Archive for July 16, 2008

The ugly side of an ugly incident

It was a shocking, disturbing and hideous case of road rage that sent two local cyclists to the Emergency Room — one made worse by the realization it could just as easily have happened to any of us.

But surprisingly, some good has come out of the good doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake test. The Cyclist’s Bill of Rights has gained some traction as a result, in the hope that we can keep things like this from happening in the future. A real dialogue has finally begun between cyclists and Canyon residents. And for the first time, we saw an overwhelming response from our new-found biking community.

Unfortunately, we also saw how ugly that community can be.

As you may have noticed, I go out of my way not to name of the doctor who cause the injuries to those riders — and who reportedly refused to offer any medical assistance afterwards.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s not like it’s hard to find his name online. And as outraged as I was when I read about the incident, I was just as  sickened to read on LAist’s followup to the incident: *Note: There are other Dr. (name deleted)s in the Los Angeles area who work in medicine and unfortunately some are being wrongly threatened.

And this from the moderator of the Socal Bike Forum’s thread on the Mandeville Incident:

Just to clarify on the “name” issue. We all know who the guy is now, where he lives and where he works… but there is no good reason for posting his personal information on a public board. On another bike site, his name and phone number was displayed and some yokels thought it would be fun to start systematic harassment. Turns out, they posted the number of the wrong guy. (EDIT: LAist just closed their “Comments” feature because a number of men with the same name have been threatened.) Similarly, the hospital where the doctor works undoubtedly has more pressing issues than dealing with phone calls from a bunch of angry cyclists. That is why we do not want such information posted. The two riders have asked that no one take matters into their own hands, and to let the police do their job…

As my friend, and author of the excellent Altadena Blog that covers life in Pasadena’s less pretentious northern neighbor, put it, “…but it’s OK the threaten the RIGHT one? Anonymous phone calls to HIS mailbox are OK? I’m with the bikers on this one, but…let the cops do the threatening! That’s what they’re paid for!”

I wonder what the doctors who were mistakenly threatened think about cyclists now? Our public perception is bad enough in this town without going around threatening innocent people.

If you’ve been following the story online, like I have, you’ve undoubtedly seen countless comments threatening the doctor, or vowing retaliation against other drivers — just as there have been comments that the riders had it coming. And countless others vowing mass traffic disruptions if the charges are dropped, or if the good doctor should somehow be acquitted.

This isn’t the time for violence — as if there ever is a right time — or aggressive civil disobedience. That would only undo the progress our community has made over the past two weeks.

No, this is a time for action.

Contact the mayor’s office and your local council member to support passage of the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights, and demand prosecution of all violent acts against cyclists, as well as an end to police bias in favor of motorists. Contact the governor’s office, as well as your local representatives in the state legislature, and ask them to take real action to protect cyclists and encourage safe cycling everywhere in California.

And while you’re at it, remind them that you bike.

And you vote.

A quick morning update

Just a short update this morning. Not that I don’t have anything to say, but it’s a beautiful morning and I just tuned the bike, so I hear the road calling. I’m thinking a quick run down the coast to Hermosa and back — should be roughly a half-century ride by the time I’m done. So if you see a guy in a yellow jersey on a black LeMond, please hold your fire.

In the meantime, the author of Westside Bikeside! has a good write-up on his life as a red-light scofflaw. LAist responds with a citation from the California Vehicle Code that indicates he might not be breaking the law after all, though I suspect most cops might respond with a different kind of citation. LAist also has an open letter to the community from Bill Rosendahl on “A new attitude and new culture of road sharing.

And this fat tire girl is looking for suggestions for traffic and red light-free routes around here (yeah, good luck with that).

Blame bikers first

Normally, I try to avoid try to avoid the Santa Monica and Venice sections of the Marvin Braude bike path, aka Santa Monica bike path, this time of year. But I got out a little earlier than usual yesterday, so I thought I’d try to squeeze in a quick ride along the beach before it to got too late and the path became overrun with tourists and pedestrians.

And it was, for the most part, a pleasant experience. I did my best to ride safely and courteously, keeping my speed down and waiting behind slower riders until it was safe to pass, and announcing to the assorted riders, skaters, walkers, shopping cart jockeys, et al, that I was passing whenever appropriate.

Of course, there was that one incident. As there usually is.

A couple of surfers stepped out onto the path, without looking, maybe 10 feet in front of me, their surf boards parallel to the ground and blocking most of the path. So I yelled out a warning, then swung quickly to the left and immediately back to the right, avoiding them safely so we could all continue enjoying our day.

And that was when I heard a woman on my right yelling something about “aggressive cyclists.”

Of course, there was no way she could have seen what had just happened, so it was clear that she had just heard my warning, and immediately went into the ever popular Blame Bicyclists First mode.

Which left me to wonder just what it was that I had done wrong. Was that I warned them to avoid an accident? Or simply that I had the audacity to actually ride a bicycle on the bike path?

Or was it the mere fact of my spandex clad existence?

Of course, this sort of thing is nothing new. A few weeks ago, I was riding along a busy street with heavy traffic buzzing past my shoulder, when I saw a couple of young women standing in the middle of the bike lane up ahead as they waited to cross the street (illegally, of course).

They continued to just stand there as I approached, blocking my path as they gazed mindlessly at the cyclist bearing down on them. Finally, I yelled for them to get out of the way; their response, as their feet stood firmly planted in the bike lane in front of me, was “Fuck you.”

My only option was to jam on my brakes, coming to a stop just feet in front them. Which lead to a argument, of course. And sure enough, within a few moments, one of the local shop owners — who had no idea what had started the argument — came out and threatened to call the police and have me arrested.

Why? Because I’m a cyclist. And as we all know, cyclists are evil.

Which leads to this: last night’s public meeting to discuss the problems in Mandeville Canyon was cancelled, replaced by the first meeting of a task force to discuss the issue. (LAist has also posted a new video from Dual Chase productions on how to ride the canyon safely.)

Meanwhile, a group of bike and pedestrian advocates are collecting signatures to request that a mere 2 percent of Metro’s planned 1/2 cent sales tax increase be allocated for bike and pedestrian issues — that’s just 1% each to help keep bikers and pedestrians safe and alive.

And councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is rapidly turning into the biking community’s best friend, continues to support the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, and is calling for a larger discussion of the issues confronting bicyclists and drivers throughout the city later this year.

If you ask me, that can’t happen soon enough.

 

Let’s live to fight another day

Kudos to the Los Angeles Times for having the good taste to quote your truly in a recent online article about the ongoing war between L.A. drivers and cyclists. By my calculation, this means I should have roughly 12 minutes and 37 seconds of fame remaining.

Frankly, when I started this blog a few weeks back, I really didn’t know where I was planning to go with it. But I certainly didn’t think expect to be dealing with the sort of topics we have this week.

In nearly 30 years as a serious biker, I’ve ridden all across the country, from backwater bayous and Colorado canyons to high-speed highways and crowded city streets. But I can honestly say this City of Fallen Angels is the only place I’ve ever been afraid to ride.

It didn’t take long to learn that most local roads have no shoulders, forcing you into traffic lanes with drivers who routinely ignore the speed limit, turning 35 mph boulevards in 50+ mph freeways. That what little bike lane system we do enjoy starts and stops at random, in what could only be an attempt to thin the herd. That local drivers have no patience for bicyclists, and won’t share the road if it means a few seconds of inconvenience. And that the local police usually operate from a policy of blame the cyclist first.

The simple fact is, even the most careless or aggressive cyclists represent little more than a minor annoyance to most drivers, easily passed and quickly forgotten.

Yet for us riders, it’s a different matter entirely. For us, cars represent potentially lethal weapons, fully locked and loaded, and, too often, pointed directly at us. Unlike the driver, we have no seat belts or airbags — let alone a few tons of steel — to protect us. So even in a minor collision can be, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Like Stoehr and Peterson, we’ve all been confronted with angry motorists — though in most cases, not so extreme as the good doctor, who it turns out may have done this before. I dealt with mine by signaling for my next turn with just one finger extended, which got my rear wheel intimately acquainted with the chrome bumper behind it, and got me 4 weeks in a sling followed by 6 weeks of rehab.

So I’ve learned my lesson. Now when I’m confronted with an angry driver, I just pull to the right, stop my bike, and let them pass. Because I may have a legal right to the road, but it’s not worth defending my rights if it means my wife is going to get another call saying which Emergency Room she can find me in.

A Cyclists’ Bill of Rights would certainly help. But so does a strong self-preservation instinct, and enough sense to know which battles are winnable.

And car vs. bike isn’t one of them.

Monday’s Mandeville Canyon meeting moved

According to the Bottleneck Blog, the meeting scheduled for Monday to discuss bicycling issues in Mandeville Canyon has been moved. Click here for full details.

Call your publicist. Because we have an image problem.

We all know that bicyclists are nice people. Well, most of us, anyway.

We’ll stop to help a fallen cyclist, or a total stranger. We’ll give directions to lost tourists, and hand our last good tube over to some schmuck who forgot to pack a patch kit. We’ll wave to let a driver know it’s safe to pass, or thank one for giving us the right of way. And the first aid kit I keep in my seat bag has been used more on people I don’t know than on people I do. Or on myself, for that matter.

But we have a real problem. Because that’s not how the world sees us.

On July 9th, Illuminate LA featured an excellent recap of how the local bike community sprang into action following the July 4th Mandeville Canyon incident. But what caught my attention was the comment that followed from the author of SoapBoxLA.

He tallied the number of anti-bike comments expressed on the LA Times Bottleneck Blog article about the road rage incident on the 4th.  And let me tell you, it’s not pretty. Just a few samples:

  • Cyclists break the law (27)
  • Cyclists are arrogant, have feelings of entitlement (27)
  • Cyclists should not be on the road; the road is for vehicles only (23)
  • …If a vehicle/bike altercation happens, the cyclist must be at fault in some way (12)
  • …Cyclists incite harassment from vehicles by not following the law (8)

And my personal favorite:

  • Cars are bigger and therefore have more rights (1)

That, my friends, is how we’re perceived right here in the City of Fallen Angels. Don’t believe it? Just go to the local Rants & Raves section on Craiglist, and post a comment about bicycling. Any comment. Then see how long it takes before the hate posts and death threats start stacking up in response. (Granted, CL isn’t exactly a hotbed of credibility; the RnR section has long gotten my vote as the most racist place in cyberspace.)

The point is, we’ve got a problem. And we’re the only ones who can do something about it.

As my loyal reader (notice I didn’t include the phrase, “one of”) — Pops commented on earlier post, bicyclists need to do a better job of p-r if we’re going to make any headway in the traffic world.

And we need to do it fast. Because as the Mandeville incident illustrates, your life — or mine — could depend on it.

L.A. has a bicycling community? Who knew?

Imagine my surprise. Here I’ve pictured myself a lonely voice crying in the bicycle wilderness, and it turns out I may not be so lonely after all.

As part of the continuing coverage of the July 4th Mandeville Canyon incident, KABC-7 did a follow-up report on yesterday’s evening news (thanks to laist.com for posting the link — if KABC has it online, they’re doing a damn good job of hiding it). As part of that report, they mentioned that L.A. city council member Bill Rosendahl has endorsed the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights.

Say what?

That sent my little fingers running to the Google, as our fearless leader calls it, which told me I could read all about it here. Not only did I discover an effort by my fellow cyclists to help keep us all safe and alive, I found out there is actually a community of writers focused on bicycling.

Obviously, I’ve got some reading to do. For instance, here’s a good post on California bike laws and road safety.

Meanwhile, this Cyclist’s Bill of Rights seems to make a lot of sense, and it beats the heck out of my best idea, which was to wear a jersey reading “Thank you for not killing me today.”

Personally, I’m fond of Nos. 3 & 4, based on my own personal experience (see my post from July 8, Road rage against the machine).  But the whole thing makes a great platform for future city planning, as well as giving cyclists a voice in the community, and — finally — the equal protection under the law even, yes, bicyclists are promised under the Constitution.

Frankly, I thought my rabble-rousing days were long over, but it looks like we’ve all got some politicking to do. You can contact the Mayor of Los Angeles here — just don’t expect anyone to actually get back to you (again, based on my own personal experience) — and you can find contact information for city council members here.

And if you ride Mandeville Canyon, don’t forget to attend Rosendahl’s Town Hall meeting on Monday, July 14 starting at 6:30p to discuss how bicyclists and residents can co-exist in the canyon. (Thanks to la.streetsblog.org for posting the notice, since even Rosendahl’s own website doesn’t make any mention of it yet.)

 

The few. The proud. The obnoxious.

Not surprisingly, the 4th of July incident in Mandeville Canyon was one of the main topics of conversation on Craigslist yesterday. Or at least it started out that way, before quickly devolving into the usual hate rants and death threats that typically characterize CL’s Lord of the Flies mentality.

One of the more rational posts — okay, one of the few — took riders to task for failing to ride safely. He (she?) gave the example of San Vicente Blvd., the Westside’s bicycle highway to the sea, ranting about “pretentious assholes” who insist on riding in traffic lanes despite the presence of a bike lane virtually the entire way.

Problem is, he’s got a point.

We’ve all seen them.  While the vast majority of us are happy to ride safely and courteously, there are always a few who seem to feel that traffic laws and the mores of a civil society — let alone common sense — don’t apply to them.

Like the guy I saw on San Vicente awhile back, who insisted on riding in the left lane the entire way down the hill. And then proceeded to blow through the red light at the bottom, despite the fact that he had to pass between cars crossing from the other direction. Without a helmet, of course.

Or the idiot I saw drafting a few feet behind a city bus through downtown Santa Monica. Of course, as buses usually do sooner or later, it came to a sudden stop — forcing him to dart into the other traffic lane without warning, and nearly causing a chain reaction collision as drivers braked to avoid him. (This is the same jerk who used to try to draft on me on the way up San Vicente, without ever taking a pull himself, let alone saying thank you. Or even hello, for that matter.)

The point is, riders like these are the exception. But they’re the ones most drivers notice, just like we notice the one or two drivers who cut us off or pass too close, rather than the countless cars that passed us safely or waved us through the intersection. And then they assume that we all ride that way.

It’s not true, of course.

It does tend to be a self-correcting problem, though. Because no one who rides like that rides that way very long.

But it leaves the rest of us dealing with an image we don’t deserve. And angry drivers who blame us for problems we didn’t create.

Road rage against the machine

Here’s the problem with biking in L.A. Okay, one of ‘em, anyway.

This is a city where the car is God, and any heretic who gets in its path is taking his life in his hands. Sure, the law gives us a right to the road. But that only extends as far as the bumper of the cars around us.

L.A. is a town full of angry drivers, already upset about slogging their way through heavy traffic and steaming about the last driver(s) who cut them off — let alone the high cost of fueling their Hummers. And when they find there route momentarily slowed by people shrink-wrapped in ridiculous spandex outfits, that rage often boils over.

Latest case in point: the recent 4th of July incident in Mandeville Canyon, in which two local riders were intentionally injured by a driver who sped around them, then slammed on the brakes just feet in front of their wheels. As you might expect, both riders were badly injured, one eating the pavement after clipping the car’s fender, while the other did a face plant in the rear windshield, nearly losing his nose in the process. The driver — a doctor, no less — just stood there screaming at the injured riders and refusing to offer any medical care to the people he injured.

At least this time, the local gendarmes made an arrest.

We’ve all been there. Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time riding the mean streets of the misnamed City of Angels has their own stories to tell of drivers who’ve intentionally doored, dinged or otherwise dusted them in some fashion. But very few of us can tell a story of the L.A.P.D. actually doing something about it.

Like there was the time some gang bangers knocked me off my bike in Venice and circled around me as I lay on the pavement. Lo and behold, I looked up and just a few feet away stood an L.A. cop. I yelled for help and the gangsters took off running — right past the officer, who stood there watching them run. So I yelled again for the cop to stop them because they had just attacked me, and I swear to God, he looked at me and said “So what do you want me to do about it?”

His job would have been nice. But I suppose what was too much to expect.

Then there was the time a driver got pissed off that I was impeding her progress on an otherwise empty street, and couldn’t be bothered to go a few feet out of her way to pass me. Instead, she followed me for about a block, honking and screaming the whole way. When I got to the stop sign at the next corner, I turned around for a moment to look at her, then signaled for my right turn (granted, I only extended one finger, but still…).

Next thing I knew, her bumper was in my back wheel and I was on the pavement. Once I gathered my wits, I blocked her path so she couldn’t leave, whipped out my cell and dialed 911. A crowd gathered. Helicopters circled. The police, finally, arrived.

Yet when the dust cleared, the local constabulary did absolutely…nothing. They accepted her contention that I had simply fallen over — from a dead stop, no less — injuring myself and causing the damage to my bike.

And instead of taking her into custody — or even writing a ticket, for chrissake — I was threatened with arrest for A) making a false 911 call and B) threatening her life; somehow, my comments of “You tried to kill me,” got twisted into “I’m going to kill you.”

Why I would want to kill a total stranger if I had simply fallen over on my own was never explained to me.

So, I may not be a rocket scientist, but I’ve learned my lesson. No more fingers. When confronted with an angry driver, just stop and let him or her pass.

And never, ever count on the L.A.P.D.

Use your head.

Let’s talk common sense.

Yes, the Tour de France kicked off on Saturday, but let’s face it — nothing significant is likely to happen until tomorrow’s time trial, at the earliest.  But if you’re just dying to know the latest results, you can check out the official site of Le Tour (U.S. version), as well as the Versus or  Bicycling sites.

So until things heat up a bit, I’m still thinking about a group a bicyclists I saw yesterday.  Three riders in shorts, t-shirts and sneakers, cruising down Olympic Blvd in West L.A. on their single-speed cruisers at about 5 m.p.h.  One of them was even smoking a cigarette as they rode side-by-side, sans helmets, sharing a traffic lane with cars whipping past at over 50 m.p.h.

Yes, the speed limit there is only 35.  But that’s L.A. for you, where most traffic laws are considered mere suggestions.  And yes, they had every legal right to be there, since California ‘s motor vehicle code gives bicycles full access to state’s the roadways.  And Olympic even used to be a posted bike route, until someone in L.A.’s Department of Transportation finally sobered up.

But riding one of the city’s busiest, high-speed streets is idiotic, at best, especially when there are a number of much safer side streets that parallel it on either side.  Doing it on a slow bike, without helmets — and while smoking, for Pete’s sake — is just suicidal.  Even for an experienced rider like me, let alone a bunch of biker’s who clearly have no idea what they’re doing.

Then again, anyone who rides without a helmet is risking their life.  I’m always amazed at how many seemingly experienced riders I see on high-end racing bikes, whipping in and out of traffic with their bare heads blowing in the breeze.

Sure, I know what they’re thinking, since I used to be one of them.  They think they know what they’re doing, and won’t need a helmet, because they won’t have an accident.  But speaking of Le Tour, Fabio Casartelli was a better rider than you or I will ever be.

Let’s face it.  Everyone hit’s the pavement now and then, no matter how good you are.  I did last year, in a freak, solo slow-speed accident on what should have been one of the safest pieces of asphalt in Southern California.  And one thing the ER docs made very clear was, if I hadn’t been wearing my helmet, I wouldn’t be typing this now.

So use your head.  Put on helmet on it every time you hop in the saddle.  And maybe you’ll be able to keep using it once you get home.

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