Friday’s ride, on which I seemed to be invisible

August 27, 2012

One of the biggest problems we face as cyclists is being seen by today’s too-often distracted drivers, who seem to take the simple act of driving far too casually.

We wear bright colors, and position ourselves in ways that force anyone paying the slightest attention to see us. Yet too often, motorists seem oblivious to our presence.

Let alone anything else on the road with them.

I saw that yesterday as we were driving home from the market, and watched as the driver ahead of us looked as though he was going to stop for a red light — then proceeded to roll through the light without ever braking and T-bone an SUV on the cross street, knocking it into another SUV waiting in the opposing turn lane.

The impact was hard enough to deploy both airbags in the car that ran the light. And send the driver of the first SUV storming out of his vehicle to berate the man who hit him.

Why he went through the light, I have no idea; he could have been drunk, distracted or just not paying attention.

But it was an odd perspective to watch it all unfold from behind and be unable to do anything about it. And realizing that the airbags and armor plating of the vehicles involved had combined to protect everyone involved from serious harm.

Yet if it had been a bike in the driver’s path, the outcome would had been far different, as the rider would have been severely injured by the initial impact. And most likely would have helplessly fallen into the path of other motorists in the busy intersection.

How the driver failed to see the red light and massive SUV directly in front of him is beyond me. Let alone the bus directly behind it, which avoided the wreck only through a combination of slow speed and the skill and attention of the driver.

And if a driver can’t see something that massive directly in front of him, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us who present a far smaller profile as we travel on two wheels.

Something I experienced for myself as I rode home on Friday.

I was coming up busy Montana Blvd in Santa Monica on the last leg of a 40 mile ride to the South Bay.

Usually I take San Vicente back from the beach. But every now and then I take Montana just to see something different — even though that means riding even more defensively than usual to dodge the many drivers who turn into or out of driveways and alleys without looking, or dart across the street, oblivious to the presence of anything traveling on less than four wheels.

Like the guy who cut me off as he made his left onto Montana from the side street on my right. And flipped me off when, after braking hard to a stop, I spread my arms in the universal “WTF?” gesture.

Unfortunately, the video didn’t come out for that one.

Then there are the drivers who cut quickly into the bike lane, using it as a staging area to enter or wait for a parking space, without ever looking for a bike that may already be occupying that space.

Or even caring, for that matter.

Like the woman who drove past me just a block or two later, then cut directly into the bike path mere feet in front of my bike. And sparing me from rear-ending her only because she slid forward to wait for a space a little further up the street.

At first I thought she moved up because she heard my shouted warning.

But as I pulled up next to her, it became clear that she couldn’t hear me or anything else in the hermetically sealed automotive bubble in which she was driving.

I was going to say something, but it quickly became clear that she had no idea I was there. And probably never saw me at all as she passed just feet from where I rode in the bike lane.

So I rode off, a little shaken, but grateful I’d been prepared for a dangerous driver like her.

And well aware that it was only a matter of luck that kept me from being rear-ended or sideswiped; had she seen another parking space a few seconds earlier, she would undoubtedly have driven directly into me.

It’s scary as hell to realize that someone could completely miss a six-foot tall cyclist in a bright red and blue Fat Tire jersey.

And riding in a space which should, by its mere existence, suggest the presence of bikes.

………

One other quick note.

If you haven’t read it yet, take a few moments to digest Mark Elliot’s excellent wrap-up of cyclists descending on the recent Beverly Hills City Council session to demand fair treatment on the streets of their city.

Because right now, we’re far less than second-class citizens in a city many of us have no choice but to ride through. And which doesn’t seem to give a damn about whether we live or die.

Or receive justice either way.


A friendly greeting, a nearby death, another bike-hating DJ

June 21, 2010

It was one of those things that just wouldn’t happen if I’d been driving a car.

Last week, I was on my way back home from a long ride when I stopped at a red light across from Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica. Next to me was a frozen yogurt store than had opened recently in what had been an empty space.

The tables outside were filled with an eclectic assortment of people enjoying the sunny afternoon. At the one closest to me, a couple of well-dressed children sat enjoying their desserts.

“Excuse me sir,” said the young African American gentleman at the table, waving as his female companion concentrated on her yogurt. “Nice day, isn’t?”

I nodded in agreement.

“I just graduated from 5th grade,” he continued. “It was hard work, but I made it.”

“Well, congratulations. You should be very proud,” I said. “That’s quite an accomplishment.”

“I am!” he answered cheerfully. “Thank you!”

Just then the light changed, so I wished him well as I clipped back into my pedal and started up the road.

“You too,” shouted the voice from behind. “Enjoy your ride!”

………

A wrong-way cyclist was killed in Palm Springs Saturday night.

The rider, identified as 46-year old Indio resident Eric Mendoza, was headed north in the southbound lanes of North Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs when he was struck by an unidentified driver at about 11:24 PM.

Riding facing traffic greatly raises your risk of a collision while increasing the potential severity of injuries due to higher relative speeds. In fact, LAPD statistics show that 30% of cyclists killed in Los Angeles in 2008, and 20% of those severely injured, were riding on the wrong side of the road.

………

A Pittsburgh cyclist responds to the latest bike-hating DJ, who admits to being tempted to run down those “arrogant little dorks” on their bicycles.

“They’ve got to stop being so arrogant about what they’re doing. They’ve got to obey the rules. They have to do the right thing or else they’re going to get killed.”

Funny how the people who hate bicyclists profess to be so concerned about our safety while simultaneously professing their desire to frighten, injure, maim and/or kill us for the heinous crime of riding a bike in the street. Or maybe just being in their way.

And maybe it’s just me, but it seems that the real arrogant ones are the people who insist that the roads belong to them, rather than acknowledging that others have a right to be there, too.

………

Bike Advisory Committee Chair Glenn Bailey reports that LADOT has taken the initial steps to install 2.3 miles of bike lanes on Winnetka Ave between Gault and Nordhoff Streets, 14 years after they were included in the 1996 bike plan — and after another 1.75 miles included in the plan were replaced with curb-to-curb traffic lanes without consulting the bike community.

Bailey urges LADOT to extend the bike lanes two miles to the south, which is also called for in the bike plan, allowing riders to connect with the Orange Line and Pierce College.

Update: LADOT Bike Blog offered clarification in the comments that the bike lane only needs to be extended .8 mile to connect to the Orange Line and the Pierce College Station. He also notes that a couple of road narrowings, including a crossing over the L.A. River, would have to be addressed before the bike lanes can be extended to their planned terminus at Ventura Blvd — something Glenn Bailey had mentioned as well, but which I left out.

Meanwhile, Stephen Box takes LADOT to task for failing to attend last weekend’s Caltrans workshops on Understanding Bicycle Transportation, where they could have learned how to install sharrows correctly.

And speaking of Box, he will be honored, along with Sgt. David Krumer of the LAPD’s Bike Task Force, as the winners of the Eastside Bike Club’s 1st Annual Golden Crank Award for their outstanding contributions to the cycling community in Los Angeles over the past year. The awards will be given at the bike club’s second anniversary celebration this Saturday, June 26.

We will be making the presentation at the EASTSIDE BIKE CLUB 2nd Gear Anniversary Celebration which will be held at

LINCOLN PARK
3501 Valley Blvd, LA CA 90031
PARK PHONE #  213/847.1726

We will begin our day at 2pm to gather, meet and relax at Lincoln Park.  Our presentation will begin at 5pm  followed by a community bike ride   We will contain our ride to the LAPD Hollenbeck Division.  We are asking everyone to decorate your bikes in RED WHITE AND BLUE and wear clothing of the same colors if possible.  Bring Bells, Whistles and Horns!

………

Lance Armstrong almost — but not quite — pulled off a big upset by jumping up from seventh place in the final stage of the Tour of Switzerland to finish 2nd, 12 seconds behind winner Frank Schleck; the previous day’s leader, Robert Gesink, dropped back to 5th.

However, the race was overshadowed by the heart attack suffered by 31-year old former Luxembourg national champion Kim Kirchen, who had been in 48th place after the seventh stage. Kirchen was reportedly in stable condition after being placed in medically induced coma.

………

Bike Girl advises women riders how to gracefully dismount. Adult drivers are every bit as distracted as their teenage counterparts, which should come as no surprise to those who share the road with them. Into every bike commuter’s life a little rain must fall — along with hail and hurricane force winds, at times. Preview the upcoming movie about America’s first black bike hero. A Chicago man reminisces about his father walking the walk and biking the bike. CNN discovers naked bicycling in St. Louis; Pittsburgh rides naked while DC dons seersucker. In Colorado, even ski towns strive to be bike-friendly. Three to eight years in prison for an Idaho drunk driver convicted of killing a cyclist. Pylon-protected bike lanes on DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue. BMX racers from around the world will be headed to Allegany County, PA for the Stars-N-Stripes Nationals this weekend. Interview with a cam-wearing car-dodging cyclist in Annapolis. A Huntsville, AL bicyclist provides inspiration for Complete Streets in her hometown following her death while riding in another state. A triathlete gives up riding the roads of Israel after the latest of 12 fellow triathletes, the son of a former Israel Supreme Court justice, is killed in a hit-and-run collision. Cyclists in India may soon be required to paint their black bikes bright orange for the sake of safety. A UK cyclist has his new custom-made bike stolen just minutes into his first ride. A distracted Brit bus driver who killed a cyclist walks free.

Finally, an injured non-car-owning cyclist is banned from driving — but not riding — after running a red light and colliding with a car. And Missouri unveils bicycling commemorative license plates, so you can show your support for cyclists while you run them off the road.


The big BikinginLA January blowout

January 14, 2009

As others have noted, this week has been ideal for riding. Temperatures in the low 80s, low humidity and — at least here on the Westside — no wind to speak of.

So even though this was scheduled as a rest day, following yesterday’s hard ride, I couldn’t resist grabbing my bike a for quick spin along the coast. After all, if I didn’t work too hard, it still qualifies as rest, right?

And for most of the day, today’s ride was just this side of perfect.

The views were spectacular and the weather conditions, and lack of tourists, meant I could keep up a good speed, even through Santa Monica and Venice. And what pedestrians and slower cyclists there were just served as slalom gates, giving me something to swerve around.

Of course, idyllic rides seldom last. And today was no exception.

It started on my way back home, when I decided to take Montana Avenue, rather than my usual route up San Vicente.

Like when a pedestrian suddenly changed direction and stepped out directly in front of me, without ever looking in my way, her long blonde hair blocking her peripheral vision, as well. The result was a fishtailing panic stop, screeching to a halt just inches away from her.

Two blocks later, I hit the brakes again when a car darted out of an alley and made a right turn right in front of me. But this time I was prepared, since I couldn’t make eye contact with the driver — usually a dead giveaway that they have no idea I’m there.

Then just up the road, a woman started to make a left turn after I’d already entered the intersection, on a direct collision course with yours truly. Fortunately, she heard me yell a warning and jammed on the brakes — avoiding me by just a few feet. And scaring the crap out of both us.

So after surviving the Montana gauntlet, though, you might think it would be smooth sailing the rest of the way home.

But you’d be wrong.

Maybe it was the stress of the repeated panic stops, or something in the road. Or it could have just been normal wear and tear. But about four miles from home, I heard a loud bang like a large balloon exploding. And suddenly found myself struggling to maintain control of bike, as heavy traffic whipped by just inches away.

Somehow, I managed to stay upright long enough to get to the curb, and found a gaping hole in the side of my rear tire — which meant that there wasn’t patch big enough to get me home. And that meant walking to the nearest bike shop for a repair.

And since I still hadn’t replaced the cleat covers I’d lost a few months back, when I forgot to zip up my seat bag after I stopped to fix a flat, I had to walk every inch of it on my bare cleats.

(Later — much later — it occurred to me that I could have taken a cab, or even caught a bus home. But did I think of that then? Of course not.)

So I set off rolling my bike down the mean sidewalks of Brentwood, watching enviously as the DB9s and carbon-fiber Conalgos continued to roll by without me.

I’d only gone a few blocks when a woman walking in the opposite direction paused in her cell phone conversation, leaned in towards me, and said “nice legs.” Then she calmly resumed her conversation, and kept walking.

Brentwood is very strange.

After hoofing it for a couple miles — okay, 2.09 miles to be exact, not that I was counting or anything — I arrived at the shop. Only to discover fellow L.A. biking blogger Anonymous Cyclist behind the counter.

Turns out he’s a great guy.

And surprisingly enough, we’d actually met before. He was the guy who helped my wife get my bike fixed when he worked at another shop, while I was laid up following the infamous beachfront bee encounter — and managed to get a near-custom, one-of-a-kind paint job for my bike.

So a few minutes later, I left the shop with a new tire, tube and a couple of these. Along with a new pair of cleats to replace the ones I ground down walking to the shop. (Note to self: cab rides are cheaper than cleats, and a lot less painful than walking in them.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go soak my aching feet.

 

Looks like L.A.’s Downtown may become more pedestrian — and bike — friendly. Streetsblog demonstrates how easy it would be to improve intersection sightlines. C.I.C.L.E. asks riders to complete a quick survey about their Urban Expeditions program. Now that we’re getting a roadie president — replacing our outgoing fat-tire pres — Republican leaders are opposed to spending for biking infrastructure. Finally, it turns out cyclists may actually have a friend in Congress.


Yesterday’s ride, in which I make a movie in my mind

November 20, 2008

FADE IN:

EXTERIOR  OLDER, VERY TRADITIONAL CATHOLIC CHURCH — LATE AFTERNOON

A man approaches, looking out of place in spandex bike clothes. He reaches for the door, then hesitates, as if expecting lightening to strike.

Nothing happens.

He opens the door and enters.

INTERIOR

The man approaches the confessional, walking awkwardly in his cycling cleats. He enters the dark, narrow booth, kneels and crosses himself.

Kindly FATHER O’MALLEY slides open the confessional window.

BIKINGINLA

Forgive me father, for I have sinned.

FATHER O’MALLEY

How long has it been since your last confession?

BIKINGINLA

I’m not sure…I think it was during the Bush administration.

FATHER O’MALLEY

Well, that’s not too b…

BIKINGINLA

The other Bush.

FATHER O’MALLEY

Oh.

BIKINGINLA

But since then, I’ve been good. Really. Almost a saint. I hardly ever take the Lord’s name in vain. And like St. Francis, I try to be kind to dumb animals, especially government officials and bicycle traffic planners.

But…I kinda lost it today…

FATHER O’MALLEY

And what was it you did, my son?

BIKINGINLA

I made an obscene gesture, father…a bad one. Three times.

FATHER O’MALLEY

Ah, now that’s bad. Very bad. And is there a reason why you did it, now…something the boys down at the 57th Precinct might call “mitigating circumstances?”

BIKINGINLA

Well, see, I was riding down the hill on Montana Ave., doing about 25 on my way to the coast. Then without warning, this woman makes a right turn directly in front of me. And instead of going into the traffic lane, she just drives right down the bike lane, and jerks to a stop when she sees a parking place. So I had to jam on my brakes and swing out into traffic to avoid hitting her.

FATHER O’MALLEY

Tsk. Tsk.

BIKINGINLA

A few blocks later, a car pulls out from the curb right in front of me, and sure enough, he drives down the bike lane before stopping to make a right turn and blocks the lane, even though he could have easily moved out of the way — and shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Then there was the woman in the minivan… 

FATHER O’MALLEY

Oh my.

BIKINGINLA

But at least she honked to let me know she was going to run the red light — after I was already in the intersection.

FATHER O’MALLEY

Well, it sound like you might’ve had some justification there. So for your penance, say three Hail Mary’s, and attend the City Council Transportation Committee meeting this Friday.

BIKINGINLA

Thank you, father.

BIKINGINLA gets up to leave, then pauses.

BIKINGINLA

Oh, and I voted for Obama, too…

FATHER O’MALLEY

Ah well, you know the bishop says I have to condemn you to eternal damnation for that one…‘cause of the baby killing and such.

BIKINGINLA

Yeah.

FATHER O’MALLEY

But…promise you’ll pray for Notre Dame to beat USC next week, and maybe we can knock a few years off that.

BIKINGINLA

Oh. Okay, thanks.

FATHER O’MALLEY

Though I’m not sure all the saints and angels in paradise could pull that miracle off…

FADE TO BLACK

 

L.A.’s Streetsblog cites a report that says cyclists need safer streets, while Damien continues his series of biking issues on the agenda for Friday’s Transportation Committee meeting. And speaking of Streetsblog, they also had a link to a great N.Y. Times article about Britain’s attempt to bail out its own auto industry. A biking blog in my old home town — with one of the best taglines on the interwebs — reports on the sentencing of a drunk driver who killed one cyclist and injured another, and offers a breathtaking photo from a group of fat tire fans who hit the trails at 4:50 am (one look at that photo, and you’ll know why I miss it). And MIT announces a pilot study of a new technology that will allow cyclists to track their rides and automatically exchange information with other riders.


A glance of responsibility

August 20, 2008

I had planned to write about Bicycling’s recent article on defusing conflicts with angry drivers — and how I’d thought kowtowing wasn’t practiced anymore.

But then something happened on my ride Wednesday that was so surprising — and surprising that something so simple would be surprising — that I was lost in thought for the remainder of the day.

You see, part of my ride took me north on the bike path along the beach through Santa Monica and the Palisades. As I rode, I was passing pedestrians, skaters and slower riders so often that “On your left” was quickly becoming my new mantra.

Then I came upon a man who was riding slowly, pulling his child behind him with one of those trailers that attach to your bike. Just as I was swinging out to the left to go around him, he started to go around a pedestrian. But before he did, he looked over his shoulder, saw me behind him, and patiently waited for me to pass first.

I was stunned.

It’s not that things like that never happen. But they’re rare enough to make me notice when they do. So I slowed down for a moment to ride along next to him, complimenting his riding and thanking him for riding safely.

Because instead of acting carelessly, like so many riders, pedestrians and skaters seem to do there, he put his safety, as well as mine — and more importantly, that of his child — first.

We live in a society that’s quick to assess blame, and slow, if ever, to accept responsibility. We tend to make others responsible for our safety, and blame them — rather than our own actions — if anything happens to go wrong.

Like the story a few years back about the burglar who got injured falling through a roof, and filed suit against the property owner. Or a driver whose tire blew out at well over 100 mph and then sued the manufacturer — never mind that he was driving at over twice the legal speed limit.

I can’t tell you how many times a pedestrian has stepped out in front of me without looking, or another cyclist has pulled out to pass someone without first checking to see if anyone else is there. Then blamed me, rather than their own carelessness, for the near collision — even though I was the only one who kept us from colliding in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t just happen on the bike path. I frequently see riders swerving into traffic to get around some obstacle without checking first to see if another bike, a car or a Mack truck is bearing down on them. Or consider the idiot who was riding on the wrong side of the street, then blamed the bike-riding driver who pulled out in front of him.

And it’s not just cyclists, pedestrians and the like. Drivers do it, too. Such as the one that cut me off on Montana yesterday — there’s that street again — when I was riding along side her.

I had a feeling she was going to move right without warning, so I’d been holding back a little so she could see me in her mirror; if she bothered to look, that is. Then just as I was starting to pass her, she began inching right towards an open a parking space, forcing me to jam on my brakes and swerve around her. All because she’d never bothered to check her mirrors, let alone her blind spot, and had no idea I was there.

Best of all, though, was the driver I saw honking and yelling, demanding that another car that was double parked on the opposite side of the street to move out of the way so he could make an illegal U-turn in his Escalade.

There’s only one thing these stories all have in common. In each case, they acted carelessly, and made other people responsible for the consequences of their actions, as well as for their own safety — and the safety of anyone else around them.

That’s why I was so impressed with that bike-riding, trailer-pulling father. By taking the simplest of actions — a mere glance back over his shoulder — he took full responsibility for his own safety.

And didn’t have to blame anyone else for the accident that didn’t happen.

 

The Times’ Bottleneck Blog reports on a story in the Wall Street Journal, which says San Fran’s new bike plan is being held up by a single gadfly who claims bicycling is bad for the environment. Actually, I think a far worse problem is getting mugged on the bike path. A paper from Mad City suggests cycling could be the new golf. A biker in Walla Walla posted a notice from the Washington legislature calling for more and safer bike routes — dated 1974. Finally, it looks like Gary’s car is looking for a good home.


What is it with Montana? (And no, I don’t mean Hannah.)

July 23, 2008

Well, it happened again.

I decided to take Montana back home through Santa Monica at the end of my morning ride. (I know. I know. I usually take San Vicente, but every now and then it’s fun to see celebutants in their native habitat.)

So I’m hammering uphill, an unbroken string of parked cars on my right, and an unbroken line of traffic on my left. And directly in front of me is a young couple, casually sauntering along the bike lane.

Naturally, I assume that they’ve just existed a car — though why both would exit on the left is beyond me — and will soon make their way to the sidewalk. But no, they just continue to stroll along the bike lane, turning it into their own personal walkway and passing up several opportunities to move out of the road.

Finally, there’s nowhere for me to go, so I urge them — as politely as possible under the circumstances — to get out of the way.

Their response?

“Fuck you.”

And there’s the problem.

I mean, I can understand the attitude of outlaw bikers. No, really, I can. Because even when we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be, doing exactly what we’re supposed to do, there’s a sizable segment of the local population that looks at us and says, “fuck you.”

 

 

Once again, the Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez separate the men from the boys, but Saturday’s time trial is looking big. And why can’t Versus manage to cram in just a little more racing in between the commercials? Evidently, right-wing columnists do more than just out covert CIA agents, but they need a cyclist to tell them what they’ve just done. Last chance to sign a letter urging the Metro Board to do the right thing, and fund projects to help keep cyclists and pedestrians safe and alive. Outdoor Urbanite reports on a fat tire fork perfect for riding the Forest of Endor. And after a hard ride on Thursday, I plan to celebrate the holiday with a nice Chamucos Reposado.


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