The CABO debate goes on; a badly broken Cinelli helps make the point

January 18, 2012

Just a quick follow-up on last week’s post about the California Association of Bicycle Organization’s (CABO) opposition to the original intent of state assembly bill AB 819.

As originally written, AB 819 would have allowed California cities and counties to use infrastructure designs that have been proven safe and effective in other places, but haven’t been approved under Caltrans extremely conservative guidelines.

Unfortunately, at the urging of CABO, the bill was rewritten to force Caltrans to review any project that isn’t currently allowed under the MUTCD guidelines, adding a needless layer of red tape, delay and expense. And discouraging planners and designers from even attempting innovative projects that could encourage more riders and enhance safety.

And, I might add, allowing CABO to maintain their influence with Caltrans, which gives them a say on road and bike projects that far outweighs their small size — and gives them the opportunity to challenge projects that don’t meet their own conservative Vehicular Cycling bias.

Amid the incredible mass of comments in response to that post — 174 and counting, as of this morning — a couple stood out, and are worth bringing up to a wider audience reluctant to slog through the many, many critical and defensive points and counterpoints.

First up is this from Gary Kavanagh, author of Gary Rides Bikes, and one of the most intelligent analysts of biking issues I’ve encountered.

Something of great importance that has mostly been left out of this discussion is the impact of bike lanes and other facilities on other street users besides bicyclists. Streets that go through configuration changes to include bike lanes often see safety improvements across the board, including for pedestrians and drivers as well cyclists.

Something that has come up several times during the Santa Monica bike plan process was the results of the Ocean Park bike lane and road diet, which was initially installed as a trial project, and resulted in a 50% reduction in collisions of all kinds. Despite increased bicycle ridership, total bike collisions dropped as well.

Personally I wish the bike lanes were a little wider, with more room to buffer from doors, but it’s hard to argue that the changes to the street were a bad thing. The street became easier and safer to cross for pedestrians, bicyclists were given their own lane, which attracted more riders, but decreased collisions, and the travel time impact to drivers were minor, and fewer drivers collided with each other. It was a win win for everyone.

In New York some street reconfigurations reduced fatalities by so much, that it is literally increasing the average lifespan of New Yorkers because of the past years of traffic fatality reductions. Cities in California could be learning and implementing based on the successes elsewhere, but instead we will continue to be hobbled by having approval go through the unresponsive Caltrans.

As leading L.A. cycling advocate Roadblock put it in response —

This comment basically hits the ball out of the park into the next town folks.

I should also mention that Roadblock, and several others, argued passionately throughout the comments in support of better infrastructure and non-vehicular cyclists. It’s definitely worth taking the time to read all the comments if you have the time.

Then there’s this from DG

I was somewhat impressed that the CABO people were willing to try to defend their views here, until I read this by (Dan) Gutierrez above: “Since you support segregated infrastructure, there are plenty of other organizations better suited to your interests.”

You’re absolutely right, bikinginla: CABO is an anti-biking fraud if they think bike lanes (AKA “segregated infrastructure”) are not an essential part of bike safety. Of course, bike lanes are expensive, and CABO provides a fig-leaf for avoiding that expense.

And that’s the problem. Or at least, one of them.

Even though they changed their mind later, CABO’s initial opposition to California’s proposed three-foot passing law gave cover for groups and individuals who opposed the bill entirely, from AAA to Caltrans and the CHP.

After all, they might reason, if even cyclists don’t support it, why should we?

Their opposition gave Governor Brown an excuse to veto it, placing countless cyclists in continued danger from dangerous motorists. And making Jerry Browned the new bike slang for getting dangerously buzzed by a passing vehicle.

Don’t misunderstand me.

I am not opposed to CABO. As they point out in the comments — over and over again — they’ve done some good work to benefit California riders.

What I am opposed to is a small organization professing to speak on behalf of California cyclists while seeming to stand in the way of the bills and projects we want.

If CABO truly believes they are misunderstood and unappreciated, as their responses indicate, maybe they should take a hard look at why so many cyclists are so angry with them.

Because that anger certainly didn’t start with anything I wrote.


The need for safer streets was driven home by a collision suffered by reader and frequent tipster Todd Mumford, who offers a badly broken bike as evidence.

I was heading down Federal Ave. from my office on Wilshire/Federal.  About a quarter mile down the road, just as the hill gets a little steeper, there is a cross street (Rochester) with a two-way east/west stop.   The car seemed to be checking both ways, but all of a sudden they just roll right across the road as I am coming down the road.  There were no cars behind me, the closest car in front of me was about 4 or so car lengths in front of me and no cars were coming up the hill.  I have two bright blinkers on the front of my bike, along with reflective sidewalls on my tires and a bright fluorescent green jacket.  The driver obviously didn’t look carefully before proceeding across the street.  When I realized that the driver was actually rolling into my path, I slammed on my brakes and turned to avoid them, but ended up laying my bike down and sliding right into the passenger side of their car, slamming it really hard.  The driver stopped and was really freaked out, but glad he didn’t actually have a dead cyclist on his hands.  He gave me his info and hung out while I waited for my wife to pick me up.  Also, a few other cars and pedestrians stopped to check on me.  Unfortunately, none of them were actually there to witness the collision.

Fortunately, he didn’t suffer any serious injuries — just a lot of painful ones, with major bruising and road rash. Here’s hoping he heals fast, and gets back out on a new bike soon.

As an aside, Todd is working with his wife and brother to get a new microbrewery up and running Downtown later this year. They’ve already got the beers, now all they need is a location. And money. If you’re in the market to invest, a bike-friendly microbrewery might be a tasty place to start.

You can follow their progress on their website and on Twitter @MumfordBrewing.


My apologies to everyone who has sent me links lately, especially in regards to Gene Hackman getting hit by a car while not wearing a helmet, the anti-bike ravings of Aussie Cricketeer Shane Warne, and the jerk who physically assaulted Long Beach bike expats The Path Less Pedaled in New Zealand, leading to the two-fisted driver’s arrest.

I’m still crunching numbers on last year’s far too high total of 71 bike riders killed on SoCal streets — 80 if you count gunshot victims. I’ll try to get back to my normal link-loving self soon.

And don’t assume that my posting today means I’m not in support of the opposition to SOPA; a tight schedule this week just means I have to post when I can.

Finally, a quick shout out to Mr. Salamon’s class; I truly enjoyed meeting and talking with you yesterday.

Is an anti-bike fraud being committed in your name?

January 12, 2012

As a rule, I make a point of not criticizing other bike advocates.

Even when we may disagree, we’re all working towards the same goals of improving safety and increasing ridership, even though our vision of how to achieve that may sometimes vary.

Though clearly, not everyone agrees with me on that.

But when that so-called advocacy runs counter to the interests, safety and desires of the overwhelming majority of California cyclists, I feel I have no choice but to speak up and point the finger.

Especially when it purports to be done in our name.

That’s exactly what happened this week when CABO — the California Association of Bicycling Organizations — successfully opposed AB 819, a bill in the state assembly that, in its original intent, would have allowed California counties and municipalities to implement advances in bicycling infrastructure that have been proven to work in other places.

Things like separated bike lanes, cycle tracks and bike boxes that have been proven to work in places like New York, Chicago and Portland, but are currently considered experimental under Caltrans’ antiquated guidelines.

In other words, why re-invent the wheel when we already know it works?

Unfortunately, CABO took the position that such innovations are still unproven and potentially dangerous — despite their inclusion in the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

And CABO successfully lobbied the State Assembly Transportation Committee to require that any bikeway designs considered nonstandard under Caltrans guidelines must be studied and approved by Caltrans before installation — potentially adding years of delays and needless additional costs to the design process.

Or risking denial by one of the most conservative, foot-dragging and anti-bike transportation agencies in the nation. After all, this is the same massive bureaucracy that, along with the CHP, successfully encouraged Governor Jerry Brown to become just the second state governor — along with current GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry — to veto the state’s three foot passing law.

Something else that CABO initially opposed, before later switching sides.

And earlier this week, the Transportation Committee voted to gut AB 819 by adopting CABO’s proposed wording.

Wheel, meet endless study and bureaucratic delays.

But, you may think, if the original wording of AB 819 was opposed by one of the state’s leading bike advocacy groups, they must have had a darn good reason.

Yeah, you’d think.

However, that presupposes something that just isn’t true. Despite their protestations to the contrary, CABO isn’t the state’s leading bike advocacy group. Or even one of the leading groups.

In fact, I suspect they are a fraud.

Their name may have been accurate when they were founded in 1972. But they have long since ceased to represent the state’s leading bicycling clubs and advocacy organizations.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) is not a member of CABO, nor is Bikeside LA or the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, by far the state’s largest bike advocacy group. Fosuch as the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, the Orange County Bicycle Coalition and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition have left the organization, as have a number of other groups that have allowed their previous memberships to lapse.

Also missing from their membership are such prominent riding clubs such as Velo Club La Grange and former members Los Angeles Wheelmen.

No wonder the CABO doesn’t list the groups that support them on their website.

In fact, a list of active member organizations, as of November, 2010, named only 12 cycling groups as then-current members, as well as six individuals.

Short of contacting each of those clubs individually, there’s no way of knowing which remain members of CABO 14 months later. But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the total number of cyclists they represent is less, perhaps far less, than that of the LACBC alone.

And it’s certainly significantly less than the number of cyclists represented by the California Bicycle Coalition (Calbike), which supports AB 819 in its original form. And which drew hundreds of riders from throughout the state to their recent California Bike Summit.

And that’s the problem.

Calbike conducted dozens of seminars over the Bike Summit weekend to gauge the interests of organizations and individuals representing tens of thousands of California cyclists. And the sort of innovative infrastructure that would be allowed under AB 819 in its original form ranked very high among their desires.

So while CABO’s opposition to AB 819 may or may not reflect the desires of its members, it’s far from the desires of most bike advocates in the state, as well as that of most mainstream cyclists.

Yet CABO continues to lobby state officials and legislators, purporting to speak on your behalf, while actively opposing your interests.

And those lawmakers and bureaucrats listen, having no idea that CABO actually speaks for just a fraction of the state’s cyclists — mostly the tiny minority of exclusively Vehicular Cyclists who actively oppose separate cycling infrastructure of any kind.

Let alone understand the conflict between Vehicular Cyclists and more mainstream riders, who may ride vehicularly when appropriate, but prefer effective infrastructure over sharing uncontrolled streets with dangerous motor vehicles.

I have no problem with CABO fighting for what they believe in — even when it goes against my own interests, as well as the majority of riders in the state.

But I do have a problem when they imply — if by name only — that their positions reflect anything other than the small number of riders they represent.

It’s time to speak up.

And tell your state representatives that CABO does not speak for you.

And you want AB 819 passed in its original form.

Update: Sam Ollinger of the excellent Bike SD contacted the Channel Islands Bicycle Club, which wrote back to say they are not, and never have been, members of CABO. Instead, they support the California Bicycle Coalition and the League of American Cyclists.

Also, Sam made a suggestion I should have thought of – contacting the members of the Transportation Committee directly to let them know that CABO does not speak for you, and ask them to reconsider their ill-advised changes to AB 819.

Update 2: Jim Parent, Chairman of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition — which I mistakenly referred to as the San Diego Bicycle Coalition — reports they are members of CABO, as well as the CBC. 


I had promised that I would look at the startling stats behind last years Southern California bicycling fatalities this week, after remembering the names behind the numbers. But an usually heavy workload has kept me from being able to do that; I’ll try to get it in the coming days.

State cycling group sides with AAA to stand in the way of cycling safety

May 6, 2011

Frankly, I expected a drivers’ organization to oppose California’s proposed three-foot passing law.

When it’s come up for a vote before, a number of organizations have stood in it’s way, from AAA and truckers groups to, inexplicably, the California Highway Patrol.

Even though safe driving — that is, not running over cyclists or forcing us off the road — would seem to be in everyone’s interest.

But I didn’t expect a state-wide cycling organization to oppose a commonsense law that would make California streets safer for everyone who rides them.

Then again, maybe I should have, considering that they’ve already come out against the Idaho Stop Law that would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yields — a law that has proved remarkably successful in its home state, and is the envy and desire of cyclists around the country.

Myself included.

While everyone from the more mainstream California Bicycle Association to Mayor of Los Angeles support the bill, the California Association of Bicycling Organizations has come out strongly against SB 910. That bill, which recently passed the state Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee on the 6-3 vote, would establish a minimum three-foot passing distance for drivers passing cyclists, as well as establishing a maximum 15 mph speed differential when passing closer than that.

According to CABO’s website, one reason they oppose the bill is that they don’t believe three feet is “measurable or enforceable in practice.”


As it now stands, motorists are required to pass bicyclists at a safe distance without interfering with their safe operation. But there is absolutely no standard what a safe distance is.

While some drivers thankfully interpret it as giving cyclists a wide birth when they pass, others consider anything short of actually running over a rider to be perfectly acceptable. As virtually any cyclist who has ridden California roads for any amount of time can attest, it’s not the least bit uncommon to be passed with anything from a couple feet to mere inches of clearance.

Or to have a motorist squeeze by in same lane with so little margin for error that a simple sneeze on either party’s part could lead to a dangerous collision.

But under the existing standard, if you don’t actually get hit or knocked off your bike, it’s a safe — and therefore legal — pass. Even if it scared the crap out of you or made you struggle to avoid losing control.

And let’s not forget that the slipstream of a moving vehicle can sometimes be enough to make a cyclist lose control or knock you off your bike.

Despite their protestations, it’s actually the current vague standard that’s impossible to measure, giving drivers no guidance whatsoever as to how close they should or shouldn’t pass. And providing no objective standard for law enforcement, leading to judgment calls that can vary widely from one jurisdiction to another, and from officer to officer.

The three foot standard was never intended as an exact measurement. No one will ever pull out a tape measure to determine if a car is 35” or 37” from the cyclist being passed.

But any trained police officer should be able tell if a driver is passing significantly less than that. Just as any cyclist knows when a car is passing too close.

As a simple guide, the average adult arm is far less than three feet long. So if a cyclist could reach out and come anywhere near touching a passing vehicle, it’s in clear violation of the law. Under the current standard, though, it could come far closer as long as it doesn’t actually interfere with the operation of your bike.

The problem with that is that it allows no margin for error. Any unexpected action by either party could lead to a disastrous collision. Evidently, CABO has no problem with that, since they think the current standard is just fine, thank you.

Three feet merely provides, for the first time, an enforceable standard, giving motorists a yardstick — pun intended — to measure, not how close they should come, but the minimum distance they should stay away. And offers police a way to judge, without guessing, when a vehicle is too close.

Does it mean, as CABO suggests, that a three-foot law will encourage drivers to pass closer than they should under some situations, such as when driving large vehicles or travelling at high speeds?

You mean they don’t already?

Obviously, there are situations where more than three feet of clearance should be given. But I’ll gladly settle for 36 inches as opposed to the current standard of anything goes. And don’t forget, that’s a minimum standard; drivers are more than welcome to give more space when passing.

To be fair, though, I do agree with CABO on a couple points.

For instance, the proposed law contains an exemption allowing drivers to pass cyclists with less than three feet clearance, as long as they slow down to no more than 15 mph faster than the bike being passed.

In other words, if you’re riding at 15 mph, a driver wouldn’t have to give you three feet as long as they were travelling at no more than 30 mph.

I don’t think so.

I don’t know of any objective way for a driver or law enforcement officer to know just what the speed differential is between any two passing vehicles.

And frankly, I don’t want a driver trying to squeeze by at 10 mph above my speed any more than I want one doing it at 20, 30 or 40.

Even at the slower speeds, it would do nothing to reduce the possibility that either party might swerve unexpectedly. So it would do little to reduce the risk of a collision, but merely limit the severity.

And personally, I’d rather not get hit at any speed, thank you,

We’re also in agreement that drivers should be allowed to briefly cross double yellow lines in order to pass a bike; many drivers — myself included — do that anyway. As long as the other side of the road is clear, there’s far less risk in briefly putting two wheels across the center line than in passing a rider too closely.

Others have argued that the failure to enforce similar laws in other areas suggests that it will fail here, as well. But it’s up to the cyclists and citizens in those states to get police to enforce the laws on the books, rather than our responsibility to avoid passing much needed laws.

After all, if the police somewhere else stopped enforcing their laws against armed robbery, that wouldn’t be a reason to take ours off the books.

There are provisions in the proposal that can and should be changed, and places where the wording could be tightened up to avoid unintended complications. However, there’s still plenty of time left to improve the bill before it comes up for a final vote.

But let’s face it. You don’t have to talk to many California cyclists to realize that our current law is a complete, abject and utter failure that puts every rider on our roads at needless risk.

And a three-foot passing law is a vital first step in correcting it.


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