rider killed in Orange County this week, and word came of another bad bike wreck at 7th and Spring in Downtown L.A. on Thursday.

And that’s two too many in just the last two days.

So if you’re riding today or over the weekend, use extra caution. Especially Christmas Eve, as people make their way home after imbibing in a little too much holiday cheer at lunch or office parties.

No, you shouldn’t have to assume responsibility for others on the road; and yes, it’s their obligation to operate their vehicles safely and soberly.

But this time of year, a lot of them don’t. And won’t.

And drives like that usually aren’t the ones who end up paying the price for their mistakes.

So ride defensively. Assume you’re invisible, and that everyone you encounter on the road is driving distracted. Or worse.

And light yourself up like a Christmas tree on your way home tonight.

And not just in honor of the holiday.


Opponents to NYC’s Prospect Park West break out the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer argument, claiming they just can’t understand those darn statistics. And Traffic meister Tom Vanderbilt joins in the debate as well, pointing out that a study of 24 California cities showed that the cities with higher bike usage also had a better safety rate — and not just for bikes.


Looks like Glendale’s Safe & Healthy Streets program has had a successful year, too. Playing Santa by bike in the South Bay. A cyclist is rescued after she was swept into flood waters in Palm Springs. The DMV points out that a helmet is required for all riders of motorized bikes; I had no idea. Look out for cars parked in bike lanes, which, despite all logic, remains legal in California unless banned by local ordinance.

Bikes are becoming so fashionable, one day, they may even be used for transportation. A typographic look at the anatomy of a bicycle. A Harford cyclist is threatened with bike confiscation after parking it in front of the hotel where he’s attending a conference. Fayetteville NC’s Bicycle Man fixes up and gives away 1,100 bikes to children in poor communities; yes, 1,100 bikes from a single, huge-hearted man.

Unbelievably, a Brit driver who ran down and killed a cyclist participating in a time trial walks, subject only to a one-year driving ban, community service and £110 in court costs; evidently, a cyclist’s life is cheap in Great Britain these days. Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin try to make sense of the UK’s blustery bike program days. The many joys of winter cycling. Dutch in Dublin looks at biking Irish fashion stylist Aisling Farinella. Pro cyclist Robbie McEwen is credited with saving his fellow yacht passengers from carbon monoxide poisoning. An 18-year old Aussie cyclist receives a five month driving ban for drunk driving.

Finally, Velonews looks at the good doctor, a very forgiving lawyer and whether Vail is responsible for their jerk of a DA.


My best wishes to you and yours for a very safe, healthy and happy holiday season.

Merry Christmas!


Fighting over red lights: To stop or not to stop

August 26, 2010

I confess, I make a point of stopping for red lights.

Last week, another rider wanted to fight me because of it.

As an experienced cyclist, I feel an obligation to set an example — both for other riders, and to show drivers that we don’t all run red lights.

Not that they usually notice, of course.

Human nature being what it is, they may not notice the riders stopped next to them waiting for the light to change. But they’ll sure as hell see any rider who happens to blows through it.

Besides, it’s not only courteous and safer to stop on reds, it’s the law. And evidently, that’s what got the pugilistically inclined cyclist upset.

Maybe he was just hopped up on testosterone, driven to distraction by a riding companion whose figure, to steal a line from Woody Allen, “described a set of parabolas that could cause cardiac arrest in a yak.”

Or maybe he was just a jerk.

Either way, I was riding north in the bike lane on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica just south of Colorado Avenue, when I stopped at the red light at the on and off ramps for PCH. I probably could have continued through the intersection safely; the only danger I faced in going through the light was that a car turning onto Ocean from the onramp might carelessly stray into the bike lane.

But I’ve learned over the years never to count on a driver doing the right thing. And I recognize that red lights usually exist for a reason, even if I may not always understand or agree with it.

So I sat patiently and waited. The two riders I’d passed a little further up the block didn’t.

They rolled by on my right and continued through the red light; as they passed, the guy sarcastically commented, “Seriously, a red light? In the bike lane?”

So I simply glanced over and responded, “That’s the law.”

The next thing I knew, he was off his bike and standing in the roadway, fists balled and coming towards me. Fortunately, the light changed and I continued on my way, shaking my head that anyone would feel compelled to fight over something so trivial. And not the least bit concerned that he might catch up to me, as I glanced back a few moments later to see him pedaling furiously in my wake, yet falling further behind with every pedal stroke.

That’s not to say that I never run red lights.

In fact, I ran one just the other day on my way to the Mayor’s Give Me 3 press conference, when I found myself at a light where my bike couldn’t trigger the sensor and there was no pedestrian button to push.

So when traffic going in the opposite direction got the green and I didn’t, I waited until all the cars in the left turn lane went through, then rode through the light. And hoped that the stop light that held back cars on the busy street I was crossing wouldn’t change while I was still in the intersection.

I also recognize there are situations where it may actually be safer to ride through the red than to sit at a dangerous intersection waiting to get hit.

But the fact remains that the law require cyclists to stop for red lights, just like cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians. And as much as I would prefer to see an Idaho stop law here, to the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t currently exist anywhere outside of the Famous Potato state.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you to stop. Or chase you down and berate you in an attempt to police our sport if you go through a light. I assume you’re a grownup and fully capable of making your own decisions, whether or not I happen to agree with them.

But what I can’t accept are riders who insist on going through the light when someone else has the right-of-way.

Like the two fixie riders I recently watched weave their way through a crosswalk crowded with pedestrians, forcing the only road users more vulnerable than we are to get the hell out of their way or risk getting hurt.

(For anyone unclear on the concept, as long as they’re not crossing against the light, pedestrians in a crosswalk always have the right of way.)

Or the three riders I watched blow through the busy intersection of Santa Monica and Beverly Glen in Century City over the weekend, laughing as the drivers crossing on the green light had to brake or swerve to avoid them. And making me cringe with the expectation that one of those drivers might not be able to stop in time — whether to avoid the riders or the other cars scattering in their wake like so many pinballs.

Somehow, they made it across safely. Though one or more could easily have ended up adding to last weekend’s carnage.

Which brings up one last point.

Few things are riskier than going through a red light when opposing traffic is present. As bike lawyer Bob Mionske has pointed out, if you get hit after running a red light, you’re the one who’ll be held at fault, regardless of what the other person did or didn’t do.

And good luck getting your medical expenses paid after that. Or any kind of settlement, for that matter.

So when the light turns yellow, I’m reaching for my brakes. And making a quick calculation about whether I can make it through the intersection before it turns red, or if I need to pull those levers and wait until the light changes again, just like the drivers next to me.

Whether or not you choose to stop is your decision.

But just remember, going through the light is often dangerous.

And always illegal.


Gary says it’s time to stop letting the roadway bullies win. LADOT Bike Blog looks at sidewalk riding in the South Bay. Claremont Cyclist offers the history of roads in response to the KSU writer who claimed roads are for cars, explaining that roads are for general transportation and “not the hegemony of a single mode of transportation over others.” NorCal residents struggle to reclaim the street Caltrans turned into a highway; thanks to Brent for the link. More bicycle scorchers in 19th Century Denver. Zeke writes about his experiences on the Blue Ridge Breakaway. Bicycling Magazine offers seven steps to pain-free cycling. Austin on Two Wheels says the new riding stats from New York should be the death knell of vehicular cycling. A Maryland cyclist is killed in a right hook with a semi. Now that looks like a nice commute. A New Orleans community activist plans a 1600 mile bike ride along the Gulf Coast to raise awareness about fuel dependence in the wake of the BP oil spill. Bicycling through Tokyo at the speed of light. A insurance company plants unlocked bikes around London to show how easy they are to steal; turns out, no one wants them. Riding without brakes is illegal in the UK, and usually not smart. Miss Scotland rides a bike.

Finally, a Connecticut driver encourages cyclists to share the roads, but please act like adults and leave your egos at home. Somehow, I get the feeling he doesn’t like us very much.

I tweet therefore I am, Streetsblog parties and the Mayor says Give Me 3

August 25, 2010

Today I finally enter the Twitter age, only a few years after everyone else on the planet.

I’d been reluctant to add yet another demand on an already overcrowded schedule. But my friend GT — who writes eloquently about struggling to complete his first major climb after his recent heart attack — talked me into it to make it easier to keep you up with new content and breaking news.

So you can now follow me @bikinginla. And I’m now taking suggestions on who I should follow.

And in case you’ve missed it, there’s an interesting — and decidedly in-depth — discussion about helmet use going on at the Survival Tactics page.


Don’t miss tonight’s Streetsblog LA Re-Launch Fundraiser and Party, complete with silent auction courtesy of Green LA Girl. And set your browser for tomorrow’s official re-launch of the city’s leading — and most important — transportation news site. I have other commitments this evening, but will make a brief appearance before the night is over.


L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa continues his surprising support for safe cycling.

L.A. cycling’s new BFF continues to support the biking community.

Yesterday, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a press conference to announce the winner of the recent contest to create a slogan for bike safety campaign — something that was in the works long before what London’s Guardian newspaper called his Road-to-Damascus conversion to cycling evangelist.

The Mayor autographs the Give Me 3 poster.

The contest, and resulting poster, were the result of a joint effort between the LACBC, Midnight Ridazz, LADOT and the LAPD, as well as the Mayor’s office.

Yes, that’s just as strange a coalition as it sounds. And one that would have been unimaginable just a year earlier.

The winning slogan, “Give Me 3,” was submitted by cyclist Danny Gamboa, and the poster was designed by L.A. based cyclist and graphic artist Geoff McFetridge.

The poster was also signed by many of the people who worked to make it happen.

According to the Mayor,

“California law currently requires drivers to give a ‘safe passing’ distance, but drivers may not know what safe means. Three feet is a safe passing distance and will help keep bicyclists out of the door zone.”

While the new campaign merely encourages drivers to give a minimum three feet distance when passing bike riders, Villaraigosa promised to work with cyclists and the state legislature to pass a state-wide three-foot passing law. A previous attempt to pass the law in 2006 failed to get out of committee after opposition from the trucking industry and the California Highway Patrol.

Who ever thought we'd see the Mayor flanked by cyclists and their bikes?

The website Three Feet Please says 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed three-foot laws, along with four cities — Austin and San Antonio Texas, Boise Idaho and Tupelo Mississippi. In fact, Mississippi recently became the latest to mandate a minimum three feet.

If they can manage to give cyclists a full yard on the narrow roads of the deep south, California drivers shouldn’t have any problem.

A phalanx of bikes storm the steps of power.

Villaraigosa also made a point of encouraging cyclists to wear a helmet, but did not mention his previous threat call for a mandatory helmet law. The event was followed by filming of a pair of PSA spots featuring the Mayor that will encourage safe driving and helmet use.

Other sites have already covered the press conference in greater detail, including the LACBC, LADOT Bike Blog, Streetsblog and the Mayor’s office; LADOT Bike Blog also offers a full listing of other coverage of the campaign.

A cross sections of cyclists sought shade while waiting to film the PSA.

It will be interesting to see what effect the Give Me 3 campaign will have on the streets of L.A.

In my experience, most drivers already pass at a safe distance, so the question is what influence it will have on the minority of drivers buzz cyclists — intentionally or not.

Or if they’ll only give a safe distance to riders who look like Gumby.

As I rode home, I spotted this poster just blocks from City Hall.


People for Bikes reaches 50,000 pledges to support cycling in the U.S.; if you haven’t signed up yet, you can do it here. I signed up a few months back.


Complaints surface about LADOT’s tendency to make infrastructure changes without public notice. Ten things to do at CicLAvia. Gary takes Agensys to task fighting a much needed biking link through Santa Monica. Glee’s Lea Michele rides a lavender cruiser through the streets of L.A. Headphones are legal while riding in most states, though California limits it to one ear only; then again, your choice of music could affect your performance. Rabobank, sponsor of one of the leading pro cycling teams, positions itself for next year’s Tour of California; thanks to George Wolfberg for the link. After receiving 110 units of blood to save his own life, a former CA police officer rides 4,000 miles across the country to thank blood donors; meanwhile, a Brit cyclist rides 3400 miles less across the U.S. to fight cancer; then again, she’s only seven years old. A Tucson bike-grabbing road grate gets a quick fix. If you get run over while talking on a cell phone while riding in Arizona, the courts could rule that distracted riding is relevant to your case. A Portland bike lane gets the Mario Kart treatment from the Department of DIY. A look at Dora Rinehart, the greatest female cyclist of the 1890s; from Colorado, of course. If you want to do a little climbing this weekend, how about 24.5 miles — and 7,700 vertical feet — up Pikes Peak? Somehow, a Kansas State student can get all the way to college, and still think that riding a bike in the street is annoying, rude and has to stop, regardless of what the law says. It takes real food, not energy bars, to get you through the long rides. British police crack down on anti-social cyclists — that sounds so much scarier than scofflaws, doesn’t it? UK authorities are set to reject a call to reduce the BAC limit from .80 to .50. How to adjust your front and rear derailleurs. Racer Rosa Bicycles strives to be cleaner and greener than the rest. Eleven months and 23,000 kilometers of riding across Africa. A New Zealand driver admits to falling asleep and killing a cyclist on Easter Sunday.

Finally, he’s doing it on two feet instead of two wheels, but a tenacious walker is about to finish a remarkable stroll from Rockaway Beach, NY to Rockaway Beach, OR; thanks to Brent for the heads-up.

Misinterpretation of bike safety trumps state law in Pasadena

May 29, 2010

L.A. cyclists are just beginning enjoy a police department committed to fair enforcement of the law and respecting the rights of cyclists.

Unfortunately, riders in other local jurisdictions aren’t always as lucky.

While Pasadena works to become more bicycle friendly, the Pasadena Police Department has clearly failed to grasp the concept.

In an astounding display of the department’s failure to understand either state bicycle laws or basic bike safety, a certified cycling instructor has given up after spending $4000 to fight a ticket for riding too slowly and too far out in the traffic lane in Pasadena.

Riding on a street with narrow traffic lanes, Chris Ziegler took the lane exactly as cyclists are taught to do for their own safety.

Yet the officer — and evidently, the department — seems to believe that “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb” meant riding to the far right regardless of whether Ziegler thought that would put him in jeopardy.

And regardless of whether he was legally entitled to take the lane.

That’s right. In what we can only hope is a horrible misquote, Pasadena Police Lt. Randall Taylor said that the department’s incorrect assessment of bicycle safety trumps the traffic laws of the State of California.

“Someone who has ridden a bike for more than 20 years obviously knows more about bicycling than I do,” he said. “But it comes down to common sense.”

Taylor, who is assigned to the traffic section, said safety may dictate asking cyclist (sic) to do things that run contrary to the law.

“The street may be too narrow and the law might say that he should ride in the middle of the street,” Taylor said. “But here is a 2,000-pound car and you have a 30-pound bike. Do you want to be in the middle of the street where a driver isn’t looking for you?”

Yes, he actually said that the police may require bicyclists to break the law.

Cyclists are taught that we are more visible riding in the lane than hugging the curb, and that riding too far to the right in a substandard lane only encourages drivers to pass in an unsafe manner.

In fact, the California DMV has this to say on the subject:

How Far to the Right?

Ride on the right, but not so far that you might hit the curb. You could lose your balance and fall into traffic. Do not ride too far to the right:

  • When avoiding parked vehicles or road hazards.
  • When a traffic lane is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side.
  • When making a left turn.
  • To avoid conflicts with right-turning vehicles.

Unfortunately, the PPD — and the judges who accepted their misinterpretation of the law in order to uphold the ticket — evidently never read that.

Or simply don’t care whether they violate state law and put cyclists at needless risk if it fits their concept of safety.

So for the time being, you may want to ride in Pasadena at your own risk.


Evidently, the publicity helped this week, as a tipster turns in the 74-year old driver who ran down 22-year old Benjamin Zelman — after the city council increased the reward by $25,0000. Now if they could just put as much emphasis on finding the killers of Robert Painter and Ovidio Morales.


Ivan Basso bounces back from his two-year suspension to take the lead in the Giro D’Italia, coming from 2:27 back gain a :51 advantage. And for a change, a pro cyclist is found innocent of recent doping charges, after former world champ Alessandro Ballan is cleared in an internal investigation by his BMC team.


In this weekend’s rides and other assorted bike activities, Bike Town Beta 3 takes place in and around the Fairfax District. Will takes riders past the high points of historic West Adams, including the site of the infamous Black Dahlia murder. The SoCal Cycle Chic Ride rolls this Sunday for anyone who “rides in normal clothes.”

Wait, you mean spandex isn’t normal?

The California Car-Free Challenge begins next week. And you’re just over a week from the 10th Annual River Ride on Sunday, June 6.


The great sharrows volunteer study begins, with paint on the ground promised in two weeks. Mechanically inclined volunteers wanted for BiciDigna, the community bike repair space sponsored by the LACBC, Bicycle Kitchen and IDEPSCA. L.A. Creek Freak says the answer to future oil needs is more riding, not more drilling. In Pasadena, burglars escape by bike, or try to anyway; thanks to Altadenablog for the heads-up. An Orange County man faces 25 years in prison for keying his neighbor’s car. Cyclelicious says he’ll respect motorists’ privilege to use the roads when they learn to obey the rules; amen, brother. Leave your car at home and pedal your way to the Indy 500. A budget conflict sinks this year’s Tour of Missouri. The Bike League apologizes for mentioning the big, evil retail giant in their newsletter. A Santa Cruz area father is shot at trying to retrieve his son’s stolen bike. Colorado raises the penalties for careless driving resulting in death to a level that will automatically mean loss of driving privileges. New York cyclists get a European-style right-side bike-only left turn lane. A blonde American woman bikes through the Middle East and survives to write a play about it. Cyclists offer their support to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood for his support of cycling. A North Carolina man is charged with six counts of felony hit-and-run after plowing into a group of cyclists earlier this month. A look at the bike that won the Giro for Andy Hampsten in ’88. After this week’s dismissal of the Darcy Allan Sheppard, Canadian bike messengers are officially roadkill. A Brit cycling group starts a campaign to keep Posties on their Pashleys.

Finally, Barclays buys the naming rights to London’s new bike share program for £25 million — about $36 million — which should give a hint about how L.A. could finance our long-discussed pilot program if anyone at LADOT or city hall is listening.

Yesterday’s ride, on which topography was my co-pilot

April 15, 2010

I had a great ride yesterday.

It was one of those rare days when I found myself communicating with the drivers and pedestrians around me — and not that way, for a change — as we waved one another through busy intersections and signaled our thanks for little roadway courtesies.

Then there was the brief, but pleasant conversation about the idiocy of passing drivers with a passing pedestrian, as six cars blew through the crosswalk after I had stopped to let him cross — despite the fact that pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right-of-way in every circumstance here in California.

And yes, that means we have to stop, too.

On the other hand, it was only a couple of hills that made the difference between making it home with a smile on my face, and maybe not making it home at all.

The first came on my way out, just over a mile from my home.

The street I take through the Westwood area, Ohio, goes up and down a brief series a hills before culminating in a short, steep climb on the last block before Westwood Blvd.

I ride with more caution than usual on that block, as drivers tend to pull out suddenly from alleys and curbs, and dart across the road in search of a highly prized parking space near the Coffee Bean. Normally, that would suggest taking the lane, but I’ve learned the hard way that drivers there will just go around me anyway as my speed slows going uphill, jumping over to the wrong side of the road and cutting around me so closely that I’d rather take my chances in the door zone.

This time, I nearly won the door prize, as a driver threw her door open directly in my path without the slightest look in her mirror.

Fortunately, I was on that section where gravity slows me from well over 25 mph at the bottom of the hill to just over 10 mph at the crest. Had it occurred on level ground, where I usually cruise at around 18 to 20 mph, her door would have nailed me, knocking me in front of the oncoming cars rushing to make the light.

But as it was, I’d slowed enough that I was able to react in time, if only barely.

And in biking, barely is usually good enough.

Then on my way back home, I was riding back up San Vicente Blvd in Santa Monica, on that long, gradual climb between 7th and 26th.

I’ve learned to keep a close eye on the cars waiting between the wide median islands in the center of the roadway — what New Orleanians call the neutral ground — because they tend to dart across once vehicular traffic clears. And often without looking for bikes first, despite one of the area’s most heavily travelled bike lanes.

Sure enough, I saw an SUV waiting beside the grassy island at the next crossroad. Once the last car passed, she gunned her engine and cut in front of me without ever looking in my direction.

On level ground, my speed would have carried me directly into her path. But as it was, the long climb had reduced my speed just enough that I was able to make a panic stop a few feet from the face of her highly startled passenger.

And instead of ending my day as a hood ornament, I put it behind me and continued home. Even if I did have to resist the temptation to chase her down and employ a few choice expletives in explaining the necessity of watching for all road users.

So sometimes, it’s skill that gets us through the most difficult situations. Sometimes it’s luck.

And sometimes, it’s just topography.


Cyclists help beautify the streets they ride in Glendale. A handful of voters pick traffic calming as the factor that would most make them more comfortable riding on a major street. Has it really been a year since the infamous Hummer Incident — and almost that long since we were promised a police report? LADOT explains the thought process behind the bike corral project, which will move forward to the full City Council. Stephen Box takes on the problem of bike parking, or the lack thereof. Not to mention the lack of bike planning in Metro’s new Westlake/MacArthur Park development. Benecia approves, then cancels, a competitive pro/am bike event scheduled for June. A new car technology could see you and brake in time even if the driver doesn’t. Riders love LaHood, but truckers don’t; well maybe not all truckers. A Boston biker gets hit by a red light-running…cyclist. A man in America’s most dangerous state for cyclists is seriously injured when his bike hits a parked truck, but he doesn’t. One of my favorite Cycle Chic writers asks if the government will embrace cycling, or do we all just have to be brave? A flawed new bike lane debuts in Baltimore. A pseudo Sarah Palin rides the Tour de Fat back in my hometown. It’s spring, when cyclists fight tourists for space on the Brooklyn Bridge; sounds like summer in Santa Monica. The Brooklyn Borough President — who travels in a chauffeured SUV— say NYDOT Commissioner Janet Sadik-Khan just wants to make life harder for drivers. But despite the recent tripling of New York’s bike lanes, only 5% of the city’s streets have them. A Brooklyn man faces criminally negligent homicide charges for running down a cyclist on Flatbush Avenue, which is in that other 95%. Police threaten to cut bikes from sign posts in Brooklyn. Debunking the biking myths in Spokane. Honestly, we shouldn’t have to envy Tucson this much. Biking the first and last mile. A Brit cyclist is fined £700 plus court costs after running a red light; of course, swearing at the police and trying to ride away didn’t help. Maybe bike training for constables isn’t such a bad idea after all. Maybe the best way to talk a grandmother into biking is tell her she needs a mobility scooter. The Four Season’s says ask your concierge about biking in Budapest.

Finally, the rookie NYPD cop who pushed a Critical Mass cyclist off his bike — then brought bogus charges against the biker — goes on trial in New York.

Is it right to pass on the right? Or dangerous and illegal?

December 22, 2009

It’s a simple syllogism.

Passing on the right is illegal; I pass on the right. Therefore, I break the law.


Okay, so it’s not up there with Socrates’ classic hits, like “All men are mortal.” But that was the gist of a conversation that took place last week, in response to my comments about the recent TRL study showing drivers are responsible for the overwhelming majority of British cycling collisions.

A reader named Doug questioned how closely the British data actually correlates to Los Angeles, which is a fair question. While British drivers complain about the very same cyclist behaviors L.A. drivers do — and vice versa — we have no statistics to back us up.

Primarily because no one has bothered to do an in-depth study of cycling in this city — let alone an analysis of how and why cycling accidents happen and who is at fault.

But more to the point, at least in terms of today’s topic, he also complained about cyclists who run stop signs and red lights. And about riders who pass on the right.

Like I do. And like I often advise other cyclists to do.

Pass on the right, that is — not run red lights.

As Doug put it,

Splitting lines, by both motorcycles and bicycles, is legal in California. However, passing on the right is not, and that is very different. Certainly, a responsible cyclists knows that passing on the right is dangerous and should be avoided.

So who’s right?

From my perspective, you’re almost always better off at the front of an intersection, where you can be seen from every angle, than stopped in the lane behind a line of cars — where drivers coming up from behind may not anticipate the presence of a cyclist, and where you could be hidden from oncoming and cross traffic. And that often means working your way up the right side of the traffic lane.

There are other situations that seem to call for passing on the right, as well. Like riding in heavy traffic, where you can easily ride faster than the speed of the cars next to you. Or when traffic is stopped while you have a clear path ahead.

My justification for doing it is simple. CVC21202 requires that you ride as far to the right as practicable. So unless you’re actually riding in the traffic lane, you’re in a separate lane from the traffic next to you — usually the parking lane or a strip of pavement to the right of the actual traffic lane.

And according to the applicable traffic code, CVC21754, passing on the right is allowed “whenever there is unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles in the direction of travel.” In other words, if there’s a clear lane of travel wide enough for your bike, it’s legal.

Still not sure?

Look at it this way. Say you’re driving in the right lane on a four lane street, with two lanes of traffic in each direction. The cars in the left lane come to a stop while the lead driver waits to make a left turn. Does that mean you have to stop as well, even though you’re in the next lane? Or if the traffic to your left slows down, do you have to slow as well to avoid passing anyone?

Of course not.

If that happened, traffic would grind to a halt on virtually every street and highway in the country. And since the same laws apply for bikes as for other road users, if it’s legal for drivers, it’s legal for us.

But that was just my opinion — based on nothing more than the rationalizations of a highly opinionated, semi-analytical long-time cyclist. Then I read almost exactly the same arguments on cycling lawyer Bob Mionske’s Bicycle Law website.

But as Rick Bernardi’s column there makes clear, just because something’s legal, that doesn’t mean you may not still get a ticket for it. And you may not win in court, either.

The other question is, is it safe?

Only about as safe as any other maneuver on streets filled with sometimes careless and inattentive drivers.

Some drivers may not check their mirrors and blind spots before moving to the right, never considering that anyone else might want to occupy that same space.

Or operate under the mistaken assumption that it’s illegal for cyclists to pass on the right, and therefore, none would even try. Because, you know, drivers never do anything we think they’re not supposed to do, either.

So you have to be careful.

Keep a close eye on the cars on your left, watching for right turn signals or front wheels turned to the right, as well as cars slowly inching over or drivers turning to look over their shoulders. Always pass on the left side of a right turn lane. And never, ever pass to the right of a car that’s waiting to make a right turn.

But consider this. The recent landmark study of cycling accidents from Fort Collins, Colorado, listed passing on the right as a contributing factor in just one of 354 cycling collisions.


In other words, about 213 less than the number of broadside collisions that occurred as a result of simply riding a bike across an intersection.

And I don’t know anyone who says that just riding across the street is dangerous.

Or illegal.

Car vs. bike: New study says it’s probably not your fault

December 16, 2009

There’s been an epidemic of serious — and tragic — SoCal hit-and-run collisions lately.

Along with a rush to blame dangerous, law-breaking cyclists for nearly every impact and close call.

Talk about blaming the victim.

That’s why I was fascinated by a recent government sponsored study from Britain, which reached the surprising conclusion that drivers are responsible for the overwhelming majority of serious bicycle collisions. And that only a tiny percentage result from cyclists running red lights or stop signs — despite what you may have read.

Or at least, surprising to many who spend more time behind the wheel than on them.

Conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory for the UK’s Department of Transport, the study found that only 2% of collisions resulting in serious injury were caused, at least in part, by cyclists running red lights and stop signs.

Two percent.

Another 2% resulted from failing to use lights after dark; wearing dark clothing at night was cited as a potential cause in just 2.5% of crashes. In fact, a full 78% of all serious cycling accidents — those resulting in serious injury or death — occurred during daylight hours; 80% were on dry roads in good weather conditions.

So while ninja cyclists may be twice as dangerous as red light runners, even they pale in significance compared to those motoring down the street in their hulking, smoke-belching mechanical behemoths.

According to an article in the Guardian’s bike blog, the study found drivers solely responsible in 60% to 75% of all crashes involving adult riders, and cyclists at fault in just 17% to 25%.

In other words, a driver is three times as likely to be at fault in a cycling collision. And bear in mind that those figures are based on an analysis of official police reports — which are highly unlikely to be biased in favor of cyclists.

While the recent study of cycling collisions from Fort Collins, Colorado, found that broadside collisions were the most common form of cycling accidents, this study concluded that many riders’ greatest fear is justified.

Over 25% percent of urban riders were struck from behind, while 40% of collisions that didn’t occur at an intersection were strike-from-behind collisions. Not surprisingly, in most accidents the cyclist was struck by the front of the vehicle.

And just 3% of serious collisions happened in bike lanes.

Read into that whatever you will.

A few other key points:

  • 83% of serious cycling injuries involved a collision with another vehicle.
  • In cases when drivers were at least partially at fault, 56% failed to “look properly” — in other words, failed to see a cyclist who should have been visible — while 17% turned in a poor manner and another 17% were cited as careless, reckless or in a hurry.
  • When cyclists were found at least partially at fault, 43% failed to look properly, while 20% were entering the street from the sidewalk.
  • Cyclists were more likely to be injured on week days than weekends, and during both morning and evening commute times (6 am – 9 am; 3 pm – 6 pm).
  • Almost two-thirds of serious injuries occurred at or near intersections
  • The severity of injuries increased with the posted speed limit.

That last point brings up the findings of another recent study published in the medical journal BMJ.

Researchers found that reducing the speed limit to 20 mph in certain sections of London resulted in a 41.9% drop in serious injuries and fatalities, including a 17% drop for accidents involving cyclists. And interestingly, the rate of injury did not go up for neighboring streets where the speed limit was not reduced; in fact, it dropped 8% — suggesting that lowering the speed limit may cause people to drive more safely throughout the surrounding area.

Just more proof that passing the Safe Streets Bill, which would have ended California’s absurdist practice of automatically raising speed limits on streets where most drivers speed, isn’t just a good idea.

It’s absolutely necessary.

Of course, some might argue that the UK isn’t the US, and London isn’t L.A. — although the large number of Brit expats in this city offers a reasonable argument to the contrary. And Britain’s largest cycling organization has objected to the TRL’s conclusion that universal helmet use would save 10 to 15 lives in the UK each year.

But conflicts between drivers and cyclists seem to be a worldwide phenomenon, and aside from driving on the wrong side of the road, British drivers — and cyclists — don’t seem to be much different from those in America.

And that’s not always a good thing.

You can download a free PDF of the TRL study by clicking here; registration is required.


Police release photos of a ballsy bike riding bandit who struck across the street from the new LAPD headquarters; maybe he didn’t know what that shiny new building was. Advice on defusing road rage through non-violence. Santa rides a bike throughout Los Angeles this year. LACBC celebrates a successful year of Car-Free Fridays with a Holiday Breakfast Ride this Friday. A Streetsblog reader offers a great suggestion to address cycling safety. A driver who killed an Anchorage, AK cyclist over a year ago while high on drugs is finally charged; evidently, justice delayed ≠ justice denied. Why not turn highways into bikeways? Just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get your bike. MIT cyclists get separated bike lanes. Evidently, the Safe Routes to School program really is working to keep children safer. Common causes of bike crashes and how to avoid them. Lance’s new carbon belt-drive single-speed bike. Finally, why is it socially acceptable to threaten cyclists? Why, indeed.


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