Open letter to Gov. Jerry Brown — and a challenge to meet with L.A. cyclists

Dear Governor Brown,

By now, you’ve undoubtedly noticed a little anger  — okay, a lot of anger — directed your way from the cycling community.

Maybe you expected it when you vetoed SB 910, the three-foot passing law sponsored by Sen. Lowenthal. Or maybe you didn’t realize just how much we cared about this bill.

You see, one of the greatest dangers bicyclists face on the streets of this state comes from drivers who interpret the current requirement to pass cyclists at an undefined “safe distance” to mean anything that doesn’t actually come in contact with the rider.

No, seriously, more than one driver has actually told me exactly that when I confronted them about a pass that put my life and safety at risk.

There are many problems with that attitude.

The most obvious is that motorists frequently misjudge that distance and can collide with riders, either sideswiping them or hitting them from behind; in fact, at least two cyclists have been killed in hit-from-behind collisions since you vetoed SB 910. Maybe the drivers never saw the riders they hit. Or maybe they tried to squeeze by without giving the riders sufficient passing distance.

Chances are, we’ll never know. But many cyclists — myself included — believe their blood, and the blood of future victims, is on your hands as a result of your veto.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Cyclists also face danger from cars that pass too closely when we have to swerve to avoid obstacles in the road, ranging from broken glass and potholes to other vehicles; a simple slight swerve to the left can mean a collision with a car traveling only a foot or two away.

Larger vehicles, such as trucks and buses, can pose other dangers. The slipstream of a large vehicle can be enough to blow a cyclist off his or her bike or off the road. And when larger vehicles pass too close, they can block cyclists from moving around obstacles in their way, such as parked vehicles.

Both of these have happened to me, right here in California. I’ve been blown off the road by a semi-truck that passed less — far less — than three feet away. And I’ve been blocked by a bus that passed too close, forcing me to swerve to the right and into the back of a parked car.

Fortunately, I survived both of those incidents with only minor injuries. Other bicyclists haven’t been so lucky.

Your veto message noted that you relied on the advice of Caltrans and the CHP in deciding to veto the bill. Unfortunately, you selected the two agencies most cyclists trust least to defend our rights and protect our safety.

Caltrans has a long-standing bias in favor of moving the greatest number of vehicles at the highest possible speed, resulting in poor road design and excessive speeds that continue to put all Californians in jeopardy. While they talk about making the roads safe for everyone, here in the Los Angeles area, at least, they often don’t even show up at meetings they’ve promised to attend to discuss safety improvements on our most dangerous roadways, such as Pacific Coast Highway.

Meanwhile, CHP officers receive little or no training in bicycle law, or in the physics of bicycling collisions, resulting in flawed collision investigations that too often result in blaming the victim — who may not be alive or otherwise capable of defending themselves.

These agencies gave you bad advice. Many of us believe they lied to you; at best, they failed to understand the application of SB 910 in real life situations.

Your veto message cited the specific fear that the 15 mph passing clause in this bill would cause drivers to slow dramatically in order to pass cyclists.

This hasn’t occurred in any of the other states that have a 3-foot passing law. So what is it about California drivers that makes you think they are incapable of driving safely?

The law clearly allowed drivers to pass cyclists in virtually any circumstance without slowing down, simply by moving three feet to the left or crossing the center divider when necessary. In the exceptionally rare event when that would not be possible, even under existing law, drivers would still be forced to slow down in order to avoid colliding with the riders in front of them, then wait for an opportunity to pass safely when traffic allows.

The only reason this clause was included in the bill was to allow drivers to pass cyclists around intersections or other congested conditions.

In choosing to veto this bill, you have chosen to protect drivers — who are already protected by crumple zones, airbags and seat belts — from rear-end collisions that are unlikely to ever occur.

And instead, you’ve put at risk every cyclist on our roads from dangerous passes that are almost inevitable. Cyclists who are protected by, at most, a helmet designed to offer protection from impacts only up to 14 mph.

To put that in perspective, an impact at the 35 mph to 45 mph speeds you cited has a roughly 80% risk of fatality, with or without a helmet.

In fact, your veto may have increased the risk to cyclists. Many riders have reported an increase in unsafe passing since you vetoed SB 910, as your veto sent a clear message to some drivers that it is perfectly legal to pass a cyclist at less that three feet.

Much less, in some cases.

Just today, I was passed by two separate drivers at distances of less than one foot — close enough that a simple sneeze on my part, or that of the driver, could have resulted in a fatal collision.

And it wouldn’t have been the driver who died.

Oddly, though, despite the anger and outcry you must surely be aware of — unless your staff has failed to inform you of the many Tweets, emails, blogs, letters to the editor and phone calls that have resulted from your veto — you have failed to respond in any way.

We complain, with great merit, I might add; yet your silence remains deafening. Which frankly, is the last thing I, and many other bike riders, expected when we gave you our votes.

Frankly, I am extremely disappointed in you. And have lost a great deal of respect for a man, and leader, I formerly held in high esteem.

It’s not like I’m a single-issue voter. There were, and are, a number of reasons why I supported your campaign and cast my vote for you to become our state’s governor.

But when that single issue could determine whether I, and other cyclists like me, live or die on our streets, it becomes a matter of overwhelming importance.

So I am issuing you a challenge.

Come down to Los Angeles, and meet with cyclists such as myself. Explain more clearly why you chose to veto this bill, because the explanation you gave just doesn’t bear close examination. Then listen to us as we relate the dangers we face on a daily basis, and discuss solutions that could improve safety for all riders and encourage more people to choose to ride bikes, instead of further clogging our roadways.

Our mayor — the one who proposed what eventually became SB 910 — held a similar bike summit. And yes, he had to face a lot of angry bicyclists. But ended up building a much better relationship with the cycling community than would otherwise have been possible.

It’s your choice.

You can talk to us now, or you can continue to hide in Sacramento.

But we’re mad as hell. With good reason.

And we’re not going to go away.

……..

The racers and organizers of Wolfpack Hustle’s inspiring victory over a Jet Blue flight to Long Beach will be honored by the City Council on Friday.

And frequent contributor Todd Munson writes to invite you to attend — or compete in — the UCI Spooky Cross Weekend in Irvine’s Hidden Valley Park this weekend, beginning with registration and course previews on Friday.

……..

LACBC thanks L.A cyclists for a successful Tour de Fat and CicLAvia. Russ Roca offers his usual great eye to capture both. KCRW interviews CicLAvia’s Heidi Zeller. Last weekend’s CicLAvia ran from South L.A. to OccupyLA. Joel Epstein looks at how CicLAvia can RENEW L.A. How to make CicLAvia even better; I’d suggest starting with a name that doesn’t require awkward capitalization in the middle of the word.

No, really.

……..

Bikerowave is having a party on Friday, October 21st and you’re invited. The Santa Monica Museum of Art invites you to ride with them in celebration of the Pacific Standard Time art festival. And Pasadena’s Art Night Ride rolls tonight.

……..

The newly released L.A. County Model Design Manual for Living Streets is now available online. Notes from last week’s barely announced BPIT meeting that took several cyclists by surprise, myself included. It only takes Damien six months to get new bike racks in his neighborhood. Gary looks at the forthcoming Main Street bike lanes and says it’s time to demand more than just the minimum. When it comes to shootings, cyclists aren’t always the victims. Maybe it’s a positive thing when drivers are embarrassed about texting or threatening cyclists. Bicycling magazine likes the distinctive new Helen’s kit. Long Beach lands next year’s international Pro Walk/Pro Bike convention. Friday is the last day to register for an advance discount for next month’s California Bike Summit. Rick Risemberg will lead another edition of his popular Bicycle Fixation’s “Stitching the River” ride on Sunday, Oct. 23rd. The Red Kite Prayer’s Patrick Brady goes on a mini-REI book tour to support his new book The No-Drop Zone; sorry Tustin, you missed it already. Here’s your chance to voice your opinion on how to take back Colorado Blvd in Eagle Rock. Metro rolls out ten new bike cars.

CalBike notes that two bike-friendly bills survived the governor’s chopping block. Why drivers should support biking infrastructure for other people. Oakland has a 16-year old biking prodigy. San Diego’s had a long love affair with the bike. October 25th is Bike Day in San Diego; as far as I’m concerned, every day is Bike Day. The San Francisco Bay Guardian looks at Gov. Jerry “Buzz ‘Em” Brown’s veto of the three foot passing law, as does former framebuilder Dave Moulton. A Goleta company offers a reward for information about a cyclist missing in Oregon for nearly a month. Alaska resident Dr. Janice Sheufelt wins her division in California’s Furnace Creek 508 ultra-endurance race last weekend.

A cyclist endures a hit, F.U. and run. Former Talking Head and current bike activist David Byrne offers a Poem to Cyclists. Every state gets back more highway funds than they pay in; which means roads are paid for with your tax money. Springfield Cyclist offers an inventive solution to a lack of bike lock. Yet another attempt to ban bikes, as the incredibly small-minded people of Hull WI demonstrate their auto-centric bias against cyclists, joggers and pedestrians in the name of safety; my suggestion is that all of the above should try spending their money outside the city limits for awhile. Chicago is sued for letting a Hyatt Hotel heir off the hook for assaulting a cyclist, who got arrested for defending himself. GM declares war on cyclists, much to the chagrin of almost everyone, then rapidly backs off and says so sorry. Rebuilding New Orleans results in a more bike-friendly city. Bike-friendly DOT Secretary Ray LaHood calls it quits at the end of this term, win or lose; he also calls attention to a 9-year old bike riding victim of distracted driving. Supporting bikeable cities isn’t liberal or conservative, so it’s time to stop the politicization of cycling. A South Carolina father is killed by an apparently driver-less SUV as he walked next to his bike riding son. The afore mentioned Dave Moulton urges cyclists to consider the risks and avoid irrational fear; if you don’t read his blog, you’re missing the insights of one of the last century’s best framebuilders. Several cyclists are injured in a Miami peloton mishap.

The fatal dooring of an Ottawa cyclist raises safety concerns and advice on how to ride safely, as a Canadian driver goes on trial for running down five cyclists in 2009. The case for and against licensing cyclists in Calgary. British cyclists stand up for a safer Blackfriar’s Bridge. Once again, an overly aggressive UK driver demands a cyclist get out of his way because we don’t pay the Road Tax that was no one has paid since 1937. So who is it that really needs to wear hi-viz? A “leaked” preview of the 2012 Tour de France draws a positive review. Pro cyclist Riccardo Ricco faces a 12-year doping ban. Moscow gets its first bike lane; oddly, it looks like some of ours. A surprisingly even-handed look at Australia’s mandatory helmet laws, and a good read no matter which side of the great helmet debate you take. An Aussie cyclist selfishly rides to work every day.

Finally, unless you’ve been out on the Serengeti, you’ve already seen the video of the cyclist rammed by a buck in South Africa. Meanwhile, Kiwi cyclists are under attack by marauding magpies. Closest I’ve come is being grazed by a golden eagle swooping down to snatch its prey on the side of the road; I don’t think it misjudged it’s approach so much as just didn’t care if I was in the way.

Then again, this heat wave has brought termites swarming into our bedroom, which makes me very glad I don’t own this bike right now.

3 comments

  1. [...] Rogers of Network blog Biking in LA has vented some of his frustrations in an open letter to Governor Brown: In choosing to veto this [...]

  2. [...] polite but firm thrashing of Governor Jerry Brown, the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans at Biking In L.A. is a must read.  ”In fact, your veto may have increased the risk to cyclists. Many riders [...]

  3. [...] Rogers of Network blog Biking in LA has vented some of his frustrations in an open letter to Governor Brown: In choosing to veto this [...]

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