Tag Archive for impatient drivers

Last night’s ride, in which I flip off an impatient driver

In retrospect, I should have been further out into the lane.

Instead, I tried to be polite and let cars move up next to me, not anticipating that one incredibly impatient driver would deliberately right hook me.

She couldn’t wait two seconds — literally — for the light to change. And it was worth it to her to risk the life of a total stranger because I didn’t get the hell out of her way.

I don’t recommend flipping off anyone.

But this one earned it.

If I’d gone when the light turned green, I’d be in the hospital right now.

Or worse.

It only takes a few seconds to spare a life. So why are so many drivers unwilling to wait?

A couple of seconds.

Two, maybe three tops.

That’s all it took, as a large truck stopped at the intersection across from me, waiting to make his left, and completely obscuring the vision of the driver behind him.

She could have waited for the few seconds it would have taken for the truck to move out of her way, giving her a clear view of the traffic in front of her. Instead, she blindly stomped on the gas and cut sharply to her right into the parking lane, in an attempt to blow through the intersection before the light changed.

Which just happened to be the intersection I was occupying at that exact moment, as I used the opportunity to make my own left.

Which made me a sitting duck.

At the speed she was going, there was nothing I could do to get out of her way; even so, I instinctively jammed on my brakes, knowing it would do little good and bracing for impact.

I remember an idle thought floating through my mind as I wondered just how far her car was going to throw me through the air. Or if the car behind me would be able to stop in time to avoid making me a bike sandwich.

Fortunately, she saw me directly ahead of her and hit her brakes hard, coming to a panic stop about four feet in front of me.

Thanks God for anti-lock brakes.

Without them, she likely would have left skid marks extending far beyond where I was stopped.

So only seconds after it all began, we found ourselves facing one another, her face completely impassive. Maybe that was because she blamed me for what almost happened. Maybe she didn’t care.

Or maybe she was still trying to process the prospect of nearly killing another human being because she was too damned impatient to wait until she could see where she was going.

You see it every day.

Drivers who blare on the horn if someone ahead of them has the audacity to slow down to make a turn or pull into a parking space. Who swerve to the right or left to zoom around cars stopped for a pedestrian — or a cyclist — in a crosswalk, with no idea why they’re stopped. And too often with tragic results.

Or the second or third driver in a left turn lane, who blindly follow the cars ahead even though their vision is obscured and they have no idea what’s in the road directly ahead of them.

And don’t get me started on the ones who seem unable to follow behind a cyclist for even a few seconds.

Like the woman who passed me on the wrong side of the road earlier in my ride, even though she was going up a hill that completely hid the car approaching from the other side. And ignored my shouted warnings until she had to cut back sharply to avoid a head-on collision. Or the driver who oddly insisted on zooming past and cutting in front of me even though we were only feet from a red light.

Even though there is absolutely nothing in the vehicle code that says you have the right to drive unimpeded by any other people or vehicles on the road.

It’s not just an L.A. problem, either.

I’ve always thought that distracted, drunk or overly aggressive motorists were the most dangerous drivers on the road.

But more and more, I’m starting to believe that it’s the ones who are simply impatient and unwilling to wait the few seconds it takes to drive safely who pose the greatest risk to everyone else on the road.

Today, an impatient driver nearly killed me.

Tomorrow, she may succeed with someone else.

………

A couple other quick notes.

David Proffer forwards news of a Los Olivos woman facing charges for plowing into a group of cyclists last March, leaving one with broken bones and putting another rider in a coma that’s lasted nearly two months.

Alicia Gilbert is charged with driving under the influence of a drug, causing bodily injury, failing to provide accurate information at the scene of a collision, providing a false identity and driving with a suspended license.

Oh, and child endangerment for driving with her 8-month old child while she was high. Not that they wanted to throw the book at her or anything.

She’s being held on $200,000 bail, which seems obscenely low given the circumstances.

Meanwhile, a fund has been set up for Gary Holmes, the cyclist suffering from a traumatic brain injury caused by his frontal lobe shifting back and forth within his skull, as well as two broken arms, both knees shattered and a collapsed lung.

And the milk of human kindness seems to have run dry with one subhuman jerk, who left the following comment:

Give this woman a medal! It irks the hell out of me when I come around a blind turn to discover 20 bicyclists riding in the middle of the road.

………

Donald Blunt sends news of a Sacramento cyclist injured by a hit-and-run driver who fled the scene despite being flagged down by a witness. Fortunately, the victim’s injuries aren’t life threatening — though that doesn’t preclude any number of life-altering injuries.

………

Finally, Erik Griswold passes along a letter from a Valley Assemblymember suggesting that changing state law to allow more triple bike racks on buses just isn’t politically viable at this time.

No, seriously.

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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