Archive for October 19, 2009

They drive among us: What are these people thinking?

Last week, I was riding along Ocean Blvd through Santa Monica, on my way home from a long ride to the South Bay, through that section just above the pier lined with upscale restaurants and boutique hotels.

Shortly ahead, an SUV signaled for a right and turned across the bike lane into a parking lot entrance. Granted, state law says drivers should enter the bike lane before making their turn, rather than cut across the lane, in order to prevent right-hook collisions. Then again, it’s only been on the books for 32 years, so I could understand his confusion.

The truck was far enough ahead that it didn’t pose an issue for me, though.

Until he changed his mind, that is.

First he backed up a little, then pulled to the curb as if he was going to park there. Then without warning, he changed his mind again, and started moving back across the bike lane to re-enter traffic.

Problem was, by then I was right next to him.

So I yelled out a loud warning, and reached out to slap the side of his car. He braked to a stop about three-quarters of the way into the bike lane — a few more inches and he would have pushed me out directly into the path of an oncoming car. I managed to slip past and rode on, taking a few blocks to calm myself down and let my heart rate return to a more sustainable level.

I didn’t bother to look back.

Experience tells me there’s a slight chance I would have gotten a gesture of apology. More likely, I would have gotten the same sort of response I’ve gotten countless times before. The same response Josef got last week when a careless — or maybe uncaring — driver nearly ran him over.

I’ve found that it doesn’t matter if I’m in a designated bike lane, riding exactly where and how I’m supposed to. Or how dangerous or careless a driver — or sometimes, a pedestrian or another cyclist — happens to be.

Eight times out of 10, I’ll get the finger, the horn, the hurled insult. The ninth, I’ll get an invitation to fight, or at least, an aggressive vehicular acceleration punctuated by a sharp turn across my path — especially if I commit the unforgivable crime of touching their precious vehicle in a self-serving attempt to get their attention and avoid getting killed.

So frankly, looking back just wasn’t worth the added aggravation.

Take Josef’s experience for example.

First the driver zoomed around him after he’d taken the lane — even though he was riding at the posted speed of traffic — then cut back in front of him and slammed on her brakes when the light changed. A bit later, he was riding right next to her when she changed lanes despite his shouted warning, hitting the box he was carrying in his bakfiets.

And while his response wasn’t exactly designed to win friends and influence people, as someone who’d just been hit by a car and knocked off his bike, he deserved better than the finger and “F*** you!” he got in response.

Then there was this exchange, in which the generally genial and self-composed Bike Girl was brought to tears by a driver who informed her that the life of another human being wasn’t worth an extra one-second delay — all that it would have taken to wait until Bike Girl had passed to change lanes safely. And this for the crime of riding in the lane, on one of the frequent occasions when that clearly fits the definition of “as far right as practicable.”

Another vigilante driver who was willing to try, and convict, a cyclist for an imagined violation of the law — then carry out the sentence herself, even if that results in the death penalty.

Remind you of anyone?

Before he changed his story and claimed it was all just an accident, the Good Doctor allegedly told police he slammed on his brakes in front of two cyclists “to teach them a lesson.”

Today, in the trial of Dr. Christopher Thompson, Ron Peterson was shown a photo of hole in the broken rear windshield of the Good Doctor’s Lexus.

And said “My face did that.”

Nice lesson, doc.

……….

Thanks to the times for covering the opening arguments in the Mandeville Brake Check trial. Will Campbell visits the Berlin Wall on today’s ride to work. Travelin’ Local takes a look at Bike Stations. Someone is deliberately trying to injure New Mexico cyclists booby trapped bike trails in Albuquerque. Remembering possibly the greatest cyclist of all time, who ruled the two-wheeled world a century before Lance. New turn signal and automatic brake light for bikes. More cyclists on the roads mean more injuries. A bike-friendly New Amsterdam may someday rival the old one as a tourist destination. Slate takes a look at vehicular and facilitator cycling. Honda thinks the best way to teach cycling is on a simulator. Drugs and doping take the life of a former cycling hero. In more news from New Zealand, police seek the hit-and-run killer of a popular doctor, while friends ride in his honor and an elderly repeat offending drunk driver gets her license back just a month after she murdered a cyclist. Finally, next time Beyonce is in town, I’m going out riding; you never know who you’ll meet out there.

The Department of DIY takes on the bike plan

Maybe the problem isn’t the bike plan. Maybe it’s trying to create a single plan that encompasses the entire city of Los Angeles.

Recently, I came across a Chicago Tribune story about a study by the League of Illinois Bicyclists. In it, they looked at 46 roads in the Chicago area that had recently been reconstructed, to evaluate them for pedestrian and bicycle travel.

What they found was the projects that rated highest were the ones that had been planned on the local level; the projects that rated lowest were managed by the state Department of Transportation. The clear conclusion was that people on the local level had a better understanding of the needs of local users than those at the state level, where the focus tended to be strictly on vehicular traffic.

Sound familiar?

Shortly after reading that, I came across this article written for Streetsblog by Siel of Green LA Girl, which seemed to dovetail neatly with the Tribune story.

In it, she suggests that cyclists could consider the bike plan on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, rather than trying to tackle the entire 212 page document at once:

Byrne’s suggestion got me thinking: Would it be possible to get multiple bike plans going in various L.A. neighborhoods — with shorter drafts of the plans that cyclists in that area could get through more easily? Might that get cyclists more engaged and active in the areas that they live or work in?

It makes perfect sense.

I know Westwood, Century City and surrounding areas like the back of my hand. I can tell you what street would make a great bike boulevard, and where a minor change in signage would make a big improvement in ridability.

But I don’t know a damn thing about riding through Hollywood, the Eastside or the Valley.

So maybe the solution is to follow Siel’s suggestion. Let’s take the proposed bike plan apart, and look at it one neighborhood at a time, by the people who live and work along and ride on those streets. And then make our own map, using the proposed plan as a starting point — because there are some good ideas in there, watered-down and obscured though they may be.

Then we can put it back together, adding one neighborhood to the next, until we’ve built our own plan for the city from the streets up, rather than LADOT down.

And it starts this Saturday.

The LA Bike Working Group is inviting cyclists to meet at the Hollywood Adventist Church, 1711 N. Van Ness Ave., in Hollywood, starting at 2p — note the new time and location, which has changed from the ones shown in the link.

It’s your opportunity to break into groups and tackle a specific section of the plan, page by page, by cyclists for cyclists. And try to come up with something that will work for riders, rather than pushing us aside in favor of moving more motor vehicles.

I’ll let Matt from No Whip take it from here, since he’s written a better call to arms than I ever could:

Come to the LA Bike Working Group meeting this Saturday at (2pm at the Hollywood Adventist Church) as we work to improve the plan. 1000 come to a social ride, but we’re lucky to get 10 to a meeting. You can do both and you can influence how policy is written in our city. More info here and facebook is here.

Write a comment about the 2009 Bike Plan here: Los Angeles 2009 Bicycle Plan. Yes, they do read and note them. Imagine if we generated 10,000 responses demanding more bicycle infrastructure and actual implementation! You should review it and form your own opinions, but the most popular arguments are: lack of vision, no real plan for implementation and cyclists’ concerns are secondary. If you only read one article, read L.A.’s Draft Bikeway Plan: Non-Committal, Sloppy and Perhaps Illegal by Joe Linton.

Get involved with a campaign. There’s C.I.C.L.E, the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, and even Midnight Ridazz has some advocacy plans. And don’t forget that the Department of DIY always has open positions (DIY bike lanes, DIY park).

Read. Seriously. We need substance beyond rhetoric and need to be educated on the case for bicycles.

Speak with cyclists, friends, activists. These ideas and events need to be given life. No one is going to do it for us. Tell others about what is going on.

Donate money. My least favorite of the actions. We need money for all that we do, but we’d prefer you and your energy. Donating money creates the mentality that others will do it for you, but those most invested in this have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own money because of their passion. Buy an activist a burrito!

Learn more and offer comments at labikeplan.com.

………

Riverside decides to let local cyclists develop their bike plan; what a novel concept. The latest assault by young Hollywood on the people of L.A.: a TV star is accused of a drunken collision with a 17 year old cyclist. L.A. drivers are enough to make a grown woman cry. The hit-and-run plague hits our neighbor to the south. A truck driver in San Mateo had no idea he ran over and killed a cyclist. My friends at West Seattle Blog ask why put a bike lane on a crappy bumpy road? A Columbus, OH rider asks why don’t cyclists follow the law? A Chicago bike lawyer offers tips on what to do after a cycling accident. Portland cyclists reach an agreement with local police for fairer enforcement. Finally, the ultimate Halloween decoration — a man commits suicide on his balcony in the Marina, then lies in plan sight for four days because the neighbors assume he’s a Halloween display.

Evil on trial: testimony in the Mandeville Canyon begins Friday

The judge is assigned, the jury empanelled.

If you’re looking at this one Friday morning, opening arguments may be taking place as you read this, Judge Scott Millington presiding — previously notable for handling the drug case of Redmond O’Neil, son of Farrah and Ryan, as well as serving as a prosecutor for over a decade.

According to L.A. cyclist/attorney DJwheels, it’s shaping up as a very interesting trial.

As you may be aware, Dr. Christopher Thompson is on trial for last year’s infamous 4th of July incident in Mandeville Canyon, accused of intentionally cutting in front of two cyclists, then slamming on his brakes directly in front of them, resulting in serious injuries to both.

He faces a long list of charges, including one felony count of reckless driving causing injury, two felony counts of battery with serious injury, two counts of causing great bodily injury while attempting to commit a felony, and one count of mayhem; he’s also charged with one count of misdemeanor reckless driving causing an injury for a separate incident in which he is accused of forcing another cyclist off the road the previous March.

The seriousness of the charges is reflected in the size of the good doctor’s entourage. According to DJwheels, the defense rat pack includes, in addition to his attorney, the attorney’s legal partner, two associates, a jury consultant and two very large body guards, as well as other assorted assistants and helpers.

Appropriate, because the Good Doctor reportedly admitted his guilt when initially questioned by the police. And a conviction on felony charges would undoubtedly mean the loss of his medical license, as well as significant jail time.

Which made jury selection unusually important.

DJwheels reports that, not surprisingly, cyclists were automatically excluded by the defense, with the exception of a former BMX racer. Evidently, he was acceptable because he said that bikes belong in designated places like bike paths and sidewalks — not, apparently, on narrow canyon roads through residential neighborhoods.

On the other hand, the prosecution asked most of the potential panelists about their attitudes about physicians. Like whether the stress of their job excused their actions, and whether they had a right to get away with things as a result.

And the judge dismissed one woman himself, after she said she wouldn’t be able to remain impartial since she has friends who’ve been hit by cars while riding.

The panel they ended up with reflects the diversity of the city — mostly women, with white, African American, Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern members, as well as one who may be Indian or Pakistani, according to Wheels, with an average age somewhere in the mid-30s.

He added that the one thing they all seemed to have in common was a recognition that there are bad drivers and bad cyclists. And that fault could lie with either party, depending on the facts.

Which is, I suppose, all we can ask of any jury.

Although personally, I’d feel better if they all showed up in spandex, cycling shoes and Livestrong wristbands for opening statements.

For me, though, the most interesting part was a ruling the judge made on Wednesday to excluded friends of the Good Doctor and other Mandeville Canyon residents as potential witnesses.

That suggests a defense strategy based on blaming the victims, or at least, blaming the actions of cyclists as a group for creating an atmosphere in which the Good Doctor’s actions were understandable, if not justified. Combined with earlier reports that he now claims it was an accident — despite his initial statements to the police — that suggests that he may say he was merely trying to stop so he could confront the cyclists or collect evidence of their actions for the police.

And that could negate the intent to cause harm that would be required to convict on the most serious charges.

DJwheels say the exclusion of the other witnesses may also mean that testimony the Good Doctor could have to testify himself — a move most attorney’s are reluctant to allow because it exposes their client to cross-examination.

And that’s one day of testimony I’d pay to see.

Opening statements are scheduled for Friday morning, between 9 and 11, at Department C of the Airport Courthouse, South La Cienega Blvd just below Imperial Highway; no afternoon session is scheduled due to a previous juror obligation. The trial is expected to last through the end of the month.

………

The Department of DIY creates a new bike lane on the UCLA campus. Evidently, L.A. cycling infrastructure wasn’t much better at the turn of the 20th Century. No Whip provides a great update on the new L.A. bike plan, and what you can do to get involved. Gary joins in support for Saturday’s L.A. Bike Working Group’s look at the bike plan, noting the new time and location. Dr. Alex dodges a massive flying disc while riding (no, not the possible hoax in my home town). CNN asks if ebikes will be the new “commuter cool.” Courtesy of our New Zealand correspondent, TheTricksterNZ, a report of a fatal hit-and-run in Auckland; clearly, it’s not just an American phenomenon. More evidence of a blame the victim mentality north of the border, including testing the victim for drugs or alcohol — but not the driver who killed him. A look back at the Higginson twins, cycling champs from the 1950s. A report from India notes the rise in cycling injuries in the U.S. A cyclist is injured in an apparent hit-and-run in Holywood — no, the other one with just one L. Finally, good news for lovers of massive burritos — East L.A.’s El Tepeyac isn’t going anywhere.

Evil on trial: the Mandeville Canyon case comes to court

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

— Macbeth, Act 4, scene 1

Just in time for Halloween, the Good Doctor returns to frighten cyclists once again.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the long-delayed trial in the infamous Mandeville Canyon Brake Check — one of a number of bike-related cases currently working their way through the legal system — in which a respected ER physician verified the stopping power of his Infinity by slamming on his brakes directly in front of two cyclists.

The incident left both riders seriously injured — one with a separated shoulder, which eventually led to surgery, metal implants and arthritis; the other, who ended up embedded in the driver’s rear windshield, with a broken nose and front teeth, his nose nearly peeled off his face.

And even after identifying himself as a physician, Dr. Christopher Thompson refused to treat either victim.

Amazingly enough, he admitted the act was deliberate. According to the LA Times, Thompson told police he did it to “teach them a lesson,” complaining that he was tired of the cyclists who frequently ride through the canyon.

Later he reversed course and pleaded not guilty, claiming it was just an accident. Though how it’s possible to buzz two experienced riders, exchange insults, cut in directly in front of them and accidently slam on your brakes is beyond me.

Then again, this wasn’t the first time it happened. The Good Doctor also faces charges for another incident four months earlier, in which he is accused of stopping in front of two other riders, forcing one off the road and the other into oncoming traffic, then attempting to hit them again before speeding off.

These are the actions of a monster. A psychopath with no regard for human life.

And yet, by all accounts, Dr. Thompson was an excellent physician — a man who dedicated his life to saving accident victims just like the ones he is accused of causing.

And that’s what is so frightening.

It would be easy to argue that the pressures of a high stress job, combined with what he considered rude, if not illegal, behavior from the cyclists pushed an otherwise good man over the edge. Yet the fact that he did it at least once before suggests someone who felt justified in his actions — that he felt he had the right to use a motor vehicle to violently enforce his mistaken interpretation of the law.

And he’s not alone.

Consider this comment by James Sullivan on the Times website:

My sympathies are with the doctor. Far too often I see pretentious idiots wearing tights who think they are Lance Armstrong riding bicycles recklessly. This incident is an excellent example. How fast does a bicyclist have to be moving to generate enough force to ram their head through the rear windshield of a car.? The fact of the matter is that these bicyclists were riding way too fast and were a hazard to everybody on that road. By their own admission when the doctor told them to ride single-file (AS REQUIRED BY LAW) they hurled profanities at him and made threats. I’ll bet they were chasing the car and thought they could catch him at the bottom of the hill.

Or this one from Alex:

His only misdeeds were to admit he was tired of these stupid road hazards and stop to give assistance to these jerks who deserve their pain.

Lets do the right thing here, let Doc go, charge the bike twits and ban non-powered vehicles from public roads/sidewalks/spaces.

And BTW bike jerks next time you get on someone’s butt remember what happened to these guys, and wonder if you are next. I hope you do it to me.

You see Officer, a chipmunk ran out in front of me so I attempted to stop.. and that why Lance is stuck to my trailer hitch.

If the Good Doctor had used a gun instead of a car, would these people still feel he was justified? Or he could have used a bat, like the men who recently beat and robbed an 18-year old cyclist in the Mid-Wilshire area, leaving her with massive facial fractures, and four suspects under arrest.

So the challenge will be to find 12 honest men and women who don’t reflect the attitudes demonstrated above, and don’t think that the crime of riding a bike in a place and manner you don’t approve of justifies a violent attack with a 2,000 pound lethal weapon.

According to L.A. cyclist and attorney DJwheels — whose own girlfriend was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver — yesterday’s court session was dedicated to assigning a new judge to the case, and the hearing of motions.

Today, they’re scheduled to select a jury, with testimony slated to begin Thursday.

I won’t be attending.

As much as I’d like to report on every detail, I don’t trust myself to sit silently in a courtroom and listen quietly as lawyers justify the potentially murderous actions of a self-appointed traffic vigilante.

So if you have the stomach for it, be my guest. And if you want to report the details, you can find my email address here.

But be careful out there. Because these people drive among us.

And that’s the really scary part.

……….

Here’s your chance to rework the proposed new bike plan — or better yet, write your own. A perfect example of carhead succinctly summed up in a bumper sticker. Riding along the Hudson River with bike writer David Byrne. NY Times readers debate the new New York bikeways, while a Denver initiative would make bikable and walkable streets a priority. A bold vision for an Embarcadero bikeway by the Bay. Seattle riders ask if killing a cyclist should be a crime (I vote yes). An Aussie writer rides the Marvin Braude bikeway end-to-end. Taking London’s new bikes-for-hire for a test ride. China considers charging passengers of drunk drivers as accomplices. An Aussie driver was high on wine and LSD, and on his way to buy more drugs, when he killed a cyclist on Christmas Eve. The ideal recumbent for anyone who wants to leave this world the way they lived in it. Finally, Bike-friendly Santa Monica limits itself to six new bike racks per year; I guess you’re welcome to ride through the city, as long as you don’t stop.

And now, a not-so-simple adjustment in biking infrastructure

Let’s take a look at something a little more involved that just changing signage.

Like changing attitudes, to start.

As Joe Linton noted in a recent comment, a bike boulevard can be a pretty hard sell. The name alone is enough to enflame rampant NIMBY-ism among local homeowners. And leave city officials reluctant to take on a similarly enraged mob ever again.

The simple fact is, not many people want a bike boulevard on their street. At least, not until they understand what it actually means.

And that’s our fault. As I’ve noted before, cyclists don’t have to be sold on the concept. The name alone tells us everything we need to know. Problem is, we expect everyone else to be as excited about it as we are.

It just doesn’t work that way.

On the other hand, the solution is simple. Instead of speaking in terms of our interests, we need to look at it in terms of what’s in it for people who don’t bike.

And there’s a lot in it for local homeowners.

By diverting traffic onto other streets, local residents can finally free themselves from the headaches of high-speed traffic in front of their homes. No more heavy trucks or hot-rodding hooligans in the middle of the night. And no more commuters taking a shortcut through a quiet residential neighborhood to bypass congested boulevards, turning a formerly peaceful street into a mini-throughway.

Eliminating through traffic can give residents a quieter, more livable neighborhood, where children can play outside and families stroll along peaceful sidewalks. It can also mean a more attractive place to live, as homeowners take advantage of the opportunity to clean up their streets, and the barriers themselves provide opportunities for beautification projects.

After all, nothing says barriers have to be k-rails; they can just as easily be planters, artwork, fountains or any number of similarly property-value enhancing enhancements. And that’s another key, because property values often go up as the newly peaceful neighborhood becomes more desirable to home buyers.

Then you tell them the best part. It won’t cost them a dime. Because one feature of this wonderful new street plan is something called a bike boulevard — a gap in those barriers that allows bikes and pedestrians to pass through — the DOT will pick up the entire tab.

They don’t even have to make a commitment. The whole thing can be installed on a temporary basis to prove how well it works before they agree to a permanent installation.

Now how many homeowners wouldn’t beg for something like that? And once people in other neighborhoods see it, chances are, they’ll beg for one of their own.

All you have to do is identify a street where homeowners are already fed up with traffic. Which pretty much means any street with speed bumps.

Military Ave. looking north from National Blvd.

Military Ave. looking north from National Blvd.

Like Military Avenue, for instance, which runs between Pico and Palms just a few blocks east of the 405 Freeway.

Since the street parallels busy Sepulveda and Westwood Boulevards, it’s often used by drivers looking for an easy way to bypass traffic. At least two rounds of speed bumps have already been installed to reduce and slow traffic; when the first didn’t have the desired effect, the response was to install more and larger humps — with little or no apparent decrease in traffic.

Which means they’d probably jump at the chance to block their street to through traffic, while providing full access to local residents. Even if it meant putting up with more of those damn cyclists.

And Military would make an ideal bike boulevard.

Military between National and Palms

Military between National and Palms

It’s straight and flat for most of the way, other than a small hill on the south end. The northern section is more than wide enough for bikes, cars and parking on each side, while the narrower southern section is lightly traveled and easily shared.

A bikeway on Military could also be extended south to connect with the existing bike paths on Venice Blvd. And it would only require a few new stop lights on Butler Avenue at Pico and Olympic to provide an easy link from Venice to Santa Monica Blvd.

Evidently, I’m not the only one to notice this.

The new bike plan shows Military as a “Bike Friendly Street” from Pico to Venice (page 67) — whatever that eventually ends up meaning.

Maybe that means they’re planning to make it a bike boulevard, but don’t want to use that name; maybe it means nothing more than sticking up a few signs indicating it as a preferred route for bikes. Or maybe they have no idea what they’re going to do there, but recognize that it’s an ideal place to do… something.

Then again it could just be a line on a map. One that never results in anything on the street, like so much of the previous bike plan.

That would be a lost opportunity for everyone.

Including homeowners.

………

More on bike racks, or the lack thereof: good and bad placement in West Hollywood; LAPD ignores Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. The next Dim Sum Ride rolls through Old Town Pasadena this weekend. A proposed new development in the Valley straddles the Tujunga Wash and could interface better with transit and a proposed bikeway. Burbank cyclists will get a new route connecting with the popular Chandler Bikeway. Cynergy Cycles offers a free lecture on Heart Rate Specific Training tomorrow night. The LA Times discovers Critical Mass — in Chicago. Tips on how to lead your own themed ride. A NY pedicab driver gets into an altercation with an impatient cabbie. Dave Moulton finishes his look at the history of frame design. Actor/musician Jared Leto leads fans on a bike ride through an unnamed city. Proof that not all drivers hate cyclists. Finally, as if cyclists don’t have enough to worry about, Alaska riders have to watch out for bear attacks.

A simple adjustment in biking infrastructure, part 2

Let’s consider another easy fix the city could make right now, at virtually no cost.

Take the bike lanes along the recently rebuilt Santa Monica Boulevard.

In just a few short years, they’ve become one of the most popular riding routes through the Westside — largely because they’re among the few dedicated bike lanes than run on a major street. And the only ones I know that don’t run next to a parking lane, eliminating the risk of dooring.

On the other hand, you do have to deal the poorly designed crossover lanes, which force cyclists to dodge cars entering and exiting the roadway, as well as buses that cut into the bike lanes little or no warning.

bus-bike1Then there’s the way they end abruptly, dumping unsuspecting cyclists into the middle of a heavy high-speed traffic lane.

Although a large part of that problem, on the east end at least, stems from the transition from Los Angeles to Beverly Hills, which seems dead set against allowing bikeways to besmirch their gilded streets. If any city ever needed a Critical Mass…

One major advantage these lanes offer is the limited number of cross streets — only Beverly Glen, Westwood, Veteran and Sepulveda cross from both directions. All other streets enter from one side only, such as Avenue of the Stars and Century Park East and West in Century City, which enter from the south, and Selby, Kelton and Camden in Westwood, which come in from the north.

SM-Bike-Lane-1However, that means cyclists riding on the opposite side of the road often have to make a decision whether to obey the law, or common sense, when faced with a red light, with a clear lane in front of them and no cross traffic from any direction.

Some stop and wait alongside the idling vehicular traffic until the light turns green, for no other reason than it’s what the law requires. Most, however, proceed through the light, recognizing that stopping serves no purpose, in terms or safety or rationality — putting them at risk of a ticket, and pissing off every driver waiting for the light to change.

But all it would take to address the situation is one little sign at each of those intersections, saying “bikes proceed on red.”

That’s it.

Overnight, bike flow is improved and scofflaw cyclists are made legal — with zero impact on traffic.

The only possible risk would come from careless drivers who might drift into the bike lane while completing their turns on the boulevard. And even that could easily be addressed by placing a simple barrier — anything from plastic cones to a brief raised curb — on the outer edge of the bike lane.

Or better yet, install a raised curb along the entire length of the bike lanes, broken only by intersections, and crossover exit and entrance lanes.

Then cyclists would enjoy L.A.’s first separated bike lanes, at minimal cost to the city.

And the cars, motorcycles and other assorted motor vehicles that currently use the bike lanes to bypass stopped traffic would be banished once and for all.

This same approach could also be used on southbound Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica, another roadway where cyclists have to choose between breaking the law and stopping for no apparent reason.

……..

Gary writes movingly about that heartbreaking photo of Kylie Bruehler at the funeral of her tandem-riding parents. Even the positive Joe Linton criticizes L.A.’s proposed bike plan, while Stephen Box says stamp it Return to Sender and the BAC demands an extension of the comment period. Box also says a lack of bike parking makes cyclists second class citizens. While L.A. makes plans, Long Beach makes bikeways. GT shares a great route when you want to work hills. Will Campbell risks his credibility to register his bike. Oakland police try to link an online threat against cyclists to a hit-and-run driver who stood over his victim before fleeing the scene. More great photos from the Path Less Pedaled. Bob Mionske’s Blog takes a critical look at a wreck blamed on a sidewalk cyclist, which leads to a call for better police training. Famed framebuilder Dave Moulton continues his discussion on the evolution of frame design. Chicago Now takes a critical look at Critical Mass. Finally, a truly frightening photo of the aftermath of an S.F. dooring incident.

A simple adjustment in biking infrastructure, part 1

I confess. I haven’t read the new bike plan yet.

Most of us need a little time to get through a plan that, with appendices, checks in just this side of War and Peace. And Tolstoy didn’t include complicated maps that have to be studied with near microscopic attention.

Or leave out street names, as on the Westside map.

So it’s possible that this could have been addressed in the plan, although a cursory look suggests otherwise.

Yet while city officials frequently cite a lack of funding as a primary reason why we see so few improvements in bikeways and biking infrastructure — even though they have a history of leaving money on the table — there are a number of things they could do that would cost almost nothing and have little or no impact on traffic.

Take Westholme Avenue in Westwood.

It’s currently a Class 3 bike route, offering a safe, quiet route from Santa Monica Boulevard to the UCLA campus — although the new plan shows it’s due to be downgraded to a “bicycle friendly” street. And according to the LACBC, it’s one of the streets that’s under consideration for the upcoming Sharrows pilot project.

Unfortunately, north of Wilshire Blvd, cyclists face a steep, three-quarter mile climb to get to campus. It’s not a problem when you’re southbound and down; not so much fun when you’re struggling to make it uphill.

Westwood-3-wayTo make matters worse, just as the hardest part of the climb begins, there’s a three-way stop at the intersection where Westholme, Glenmont and Le Conte come together.

From a driver’s perspective, it helps control a quiet, but confusing, junction. From a cyclist’s perspective, though, it forces riders to either ignore the law and blow through the stop, or lose all momentum at the base of the hill, just when they need it most — making it a difficult, if not impossible, climb for many riders, and deterring them from attempting it a second time.

And it’s completely unnecessary.

As the photo shows, there’s no parking in the intersection, which means that cyclists can comfortably ride to the right, out of the traffic lane, without risk to or from traffic in any direction. It’s as if we had our own little through lane there.

So why should we have to stop?

Westwood-3-Way-SignsLADOT could address the problem by adding another sign below the stop sign, reading “bikes yield” or “except for bikes.”

Problem solved.

Overnight, it becomes a much more attractive street for riders of all levels — at almost no cost to the city. And without inconveniencing a single driver.

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

……..

Streetsblog has posted links to the bike maps released earlier in the summer for anyone wanting to compare the current draft of the bike plan. Why the lack of diversity at the recent Byrne panel discussion? The top 10 facts about cycling. Dallas police will no longer enforce the city’s mandatory helmet policy — the one that was put in place to stop drug traffickers (?!?). Portland police release their internal bicycle training video. Advice from Boston on avoiding the door zone. Delaware declares female bike commuters extinct. A ‘60s era video from GM gives a driver credit for avoiding an accident — caused when she nearly right hooks a cyclist. Women in the UK consider cyclists the most attractive males. Well, duh. A cyclist’s view of rush hour in Scotland. In case you missed it earlier this week, the UK’s Guardian asks if California will become America’s first failed state. Finally, this may just be the most heartbreaking photo I’ve ever seen.

Move along folks; nothing to see here

Not that I don’t have some things to say.

But this one time, I’ll be saying them on L.A.’s Streetsblog — the city’s best source for local and national transportation news, offering a unique perspective from the streets up.

I’m joining a long list of local activists, writers and bloggers — including Joe Linton, Stephen and Enci Box, Angela Serratore and Dan Koeppel — who’ve sacrificed a day or more of their time filling in for Damien Newton so he can spend some quality time with his newborn baby, wife and various assorted relatives. And there’s still more to come.

So today is my day.

Click on the link, and you’ll find coverage of last week’s panel discussion on bikes and livability with former Talking Head David Byrne, along with today’s headlines, and reports from around the Streetsblog network. And later in the day, you’ll find my wrap-up of last night’s meeting of the L.A. Bicycle Advisory Committee, and a rant about the lack of public involvement.

You’ll also find a photo of yours truly.

I’m the one on the left.

DIY police work leads to meager charges — and dangerously written laws

A popular L.A. cyclist thinks he knows why the driver who hit him ran.

And he knows who it was.

Maybe you know Roadblock. It’s almost amazing how many L.A. area cyclists do, and just how highly they regard him. But then, as one of the city’s leading bike activists and an original founder of the Midnight Ridazz, it’s pretty easy to understand why.

Or maybe you read about his recent biking accident, when the story of how he got run down by a hit-and-run driver made waves in the local online and cycling communities.

Fortunately, he’s okay, aside from a complaint about lingering back pain. In fact, when I ran into him the other night — figuratively, not literally — he looked good.

But it could have been much worse.

He was hit from behind at high speed, and carried several yards on the hood of the car before the driver applied the brakes and he was thrown off onto the street.

And then, as so often happens, the driver gunned his engine and took off, disappearing into the night. In fact, at least four cyclists in the L.A. and Orange County area have been killed by hit-and-run drivers this year alone; Santa Clarita held a Ride of Silence this past Saturday to commemorate the most recent cyclist run down by a drunken runaway motorist.

Fortunately, he somehow managed to get a partial license plate as he lay in the street. And that’s when L.A.’s Department of DIY sprang into action once again.

Overnight, signs sprang up seeking witnesses. Back channel contacts identified the owner of a suspect vehicle. A little detective work led to a local auto body shop, where photos were taken of the car as it was being repaired.

And in less than 48 hours, the suspect was identified to the police and the legal process was in motion.

Roadblock wants to keep the driver’s identity to himself for now, until the legal process is further along. But he says it’s someone well known in city circles, who certainly should have known better — and acted differently.

He also has a theory — which, due to the delay in finding the suspect, is likely to remain nothing but speculation — that the driver had been drinking. And that’s probably why he ran.

Evidently, the driver’s gamble paid off, since Roadblock had the good fortune to escape with relatively minor injuries, so the driver will escape with relatively minor charges.

Under California law, a hit-and-run that doesn’t result in injury is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $1000. And the authorities seem to feel that the sort of soft-tissue injuries Roadblock suffered don’t count, despite lingering pain and stiffness nearly five months later.

If the collision had resulted in a few broken bones, the penalty would be up to a year in jail, with a fine up to $10,000; a hit-and-run resulting in death or serious, permanent injury could bring up to 4 years in state prison.

And that’s the problem.

Existing law actually encourages intoxicated drivers to flee the scene of a collision, because the penalties for drunk driving resulting in injury or death can be far more severe than the relatively minor penalties for running away.

In fact, according to the Driver’s Handbook published by the DMV, a DUI case involving serious injury or death can be prosecuted under the state’s Three Strikes Law, potentially resulting in life imprisonment. Which makes the maximum penalty of four years for running away pale in comparison.

And relatively minor charges like hit-and-run are often dropped or plea-bargained away before a case ever comes to a resolution.

So for a driver who’s had a few drinks, fleeing the scene offers a reasonable gamble that they may get away with it. Or at least have time to sober up before getting caught.

And that has to change.

The penalties for hit-and-run have to be increased, until they’re strong enough that no one would ever consider leaving the scene of an accident.

Because this epidemic of drunken hit-and-runs has to stop. And our government has to stop encouraging it.

………

Santa Monica authorities insist it’s safe to ride through the city even if you don’t have a license, despite what the law says. L.A.’s bike culture captures yet another convert. A motorist in Sun Valley is in desperate need of a better bike rack; if your bike is missing, this might be your prime suspect. An upcoming photo exhibition profiles Angelenos who somehow survive sans cars. The paparazzi catch Sharon Stone bike shopping with her kids; the unidentified store looks like I. Martin to me. Joe Linton lists Long Beach’s leap to livability. In Chicago they even bike for cocktails; how civilized. An S.F. paper asserts cycling steers fashion, and that cars and bikes can, in fact, coexist. New York gets the kind of center median cycletrack we can only dream of. A Florida cop tases a fleeing cyclist before running over and killing him. Lego cyclists can be put back together; real ones can’t. Ex-framebuilder Dave Moulton explains the bike’s evolution away from the wheelbarrow effect. Edmonton police are on the lookout for a biking people-basher, while Toronto cyclists look hotter in a helmet. Finally, the Times touches briefly on last Friday’s David Byrne panel discussion; look for my take Wednesday on Streetsblog.

Trying to reason with bicycle theft season

Maybe it’s just a coincidence.

But it doesn’t take a lot of research to get the feeling that bike culture and bike thefts are following the same upward curve. The more popular biking gets, the more popular bikes do — to thieves as well as legitimate riders.

Joe Linton, one of L.A.’s leading bike and environmental activists, had his stolen off the street the other night. Mikey Wally had his stolen recently. Dr. Alex was lucky, he only had his lights stolen.

Meanwhile, theft reports are up from Downtown to the Southbay, and points in between. Even Lance had his bike stolen in California earlier this year. Though thankfully, not when he was visiting L.A.

Of course, this sort of thing tends to bring out the worst in people, understandable though that may be. Personally, though, I prefer prevention to retaliation.

That’s one reason my bikes sleep inside at night.

A large corner of my office is devoted to keeping them safe — from insects, bad weather and various nefarious critters, including thieves. After all, I’d no more leave my bike exposed to the elements than anything else I love.

Like my wife, for instance.

And my bike never complains about how much time I spend cycling.

I used to carry a heavy cable and lock on my old bike, when I rode my little blue Trek everywhere. I’d always park it in some highly visible public place, and strip off anything that could be easily stolen. And I’d lock it securely — through the frame and both wheels — to some large immovable object, since bike racks were even harder to find than they are now.

When I got my new bike, however, I did a simple financial calculation, and determined the cost was equivalent a decent laptop — and there was no way I’d leave my laptop laying on the street, even if I could secure it to a lamppost.

So I saved myself the extra weight, and left my lock at home.

Which means I now use the same technique employed by Catholic school girls attempting to maintain their virtue, and keep it clamped tightly between my legs. Whenever I stop for awhile, I keep it right next to me or maintain a tight grip on it. Or if I want to go inside somewhere, it either comes in with me, or I don’t go.

Which severely limits my options. But it keeps my bike safe at a time when I can’t afford to replace it. And I plan to make that old Trek my town bike, complete with lights, reflectors and multiple locks so I can ride it anywhere, anytime.

Of course, there are other techniques. My friend Tim — subject of a recent Page 2 profile in the Times —  forwarded a story on how to deter thieves by uglifying your bike awhile back. And judging by the photos, they did a pretty impressive job of turning a beauteous Bianchi into a turd-tone junker.

Problem is, thieves seem to target crappy bikes just as much as decent ones these days.

Most people prefer the more traditional approaches to theft prevention, though. And there’s no shortage of advice on how to keep yours safe. Or safer, anyway.

Because there’s no guarantee.

Someone could break into my home and ride out on my bike, with our meager possessions tucked under his felonious arms. Or your bike could be jacked at a red light or an off-road bikeway.

All you can do is take reasonable precautions.

Register your bike. Lock it securely. And make sure it’s covered by your homeowners or renters policy.

It’s not as expensive as you might think. And it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a new bike.

Even a crappy one.

……..

As I was writing this, I got an email from Erin about yet another bike theft:

These bikes were stolen Tuesday night, September 29 from Hollywood Blvd at Gower, outside the blue Palms. We filed a police report Wednesday morning.

My bike: Black Soma Double-Cross, 52cm frame, 2005 model. I bought it at Free Range Cycles in Seattle; their sticker is yellow featuring a chicken riding a bicycle, placed just above the bottom bracket. Shimano components (mix of Deore and Tiagra). Black plastic toeclips. Black rear rack. Black bar tape (messed up on the left bar). Black saddle. Photo attached (the bike is as pictured, except I removed the fenders when I moved down here from Seattle). They stole my red and silver helmet, too.

Nick’s bike: Green/silver Trek 1200, 56cm? frame. Mix of Shimano and Campy components. Clipless pedals. Black rear rack. Drop bars with black bar tape. Black saddle. They also stole his blue helmet. No photo, unfortunately.

I just listed it in the Stolen Bikes database at totalbike.com, which really seems like it could use some advertising around LA, so anybody buying a used bike knows to ask to see the original receipt or else check the database. If we can find a way to make bicycle theft harder to profit from it will benefit everyone by getting more people on bikes and keeping them on their bikes! I know whatever bike I end up on next will have as many anti-theft devices as I can put on it, but it seems like we should all work together to shift the burden of thievery to bike thieves instead of making it practically a tax on cyclists.

erin-bike

……..

Dr. Alex responds to Green LA Girl’s recent criticism of his call to extend the deadline for comments on the new L.A. Bike Plan, and calls on cyclists to support for the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights at tomorrow’s Neighborhood Council Action Summit — your chance to help spread the CBR throughout the city. As traffic gets heavier, drivers seem to get more careless or aggressive; Will Campbell gets right hooked three times on a single ride to work; at least he figured out what was causing that annoying thunk. Gary reports on Santa Monica ordinances that seem to ban riding through the city with an unlicensed bike — even though licensing isn’t required in California. Stephen Box morns the loss of a genuine bike supporter from the Caltrans regional management; hopefully Caltrans loss with be Metro’s gain. LAist reports distracted drivers left nearly 6,000 Americans dead — and over a half-million injured — last year alone. Finally, an anti-bike rant from an Aussie “comedian” ends with a call for violent assaults on cyclists; related coverage tells of a cyclist who may lose a leg after being struck and dragged under a truck. Yeah, pretty funny stuff.

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