Tag Archive for commuting

Road report from the dark side

Forgive me father, for I have sinned.

It’s been a full week since I’ve been on my bike. Worse, I’ve been driving my car to and from work almost every day. Seven out of the last eight working days, in fact.

Yes, it’s true. I’ve gone over to the dark side.

Not that it was my idea, of course. I’d much rather still be working at home, so I can take off for a long lunch and knock off a quick 30 or so miles on the bike. Or maybe 40. Or 50. Especially when the weather is absolutely perfect, like it was last week.

And to make matters worse, the office I’m working in is just south of Ballona Creek, so I can see all the riders headed to and from the beach on the Ballona Creek Bike Path. Assuming they don’t get mugged along the way.

But in this economy, I’m just happy to have work after a very slow summer. Besides, it could be worse; I could have been a high-paid investment banker on Wall Street.

All this time in my car has given me an opportunity to observe cycling from the perspective of a driver. And surprisingly, it hasn’t been all that bad.

Sure, there was the cyclist who hadn’t learned how to ride in a straight line yet, and was swerving right and left with every corresponding pedal stroke. As a result, he’d suddenly jerk into traffic, then back out again, back and forth. And yet, every driver somehow managed to avoid him, at least as long as he was within my site.

Or there was the woman riding a single speed cruiser with a big basket on the handlebars, who made a very, very slow speed right turn off a very busy street — and still, somehow, she managed to swerve all the way to the middle of the left lane before completing her turn (that would be the lane nearest the middle of the road, for any Brits reading this).

In the time it took to finish her turn, two cars were also able to make the same right turn behind her. One went into the right lane, safely passing to her right; the other followed her into the left lane, none too pleased from the sound of it. But as near as I could tell before my light changed, she was able to safely, and by all appearances, happily, continue down the road, as far as she could ride from where she was supposed to be without crossing over into oncoming traffic.

But most of the cyclists I’ve seen on my commute have just been people dressed for work or class, riding safely and politely. And most of the drivers I’ve seen have been equally courteous, taking the time to pass each rider safely.

Now, I have no doubt that if I would have talked to one of them, they could have told me about some driver I didn’t see who came too close, or turned right in front of them with no warning; just as I could no doubt find drivers who would complain about some crazy cyclist they encountered.

By and large, though, I’ve been pleased to see just how well cars and bikes have been able to share the road. So maybe this crazy town isn’t as dysfunctional as I thought.

As for me, I’m pleased to report that, even though I’m now a driver myself, I haven’t felt any urge to run a cyclist off the road, or toss a large drink at a rider I pass — or raw vegetables, as seems to be the fashion overseas.

So evidently, it’s not contagious. Or maybe I just haven’t been exposed long enough yet.

 

Tamerlane picks up a thread that began in New York, and transforms it into a meditation on vulnerability, and discusses the ethics of biking. Will Campbell amusingly confronts another cigarette smoking asshat. The S.F. Cycling Examiner describes flipping over the handlebars, without spilling his coffee. CNN discovers Santa Barbara’s former naked cyclist, now baring it all in Oregon. Town Mouse’s novel is soon to be available in paperback, although with the current exchange rate, still out of reach for most of us Yanks. Bike Girl continues going car free, while I go reluctantly bike free.

Socially conscious commuters? Or law-flaunting demons from hell?

There’s an intersection in front of my building with a 4-way stop. You don’t have to stand there very long to note that most cars passing through fail to come to anything near a complete stop; many go right through without even slowing down, as if the stop sign wasn’t there. Or as if standard traffic laws don’t apply to them.

And don’t get me started on turn signals. The drivers who actually signal their intentions, at this or any other Los Angeles intersection, sometimes seem rare enough to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Based on those observations, I could assume that everyone behind the wheel in Los Angeles is a bad driver.

I know that’s not true, though. I’m a driver myself — one who actually takes the time to observe stop signs and use his turn signals. And everyday, I see other people driving courteously and carefully; they’re just not the ones who stand out.

Or any time I’m out on Santa Monica Blvd, it’s almost a given that I’ll see someone in an expensive sports car — or driving like he wishes he had one — weaving dangerously in and out of traffic at speeds far above the posted limit. That could lead me to assume that all drivers of high-performance vehicles speed and drive recklessly; yet, again, I often see Porsches, Ferraris, Vantages and other high-powered vehicles driven as placidly as a soccer mom’s minivan.

So why do so many people in this town think that all bicyclists are alike?

You see it all the time in the comments that follow virtually any online post about bicycling, such as the comments on the Times website concerning the good  doctor’s Mandeville Canyon brake test, or on bulletin boards such as  Craigslist, like this comment.  Or you could have seen it again in the Times’ Letters to the Editor on Saturday, in response to the paper’s editorial urging drivers to stop harassing cyclists. (Inexplicably, the Times has posted letters from everyday except Saturday on their site; I’m including the link on the off chance that they might rectify their oversight.)

Bicyclists are aggressive. They flaunt the law. They (gasp!) ride two or more abreast.

Take this excerpt from one of Saturday’s letters: Cyclists are insistent about their right to equal use of the road (ed: actually, the California vehicle code is insistent on that), but they couldn’t care less about following the rules of the road. Only the privileges apply to them, not the responsibilities.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The biking community includes everyone from casual beach cruisers to off roaders to fixies to road racers, with a multitude of attitudes and riding styles in between. Some flaunt the law, others — I dare say, most — observe it to varying degrees.

Others carve out an exemption of one sort or another from the greater mass of evil riders, such as the next writer, who distinguishes from those “going green” and riding for transportation purposes, and other riders simply out for recreation. Of course, in her eyes, the “green” riders are the ones who observe riding etiquette, while the “pleasure riders” are the ones who “encourage road rage.” (Ed: more on that tomorrow.)

Isn’t it just possible, however, that some cyclists ride for both pleasure and transportation? Couldn’t someone commute on two wheels during the week, then don spandex before hitting the road for pleasure on the weekends?

As I’ve noted before, I try to ride safely and courteously, stopping for stop signs and red lights, and giving drivers room to pass whenever possible. And from what I’ve seen on the road, I’m not the only one. I often find myself striking up a conversation with other riders waiting patiently for the light to change — including, on occasion, members of professional racing teams in town for one reason or another.

Sure, there are rude and dangerous riders out there, just as there are rude and dangerous drivers. And they aren’t all high-speed roadies; I’ve seen as many — if not more — casual riders blow through red lights as I have those on high-end racing bikes. But my own personal experience tells me they are the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Judging from comments like these, though, there seem to be a number of people here in the City of Fallen Angels who assume we all have 666 birthmarks hidden somewhere under our spandex.

 

The Times discusses rage-less road sharing today, Westside Bikeside! recounts the comments of a clueless councilman in neighboring Santa Monica, and Streetsblog talks with an expert on remorseless, horn-blaring sociopaths.

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