Does “Bike-friendly” Long Beach intentionally stomp on cyclists’ civil rights?

January 20, 2011

Long Beach has long proclaimed its intention to be America’s most bike friendly city.

And under the guidance of mobility coordinator Charlie Gandy, it’s gone far beyond any other city in Southern California in terms of building bicycle infrastructure and promoting cycling.

So it’s disappointing to find out that their bike-friendly attitude doesn’t extend to all cyclists. Or recognize the most basic rights guaranteed to all Americans.

As you may recall, controversy developed in October when the Long Beach police staged a heavy-handed crackdown on the city’s first official Critical Mass ride.

Police are accused of waving cyclists through a stop sign, then ticketing riders who obeyed their apparent instructions. They also attempted to enforce a bicycle licensing law that violates state law, which limits penalties for failing to license a bike to a maximum of $10 — and prohibits ticketing any riders from outside their jurisdiction for failing to register their bikes with Long Beach.

In addition, the police decided, with no apparent legal authority, that fixed gear bikes without separate brakes violate the state law requiring bikes be able to make one wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement — a standard most fixies can easily meet.

And the police enforced those so-called violations by seizing the bikes of the riders involved — again, without any apparent legal authority.

Now, a new story from the Long Beach Post reveals just how far the city is willing to go to violate the civil rights of American citizens, simply because they travel on two wheels and have chosen to practice their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly under the banner of Critical Mass.

According to the Post, despite official denials from the city, the organizers of the ride attempted to get a permit in advance, which Long Beach officials failed to issue. Yet they were found in violation of a requirement that any group of 75 or more is required to get a Special Events Permit — even though that law was legally unenforceable because parts of it had been declared unconstitutional.

Long Beach City Manager Patrick West — a serious cyclist for 18 years — chillingly explains that the city is in fact targeting Critical Mass, and that any other ride, by any other name, would not face the same heavy-handed enforcement.

“Long Beach has been a leader in [developing] bike infrastructure. When a group goes out there to violate traffic laws, it brings more [negative] attention to the money that we’re spending on infrastructure, and angers the average motorist.

“If it’s a Critical Mass ride,” West continued, “you can expect our police department to be there to to monitor that. A Critical Mass ride is something that is going to attract the attention of our police department to prevent cyclists from, you know, to maintain the vehicle code. And I’m just speaking of Critical Mass. I’m not speaking about any other ride in Long Beach at all, whenever, where-ever, whoever. I’m speaking about a Critical Mass ride.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that called selective enforcement?

His words were born out by another crackdown on a Christmas ride intended to raise funds to help cyclists fight the tickets from the October crackdown. Suspecting it was actually a super-secret Critical Mass ride under another name, the police arrived in force and halted the ride before it could even begin.

According to City Manager Patrick West, “we suspected that the second [ride] was a Critical Mass ride and, in hindsight, it was clear to us that it was not a Critical Mass ride. We communicated that to the group, then I talked to Jerome Podgajski [founder of] and I apologized.

“The second ride involved many of the same individuals,” said West, “and, at the end of the day, it turned out that no one had any intention of creating a Critical Mass ride, so we would have supported that ride. We’re learning as we go along, and we’re talking to event organizers to just be careful about billing things as a Critical Mass ride because we’re very very conscientious of that group.”

In other words, better to apologize afterwards than get the facts right first. And it’s okay to violate the rights of one group, as long as you support other groups who may do the same things, but under a different name.

The writer, Sander Wolff, got the perspective of a local attorney about the first incident:

I asked attorney Robert Thomas Hayes Link, Esq., who grew up in Long Beach, what he thought of the incident. “As described by (cyclist) Gerry Campos, the supposedly bicycle-friendly City of Long Beach, by way of the conduct of the Long Beach Police Department, would seem to have arranged for a sting operation designed to discourage future cycling awareness activities within its borders. Whether the City managed this in a fashion that shields them from civil rights liability remains to be seen.”

Read the full article.

It clearly drives home the fact that Long Beach may see itself as bike friendly.

But a bike-friendly attitude goes far beyond mere paint on the street.

Unless and until the city begins to observe the requirements of the California Vehicle Code — which supersedes city ordinances — and interprets the law in a fair and legal manner, treating all cyclists equally under the law, it will continue to put to lie their self-proclaimed vision as the country’s leading bike city.

And continue to be a city that cyclists  — Critical or otherwise — might be better off avoiding.


Let me make one thing clear. I’m not a fan of Critical Mass; I tend to believe, like LB City Manager West, that it only serves to anger people who might otherwise support us.

But I am a big fan of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And I cannot support any person, city, jurisdiction or authority that willfully ignores the law to violate the rights of any cyclist.

As Emma Lazarus said, until we are all free, none of us is free.

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

January 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remind you of anything?

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

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

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

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

Does it compare to the tragedy currently unfolding in Gaza?

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

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

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

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

I just don’t believe that will ever happen.

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

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

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

Today’s post, in which I take the blame

August 27, 2008

I confess. It’s my fault.

That pothole you hit as you were riding home from work last night? My fault.

The bike lane that disappeared beneath you without warning, leaving you to fight your way through a swarm of angry drivers who really didn’t want you there — and let you know it? Yep, that was me.

That cop who gave you a ticket for leaving the bike lane to pass another rider — even though that’s legal here in California? I’m sorry. No, really, I am.

Because I didn’t do enough to elect government officials who were dedicated to protecting the rights of cyclists. I didn’t put enough pressure on the civil servants who work for those elected officials to ensure safe places to ride. And I didn’t write and call my local representatives, or attend legislative hearings and council sessions to support bills that would have expanded our rights, and done more to protect riders of all levels and abilities.

And neither did you.

Now, I’m not saying you didn’t try. Lord knows, I did. But the simple fact is, we didn’t do enough.

How do I know? Because we get the government we deserve. And you don’t have to look at our elected officials, and the people who work for them, very long or very hard to see that we clearly don’t deserve a government that gives a damn about cyclists.

Until now, anyway.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because Alex Thompson was kind enough to ask me write a post about the need for cyclists to get more involved in politics for the Westside Bikeside! blog. And I seldom have to be asked twice to pull out my proverbial soapbox and start pontificating about biking or politics. Or anything else, for that matter.

I won’t bore you with the same arguments I made there — you can read the full post by clicking here.

But allow me to quote from it, if only for a moment:

You see, the reason they (elected officials) think it’s okay to ignore cyclists is that they don’t think we matter. Yet, bicycle industry figures show that approximately 14% all Americans ride bikes. Which means that, out of the 10 million people who live in the County of Los Angeles, roughly 1.4 million are cyclists.

1.4 million people whose needs are not being met. And who can’t get the time of day from the people they elect.

Of course, we only have ourselves to blame. If that many people were to speak out and demand change, we could not be ignored.

There it is.

If you get involved, and I get involved, there is nothing that we can’t do. Nothing.

From passing the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights to getting a system of bike lanes and off-road paths that actually go somewhere. And an educated police force — even in smaller communities, like Santa Monica and Culver City — who understand the law and cyclists rights, and enforce them fairly and honestly.

So I’ll make a promise, right here and right now. I will never again vote for any candidate who does not fully support bicycling. And I will do everything in my power to ensure that our elected officials support and protect your rights, and mine, as cyclists.

And I only hope you will do the same.

One quick aside. See that graphic up in the corner? The one bout biking and voting? I threw that together a few weeks ago, using my extremely limited graphics skills. From now on, I will include that in any post I make about politics and voting, and every email I send to any elected or government official. Because I want them to know that my vote depends on their support.

I hope you’ll join me. Feel free to copy that graphic and use it yourself. Or if you’re a better graphic artist than I am — and let’s be honest, who isn’t? — make a better one, and I promise to use it. And post it here for anyone else who wants to use it.


Today’s reading: Gary continues his excellent series on Bicycle and Automobile Coexistence, discussing why riding on the sidewalk isn’t a good idea, despite what drivers yell at you. Mikey Walley discusses Bike Snob’s comments on the Swoosh’s new (?) line for fixie riders. A couple of Miami-area writers discuss the recent taxi vs. 11-rider crash on the causeway; I particularly like the 2nd letter, though that would never happen here. Or there, probably. A California city actually wants to promote riding. Go figure. An Iowa county has made it illegal for more than 10 cyclists to ride together without liability insurance. Interesting thread from Portland discusses whether helmets should be mandatory. And finally, C.I.C.L.E. suggests bikes and buses go together. And here I always thought those bikes on the front of buses were just from the riders that they’d run over.  

No, I won’t back down

August 21, 2008

So let’s go back to Bicyling’s article about conflict resolution that I mentioned the other day.

I understand the point. Really, I do. It’s dangerous enough out there without getting into arguments with angry drivers — let alone running the risk of letting those arguments escalate into violence.

But something about the article just rubbed me the wrong way. And the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me.

Let’s start with the obvious.

I don’t know about you, but of all the altercations I’ve had, or seen other bikers have, with angry drivers, very few involved an opportunity to talk it out. Most occurred while both the car and the bike were moving; usually as the driver was following behind screaming and honking his horn. Or sometimes, as he threw something out an open window, or opened a door while passing, or zipped by so close it forced the rider — i.e., me — off the road.

Not much opportunity for a real conversation there. Usually, the rider doesn’t have time to do much more than thrust out a finger or yell a choice epithet or two as the driver rides off into the sunset.

But let’s say, this one time, Mr. or Ms. Angry Driver — no relation to Minnie, who evidently sings, as well — pulls up next to you at the red light, foaming at the mouth about how you got in his or her way, and you shouldn’t be in the roadway, and bicycles belong on the sidewalk anyway.

Not that I’ve ever heard that one before, or anything.

Now, you know he’s wrong. I know he’s wrong. And yes, even Bicycling knows he’s wrong, and suggests that you point it out. But they suggest doing it in a tone that seems so submissive and subservient, it’s a wonder they don’t recommend that you lay on your back and let the driver rub your belly.

And I’m just not going to do that.

Sure, I try to be as calm and respectful as the situation allows. And if the driver is willing to listen, I’m more than happy to explain why I rode where I did, and the way I did. Then, if he’s still listening — which experience tells me is highly unlikely — I’ll explain that it was not only legal, but also the safest thing to do under the circumstances.

I do try to avoid confrontations, and not just because they can ruin my day, and the driver’s day, and that of anyone who happens to be in earshot. But also because angry drivers are likely to take it out on the next rider they encounter. And with today’s blame bikers first mentality, we’re not likely to win any friends by arguing — even it we are right.

But the bottom line is, we have every right to be on the road, and drivers have every obligation to share it — even if they don’t have to like it.

So even though I’ve never been a big Tom Petty fan, I’m going to stand my ground.

And I won’t back down.


According to the Times, it’s time to ride your bike — and they list the rides to prove it. Bicycling has details on recent recalls for Look KEO and Cervelo carbon fork owners. Even in Mississippi, more people are commuting by bike. Finally, welcome to yet another member of the local biking and blogging community.

The nail that stands out

August 11, 2008

I used to work with this one guy, a third-generation Japanese American.

Nice guy. And one day when we were talking, he mentioned a traditional Japanese expression that says it’s the nail that stands out that gets pounded down.

I’ve often thought about that saying, because it so often seems to be true, even in a this country like this that supposedly prizes individuality. It’s the exceptions, the ones who stand out from all the rest, who often draw the harshest response, whether you’re talking about the campus geek in junior high, the neighborhood eccentric or leaders like Dr. King or Bobby Kennedy.

You can even see it now, when a politician can criticized, not for his policies, but for his eloquence and ability to inspire others.

And then there’s the other side of that same coin, where someone tries to demonize some group, in order to justify their own negatives attitudes.

Like cyclists, for instance.

Because some people look at those exceptions — such as cyclists who regularly ignore the law and flaunt both safety and common sense — and somehow assume that all riders are like that. And decide that since that one nail is loose, we all need to be pounded down.

It’s not true, of course. Any more than it’s true that all (insert racist, sexist, ethnic and/or religious slur of your choice here) are alike.

It’s also demonstrably false. Just stand next to a busy street intersection along any popular bike route. You won’t have to watch very long to see that many, if not most of us, stop for red lights and try to stay out of the way of the way of traffic as much as possible.

But these people only seem to see the ones who don’t stop, or take a lane for reasons they can’t, or perhaps don’t want to, comprehend. So they automatically reach for their hammers to pound down every nail, rather than the few that stand out.

Take this recent letter from Graham A. Rowe in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, for instance, in response to their earlier article about the cycling the mean streets of L.A. (I also notice they didn’t print Will Campbell’s response to the article.):

“Bicycle riders believe that they should enjoy all the benefits of both car drivers and pedestrians. They choose to ride both with and against traffic. They obey no traffic signs, never stop at red lights or stop signs. At a red light they decide to become a pedestrian and simply ride across the crossing. They ride on the sidewalk at danger to pedestrians. Bicycles should be required to have a fee-paid license plate and be ticketed for infractions. Maybe then they would be more careful and get more respect.”

Yes, that’s exactly what we all believe, posts like this from Gary Rides Bikes and yours truly notwithstanding. Never mind that most cyclists don’t do those things, or that riding on the sidewalk is legal in Los Angeles.

You’ll note that he ends by saying that we’ll get more respect when we’re more careful. Despite the fact that drivers are required by law to grant us that respect, just as they would any other vehicle. And despite the fact that the consequences of failing to grant that respect are far greater for us than they are for the driver.

In other words, he’s saying that we’re responsible for the fact that some people refuse to drive safely, and legally, around us. Of course, not everyone who fails to share the road does so out of spite. Some are just unaware of the law, or refuse to believe it when they’re told. And some are just jerks, not unlike some cyclists.

I’ve written about it before, notably here and here, in response to some letters that were recently published in the L.A. Times. And I’m going to keep writing about it.

Because frankly, I’m tired of people trying to pound me down for something I didn’t do.


Great article from the U.K. about whether helmets are fashionable for Parisians and Prime Ministers. It also discusses a Dutch idea that assumes the driver is automatically responsible in any collision between a car and a bike. One lesson experienced cyclists learn is to make eye contact with opposing drivers. Cyclists protest unfair tickets in Santa Monica by crossing the street — repeatedly. The Times’ Bottleneck Blog considers what L.A. could be like with a little more foresight from out elected leaders. And finally, both Seattle and supposedly bike-unfriendly New York test the radical concept of turning a few streets over to cyclists and pedestrians.

Is this our Howard Beale moment?

August 5, 2008

Sometimes I think I’m too political. Then there are times when I don’t think I’m political enough.

This is one of those times. Though which one, I’m not quite sure.

You see, I was always one to fight for my right to the road. A driver cuts me off or passes to close and he was going to hear about it, and I was never reluctant to give an unfriendly driver a friendly wave. Except I usually used just one finger. And it usually wasn’t that friendly.

Then one day I gave that one finger wave to the wrong woman, and she tried to shove her car up my ass. And nearly succeeded.

I had a lot of time to think as I recovered from a broken arm, and the 18 months my mangled bike was tied up as evidence in a civil case — which got me a settlement of a whopping $2500, most of which went for attorney fees.

I realized that, justified or not, things like that were counter productive, at best. All my ranting and raving never convinced a single driver that I was right, or they were wrong. Just that I was an obnoxious jerk. So now I try to keep my mouth closed, with hands firmly planted on the handlebars — though sometimes I fail, as this post from last week would suggest.

But now it seems like maybe it’s time to fight. To throw open a metaphorical window, and like the Howard Beale character from the movie Network, scream “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Seems like every time I check the news online, I find another article like this one from Winston-Salem, describing the hit-and-run accident suffered by a local bicycling doctor. Another cyclist was killed by hit-and-run in Hawaii, but the prime suspect gets released. Michigan riders fighting for a piece of the road. Or this one from Forth Worth, that says cycling in Texas is more dangerous than it need to be — although chances are, you could change the location to anywhere else in the U.S. and it would be just as appropriate.

And that’s just from this weekend.

Even the more positive pieces, like the recent Times editorial, or  this one from Carson City, Nevada, ask drivers to share the road — and stop harassing riders or running us off the road.

Then there are the recent stories that tell us what we already know, that the police — whether here in L.A., Seattle or across the country — don’t seem to take our safety seriously. And too often, the local press doesn’t dig any deeper than the first page of the police report.

To their credit, L.A.’s finest and the local press come through for us in the wake of the good doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake test. Whether the D.A.’s office and the court system will do the same remains to be determined.

But what happens next time, when it’s you — or me — writhing on the asphalt?

And yes, there was a lot of talk from local politicians about moving forward with the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights following the good doctor’s arrest. But now we can’t even get the Mayor and the rest of the MTA board to devote a lousy 1% each from their proposed sales tax increase to help keep cyclists and pedestrians alive. And after a brief flurry of coverage of cycling issues, the local press has moved on to more important issues, like whether Lindsey is or isn’t gay.

So I find myself getting fed up with it all, and like Howard Beale, feeling mad as hell and ready to do something about it.

And I wonder if it’s just me, or is this, finally, our moment — the time when we join together and scream at the top of our lungs, we’re not going to take it anymore. When we finally take action as a group to demand the respect of drivers, politicians and law enforcement. To insist on our rights as cyclists and as Americans. And ensure the safety of every rider, here in L.A. and around the country.

Or are we just going to get back on our bikes and let this moment — and our anger — pass forever, like all the other such moments before?


Streetsblog covers the exceptional police protection at last Friday’s Critical Mass in Santa Monica. The stupidest bike lane in America has been discovered right here in Westwood (though personally, I’d vote for the bike lanes on the new Santa Monica Blvd. that end without warning in Century City, leaving riders to fight for space on an over crowded, high speed thoroughfare). A student at Humbolt State may or may not have been fatally injured in a traffic accident. As if road rage wasn’t enough to worry about, someone is shooting cyclists on Long Island. Riders in New Jersey share our complaints about crowded and inadequate roadways. Finally, a writer for the Concorde Monitor suggests cyclists and drivers can all get along if we just use a little common sense and think more like fishermen.


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