Friday’s ride, on which I seemed to be invisible

One of the biggest problems we face as cyclists is being seen by today’s too-often distracted drivers, who seem to take the simple act of driving far too casually.

We wear bright colors, and position ourselves in ways that force anyone paying the slightest attention to see us. Yet too often, motorists seem oblivious to our presence.

Let alone anything else on the road with them.

I saw that yesterday as we were driving home from the market, and watched as the driver ahead of us looked as though he was going to stop for a red light — then proceeded to roll through the light without ever braking and T-bone an SUV on the cross street, knocking it into another SUV waiting in the opposing turn lane.

The impact was hard enough to deploy both airbags in the car that ran the light. And send the driver of the first SUV storming out of his vehicle to berate the man who hit him.

Why he went through the light, I have no idea; he could have been drunk, distracted or just not paying attention.

But it was an odd perspective to watch it all unfold from behind and be unable to do anything about it. And realizing that the airbags and armor plating of the vehicles involved had combined to protect everyone involved from serious harm.

Yet if it had been a bike in the driver’s path, the outcome would had been far different, as the rider would have been severely injured by the initial impact. And most likely would have helplessly fallen into the path of other motorists in the busy intersection.

How the driver failed to see the red light and massive SUV directly in front of him is beyond me. Let alone the bus directly behind it, which avoided the wreck only through a combination of slow speed and the skill and attention of the driver.

And if a driver can’t see something that massive directly in front of him, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us who present a far smaller profile as we travel on two wheels.

Something I experienced for myself as I rode home on Friday.

I was coming up busy Montana Blvd in Santa Monica on the last leg of a 40 mile ride to the South Bay.

Usually I take San Vicente back from the beach. But every now and then I take Montana just to see something different — even though that means riding even more defensively than usual to dodge the many drivers who turn into or out of driveways and alleys without looking, or dart across the street, oblivious to the presence of anything traveling on less than four wheels.

Like the guy who cut me off as he made his left onto Montana from the side street on my right. And flipped me off when, after braking hard to a stop, I spread my arms in the universal “WTF?” gesture.

Unfortunately, the video didn’t come out for that one.

Then there are the drivers who cut quickly into the bike lane, using it as a staging area to enter or wait for a parking space, without ever looking for a bike that may already be occupying that space.

Or even caring, for that matter.

Like the woman who drove past me just a block or two later, then cut directly into the bike path mere feet in front of my bike. And sparing me from rear-ending her only because she slid forward to wait for a space a little further up the street.

At first I thought she moved up because she heard my shouted warning.

But as I pulled up next to her, it became clear that she couldn’t hear me or anything else in the hermetically sealed automotive bubble in which she was driving.

I was going to say something, but it quickly became clear that she had no idea I was there. And probably never saw me at all as she passed just feet from where I rode in the bike lane.

So I rode off, a little shaken, but grateful I’d been prepared for a dangerous driver like her.

And well aware that it was only a matter of luck that kept me from being rear-ended or sideswiped; had she seen another parking space a few seconds earlier, she would undoubtedly have driven directly into me.

It’s scary as hell to realize that someone could completely miss a six-foot tall cyclist in a bright red and blue Fat Tire jersey.

And riding in a space which should, by its mere existence, suggest the presence of bikes.


One other quick note.

If you haven’t read it yet, take a few moments to digest Mark Elliot’s excellent wrap-up of cyclists descending on the recent Beverly Hills City Council session to demand fair treatment on the streets of their city.

Because right now, we’re far less than second-class citizens in a city many of us have no choice but to ride through. And which doesn’t seem to give a damn about whether we live or die.

Or receive justice either way.


  1. I wonder if posting the license plate of the vehicle in the searchable text of the youtube video would attract the attention of insurance company underwriters doing due diligence searches.

  2. patrick says:

    Was there a full moon or something on Friday? After 4+ years without coming into contact with an automobile, I was right-hooked twice within 5 minutes while riding in the Santa Monica Blvd bike lanes that afternoon. Both drivers were on their phones!

  3. Gene M says:

    I too share your concerns and wrote a blog post quoting this article, I hope you don’t mind!

  4. We’ll solve most of these problems with Class I lanes, if only we had the political will.

  5. Mark Elliot says:

    In concur: 2nd class road users. (I’m careful to distinguish between road users and citizens in the formal sense.) The challenge is bigger than disregard, which can be shamed away over time. Rather it’s the misconceptions about cycling’s role in mobility that we have to work hard to address. It was on display in today’s legislature over SB 1464, and it is always on display in my burgh of Beverly Hills where the ‘view through the windshield’ prevails.

    We heard our City Council talk last week as if cyclists are a recreational constituency (for whom a ‘path’ should suffice) while the rest of us have to earn facilities like a reward for good behavior at stop signs.

    We heard our Traffic & Parking Commission in May hide behind hypothetical liability to deny facilities where the data shows collisions tend to concentrate.

    And we hear nothing from our Public Works folks charged with transportation planning and infrastructure construction. To them we’re not even second class; we’re steerage – the human ballast that enjoys a free ride on streets paid for by taxpaying motorists.

  6. am says:

    I read this blog almost daily and while there is a lot of good news, the bad news just seems to get worse (to me, in a philosophical sense anyway). This is why I have, for the most part given up biking, except for a few night group rides. If I can’t walk or ride my bike on VERY quiet side streets or along bike paths COMPLETELY separate from cars, I just don’t go by bike. I get on the train or bus. I’ve given up because drivers simply refuse to recognize bike lanes as being in the same category as other legally well defined markings (or devices.. like traffic signals!). If they notice them at all, they think it’s just some cute little thing the city has done; it can’t have any real, serious purpose.

    They aren’t taught to be watchful for anything other than cars. They don’t even seem to consider other cars in their actions anymore. In fact, getting a license to drive a car in this country is WAAAAYYYYYY too easy! Check out what drivers in Finland must do (and pay) for the privilege of getting behind the wheel.

    Besides.. EVERYWHERE I look drivers are texting, searching for a song or video or email on their smartphone, fixing their hair and/or makeup, eating, turning around to slap the kids in the back seat.. you name it. They’re doing anything and everything besides DRIVING safely. Plus, cars today are FAR more capable (dangerous) than they were just a few years ago. They have far more sophisticated suspensions. WAY more powerful engines and brakes. That’s why that driver can easily rush ahead of you and cut in front of you in the bike lane, slam on the brakes and get that all important parking spot RIGHT in front of the store they’ve been circling for 15 minutes because they’re too fucking lazy and selfish to walk one block or dog forbid(I’m atheist, not dyslexic), BIKE to their destination! This all leads drivers to be FAR more cavalier about the act of driving. They feel invincible in their 3,500-5,500 pound, 350-700 horsepower cocoon of steel and airbags. It WAS simply IMPOSSIBLE to drive the way people do today up through the late 1980’s or maybe early 1990’s. You HAD to be a defensive driver back then, for your own sake, if not for the sake of others. I think people are just plain old WAY more selfish today. And a big part of that, are our machines. They completely insulate us and cater to our every whim. How dare anyone, ESPECIALLY a bicyclist (who isn’t really a human) get in MY way! Throw in another instant gratification device (iphone, galaxy, Razr or whatever) and voila, you have hundreds of millions of instruments of mayhem and potential mass destruction zipping around the surface of our choking planet.. self-obsessed humans behind the wheel of a 2 ton vehicle that go from 0-60 in 5 seconds! People think they are fucking gods with all this tech and cheap gov’t subsidized fuel. I felt much safer as a kid/young adult biking in the 1970’s-80’s when a driver might still understand he/she was behind the wheel of a DANGEROUS MACHINE and might still have some shred of empathy and recognize you as a fellow human.

    Every week I’m almost run down by cars or trucks as a pedestrian in crosswalks who are running lights, trying to rush through that left turn, etc. The same thing has happened on my bike too, of course. Both type events have even occurred RIGHT in front of cops witnessing the driver’s actions. Of course, the cops NEVER made an attempt to even stop the driver and at least lecture them. Which leads to the all too familiar by now topic of there being very close to ZERO justice for injured or slaughtered cyclists. And most city’s DOT’s treat bike traffic integration as an afterthought (Expo line).

    The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many in the good ol’ USA. All the laws and bike lanes in the world aren’t going to slow down this rushing to nowhere, out of control, merry-go-round of self-importance that the entire world seems bent on hopping onto.

    So I give up.

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