Tag Archive for drivers vs. cyclists

A little human interaction turns a bad day into a good ride — one even the worst driver can’t ruin

This day did not start well.

Monday morning meant back to our regular routine after the long holiday weekend. Which meant walking my wife down to her car, then taking the dog out for its morning walk.

The dog has her own routine, too.

She insists on walking out front and waiting for my wife’s car to exit the garage. Then stands and barks a few times as my wife drives off to work.

And then — and only then — will she acquiesce to begin our daily constitutional around the block.

Today was different.

This time, she heard the garage gate open and took off running, jerking the leash out of my hand. And planted herself squarely in front of my wife’s car, hidden below her field of vision, in an apparent attempt to keep her from leaving.

Nice gesture. Bad execution.

Fortunately, my wife is a careful driver, and was exiting the garage slowly enough to hear my shouts of warning. She jammed on the brakes and stopped just short of turning our Corgi into road kill.

So I collected the dog, and after giving her a good talking to — which she seemed to clearly understand despite the language barrier — we finished our walk, my stomach churning the whole way over what might have been and almost was.

A few hours later I was still shaken, so I did what I usually when I’m upset.

I got my bike and went for a ride.

I was about three miles from home when the light at a busy intersection turned yellow. I noticed a driver facing the opposite direction, waiting to make her left and unsure what I was going to do. So I gave a quick nod for her to go ahead while I braked to a stop.

She smiled in response and waved her thanks as she turned just before the light changed to red.

A few moments later, as I waited at the light to turn green, a car pulled up behind me with its right turn signal on. I moved my bike slightly to the right so he could pull up to the intersection, nodding his thanks as he moved up next to me.

But instead of stopping, he continued to edge forward. So I pointed to the No Right on Red sign, unsure if he could still see me. Yet shortly afterwards, the car’s forward stance visibly relaxed as he took his foot off the gas, then turned around to give me a thumbs up for saving him from a possible ticket.

And suddenly, my mood brightened, the day’s near disaster finally behind me.

Throughout my ride, I found myself interacting with drivers and pedestrians in countless little ways. For once, it wasn’t drivers versus cyclists, but human beings recognizing the humanity in one another, and finding ways to share the road in peace and safety.

I even got the chance to express some thanks of my own, as a driver prepared to enter his car in a busy area where dooring is always a distinct possibility. He looked up and saw me, though, and somehow managed to squeeze himself into his car while barely holding the door open to allow himself the smallest possible entryway. And leaving me plenty of room to ride past as I thanked him for the courtesy.

Just one stranger looking out for another.

It was a day when courtesy and compassion seemed to override the usual stress on the streets. And a reminder that we’re not really cyclists or drivers, but just people trying to get from here to there and return to our loved ones in peace.

And in one piece.

Although that came into serious question when I encountered a woman who may just be one of the worst drivers in human history. Or at least one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

I was making my way home, taking my usual shortcut through the VA hospital grounds, when I was passed by a massive white SUV.

As we both neared a stop sign, she edged over to the right in an obvious attempt to block my path. So I rode around her anyway, only to have her lurch towards me in what I could only interpret as an unprovoked threat, coming less than a foot from hitting me before straightening her wheel and continuing down the road.

She didn’t get far, though. An ambulance coming from the opposite direction with red lights and siren blaring caused the car ahead of her to pull to the right and stop, blocking her path.

I pulled out my camera phone, intending to take a photo of her license plate while she was stopped.

Then watched in horror as she hesitated for a few moments before cutting sharply to the left, driving head-on into the path of the ambulance to get around the stopped car. And forcing the ambulance driver into a full panic stop, less than a block from the ER entrance, to let the dangerously aggressive driver pass without causing a wreck.

Barely.

And never mind that every second counts in an emergency situation, and that her idiotic stunt could have put the patient in jeopardy. Let alone everyone else on the road who could have been collateral damage to her need to get where she’s going just a few seconds faster.

Wherever the hell there might be.

Once the ambulance passed, I kicked it up into my smallest gears to catch up to her.

Unfortunately, shift change at the hospital flooded the street with cars, cutting me off before I could catch her. And letting her get away to threaten other cyclists and risk the lives of other people another day.

Yet even that couldn’t kill my upbeat mood.

It would take more than one dangerous, threatening jerk to outweigh all the safe, positive and friendly interactions that came before.

And that’s what I call a very good ride.

And a good day.

Even if the jerk got away.

A meditation on moving, bike lanes and expectations

I’m back, after what can only be described as the move from hell.

A move in which nothing went horribly, irretrievably wrong. But in which nearly everything was more challenging, problematic, expensive or just plain aggravating than anticipated.

Even now, what is, in theory at least, my office remains more reminiscent of the aftermath of the ’94 earthquake than any functional working space I’ve ever encountered. Everything that didn’t fit anywhere else is piled there, along with everything that’s supposed to be there.

And trust me, that’s a lot of stuff. At this rate, I expect to finally excavate my desk sometime in mid-March.

The first night was the hardest, though.

Aside from all the problems we anticipated — like not knowing what box something we needed might be packed away in — it seemed lit nothing fit where it was supposed to.

Naively, perhaps, we assumed that everything we moved from the old place would find a corresponding space in the new one. But our new apartment, while about the same size, was arranged differently. And the things that had fit perfectly there didn’t necessarily fit here.

Or at least, didn’t fit the same way.

It wasn’t that there’s anything wrong with it. It was just very different.

And even though we went to bed that night thinking we’d made a big mistake, the only error we really made was failing to adjust our expectations.

Sort of like the way some people react when bike lanes unexpectedly appear on their streets.

Take the controversy that has developed in New York City over the rapid expansion of the city’s bikeway network, particularly over Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West and Father Capodanno Blvd in Staten Island.

Or attempts to make Washington DC more bike friendly, including new bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, that elicited a backlash from groups and individuals as varied as ESPN’s Tony Korneiser and the East Coast branch of AAA.

Or even right here in Los Angeles, where a road diet on the Valley’s Wilbur Avenue had council members, drivers and the local media up in arms — even though people who actually live in the area seem to like it.

Because, you see, it just wasn’t what they expected.

Many people have gotten used to roadways dedicated solely to motor vehicles. And don’t necessarily welcome the intrusion of bikes on their streets.

In their minds, reducing the number of lanes, narrowing them or taking out parking spaces meant the streets were less safe than they were before — even though that usually calms speeding traffic and results in safer streets. And in some cases, actually forces drivers to get out of their cars and walk a bit.

The horror, huh?

To some, it represents a war on cars. As if traffic planning was a zero-sum game in which motorists must lose something for every step forward for anyone else.

Never mind that drivers gain as cyclists slowly replace other cars on the streets, reducing congestion and ultimately speeding their commutes. And that well-designed cycling infrastructure gets us out of the way of impatient drivers by moving bikes out of the shared right lane.

Meanwhile, the backlash goes on, with at least one member of the media doing his best imitation of the yellow journalism of the robber baron era, up in arms that bike lanes got plowed before some streets. Or maybe not. And describing the Prospect Park West bike lanes as “widely detested,” with no objective figures to back it up — and despite evidence that those lanes are “widely detested” by a just a small minority of very vocal people.

At least the DC press is smart enough not to fall for  that sort of crap.

Yet despite what some people insist, it’s not reckless cyclists who pose a risk to life and limb.

Then there are those who consider all things bike-related to be part of a liberal conspiracy to force people out of their cars, and in their deeply clouded minds, that’s reason enough to halt even the most basic of bike plans.

And no, they’re not all failed Colorado gubernatorial candidates.

If they gave them a chance, they might find that bike lanes and other bicycle infrastructure can actually increase traffic safety, enhance local neighborhoods and improve their own quality of life.

Quite an accomplishment for just a few inches of white paint.

And like my wife and I, they may realize that it may not be what they’re used to. But with a little time, and a little effort, they may actually get used to it.

Or even like it, just a little.

.………

Then again, not all bikeways are improvements.

Consider this recent email from Rex Reese, in response to a link about a proposed Bakersfield bike path that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.

I sincerely believe the honor of Bike Path to Nowhere belongs to the metropolis of Trona, which is a small hell hole located on the shores of Searles Dry Lake, between Ridgecrest and Death Valley — literally The Middle of Nowhere. It’s very, very hot in the summer, very cold during winter, and smells like shit all year ’round because of the chemicals and powdered mineral dust that blows off the dry lake.

The path sorta starts maybe a quarter mile outside of town, parallels Trona Road, and sorta ends at East Outer Trona Road and Center Street a mile or so later. It’s separated by a narrow strip of dirt which qualifies it as a Class I Bike Path, right? And it’s got markings and everything. I can’t imagine who uses it or how it got funded — maybe done as a favor to the town warlord.

It’s barely not worth the drive to check out, but you can see it if you look it up on Google Maps.

With a description like that, I may just have to drive up there sometime just to give it a ride. If I can just figure out where the hell Trona is.

.………

A reader from Boston writes to ask for a recommendation on where to rent a bike in Anaheim when he comes out to visit next week. He’s used to a fixie conversion or older steel road bike, but open to anything practical for riding the mean streets of OC. If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments or email me; you can find my address on the About BikingInLA page.

.………

Santa Monica’s Parks and Rec Commissioner is pushing to make the beachfront Marvin Bruade Bike Path a little safer; I’ll have something on that same subject later this week. The LACBC’s Valley Pride Ride is rescheduled for next weekend, after getting washed out on Sunday. KPCC looks at the upcoming Streetsblog event in Pasadena. Bikeside offers advice on gearing up for a cold wet winter, while Flying Pigeon offers much simpler advice for riding in rain and snow. The Times looks at efforts to lift the ban on mountain bikes on L.A. trails.  Will offers a video look at off-roading on the Beaudry Trails loop. A look at the upcoming South Bay Bike Plan. Long Beach cyclists fight back against regressive policies in America’s self-proclaimed “most bike friendly city.” Carlsbad police are looking for information on how a cyclist found lying injured in the street got that way, while a Ventura man is injured after losing control of his bike on a 30 mph descent; thanks to DC for the second link.

Elly Blue looks forward to the year in bikes, including predictions for an even bigger backlash. Forget peak oil, we may have already hit peak travel. Cleaning bike water bottles the easy way. Washington considers a three foot passing law when traveling under 35 mph, and five foot over 35; the local paper insists on framing it as a battle of car vs bike. A suggestion to combine bike lanes with right turn-only lanes. It only took three days for the country’s most dangerous state for cyclists and pedestrians to register its first bike death of the new year.

The secrets of riding in a group. The UK’s acclaimed Bikeability program may be saved from government cutbacks after all. Town Mouse touts the new Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Road.cc offers their 2011 predictions, including copper-plated bikes and Andy Schleck winning the Tour twice in a single year. A Ugandan candidate rides his bike to win votes. Movistar racer Andrey Amador is beaten and robbed by thieves out for his Pinarella Dogma with the new electronic Campy shifters.

Finally, cycling prodigy Taylor Phinney visits the beach, offering his view of a Santa Monica sunset and a 360° view from the bike path; you can follow his stay in SoCal on Twitter @taylorphinney.

Is it right to pass on the right? Or dangerous and illegal?

It’s a simple syllogism.

Passing on the right is illegal; I pass on the right. Therefore, I break the law.

Right?

Okay, so it’s not up there with Socrates’ classic hits, like “All men are mortal.” But that was the gist of a conversation that took place last week, in response to my comments about the recent TRL study showing drivers are responsible for the overwhelming majority of British cycling collisions.

A reader named Doug questioned how closely the British data actually correlates to Los Angeles, which is a fair question. While British drivers complain about the very same cyclist behaviors L.A. drivers do — and vice versa — we have no statistics to back us up.

Primarily because no one has bothered to do an in-depth study of cycling in this city — let alone an analysis of how and why cycling accidents happen and who is at fault.

But more to the point, at least in terms of today’s topic, he also complained about cyclists who run stop signs and red lights. And about riders who pass on the right.

Like I do. And like I often advise other cyclists to do.

Pass on the right, that is — not run red lights.

As Doug put it,

Splitting lines, by both motorcycles and bicycles, is legal in California. However, passing on the right is not, and that is very different. Certainly, a responsible cyclists knows that passing on the right is dangerous and should be avoided.

So who’s right?

From my perspective, you’re almost always better off at the front of an intersection, where you can be seen from every angle, than stopped in the lane behind a line of cars — where drivers coming up from behind may not anticipate the presence of a cyclist, and where you could be hidden from oncoming and cross traffic. And that often means working your way up the right side of the traffic lane.

There are other situations that seem to call for passing on the right, as well. Like riding in heavy traffic, where you can easily ride faster than the speed of the cars next to you. Or when traffic is stopped while you have a clear path ahead.

My justification for doing it is simple. CVC21202 requires that you ride as far to the right as practicable. So unless you’re actually riding in the traffic lane, you’re in a separate lane from the traffic next to you — usually the parking lane or a strip of pavement to the right of the actual traffic lane.

And according to the applicable traffic code, CVC21754, passing on the right is allowed “whenever there is unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles in the direction of travel.” In other words, if there’s a clear lane of travel wide enough for your bike, it’s legal.

Still not sure?

Look at it this way. Say you’re driving in the right lane on a four lane street, with two lanes of traffic in each direction. The cars in the left lane come to a stop while the lead driver waits to make a left turn. Does that mean you have to stop as well, even though you’re in the next lane? Or if the traffic to your left slows down, do you have to slow as well to avoid passing anyone?

Of course not.

If that happened, traffic would grind to a halt on virtually every street and highway in the country. And since the same laws apply for bikes as for other road users, if it’s legal for drivers, it’s legal for us.

But that was just my opinion — based on nothing more than the rationalizations of a highly opinionated, semi-analytical long-time cyclist. Then I read almost exactly the same arguments on cycling lawyer Bob Mionske’s Bicycle Law website.

But as Rick Bernardi’s column there makes clear, just because something’s legal, that doesn’t mean you may not still get a ticket for it. And you may not win in court, either.

The other question is, is it safe?

Only about as safe as any other maneuver on streets filled with sometimes careless and inattentive drivers.

Some drivers may not check their mirrors and blind spots before moving to the right, never considering that anyone else might want to occupy that same space.

Or operate under the mistaken assumption that it’s illegal for cyclists to pass on the right, and therefore, none would even try. Because, you know, drivers never do anything we think they’re not supposed to do, either.

So you have to be careful.

Keep a close eye on the cars on your left, watching for right turn signals or front wheels turned to the right, as well as cars slowly inching over or drivers turning to look over their shoulders. Always pass on the left side of a right turn lane. And never, ever pass to the right of a car that’s waiting to make a right turn.

But consider this. The recent landmark study of cycling accidents from Fort Collins, Colorado, listed passing on the right as a contributing factor in just one of 354 cycling collisions.

One.

In other words, about 213 less than the number of broadside collisions that occurred as a result of simply riding a bike across an intersection.

And I don’t know anyone who says that just riding across the street is dangerous.

Or illegal.

Today’s ride, on which I get right-hooked by a bus in Bike Friendly Santa Monica

It’s the holiday season.

When the city takes on a festive glow, and visions of sugar plums dance in countless heads, even if no one seems to know what those are anymore. And stressed out, distracted and/or intoxicated drivers hit the road, with the possible presence of cyclists the furthest thing from their minds.

I have no idea if that had anything to do with the problem I ran into today. I only know I arrived home simultaneously mad as hell and thanking God I was in one piece.

It’s not like I wasn’t prepared.

Experience has taught me that driving gets worse the closer we get to the holidays. In fact, the last Friday before Christmas — tomorrow, in other words, or possibly today by the time you read this — is often just this side of a demolition derby as people stumble out of countless office parties and into their cars.

So I wasn’t too surprised when a driver nearly right-hooked me. Or even when a pedestrian stepped right out in front of me without ever looking up, forcing me into a panic stop that ended with his extremely startled face just inches from mine.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the bus driver who cut directly in front of me — apparently on purpose — in what seemed from my perspective like a road rage assault. Then again, maybe she was just an incredibly crappy driver.

I first encountered her as I rode through the commercial district on Montana Avenue in the Bicycle Friendly City of Santa Monica, headed east in the bike lane. One of the city’s Big Blue Buses was loading passengers at a bus stop, then pulled out and cut me off as soon as I started to go around it.

It happens.

I wasn’t happy about it, but that’s almost to be expected. I see buses do the same thing to drivers on a daily basis.

Then a few blocks down the road, I moved ahead of the bus while it waited at a red light, since it was clear the driver was going to pull over at a bus stop just past the light. That put me safely out of its path, and I left the bus and its driver far behind me.

Or at least, that’s what I thought.

A few blocks further down the road, I could feel the bus coming up behind me. By that point, though, the bike lane had ended and the road had narrowed down to a single lane in both directions, with parking on each side. I had already taken the lane, since there wasn’t room for a car to pass safely — and certainly not enough for a bus.

I wasn’t too worried about it, though. While I don’t enjoy having a bus on my ass, I was doing over 20 mph in a 25 mph school zone, so it wasn’t like I was holding anyone up.

Evidently, the driver disagreed.

The moment we cleared the center divider, she gunned her engine and cut around me on the left — way too close for my comfort — then immediately cut back in front of me to pull over to the bus stop in front of the elementary school.

At that distance, stopping was not an option; I would have rear-ended the bus, which would not have been pretty at that speed. So I squeezed my brakes and leaned hard to the left, just clearing the rear bumper of the bus and zooming past; if I’d clipped its bumper, I would have been thrown into oncoming traffic, and probably wouldn’t be here to write this.

Again, not exactly a desirable outcome.

About half a block down the road, I thought better of it, though, and turned back to take down the number of the bus — 3830 — and the route number (3). Then I sat back and waited for the bus pass, somehow managing to keep both my words and fingers to myself.

After all, it wasn’t like she hadn’t known I was there. She’d just followed me for about a block, then sped up to go around me — even though it would have been much smarter to simply wait a few seconds and pull over safely behind me.

Somehow, though, I suspect that my safety was the last thing on her mind. Then again, pulling a stunt like that in school zone suggests she wasn’t too concerned about the kids, either.

I’ve already filed a complaint. And been assured by the very pleasant woman who answered the phone that they take things like this very seriously.

We’ll see.

……….

Update to the recent item about Andrew Wooley, the San Diego cyclist wrongly convicted of violating CVC21202 for passing a short line of cars in the right turn lane on the left, even though he was riding faster than the current speed of traffic.

In a surprising turnaround, the San Diego City Attorney’s office issued a formal position clarifying the law and reversing the undeserved conviction. Bike San Diego discusses the lessons learned, and interviews Wooley about the case — including the frightening revelation that the officer involved visited Wooley’s work and filed a complaint with his boss after Wooley had discussed the case with the officer’s supervisor.

……..

In what may be a sign of the apocalypse, L.A.’s mayor endorses cycling, or at least CicLAvia. Bike Girl offers a cautionary tale about choosing your battles. Burbank adopts a new bike plan that actually connects to other cities. A 30 minute car commute now takes 20 minutes by bike. A 9-year old Thousand Oaks boy is injured in a hit-and-run, while 39-year old Camarillo father is killed in a cycling collision; for a change, the driver stuck around. Conejo Valley volunteers give away 160 refurbished bikes, while Temecula’s Rotary Club gives away 39 shiny new ones this holiday season. Ridership in America’s bike paradise goes down for the first time in five years. Cyclists and drivers fight over Santa Rosa’s first bike boulevard; in Austin, it’s cyclists vs. business people. An innocent Chicago cyclist is killed when caught between road raging drivers. If New York’s South Williamsburg Hasidic community though cyclists were scantily clad before, just wait until this weekend. Arizona cyclists win the right to take the lane on appeal. New Bikes Allowed Use Of Full Lane stickers on sale now – which brings up the new Federal standards for bicycle signage. A Toronto man gets roughly one day in jail for each 3.3 of the 3,000 bikes he stole. British Cycling announces the first 50 members of its new Hall of Fame. Finally, the plot thickens as a cyclist hit by a car containing actress Anne Hathaway may have been a paparazzo intent on getting a photo. No wonder he didn’t stick around.

A more responsive LAPD confirms: We do take road rage reports seriously

Today’s story has two heroes.

Both wear blue. And both reflect the courtesy, support and responsiveness this city deserves from its police department. Yet which so many cyclists have learned not to expect, based on their own experiences.

Myself included.

Both are unidentified here, after requesting anonymity — something I will honor to keep them from getting swamped by cyclists seeking high-level help. And to keep that channel open for the next time.

The story begins last week, when I got a second-hand report that a local cyclist had been threatened in a road rage incident, and that the LAPD had refused to take a report about it.

By itself, that would be disturbing enough.

Too many cyclists encounter angry drivers on the roads as it is; if we can’t count on police protection, they might as well declare open season on anyone on two wheels. But it was especially troubling in light of the Mandeville Canyon case, in which prior incidents involving Dr. Christopher Thompson established the pattern of behavior that led to his conviction.

Even if there’s nothing the police can do, having a record of such complaints could establish a paper trail that might eventually lead to another prosecution. Because chance are, Thompson isn’t the only driver willing to use a car to threaten, intimidate or injure another human being.

As a result, I wanted to find if it really was LAPD policy not to take road rage reports from cyclists. So I reached out to Bicycle Advisory Committee Chairman Glenn Bailey, who suggested that I contact one of the top commanders at the new police headquarters downtown.

I sent an email explaining who I was, what I had heard, and asking for clarification about the department’s policies regarding road rage incidents. And then I moved on with my day, assuming I’d be lucky to get a response within a week. Or ever.

To my surprise, though, I received an email half an hour later asking for more information. And within two hours, I had phone messages waiting for me from the Commander, as well as a Lieutenant he had asked to look into the matter.

Both were very helpful when I returned their calls. The Commander, especially, was surprisingly friendly for such a high-ranking officer. Unfortunately, they both agreed that there was nothing they could tell me without more information.

I told them I was trying to get in touch with the rider involved, and would get back to them as soon as I knew more. And hung up the phone, fully expecting to never hear from either of them again.

A few days later, though, I got an email from the cyclist, who confirmed much of what I’d heard and agreed to talk with the Lieutenant.

(In light of the Thompson case, in which Patrick Watson’s emails were subpoenaed by the defense, I agreed not to disclose his name or any details of the incident.)

I forwarded his phone number to the Lieutenant. Later that day, I heard back from both of them that they had spoken, and the matter had been satisfactorily resolved.

The Lieutenant went on to explain that no one at the department had refused to take a report, and that it is police policy to take any road rage case seriously — but that what constitutes road rage can be subject to interpretation.

For instance, if a driver yells at a cyclist to get off the road, it probably wouldn’t merit police involvement. But if the driver uses his vehicle to threaten or attack a rider, they want to know about it.

And he assured me that they will take it very seriously.

Without going into specific detail on this case, he added that miscommunication sometimes occurs because the people involved are highly excited in the heat of the moment, and may have trouble communicating exactly what happened. Police officers are trained to calm them down and get the information they need, he said — but some officers are better at it than others.

When this rider was able to explain more clearly what had happened, it was clear that a crime may have occurred. As a result, the case will be investigated by a detective as an Assault with a Deadly Weapon.

He also gave me some advice on what to do if you find yourself in a situation like this — which I’ll try to get to in another post next week.

Bottom line, the cyclist was satisfied with the result. And I was pleasantly surprised, not only that such high-ranking officers would respond, but that they would take the time to investigate the situation and keep me in the loop every step of the way.

The Lieutenant also added one final thought, which I’ll let him explain in his own words from a follow-up email:

Finally, the Department is continuously evaluating its operations in our attempts to improve.  We are looking at ways to better educate the community and the Department employees on bike safety issues and traffic accident prevention.  In order to develop a comprehensive plan to minimize to the risks to bicyclists we will need their input and cooperation.

Maybe things really are getting better.

………

On a related note, Asst. D.A. Mary Stone, prosecutor in the Thompson case, has requested letters from cyclists to present to the judge next Monday prior to Thompson’s sentencing. Will Campbell offers his letter as an example; you can see additional letters on Streetsblog, as well as Damien Newton’s advice on how to structure your letter.

A simple proposal to make next week’s LACBC bike count count more

It’s bike count season.

From Nashville to Portland, and various points over, under, around and through. And next week L.A. will have its first count, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

Counting bike riders may not seem like a big deal, but it will provide a baseline number of how many people ride bikes in a normal week – when students are back in school and people are back at work, so it accurately reflects typical riding patterns.

Then next year, we can count again.

That will provide an idea if ridership is going up or down. Which could indicate what effect street conditions are having, whether infrastructure changes are needed and how local laws and policies should be adjusted. In other words, the documentation we need to make things better for cyclists around here.

Unfortunately, I won’t be one of the counters, though I do hope to be among the counted. And I will somehow resist the temptation to ride through the same intersections repeatedly in order to boost the count. After all, a high count might look good now, but it could hurt us down the road.

I do have a suggestion for the LACBC, though.

One of the most common complaints that drivers have about cyclists is that we all run red lights and stop signs.

It’s not true, of course. I stop. And I’m clearly not the only one, since I frequently find other riders waiting right there next to me.

A recent London study found the same thing. Despite similar complaints from UK drivers, researchers for the Road Network & Research Team found that the overwhelming majority of cyclists — 84% — observe stop lights.

Another recent study was cited by a New York organization that calls itself the Coalition Against Rogue Riding — notice the acronym, if you want a little perspective on their perspective.

Their goal is to reign in the “epidemic of scofflaw cycling” and “sense of anarchy” plaguing the city’s streets and sidewalks. Yet the study doesn’t exactly support that:

In May the results a rigorous study conducted in April by the departments of sociology and urban affairs of Hunter College was issued. “Biking Behavior in Midtown” observed 5,275 cyclists at 45 intersections between 14th St. and 59th Sts. and First and Tenth Aves. It was found that nearly 38 percent of observed cyclists did not stop at red lights. Nearly a third did not use a designated bike lane. More than 17 percent were either riding the wrong way, or at various times both with and against traffic.

Sound damning, doesn’t it?

But look at it from another perspective. Nearly 62% did stop for red lights. Over 2/3 used a designated bike lane — and considering the frequent problems riders cite with cars and trucks blocking the bike lanes, it’s amazing that so many were able to ride within the lines. And 83% of riders did ride the right way; impressive in a city with so many one-way streets.

Unfortunately, L.A. cyclists don’t have any similar figures to rebut biased arguments from anti-bike fanatics. But LACBC can do something about that.

Long term, we need to work with a local university to design an effective, in-depth study of riding patterns in the city. But in the meantime, they could easily incorporate a simple study of whether cyclists stop for traffic signals into next week’s bike count.

At any location with a traffic signal or stop sign, in addition to counting bikes, just count how many stop when they should.

All it takes is adding two simple columns to the form. Or pencil in a couple headers in the margin indicating “stopped” and “didn’t stop.” And for each rider you count, just mark down whether they did. Or didn’t.

It might not be a scientific survey. But like the bike count itself, it would be a starting point. And it would tell us that L.A. riders are safer than many people think, or that we have a lot of work to do.

Either way, we’d know more than we do now.

……….

Dr. Alex asks if you’ve considered the consequences before giving that bike thief a beat down. GT shares the story and photos of his recent Eastern Sierra Century. Mavic introduces new magnetic pedals, which may eliminate the need for cleats for some riders. Evidently, Sen. McCain hates transit, while Sen. Coburn merely hates bikes. Instead of getting hit by cars, bike couriers are getting hit by the internet. Illinois considers penalizing drivers who recklessly endanger the health and safety of vulnerable road users, like bicyclists. Bob Mionske questions Ottawa’s recent crackdown on cyclists in response to violent hit-and-run driver. Finally, the State Assembly honors my good friend at Altadenablog for his efforts during the recent fire; couldn’t be more deserved.

Just who has the right to the road?

I stumbled on some interesting letters to the editor this week.

The first got my attention because it came from a town I know well, a scenic bump in the road in the Colorado high country near Rocky Mountain National Park.

My Grandmother lived in Granby, Colorado for awhile back in the ‘30s; my mother spent a few summers working there as a waitress when she was a teenager. And I grew up camping with my parents on the shores of Grand Lake just outside of town.

So I was surprised to read this letter in the local newspaper.

As these things often go, she was writing in response to another letter, which in itself was a response to an earlier letter demanding that cyclists be licensed, insured and taxed.

You know, the usual bull. As if most adult cyclists don’t already have a driver’s license and pay the same taxes anyone else does. And don’t make a fraction of the demands on the road system — or cause a fraction of the harm — that cars and trucks do.

When their real point is, they just don’t want to share their precious roads with us. Because, we’re like, in the way and stuff.

Her point was that local roads simply aren’t big enough to accommodate both bikes and the large logging trucks like her husband drives, especially given Colorado’s new three-foot passing law. Sort of like one of those classic westerns, where someone would inevitably say “this town’s not big enough for both of us.”

And it wasn’t her, or her husband, she thought should be leaving.

That came as a surprise to me, because over the years, I’ve driven — and ridden — virtually every inch of that area. And never had any trouble sharing those roads with anyone.

Then again, her idea of sharing the road is for us to get the hell out of the way.

The funny thing is, those curvy mountain roads that she claims weren’t built to accommodate cyclists weren’t built to accommodate today’s large trucks, either. Most of those roads were built in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s, when most cars were smaller and trucks were just a fraction of the size they are today.

In fact, I remember riding in the car with my father, stuck behind yet another semi-truck inching its way down a narrow mountain pass, and listening to him rant about how those damn trucks didn’t belong on narrow winding mountain roads.

Evidently, who belongs on the roadway depends entirely on your perspective.

And it’s not just bicyclists — or trucks — that backcountry drivers have to watch out for. There’s the problem of drivers frightened by the winding curves and steep drop-offs who insist on driving 20 or 30 miles below the speed limit. Or farm combines and tractors who crawl along at 10 or 15 mph as they move from one field to another.

And there’s always the possibility that a deer and elk, cow or fallen boulder that could be waiting in the middle of the road, hidden by the next curve.

But her problem isn’t with rocks or cows, farmhands or frightened flatlanders.

No, it’s just the selfish cyclists riding where they don’t belong who inhibit her husband’s ability to speed along mountain roads that weren’t designed for either one of them — yet can accommodate bikes a lot more easily, and with less wear and tear, than they can massive trucks.

So here’s the bottom line.

If you don’t have the skill or patience to share the road safely with other users — whether cars, trucks, skateboards, bikes, cows, pigs or pedestrians, in the mountains or on the streets of L.A. — you don’t belong on the road.

Period.

Whether you’re behind the wheel, or crouched over the handlebars.

Don’t like it? Get over it.

Because we’re not going away. And neither are they.

………

The Times offers a great profile of the brothers — and philosophy — behind Flying Pigeon; next month’s Dim Sum Ride sounds like the best one yet. NPR considers the new Bike Station being built in Washington DC. New York might have a great new bikeway system, if it wasn’t for those darn New Yorkers. Stomach-churning video of a Wisconsin state legislator running a red light and hitting a cyclist. A Minneapolis cyclist is killed in a rare bike on bike fatality. DC authorities remove a ghost bike without notifying cyclists or the family — and do nothing to prevent more in the future. A writer insists the cyclist/motorist divide created by Columbia, MO’s new anti-harassment law is narrowing; the comments that follow beg to differ. The Cycling Lawyer clearly explains why the Idaho Stop Law is a good idea; people like the Columbia commenters and the letter writer above are why it will probably never pass. WorldChanging presents your guide to bicycle infrastructure; Bikes Belong announces a new Bicycling Design Best Practices project. Jakarta’s Bike to Work club celebrates its 4th anniversary. Finally, Portland gets a new separated cycle track, and a nifty brochure to explain it.

Who is at fault in cycling collisions? And who decides?

Let’s go back to that buzzing incident with the garbage truck, in which the driver honked loudly as he passed me with only about a foot’s clearance.

What if I hadn’t managed to maintain control over my bike when the horn startled me? As I noted yesterday, I could have swerved to the left, which could have meant going under his wheels. Or I might have swerved right, where I would have bounced off the parked cars, and possibly been thrown back underneath him.

So who would be at fault when the police filed their report?

Would it be the driver who passed too closely, honking his horn in a threatening manner, or the cyclist who responded by losing control and colliding with the truck?

Or would they decide it was just one of those things, and no one was really to blame?

Or take today’s ride, when I was nearly right-hooked by a truck driver who passed me on the left, then made a right turn directly across my path — while I was still beside him.

Fortunately, I try to anticipate such things. So I grabbed my brakes, dropped behind him, then passed him on his left before he could even finish his turn.

But what if I hadn’t?

What if I’d collided with the truck? Would he be at fault because he turned into my path? Or would it be my fault because I hit him?

The law suggests the driver should be at fault. Yet when a Baltimore cyclist was killed recently in collision just like that, the police determined that he was at fault — evidently they felt it was his responsibility to somehow avoid the truck that cut him off.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area cyclists are responsible for twice as many bike vs. motor vehicle collisions as drivers are. The same article quotes statistics from the California Highway Patrol, which found cyclists responsible for nearly 60% of all statewide cycling fatalities.

Yet a recent study by a Toronto physician found that cyclists were only responsible for less than 10% of local collisions.

So are Canadian cyclists really that much better than California riders? Or does the problem actually rest with who is analyzing the data — and investigating the accidents?

Do you really have to ask?

The problem isn’t that police hate cyclists, despite common perceptions in the cycling community. It’s that most officers receive little or no training in bike law — and none in the mechanics of cycling or investigation of bike accidents.

That’s not just my opinion. Consider this recent quote from a retired police officer:

In virtually every state, bicycles have most of the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators. Many officers don’t seem to know, or care, that they do. Training in bicycle traffic law is virtually nonexistent in police academies and crash investigation courses.

Unfortunately, many serious road cyclists know and understand traffic laws regulating bicycles far better than most street cops. Officers who have received quality bike patrol training, such as the IPMBA Police Cyclist™ Course, have been trained in the legal status of bicycles in traffic, proper and legal lane use, and other pertinent provisions.

When investigating a bicycle-vehicle crash, it may be a good idea to involve a trained bike patrol officer to help get a comprehensive perspective as to the bicycle-related factors and conditions involved. Criminal charges may be warranted. An officer knowledgeable in bike law could be a victim cyclist’s best advocate, or a legal opponent, providing the details for fair prosecution.

The simple fact is that the operation and mechanics of bicycles are different from that of motor vehicles. And unless the investigating officer understands that, he or she won’t be able to accurately determine how the collision occurred and who is actually at fault.

Like the infamous downtown Hummer incident, in which the investigating officer concluded that the cyclist hit the SUV, even though the rear of the bike was damaged and the rider was thrown forward — suggesting that he somehow backed into the other vehicle.

Or my own case, when I was struck by a road-raging driver while stopped at a stop sign. Yet the investigating officer chose to accept the driver’s explanation that I had run the stop sign and fallen while making a right hand turn, even though that would have meant falling to the left while leaning into a right turn — something an officer who rides, or who was at least trained in cycling, would have understood was virtually impossible.

Then there’s the fact that in a car/bike collision, the driver is usually unhurt, while the cyclist can be seriously injured or worse. Which means that the police often hear just one side of the story.

Maybe that’s why, in virtually any repot of a collision at a controlled intersection, you’ll hear that the cyclist ran the red light or stop sign — never that the driver ignored the rider’s right of way or ran the signal themselves.

That also could explain why so many drivers involved in hit-from-behind collisions claim that the cyclist darted out in front of them without warning. Never that the driver was distracted or failed to see the rider in the first place.

In fact, many cyclists refer to that type of collision as an SWSS — Single Witness Suicide Swerve — because the frequency of such collisions would suggest that there must be a lot of death-wish cyclists out there.

That’s not to say cyclists are never at fault. I’ve seen enough riders attempt to pull off stupid life-risking stunts — myself included — to know that’s not true.

But the simple fact is, every cyclist is, and will remain, a 2nd class citizen on the streets until all police officers are trained in bike law.

And every bicycle-involved collision is investigated by an officer who understands the physics and realities of cycling.

………

Next year’s LA Bike Tour won’t be held in conjunction with the new Stadium to the Sea L.A. Marathon. Efforts are underway to ban cars from the annual bike-banning Festival of Lights instead. Where do I sign up? Streetsblog notes the anger over new bike lanes in Santa Clarita, where some residents feel ambushed, while others fault the design. Bike thefts are up across the country, including Downtown L.A.; some victims are using social media to get them back, Lance included. Even with the current budget cuts, Elk Grove gets state funding for a new bike overpass. Minnesota artists create bike racks that salute their Scandinavian heritage. Lebron James leads local kids and cyclists in a charity bike ride; so when can we expect the first annual Kobe Bryant Bike Classic? Even bike-friendly Portland suffers from the fatal hit-and-run plague. Cyclists roll by in a Chinatown bike lane as a NY politician holds a press conference to claim no one ever uses it. Finally, an 81-year old Welsh paperboy has his bike stolen while one of his customers thanks him with a piano recital.

When someone complains about dangerous cyclists, show them this

As we drove through the Westside this past weekend, my wife and I watched in amazement as one driver after another attempted maneuvers you won’t find in the driver’s manual, with varying degrees of success.

We agreed that the overall quality of driving in L.A. was worse than we’d ever seen it. And it clearly hasn’t gotten any better since.

Take yesterday’s ride, for instance.

It started before I could even get out of the alley behind my building. A driver was trying to back his van around a blind corner from the street into the alley. His view was completely blocked by the building next to me, so he had no idea what, if anything, was behind him — yet he did it anyway.

And what was behind him was me.

So I hugged the side of the building and waited until he finally stopped, then pulled around him, shaking my head as I passed.

Just two blocks later, I waited at a stop sign as a trash truck crossed the street in front of me. Instead of clearing the intersection, though, the driver stopped part way, then backed around the corner onto the street I was on. It wasn’t until he finished backing up and was facing me that he finally saw me there, waiting to cross.

Most drivers would have recognized that I had the right-of-way, and let me go first. Instead, he looked directly at me as he cut me off to complete his three-point U-turn.

A few minutes after that, I crossed Wilshire Blvd on a green light. Just as I reached the other side, a car lurched out from the curb just ahead of me, then stopped, blocking the lane, and cut me off again as he turned left into a driveway. All without signaling, of course.

I don’t know if he didn’t see me, or just didn’t care.

Then at the very next intersection, I pulled up to a four-way stop at the same time that two cars came up to the intersection on the cross street, one behind the other. The first driver looked my way, so I nodded for her to go, then started across the street.

As I was crossing, the second driver looked directly at me, gunned her engine and cut me off as she zoomed through the stop sign just feet in front of me. But evidently, it was okay — in her mind at least — because she gave me the dismissive “so sorry” wave as she passed.

I responded with another kind of wave. And forty-two days of middle-finger sobriety went down the drain.

And that was just first mile of my ride.

By the time I got back home, I’d also encountered a Range Rover — without plates, of course — who cut into the bike lane right in front of me so he could pass a long line of cars that weren’t speeding quite fast enough for him.

Then there was the driver who pulled out from a cross street right in front of me — which another driver waiting to cross in the opposite direction took as her signal to go, even though I was directly in front of her. Fortunately, she stopped just in time, as I braced for the impact.

The winner, though, had to be the driver I encountered on the last leg of my ride as I rode east on Ohio.

I took the lane soon after crossing Westwood Blvd, like I always do. The street is too narrow for cars to pass safely there, while the steep downhill lets me to go as fast, if not faster, than the speed of traffic.

This time, however, the driver behind me tried to pass on the wrong side of the road, even though I was riding at least as fast as the 25 mph speed limit — and common sense — allowed.

We were side-by-side as we went through the intersection at the bottom of the hill. Then she zipped up the next hill and turned left at the next corner, running the stop sign in the process — all without ever coming back to the right side of the road.

Of course, not everyone drives like that.

Even though it seems like a lot, these were just seven drivers out of the thousands I encountered that day — many of whom went out of their way to pass safely or wave me through a challenging intersection.

But the next time someone complains about all those damn law-flaunting cyclists, remind them that we’re not the only ones who do stupid, illegal and extremely dangerous things on the road.

Sure, there are cyclists out there who treat traffic laws with an excessive degree of flexibility.

But safe operation has nothing to do with the number of wheels you travel on.

……..

Brayj gets a neighborhood council to endorse the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, after biking to the wrong meeting. The Anonymous Cyclist explains how to address the problem of putting 135 mm disk hubs on a 130 mm road bike frame. Santa Clarita ambushes drivers with unannounced bike lanes. Now Hollywood celebs can finally afford to ride along with their dogs; poor people will have to continue holding the leash. Santa Rosa experiments with a Bike Boulevard, proving a city can move forward without making a permanent commitment. A Silicon Valley cyclist bounces back from a near-fatal collision with a drunk driver. Even in Baton Rouge, where I was once regarded as a two-wheeled freak, they’re making room for bikes — maybe there’s hope for L.A. after all. Cycling deaths are up in Seattle despite increased spending to make cycling safer because drivers fail to yield — a $101 ticket. Cyclists attack a Boca Raton driver for passing too close; witnesses say he hit one of the riders. A Staten Island driver faces charges for assaulting a cyclist who tried to make a point by blocking cars from a bike lane. A Texas cyclist gets shot with a pellet gun, and assumes it’s a prank. Finally, it appears to be legal in New York to ram your car into a bicycle and drive 200 feet with the rider clinging to the hood, as long as he isn’t seriously injured. Gentlemen, start your engines — it’s open season on Gotham cyclists.

A not-so-brief thought on otherness to start the week

Yesterday my wife and I were driving to meet some relatives for breakfast.

As we drove, a car pulled up at the next intersection, paused briefly, then made a right turn onto the street we were on. The car behind him followed through the light without stopping, then tried to pull around the other car while he was still finishing his turn. And both cars ended up trying to occupy the same space in the left lane at the same time.

The second car reacted by swerving onto the wrong side of the road, driving head-on towards oncoming traffic. Then he cut back to the right lane, and proceeded to weave in and out of traffic as he sped down the road.

Yet as I watched that unfold, I didn’t mutter anything about “aggressive, arrogant drivers.” And I doubt anyone else did.

Because I’m a driver myself.

I don’t drive like that, and simple observation tells me that most other drivers don’t, either. So why is it that so many drivers may see a cyclist run a red light or cut across traffic without signaling, and assume that we all ride like that — or worse?

It’s basic human nature to define people by their degree of otherness. That is, to look at other people, and notice the ways in which they are either “like me” or “not like me.”

To a driver, for instance, other drivers are “like me.” They share a number of the same characteristics, as defined by their mode of transportation, so he judges their behavior as individuals rather than as a group. If one acts like the driver at the beginning of this post, he may consider that driver a jerk, but he doesn’t assume all drivers are jerks.

But if he sees a cyclist do the same thing, his mind makes a mental calculation that the cyclist does not share those same defining characteristics, and therefore, must be part of some other group. Then in a subconscious attempt to define that group, he ascribes the actions of the individual to the larger group.

So if a cyclist runs a red light, he concludes that’s what cyclists do; every time he sees a cyclist run a red light, it reinforces that prejudice. But he may fail to note all the cyclists waiting patiently at the intersection for the light to change, because that doesn’t fit the mental image he’s already drawn.

Don’t believe me?

Ask yourself how many people you know who don’t like blacks, or whites, or Mexicans, or foreigners, or Jews, or Muslims, or Christians, or Republicans, or liberals, or gays, or straits. Or any other narrowly defined group.

Or short people, for that matter — or did you miss Randy Newman’s point?

Or cyclists.

Or drivers.

They see a few members of some group, and assume that every member of that group is like that — ignoring the countless others who aren’t. Because those don’t fit the mental image they’ve already created.

And it’s human nature to discard any data that doesn’t fit, rather than modify the hypothesis.

It took me years to shift my focus to the thousands of drivers who didn’t cut me off or pass too close when I ride, rather than the few who did. And to accept that not all drivers are jerks, no matter how some people may drive.

As J. Haygood wrote on his blog the other day:

I think we riders that try to cooperate with cars on the road need to make our numbers known, highlight our good citizenship, otherwise all people remember is that guy flying through a four-way stop filled with cars, salmoning up the wrong side of the road, and acting like the inevitable near-miss is the car driver’s fault. Smart money says those riders are probably dicks when they get behind the wheel, too.

And that, I think, is the bottom line. An LAPD officer put it best a few weeks back, when he stopped after a pedestrian tried to chase me off a Class 1 bikeway.

“Some guys,” he said, “are just jerks.”

………

A Big Bear cyclist was killed when the wind blew his hat off his head, obscuring is vision. Mikey Wally runs into RAGBRAI, which kicked off yesterday, on his ride across the country. California drivers are not allowed to pass a car on the right if it means driving in the bike lane. Seattle is being sued by a number of industrial groups and companies who fear a bike path extension may ruin their environment. S.F. commenters argue whether bike helmets are unsafe. Fix a man’s flat, and he’ll ride for a day; teach a man to fix his own flat and he’ll never bother you again. In Montana, drivers are required to stop for cyclists in a crosswalk. Two cyclists were shot as they competed in the Tour last week; one fished the bullet out himself while he rode. Finally, a triathlete was injured when a tree fell on his bike during yesterday’s race.

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