Archive for August 21, 2008

No, I won’t back down

So let’s go back to Bicyling’s article about conflict resolution that I mentioned the other day.

I understand the point. Really, I do. It’s dangerous enough out there without getting into arguments with angry drivers — let alone running the risk of letting those arguments escalate into violence.

But something about the article just rubbed me the wrong way. And the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me.

Let’s start with the obvious.

I don’t know about you, but of all the altercations I’ve had, or seen other bikers have, with angry drivers, very few involved an opportunity to talk it out. Most occurred while both the car and the bike were moving; usually as the driver was following behind screaming and honking his horn. Or sometimes, as he threw something out an open window, or opened a door while passing, or zipped by so close it forced the rider — i.e., me — off the road.

Not much opportunity for a real conversation there. Usually, the rider doesn’t have time to do much more than thrust out a finger or yell a choice epithet or two as the driver rides off into the sunset.

But let’s say, this one time, Mr. or Ms. Angry Driver — no relation to Minnie, who evidently sings, as well — pulls up next to you at the red light, foaming at the mouth about how you got in his or her way, and you shouldn’t be in the roadway, and bicycles belong on the sidewalk anyway.

Not that I’ve ever heard that one before, or anything.

Now, you know he’s wrong. I know he’s wrong. And yes, even Bicycling knows he’s wrong, and suggests that you point it out. But they suggest doing it in a tone that seems so submissive and subservient, it’s a wonder they don’t recommend that you lay on your back and let the driver rub your belly.

And I’m just not going to do that.

Sure, I try to be as calm and respectful as the situation allows. And if the driver is willing to listen, I’m more than happy to explain why I rode where I did, and the way I did. Then, if he’s still listening — which experience tells me is highly unlikely — I’ll explain that it was not only legal, but also the safest thing to do under the circumstances.

I do try to avoid confrontations, and not just because they can ruin my day, and the driver’s day, and that of anyone who happens to be in earshot. But also because angry drivers are likely to take it out on the next rider they encounter. And with today’s blame bikers first mentality, we’re not likely to win any friends by arguing — even it we are right.

But the bottom line is, we have every right to be on the road, and drivers have every obligation to share it — even if they don’t have to like it.

So even though I’ve never been a big Tom Petty fan, I’m going to stand my ground.

And I won’t back down.

 

According to the Times, it’s time to ride your bike — and they list the rides to prove it. Bicycling has details on recent recalls for Look KEO and Cervelo carbon fork owners. Even in Mississippi, more people are commuting by bike. Finally, welcome to yet another member of the local biking and blogging community.

A glance of responsibility

I had planned to write about Bicycling’s recent article on defusing conflicts with angry drivers — and how I’d thought kowtowing wasn’t practiced anymore.

But then something happened on my ride Wednesday that was so surprising — and surprising that something so simple would be surprising — that I was lost in thought for the remainder of the day.

You see, part of my ride took me north on the bike path along the beach through Santa Monica and the Palisades. As I rode, I was passing pedestrians, skaters and slower riders so often that “On your left” was quickly becoming my new mantra.

Then I came upon a man who was riding slowly, pulling his child behind him with one of those trailers that attach to your bike. Just as I was swinging out to the left to go around him, he started to go around a pedestrian. But before he did, he looked over his shoulder, saw me behind him, and patiently waited for me to pass first.

I was stunned.

It’s not that things like that never happen. But they’re rare enough to make me notice when they do. So I slowed down for a moment to ride along next to him, complimenting his riding and thanking him for riding safely.

Because instead of acting carelessly, like so many riders, pedestrians and skaters seem to do there, he put his safety, as well as mine — and more importantly, that of his child — first.

We live in a society that’s quick to assess blame, and slow, if ever, to accept responsibility. We tend to make others responsible for our safety, and blame them — rather than our own actions — if anything happens to go wrong.

Like the story a few years back about the burglar who got injured falling through a roof, and filed suit against the property owner. Or a driver whose tire blew out at well over 100 mph and then sued the manufacturer — never mind that he was driving at over twice the legal speed limit.

I can’t tell you how many times a pedestrian has stepped out in front of me without looking, or another cyclist has pulled out to pass someone without first checking to see if anyone else is there. Then blamed me, rather than their own carelessness, for the near collision — even though I was the only one who kept us from colliding in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t just happen on the bike path. I frequently see riders swerving into traffic to get around some obstacle without checking first to see if another bike, a car or a Mack truck is bearing down on them. Or consider the idiot who was riding on the wrong side of the street, then blamed the bike-riding driver who pulled out in front of him.

And it’s not just cyclists, pedestrians and the like. Drivers do it, too. Such as the one that cut me off on Montana yesterday — there’s that street again — when I was riding along side her.

I had a feeling she was going to move right without warning, so I’d been holding back a little so she could see me in her mirror; if she bothered to look, that is. Then just as I was starting to pass her, she began inching right towards an open a parking space, forcing me to jam on my brakes and swerve around her. All because she’d never bothered to check her mirrors, let alone her blind spot, and had no idea I was there.

Best of all, though, was the driver I saw honking and yelling, demanding that another car that was double parked on the opposite side of the street to move out of the way so he could make an illegal U-turn in his Escalade.

There’s only one thing these stories all have in common. In each case, they acted carelessly, and made other people responsible for the consequences of their actions, as well as for their own safety — and the safety of anyone else around them.

That’s why I was so impressed with that bike-riding, trailer-pulling father. By taking the simplest of actions — a mere glance back over his shoulder — he took full responsibility for his own safety.

And didn’t have to blame anyone else for the accident that didn’t happen.

 

The Times’ Bottleneck Blog reports on a story in the Wall Street Journal, which says San Fran’s new bike plan is being held up by a single gadfly who claims bicycling is bad for the environment. Actually, I think a far worse problem is getting mugged on the bike path. A paper from Mad City suggests cycling could be the new golf. A biker in Walla Walla posted a notice from the Washington legislature calling for more and safer bike routes — dated 1974. Finally, it looks like Gary’s car is looking for a good home.

A brief introduction to L.A.

I’ve recently noticed a number of visitors to this site from the U.K., thanks to Just Williams and Town Mouse, who were kind enough to add a link to my site. (And since I enjoyed their blogs, I was happy to return the, uh, favour.)

Since these people have taken the trouble to visit me, I thought I might depart from my usual biking banter, and offer a quick introduction to this City of Fallen Angels we call home.

And there’s one thing everyone should know about Los Angeles.

It doesn’t exist.

At least not the city you think you know. Because the L.A. you’ve seen on countless TV shows and movies is as much a creation of Hollywood as the Terminator’s invincibility or Rock Hudson’s marriage. As these things usually go, the reality is both better, and worse, than the image you may have.

For instance, the air is better than you think, and the traffic is worse.

That perfect weather you always see in shows set in Los Angeles rarely occurs in real life. Somehow, it usually seems to happen when there is a camera crew present; I think they pay an extra fee for that. And it’s long been rumored that the Rose Bowl made a pact with the devil to ensure perfect weather every New Years Day.

Also, Hollywood isn’t in Hollywood. That is, you won’t find the stars and studios that make all those TV shows and movies anywhere in the city of Hollywood, except perhaps on Oscar night, though you will find t-shirt and souvenir vendors, hookers, celebrity impersonators and other entrepreneurs dedicated to separating tourists from their money.

And I have never seen, nor have ever I participated in, a drive-by shooting.

Of course, some of the things you may think you know about L.A. are actually true.

For instance, we do seem to be a magnet for all kinds of disasters, from fires and floods, to riots and earthquakes, not to mention debilitating strikes. (We’re still waiting for plagues of frogs and locusts, and for Moses to part the Santa Monica Bay and lead his people out of Hollywood.) But things like that really don’t happen that often, and we’ve learned to take them in stride.

It’s also true that we’ve have a lot of illegal aliens here. And yes, many are from Mexico, but others come from Guatemala, China, Russia, Canada and Ireland, among others. In fact, the joke was that if you couldn’t get a table at Molly Malone’s, all you had to do was stand in the front door, yell “Immigration!” and watch half the bar empty out the back door.

As you might suspect, there are a lot of celebrities here, and we do bump into them from time to time. Personally, I’ve shared a physical therapy session with Billy Crystal, stood in line next to John Lithgow at the market, and nearly ran into Emmylou Harris rounding a corner at the mall. (Then again, I also met B.B. King, Al Green and Stevie Ray Vaughn long before I ever moved to L.A.)

The standard approach upon spotting a celebrity here is to pretend you didn’t see him or her; running up and begging for an autograph is a sure sign of a tourist. On the other hand, we’re just about fed up with paparazzi.

Speaking of celebrities, Posh and Becks made a big splash when they first got here, but they’ve kept a low profile since; I don’t know anyone who has actually seen them — including on the field for most of his first season here. And even with the most famous right foot in football (as opposed to football), our local club would still have a hard time beating Blackpool.

It’s just a pity we don’t have relegation here. If we did, the local side might play a little better.

And the Clippers would be lucky to compete on the high school level.

 

No Whip gets a ticket for making a right on a red light without stopping — just like many drivers do — while Alex endures playground taunts from a jerk with a badge. Meanwhile, a cyclist in Wisconsin discovers it’s against the law to get doored. Chicago cops take to the streets to encourage safe cycling, rather than writing tickets; I wonder if anyone ever considered that here. Illinois clarifies cycling laws in a way that actually makes sense, and could save lives. Is anyone in Sacramento listening? An L.A. rider hits the pavement, thanks to a scum-filled pothole. An Eastside rider reminds us that the city is still taking comments on revising the bike master plan (as if we actually had one before) and recommends a great place for good mole. And finally, Metblogs covers the inaugural Brentwood Grand Prix. I wonder who won the Manolos? 

I’m back

 

This is what I looked like once I left the hospital — and trust me, you don't want to see the other side.

What I looked like when I left the hospital — you don't want to see the other side.

I’ve mentioned on here before that I’ve been struggling to get back into shape after a freak cycling accident last year. But actually, I’ve been working on making two comebacks at the same time.

You see, even though I’ve been a serious rider for some time, there was a period a few years back when I barely rode at all.

First, because my bike was tied up as evidence in a court case for over a year after being hit by a car. Then my father-in-law suffered a stroke, and he needed my help more than I needed to ride. And once he passed away, it was my wife and mother-in-law who needed me.

That lasted until the day I stepped on the scale, and discovered I was carrying 220 pounds on my formerly trim 6’ frame. And I could no longer pass off that ever-expanding waistline as part of the normal aging process.

So out came the bike once again.

I set three goals for myself. First, to ride as well as I did back in my 30s, when I rode 50 miles a day, rain or shine — or sometimes snow, for that matter. Second, to get my weight back down to 175 pounds. And finally, to reduce get my waistline to 32”, as opposed to the way it was at the time, straining the elastic waistbands on my size 36 pants to near the breaking point.

It took a lot of hard work, but by this time last summer, I was riding as well as I ever had. By early September, my weight was down to 175, and I was just one inch away from those 32” pants.

Then last September 12th, I went out for a quick ride. And never made it back home.

Once I got out of the hospital, I was confined to home for nearly a month, and couldn’t exercise — at all — for the next 3-1/2 months. So I sat home and tried not to feel sorry for myself.

And I ate.

By the time the doctors said I could get back on my bike, my weight was back up to 195. I can’t tell you what my waist size was, because I only wore sweats; I couldn’t get pants over that huge lump on my hip.

I started riding again on January 2nd. At first, all I could manage was an easy ride to the beach and back, and maybe a feeble workout at the gym. By March, I was riding twice a week, combined with hitting the gym a couple times a week.

Once spring got here, I added another day of riding — this time working hills once a week. I found a course near my home that took me through Westwood and the UCLA campus, giving me 6 steep hills, as much as a mile long, over the first 4 miles.

That was the one day I dreaded every week. It was pure torture just trying to get up those hills. I often found myself inching up in my granny gears, and having to stop to rest on the way up — then stopping again at the top to catch my breath and let my pounding heart slow down to something resembling normal.

But slowly, after a few months, it started to seem like it got just a little easier each week.

Then this past Thursday, I finally made it up all six hills without stopping, standing on the pedals or shifting down to a lower gear. Or having to pause to catch my breath.

Also, this weekend, I stepped on the scale and found I was back down to 174 pounds. So just on a whim, when we were out shopping, I picked out a pair of size 32 pants and tried them on.

And they fit. A little snug, perhaps, but they fit.

I still have more work to do. I can look in the mirror now, and see that if I can lose another 4 or 5 pounds, I might actually have abs for the first time in a couple decades. And I’m not ready to ride Mandeville Canyon yet, or tag along on a fast ride with the elite riders.

But I’ll get there.

And meanwhile, this is a damn good feeling, and I’m going to enjoy it for awhile.

 

Our own Outdoor Urbanite bikes to the free Thursday concerts on the pier; this week’s show sounds like a winner. CNN finally covers the Mandeville Canyon brake check — only six weeks after it happened. The Christian Science Monitor discusses the new trend towards ciclovias — limiting certain streets on weekends to pedestrian and bike traffic. Even in Redding, cyclists ask drivers to be on the lookoutSan Diego gears up to Bike the Bay; if you’ve never circled the San Diego Bay by bike, it’s a great ride, even for beginners.  LAist turns into biking paparazzo when Woody hits the streets of Beverly Hills, while Miley Cyrus and family ride the streets of Toluca Lake. And finally, a trio of stories from my old pre-Katrina stomping grounds, as a biker describes an idiotic close encounter with a cyclist while driving; Louisiana decides the roads aren’t safe enough for an increase cyclists (having driven them, I can say many aren’t safe for cars, either); and the Times-Picayune lists local cycling getaways, in case anyone’s traveling to the Big Easy. But bring lots of bug spray.

Today’s ride, in which I think like a driver.

I’d planned on taking a nice, sunny spin down the coast today. After all, this was supposed to be an easy day, since I’d ridden hills yesterday and only needed another 20 miles to meet my goal for the week.

But once I got down to Santa Monica, I found the weather wasn’t so inviting. It was cool, overcast and windy at the beach; the most un-summer-like August day I think I’ve ever seen around L.A. So rather than fight the wind, I decided to just take a quick ride along the beachfront Marvin Braude bike path — despite my rule of thumb to never ride there during on Fridays during the summer, due to the early weekend influx of tourists, kids, pedestrians and other assorted path-clogging flotsam.

To be honest, though, it wasn’t that bad. Sure, I had to dodge the occasional training-wheeled toddler weaving across the path with no parents in sight, as well as the usual clusters of tourists stopped in the middle of the path to chat or gawk at the view. And it certainly didn’t hurt my cheerful disposition knowing that I had an Old Speckled Hen on ice at home, waiting for my return.

That is, until I encountered a couple of young women walking up the bike path, despite the presence of a pedestrian walkway just a few feet away, and “bikes only” markings on the one they were walking on instead. And they were walking on the wrong side, headed straight for me, directly in my path.

Now, as anyone who has ever ridden along there knows, that’s not entirely unusual. Usually, such people will look up, see a cyclist coming, and politely move out of the way. Which is exactly what I thought these two would do.

Instead, they just kept walking directly towards me, with the same uncomprehending stare one would expect to see in a flock of sheep. But then I saw a small gap to their right and attempted to slip by, just as one of them moved in that same direction, bumping up against me and almost forcing me into the sand.

I just couldn’t help myself, and yelled out, “Other side, stupid,” as I rolled past. And immediately regretted adding the word “stupid,” although, to be fair, it was the mildest of the many words that popped into my head.

Of course, the catcalls from bystanders started immediately, including, among many other epithets, “rude” and “arrogant.” So there it was once again, as I found myself being called a rude, arrogant cyclist.

My mind reeled.

How was it that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, on a pathway build exactly for that purpose, while they were exactly where they weren’t supposed to be, doing exactly what they weren’t supposed to be doing. Yet I was the bad guy?

Suddenly, something snapped, and my mind I became a driver. Not the courteous, safe kind that actually make up the vast majority of local drivers, but the indignorant, letter-writing kind who feel perfectly justified in taking out their anger on cyclists.

So I thought, just for a moment, that I should have just ridden directly into them and knocked both women on their ass. After all, they were in my way, and so clearly they deserved it.

When the police came, I would say it was an accident, and I just didn’t see them, because they weren’t where they were supposed to be. Then I could give him a knowing look, and say “When pedestrians learn to respect the rules of bike path, then we’ll respect the rights of pedestrians.”

And I’d get away with it, too. Because drivers usually do.

But then I snapped out of it, and realized, no matter how hard I might try, I could never really be that big a jerk. And so, once again, I was just another rude, arrogant cyclist.

But for once, it really didn’t seem so bad.

 

Mack Reed writes about riding tandem with arachnids, while Will•I•Am (no, not that one) puts his bike cam to work nailing parking tards. David Byrne, ex-Talking Head, now the Dick Cheney of bike rack design. Bicycling tells us how to de-escalate conflicts between cyclists and drivers. Finally, VeloNews’ own cycling PI attorney recaps the recent road rage incidents, including the good doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake check and biker-on-biker violence in Portland.

Today’s ride, in which I think like a driver.

I’d planned on taking a nice, sunny spin down the coast today. After all, this was supposed to be an easy day, since I’d ridden hills yesterday and only needed another 20 miles to meet my goal for the week.

But once I got down to Santa Monica, I found the weather wasn’t so inviting. It was cool, overcast and windy at the beach; the most un-summer-like August day I think I’ve ever seen around L.A. So rather than fight the wind, I decided to just take a quick ride along the beachfront Marvin Braude bike path — despite my rule of thumb to never ride there during on Fridays during the summer, due to the early weekend influx of tourists, kids, pedestrians and other assorted path-clogging flotsam.

To be honest, though, it wasn’t that bad. Sure, I had to dodge the occasional training-wheeled toddler weaving across the path with no parents in sight, as well as the usual clusters of tourists stopped in the middle of the path to chat or gawk at the view. And it certainly didn’t hurt my cheerful disposition knowing that I had an Old Speckled Hen on ice at home, waiting for my return.

That is, until I encountered a couple of young women walking up the bike path, despite the presence of a pedestrian walkway just a few feet away, and “bikes only” markings on the one they were walking on instead. And they were walking on the wrong side, headed straight for me, directly in my path.

Now, as anyone who has ever ridden along there knows, that’s not entirely unusual. Usually, such people will look up, see a cyclist coming, and politely move out of the way. Which is exactly what I thought these two would do.

Instead, they just kept walking directly towards me, with the same uncomprehending stare one would expect to see in a flock of sheep. But then I saw a small gap to their right and attempted to slip by, just as one of them moved in that same direction, bumping up against me and almost forcing me into the sand.

I just couldn’t help myself, and yelled out, “Other side, stupid,” as I rolled past. And immediately regretted adding the word “stupid,” although, to be fair, it was the mildest of the many words that popped into my head.

Of course, the catcalls from bystanders started immediately, including, among many other epithets, “rude” and “arrogant.” So there it was once again, as I found myself being called a rude, arrogant cyclist.

My mind reeled.

How was it that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, on a pathway build exactly for that purpose, while they were exactly where they weren’t supposed to be, doing exactly what they weren’t supposed to be doing. Yet I was the bad guy?

Suddenly, something snapped, and my mind I became a driver. Not the courteous, safe kind that actually make up the vast majority of local drivers, but the indignorant, letter-writing kind who feel perfectly justified in taking out their anger on cyclists.

So I thought, just for a moment, that I should have just ridden directly into them and knocked both women on their ass. After all, they were in my way, and so clearly they deserved it.

When the police came, I would say it was an accident, and I just didn’t see them, because they weren’t where they were supposed to be. Then I could give him a knowing look, and say “When pedestrians learn to respect the rules of bike path, then we’ll respect the rights of pedestrians.”

And I’d get away with it, too. Because drivers usually do.

But then I snapped out of it, and realized, no matter how hard I might try, I could never really be that big a jerk. And so, once again, I was just another rude, arrogant cyclist.

But for once, it really didn’t seem so bad.

 

Mack Reed writes about riding tandem with arachnids, while Will•I•Am (no, not that one) puts his bike cam to work nailing parking tards. David Byrne, ex-Talking Head, now the Dick Cheney of bike rack design. Bicycling tells us how to de-escalate conflicts between cyclists and drivers. Finally, VeloNews’ own cycling PI attorney recaps the recent road rage incidents, including the good doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake check and biker-on-biker violence in Portland.

Today’s ride, in which I think like a driver.

I’d planned on taking a nice, sunny spin down the coast today. After all, this was supposed to be an easy day, since I’d ridden hills yesterday and only needed another 20 miles to meet my goal for the week.

But once I got down to Santa Monica, I found the weather wasn’t so inviting. It was cool, overcast and windy at the beach; the most un-summer-like August day I think I’ve ever seen around L.A. So rather than fight the wind, I decided to just take a quick ride along the beachfront Marvin Braude bike path — despite my rule of thumb to never ride there during on Fridays during the summer, due to the early weekend influx of tourists, kids, pedestrians and other assorted path-clogging flotsam.

To be honest, though, it wasn’t that bad. Sure, I had to dodge the occasional training-wheeled toddler weaving across the path with no parents in sight, as well as the usual clusters of tourists stopped in the middle of the path to chat or gawk at the view. And it certainly didn’t hurt my cheerful disposition knowing that I had an Old Speckled Hen on ice at home, waiting for my return.

That is, until I encountered a couple of young women walking up the bike path, despite the presence of a pedestrian walkway just a few feet away, and “bikes only” markings on the one they were walking on instead. And they were walking on the wrong side, headed straight for me, directly in my path.

Now, as anyone who has ever ridden along there knows, that’s not entirely unusual. Usually, such people will look up, see a cyclist coming, and politely move out of the way. Which is exactly what I thought these two would do.

Instead, they just kept walking directly towards me, with the same uncomprehending stare one would expect to see in a flock of sheep. But then I saw a small gap to their right and attempted to slip by, just as one of them moved in that same direction, bumping up against me and almost forcing me into the sand.

I just couldn’t help myself, and yelled out, “Other side, stupid,” as I rolled past. And immediately regretted adding the word “stupid,” although, to be fair, it was the mildest of the many words that popped into my head.

Of course, the catcalls from bystanders started immediately, including, among many other epithets, “rude” and “arrogant.” So there it was once again, as I found myself being called a rude, arrogant cyclist.

My mind reeled.

How was it that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, on a pathway build exactly for that purpose, while they were exactly where they weren’t supposed to be, doing exactly what they weren’t supposed to be doing. Yet I was the bad guy?

Suddenly, something snapped, and my mind I became a driver. Not the courteous, safe kind that actually make up the vast majority of local drivers, but the indignorant, letter-writing kind who feel perfectly justified in taking out their anger on cyclists.

So I thought, just for a moment, that I should have just ridden directly into them and knocked both women on their ass. After all, they were in my way, and so clearly they deserved it.

When the police came, I would say it was an accident, and I just didn’t see them, because they weren’t where they were supposed to be. Then I could give him a knowing look, and say “When pedestrians learn to respect the rules of bike path, then we’ll respect the rights of pedestrians.”

And I’d get away with it, too. Because drivers usually do.

But then I snapped out of it, and realized, no matter how hard I might try, I could never really be that big a jerk. And so, once again, I was just another rude, arrogant cyclist.

But for once, it really didn’t seem so bad.

 

Mack Reed writes about riding tandem with arachnids, while Will•I•Am (no, not that one) puts his bike cam to work nailing parking tards. David Byrne, ex-Talking Head, now the Dick Cheney of bike rack design. Bicycling tells us how to de-escalate conflicts between cyclists and drivers. Finally, VeloNews’ own cycling PI attorney recaps the recent road rage incidents, including the good doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake check and biker-on-biker violence in Portland.

A not-so-brief lesson in social protest.

Let’s spend just one more day discussing the recent crosswalk protest in Santa Monica. Or more precisely, the reasons behind the protest and what can be done about them.

As Alex points out in his post about the crosswalk protest, the Santa Monica CM riders have tried everything they could think of to get the city manager, council members and police to work with them to in finding solutions that would work to everyone’s benefit. The only result was more tickets, and more ham-handed police tactics, as if this was the most important item on their agenda.

So what can be done, if nothing has worked?

Start by thinking like a politician. While there are some elected officials who really do want to do the right thing, what matters most to most pols these days are A) the votes they need to get re-elected, and B) the money they need to get those votes. Yes, it sucks, and yes, we all like to pretend that’s not the case, but that’s the system we’re living with these days. So deal with it, already.

And judging by the reaction, the city is more concerned about the people who complain about Critical Mass, than they are about the votes they might lose from CM riders — many of whom live outside the city.

So that leaves money. If one or more of those C.M. rider have extra-deep pockets, it’s game over. Just make the maximum donation allowed under law to the re-election funds of every council member, and drop a hint that it would be nice if the police backed off a little. Then just wait a reasonable amount of time, and the council will decide that maybe Critical Mass isn’t so bad after all.

On the other hand, no deep pockets means you’ve got to get a little more creative.

Get the public on your side. People love underdogs in this country, and want to support those who are being treated unfairly by government — especially in a left-leaning community like Santa Monica.

So why aren’t the people on the cyclists side here? After all, the cyclists are the victims here, at least in terms of being unfairly — and possibly, illegally — ticketed. (Hint: protests that keep them from getting home to their families don’t usually help.)

Get some publicity. Tell your side of the story to anyone who will listen. Talk about why Critical Mass exists, and why you ride like relatively well-behaved hooligans through the streets of Santa Monica once a month. And tell everyone who’ll listen about how unfair the city is being.

While Santa Monica doesn’t have a local newspaper anymore, this is a story that’s tailor made for one of the alternative weeklies. You might also be able to get someone at the Times interested, such as Steve Hyman at the Bottleneck Blog.

Call every TV station. Call the radio stations and see if anyone will put you on the air to tell your story — especially Santa Monica’s public radio station, KCRW. Go to the 3rd Street Promenade and the Farmer’s Market and pass out handbills explaining the police harassment, and the city’s refusal to meet with you.

In other words, use every opportunity and forum you can think of to get your side of the story out there — without pissing people off at the same time.

Document your ride. Equip as many riders as you can with small digital video recorders. That way, you will have proof of what really happens if the police crack down again. Just remember, though — they can use it for proof, too.

Invite guest riders. Invite the press to ride along, and bring their notebooks and cameras. Let them see for themselves how harmless the ride is — and how heavy-handed the police reaction. If they see you getting tickets for violations that didn’t happen, they’ll report on it. And the public is a lot more likely to believe them than a group of rowdy riders.

Besides, wouldn’t you just love to see Paul Moyer on a Critical Mass ride?

Or invite a celebrity to join in. There’s no shortage of successful actors, musicians, models, etc., around here, and some of them love to ride. In this town, it often takes a lot less than six degrees of separation to find someone who knows them.

Just the presence of someone famous may be enough to get the police to back off. Let’s hope not, though. Because if you get a ticket, chances are, no one will really care. But if someone like that gets a ticket, it’s the lead story on Entertainment Tonight.

Contact the City Attorney. If the police really are acting illegally, the city attorney’s not likely to be very happy about it. And if you don’t get any traction there, go over her head.

Get a good lawyer. This is America, where litigation — or the threat of litigation — trumps all. There’s no shortage of cycling attorney’s around here; you may be able to find one willing to represent you pro bono through one of the cycling clubs, like Velo LaGrange. Or you might be able to get the ACLU or Common Cause interested; if not, they should be able to refer you to someone who will be.

Apply pressure. While a couple hundred CM cyclists probably aren’t enough to get the city’s attention, a couple thousand angry cyclists will — and that’s still just a small fraction of the riders who live in Santa Monica, let alone the tens of thousands who pass through every day.

So start a letter writing campaign. Ask everyone you know — and everyone they know — to write the Santa Monica city government and demand that they work with you to find a solution that will allow CM to go on, without causing undue inconvenience to city residents.

There’s always a comprise, if the city and the riders are motivated to find it.

Or go viral. Start an email campaign explaining your position, and asking people to email the city government. Then send it to every rider you know, and ask them to pass it on to every rider they know, as well as contacting every CM group in the country. When the city starts getting angry emails from Des Moines and Kalamazoo — potentially effecting their tourist trade — they’ll pay attention.

Use economic pressure. Again, if a few hundred CM riders stop shopping in Santa Monica, no one’s going to notice. But if a few thousand riders stop spending money in the city, people will pay attention — and the threat of a boycott is often more effective than the boycott itself.

So start an online petition. Ask people to sign a statement saying that unless the city stops writing illegal tickets and negotiates a reasonable accommodation allowing the rides to continue, they will stop spending any money in Santa Monica. No nightclubs, no restaurants, no (gasp!) Starbucks, no REI, no boutiques on Main or Montana.

Ask them to estimate the amount of money they spend in Santa Monica each week when they sign, as well. When the city sees the amount of money local merchants could lose, and the amount they could lose in taxes, they will pay attention.

And I’ll be one of the first to sign it.

Sometimes, a protest is justified

 

Feel free to copy & use this image. Or make a better one, and I'll post it here

Feel free to copy & use this image. Or make a better one, and I'll post it here.

Let’s go back to Alex Thompson’s report on the recent crosswalk protest in Santa Monica for a bit.

Whether or not you agree with their tactics — and judging by the comments, many don’t — or with Critical Mass in general, the key point to me is what lead up to the protest. Because Alex describes a rising level of frustration, as they repeatedly tried to deal with the local government, but were rebuffed and ignored at every turn.

From city council members who failed to speak to a single cyclist after promising to explore ways to accommodate the Critical Mass rides, to a scheduled meeting with the chief of police — at the urging of the city manager — which lasted all of 30 seconds before the chief excused himself.

Then there’s the matter of the apparent deliberate writing of false tickets by the S.M.P.D. Alex reports that the police issued over 30 tickets for “no light” violations, then repeatedly checked the box indicating that this was not a correctable violation — resulting in a significant increase in the cost of the ticket, from $10 to $100.

Or this, from a recent post on LAist about the latest Santa Monica Critical Mass ride:

“Santa Monica Police Officers were out in full force, riding motorcycles alongside the Santa Monica Critical Mass and citing cyclists for leaving the bike lane (not a violation of the law – CVC 21208), taking control of a traffic lane (not a violation of the law – CVC 21202) and turning left from a left turn lane. (again, not a violation of the law- CVC 22100).”

In other words, the local police were writing tickets for supposed violations that were not against the law. And they wonder why the Crimanimalz felt a need to protest?

Call me crazy, but when the police break the law in order to enforce it, something is seriously wrong.

Now, as a certified Angeleno, I may not live in Santa Monica, but I do spend a lot of time there. More to the point, I also spend a lot of money there — as do many other cyclists, I’m sure.
Which means that we help support the city’s many restaurants, retailers and nightclubs, as well as making a significant contribution to the city coffers.

And while I am not a fan of the tactics employed by Critical Mass — as I’ve said before, I find them counterproductive — I can’t see myself economically supporting a city that would ignore any group of citizens, cyclists or otherwise, who actively reach out for dialogue with city officials. Or who would allow the local police make up their own laws in order to rein in an activity they clearly disagree with.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting a boycott of local businesses. Not yet, anyway.

But the government in Santa Monica needs to wake up, start a dialogue, and stop the heavy handed tactics. And local business owners need to pressure their political leaders to find a way to accommodate everyone who lives in, or does business in, their city — without violating the law themselves.

Maybe the Crimanimalz and S.M. Critical Mass should hire a good lawyer. And start to consider tactics that could be far more effective than delaying traffic for awhile.

 

The Daily News says things aren’t so bad for cyclists in Los Angeles, and getting better. But I wonder if those 1,252 miles of bike routes, lanes and paths in L.A. County they refer to include un-ridable sections like sign for the designated bike route I saw on eastbound Pico at Sepulveda yesterday — which I would only recommend to someone with a death wish.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s bike meister tells Canadians to share the road. But the interesting part of the article in buried inside, where they mention new laws that prohibit “…opening a car door on a cyclist, parking or driving in a bike lane, passing within three feet of a bike, and turning left or right into the path of a cyclist…” with fines ranging from $150 to $500. And a minimum fine of $12,500 and up to a year in jail if careless driving results in the death of a cyclist or pedestrian. When we get laws like that, then our local pols can claim to support cyclist.

And finally, Bike Girl inspires Gary to rhapsodize on locking up.

The nail that stands out, pt. 2

 

Feel free to copy and use this image. Or make a better one, and I'll post it here.

Feel free to copy & use this image. Or make a better one, and I'll post it here.

After I put yesterday’s post online, I went out for a nice, long ride down the coast to Hermosa Beach, enjoying the ride, the sunshine and the bikinis. And those wearing them, of course.

But then, as I was nearing my home, I started kicking myself — mentally anyway; doing it physically would be kind of difficult with my feet locked into my pedals. And after 46 miles on the bike, I’m not sure I would have had the energy, anyway.

Because it occurred to me that in my response to Mr. Rowe’s letter to Rupert Murdoch’s latest acquisition, I failed to address a key point. Consider the penultimate line of his screed:

“…Bicycles should be required to have a fee-paid license plate and be ticketed for infractions….”

It’s a variation on the same old canard you’ll find on virtually any message board or letters column discussing cycling. Sooner or later, someone will suggest that all cyclists should a) have to study and pass a test, b) have a license, such as a driver’s license, c) have license plates, as Mr. Rowe suggests, and/or d) carry liability insurance.

The catch is, we already do.

You see, in today’s auto-centric society, most cyclists are also drivers. In fact, while I’m sure there must be some, I don’t personally know of a single cyclist over the age of 16 who does not have a driver’s license.

Which means that we have studied the rules of the road, so there is no excuse for any bicyclist not knowing the rules of the road — just as there is no excuse for any driver being unfamiliar with the traffic laws and regulations, including laws regarding cyclists’ right to the road.

We can also be ticketed, just like the operator of any other vehicle — legitimately or not. And while I have no personal knowledge of the subject, I would assume that any ticket received while cycling can result in points against the recipient’s driver’s license, under the provisions of section 21200 of the California Vehicle Code, just as they would for a driver who receives a similar citation.

And as I discovered when I was struck by a car several years ago, car insurance in this state covers the driver, not the vehicle — which means that the driver is covered when operating his or her car, or any other vehicle. Including a bicycle.

In fact, State Farm paid my entire medical bill under the uninsured driver section of my policy. And as my agent explained at the time, any other section of my policy — including liability coverage — would be equally valid, whether I was in my car, driving someone else’s car, or on my bike.

So the problem isn’t one of licensing or liability coverage. It’s just that some cyclists, like some drivers, are jerks. In fact, I’m convinced that people ride their bikes the same way they drive. If someone is a safe driver, he or she will undoubtedly be a safe cyclist, while those who drive like jerks will undoubtedly ride the same way. Just like drivers, they usually get away with it simply because there’s seldom anyone around to enforce the law.

And here in L.A., the cops usually have more important things to do than worry about whether a cyclist blew through a stop sign.

 

Will uses my new favorite word in an attempt to track down the indignorant Mr. Rowe, and sacrifices a chunk of flesh to a man-eating chainring. Next weekend’s Brentwood Gand Prix will reward competitors with a special prize for the Sex and the City crowdA lone cyclist takes to the freeway; as Richard Pryor would say, that _______’s crazy!  A town in Arkansas weighs becoming a LAB-approved bike friendly city. If only our own local cared that much; we’re still waiting for action on the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights.

 

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