Archive for July 31, 2009

Today’s post, in which I get sort of semi-famous

KCET-Local - trimmed

The clock is officially counting on my 15 minutes of fame.

Recently, I was contacted by Maxwell Strachan from L.A. public television station KCET. It seems they were starting a new feature highlighting some of L.A.’s “fascinating and first-rate blogs” on the Local section of their website. And for some reason, they wanted to kick it off with yours truly.

Go figure.

You can see the results on the KCET Local page. Or if it’s not there anymore — I’m not sure how long they plan to keep it on their main page — go directly to the interview by clicking here.

And be sure to look around a little while you’re there. They’ve got some interesting stuff on their site.





If you’re looking for somewhere to ride tonight, you could do a lot worse than the Taste of East L.A. But Subway? Really? Cycle Chic captures a biking cowboy at the Casbah. After all those reports of men getting sexual problems from riding, it seems women have issues, too. Bob Mionske asks leading bike advocates what it will take to get an Idaho Stop Law passed. Chicago foodies ride and dine; maybe they got the idea from the world famous Dim Sum Ride? New York gets around to regulating pedicabs. Bike-friendly Madison WI cracks down on law breaking bikers; but at least they cracked down on bike-law-breaking drivers, too. The Guardian says bikes and books go together, and suggests which ones you should be reading. Berliners discover their bikes now that gas is up and the rail service is down. Finally, Alabama bans a popular California wine; is it because of the naked nymph on label or the bike she’s barely riding?

Why change the law, if no one’s going to obey it anyway?

One more thought about this week’s topic before I climb down from my soapbox.

As I noted yesterday, states and towns across the country are reforming their traffic laws to encourage bicycling and help keep riders safer on the roads. But without adequate enforcement, even the most well-reasoned reform is meaningless.

Consider Tucson, where Erik Ryberg — the Tucson Bike Lawyer — reports that not one driver has been cited for violating Arizona’s three-foot passing law in the first six months of this year, and only three all of last year. This despite the fact that several local riders have been struck by cars, which would seem to indicate that the drivers were just a little closer than that.

Or take Tennessee, which has a well-deserved reputation for failing to enforce its own three-foot passing law — even in a recent case where a popular cycling advocate was killed when a truck passed so close that it hooked his saddlebag and threw him under the trucks back wheels. It’s gotten so bad that the governor himself has weighed in on the subject.

Then there’s California’s highly publicized ban on using a hand-held cell phone while driving. Despite the inherent dangers of distracted driving, and the relief felt by cyclists around the state when it finally took effect, the law has been almost universally ignored.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, over 200,000 tickets have been written for violations of the law so far. Yet you don’t have to watch traffic very long to observe a passing driver holding a phone to his or her ear. And virtually every time I have a close call with a motorist, it’s almost a given that the driver will be holding a phone.

Don’t believe me?

Try it yourself. Next time you’re out on the street, watch the passing cars and see how many drivers you can count with their cell phones illegally plastered to their ears — or God forbid, texting. And note how closely those drivers correlate to the ones actively demonstrating a high degree of stupidity behind the wheel.

Then again, there’s no shortage of traffic laws being to be ignored these days.

Once you get tired of counting cell phones, try keeping track of how many moving violations you see. From everyday scofflaw-isms like speeding, failure to signal, illegal lane changes and failure to come to a complete stop, to more exotic moves like making a three-point U-turn while blocking oncoming traffic, or cutting across four lanes of traffic to make a right turn from the left lane — all of which I saw on a brief two-mile trip through Century City this afternoon.

And don’t forget to include yourself in that tally — and yes, Idaho stops count, even if there is valid evidence to back them up.

The unfortunate fact is, many people, both drivers and cyclists, feel they can do whatever they want on the roads these days. Because experience has taught them that they will probably get away with it.

Go back to that little test counting moving violations. All those people on the roads you saw break the law, exactly how many of them were stopped by the police as a result of their actions?

Chances are, the answer is zero. Because there simply aren’t enough police officers on the streets to enforce traffic laws, especially not here in L.A.

And without enforcement, there is no compliance.

And without compliance, even the most well-reasoned Bike Safety Law will be absolutely meaningless.

So yes, we need to change the law. But more than that, we have to find a way to enforce the laws we already have.


Mark your calendar for the Brentwood Grand Prix on Sunday, August 9th. Long Beach cycling photographer Russ Roca and his wife a documenting a cross-country, then international, bike tour. A popular cyclist from my home town is recovering after being critically injured when struck from behind on a group ride. Also from Colorado, the state police now have a dedicated phone line for cyclists to report dangerous and aggressive drivers — yet another idea we might want to copy. Tucson police follow-up if a driver leaves the scene after hitting another car, but hit a cyclist? Not so much. Iowa considers banning bikes from farm-to-market roads. New York’s city council votes to let bikes into the workplace. The Cycling Lawyer, non-Tucson edition, explains how to respond to, and hopefully defuse, road rage. Before and after shots of Ashford, England’s new carnage-free shared road space. Finally, that DIY virtual bike lane that everyone wants just won the International Design Excellence Award.

A comprehensive California Bike Safety Law

Let’s pick up where we left off last time.

As you may recall, I’d commented on the LACBC’s proposed Vulnerable User Law, which would increase penalties for anyone convicted of careless driving who kills or injures a cyclist, pedestrian or other vulnerable road users.

A good start, I said. But only a start, because what’s needed is a more comprehensive reform of the laws intended to ensure our place on the road, keep cars and bikes from coming in contact and governing what happens when they do.

That led to a comment from Chet K, who identified himself as a member of the LACBC, and said that the organization is open to the possibility of legislation that goes beyond a strict focus on vulnerable users. As he put it,

I don’t believe LACBC has discounted any possible solution, or set of solutions, that could result in safer roadways. What is needed is more constructive input and participation by interested road users to help push this forward.

So let’s take them up on that.

If you’ve been a regular visitor here — or you’ve clicked the links at the top of this page — you probably have a pretty good idea where I stand on the subject. So let’s take a look at some of the provisions that have already been passed in other states lately that could form the basis for a comprehensive California Bike Safety Law:

Three foot passing law — Colorado, Massachusetts, Indiana, South Carolina and Louisiana have recently joined a growing list of states that require that drivers pass cyclists at a minimum of three feet distance, and allow drivers to briefly cross lane dividers when necessary to pass a cyclist safely.

• Prohibit harassment of cyclists — Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina and the city of Columbia, Missouri have passed laws that prohibit intentionally striking, throwing objects, yelling or honking at cyclists in a manner intended to startle, anger, frighten or injure them.

Ban right hooks, left crosses and cutting off cyclists after passing — Massachusetts now prohibits turning into the path of an oncoming cyclist or cutting back into the lane until safely clear of a cyclist; many drivers don’t learn the inherent danger of turning or cutting in front of a cyclist until it’s too late.

Safer signaling rules — Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Carolina now allow signaling for right turns by either bending the left arm upward, or pointing right with the right arm. In addition, many of the states no longer require a continuous signal if traffic or road conditions require the rider to keep both hands on the handlebars.

Give cyclists greater legal protection in bike lanes — Colorado has taken an important step by extending the same legal protection enjoyed by pedestrians in a crosswalk to cyclists riding in a bike lane. In addition, many of the states have banned drivers from blocking bike lanes.

Riding two abreast is explicitly permitted — Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Carolina have eliminated any confusion over whether cyclists are allowed to ride side-by-side in the roadway, allowing two-abreast riding as long as it doesn’t impede the normal flow of traffic.

Treat non-responsive red lights as a flashing red — Indiana has recognized that bikes are frequently unable to trigger the roadway sensors that cause traffic signals to turn green; as a result, cyclists there are now allowed to proceed through a red light after stopping and waiting a reasonable period of time.

Require police training in bike law — Massachusetts now requires that all police recruits complete a training program developed in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure that eventually all officers will be well-versed in the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

Explicitly ban dooring — Massachusetts has also made it a violation to open a car or truck door into a passing cyclist, or directly in the path a cyclist — accidently or otherwise.

In addition, most of these states have clarified the hard-to-define and frequently misunderstood requirement to ride as far to the right as practical with language that recognizes the need to take the lane when necessary to avoid obstacles or obstructions, or when the lane is too narrow to allow safe passing. And most require that drivers be educated in both the new laws and the rights of riders.

So which of these laws are right for a California Bike Safety Law?

All of them.

My suggestion would be to start with the Massachusetts law. Then add in provisions to ban harassment of cyclists, give riders in a bike lane the same protection as pedestrians in a crosswalk, ban blocking of bike lanes, and allow cyclists to ride through red lights that don’t change on their own after waiting a reasonable amount of time. And include the LACBC’s proposed Vulnerable User Law, as well.

Of course, you may be wondering if all this is really necessary. So ask yourself this. Are cyclists still getting harassed, injured and killed on our streets?

Then yes, it is.


Stephen and Enci Box are attempting to film without fossil fuel. Alex notes the Palms Neighborhood Council unanimously endorsed the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights. Metblogs says you could get a ticket for riding the wrong way on Speedway. West Hollywood clarifies the laws regarding riding on the sidewalk. San Diego cracks down on pedicabs after a tourist is killed. A Texas man is honored for giving over 4,000 bikes to underprivileged children. Bob Mionske discusses the Idaho Stop Law. Finally, Damien is asking for input designing a questionnaire for the candidates to replace Wendy Greuel in L.A.’s Council District 2, and Stephen Box notes the issues that will frame the debate and where you can meet the candidates. Because things won’t get better for cyclists in this city until we elect a government that makes it a priority.

LACBC and the proposed California Vulnerable User Law

The LACBC has been busy lately.

The 11-year old organization, more formally known as the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, has rapidly grown to become the area’s leading bicycling organization. Yet when you talk to cyclists, it’s not that unusual to hear various complaints about the group — mostly along the lines of “they don’t do anything.”

Personally, I haven’t had enough interaction with LACBC to offer an informed opinion. Though I can say that virtually every time I’ve attended a meeting of the city council, transportation committee or the Bicycle Advisory Committee to address some bicycling issue, they’ve been there as well.

In just the last few months, they’ve addressed issues ranging from the Sharrows Pilot Project and a potential bikeway along Compton Creek, to making the 4th Street Bike Boulevard a reality. As well as taking a very polite stand on improving the proposed, and much-maligned, L.A. Bike Master Plan.

Recently, though, the LACBC sent out an email blast announcing that they were working with various agencies to develop a Vulnerable User Law, “which protects cyclists, pedestrians, highway workers, skateboarders, and other vulnerable road users and it establishes stricter penalties for anyone who kills or seriously injures a vulnerable user and is convicted of careless driving.”

Oregon and Illinois have already passed similar laws, while the governor of Texas recently vetoed such legislation. And several other states, including New York and Rhode Island have considered their own bills, with varying degrees of success.

It’s a revolutionary concept in American liability law, establishing stricter penalties for drivers who kill or injure cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable users — in other words, anyone on the street who isn’t protected by 2,000 or more pounds of steel and glass.

However, it doesn’t begin to approach the laws in Denmark and Holland, which assign responsibility for any accident to the driver, because, as a European Union proposal put it, “Whoever is responsible, pedestrians and cyclists usually suffer more.”

Or as the publication Cycling in the Netherlands, published by the Dutch Directorate-General for Passenger Transport puts it:

Something that should not be overlooked in the safety section: Liability. In some countries, bicycling is seen as causing danger, which sometimes ends up in an anti-cycling policy. The Dutch philosophy is: Cyclists are not dangerous; cars and car drivers are: so car drivers should take the responsibility for avoiding collisions with cyclists. This implies that car drivers are almost always liable when a collision with a bicycle occurs and should adapt their speed when bicycles share the roads with cyclists.

On the other hand, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to pass a law anywhere in the U.S. that automatically assigns responsibility to the driver in the event of an accident — and especially in car-centric California.

But it just might be possible to assign greater responsibility to the operator of the more dangerous vehicle. For instance, bus and truck drivers would bear more responsibility than car drivers; car drivers would bear more responsibility than motorcyclists; motorcyclists would bear more responsibility than bicyclists, who would have more responsibility than pedestrians.

In each case, the operator of the more dangerous vehicle should have greater responsibility for avoiding a collision simply because they are capable of causing greater harm.

But I also have another concern about the LACBC’s proposal.

Their decision to focus on a Vulnerable User Law ignores the need for a more encompassing Bicycle Safety Law, such as those recently passed in Colorado and Massachusetts — laws that mandate a minimum three-foot passing distance, ban harassment of cyclists, and give cyclists riding in a bike lane the same level of protection as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, among other things.

Yes, a Vulnerable User Law can and should be a part of that. But only a part of it.

And by focusing only on just on aspect, it greatly reduces the possibility that a competing Bike Safety Law could be passed in the same legislative session. A law that would protect a rider’s safety before an accident, rather than merely increasing the penalty afterwards — and then only if the driver is charged with careless driving.

It’s a good start.

But it’s only a start.


The LACBC is also looking for volunteers to count pedestrians and cyclists at key intersections throughout the city. A Malibu writer says it’s time to get bikes off of PCH. Streetsblog’s Damien Newton invites riders to join him for a tour of Park(ing) Day LA installations. Pasadena considers heresy by removing a car lane for cyclists and pedestrians at the Rose Bowl. A boy is hit by a car while riding in Winnetka. If you need more speed for your next crit, an Oregon man is offering home-made rocket engines for bicycles. Maybe you missed this video of a New York cyclist using his U-lock on an angry pedestrian. A firefighter is charged with shooting a cyclist after trying to warn him against riding with his child on a busy street. A British grocer is forced to pull its ad for a build-it-yourself bike after viewers notice they put the fork on backwards. Cyclists in Kenya can recharge their cell phones while riding their bikes. Finally, this year’s le Tour winner says he has no respect for Lance — and never did. I guess seven wins just doesn’t mean what it used to.

Today’s ride, in which I finish second

I admit it. I have a competitive streak.

It came in handy during my brief career as a schoolboy defensive tackle; not so much when I took up tennis and would gladly slam the ball down my best friend’s throat just to win a point in a friendly game.

That was one of my motivating factors when I took up cycling.

When I ride, my only competition is within myself. Like challenging myself to ride just a little farther than I did last week, or climb that hill a little faster than the day before. Or tolerate those screaming muscles long enough to push a little harder and still make it back home again.

But just because I’m not competing with anyone else, that doesn’t mean some people aren’t competing with me.

Maybe they think I’m a racer, with my bright colored spandex and semi-fast bike. Although most racers seem to look no further than my hairy, unshaven legs before deciding that I’m not.

Every now and then, though, I’ll pass someone on the bike path, or another rider will come up to me at a red light — often half my age or less — and suddenly their highest priority becomes trying to catch and pass me, or beat me to the next corner.

Usually, I let them.

There’s no need to tell them that the pace they went all out to beat is the same one I’ve been keeping up for the past 20 or 30 miles. And if it makes them feel good about themselves, maybe they’ll keep riding.

Or if someone starts to annoy me, I can just slow down a little and let them think they’ve won, or shift up a gear or two and leave them in my wake, wondering what the hell happened.

Take today’s ride.

I let a young man draft on me on me for a couple miles, until his reckless riding got on my nerves. So I kicked it up a couple gears, and dropped him like freshman English.

A few miles later, I came upon a plump young woman riding ahead of me, her purse slung casually over the handlebars. I’d just finished a long stretch of hard, fast riding, and had slowed down to relax for bit and take in the view. Still, her pace was well below mine, so I swung around her and continued on my way.

A minute or two later, though, I noticed another rider coming up behind me. And sure enough, within a few moments the same girl passed me, pedaling as fast as her legs could carry her and tinkling her bell as she went by.

Then not far ahead, she pulled off to the side where a man was waiting for her. She pointed in my direction, then as I passed she I heard her exclaim, “I beat him!”

Of course, that raised the hackles on my neck. I had to resist the temptation to circle back around and argue that it’s not beating someone if the other person isn’t even trying.

Instead, I shoved my competitive demon back inside its cage where it belongs, and let her have her moment. Maybe it will encourage her to keep riding, and maybe the next time I see her, she’ll be a little slimmer, a little stronger.

And she might just beat me for real next time.


The LACBC is working to turn 4th Street into a real bike boulevard. The new transportation bill pending in Congress demonstrates the value of electing more cyclists to office. More bike-related ways to run your iPhone battery down. A Des Moines police officer runs down a cyclist going after a speeder; maybe he was upset that Iowa was picked to finish last in the Big 12. Alexandria, VA is working to become bike-friendlier, while the legendary bike-friendly community of Madison, WI, is struggling with the same issues the rest of us are. Vancouver removed a lane on a major bridge to add bike lanes, and the world did not come to an end. A writer notes that riders must respect big rigs, and not just because they can squash us like a bug. A London writer wonders what’s behind the rise in bike mutilation and slashed tyres. Finally, a writer complains that cyclists — other than himself, of course — flaunt the law, just like drivers do.

Keeping bad drivers off the roads

You don’t have to follow the news very closely to hear frequent stories about people who continue to drive — and have or cause wrecks — long after their driver’s licenses have been taken away.

So how do you keep bad drivers off the street, when losing the privilege to drive seems meaningless? That’s something I’ve been struggling with lately, when I came across this column by Hector Tobar in yesterday’s Times.

As Tobar tells the story, a woman drove to a dental appointment, then called her boyfriend to come get her when the effects of sedation kept her from driving home.

Only problem was, she didn’t know that his license had been suspended. So he had a cousin drive her home, then attempted to drive her car home so it wouldn’t be towed from the parking garage where she had left it. But only made it a few blocks before the police stopped him.

Allowing someone with a suspended license to drive her car meant it could be impounded for 30 days under the Safe Streets Act, and eventually cost her nearly $1400 to get it back. She was lucky, though. A second offense would have allowed her car to be seized and sold by the state.

To Tobar, that seemed unduly harsh.

As he pointed out, the original offense was just running a stop sign; something countless L.A. drivers — and yes, cyclists — do on a daily basis. He argues that she should have been shown leniency because of her limited finances and that fact that it wasn’t her intent to put an unlicensed driver behind the wheel. And suggest that maybe the law should be changed, so it doesn’t apply to people convicted of relatively minor offenses.

He has a point.

On the other hand, let’s say the police hadn’t stopped her boyfriend. Maybe he would have made it back home with no problem. Or just maybe, he would have run another stop sign on the way home. And this time, killed someone.

Would we still be discussing whether the law is too harsh? Or would we want to know why someone with a suspended license was still on the streets?

Only a few weeks after her boyfriend was stopped by police, another driver was on the streets north of Los Angeles — despite having his license suspended for two previous DUI convictions. And despite the fact that he was underage, he was already drunk at 10:30 in the morning.

Somehow, the Safe Streets Act failed in this case.

Maybe his license hadn’t been suspended at the time of his previous arrests. Maybe he just fell through the cracks, or maybe the truck wasn’t even his. But somehow, he was still had access to a vehicle that morning.

As a result, a popular cyclist is dead, leaving his wife to somehow find a way to go on without him, and his friends and family confront a hole in their lives that can never be filled. And let’s not forget the other 4 riders injured in the same incident, two of them seriously.

My heart goes out the woman Tobar wrote about. She was an unfortunate victim of circumstances, and of a well-meaning boyfriend who hadn’t honest with her, and tried to do the right thing in entirely the wrong way.

According to Tobar, California’s Safe Streets Act is one of the strictest in the nation when it comes to unlicensed drivers. And maybe she deserved leniency that she didn’t get.

But as long as drivers continue to drive long after their licenses have been suspended, there is no enforcement. And without enforcement, the traffic laws meant to keep us all safe are meaningless.

And innocent people can die.

So compassion, yes. Leniency, maybe. But weaken the law?

Hell no.

If anything, it should be expanded to include all drunk drivers, whether or not they’ve been stopped for driving without a license. As well as other dangerous drivers, including those aggressive, high-speed drivers who weave in and out of traffic, often causing more accidents than they have themselves.

Because drunks aren’t the only dangerous drivers on the road.


Culver City wants your input on their Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative. Cynergy offers a free lecture on Nutrition, Hydration & Recovery Techniques tonight. Streetsblog examines Metro’s dedicated bike space, and questions how much cyclists really slow down drivers. Metblogs suggests exploring the San Gabriel River Bike Trail while there’s actually water flowing through the riverbed. As part of their continued efforts to Amsterdam L.A., Flying Pigeon presents the Royal Gazelle. Riverside commuters are reducing their wheels from four to two. A Missouri rider discovers Alpacas on his evening ride. A long-time Colorado rider is killed after “straying” into traffic. In another hit-and-run north of the border, five Ottawa cyclists were run down despite riding single file in a bike lane; there was nothing the riders could have done to avoid it. A Detroit writer analyzes the official crash analysis, and find that both cycling and pedestrian deaths were under reported. Finally, a cyclist from Down Under documents his daily commute; clearly, they have as much trouble keeping cars out of the bike lanes as we do.

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.

Let’s be careful out there


Last weekend may have been the worst for local cyclists in recent memory.

But life goes on.

The nice thing about this world is that it gives you a clean slate every day. And this weekend dawns under ideal riding conditions, at least for those of us who aren’t sweltering in 100 degree temperatures.

So go out and ride. Have fun. Enjoy the weather. Spend some time with your friends.

But just be careful. And let’s try to get through this weekend with no shootings. No drunk drivers. No road rage. No hit-and-runs. No injuries. No fatalities. No Hummer incidents.

And no bees.


The underage drunk driver accused of killing Joe Novotny and injuring four others faces life in prison; not long enough in my book. Bespoke interviews Flying Pigeon owner and bike wonk Josef Brayj-Ali. Streetsblog interviews the Mamas and the Papas (no, the other ones). LACBC responds to the new bike plan far more politely than many riders have. Travelin’ Local tells you where to find free summer concerts in LA, LB, CC, SM and Pasadena. Is it an Arizona urban myth or are Tucson police counting on cyclists to fill city coffers? A New Hampshire woman is about to be released after 15 years for intentionally killing a cyclist. An Idaho legislator proposes a three foot passing law, as well as banning harassment of cyclists — and $50 fines for riders who break the law. Actor James Caviezel was injured when a pedestrian threw a bicycle in the path of his motorcycle. Finally, a writer in Minnesota encourages cyclists to be smarter than the bikes they ride.

The Dept. of Currently Infeasible vs. the Dept. of Just Get It Done.

The difficult, I’ll do right now; the impossible may take a little while.

— Crazy He Calls Me, by Carl Sigman and Sidney Keith Russell

A few years back, I was hired as advertising director for a company that made electronic musical and recording equipment.

Years of mismanagement had put the company in serious financial trouble. And I was given less than five months to hire and train an in-house creative team, develop a new marketing strategy to completely reposition the company, and create an ad campaign good enough to pull them from the brink of bankruptcy.

It wasn’t possible.

I knew it. They knew it. And I agreed to do it anyway.

After countless long hours, including working both Christmas and New Years Day, we got it to the printer just minutes before our final drop-dead deadline, and broke the new campaign on the eve of the most important trade show in the company’s history. Three days later, they left with over $6 million in new sales — nearly 75% of the total sales for the entire year before.

It wasn’t enough. Within a few weeks, the bank cut off funding, and the company’s assets were liquidated in bankruptcy court.

It may not have been my best work, but I am more proud of that than anything else I’ve ever done in my career. Because I refused to accept that it couldn’t be done. And got it done anyway.

Now compare that with the sad state of our local transportation authorities. At a time when this city desperately needs bold leadership to solve its transportation problems, we get excuses and endless delays.

Consider our nascent rail system.

Metro has methodically focused on building just one or two lines at a time, making painfully slow progress on a railway that is decades away from touching the lives of most Angelenos, unless their starting and ending points just happens to be near one of the lines. And they don’t mind going through Downtown to make their connections.

The planned routes that might, someday, turn it into a viable transit system won’t break ground for years — and many, such as the long-promised Subway to the Sea — aren’t even scheduled to be completed in my lifetime. Unless I happen to live a very long damn time.

Contrast that with Denver, where city leaders had talked about the need for light rail for decades, yet it was constantly derailed by one seemingly insurmountable obstacle or another. Until local voters finally elected an administration determined to cut through the red tape and just get it done.

Instead of following L.A.’s example, they committed to building the entire system at once. The result is an integrated regional system that has been fully functional — and successful — virtually from day one. And yes, they actually encourage cyclists to take the trains.

Meanwhile, our own leaders are pushing, with no promise of success, for just three of the 14 scheduled L.A.-area projects to be moved forward a little.

Or take the pitiful, disjointed system of L.A. bikeways that don’t connect, don’t actually lead anywhere and are frequently in virtually unridable condition.

The problem, we’re told, is that the city’s built-out street system is already over-stressed. As LADOT Senior Bike Coordinator Michele Mowery was recently quoted in Bicycling Magazine, “What I need is roadway. Right now, all I can do is try to find places to squeeze bikes in.”

Yet New York City, home to one of the most congested, built-out road systems in the country, recently completed a 200 mile expansion of their bike lane system — increasing the system by nearly 50% in just three years.

The result has been equally impressive, with bike commuting up 45% since the project began — a nearly a 50% increase in ridership in just three years. And it will undoubtedly rise further now that the system is complete, reducing stress on the local traffic and transit systems while helping to improve the health of those new commuters.

The difference is civic leaders — from the mayor’s office down — who recognize the value of bicycles as a legitimate part of the overall transit system, and have the political will to overcome objections and just it done.

The same leadership that had the courage to convert one of the city’s busiest boulevards into a pedestrian walkway.

Yet even L.A.’s proposed Bike Master Plan fails to “squeeze bikes in,” since most bikeways that might actually make a difference are listed as “currently infeasible.” And the people charged with leading the change continue to offer implausible excuses, like telling council members that they can’t move forward with a sharrow test project because they’re worried about cyclists slipping on rain-soaked paint.

And yes, I actually heard them say that. Which makes me wonder just how many riders have been killed or crippled on Long Beach’s new sharrow green lane. Or maybe it just hasn’t rained there yet.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has the most congested roadways in the nation. Yet we’re still waiting for our civic leaders to recognize that the city’s decades-long focus on increasing traffic capacity has failed miserably. And that maybe, just maybe, the real solution is offering people viable alternatives to getting behind the wheel.

Like biking, for instance. Or taking a train system than can actually get you where you want to go.

And for someone — anyone — with the courage to just step up and get it done.


Streetsblog interviews the LACBC. Will defuses a potentially violent situation, and proves he who honks last honks best. Today could be the day you get a ticket for riding through a crosswalk in Santa Monica. An Eastside writer asks if the Class 1 bike path in South Gate could be used to improve the quality of life for local residents. Cycle Chic looks haute on a Batavus Fryslân. No Whip rides the high altitude Alta Alpina Double Century. Texas cyclists vent their wrath on their veto-wielding governor. An experienced bicycle safety instructor is killed after inexplicably turning directly in front of an oncoming car. A Virginia judge laments the lack of civility between cyclists and drivers. Vancouver discovers their new bike bridge could actually turn a profit. San Francisco’s Mission District is about to get new bike lanes, as is Dar-es-Salaam — maybe they just have more road space than we do. Town Mouse discovers the value of a good tailwind. Finally, the Guardian asks if bikes and beer really mix.

Just how many drunk driving deaths are one too many?

This last Saturday, Joseph Novotny of Stevenson Ranch became the latest local cyclist killed in a hit-and-run drunk driving incident. (Note that I refuse to call them “accidents.”)

It should never have happened.

According to the local Santa Clarita paper, the driver of the pickup had been reported to the police just minutes earlier after nearly sideswiping another car. After calling 911, the other driver followed him as he drifted across lanes, onto the sidewalk and the median, and into a fence.

He continued talking with the dispatcher as he followed the truck up Bouquet Canyon Road, then watched in horror as it crossed onto the other side and hit five cyclists riding on the opposite shoulder head on.

Unfortunately, sheriff’s deputies arrived just moments too late.

That wasn’t the first opportunity anyone had to stop him, though. That came in 2007, when the then 18-year old driver was first convicted of driving under the influence. Or they could have stopped him last year, after he knocked down a utility pole in another drunk driving incident.

They also might have gotten him off the streets for any of his multiple arrests for illegal drug and alcohol possession, selling tear gas and obstructing police officers.

Instead, this past Saturday he was allegedly driving drunk, with a suspended license — despite the early hour and being under-age. Now two cyclists face a long recovery from serious injuries, and another is dead, leaving behind a wife and devastated friends.

According to one of those friends, despite being a relatively new member of the Santa Clarita Velo Club — Novotny and his wife moved to the Santa Clarita area just last March after living in Minnesota and Belgium — Novotny was an experience rider and a great hill climber. In fact, he sold Novotny his first road bike over 20 years ago and they frequently rode together. Novotny had even been the best man at his wedding.

Now he’s dead because the authorities couldn’t — or simply didn’t — keep a repeat offender off the roads. And the driver is scheduled to be arraigned today on charges that may include murder, driving under the influence and hit-and-run causing death.

Since the driver was underage, it’s also possible that whoever supplied him with the alcohol and/or drugs, or sold it to him in violation of the law, could face charges if the authorities choose to pursue it.

Yet even if this young man spends the rest of his life in jail — which is a distinct possibility — it does nothing to stop the larger problem of intoxicated and/or hit-and-run drivers.

At least three L.A.–area cyclists have been killed in hit-and-run incidents by accused drunk drivers this year alone — Novotny, Jesus Castillo and Rod Armas. Add to that Patrick Shannon, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Orange County recently, as well as countless others who’ve survived their injuries, including local cycling leader Roadblock.

Then there are all the pedestrians and vehicle passengers who’ve been killed or injured in hit-and-run and/or drunk driving incidents this year alone, including Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, in 2007 alone, an estimated 12,998 people were killed in alcohol-related motor-vehicle collisions — and an estimated 50% – 75% of drivers whose licenses get suspended will continue to drive anyway.

Newly elected councilmember Paul Koretz addressed this problem on here recently, as did his opponent David Vahedi. MADD proposes a campaign along the lines of what Vahedi suggested, including increased police enforcement as well as interlock systems that can prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars if they’ve been drinking.

Personally, I think the solution is a strict two-strike and you’re out policy.

On the first offense, the driver’s license is permanently revoked; after a period of one to two years, he or she can appear before a judge and request permission to apply for a license — but only if they’ve successfully completed a counseling program and agree to place an interlock system on any vehicle to which they have access.

Meanwhile, any vehicles registered in the driver’s name will be impounded until the license is restored, or sold to compensate any victims. And no one, anywhere, for any reason, should ever get another chance after a second violation.

Anyone caught driving after their license has been revoked should face mandatory jail time, with no possibility of early release. And any person convicted of leaving the scene of an accident should lose all driving privileges permanently, forever. Even for the first offense.

Harsh? Maybe.

But nowhere near as harsh as what Novotny’s family and friends now face.

Full disclosure — My 16-year old cousin was killed by a drunk driver when she was thrown from a car driven by her own father, who then ran over her and drove home without ever noticing she was missing. Also, one of my childhood friends was killed just before our senior year of high school when a drunk driver jumped a 20-foot wide median strip on an Interstate highway and hit his car head-on at over 70 mph. She walked away without a scratch; he and his passenger were killed instantly.


The Wheelmen list all the finishers for this years Grand Tour, but there’s no mention of the two who didn’t make it, Rod Armas and his son. Am I the only one who thinks that’s shameful? Stephen Box examines the bikes on Metro controversy, while the Bus Bench takes the other side, and complains about those oppressed cyclists. Newport Beach beats L.A. to the punch on bicycle sharing. The cycling lawyer offers good advice for when tempers flare, while the other cycling lawyer notes that not one driver has been cited for violating Arizona’s three-foot passing law in Tucson this year. Two Milwaukee bike cops are struck in separate incidents. Evidently, it’s still illegal to park a bike on the sidewalk in Jacksonville. No bikes involved — thank God — but see how fast an accident can happen. Just Williams finally gets the instructions on how to fold his Ikea folding bike. Finally, a Berlin brothel offers a discount to anyone who arrives by bike.

%d bloggers like this: