There’s an intersection in front of my building with a 4-way stop. You don’t have to stand there very long to note that most cars passing through fail to come to anything near a complete stop; many go right through without even slowing down, as if the stop sign wasn’t there. Or as if standard traffic laws don’t apply to them.
And don’t get me started on turn signals. The drivers who actually signal their intentions, at this or any other Los Angeles intersection, sometimes seem rare enough to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Based on those observations, I could assume that everyone behind the wheel in Los Angeles is a bad driver.
I know that’s not true, though. I’m a driver myself — one who actually takes the time to observe stop signs and use his turn signals. And everyday, I see other people driving courteously and carefully; they’re just not the ones who stand out.
Or any time I’m out on Santa Monica Blvd, it’s almost a given that I’ll see someone in an expensive sports car — or driving like he wishes he had one — weaving dangerously in and out of traffic at speeds far above the posted limit. That could lead me to assume that all drivers of high-performance vehicles speed and drive recklessly; yet, again, I often see Porsches, Ferraris, Vantages and other high-powered vehicles driven as placidly as a soccer mom’s minivan.
So why do so many people in this town think that all bicyclists are alike?
You see it all the time in the comments that follow virtually any online post about bicycling, such as the comments on the Times website concerning the good doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake test, or on bulletin boards such as Craigslist, like this comment. Or you could have seen it again in the Times’ Letters to the Editor on Saturday, in response to the paper’s editorial urging drivers to stop harassing cyclists. (Inexplicably, the Times has posted letters from everyday except Saturday on their site; I’m including the link on the off chance that they might rectify their oversight.)
Bicyclists are aggressive. They flaunt the law. They (gasp!) ride two or more abreast.
Take this excerpt from one of Saturday’s letters: Cyclists are insistent about their right to equal use of the road (ed: actually, the California vehicle code is insistent on that), but they couldn’t care less about following the rules of the road. Only the privileges apply to them, not the responsibilities.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The biking community includes everyone from casual beach cruisers to off roaders to fixies to road racers, with a multitude of attitudes and riding styles in between. Some flaunt the law, others — I dare say, most — observe it to varying degrees.
Others carve out an exemption of one sort or another from the greater mass of evil riders, such as the next writer, who distinguishes from those “going green” and riding for transportation purposes, and other riders simply out for recreation. Of course, in her eyes, the “green” riders are the ones who observe riding etiquette, while the “pleasure riders” are the ones who “encourage road rage.” (Ed: more on that tomorrow.)
Isn’t it just possible, however, that some cyclists ride for both pleasure and transportation? Couldn’t someone commute on two wheels during the week, then don spandex before hitting the road for pleasure on the weekends?
As I’ve noted before, I try to ride safely and courteously, stopping for stop signs and red lights, and giving drivers room to pass whenever possible. And from what I’ve seen on the road, I’m not the only one. I often find myself striking up a conversation with other riders waiting patiently for the light to change — including, on occasion, members of professional racing teams in town for one reason or another.
Sure, there are rude and dangerous riders out there, just as there are rude and dangerous drivers. And they aren’t all high-speed roadies; I’ve seen as many — if not more — casual riders blow through red lights as I have those on high-end racing bikes. But my own personal experience tells me they are the exceptions, rather than the rule.
Judging from comments like these, though, there seem to be a number of people here in the City of Fallen Angels who assume we all have 666 birthmarks hidden somewhere under our spandex.
The Times discusses rage-less road sharing today, Westside Bikeside! recounts the comments of a clueless councilman in neighboring Santa Monica, and Streetsblog talks with an expert on remorseless, horn-blaring sociopaths.