Tag Archive for bicyclist safety

Stopping for stop signs — or not

Experience says there's a 50/50 he didn't stop — and about a 95% chance he didn't stop completely.

If our elected leaders really want to balance their budgets, all they have to do is start enforcing stop signs.

Take the one on the corner near my building.

Simple observation — standing on the corner and counting cars — reveals that maybe one in 20 drivers comes to a full stop if there are no pedestrians or cross traffic. About the same number blows through the stop even when someone else has the right of way.

The remaining 90% are evenly divided between drivers who slow down to a near stop before rolling through — known around the world as a California stop — and those who just slow slightly or blow through if there’s no one else at the intersection.

And while I’ve never conducted a similar study of cyclists, I suspect the same percentages would probably hold true.

After all, most of us drive as well as ride. And we tend to carry the same habits with us, good or bad, as we switch from four wheels to two.

As for myself, I fall somewhere between the 5% that comes to a full stop and the 45% that slows to a near stop before rolling through the intersection.

I confess. I didn’t use to.

I’ve always made a point of stopping if someone else had the right-of-way. But when no one else was around, I’d usually slow just enough to verify that the intersection was clear, then ride across without stopping.

That ended the day I was crossing an intersection near my home — one that I always blew through because it lay in the middle of two hills. If I didn’t stop, the momentum I carried from zooming down the first one would carry me over the second.

This time, though, I noticed a man walking near the corner with his young son. Then just as I sailed through the stop, I saw the boy point at me and heard him say, “I want to be just like him!”

And I realized I’d just taught a little kid to run stop signs.

That was the last time I ever did it.

These days, I brake to a near stop as I approach the intersection. If there’s no one there, I’ll wait until the exact moment my bike stops forward motion, then release my brakes and let momentum carry me forward.

Otherwise, I’ll hold the brakes, doing a brief track stand until I have the right-of-way, then continue on my way — but only after making eye contact with any drivers who may pose a risk before I move forward. And I try to never put my foot down unless I have to wait for traffic to clear.

There are a couple reasons for that.

First, it’s my experience that bad things happen at intersections; studies have shown that’s where most bike/car collisions occur. And there’s been far too many times when I’ve had to dodge out of the way of drivers who weren’t paying attention, or move quickly to avoid cars spinning out of control after a collision.

If I’m still in the pedals, I can respond instantly by moving forward or turning to either side. If my foot is planted on the ground, though, I’m a sitting duck. By the time I can get my foot back on the pedal and try to move out of the way, it could be too late.

In fact, I’ve only seen a cyclist hit by a car on two occasions; both times, they were stopped at an intersection with a foot on the ground.

One of them was me.

The other reason is, contrary to a common misperception — and despite what some riders and police officials insist – there is absolutely no requirement in the California Vehicle Code that cyclists have to put a foot down to come to a full stop.

The applicable codes are CVC 21200, which says cyclists are  ”…subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle…,” and CVC 22450a, which says that the driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign must stop at the entrance to an intersection or at the limit line, without entering the crosswalk.

That’s it. Nothing about how to stop or how long you have to stop, and no special requirements for stopping on a bike.

Look at it this way — a driver doesn’t have to stop at a stop sign, shift into neutral and put on the emergency brake before releasing the brake, shifting back into drive and going on his or her way.

And neither do you.

If you cease forward motion and allow vehicles with the right-of-way to go through the intersection before you do, you’re complying with the law, whether or not you put your foot down. And even if you only come to a near stop and continue to roll forward slowly while waiting for your turn, you should be good as long as you observe the right-of-way.

I’ve done that countless times in full view of police officers, and never had a problem.

That said, whether or not you actually came to a stop is a judgment call. And it is possible to get a ticket if a cop thinks you didn’t stop completely.

It’s also possible to encounter one of those misinformed officers who thinks a cyclist can’t come to a stop without putting a foot on the pavement. And have the misfortune of ending up in front of a judge who agrees.

Because it’s not always what the law says that determines what’s legal.

But how it’s interpreted — or misinterpreted — by those who enforce it.

Update: Mark points us to a section of the vehicle code that I missed; CVC 587 defines “Stop or stopping” as “any cessation of movement of a vehicle, whether occupied or not.”

………

Stage 11 of the Vuelta takes the peloton to Principality of Andorra and the Pyrenees, as Igor Anton bounces back on the final climb to claim a three second victory and reclaim the leader’s jersey. Yesterday’s leader Joaquin Rodriguez drops to fourth overall; Nicolas Roche and Frank Schleck are the best known riders still in the top 10, at 8th and 9th, respectively. Tour de France champ Alberto Contador says Anton could win it all.

Meanwhile, the best known American Pro-Am takes place this coming weekend in Souderton PA. And Kiwi track cyclist Adam Stewart receives a two-year ban for importing EPO and Human Growth Hormone.

………

Formerly bike-unfriendly Beverly Hills unveils its first ever bike plan; cyclists band together to demand that it includes a safer Santa Monica Blvd.

On a related subject, LADOT Bike Blog relates dates and locations for L.A.’s Bike Plan public meetings and webinar, as well as why it matters.

………

Malibu publications report on the concerns of cyclists at last week’s Public Safety Commission meeting. (Note to Malibu Surfside News: when an item is reposted on another website, you cite the original source — not the repost, capice? Even the AP says it’s okay to credit bloggers.) The City Council Transportation Committee gears up for the Metro Call for Projects. Metro’s The Source gears up to accept comments — but watch your f***ing potty mouth. This weekend’s Spoke’n’art ride features a collection of 9/11 memorabilia; if you’re looking for something a little tastier, maybe you’d prefer Sunday’s LA Tamale Throwdown, complete with bike valet. Those in colder climbs are gearing up for winter biking already; here in coastal L.A., we’re still waiting for summer to get here. In yet another example of the DMV encouraging drivers to park in bike lanes, Brent forwards this question (#6) he encountered while studying to renew his driver’s license.

Speaking of bike lanes, the NYPD loves them so much they park in one themselves. Don’t steal bamboo bikes, bro. A Gallaudet University employee dies after falling from his bike — and waiting 15 minutes for campus security to show up. A Tuscaloosa physician is killed when his bike is hit by a car; in a rare occurrence, the driver is seriously injured as well. A St. Petersburg city councilwoman is seriously injured in a collision with a hit-and-run fellow cyclist. A St. Louis bridge has an opportunity for a beautiful bike and pedestrian makeover. A bike stolen from a cross-country cyclist in Missouri is discovered in Tom Sawyer’s Cave, or close to it, anyway. Cyclelicious takes a detailed look at the newly unveiled Schlumpf Belt Drive System. A new device could give drivers 20 seconds warning before colliding with a bike. Lower speeds limits mean a better quality of life. Bicycling offers nine tips for faster fitness.

Russell Brand rides an ill-fitting bike in New York, while scofflaw cyclist Jude Law breaks the law by riding on London sidewalks. Scotland gets it’s first bike share program. A Scottish bicyclist dies in the lap of a drunk driver’s passenger after being hit at 70 mph and thrown through the car’s windshield. Something UK drivers and cyclists can agree on, as both protest plans to turn off streetlights. Brit cyclists deliver a postal protest in an attempt to keep Posties on their Pashleys. A British cyclist dies riding without a helmet after downing eight or nine drinks. A three-year old is banished from the local park because his training wheels are deemed a threat to “health and safety.” Don’t carry your chain lock over your handlebars, seriously. Biking in Estonia, circa 1930-ish.

Finally, here’s your chance to be the proud owner of a second-hand Brompton.

A 24-carat gold-plated Brompton.

For all those celebrating today, l’shana tova! or Eid saeedi!, respectively. And respectfully.

The Incredible Disappearing Bike Lanes

So here’s my biggest complaint about riding in Los Angeles. Aside from inattentive drivers yammering on their now-illegal handheld cell phones and bike paths clogged with pedestrians and bus drivers who don’t use their mirrors and cops who write tickets for things that aren’t against the law, anyway.

Of course, I’m talking about a “system” (cough, cough) of bike lanes that start and stop at random, without actually going anywhere or connecting to anything.

Take the bike lanes on the newly rebuilt Santa Monica Boulevard near my home (yes, that Santa Monica Blvd.). Or as I like to call it, the Incredible Disappearing Bike Lane and the Block of Death.

You see, when I heard they were planning to accommodate bicyclists on the boulevard when they were done, I actually got my hopes up.

I know, I know.

This town will always break your heart.

But still, that hope got me through all those years of construction, when I could barely get home to my own apartment, and couldn’t sleep because of the heavy construction equipment operating in the middle of the night just a few hundred feet from my window. Not to mention all those unreturned calls to the mayor’s office to complain about it. (I hope Mr. Villaraigosa remembers that before he asks for my vote again.)

I had visions of a state-of-the-art bike path actually separated from the roadway — I mean, why not, since they were completely rebuilding the roadway anyway — or maybe separated bike lanes, or at least something elevated above the roadway or set off with a concrete divider.

But no. After enduring years of construction, all we got was a lousy line of paint to separate riders from traffic along one of the busiest thoroughfares in Los Angeles.

The westbound lane starts abruptly a few blocks past the east side of Century City, requiring several blocks of fighting your way through heavy traffic just to get there. Which gives you choice — you can take the lane and risk the wrath of angry drivers and impatient bus jockeys, or you can take to the wide, virtually empty sidewalk for a few blocks before cutting back over once the bike lane starts.

Guess which one I usually choose.

On the west end, it dumps you off without warning at Sepulveda Boulevard. Not too bad, if you know the area, since Sepulveda is a designated bike route, although it really shouldn’t be. Or you can turn off on one of the quiet side streets before Sepulveda, ride a couple blocks north to Ohio, and continue west in relative peace and safety.

Needless to say, there’s no signage there to direct riders, so if you don’t know the area, you’re on your own.

Which means riders are often forced to take the lane on Santa Monica, just before a busy freeway onramp. And fight their way through heavy traffic as the street narrows from four lanes to two, with a degree of difficulty that’s off the charts.

And that’s the good news.

On the other side, heading east, things start off well, with the lane beginning just after Sepulveda. If you’re fool enough to believe the city’s designation and ride that section of Sepulveda, you can easily pick up the bike path at that point — assuming you survive the intersection, which is not a given.

From there, you have a smooth route through West Los Angeles and Century City. Well, most of Century City, anyway.

Because all of the sudden, without warning, the bike lane simply… stops. You’ve just made it past all the cars rushing in and out of the shopping mall, and you’re approaching Avenue of the Stars when you pass a sign hidden between the palm trees, where no rider trying to stay alive on such a busy street is likely to look. And all that sign says, on the off chance you actually happen to see it, is “Bike Lane. End.”

That’s it.

No advice for riders, suggesting that they turn, or take the lane, or ride the sidewalk, or just bend over and kiss their ass goodbye.

Nothing.

Which means that whether you’re an experienced rider who can navigate busy traffic, or a beginning rider without the skills to take a lane, you’re on your on. It’s bad enough in the middle of the day when I usually ride; I can ride fast enough that, in most cases, I can hold the lane without causing too much inconvenience to the drivers, or undue risk to myself.

But God help you if you’re an inexperienced or slow rider, or if you have to negotiate those streets at rush hour when the street is filled with impatient drivers, few of whom will willingly take the extra couple seconds required to pass a cyclist safely.

So why would anyone design bike lanes that actually makes it more dangerous for riders?

A more generous person, one willing to give city traffic planners the benefit of the doubt, might think the intent was to encourage people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods to bike to their jobs in Century City. But that assumes the people who live in there actually work nearby, which is seldom the case in Los Angeles.

And my personal observation indicates that virtually every cyclist who uses the eastbound bike lane continues through to Beverly Hills on Santa Monica Blvd., on a street that wasn’t designed for cycling, in a city with no bike lanes, routes or paths whatsoever.

A cynic like me, though, would say they just penciled those lanes in as an afterthought once they finished the blueprints, and just didn’t give the slightest thought to what riders would do when the lane ended. As usual.

Or just didn’t care.

 

Will Campbell addressed this subject in the Times last year, taking the contrary position that we need fewer bike lanes and more educated drivers. Outdoor Urbanite offers a variation on Bicycling’s suggested Mandeville Canyon route, and wants to know if anyone has ever taken the fire road on skinny tires. Just Williams discusses Britain’s worst drivers; over here, I’d put Santa Monica cab drivers at the top of the list. You’ll find advice for beginning bike commuters here, and C.I.C.L.E. offers a beginners workshop on riding in traffic. A children’s hospital in Ontario, CA (the other one) says their study shows helmets save lives. Evidently, the war between cyclists and drivers has spread throughout the English-speaking world. And finally, a cycling editor wants to save the hour record, once held by the legendary Eddie Merckx.

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