Archive for June 10, 2009

A whale of a ride

June Gloom makes me sick.

I mean that literally.

For reasons I’ve never really understood, the heavy, oppressive cloud cover that lingers over the coast this time of year causes major problems with my sinuses.

So I spend most of the month popping enough aspirin and decongestant fuel a minor meth lab. As well as struggling to cope with blurred vision that makes it difficult, if not impossible at times, to focus enough to read or work on a computer.

So if I haven’t been posting as much as usual, that’s probably the reason. Or at least a damn good excuse, anyway.

That’s also the reason why I can’t tell you whether the older SUV that nearly hit me after running a red light today was a Bronco or a Blazer. Though I could see well enough to observe that the woman driving couldn’t have cared less.

For some reason, though, riding usually makes me feel better. Besides, there was something unusual down in Marina del Rey that I really wanted to see.

Santa-Monica-450

Looking back from the Marina towards Venice and Santa Monica.

One good thing about the gloomy weather is that the beachfront bike path is virtually empty on days like this. As a result, this turned out to be one of the most pleasant rides I’ve had in ages, despite my aching head. And the fact that the clouds finally parted by mid-afternoon didn’t hurt matters, either.

Once I got to the Marina, I started walking, since bike riding is forbidden along the north side of inlet. With no idea where to go, I just followed everyone else, scanning the water as I went.

Nothing.

Pelicans-450Well, not exactly nothing. The views were beautiful, and while not exactly sunny, the weather was pleasant enough.

I was making plans to come back another time, when the reaction of the people around me made it clear that maybe I hadn’t missed out, after all. And sure enough, within a few minutes, the water rippled and a young gray whale just barely broke the surface before dipping back underneath.

Unfortunately, he seemed to be shy today.

That ripple in the water is actually a few inches of a 20-foot whale. No, really.

That ripple is actually the top few inches of a 20-foot whale. No, really.

While I was there, he never did more than emit a brief water spout or raise a few feet of barnacled back out of the water. Between his brief appearances and the slow shutter speed of my camera, I wasn’t able to get a decent shot.

But considering that I’ve never seen a free-range whale — let alone one this close to shore — that was enough.

And who knows. If I can make it back again before he packs his bags for Alaska, maybe he won’t be so camera shy next time.

Update: Courtesy of LAist, video of the shy gray whale.

 

Pedicabs may be making a comeback in L.A., if they can get around the ridiculous restrictions. Will samples REI’s new Bike Your Drive iPhone app, and documents a new bicycle land speed record. Brayj shares his response to the new Bike Master Plan. Flying Pigeon discovers imitation really is flattery. The Militant Angeleno notes that Metro could do a better job of indicating bike space on the subway. Rather than banning bikes, New York just resurfaces a popular biking route, making it impossible to ride. Texas’ new safe passing law is just waiting for the Governor’s signature. Two Tulsa cyclists are killed by an apparent drunk hit-and-run driver. A New York cyclist is dragged through Central Park on the hood of an SUV driven by a reporter for the New York Post — and you can guess what that Fox News outlet thinks about bikes. Finally, Marie Claire offers tips for picking up hot bike riders.

A couple of milestones

180. And 365.

The first represents the weight, in pounds, that I could comfortably lift using my legs on September 11, 2007. But that was before I ran into a swarm of bees as I was riding my bike along the beach the next day.

That led to a couple nights in intensive care, followed by another three and a half months of forced inactivity. And that led to a loss of strength — particularly leg strength — and an unshakable goal to get back to where I was before the accident.

One year, eight months and 26 days later, I finally made it. Not that I’m counting or anything.

Last night at the gym, I lifted 180 pounds for the first time since my accident. And not once, but three full sets of 10 reps — and I felt like I cold have done more.

Which means I have just one goal left to accomplish in order to get back where I was before. I used to be able to climb any hill, anywhere. Then turn around and do it again. And again. Now that I’ve built the strength back up, I want get back the hill climbing ability I used to have.

Hopefully, it won’t take another 20 months to get there.

The other number marks the first anniversary since my mother-in-law — my wife’s stepmother — passed away, one week short of her 96th birthday.

It was a hard loss to take. She was the last surviving member of my wife’s immediate family, and had accepted me into her family from the day we’d met. And I don’t think either of us could miss her anymore.

It seems like it should be a sad day. But there was a year full of sad days before this one, and having lost both of my own parents, as well as my father-in-law, I know the first year is usually the hardest.

Although I’ve always been rather fond of this quote from Oscar Wilde:

To lose one parent… may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

It’s not that you ever stop missing them. But after awhile, it just doesn’t seem to hurt as much. And it keeps getting a little easier with time, even if that ache never completely goes away.

We also take comfort in knowing she had a very long, healthy and happy life. It was, simply, her time.

It seems strange to me, though, that these two milestones occurred on the very same day. Maybe it’s just coincidence.

But to me, it’s life’s way of saying it’s time to move on.

And today’s another day.

 

With a nod to Arthur C. Clarke, Streetsblog questions whether L.A. sharrows are just science fiction, while Portland explores buffered bike lanes. Also from Streetsblog, more proof there’s safety in numbers, and a suggestion that following the rules of the road isn’t just for drivers. New Orleans is working on an interactive bike map that will include road conditions, as well as recommended routes. Vancouver cyclists get directional signs, just like real drivers. Two Calgary riders end up in the hospital after colliding on a local bike path. A 10-year old Colorado cyclist impales himself on his brake lever, which the local reporter evidently can’t tell from a handlebar. Also in Colorado, a woman who killed two cyclists while driving under the influence of morphine and barbiturates — and without her glasses, no less — gets sentenced to three years. REI offers a free iPhone app that lets cyclists track, view and share their routes. Brits can ensure their bikes against loss and liability, instead of hoping you’re covered by homeowners, renters or car insurance like we do here. Finally, an Oregon cyclist questions his own self-righteousness.

Submitted without comment — they drive among us

A bit of web surfing the other day brought me to this.

Nothing too exciting. Just a nice little letter to the editor thanking a New Jersey Congressman for co-sponsoring The Complete Streets Act of 2009.

No, the interesting part came in the comments. Particularly three people who felt the need to share the biking wisdom they had evidently acquired through countless miles behind the wheel.

After all, who knows bike safety better than a driver?

I was going to offer my own comments. But really, what I could say that could possibly compare to this wisdom:

AviationMetal wrote:

I have some Safety Tips to share with the bicyclists:

1) You should have a bell on your bike to warn pedestrians. Shouting ‘on your left!’ is what the racers do when they leave the bell off to save weight.

2) Buy a rear view mirror for your bike. They have new mirrors now that mount to the handlebars with a Velcro strap, so you don’t need to carry a wrench to keep it adjusted. When you see a car in your mirror, move as far right as possible.

3) Wear a reflective vest

4) Buy lights for your bike. Even in daytime, lights add visibility, especially if you are riding in tree shade or if the sky is overcast. Blinking lights are better for daytime use, steady light at night.

5) Buy a basket for your handlebars. Even if you don’t carry anything, a basket will absorb impact if you crash. And you shouldn’t carry a bag in one hand while riding a bike.

6) Stop and look both ways before crossing any street, even if there is no stop sign.

7) Stop and wait for cars and trucks to go by before pulling out at any intersection or driveway.

8 ) Do NOT exceed 25MPH. If you go faster than 25MPH, you are racing your bike, and if you still have the owners manual that came with your bike, the warranty says ‘warranty void if the bike is raced’.

9) Wear Gloves. Cycling gloves are fingerless gloves to protect your palms if you fall off your bike. If you fall, you can break your fall by putting your palms down on the pavement.

10) Wear a helmet. I don’t put wearing a helmet #1 on the list, because it’s your last ditch protection after you fall from the bike. These other tips I gave prevent an accident, so you might not have to use your helmet.

11) Make sure the bike is the right size for the rider, and handlebars and seat are adjusted properly.

12) Make sure the bike has working brakes.

wooffie wrote:

Those were pretty good bike safety tips, and cost the taxpayers $0!

A couple more that are very important:

13. Ride WITH traffic, not against it. Pedestrians should walk against traffic, bikes NEVER. Riding against traffic is KID STUFF, grow up and pedal right!

14. NEVER PASS A CAR ON ITS RIGHT SIDE–THAT’S ITS BLIND SIDE–you’ll lose that one.

15. Drive like you would drive your car, only farther to the right. Anything else makes drivers nervous, and that could spell trouble for you. Keep everything calm.

16. Don’t be a wiseguy and go zipping past cars on the right at intersections and go through red lights. Obey traffic laws like the rest of us, and we will be much much less likely to hit you! We need you to be predictable, so we can stay the heck away from you – you’d like that, right?

17. Cars rule the road. Just keep that in mind and don’t cop an attitude, and everybody will stay cool and safe.

18. This is the best bike safety site I’ve ever seen http://bicyclesafe.com/

ugoddabekidding wrote:

Great safety tips. Here’s a couple more:

19) Men, don’t wear those stupid looking tight fitting biker outfits. They distract me from driving as I LMAO. Women, feel free to keep wearing them. It’s still distracting, but in a nice way.

20) Wearing a pointed aerodynamic helmet with attached rear view mirror is equivalent to wearing a pocket protector.

21) If there is a shoulder, ride as far to the right as you possibly can. If you like to ride with your wheels on the white line, do so at your own risk. I could never understand why bikers ride so close to traffic when there is a wide shoulder available.

22) If you like to ride two and three bikes abreast, the wise biker will always be as far away from traffic as possible while letting his friends take the risk of getting a vehicle enema. It is the responsibility of car and bike drivers to be safe, but the risk rests mostly on the bicyclist.

 

LACBC founder Joe Linton offers a reasoned critique of the new Bike Master Plan, and Curbed LA notes the anger among bike bloggers; meanwhile, Zach at LAist points out that here in L.A., paint on the street doesn’t seem to be a priority. Mikey Walley joins the chorus of cyclists decrying Santa Monica’s bronze award from the LAB; Metblogs picks up the story. In the wake of the crash that almost cost Denis Menchov the Giro, VeloNews explains who decides what’s safe. Reuters covers those fashionable New York cyclists. A workshop by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition helps cyclists trim risk. And finally, a Miltipas police officer employs his vast experience with accidents he’s observed — and yes, heard about — to note that the majority of accidents are the bicyclist’s fault. Yeah, no bias there.

At the BAC, good things come to those who wait

Eighty percent of success is just showing up.

— Woody Allen

Sometimes, it seems like the other 20% involves just sticking around long enough. At least, that’s how it seemed last night, at the meeting of the city’s Bike Advisory Committee.

Other than the council members themselves, there was only a small turnout — most of whom were there to discuss the many failings of the Bicycle Master Plan. And most of whom left — some in anger and frustration — once the committee turned to more mundane matters.

It wasn’t like I didn’t have anything to say on that subject. But after hearing all the other comments on the subject — and the DOT’s representative swearing she didn’t know anything about it — I didn’t think they really needed my two cents.

Besides, considering the state of the economy these days, that may be my retirement fund.

I was actually more interested in one of the last items on the agenda — a motion from the council that had been submitted in the aftermath of the recent Hummer incident, and eventually signed by six of the 18 council members:

Numerous incidents have been reported relative to bicycle and vehicle collisions and aggressive motorists (sic) attitudes to law-abiding people riding bicycles. Complaints have also been raised regarding the treatment of bicyclists by the Los Angeles Police Department. It is critical that the City respond to these situations and respond appropriately.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the City Council direct the Los Angeles Police Department to report on recent bicycle incidents and conflicts between bicyclists and motorists, as well as efforts to increase police officer training related to bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

It was the last part in particular that interested me. Especially since LAPD had already found itself blameless in the Hummer incident.

When the time came, I spoke in support of the resolution, pointing out that it wasn’t just a problem here in L.A. Cyclists nationwide have complained about police officers who are unfamiliar with the laws regarding bicycling and the rights of cyclists, as well as institutional bias against cyclists — or in favor of motorists, depending on your perspective.

Then I pointed out that Massachusetts recently became the first state to require that police officers receive specialized training in bike law, as part of their new Bike Safety Law. And asked why that curriculum couldn’t be adapted for use in training officers at our own police academy.

Evidently, the committee members agreed. They voted unanimously to endorse the resolution, and to put the MassBike program on the agenda for the next committee meeting in July.

Afterwards, I emailed a link to the MassBike site to 4th Council District representative Larry Hoffman, who forwarded it to the rest of the BAC, as well as the mayor.

So, a small victory. But a victory none the less.

And one worth sticking around for.

 

If you’re missing a bike on the Westside, the police may have found it in a Venice Garage. Alex Thompson joins the chorus condemning Santa Monica’s bronze award from the League of American Bicyclists. Matt joins in on the other chorus, complaining about the failure of the new Bike Master Plan. Stephen Box questions why LADOT’s redundant bike map business stimulates the economies of Portland and Seattle, while Timur examines the maps that currently exist — and there are more than you might think (good to see you back!). Bike Girl wonders where you keep your bike(s). A writer for the Times rides the L.A. River bike path, evidently holding his nose the whole way. Even Iowa cyclists get sharrows; maybe LADOT can ask them what kind of paint they use so we can get some here. Bicycling’s biking lawyer examines whether cycling is a privilege or a right. And finally, just wait until Rush Limbaugh hears about this — Bike Portland outs the new SCOTUS nominee as a closet cyclist.

The L.A. Bicycle Master Plan — Imagine a great city. Or not.

Recently, I was going through my files, and stumbled across the this:

Thomas-Guide-Cover

When I moved back to Los Angeles — the city of my birth — a few decades back, my mother sent me the old 1951 Thomas Guide they’d used when they lived here. Why she kept it, I have no idea. Nor do I really know why I never bothered to look at it until a few weeks ago.

Inside, I found a few hand-written notes marking places our family had lived before I was born, as well as the usual lines and markings people make on maps, indicating routes they had taken and places they’d been.

I spent hours combing through every page, as if it was a personal message from beyond the grave, connecting me to a personal history I’d been too young to remember.

It also connected me to this city’s past. And as I looked through it, what struck me most was something that had long-since disappeared from L.A.’s streets — the many routes of a rail and streetcar system that had once connected virtually every inch of the metro area, as well as extending out to Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino Counties.

The legendary Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway, and the Yellow Cars of the Los Angeles Railway.

Thomas-Guide-2

It was, at one time, one of the finest interconnected mass transit systems in the world. Yet this particular map was notable for capturing a period that marked the rise of the freeway and the rapid decline of the Red Cars.

Thomas-Guide-3

Within another 10 years, the final passenger line was discontinued, and the Pacific Electric Railway would cease to exist — perhaps the biggest mistake Los Angeles has ever made, as we now spend billions of dollars to recreate a pale imitation of this once vibrant system.

Now the city is on the verge of another mistake rivaling the dismantling of the Red Cars.

At a time when L.A.’s bicycling community is growing stronger than ever before, and cyclists are demanding a greater voice in the political process, the city has tried to sneak out the much delayed Bike Master Plan by releasing it to neighborhood councils rather than letting cyclists see it — even those who have been deeply involved in the process.

Of course, cyclists soon got wind of the plan, since some serve on their neighborhood councils. And the overwhelming response was that the city had failed once again.

Instead of the bold plan that had initially been expected from the famed Alta Planning + Design, we got an underwhelming, water-down map completely lacking in vision.

No bold thinking. No bike boulevards — let alone bike boxes or even sharrows. No commitment to complete, livable streets that serve all users, rather than just moving vehicles in and out with ever decreasing efficiency. And most of the suggested new bike lanes, at least here on the Westside, came under the heading of “Proposed but Currently Unfeasible.”

It’s been suggested by members of the LADOT that Los Angeles is built out, and there’s no more room to accommodate bikes. But if New York — one of the most crowded and built out cities in the world — can dramatically increase their network of bike lanes, Los Angeles certainly can.

So instead of capitalizing on the momentum provided by the bike community and a rare opportunity to rethink, not just the nature of L.A. transportation, but the very nature of Los Angeles as a more livable city, we get yet another failure of leadership.

A failure that begins at the top, and works its way down through the bloated bureaucracy that actually runs L.A.

 

Liz points out the need for yet another ghost bike, as a cyclist is killed by a DWP truck in the Valley. While Los Angeles can’t figure out how to build, let alone pay for, biking infrastructure, Glendale proposes building a bike corridor using federal stimulus money. Bicycling Magazine reports on how L.A.’s DIY cyclists take the creation of infrastructure into their own hands — something likely to become more common, given the failure of the Bike Master Plan. Stephen Box joins the chorus commenting on LAB’s tarnished bronzes. JHaygood decides to take his kids to school in a Chariot. Flying Pigeon sponsors back-to-back dim sum rides. UBrayj casts a vote for the League of Bicycling Voters. And in Texas, the Safe Passing Bill is on the way to the governor’s desk.

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