Battling anti-bike bias in the ‘Bu

The tranquility of the beach belies the dangerous conditions and hostility cyclists face getting there.

Pity poor Malibu.

Blessed with an idyllic location along the sun-drenched Pacific Coast, the city draws countless visitors, from celebrity hunting tourists to motorists speeding — often literally — along scenic PCH.

It also attracts countless cyclists.

And that, in the eyes of some locals, is the problem.

Not the dangerous, poorly designed highway. Not the near total lack of cycling infrastructure. Not even the deaths of Rod Armas, Scott Bleifer and Stanislav Ionov in recent years.

No, the problem is those bad, bad cyclists who ride side-by-side, running red lights and blowing through stop signs. And keeping wealthy homeowners from being able to back out of their driveways.

Though anyone who has to back out onto a major highway should seriously consider investing a little money to reconfigure their parking situation.

Bleifer and Ionov were killed by a catering truck in September, 2005 when the driver deliberately failed to brake or swerve around them because another person was illegally cooking in the truck’s kitchen area when the truck was in motion. Despite traffic traveling at 50 mph or higher, they were forced to ride in the lane because of an obstacle blocking the shoulder where they’d been riding.

In an astounding display of compassion — or the lack thereof — following the deaths, Malibu Public Safety Committee Chairperson Carol Randall was quoted by the Malibu Times as expressing fears about anything the city might do that could encourage cycling on PCH, “particularly where it is lined by driveways in eastern Malibu.”

“It’s very irresponsible to encourage something that we know is not safe,” she said. “I invite them to try to back out of my garage on any weekend onto PCH.”

Yeah, being able to back out of a driveway certainly trumps bike riders’ right to use the road in a safe and legal manner. Let alone to return home in one piece.

Then again, she wasn’t the only one. Defending Malibu’s unshakable commitment to do virtually nothing, Council Member Pamela Conley Ulich, who claimed to bike on PCH herself, was quoted in the same article as saying:

“The bikers need to work with us,” Conley Ulich said. “They have [a motive] here: they don’t want to die.”

Amazingly, both still hold the same positions within Malibu’s apparently cold-hearted city government.

Of course, it’s hard to work with someone who refuses to work with you. Malibu’s solution to the riders who pass through the city every day has apparently been to ignore them in hopes we’ll go away.

And if that doesn’t work, crack down on bicyclists, rather than the roadway and drivers that put their lives at risk.

It’s an attitude exemplified by former council candidate and current Public Safety Committee member Susan Tellem in her recent letter to the editor in the Malibu Times, Bikers be warned.

As a Malibu Public Safety Commissioner, I have been disturbed by the high number of bicyclists who do not follow the rules of the road. While many do obey the vehicle code, just as many do not. They run red lights, do not stop at stop signs and ride three abreast even though the law is clear about what is safe and what is not. Motorists become frustrated and rude in turn, and this leads to ugly confrontations, not just here in Malibu, but everywhere.

She goes on to say that enforcement is the key. And announces a campaign called Share the Road – Share the Tickets to encourage “the sheriff, CHP and LAPD to ticket cyclists who break the law.”

This is a winning campaign in that everyone will be safer once cyclists realize that laws for them will be enforced. Tickets will decrease and maybe even disappear as the word gets out about enforcement. The biggest payoff? Motorists will be less likely to threaten bike riders and much more willing to “share the road.”

So let me get this straight. In Tellem’s opinion, it’s the fault of bike riders that we’re threatened by motorists.

Yes, cyclists are subject to exactly the same road rules as drivers. We’re required to signal — not that most drivers do — and stop for stop signs — ditto — and red lights. And if not, we can be ticketed, just like drivers.

On the other hand, I don’t recall any case of a motorist being killed by a cyclist in Malibu. And last I heard, drivers are already required to share the road, and under California law threatening another human being is illegal, regardless of motivation or self-justification.

Just ask Dr. Christopher Thompson.

And let’s not forget that it’s a Malibu city employee who’s charged with killing Rod Armas in a drunken hit-and-run last year.

I should also point out that cyclists are legally allowed to take the lane when appropriate, and despite what Tellem writes, there is nothing in the California Vehicle Code that prohibits riding side-by-side as long as the riders don’t block traffic. So on a roadway with two or more lanes in each direction, cyclists can legally occupy an entire lane as long as drivers can safely go around them.

Of course, what the law allows and what the police and courts enforce aren’t always the same thing.

Tellem has taken her campaign to Facebook, where she continues to criticize cyclists and misrepresent California law — including the frequently misstated and misunderstood requirement that cyclists ride as far to the right as practicable — while asserting her rights as a private citizen.

…You cannot legally impede traffic on PCH, or ride side by side and you must ride as far right as safely possible. If you get a ticket and come to court in Malibu for any of these infractions, you will lose every time. All I am asking for is safe riding. Stop at red lights and stop signs. As for saying I am “overtly hostile” to bicyclists – please show me proof. Your claim that I should be “investigated” is patently ridiculous as safety comes first. Finally, this site has nothing to do with the City of Malibu or the Commission. Just like you I am entitled to free speech…

Yet as a member of the city government, she has a higher responsibility to be truthful, not just as she sees it, and to protect the rights and safety of all road users.

I’ll leave the final word to John Abbe, in a letter published yesterday in the Malibu Times.

The PCH through Malibu is one of the most dangerous stretches of road in California and cyclists are not the problem. Like it or not, every weekend thousands of cyclists ride PCH to enjoy riding thru the beautiful canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains. They all have as much right to the PCH as those driving cars and trucks…

He goes on to cite the cases of Armas, Bleifer and Ionov, as well as Tracey Clark, a 26-year old triathlete killed on PCH in 1990, for whom the Dolphin Fountain at the famed Malibu Country Mart was dedicated.

The truth is that they all were not annoying obstacles to traffic on PCH, or a hindrance to homeowners trying to exit their driveways on PCH. They were all somebody’s husband, somebody’s father, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s son, somebody’s loved one-lives now gone forever!

And he concludes by quoting from pro cyclist Dave Zabriskie’s website, Yield to Life.

“We all travel life’s roads. I stand before you to ask for your cooperation in providing safe space for cyclists. When you see a cyclist on the road, please, yield to life”.

For the sake of full disclosure, I don’t ride PCH through Malibu anymore, tempting as it might be at times. While I never met Scott Bleifer, I knew his father through his medical practice, and his son’s death struck a little too close to home. As a result, my wife asked me to stop riding on PCH, and I have respected her request. And while Tellem may be biased against bicyclists, she can’t be all bad; she’s the founder of a local Tortoise rescue program along with her husband.

Update: Damien Newton has picked up the subject, and Gary of Gary Rides Bikes has joined in with an exceptionally detailed and insightful examination of Tellem’s Facebook group; Tellem herself has responded on Streetsblog.

………

Mark Cavendish sprints to victory in Stage 5 of the Tour de France, while the overall standings remain unchanged; no major moves are likely until the riders reach the mountains. More on 4th stage winner Alessandro Petacchi, who won his second stage of the Tour at age 36, which could bode well for another older rider — if he can put up with the heckling.

Rumors of mechanical doping continue to follow the Tour, particularly surrounding current leader Fabian Cancellara’s performance in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix; a German bike shop owner shows how it can be done.

………

Bike Lawyer Bob Mionske says adding better bike infrastructure helps create more riders, while EcoVelo says more separated bikeways could help beginning riders feel more comfortable. Paris proves it takes more than a bike share program to be bike friendly. And research shows that women prefer off-road paths, bike lanes and streets with low traffic that actually go where they need to go.

Meanwhile, lobbyists for the electronics industry want to preserve the right of distracted drivers to run you off the road.

………

Damien Newton asks if L.A. cyclists can fix the sharrows study without killing it. Oaklavia reveals what this September’s CicLAvia might look like. A look at last week’s Tour LaBonge, where police handcuffs double as bike locks. Santa Monica is adding 400 bike racks, and has a new bike share program for city employees. If you’ve been suffering from a shortage of seriously cute in your life, check out this 4th of July parade, courtesy of my friends at Altadenablog. ESPN looks at Kristina Ripatti-Pearce, the paralyzed former LAPD officer who just complete the Race Across America (RAAM). A 21-year old Reno area rider is declared brain dead two days after being rear-ended by a Sheriff’s SUV. A Portland rider successfully defuses a road rage situation, ending in a handshake; another close call in Eugene OR ends more the way you’d expect. The Museum of Arts and Design in New York will be hosting Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle through August 15. A biking 4th in Birmingham AL. Mississippi authorities are looking for the victim of a YouTube prank, in which two men in a truck purposed smoked out a cyclist. A new bike lane in York — the old one, not the new one — results in problems on nearby streets. The European Cross Country Mountain Bike Championships come to Haifa, giving a local Israeli rider the hometown advantage. The hit-and-run driver who ran over the son of a former Israel Supreme Court Justice after drinking and smoking hashish faces manslaughter charges.

Finally, when a dangerous bus driver nearly runs a cyclist over, it helps if the cyclist works for the company that runs the buses.

13 comments

  1. Oh my goodness, some one please fire that woman. I read her FB page for this Share the Tickets campaign. It’s nothing but uneducated hate speech. I doubt she has ever ridden a bike outside of a bike path or bike lane. I doubt (highly) that she has ever commuted on a regular basis by bike. I love it when people who have no idea what it’s like to be out on a bike (and be comfortable out on a bike) try to tell us how we are so unsafe.

    The first time I got on PCH with a girlfriend of mine, we were both highly surprised with how safe we felt. We had both heard many stories of cyclists being killed, but we didn’t even have any close calls (even when we got stuck coming back down PCH at dusk). I swear, I truly feel like this issue is overdramatized. Do we need better infrastructure on PCH? Yes. Do we need driver and cyclist education? Yes. But that’s true all over LA County, not just on PCH. She just needs something to hang her hat on and prove that she’s done something for safety.

    A much better project for her would be to install some freaking crosswalks with those flashing red lights so that all those people who work as nannies, maids, housekeepers, gardeners, whatever, have a place to cross PCH when they need to take the bus home and don’t get mowed down like we’ve seen the past few months. Wouldn’t that be a great safety project? But instead, let’s protect the motorists! (facepalm)

  2. Digital Dame says:

    “The biggest payoff? Motorists will be less likely to threaten bike riders and much more willing to “share the road.”

    Oh my freaking god, is she for real? That sounds like the good ol’ boy mentality: “What’d she do to make him so mad he had to beat her?” Maybe she’d like to campaign on that platform for reducing violence against women.

    Freaking asshat.

    • danceralamode says:

      You should check out the Facebook page right now. A few local cyclists have taken over the page challenging her, and she hasn’t responded all day. I’m not sure if it’s she just hasn’t checked it yet, or is realizing what an utter fool she is.

      There are plenty of ways to create positive relationships between cyclists and drivers and safe environments for both, none of which she is trying. She has clearly decided to try the “incite and conquer” route, which is clearly a failure. I say Critical Mass take to PCH next month!

  3. Jack says:

    “You cannot legally impede traffic on PCH, or ride side by side and you must ride as far right as safely possible.” – Tellem

    According to the California Vehicle Code, bicycles are part of traffic, thus they are never “impeding” it (unless they are full-on stopped in the middle of the road). Cyclists also have the right to take an entire lane when it is safe to do so. What Tellem is really saying is she doesn’t want anything that could slow down traffic on PCH in any way.

    Read this article about the recent death of a pedestrian on PCH:
    http://malibusurfsidenews.com/blog/2010/04/citizens-highway-safety-group-is.html

    Randall outright dismisses any efforts at getting more lights installed on PCH, installing a K-Rail or lowering the speed limit. She does, however, press for returning the road to CHP jurisdiction which would require just as much state-city wrangling as any of the other solutions would. In short: anything that could inconvenience drivers by slowing them down is completely unacceptable, even if it costs the lives of cyclists and pedestrians.

    Basically, the city of Malibu has made it clear that they don’t plan on doing anything to solve this problem. Instead, they want to pass the buck to the state by bringing the CHP in. While that solution comes around (if it ever does), they’ll blame cyclists for all the road hazards and begin a harassment campaign to make it look like they’re doing something (oh, and collect ticket revenue in the process).

  4. […] that was before Biking In L.A. pointed us towards a new Facebook page put up by Malibu Public Safety Commissioner Susan Tellem […]

  5. Chewie says:

    People get so impatient with bikes. It’s not even rational. It’s like a gun as pointed at someone and the person in the path of the bullet is being crticized. “How dare you get in the way of my bullet!”

    How about criticizing the person holding the gun!

  6. I also followed up by posting my own response pointed at the facebook group specifically here:

    http://garyridesbikes.blogspot.com/2010/07/malibu-safety-commissioner-starts-anti.html

  7. Rach Stevo says:

    She retweeted the existence of the page just yesterday (@susantellem) so she’s not letting this die yet. I want to go to a public meeting to voice my disapproval but the next Public Safety Commission meeting is Aug 4 and I’ll be out of town. Plus I’m not even sure if it’s open to the public. I’m still waiting for a reply to the complaint I submitted. I may make phone calls if the page remains and nothing happens.

  8. The Trickster says:

    Loving the smackdown that is on her page at the moment. She’s getting owned.

    Then again I suspect that even though she’s the owner of a successful PR firm that she still fits the stereotype of a “Communications” grad. As my mate (himself a comms grad) stated about the majority of his class:

    Fit, but a bit thick.

  9. dson says:

    I was referred here by Damien’s article…very intrigued by all this so I ask you all the same thing:

    ———

    Who wants to ride bicycles on Pacific Coast HIGHWAY anyway? I don’t live in Malibu…nor am I on a bicycle much…but I see everyone complaining that PCH is a dangerous, poorly designed highway…

    Soooo, educate me please. Is it sport? Are you commuting? There are cars traveling 50+ mph plus. I don’t get it. I invision those sharrows popping up everywhere on roads and streets with 25, 35 mph speed limits, not highways. It’s not Pacific Coast Street.

    Also, I don’t think the Malibu residents or sheriff are deciding PCH is a car-dominated highway — it IS a car dominated highway and I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

    ———

    As I was about to submit this comment, I was curious and looked up bicycle operating code from the CA DMV website (http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21202.htm). I think it’s pretty clear that bicyclists are to keep as far right as possible, unless there are certain situations that warrant otherwise:

    21202. (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

    (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

    (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

    (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

    (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

    (b) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway of a highway, which highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

    Amended Sec. 4, Ch. 674, Stats. 1996. Effective January 1, 1997.

  10. dson,

    Notice what you did there, you said cyclists must ride as far to the right as possible, then quote the law that says practical. There is a very deliberate reason the word is practical and not possible. Often because of sand rocks, glass or other road debris, or broken car parts, it is not always practical due to risk of puncture or lost traction to ride at the far right even though it might technically be possible.

    If you actually rode a bike down PCH you would know that while a shoulder is present for much of it’s length, it is sometimes far too narrow, full of parked cars, big trash containers, or rocks from mud slides. Cyclists are not obligated to ride the shoulder, but nearly always do out of courtesy to not hold up faster traffic, but it is sometimes necessary to control the lane when shoulder conditions are sub-standard.

  11. bikinginla says:

    dson, In order to ride along some of the most beautiful coastline in California, as well as some of the loveliest canyons on the coast, you have to pass through Malibu using PCH. And cyclists have as much right to travel any roadway, with the exception of some freeways, as any motor vehicle operator.

    Gary explained the legal situation pretty well; I’d also refer you to the explanation provided in the Universal Vehicle Code, which provides the basis for most state traffic laws:

    11-1205.Position on roadway
    (a) Any person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

    1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
    2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
    3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

    You can also refer to Dan Guitierrez’ detailed explanation on the Streetsblog post you referred to.

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