Socially conscious commuters? Or law-flaunting demons from hell?

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.

11 comments

  1. David says:

    Sunday mornings is when I see at least 50 or more cyclists cycling up Nichols Canyon Road.The road itself is pretty narrow,winding and at times steep.Cyclists in my opinion should not be allowed on nichols Canyon.Residents don’t like to slow down or get backed up by these people.Oftentimes many residents use Nichols Canyon to get to their homes up in Mount Olympus.Cyclists often cause congestion.
    In Santa Monica on Paseo Del Mar I hardly ever see cyclists,probably because the road is too steep to pedal.
    Nichols Canyon Road should not allow cyclists.Period.

  2. The California Vehicle Code specifically forbids local governments from restricting cyclist access to any road (excepting highways.) It would be illegal to adopt such a custom in Nichols Canyon.

  3. bikinginla says:

    Thanks, Alex. I was unaware of that myself.

  4. David says:

    I’m a skeptic,what is the vehicle code number please?
    I know that if I were a cyclist,safety would be my primary concern.Nichols Canyon Road in my opinion is a very dangerous road to ride a bike.The road is not only too narrow but it also cannot accompany a bicycle lane.
    Outpost Drive OTOH is much better for cyclists as the road is wider and could accompany a bicycle lane.

  5. I’ll dig up the specific code.

    What’s too narrow about Nichols Canyon? CVC 21202 codifies a cyclists right to take the whole lane if the lane is not wide enough to share with another vehicle:

    21202. (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

    . . .

    (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

    The Code at the DMV

    In short – if the road is wide enough to fit a car, it is certainly wide enough for cyclists to take the lane.

  6. Whoops – I didn’t link to the DMV site correctly:

    California Vehicle Code 21202 at DMV.ca.gov

  7. Found it. Section 21 in the basic framework of the code:

    21. Except as otherwise expressly provided, the provisions of this
    code are applicable and uniform throughout the State and in all
    counties and municipalities therein, and no local authority shall
    enact or enforce any ordinance on the matters covered by this code
    unless expressly authorized herein.

    You will not find that the CVC expressly authorizes the restriction of bicycle use on roadways, except in the case of highways.

    Further reading, with case law citations.

  8. David says:

    It sounds like the cyclist has more rights than us motor vehicle operators.
    I don’t like the situation but there doesn’t seem much I can do about it.I’m just glad there are speed bumps on Nichols Canyon.We used to have on occasion a motorcycle cop stationed at Courtney and Nichols Canyon during the rush hour to catch speeders and those who don’t stop at the stop sign but I haven’t seen him lately.

  9. bikinginla says:

    Actually, that’s the whole point. Under most situations, cyclists and drivers have exactly the same rights and responsibilities. Aside from a highway, where you can go, we can go. But riders and drivers need to work together to share the road. Talk to your council person or neighborhood organization, and see if you can start a dialogue on ways both can coexist safely and peacefully.

  10. Darren says:

    As a person who uses a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation it is frustrating to encounter drivers with such selfish perspectives. Is it not possible that some cyclists live in Nicols canyon and are riding out of necessity, not simply for pleasure? If so, imposing a ban on cycling would prevent those people from getting to and from their homes. It isn’t cyclists that are causing congestion on the roads it is the motorists who take up the same amount of space as four or so cyclists. The only solution to congestion is to choose alternative modes of transit.

  11. [...] 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 [...]

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