Archive for October 16, 2008

Bike law change #6: Require that bike lanes be maintained in their original condition

This is the other side of the bike lane problem. So many times we’ve seen roadwork done on a bike lane — maybe they have to dig it up to fix some underground problem buried beneath the roadway, or it could be something to accommodate construction on the side of the road. Or maybe it’s just a city crew fixing a pothole or crack in the road.

Then once the work is done and the lane is patched, it’s usually in worse condition — often much worse — than it was before the work started. The crews seldom take the care necessary to smooth their patchwork and level the road surface, resulting in uneven ridges or dips in the roadway. It may not seem like a significant problem, and it’s one that most drivers wouldn’t even notice if they happened to roll over it. But for a bicyclist, those seemingly minor imperfections can make for a jarring, and potentially dangerous, ride.

The solution is simple. Just require that anytime roadwork is done on a designated bike path, bike lane or bike route, the road surface must be returned to it’s original — or better — condition. Just take a few extra minutes to smooth out the patches, and fill up the dips. Honestly, is that so hard?

 

Will responds to the letter writer who complained about all those damned high-speed bikes interfering with her ability to walk on the Chandler Bikeway. Yeah, what’s wrong with that picture? Streetsblog reports that Metro is reversing their policy and making room for bikes on their trains. Ciclovia comes to Miami and El Paso; I’d like to report that L.A. is sponsoring its first car-free event, but Hell hasn’t frozen over yet. A 73 year-old woman in upstate New York was killed when a truck entered the intersection and struck her bike; no tickets were issued. Why am I not surprised? And finally, Colorado Springs riders try off-road racing on their Barbie bikes.

Bike law change #5: Prohibit unnecessary blocking of bike lanes

Here’s one of my pet peeves: You’re riding in the bike lane along a busy street, when suddenly up ahead there’s a film crew with their trucks parked on the side of the road (this is L.A., after all). And even though none of the trucks extend into it, they put up safety cones to block the bike lane, forcing riders to take a lane — and risk their own safety — for no reason other than their own convenience.

Or maybe it’s a delivery truck double-parked in the bike lane. Or some utility workers — like the ones I encountered in Santa Monica this morning — that for some inexplicable reason needed to pile the dirt from the hole they were digging in the bike lane, rather than the parking space in front of their truck. But at least they put up a “Share the Road” sign before forcing me out into the traffic lane.

So stop it, already. Make it a clear violation of the law to block any bike lane or designated bike route unless absolutely necessary, and then only as long as necessary. Because those few feet of asphalt between the two painted lines exist for our safety, not their convenience.

 

Bike Girl gets stood up by her councilperson — perhaps he has a jealous spouse/significant other. Santa Clarita was awarded a grant to create new bike lanes and routes; nice to know someone around here is getting them. A writer in the Burbank Leader complains about speeding bicycles when she’s trying to walk in the bikeway, and about the riders’ “sense of ownership” regarding the bike lanes. She’s got a point; I have the same complaint about all those damn cars on the freeway.

Bike law change #4: Clarify the law allowing drivers to leave their lane to pass a bike

As a driver, I was taught to give riders plenty of clearance when passing, even if that meant briefly going into the other lane or crossing the yellow line. And I’ve always understood that the law not only allowed that, but actually encouraged it.

But I’ve noticed that while many L.A. drivers do just that, others are reluctant to pass a cyclist if it means even putting their left wheels on the divider line, let alone actually crossing it. Instead, they wait behind the rider, becoming angrier and more impatient with every passing moment. Or they zoom past at the first opportunity, whether or not there’s room — let alone if it’s actually safe.

So let’s clarify the law, so that every driver knows it’s okay to cross into the other lane or briefly cross the center line in order to pass a cyclist, as long as it can be done safely and there are no other vehicles in the way.

Bike law change #3: Ban the “I just didn’t see him” excuse

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that cyclists and drivers sometimes try to defy the laws of physics by occupying the same space at the same time. And when that happens, the driver usually blames the cyclist, or claims he just didn’t see the rider — and too often, gets away with it.

However, the law requires that drivers be alert and aware of the traffic conditions around them. Which means that they are required to see, and take notice of, any bicyclists that are visible on the road around them.

There are situations where riders can be hidden behind another vehicle, of course, or riding where they shouldn’t be, like in the driver’s blind spot or on the wrong side of the road. But in the vast majority of cases, there’s no reason why an alert driver shouldn’t be able to see any cyclist who might be sharing the road with them. And if you can see the driver, he or she should certainly be able to see you.

So let’s put the responsibility exactly where it belongs, and prohibit any use of the “I just didn’t see him” excuse, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that it wasn’t possible to see the rider under the existing conditions.

Bike law change #3: Ban the “I just didn’t see him” excuse

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that cyclists and drivers sometimes try to defy the laws of physics by occupying the same space at the same time. And when that happens, the driver usually blames the cyclist, or claims he just didn’t see the rider — and too often, gets away with it.

However, the law requires that drivers be alert and aware of the traffic conditions around them. Which means that they are required to see, and take notice of, any bicyclists that are visible on the road around them.

There are situations where riders can be hidden behind another vehicle, of course, or riding where they shouldn’t be, like in the driver’s blind spot or on the wrong side of the road. But in the vast majority of cases, there’s no reason why an alert driver shouldn’t be able to see any cyclist who might be sharing the road with them. And if you can see the driver, he or she should certainly be able to see you.

So let’s put the responsibility exactly where it belongs, and prohibit any use of the “I just didn’t see him” excuse, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that it wasn’t possible to see the rider under the existing conditions.

Bike law change #3: Ban the “I just didn’t see him” excuse

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that cyclists and drivers sometimes try to defy the laws of physics by occupying the same space at the same time. And when that happens, the driver usually blames the cyclist, or claims he just didn’t see the rider — and too often, gets away with it.

However, the law requires that drivers be alert and aware of the traffic conditions around them. Which means that they are required to see, and take notice of, any bicyclists that are visible on the road around them.

There are situations where riders can be hidden behind another vehicle, of course, or riding where they shouldn’t be, like in the driver’s blind spot or on the wrong side of the road. But in the vast majority of cases, there’s no reason why an alert driver shouldn’t be able to see any cyclist who might be sharing the road with them. And if you can see the driver, he or she should certainly be able to see you.

So let’s put the responsibility exactly where it belongs, and prohibit any use of the “I just didn’t see him” excuse, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that it wasn’t possible to see the rider under the existing conditions.

Bike law change #2: Prohibit turning into the path of an oncoming cyclist

One of the most dangerous situations any rider faces is when a driver passes on the left, then makes an immediate right turn. Or when a driver tries to make a left turn directly in front of an oncoming rider.

Most of the time they get away with it. And sometimes they don’t, resulting in a serious, often fatal, accident in which the rider smashes into the side of the turning vehicle.

The problem is that drivers often underestimate the speed of the bike, and think they’ve got time to complete the turn. Or they just drive too aggressively, and assume they have the skill to pull off an exceptionally risky move — or want to send a message by forcing the cyclist to panic stop in order to avoid them.

The only way to stop it, and protect the safety of cyclists, is to ban it entirely — and require that drivers wait until any oncoming rider passes before making their turn, whether right or left.

 

Bicycle Fixation observes we’re getting closer to genuine critical mass (lower case). The Utne Reader discovers conservative cyclists aren’t a myth after all, while conservative #1 plans to open the way for mountain bikes in the national parks. Now if he’d just restore their funding before he makes his ungraceful exit in January.

Bike law change #1: Require drivers to maintain a minimum passing distance of three feet

As it now stand, the law only requires that drivers pass a bicycle on the left, and maintain a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the bicycle.

But what does that mean in the real world? To some drivers, that means giving a cyclist as wide a berth as possible — for which we are eternally grateful.

Other drivers interpret that as any distance which allows them to pass a bike without actually hitting it. But they may not realize that getting caught in the slipstream of their vehicle can make us lose balance and possibly fall. Or that coming too close makes us instinctively swerve to the right, even if that means running off the roadway or into parked cars. And it’s always possible for a driver to misjudge the distance and actually sideswipe a rider.

So let’s take the guessing out it, and require a minimum of three feet distance when passing a bicycle. And make it clear that drivers are allowed to briefly cross lane or center dividers to pass safely.

Change the law. Change the world.

Note: Suggested law changes appear below; these posts will be moved to a separate page next week

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that most traffic laws weren’t written with bicyclists in mind.

The vast majority of traffic laws were designed to move cars from here to there, as safely and efficiently as possible. In theory, anyway.

Few, if any, were written by cyclists, or with the participation of anyone who has ever been on a bike beyond the age of 12. As a result, bike traffic has been nothing more than an afterthought shoehorned into the laws and traffic lanes — without regard to whether it actually made sense, in terms of safety or efficiency.

That may have worked in decades past when most cyclists never left their own neighborhoods, and spandex-clad riders were an anomaly on the roadway.

But things have changed. Today, more and more cyclists are sharing traffic-clogged roads, as high gas prices and environmental concerns drive commuters out of their cushy SUVs and onto the saddle. And countless other people are discovering the health benefits of cycling; others just plain enjoy riding.

Government has a significant stake in promoting this increase in bicycling. Rising obesity rates, along with related problems such as increases in diabetes rates and high blood pressure, demand that more emphasis be placed on the health and fitness of their citizens. At the same time, increasing traffic congestion — and perhaps the very survival of our planet — requires that something be done to reduce the amount of cars on the road.

As a result, our state and local governments have an obligation to reform traffic laws to encourage cycling and protect the safety of all bicyclists, whether they use their bikes for recreation or transportation.

Over the next few days, I’m going to take a look at some ways the existing laws regarding can, and should, be changed. Changes that could help us all get home safely, and make every ride a little more enjoyable.

Feel free to offer your own comments and suggestions, and maybe together we can do something to change the laws. And help get more people out of their cars, and on their bikes.

Note: After appearing here first, this series of posts will eventually migrate to a new Bike Law page, replacing the “Things I’ve learned on my bike” page.

 

No Whip lets other bloggers tell their story of the Furnace Creek 508 he recently finished. Tamerlane starts a new blog focusing exclusively cycling, and discovers what it’s like to have an extremely close call of his own, as does another rider on the Eastside. Long Beach is looking for volunteers to help count bikes in an effort to become more bicycle friendly. And finally, El Random Hero discusses an alternate form of alternative transportation.

Mama said there’d be days like this, too.

I’d planned on writing a follow-up to Tuesday’s post, in which I’d suggest changes to the current biking laws.

Maybe next time.

Because that’s what I was thinking about as I was riding today, when I suddenly realized I was missing a hell of a great ride. So I mentally hit command – option – escape (control – alt – delete for you ‘softies out there) and shut off that part of my brain for the remainder of the day.

It was one of those idyllic late summer days, when it might be unbearably hot inland, but absolutely ideal closer to the coast. Warm and dry, clear blue sky, little or no wind, and big, blue waves forming perfect curls crashing on the beach. The only flaw was a wall of haze – a local euphemism for smog, for the uninitiated – along the coast above Malibu; but since I wasn’t going that way, the only thing it marred the view north across the bay.

Better yet, this was the week it finally all came together for me – that magical moment when cycling becomes almost effortless, and you can just ride, without having to think about it or work at it. Usually I reach that point by mid-July; this year, as I struggled to come back from the infamous bee encounter, I was starting to think I wasn’t going to get there at all.

Then as I was riding on Monday, I suddenly found myself just…riding. For once, I wasn’t trying to get in shape or thinking about what I was doing. I carved effortless curves through the corners, and zoomed along a couple of gears higher, and a couple miles an hour faster, than I had just the week before.

And just enjoyed the ride.

I enjoyed that same effortless feeling today as I rode, enough that I was able to hold my tongue when I found myself passing the helmet-less, mountain bike-riding jerk I’d encountered a few moments earlier. The one I’d just seen blow through a red light, forcing the oncoming traffic to brake to avoid him, then speeding up to cut off a car on a narrow corner a few seconds later — again, forcing the driver to brake hard to avoid him.

Normally, I might have said something. And maybe I should have. But it just didn’t seem worth marring such a lovely day.

Same with the county beach employee who was driving his pick-up with two wheels in the bike lane, as he prepared for a turn a few hundred yards further down the road. I ended up right next to his open window at the next light, and almost said something.

But for a change, I just didn’t feel like it.

Instead, I contentedly followed the young guy riding with his jeans rolled up, who insisted on jumping ahead of me when the light changed — and surprisingly, was able to ride just fast enough to keep ahead of me. I finally passed him on the marina section of the bike path, after I kicked it up to my big gear, raising my speed another 4 or 5 mph. Yet when I got to the fork between the Ballona and Braude bike paths, he was still there, just a few yards behind me.

I really had to admire him, because I was really hauling through there. And I was actually dressed for the part.

The rest of my ride was just as pleasant, if uneventful, until I found myself speeding downhill about a mile from home. Suddenly, the car ahead of me stopped without warning to let a pedestrian cross, forcing me to swerve right at over 25 mph to get around him. Then as I did, the driver waiting at the cross street took that as his opportunity to cross, and pull out directly into my path. So I gently squeezed the brakes and swerved right again to go around him, then immediately swerved left to come back into the traffic lane, carving a perfect C behind him.

Only problem was, there was a car illegally parked in the red zone on the other side of the intersection, directly in my path. So I squeezed the brakes again, tapped the rear derailleur to drop down a couple gears, swerved hard to the left, then back right to straighten, and cruised back uphill and home as if nothing had happened.

It went something like this: swerve, squeeze, swerve, swerve, squeeze, tap, swerve, swerve. And just about that fast.

Like I said, it all came together this week — and not a moment too soon.

Then I went home and had a massive iced coffee, into which I may have inadvertently spilled a wee dram of Irish Whiskey.

Of course, we won’t mention the school bus driver who decided to pass me on a curve, and nearly forced me to rear-end a parked car. Because something like that would be upsetting, and risk marring the lovely mood left by this idyllic day.

And we can’t have that, now can we?

 

Alex tells the story of S.M.P.D.’s hassling of Critical Mass riders, and offer’s his heartfelt opinion at the end. (Welcome back, dude – we’ve missed you.) Bike completes her car-free challenge, and offers tips for the rest of us. No Whip finishes the hardest thing he’s ever done – a 500+ mile challenge through the high desert; if I wore a hat, it would be off to you, Matt. A writer for the Times shares our rants about the lack of bike lanes in this town. And finally, the S.F. Bike Examiner lusts after a very light — and very expensive — new bike.

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