Kudos to the Los Angeles Times for having the good taste to quote your truly in a recent online article about the ongoing war between L.A. drivers and cyclists. By my calculation, this means I should have roughly 12 minutes and 37 seconds of fame remaining.
Frankly, when I started this blog a few weeks back, I really didn’t know where I was planning to go with it. But I certainly didn’t think expect to be dealing with the sort of topics we have this week.
In nearly 30 years as a serious biker, I’ve ridden all across the country, from backwater bayous and Colorado canyons to high-speed highways and crowded city streets. But I can honestly say this City of Fallen Angels is the only place I’ve ever been afraid to ride.
It didn’t take long to learn that most local roads have no shoulders, forcing you into traffic lanes with drivers who routinely ignore the speed limit, turning 35 mph boulevards in 50+ mph freeways. That what little bike lane system we do enjoy starts and stops at random, in what could only be an attempt to thin the herd. That local drivers have no patience for bicyclists, and won’t share the road if it means a few seconds of inconvenience. And that the local police usually operate from a policy of blame the cyclist first.
The simple fact is, even the most careless or aggressive cyclists represent little more than a minor annoyance to most drivers, easily passed and quickly forgotten.
Yet for us riders, it’s a different matter entirely. For us, cars represent potentially lethal weapons, fully locked and loaded, and, too often, pointed directly at us. Unlike the driver, we have no seat belts or airbags — let alone a few tons of steel — to protect us. So even in a minor collision can be, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
Like Stoehr and Peterson, we’ve all been confronted with angry motorists — though in most cases, not so extreme as the good doctor, who it turns out may have done this before. I dealt with mine by signaling for my next turn with just one finger extended, which got my rear wheel intimately acquainted with the chrome bumper behind it, and got me 4 weeks in a sling followed by 6 weeks of rehab.
So I’ve learned my lesson. Now when I’m confronted with an angry driver, I just pull to the right, stop my bike, and let them pass. Because I may have a legal right to the road, but it’s not worth defending my rights if it means my wife is going to get another call saying which Emergency Room she can find me in.
A Cyclists’ Bill of Rights would certainly help. But so does a strong self-preservation instinct, and enough sense to know which battles are winnable.
And car vs. bike isn’t one of them.