Monday’s ride, in which the mean streets of the Westside seem safer than the safety of the bike path

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.

18 comments

  1. TQ says:

    My commute includes five miles of beachfront MUP, with multiple signs indicating that the rules of the road apply. However, during summer especially the path is infested with meandering drunks, ignorami, and the spawn of criminally negligent parents.

    Though the state park rangers who patrol several miles of my commute have assure me they have the authority to issue citations and make arrests, they understandably focus their priority on marine safety, and I’ve never seen any type of enforcement on any other section of the MUP, either.

    Thankfully there’s the option of sharing a state highway and its 60mph speed limit with a bunch of drunk and/or (at this time of year) inexperienced young drivers!

  2. prinzrob says:

    Not to play too much of a devil’s advocate, but when I’m riding on an off-street path where I’m likely to encounter pedestrians I try to keep my speed below 15 mph, moreso when passing, and I use my bell A LOT.

    That being said, there’s not too much you can do about kids around blind curves, or people who step out onto the path from concealed locations. My pet peeve (pun intended) are the folks who walk their dogs with the (almost invisible) leash all the way out, crossing the entire path. I have not been clotheslined yet, thankfully, but I’ve heard horror stories from other cyclists.

  3. Peggy Archer says:

    I’ve had the same problem on the bike path. Even though it’s clearly marked as being for bikes, people stroll slowly down it, blocking the entire path and get angry when cyclists (even cyclists going slowly) want to pass.

    I also use my bell a lot. I’m considering getting an air horn for the bike.

    And as horrible as the Westsiders can be, they’re nothing compared to motorists in Beverly Hills.

  4. Scott H. says:

    I hate to say it, but anything paved seems to be fair game for pedestrians; and that’s not just a West LA thing. Even to the point that they look at YOU with disdain when you nearly miss them, or say something. I tried that route once, and I now know why I see cyclists jumping onto Main St. from Venice, riding all the way up to Pico, then back down to the bike path. It seems that cycling along with hundreds of motorists is, in fact, safer than riding a designated path designed (supposedly) just for you…

  5. grrlyrida says:

    I concur with Peggy. My commute takes me from Silverlake to South Beverly Hills and when I get off of work, I meet the rudest motorists in Beverly Hills.

    I have to commend you Westside bike commuters. You couldn’t pay to live there. The streets are packed with motorists and the bike paths are packed with pedestrians. I guess the price of living near the ocean and a tourist attraction. I’ve been on the beach bike path once. That one time was enough for me what with too many tourists walking blindly across the path or tourists riding rented cruiser bikes with little experience cycling or knowing the rules of the bike path.

  6. Peter R says:

    Ah, the LA bike paths, I see they haven’t changed in the 20 years since I’ve been there. They are what turned me into a Vehicular Cyclist. I was in love with the paths when I first started commuting from Venice to Culver City. But I stopped using the beach path beacuse of all the problems, listed above. But I still got onto the Ballona creek path instead of Jefferson heading inland. Until another cyclist nearly took me out where the ramp feeds into the path at Lincoln. It used to be steeper with a blind curve and the cyclist came down the ramp right into me. After that I started using only the roads.

    And the bike lanes are almost as bad. They position you to be nearly invisible to people coming out of driveways and set you up for right hooks by people turning into driveways. Not to mention putting you in the door zone. I never bike in the door zone unless I’m going walking speed and I stay further out in the road near any type of intersection to reduce right and left hooks. Seems to work very well for me.

  7. Tony says:

    Can’t help feeling you were part of the problem. In the first incident, why did you watch the whole first conflict happen and then have to emergency swerve to avoid one yourself? I would have precautionary braked and been going slowly at that point, especially given that the pedestrians would likely have been distracted and probably a bit flustered by the first incident.

    I’m afraid your attitude to the various pedestrians reminds me of those motorists we all know and love who think that the roads belong to them and pesky cyclists should stay off them and use the cycle paths instead. Think how you react to motorists who don’t want to slow down and expect you to get out of their way (like the bus driver in your story) and then explain why you think it acceptable to take the same attitude towards pedestrians slowing you down.

    • bikinginla says:

      You presume an awful lot, Tony. I did slow as I saw the situation develop; however, I did not anticipate was that anyone would be dumb enough to make the exact same mistake twice within a few seconds. And far from being flustered, he seemed to find the whole thing amusing, which is why I offered my criticism.

      If you read this again, you’ll note that I never once complained about pedestrians slowing me down. That’s a given on the bike path. What chased me off the path was the unacceptably high risk of needless collisions, as well as a number of people who seemed oblivious to the presence of others on the path.

      The bikeway functions effectively only when all users respect the safely and rights of others. I have always tried to show courtesy to others path users, and would hope to receive the same courtesy in return. Rather than demanding that anyone get out of my way, I am far more likely to announce my presence with a “passing left,” then ride onto the other side of the bikeway to give them as much clearance as possible.

      The day that I succumb to the attitude you ascribe to me will be the day I stop riding, on the bike path or anywhere else.

  8. Tony says:

    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.

    Sounds to me an awful lot like the attitude of an impatient motorist coming across a group ride and complaining they are a) slowing him down and b) should be on the cycle path.

    • bikinginla says:

      Oh please.

      As I indicated before, I have no problem with pedestrians, skaters, skateboarders, dog walkers, Segway riders or anyone else using the bike path, as long as they do it courteously and safely, so other people can enjoy the path as well.

      Oddly, I have exactly the same attitude about the streets. There is room for everyone — cars, bikes and other vehicles — as long as we all use them safely and observe the rights of others.

      If that makes me the kind of obnoxious jerk you seem to think I am, then so be it. I can live with it.

      • Tony says:

        I’m not suggesting you are an obnoxious jerk, far from it, but a little bit of self appraisal rather than aggressive defence might be in order. What you said and what you claim do not add up. Or perhaps you can reconcile for me your two statements:

        “Sometimes just inches from the separate pedestrian walkway they should have been using.”

        and

        “I have no problem with pedestrians….using the bike path”

        If you have no problem with them using the bike path why “should” they have been using the pedestrian walkway?

        That first sentence is so reminiscent of the exhortation we often hear from motorists in various degrees of rudeness and object to that we should be using the cycle path.

        If you want to use the bike path you need to recognise that other people in all their varieties will be using it too and that pedestrians are typically both unobservant and unpredictable. That means either going at an appropriate speed and being prepared for all the unexpecteds you came across or, if you want to travel faster, use the roads.

        • bikinginla says:

          Tony, I would suggest that the fact that I had all those close calls — and that they were close calls, not collisions — serves as prima facie evidence that I was riding in exactly the manner you describe.

          Had I been riding fast and carelessly, as you seem to think, and as I have often argued against other riders doing on this blog, I would not have been able to avoid either of the people who stepped directly in front of me without looking, and may have collided with the groups blocking the entire pathway, as I have often seen other riders do in the past.

          You’re preaching to the choir, yet for some strange reason, assuming I’m the sinner in need of salvation.

          As for your other argument, look at it this way.

          A roadway with a bike lane functions best when cyclists ride in the bike lane, and motorists stay out of it. That doesn’t mean that neither should ever cross into the other lanes; cyclists can leave the bike lane anytime the rider feels it’s appropriate to do so, and drivers can enter the bike lane to make turns and enter or leave parking spaces.

          The roadway does not function well when one group or the other decides the lane markings no longer matter, and anyone can be anywhere on the roadway, doing anything, with no regard for other users. When that happens, it becomes a dangerous piece of asphalt that no longer serves its intended purpose.

          Under normal conditions, I ride the bike path without complaint, making sure I arrive early enough to avoid the most crowded conditions, and avoiding it entirely on weekends. And as you said, I slow down, give a warning when passing and ride carefully around other users, whether or not I think they should be there, and regardless of markings on the pavement indicating that certain sections are for bikes only.

          However, I do feel something is seriously wrong when it is no longer safe to ride a bike on a bike path.

    • prinzrob says:

      Tony, your car/bike analogy is false. The behavior the poster described would be the equivalent of a group of cyclists riding together, blocking BOTH sides of a roadway so that passing isn’t even an option, or riding directly across the path of a car driver with no warning. I think we can all agree that this would be obnoxious if cyclists did this, and similarly obnoxious when we substitute pedestrians.

      I can only speak for myself, but if I choose to bike on a motor vehicle street as opposed to a nearby bike path there is usually a good reason for my decision, and even though I am not prohibited from using the street like pedestrians are on this bike path, I still adjust my behavior to account for the traffic around me. I consider it common courtesy.

  9. Angelo says:

    Does CA really have paths intended for bicycle only use (i.e. to separate pedestrians)?

    Does CA have any enforcement of bicycle only paths – keeping pedestrians out? Against bicyclists who try to use regular lanes instead of paths or bike lanes?

    All the paths and bike lanes I’ve seen in PA and MD seem to be designed with pedestrian (6mph to 8mph max) speeds in mind (blind curves, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians). Similarly, almost all of the bike lanes are in the door zone, because planners say timid riders are more comfortable with them (so aggressive riders should not rider faster than is safe in door zones – slow to 6mph) and there is no enforcement against parking on the few bike lanes that replaced regular lanes.

  10. Peter R says:

    There is a separate pedestrian “walkway” that parallels the beach path. I think the beach path used to be marked with “no pedestrians”, but I am not sure.

    I agree that bicyclists have to adapt to conditions, but I found that on the beach path that no matter how slow you go and how prepared you are to stop or swerve, people do unpredictable things that are impossible to react to.

    When I lived there, inline skating on the path was very popular. In the afternoon, there would be one skater about every 30 feet in Venice and Santa Monica. You’d be on the opposite side of the path and without warning the skater would zip one side to the side you were on right in front of you. Even going 5mph you wouldn’t have time to react. I went into the sand one time too many.

  11. MrHoss says:

    Pedestrians have the right of way. Not cyclists.

  12. bdflatlander says:

    I ride my Trek road bike on the beach bike path often. I almost never ride the section of the BP in Santa Monica or Venice because there are too many clueless peds about.

    I usually pick up the beach BP in Playa del Rey just south of the bridge the crosses over Bollona Creek. The peds aren’t usually too bad except when you get to the part of Dockweiller where all the RV’s park. The BP in Manhattan Beach can be a little crowded at times with peds so you need to be careful, especially near the MB Pier.

    The key, as many posters have said, is to ride the beach BP early in the morning. I usually ride it on Sundays.

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