Let’s talk about my most recent ride for a moment.
At one point, I was riding in a bike lane along a relatively quiet street, when a driver made a left turn from a side street onto the street I was riding on. Only problem was, her car was pointed directly at me, and crossed into the plane of the bike lane before she straightened out and moved back into the right lane. I made a quick swing to the right to avoid her, then moved back into the bike lane once she moved out.
Then, as I rode along side her, she kept looking to her left as if searching for an address. And as she did, kept drifting further and further to the right — towards me — until I finally got her attention by yelling a warning. Throughout it all, I don’t think she ever saw me or knew I was there until I yelled.
Several miles later, a couple of pedestrians stepped off from the curb — directly into my path — without ever looking in my direction. Again, I yelled a warning, and made a panic stop just feet in front of them.
Later still, I was riding in an area heavily traveled by cyclists, when a rider ahead of me made a long, looping turn to his left, circling back to something he’d passed on his right. Problem was, he never looked anywhere but where his front wheel was pointed. And he was on a path that would soon collide with mine. So again, I yelled a warning, he finally saw me, and we both went safely on our way.
That may seem like a lot of close calls, but I suppose three minor incidents over the course of a 43 mile ride isn’t that bad in a city like this.
But the more interesting thing is, the problem wasn’t just with drivers. It was with a motorist, pedestrians and another cyclist. And it had nothing to do with road rage, aggressiveness, rudeness or any refusal to share the road.
It was just plain, old-fashioned carelessness.
I bring this up because Will Campbell — yet another member of the Bike Writers Collective — recently took the Wall Street Journal to task for last Friday’s article about the problems and perils of riding in L.A. And he’s right; as a rule, I find riding in Los Angeles a relatively safe and pleasant experience.
As an expert rider — after three decades of riding I certainly put myself in that category — I know where to ride, and where not to. I also know how to ride safely, avoiding the perils that pop up with regularity in any urban environment.
The problem is, most riders aren’t experts. I frequently see cyclists with limited skills plodding along crowded, high speed streets I would be very reluctant to put a wheel on, and I see them attempting moves I would never try. Or advanced moves I can get away with, but that they don’t have the skill to pull off successfully.
And that inevitably leads to collisions, and confrontations with angry motorists.
So the WSJ article was right, as well. With a few notable exceptions, Los Angeles streets were not designed for cycling. And many cyclists and drivers here are painfully unaware of the rights and responsibilities of cyclists, as well as how to safely share the road.
The point is, riding in L.A. can and should be much safer than it is. You shouldn’t need expert riding skills to safely traverse the city on two wheels, or to enjoy a pleasant weekend jaunt to the park and back.
We need to educate both drivers and cyclists alike, and keep pressure on the city to take at least some of the same steps that other cities, like Denver and Portland, took decades ago to make the streets safer for everyone. Including us.
And we need to pay attention out there. Because, as my experience shows, many — if not most — of the problems here are caused by plain old carelessness.
A cancer expert says the real danger from cell phones isn’t disease, but using them when you walk, drive or cycle. Well, duh. We got Manny from Boston, now maybe we can adopt their new bike-friendly attitude. A Detroit protest against heavy-handed police turns into a celebration of cycling, while an Ann Arbor writer suggests simple changes that could help us share the road.