Today’s post, in which I take notice of cycling chic

November 9, 2009

Awhile back, I found myself riding down Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica, below the pier, where the bike lane passes in front of a number of hotels and restaurants.

As often happens there, a taxi was double parked in the bike lane, blocking my way.

I glanced back over my shoulder and saw a car coming up on my left, so I signaled to indicated that I was coming into the lane ahead of her. She responded by slowing down, giving me room to make my lane change, and courteously following at a safe distance until I could pull back over before resuming her speed.

When I stopped at the next red light, I found myself right next to her open window. So I leaned over and thanked her for driving so safely and sharing the road.

Her reaction surprised me, though.

“Thank you, but I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said. “I never saw you back there.”

Of course, her actions contradicted her words. She had clearly seen me and responded to my actions, since hers had matched mine perfectly; yet for some reason, I had never entered her conscious awareness.

And I finally understood why so many drivers think we all run red lights and ride aggressively.

They may see us and respond appropriately. But when we ride safely — and legally — we’re just so much background road noise, never entering their conscious awareness.

But when a rider cuts in front of them without warning or blows through a red light without slowing down, they’re shocked out of their musings — or their hand-held cell calls — and the image becomes firmly imprinted on their consciousness, with a notation indicating that’s what cyclists do.

All of us.

Don’t believe me? Consider London, where cyclists have a reputation as two-wheeled scofflaws who never stop for lights — except maybe for the current mayor, who’s earned a reputation as a knight on a shining bicycle. And women cyclists, who appear to risk their lives simply because they do stop for red lights.

Yet a recent government study found that 84% of London riders stop for traffic signals.

Or consider Mebourne, where cyclists tend to be held in lower esteem than a rabid dingo. But even there, a full 89% of bike riders observe red lights. Even in bike hating New York, nearly two-thirds of cyclists stop for red lights, at least long enough to determine whether it’s safe to proceed.

Now contrast that with something else I saw recently while riding.

A young woman was cruising down the street on her bike, stylishly attired in a dress and heels. And yes, she looked good, like she’d just pedaled off the pages of a magazine.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed, either. Almost every driver — male and female — slowed down and turned their heads to look at her.

Lately, though, there’s been some controversy about the Cycle Chic movement online, in which bloggers post pictures of stylishly dressed, usually female cyclists, or discuss their own life and style as people who ride their bikes everywhere, often well dressed and made-up for work or an evening out.

One writer even went so far as to call it bike-porn.

I understand where the negative comments are coming from. It took me awhile to understand why a woman would get dressed up and get on a bike. After all, I’m from the old school, in which the point of riding is to work hard and sweat as much as possible.

But it shows that cycling is a viable form of transportation, whether you’re commuting to work, running errands or out on the town. It’s also helping to expand the biking community by drawing in women riders who may not be interested in donning spandex and joining the local bike club.

And for a change, it makes drivers notice cyclists who are actually riding safely and courteously.

And that can’t be bad.

……….

A cyclist was killed when he ran a red light in Long Beach Friday evening, according to police; I wonder if anyone other than the driver who killed him saw what color the light was. Meet the new chief of the LAPD in Mar Vista tomorrow night. Help promote transit safety by biking the route of the new Eastside Extension of the Gold Line this coming Friday. A close examination of the study of car/bike collisions in my hometown reveals how to get killed on a bike — or how not to. Portland now has an Episcopal shrine to the patron saint of bicyclists; is the local diocese paying attention? L.A. isn’t the only place where cyclists and drivers compete for limited canyon road space. Bogota, Columbia shows what a real bike plan should result in. A grandmother pedestrian is killed by a cyclist in Australia. Finally, confection giant Cadbury delivers 5,000 bikes to Africa, while a local university, grocery chain and radio station combine to show we can do the same thing right here in SoCal.


An unexpected change in direction

January 7, 2009

This is not the post I intended to write.

I had planned to write about the challenges of winter riding here in L.A. — winter being a relative term, of course. And how the spandex-clad can dress effectively for cooler weather, including tips on how to avoid chaffing, both above and below the belt.

A post so brilliant, witty and insightful, it would have virtually guaranteed my first Pulitzer, and the love and admiration of cyclists everywhere.

Maybe another time. Because something happened today that I feel compelled to comment on (or, on which I feel compelled to comment, for those grammatical sticklers out there).

At the end of 28 cool, if uneventful miles, I found myself riding through a residential neighborhood just four blocks from my home.

Off to my left, I noticed a minivan starting to back out of a driveway just up the block. As I drew closer, I could see the driver carefully avoid the trash cans that were waiting for pickup along the curb. Then she checked for traffic, looking first to her left, then her right.

The only place she didn’t look was behind her.

Which was where I was about to be.

I had planned to be polite, and stop so she could back out. Unfortunately, from the angle of her car, it was clear that her path was going to take her to the exact spot I was occupying.

So I yelled a warning, and stood on my pedals to get the hell out of her way. She jammed on her brakes, and once again looked both ways to see who was yelling at her — and once again, failed to take a single glance behind her.

In fact, she never once saw me, before or after I yelled. Although how anyone could miss a 6 foot tall, 180 pound cyclist in a bright yellow jersey is beyond me.

But that’s not the scary part.

What’s really scary about this was, what if it hadn’t been an experienced cyclist behind her — someone with the skill to recognize the danger, and get out of the way before anything could happen?

What if it had been one of the many kids in neighborhood who ride up and down the street — never leaving their block because their parents think they’ll be safe there. Someone much smaller, without the skill to recognize the danger, let alone get out of the way in time.

Or maybe it could have been one of the many people who inexplicably walk their dogs in the street, rather than the sidewalk. Or a parent or nanny walking their kids across the street.

The point is, it’s fine to check for oncoming traffic when you back up a car. But there other users of our streets that are much smaller, and harder to see.

And if you don’t know for a fact what’s behind you, don’t back up the damn car until you do.

 

San Francisco forces cyclists and drivers to share a lane — in order to make things safer. Detroit riders share the frozen winter roads. My favorite brewery, in my favorite home town, is funding sustainable biking right here in my current home town. Mexico City cyclists fight bad streets — and worse drivers — for their space on the road. And China, home of the famous Flying Pigeon, rediscovers the fizz of cycling,


Bike law change #7: Drivers should bear full responsibility for any accidents that occur in a designated bike lane

October 18, 2008

I was riding along Main Street in Santa Monica this morning when I met cyclist. You know how it goes — I’d pass him, then a few blocks later, he’d pass me; eventually, we struck up a conversation and started riding along together.

We were both riding in the bike lane, exactly where we were supposed to be, when a car pulled into a driveway just ahead of us. As we rolled past, the driver suddenly shifted into reverse and started backing up — just missing my new riding companion.

And it wasn’t like we were easy to miss. A couple grown men on bikes, one in a bright red jersey and the other bright yellow. But as he put it, for some reason, drivers just don’t seem to see us.

But let’s face it. There’s just no excuse for that.

The mere existence of a bike lane implies the presence of bikes. Which means that it should be the responsibility of the driver to anticipate cyclists, and be on the lookout for them. The bike lane should serve as a warning to any driver not to enter that lane for any reason without scanning every inch of that lane for bicycles.

There is simply no reason why any driver should ever turn into the path of a rider in a bike lane, back into a parking space without first checking for oncoming bikes, or opening a door a rider because he didn’t check his mirrors first.

None.

So let’s make it clear that those few feet of asphalt to us, and it is the responsibility of the driver to enter, cross or stop in the bike lane safely — not the responsibility of the rider to avoid him. And as a result, the driver should bear 100% of the responsibility for any accident that occurs with a cyclist riding safely, and legally, in any bike lane.

 

Alex reports on 50 cyclists who rode to reclaim the Ballona Creek Bike Path and score some serious tacos. LA Bike Rides ponders whether changing these laws is enough to get people out of their cars, or if there’s simply a perception that bikes are for kids, and grown-ups drive cars. And a rider in Montana wonders what it takes to make a Western state bike-friendly.

 


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