Awhile back, I found myself riding down Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica, below the pier, where the bike lane passes in front of a number of hotels and restaurants.
As often happens there, a taxi was double parked in the bike lane, blocking my way.
I glanced back over my shoulder and saw a car coming up on my left, so I signaled to indicated that I was coming into the lane ahead of her. She responded by slowing down, giving me room to make my lane change, and courteously following at a safe distance until I could pull back over before resuming her speed.
When I stopped at the next red light, I found myself right next to her open window. So I leaned over and thanked her for driving so safely and sharing the road.
Her reaction surprised me, though.
“Thank you, but I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said. “I never saw you back there.”
Of course, her actions contradicted her words. She had clearly seen me and responded to my actions, since hers had matched mine perfectly; yet for some reason, I had never entered her conscious awareness.
And I finally understood why so many drivers think we all run red lights and ride aggressively.
They may see us and respond appropriately. But when we ride safely — and legally — we’re just so much background road noise, never entering their conscious awareness.
But when a rider cuts in front of them without warning or blows through a red light without slowing down, they’re shocked out of their musings — or their hand-held cell calls — and the image becomes firmly imprinted on their consciousness, with a notation indicating that’s what cyclists do.
All of us.
Don’t believe me? Consider London, where cyclists have a reputation as two-wheeled scofflaws who never stop for lights — except maybe for the current mayor, who’s earned a reputation as a knight on a shining bicycle. And women cyclists, who appear to risk their lives simply because they do stop for red lights.
Yet a recent government study found that 84% of London riders stop for traffic signals.
Or consider Mebourne, where cyclists tend to be held in lower esteem than a rabid dingo. But even there, a full 89% of bike riders observe red lights. Even in bike hating New York, nearly two-thirds of cyclists stop for red lights, at least long enough to determine whether it’s safe to proceed.
Now contrast that with something else I saw recently while riding.
A young woman was cruising down the street on her bike, stylishly attired in a dress and heels. And yes, she looked good, like she’d just pedaled off the pages of a magazine.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed, either. Almost every driver — male and female — slowed down and turned their heads to look at her.
Lately, though, there’s been some controversy about the Cycle Chic movement online, in which bloggers post pictures of stylishly dressed, usually female cyclists, or discuss their own life and style as people who ride their bikes everywhere, often well dressed and made-up for work or an evening out.
One writer even went so far as to call it bike-porn.
I understand where the negative comments are coming from. It took me awhile to understand why a woman would get dressed up and get on a bike. After all, I’m from the old school, in which the point of riding is to work hard and sweat as much as possible.
But it shows that cycling is a viable form of transportation, whether you’re commuting to work, running errands or out on the town. It’s also helping to expand the biking community by drawing in women riders who may not be interested in donning spandex and joining the local bike club.
And for a change, it makes drivers notice cyclists who are actually riding safely and courteously.
And that can’t be bad.
A cyclist was killed when he ran a red light in Long Beach Friday evening, according to police; I wonder if anyone other than the driver who killed him saw what color the light was. Meet the new chief of the LAPD in Mar Vista tomorrow night. Help promote transit safety by biking the route of the new Eastside Extension of the Gold Line this coming Friday. A close examination of the study of car/bike collisions in my hometown reveals how to get killed on a bike — or how not to. Portland now has an Episcopal shrine to the patron saint of bicyclists; is the local diocese paying attention? L.A. isn’t the only place where cyclists and drivers compete for limited canyon road space. Bogota, Columbia shows what a real bike plan should result in. A grandmother pedestrian is killed by a cyclist in Australia. Finally, confection giant Cadbury delivers 5,000 bikes to Africa, while a local university, grocery chain and radio station combine to show we can do the same thing right here in SoCal.