Something is seriously wrong when a busy shopping street feels safer than an off-road bike path.
But that was the choice I made on Monday, on what rapidly deteriorated into one of the most stressful bike rides I’ve ever taken. And one of the few times I’ve ever gotten off my bike far less relaxed than when I got on.
Another late start caused me to change my planned route, and break my cardinal rule of never riding the beachfront Marvin Braude bike path through Santa Monica and Venice after noon after Memorial Day.
And I was quickly reminded why I don’t.
It started with a couple of twenty-something couples who were coming out of a parking lot near the Annenberg Center on their way to the beach.
As I approached on the opposite side of the path, I watched as the first member of the group stepped onto the pathway without looking in either direction — right into the path of an oncoming cyclist, who had to make a panic stop on loose sand to just barely miss him.
Then, apparently having learned absolutely nothing from the experience, he stepped right in front of me, forcing me into a panic swerve to avoid him. When I made a comment about looking both ways like his mama taught him, I got a resounding chorus of “what a jerk” from the full group.
And things went downhill from there.
Take, for instance, the grandmother who led a toddler onto the pathway on the far side of a blind curve. And again, stepped out directly in front of me, without a single glance in my direction.
I wonder how she would have explained that to the child’s parents if I hadn’t been able to stop in time?
Or the unsupervised child, around five or so, who was stopped on the opposite side of the bike path, and suddenly swerved directly towards me as I was trying to slip past, forcing me into the sand to avoid him.
But I don’t blame him.
I blame the parents who were nowhere to be scene, leaving a kindergarten-aged kid to navigate a busy bikeway on his own.
And don’t even get me started on the countless groups of pedestrians who somehow managed to block both sides of the bike path as they meandered mindlessly along. Sometimes just inches from the separate pedestrian walkway they should have been using.
All of which combined to make the bike lanes along Main Street seem like the much safer choice on my return trip. And despite dodging doors and double-parked cars and trucks in the bike lane, it felt infinitely safer than the bike path I’d previously navigated just a few blocks away.
Which is absolutely shameful.
It’s one thing to share the pathway with other users, even those sections marked for bicycles only. But it’s another thing when the very people the path was intended to serve are forced to choose alternate routes because it just isn’t safe to ride.
Then again, the streets weren’t that great, either.
As I rode back up Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica, I was nearly crushed between a parked Metro bus partially blocking the bike lane and a passing 720 bus whose driver refused to surrender a single inch of his lane, despite the limited space available.
And evidently, was willing to risk my life to stay on schedule.
Then there’s the driver that right-hooked me as she pulled into the driveway of her apartment building in Brentwood, forcing me to turn along with her to avoid a collision.
By this time, though, I’d had enough.
But when I confronted her about nearly causing a collision, something totally unexpected happened.
She apologized so completely and profusely, I found myself with no idea what to say. And felt all that pent-up anger just melt away.
So I urged her to be more careful next time, more to give myself an exit line than to suggest she drive more safely, since she had clearly gotten the message. And rode off with a cascade of apologies following me down the street.
And oddly, leaving me feeling just a little more hopeful than I had been before she cut me off.
If maybe even a little more stressed.