San Diego-area cyclist killed on Sunday

September 21, 2010

Yet another Southern California cyclist was killed over the weekend.

According to a number of news reports, a 50-year old Poway woman was killed while riding her bike in Carlsbad on Sunday; authorities are withholding her name until relatives can be notified.

The North County Times reports that she was riding north on South Rancho Sante Fe Road with her boyfriend when she attempted to turn left onto Calle Barcelona near the border of Carlsbad and Encinitas.

As she entered the left turn lane, she hit the curb on the center divider and lost control of her bike; in a struggle to regain control, she swerved back into the left through lane where she was hit by an oncoming car. A photo from MSNBC shows that the driver clearly tried to stop but was unable to avoid her; she died at the scene.

In light of the recent debate over the unacceptably high rate of bike deaths in Orange County — more on that later today — she did not run a red light or stop sign and wasn’t riding in a group, well behaved or otherwise. And whether she signaled or was riding side-by-side had nothing to do with this collision.

Not that any death is acceptable, of course.

This time, at least, it seems to be a case of rider error. Police note that drugs or alcohol don’t seem to involved, though no mention is made of whether the driver was distracted or exceeding the speed limit.

This also serves as a reminder that it’s always important be aware of road conditions and the traffic around you, and can be better to let yourself fall than struggle to stay upright and risk getting hit by oncoming cars.

Even when you’re not in full control of your bike, it’s often possible to choose when and where you want to land by shifting your weight in the direction you want to fall.

For instance, had she let herself fall to the left instead of struggling to stay upright, she would have risked going over the narrow median and landing in the path of south bound traffic; if there were no cars coming, that might have been a viable option. Or she could have made herself fall to the right, which probably would have kept her in the left turn lane and out of the way of through traffic.

Either way, she might have ended up hurt.

But chances are, she’d be alive.

It doesn’t do any good to play armchair quarterback and analyze what she should have done. She reacted in the moment, undoubtedly out of instinct and fear.

The point is to train yourself to respond in a conscious and deliberate manner, and maintain as much control over the situation as possible.

Even when you can’t control your bike.

………

The Beverly Hills City Council will discuss the reconstruction of Santa Monica Blvd through the city at tonight’s council meeting. This will provide an opportunity for cyclists to argue for bikes of be accommodated in the new plans, and end the current dangerous black hole between the bikeways of West Hollywood and Century City; current plans include consideration of a bike lane in one direction only. The meeting starts at 7:30 pm at Beverly Hills City Hall.

………

The Source offers instructions on how to load your bike onto a bus; helpful advice for those of us who haven’t tried it yet. UCLA offers a new Android app for campus bike lockers. Mayor Villaraigosa plans a Wednesday press conference to officially announce CicLAvia. If Long Beach is truly going to be one of the nation’s most bike friendly cities, it has to design bridges that work for everyone. An actor who was about to quit the profession stars in the upcoming movie Peloton as a cyclist who was about to quit the sport. Santa Rosa gets a bike-activated beacon to warn motorists about cyclists on the road ahead of them. Just Another Cyclist jumps into the helmet debate with both feet, offering an all-too-rare cool-headed look at both sides of the question. Sharrows are coming soon to my hometown. A Colorado cyclist pepper sprays two attacking dogs and their owner, who ends up getting a ticket. The biggest bike news in DC since Tony Kornheiser’s infamous anti-bike rant, as the nation’s capitol unveils its long-awaited bike share program. A personal crusade to stop the salmon cyclists. A New York cyclist is killed on an environmental tour in New Brunswick. A beginner’s guide to fast descents. Bike pools allow you to connect with other cyclists who want to share a ride. Both British teenage inmates who busted out by bike are now back in custody. A new study shows Brit cyclists and motorists would rather not share the road, thank you. After a Bangalore bar bouncer collided with cyclist while escaping after punching a cop, the bar owner takes the rider to the hospital and promises to buy him a new bike.

Finally, if you think riding in L.A. traffic is hard, at least it beats riding underwater.


Fighting for a bike-friendly Beverly Hills and a safer Santa Monica Blvd

September 14, 2010

I’m not a fan of Beverly Hills.

Aside from the over-the-top pretension of Rodeo Drive — where I have yet to see a single bull rider and which I strive to avoid at all cost — I’ve long been angered by the city’s complete and total lack of biking infrastructure.

To the best of my knowledge, Beverly Hills does not currently have a single inch of bike lane within its city limits. Look at any local bike map, and it might as well read Here There Be Dragons, as bike routes disappear without a trace into the undiscovered cycling country of 90210.

And the recently approved bike plan — which I’m told is nothing more than the 1977 plan, repeatedly re-approved with little or no change for over 30 years — calls for placing bike lanes in the alleys of the downtown triangle, lest they remove a single lane of parking or let bikes sully the city’s pristine image.

So when Mark Elliot contacted me recently to include a link to a new group of bicyclists fighting for a more bike-friendly Beverly Hills and to make Santa Monica Boulevard safer for cyclists, he had me at hello.

But instead of merely adding a link, I thought the issue was important enough to let him have the floor today. And ask him explain to you why Beverly Hills needs your help.

And what you can do about it.

………

If you’re a two-wheeled veteran of the Southland’s mean streets, you know that we take our life into our hands every time we settle into the saddle for some not-so-good-natured give and take with motorists. Not that it’s always negative; on the best days we can pantomime mutual agreement that all road users are entitled to the blacktop. Whether motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian, the arrangement is that we respect the rules of the road and get where we’re going safely.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way. Studies show that we not making substantial progress on reducing cyclist deaths and injuries as a result of traffic collisions. If you are a regular rider of the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor through Beverly Hills, you don’t need studies to tell you how dangerous it is to ride this missing piece of the proposed regional bike backbone. Now’s your opportunity to make change: join with Better Bike BH to make Santa Monica Blvd. a bike-friendly through-route connecting the bike lanes in West Hollywood and Century City.

Policymakers like to talk about safety, but Santa Monica Boulevard is symptomatic of a broader problem: cyclists are second-class citizens on our roads with possible dire consequences for those who take to two wheels.

According to the National Highway Transport Safety Administration’s analysis, 716 cyclists were killed nationally in 2008 in collisions with an additional 52,000 injured. Two-wheelers were both 2% of all traffic fatalities and 2% of injuries too. Since only one-half of one percent of us mounts a bike regularly for transportation, cyclists seem disproportionately represented among the dead and injured in collisions.

That number killed has not appreciably changed in a decade! Worse, kids under 14 were 11% of those fatalities, but comprised more than one-fifth of all collision injuries in that age group. Now, the good news is that kids 14-and-under fatalities dropped substantially over the decade – falling to near one-third of the 1998 level. The bad news is that overall deaths have not diminished, meaning that older folks are making up a larger proportion of those fatalities.

Consider that the average age of cyclists killed in traffic collisions has marched steadily upward and now is 41 years of age (NHTSA data as of 2008). Even at my ripe old age of 45, I can’t rest easily. While I’m over the statistical hump, I use my bicycle for much of my everyday transportation and ride recreationally, so I’m on the road much more than the average cyclist.

And I am riding roads that are much less-safe than roads nationally. I start and end most of my rides in Beverly Hills where I live. Our fair city is a particularly dangerous place to ride because the population increases by a factor of four when weekday commuters flow in. Key east-west corridors of Wilshire and Olympic accommodate about 25,000 vehicles per day on average – routes so heavily traveled because we are a key piece of the Westside transportation network.

Moreover, Beverly Hills is the Westside’s third largest employment center and it’s growing rapidly. Motorists compete for an increasingly scarce resource – road capacity – and in that mix of harried commuters, older drivers, and notoriously dangerous younger drivers, we cyclists are literally marginalized. We’re pushed to the edge.  Also a hazard are the relatively short blocks and many intersections. Add a dollop of entitlement and a sprinkling of road rage and, well, you see the problem.

Actually you feel the problem. Intimidation and harassment are constant companions on the streets of Beverly Hills (and much of the urban area too). I have to look out for myself because my city’s not looking out for me. There are no bike lanes, share-the-road-markings, or signage that, at a bare minimum, would remind under-educated motorists that I have a right to the road.

I’ve been riding in urban settings for many years and am confident in my own skills, but it is the unpredictability of my encounters with motorists that leave me sometimes shaken. We all have my anecdotal stories, but one of my favorites recalls the driver with whom I shared a long descent down Benedict Canyon. First the driver nearly clipped my leg on a particularly fast stretch, but because of stop lights, he had two more bites at that apple. After the third (!) very close call I took him to task.

Cyclists shouldn’t have to literally argue for their safety. It’s the responsibility of transportation planners, engineers, and law enforcement to ensure that the roads are safe for everyone. Though I’m not necessarily uncomfortable in the vehicle mix, I do wish that my city recognized me and my fellow cyclists as first-class road users.

What can be done? For starters, let’s pick the lowest-hanging fruit. Santa Monica Boulevard is an obstacle course of hazards for the cyclist. Dips, troughs, and moguls force the biker into the left third of the lane, which undermines the laws’ requirement to ride to the right and plunges the cyclist into the path – and ire – of the harried motorist. The corridor receives twice the volume of Wilshire and Olympic (50,000 vehicles per day on average) and would seem to be ideally positioned as a bike-friendly through-route connecting the bike lanes in West Hollywood and Century City.

We have an opportunity to offer our vision of a bike-friendly Santa Monica Boulevard because Beverly Hills is about to undertake improvements over the next 2-3 years. Scoping is just now underway, and we want to kick off the process with good ideas and models of success.

How can you make a difference? Join up with the ‘Better Bike BH’ effort to that includes cyclists rather than literally marginalizes them. We hold meetings every Sunday at 4 pm at Peets Coffee (258 S. Beverly Dr.) in Beverly Hills. Join the Google Group to receive meeting notices and follow our progress on the Better Bike BH project wiki. We’ll need your help to put in place the missing piece of the region’s bikeways backbone. With your participation, we can make Beverly Hills safer and more enjoyable for cyclists of all ages, and ensure that alternative transportation users can get where we’re going safely too.


It never rains in California…

January 23, 2010

This is what greeted us today on a crisp, 42º morning, when the clouds finally cleared after a week of rain.

And yes, that is the Hollywood sign on the hill in the foreground.


A simple adjustment in biking infrastructure, part 2

October 10, 2009

Let’s consider another easy fix the city could make right now, at virtually no cost.

Take the bike lanes along the recently rebuilt Santa Monica Boulevard.

In just a few short years, they’ve become one of the most popular riding routes through the Westside — largely because they’re among the few dedicated bike lanes than run on a major street. And the only ones I know that don’t run next to a parking lane, eliminating the risk of dooring.

On the other hand, you do have to deal the poorly designed crossover lanes, which force cyclists to dodge cars entering and exiting the roadway, as well as buses that cut into the bike lanes little or no warning.

bus-bike1Then there’s the way they end abruptly, dumping unsuspecting cyclists into the middle of a heavy high-speed traffic lane.

Although a large part of that problem, on the east end at least, stems from the transition from Los Angeles to Beverly Hills, which seems dead set against allowing bikeways to besmirch their gilded streets. If any city ever needed a Critical Mass…

One major advantage these lanes offer is the limited number of cross streets — only Beverly Glen, Westwood, Veteran and Sepulveda cross from both directions. All other streets enter from one side only, such as Avenue of the Stars and Century Park East and West in Century City, which enter from the south, and Selby, Kelton and Camden in Westwood, which come in from the north.

SM-Bike-Lane-1However, that means cyclists riding on the opposite side of the road often have to make a decision whether to obey the law, or common sense, when faced with a red light, with a clear lane in front of them and no cross traffic from any direction.

Some stop and wait alongside the idling vehicular traffic until the light turns green, for no other reason than it’s what the law requires. Most, however, proceed through the light, recognizing that stopping serves no purpose, in terms or safety or rationality — putting them at risk of a ticket, and pissing off every driver waiting for the light to change.

But all it would take to address the situation is one little sign at each of those intersections, saying “bikes proceed on red.”

That’s it.

Overnight, bike flow is improved and scofflaw cyclists are made legal — with zero impact on traffic.

The only possible risk would come from careless drivers who might drift into the bike lane while completing their turns on the boulevard. And even that could easily be addressed by placing a simple barrier — anything from plastic cones to a brief raised curb — on the outer edge of the bike lane.

Or better yet, install a raised curb along the entire length of the bike lanes, broken only by intersections, and crossover exit and entrance lanes.

Then cyclists would enjoy L.A.’s first separated bike lanes, at minimal cost to the city.

And the cars, motorcycles and other assorted motor vehicles that currently use the bike lanes to bypass stopped traffic would be banished once and for all.

This same approach could also be used on southbound Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica, another roadway where cyclists have to choose between breaking the law and stopping for no apparent reason.

……..

Gary writes movingly about that heartbreaking photo of Kylie Bruehler at the funeral of her tandem-riding parents. Even the positive Joe Linton criticizes L.A.’s proposed bike plan, while Stephen Box says stamp it Return to Sender and the BAC demands an extension of the comment period. Box also says a lack of bike parking makes cyclists second class citizens. While L.A. makes plans, Long Beach makes bikeways. GT shares a great route when you want to work hills. Will Campbell risks his credibility to register his bike. Oakland police try to link an online threat against cyclists to a hit-and-run driver who stood over his victim before fleeing the scene. More great photos from the Path Less Pedaled. Bob Mionske’s Blog takes a critical look at a wreck blamed on a sidewalk cyclist, which leads to a call for better police training. Famed framebuilder Dave Moulton continues his discussion on the evolution of frame design. Chicago Now takes a critical look at Critical Mass. Finally, a truly frightening photo of the aftermath of an S.F. dooring incident.


Just poor planning? Or are they trying to kill us?

September 5, 2008

When I ride my bike, I tend to stick to routes I know, and take side streets whenever possible.

That gives me an intimate knowledge of the danger spots; because I know the streets, I know where I’m likely to run into trouble, so I can be ready for it.

For instance, when I take the bike lane on Main Street in Santa Monica, I know I’ll have a long, straight route where I can get up a good head of speed, often approaching — or sometimes exceeding — the speed of traffic. But I keep a close watch for taillights and drivers behind the steering wheels of parked cars, so I can avoid getting doored. And I have to be prepared for cars that suddenly cut in front of me and stop in the bike lane to back into a parking space.

If I keep a close watch on the oncoming cars behind me, though, I can easily cut out into traffic and take the lane for as long as it takes to avoid any obstacles.

Closer to home, I often take Ohio through Westwood, which gives me a nice, relatively quiet street to ride. East of Westwood Blvd, I look out for cars that dart out from the side streets without looking for bikes coming downhill at 25 or 30 mph; west of the boulevard, I know that cars tend to pass too closely. Sometimes intentionally.

But when I drive my car, I don’t have to be concerned about things like that. So I frequently find myself driving down streets I seldom, if ever ride.

Like Pico Blvd, for instance.

According to the most recent Metro Bike Map, it’s designated as a bike route between the 405 freeway to Century Park East.

Evidently, they assume a lot of cyclists are going to ride along the 405, then sling their bikes over their shoulders and climb down from the overpass, since there’s no exit ramp there. Or else we’re going to ride Pico to Cotner — just before the freeway — and then take the onramp for a nice, exhilarating ride over the Sepulveda pass.

And who knows, that could happen. Because anyone crazy enough to ride through all the traffic and potholes along there is probably crazy enough to ride the freeway.

The next section, just east of Sepulveda, offers two narrow lanes in each direction, bounded by parked cars on either side. And there’s no room to ride in the parking lane, even if you did manage to avoid any swinging doors.

Which means that any rider there would be forced to take a lane on one of the Westside’s most crowded streets. Then try to dodge all the cars pulling in and out of all the various driveways, parking lots and valet stands, as well as one of the city’s busier shopping centers.

I suppose that explains why I’ve never seen a cyclist on that particular bike route. And I can only assume it was designated as a bike route in a blatant attempt to thin the herd, since I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone without a death wish.

Then I find myself driving down other streets, such as Centinella, which was recently repaved and widened, leaving plenty of room for a bike lane now, in an area that desperately needs one. Instead, they put in nice, wide lanes and a center divider lane. The newly rebuilt Santa Monica Blvd, where they could easily extend the bike lane through Beverly Hills — or at least far enough to accommodate the route Will recently attempted.

Or Jefferson, which has three full lanes of traffic leading to and from the new Playa Vista development, yet no bike lanes to help move those people in and out of the area, or get riders to and from all the work places that have opened up in the former warehouse district south of Ballona Creek.

Maybe they assume riders will take the Ballona Creek bike path to get there. Except that it runs on the north side of the creek, with little access to the south side. And it presents it’s own set of problems.

I could go on (and on… and on…), but you get the idea.

Pick virtually any street in West L.A. If it’s a designated bike route, chances are, it shouldn’t be. Or if it could safely accommodate a bike lane, it doesn’t. And if by some miracle it actually has a bike lane, it usually doesn’t go anywhere, and dumps riders off in the most dangerous spot possible.

I think Timur hit it on the head. (If you haven’t read his blog, drop what you’re doing — once you finish reading this, of course — and check out one of the most intelligent, insightful and beautifully written sites in local cyberspace.)

The problem is that our entire bike system shows every sign of being designed by people who have never ridden a bike in their entire lives. Or at least, haven’t been on one that didn’t training wheels, streamers on the handlebars or playing cards attached to the spokes.

It’s a system that was designed to move cars with maximum efficiency, though little evident efficacy, with no thought paid to any other form of traffic or the effect it will has the surrounding community — like the mayor’s plan to turn Olympic and Pico into one-way streets, for instance. And whatever minimal effort was made to accommodate cyclists or pedestrians was obviously nothing more than an afterthought.

That why we need to add our comments to the new bicycle master plan, which the city is updating right now. (Yes, there actually is one now, believe it or not.) Then contact your council member to insist on adoption of the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights — and do something concrete about it by insisting that Metro include a 1% each set-aside for cycling and pedestrian projects in the proposed 1/2 cent sales tax increase.

You don’t have to look very had to see the failure of bicycle planning around here.

And no one’s likely to do anything about it unless we stand up and make them.

 

The Times’ Bottleneck Blog’s questions SoCal bike routes, including one on a Ventura highway in the sunshine; you’re gonna go, I know. Once again, the city breaks the law by banning cyclists from the holiday light display in Griffith Park. Maybe we should get a group together and go anyway. LACBC celebrates it’s tenth anniversary with a potluck party. Thankfully, only Will Campbell’s shadow bites the dust, courtesy of a non-stop driver, then encounters the owner of these road we ride on. Back from vacation, Gary catches us up on the Brentwood Grand Prix, and urges us to support the subway to the sea. But who won the Manolos? Alex says goodbye to Spook. And finally, New York has over 3600 reports of vehicles blocking bike lanes; L.A. zero. Somehow, I don’t think that means it never happens here; maybe we just don’t have enough functional lanes that anyone out here thinks it matters.  


The Incredible Disappearing Bike Lanes

September 3, 2008

So here’s my biggest complaint about riding in Los Angeles. Aside from inattentive drivers yammering on their now-illegal handheld cell phones and bike paths clogged with pedestrians and bus drivers who don’t use their mirrors and cops who write tickets for things that aren’t against the law, anyway.

Of course, I’m talking about a “system” (cough, cough) of bike lanes that start and stop at random, without actually going anywhere or connecting to anything.

Take the bike lanes on the newly rebuilt Santa Monica Boulevard near my home (yes, that Santa Monica Blvd.). Or as I like to call it, the Incredible Disappearing Bike Lane and the Block of Death.

You see, when I heard they were planning to accommodate bicyclists on the boulevard when they were done, I actually got my hopes up.

I know, I know.

This town will always break your heart.

But still, that hope got me through all those years of construction, when I could barely get home to my own apartment, and couldn’t sleep because of the heavy construction equipment operating in the middle of the night just a few hundred feet from my window. Not to mention all those unreturned calls to the mayor’s office to complain about it. (I hope Mr. Villaraigosa remembers that before he asks for my vote again.)

I had visions of a state-of-the-art bike path actually separated from the roadway — I mean, why not, since they were completely rebuilding the roadway anyway — or maybe separated bike lanes, or at least something elevated above the roadway or set off with a concrete divider.

But no. After enduring years of construction, all we got was a lousy line of paint to separate riders from traffic along one of the busiest thoroughfares in Los Angeles.

The westbound lane starts abruptly a few blocks past the east side of Century City, requiring several blocks of fighting your way through heavy traffic just to get there. Which gives you choice — you can take the lane and risk the wrath of angry drivers and impatient bus jockeys, or you can take to the wide, virtually empty sidewalk for a few blocks before cutting back over once the bike lane starts.

Guess which one I usually choose.

On the west end, it dumps you off without warning at Sepulveda Boulevard. Not too bad, if you know the area, since Sepulveda is a designated bike route, although it really shouldn’t be. Or you can turn off on one of the quiet side streets before Sepulveda, ride a couple blocks north to Ohio, and continue west in relative peace and safety.

Needless to say, there’s no signage there to direct riders, so if you don’t know the area, you’re on your own.

Which means riders are often forced to take the lane on Santa Monica, just before a busy freeway onramp. And fight their way through heavy traffic as the street narrows from four lanes to two, with a degree of difficulty that’s off the charts.

And that’s the good news.

On the other side, heading east, things start off well, with the lane beginning just after Sepulveda. If you’re fool enough to believe the city’s designation and ride that section of Sepulveda, you can easily pick up the bike path at that point — assuming you survive the intersection, which is not a given.

From there, you have a smooth route through West Los Angeles and Century City. Well, most of Century City, anyway.

Because all of the sudden, without warning, the bike lane simply… stops. You’ve just made it past all the cars rushing in and out of the shopping mall, and you’re approaching Avenue of the Stars when you pass a sign hidden between the palm trees, where no rider trying to stay alive on such a busy street is likely to look. And all that sign says, on the off chance you actually happen to see it, is “Bike Lane. End.”

That’s it.

No advice for riders, suggesting that they turn, or take the lane, or ride the sidewalk, or just bend over and kiss their ass goodbye.

Nothing.

Which means that whether you’re an experienced rider who can navigate busy traffic, or a beginning rider without the skills to take a lane, you’re on your on. It’s bad enough in the middle of the day when I usually ride; I can ride fast enough that, in most cases, I can hold the lane without causing too much inconvenience to the drivers, or undue risk to myself.

But God help you if you’re an inexperienced or slow rider, or if you have to negotiate those streets at rush hour when the street is filled with impatient drivers, few of whom will willingly take the extra couple seconds required to pass a cyclist safely.

So why would anyone design bike lanes that actually makes it more dangerous for riders?

A more generous person, one willing to give city traffic planners the benefit of the doubt, might think the intent was to encourage people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods to bike to their jobs in Century City. But that assumes the people who live in there actually work nearby, which is seldom the case in Los Angeles.

And my personal observation indicates that virtually every cyclist who uses the eastbound bike lane continues through to Beverly Hills on Santa Monica Blvd., on a street that wasn’t designed for cycling, in a city with no bike lanes, routes or paths whatsoever.

A cynic like me, though, would say they just penciled those lanes in as an afterthought once they finished the blueprints, and just didn’t give the slightest thought to what riders would do when the lane ended. As usual.

Or just didn’t care.

 

Will Campbell addressed this subject in the Times last year, taking the contrary position that we need fewer bike lanes and more educated drivers. Outdoor Urbanite offers a variation on Bicycling’s suggested Mandeville Canyon route, and wants to know if anyone has ever taken the fire road on skinny tires. Just Williams discusses Britain’s worst drivers; over here, I’d put Santa Monica cab drivers at the top of the list. You’ll find advice for beginning bike commuters here, and C.I.C.L.E. offers a beginners workshop on riding in traffic. A children’s hospital in Ontario, CA (the other one) says their study shows helmets save lives. Evidently, the war between cyclists and drivers has spread throughout the English-speaking world. And finally, a cycling editor wants to save the hour record, once held by the legendary Eddie Merckx.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 365 other followers