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The terrible tyranny of two-wheel tribal wear

One day last winter, I found myself riding Downtown to attend an early morning press conference.

And something I’ve learned in recent years is that the press likes to talk to people who look like their preconceived notions of a cyclist.

It doesn’t matter if the guy next to you is the head of a bicycling organization, a professional cyclist or someone who’s been riding for decades. If he or she is dressed in street clothes and you’re in spandex, you can expect the camera in your face.

Since there were things I wanted to say on the day’s subject, I put on my best road gear and set out on a rush hour ride to City Hall.

On the way, though, I noticed an interesting thing.

Despite the chilly early hour, there were a lot of other riders on the road.

Some, like me, were dressed in spandex. Many of whom nodded in my direction as they passed, acknowledging me as one of their own.

Others were clad in jeans or business attire, apparently on their way to work or school. And not one of whom seemed to take any notice of me, as if we were members of two separate species.

More interesting, though, was what happened later that same evening as the situation was reversed.

I had a business party to attend that night, starting just after working hours. And since it was located in an office building on Wilshire Blvd, in an area where parking is virtually non-existent — or unaffordable — during the evening rush, I concluded that riding was once again the most viable option.

So I threw on my jeans and a button-down shirt, along with a semi-professional looking jacket, and set out along the same route I’d taken earlier that day.

Except this time, the situation was reversed.

Many of the bike commuters I encountered threw a brief nod in my direction; a couple even struck up a conversation as we waited for red lights to change.

Yet the spandex-clad riders I passed hardly cast a glance in my direction. The way I was dressed marked me as a member of another tribe.

And that, my friend, is when it finally sank through my thick helmet-covered skull.

I was exactly the same rider on both the morning and evening rides. I was on the same bike and riding the same way. Let alone the same direction.

But I was seen in a completely different manner by different people, strictly because of what I was wearing.

The clothing we bike in isn’t just what feels comfortable as we pedal to our destination, or what will be appropriate once we get there.

It’s what connects us to others like us, identifying us as members of our own cycling tribe. And more importantly, what separates us from all the other self-selected cycling tribes, whispering — or sometimes shouting — in the unmistakable language of bicycle fashion, I’m not like you.

And probably don’t want to be.

Divide, and self conquer.

No wonder we can’t even present enough of a unified front to get the governor to sign a damn three-foot passing bill.

Too often we’ve seen the spandex crowd turn up their noses at the fixie riders in our midst. Or the cycle chic and citizen cyclists, to borrow a phrase or two from Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic fame, criticizing those who insist on donning specialized bicycling attire instead of regular street clothes, let alone helmets.

Or haute couture and drop dead heels, in some cases.

Then there are the women who wonder why they should have to dress to the nines just to ride a bike. The hipsters who wouldn’t be caught dead wrapped in a skin-tight logo-covered road jersey.

And the great mass of casual riders who just want to go for a bike ride, and don’t know what all the fuss is about.

Or even that there is a fuss.

Of course, there are reasons for what we wear.

When I first started riding, I saw no reason to wear anything other than the T-shirt and cut-off jeans I wore for any other physical activity.

Until a couple of more experienced riders explained that bike shorts and jerseys actually made for cycling would dramatically cut down on the wicked wind resistance that wore me out before I barely got going. Not to mention eliminating those aggravating sweat and chafing issues, while offering the support necessary to help ensure the existence of any potential future generations.

If you get my drift.

And so I rode for over twenty years; eventually the concept that I could ride in something else, even for a quick trip to the market or out for coffee, lost in the deep dark depths of bike days long past.

As my fellow cycling advocates and colleagues can attest, it took me a couple years of riding to various meetings — and the embarrassment of usually being the only one sitting through them just a stretchy microthread’s-width away from near nudity — before I worked up the courage to bike in regular clothes like they did. And dress for the destination rather than the ride.

It just seemed oddly foreign to me after all those years in spandex.

Just as it would to many fixie or casual riders to wear the brightly colored skin-tight attire most roadies wrap around themselves before they hit the road. Even if they would likely be far more comfortable on long rides, as I learned myself so many years ago.

Now I still wear spandex for long, fast rides demanding physical exertion. And jeans and casual shorts and shirts — some made for bicycling, some not — for transportation and more relaxed riding.

The bottom line is, clothes don’t make the bike rider.

It doesn’t matter who you are, how you ride, what you ride, where you ride, or what you wear. Especially not what you wear.

The only thing that really matters that you ride.

The rest is just details.

And once we finally figure that out, once we realize that the one thing that links us all together is more important than all our tribes and differences, we’ll be a social and political force no one can resist.

Not even Jerry Brown.

……..

On a related subject, Melissa Balmer of Long Beach-based Women on Bikes SoCal offers a must-read look at women, bicycling and cycle chic — and whether bike advocacy has to make room, not just for all the many types of women who already ride, but all those who might want to.

If we don’t agree with one and other’s approach could we step back and and try and understand where she is coming from rather than attacking first? Is there something we could learn from each other? Could we find the places where we agree and be cordial in our agreeing-to-disagree where we disagree? If we become known as a movement of great diversity yet united in our good will towards getting women and girls on bikes won’t we be much much stronger and powerful for it?

Seriously. It’s an important topic for anyone who cares about bike advocacy and reaching out to women — and potential bike riders — of all sorts. And not just because she mentions me in it.

So read it, already.

A heartwarming story to end your week, a bunch of legal updates and week’s worth of links

Now that there’s finally a lull in this week’s rash of bad news, let’s catch up on all the news that’s been on hold this week.

………

First off, maybe you remember the story.

It was about a year and a half back, when I told the tale of a hero bus rider who jumped off his Commuter Express bus after a long day at the DWP to stop a bike thief, and rescue the prized ride of a total stranger.

It’s one of my favorite stories I’ve told on here, second only, perhaps, to a pair of female triathletes who saved two men from drowning off the Malibu coast.

And I was there last year when Good Samaritan Hospital, where the owner of the bike, Dan McLaughlin, serves as a vice president, honored him at the annual Blessing of the Bicycles.

But after that, I lost track of the story until L.A. Times writer Nita Lelyveld gave me a call a few weeks back.

What I didn’t know was that the story didn’t end that day when McLaughlin handed his bike’s rescuer a plaque in front of a group of gathered cyclists. They had become friends, bonding over bikes, and Bolivar and his wife had even taken to riding a tandem together.

It’s a beautiful story. And one that Nita tells beautifully.

It’s definitely a must read, if you haven’t already.

………

My apologies to Shane Feldon.

I had promised to write this week about a new light system currently looking for funding on Kickstarter. Unlike other bike lights, it doesn’t just attach to your handlebars, but actually is a structural part of your bike.

So it’s always there when you need it, and you never have to worry about forgetting it or having it stolen.

Unless they take your whole bike, of course.

Sadly, there’s only a few hours left to get funded, and it looks like it’s going to end up well short. But if you’ve got some money to invest — or happen to own a bike company — this looks like a great idea with a lot of potential.

………

Nineteen-year old Korean college student Jin Hyuk Byun has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of hit-and-run causing death for allegedly killing 18-year old Angel Bojorquez as he rode home from work in Rancho Santa Fe last Friday.

The judge recognized the risk Byun posed, calling him “an extreme danger to the community,” as he raised Byun’s bail from $50,000 to $1 million, according to the North County Times.

The NC Times also reports that Byun allegedly stopped after killing Bojorquez — not to render aid or call for help, but to push a broken headlight assembly back into place and strip the torn rubber from his tire before driving home on the bare rim.

Remarkably, he faces a maximum of just four years in prison for leaving another human being to die on the side of the road.

Surely there are other charges the DA can file.

Vehicular homicide might be a good start.

………

In other legal news, the Highland Community News confirms that Patrick Roraff has entered a guilty plea in the 2010 death of pro cyclist Jorge Alvarado, as we discussed Monday; co-defendant Brett Morin is still pleading not guilty.

Dj Wheels reports that Phillip Goldburn Williams, charged with vehicular manslaughter in the July, 2010 death of cyclist Victor Apaseo-Rodriguez in Downtown L.A., has been convicted after changing his plea to no contest.

And walked away with a slightly bruised wrist.

Williams received a three years of probation, $194 in fees, 20 days of Caltrans road work, and 160 hours of community service. Oh, and a whopping 12 hours of anger management; we can only wonder what that’s about.

Meanwhile, his victim received a death sentence, carried out on the bumper of Williams’ Chevy Avalanche.

Wheels also reports that a preliminary hearing took place this week for a very pregnant Christine Dahab, charged with felony counts of driving under the influence causing injury and driving with a blood alcohol count over .08, after injuring 13 cyclists in Culver City in June of last year.

And our anonymous South Bay source reports that Joel Alexander Murphy has pleaded not guilty in the hit-and-run death of cyclist Roger Lippman in Huntington Beach last month, as well as for violating his formal parole on drug charges.

I’m also told that both the D.A.’s office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have been trying to reach out to Lippman’s family and friends to aid in the prosecution and prepare Victim Impact Statements to present to the judge to influence sentencing.

………

In racing news, David Millar wins stage 12 of the Tour de France, seven years about coming back from a doping ban, in what’s turning into a British dominated race. Cadel Evans cracks in stage 11, while Wiggins tightens his grasp on the lead, and Thomas Voeckler won the first mountain stage of the Tour de France.

Bicycling offers an update on the eight Americans who started this year’s Tour; it ain’t pretty. Meanwhile, young riders Chris Froome and Tejay Van Garderen learn the hard way what it means to be a domestique.

Not content to go after Lance, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency bans his doctors and former trainer, while Armstrong refiles his lawsuit against USADA, and a U.S. representative calls for an investigation into the USADA for wasting time investigating Armstrong. And current former TdF champ Alberto Contador plans to return from his doping ban next month.

It’s been 45 years since British rider Tommy Simpson died in the Tour de France, the first, but sadly not only, fatality in its 109 year history.

The route for the fourth stage of August’s badly named USA Pro Cycling Challenge is in danger, as a giant sinkhole threatens to swallow the roadway.

In local racing, the Easy Reader offers a good wrap up of last weekend’s Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, as Ken Hanson and Shelby Reynolds take the top men’s and women’s categories, respectively.

………

A new date — and new routes — have been announced for this fall’s CicLAvia, in order to make room for the space shuttle. Here’s your chance to ask CicLAvia’s Stephen Villavaso about the changes. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offers up a video explaining how CicLAvia is transforming our streets, while Better Bike provides a detailed look at the new areas you’ll experience.

………

Bill Cosby narrates a 1970s-era public service video about bi-cycling, as he calls it; who knew Santa Ana used to be bike friendly?

………

A reader sends in this photo of an angry Santa Monica bus driver cursing him out after he asked the driver to be more careful. He notes that Big Blue Bus officials were very helpful in handling his complaint, and that simply taking a photo is often the best thing you can do when confronted with a traffic altercation.

I’ve long been a believer in pulling out a camera when confronted with angry driver.

Especially ones that may have been otherwise distracted.

………

The monthly Spoke(n) Art ride rolls tomorrow. CD13 City Council candidate Josh Post is hosting a two hour fun ride along the L.A. River bike path on July 22nd to share his vision for a bike-friendly L.A. and revitalization of the L.A. River. If you’re in the market for a new job, Bikes and Hikes LA is looking for in-shape, bilingual tour guides. LADOT will be testing new treatments Sunday for the badly worn Spring Street green bike lanes. BIKAS offers a better than passing grade for L.A.’s new bikeway efforts. Will Campbell creates another great timelapse through Griffith Park. Santa Monica moves forward with their own 13 station bike share program, which may or may not be compatible with the upcoming L.A. bike share; Better Bike asks what role, if any, the Westside Council of Governments will play on the region’s expanding bike share plans. Glendale gives up on the Honolulu Ave road diet, as auto-centric council member Dan Weaver observes that the city’s streets were designed for automobiles, not bicycles; thanks to Michael Wade for the heads-up. The route has been set for Pasadena’s inaugural Gran Fondo. A ghost bike was installed Friday for Larry Schellhase, the cyclist killed when he hit road debris in Redondo Beach last April.

Newport Beach votes on placing sharrows on the East Coast Highway; word from cdmCyclist’s Frank Peters is that they were approved. San Diego cyclists are understandably upset after Caltrans decides to remove a ghost bike for fallen rider Nick Venuto, but manage to save another for Chuck Gilbreth; they’ll also host a ride to honor fallen cyclists Theodore Jones and Angel Bojorquez on July 25th. San Diego hires Safe Moves to provide bike and pedestrian safety training to students. A local resident asks why Coronado isn’t bike friendly. Sharrows are coming to Highway 101 in Solano Beach. The Bert and Ernie approach to sharing the road. Be careful biking with your dog running alongside; or better yet, just don’t. Security video catches a Solvang burglar breaking in to a bike shop and running out with two bikes. Palo Alto moves forward with a new bike plan. Good news, as the Modesto girl seriously injured when she stepped in front of an antique car to save her bike riding brother returns home from the hospital. Cyclists are gaining political influence in the Bay Area, though not everyone is happy with it. A not guilty plea from the driver accused of critically injuring New Zealand pro cyclist Michael Torckler in a Sonoma County hit and run.

The Bike League looks at our own Dorothy Wong. States can’t wait to spend former bike funding on other projects. New pedals double as bike locks. A Portland study shows bicyclists spend more at local business. Clif Bar celebrates its 20th Anniversary by giving Public bikes to their employees. According to a Denver paper, either cruiser bikes rule, or they’re ruining cycling for the rest of us. A micro brewery in my home town converts its parking lot into secure bike parking. Survivors of the devastating Colorado fires say their lives would be better if they could just get rid of those damn bikes. Aspen CO cyclist can now expect to get a warning instead of a ticket. A North Dakota’s Supreme Court rules a cyclist can be convicted of drunk bicycling. Republican candidates in Madison WI unite to oppose a local bike path. Turns out riding a bike in Chicago is safer than riding in the suburbs. A Michigan driver rear-ended and critically injured a rider, then casually continued on to the same casino where his victim worked. Ohio bike lawyer Steve Magas asks if this is the worst crash report ever. A reminder that cyclists aren’t always the good guys, while a Columbus writer says that city’s drivers are courteous, but cyclists are road-hogging jerks who should be ticketed — and describes unsafely passing a rider as proof. New York plans to slow more drivers down to a 20 mph speed limit. Boston’s Lovely Bicycle finds the middle ground in appreciating John Forester, the father of vehicular cycling. Shockingly, it turns out drivers break the law more than cyclists. Turns out that the DC-area cyclist who killed a pedestrian recently wasn’t a spandex-clad maniac after all. North Carolina cyclists ride in honor of Steve Jordan, the state director for mental health, who was killed while riding his bike on the 4th of July. Florida plans to allow bikes on some limited access highways on a trial basis.

A San Diego physician saves the life of a doored cyclist while vacationing in Vancouver. The British Medical Association says curb car use and make room for bikes and pedestrians. From anorexic model to a favorite in team pursuit at the London Olympics. A British Paralympic cyclist sees her games in doubt after she’s Jerry Browned by a passing car. German cyclist Kristina Vogel bounces back from a broken neck to compete in London. A London cyclist rhetorically asks why not just ban bikes entirely after they’re barred from bus and Olympic lanes prior to the games. A British cyclist receives the equivalent of 36 cents in court ordered compensation for his stolen bike. “Pranksters” nearly decapitate a 12-year old English boy by stringing rope across the footbridge he was riding on; yeah, real funny. Tests show cyclists using earphones at a reasonable level can still hear warning sounds from other riders, comparable to a car driver with no music playing. An Aussie cyclist calls for an end to road rage.

Finally, that’s what I call a rough ride, as a Type 1 Diabetic riding in the Tour Divide stops to check his blood sugar, encounters a bear, slides off of an embankment and nearly drowns in a river before making his way back to his bike — and on to a hospital. This is what I call a sharrow. And these are the rules that should govern every bike club:

1) Ride Bikes

2) Try not to be an ass

………

My apologies to everyone who sent me links this past week. Between all the breaking news and an inadvertent email crash, I’ve completely lost track of who sent me what. But I am grateful to each of you, and hope you’ll all keep sending me more stories as we move forward.

There are no safe streets for cyclists

Yesterday, I received an email from a man who had moved with his wife from Portland to South Pasadena.

They had chosen South Pas, at least in part, because it appeared to offer the most rideable streets in the area. Yet in less than a year, he’d suffered two minor right hook collisions.

His point was that riding in the L.A. area is a completely different experience than riding in Portland. And that local communities need to do more to make other forms of transportation besides motor vehicles a priority.

He’s right.

While South Pasadena has recognized the problem, and is actually doing something about it, a lot more has to be done throughout the county to make cycling safer for every rider.

Though not everyone seems to be getting that message.

The LACBC affiliate chapter BikeSGV reports that the Arcadia City Council decided this week not to develop a bike plan — in part because the city’s Mayor Pro Tem doesn’t think bikes are a legitimate form of transportation.

Vincent Chang

Just got back from a disappointing Arcadia City council meeting where Mayor Pro Tem Robert C. Harbicht took the lead to nix a contract with a bike plan consultant to prepare a bike plan for the city. Unfortunately, the rest of the council, including the Mayor (who established a city “mayors bike ride”) went along. Harbict stated he had concerns about federal funding for bike access in general as he didn’t believe cycling can be a legitimate form of alternate transportation. Ironically, both Harbicht and the Mayor claims to be avid cyclists.

I don’t know whether that reflects ignorance of the potential utility of their preferred form of recreation, or the dangers of riding in their own city.

Either way, they’ve failed the residents of their city by denying them the opportunity to ride in greater convenience and safety, whether for recreation or safety.

Then again, the problem could be that they’re “avid” cyclists, as some — though not all — Vehicular Cyclists actively oppose the sort of infrastructure preferred by the overwhelming majority of riders.

They believe that every rider — even the most unskilled, slow or risk-conscious cyclist — is safer riding in the traffic lane ahead of oncoming, often high speed, vehicles than in a separate lane devoted to bikes.

In fact, John Forester, the father of the VC movement, recently commented on the New York Times website that “nobody has yet “create[d] safe bike lanes”; we don’t know how to do it.”

I think many riders in the Netherlands — and even in New York — would beg to differ.

It’s a battle that rages on in cities and states throughout the country. Like in San Diego, where Forester himself helps lead the fight against more and better bike lanes, much to the chagrin of more mainstream riders.

Despite denials from VC adherents, there have been numerous studies that show well-designed bike lanes can improve safety for everyone. Not just cyclists.

Meanwhile, I have yet to see a single credible study that supports the oft-repeated argument that cyclists are safer riding in traffic than in a good bike lane.

Which is not to say there aren’t a lot of bad ones out there.

Maybe that’s because, like Forester, they refuse to believe such things exist. Sort of like another group that denies compelling scientific evidence.

But it does raise a question another rider brought up awhile back, when he asked for my advice on whether it was better to ride a busy street with a bike lane or a quieter backstreet route with no bike infrastructure.

And the sad answer I gave him was that there is no such thing as a safe street for cyclists.

Depending on your perspective, both present their own unique set of dangers.

On a busy street, you have the risk of high speed traffic and an unacceptably high rate of careless and/or distracted drivers. Along with the near-constant risk of doorings, right hooks and left crosses, as well as drivers who consider the bike lane another motor vehicle through lane, or maybe a parking lane.

Meanwhile, riders on backstreets risk drivers backing out of driveways without looking, children and dogs running out into the roadway without warning, and drivers who don’t even consider the possibility of bikes on their bucolic byways.

Even on country roads, where I did some of my most enjoyable riding in my pre-L.A. days, you might not see a car for hours. But there are still dangers posed by truck drivers and farm equipment operators who assume there’s no one else there, and speeding teenagers out for a joyride — sometimes tossing their empties at any unfortunate victim they happen to pass.

And yes, I speak from experience.

And don’t get me started on the ubiquitous risk of potholes and otherwise dangerous road surfaces and designs. Or the unique thrill presented by riding past bears or gators.

Or bees.

That’s not to say bicycling is dangerous.

It’s not.

But it does demand a constant awareness of your surroundings, as well as a focus on defensive riding by anticipating the dangerous presented by your current environment, wherever you happen to be. And being prepared to respond to risks before they arise.

That doesn’t mean that drivers and other in the road aren’t responsible for using it safely. But it’s your life that’s on the line, and you can’t count on them to focus on your safety. Or even know you’re there.

Or care, for that matter.

That point that was driven home the other day on the quiet residential streets of my own neighborhood, as I made my way through the last few blocks at the end of an otherwise enjoyable ride.

I’d just stopped for a stop sign, and was beginning to resume my route across the intersection when an SUV came up on the cross street. The woman behind the wheel looked directly at me, then gunned her engine just as I was about to pass in front of her, cutting right onto the road I was riding on.

Fortunately, I was prepared, anticipating that the driver might run the stop sign — though not that she would attempt to hit me in the process. I was able to swing out onto the wrong side of the road, allowing her to screech past me and race off into the distance.

Yet as so often happens, I caught up to her at the next red light.

So I asked, as politely as I could under the circumstances, with fear and anger and adrenalin coursing through my body, why she’d just tried to run me over.

Her response?

“Cyclists have to stop at stop signs too!”

Never mind that I had already stopped before she ever got to the corner, while I was still the only one at the intersection. Or the irony that she ran a stop sign in her attempt to run me down.

In her mind, she was entitled to enforce traffic laws with the bumper of her car. Just another driveway vigilante using brute force to intimidate, if not injure, another human being.

Fortunately, I’m not so easily intimidated.

I would have loved to continue the conversation, but she quickly cut from the left turn lane she was in to make a quick right in front of high-speed traffic in order to get away from me.

Evidently, I scared her, even though she was the one wrapped in several tons of steel and glass. And I wasn’t the one who’d just tried to attack someone.

Though I did break my Lenten vow to not swear at drivers, however much they might deserve it; risking eternal damnation for the momentary relief of releasing my anger verbally before I exploded into a thousand spandex-clad pieces.

As usually happens in such cases, I didn’t have time to get her license or a good description of her car. And even if I had, there were no witnesses, so there’s nothing the police could have done anyway.

The really scary thing, though, is that the residential nature of the street she was on means that she’s likely to live here herself. Which means that she’s probably one of my neighbors, and there’s a high probability I could run into her again.

Whether either of us will recognize the other is a good question. As is what would happen if one of us does.

Where you prefer to ride is a matter of your own comfort level. Whether that leads you to ride vehicularly in a busy traffic lane, in various bikeways or on quieter bike streets that seldom see another road user, on two wheels or four.

But it’s a good reminder that no matter how peaceful they may look, there are no safe streets.

Even the ones in your own neighborhood.

Thanks to everyone who forwarded me the link to the San Diego KPBS story.

Update: Oddly — or maybe not so oddly, given the KPBS story — Bike Snob wrote Vehicular Cycling today, as well. And as usual, he’s much funnier than I am.

Analyzing 2011 SoCal cycling fatalities: Los Angeles — and door zones — may be safer than you think

Earlier this month, we remembered the people behind the statistics, the victims of cycling collisions on Southern California streets.

Now lets take a look at the numbers. And some of the surprising findings those statistics reveal — including some that suggest Los Angeles could be your safest place to ride. And that the door zone may be a hell of a lot safer than we all think.

But first, a couple of big important disclaimers.

These stats are based strictly on the fatalities that I am aware of, whether they have been reported in the press or have come to my attention in other ways. It is entirely possible that there were other bicycling-related deaths that I don’t know about.

These numbers also do not include non-fatal collisions. It’s possible that any given area could have had a high rate of injury collisions while having few or no fatalities. Or that one risk factor may result in a high rate of fatalities but few injuries — or the other way around.

The limited data I have to work with simply doesn’t show that.

Nor does it suggest why one area may appear to be more dangerous than another, even though I may make a guess at it.

And with that, let’s get on with it.

By my count, 71 cyclists were killed in traffic-related collisions in Southern California last year. That does not include another nine riders who were fatally shot — eight in Los Angeles County and one in San Diego.

Those 71 fatalities represent a dramatic increase over most recent years on record, with 55 cyclists killed in both 2008 and 2009. In addition, it’s slightly more than the five-year average from 2005 to 2009, at just over 68 traffic-relating cycling fatalities per year.

It also marks a return to the roadway carnage of 2005 and 2006, when 76 and 89 riders were killed, respectively.

Fatalities by county: 2011       2009*       2006**     Ave. 2005 – 2009

Los Angeles                24           22             24           24.2

Orange                       13           11             21           13

San Diego                   12           8               5             8

Riverside                     11           7              14            10

San Bernardino            6            4              11            7.4

Ventura                       4            2              11            4.6

Santa Barbara***        1            1               3             1.8

Imperial                       0            1               0             .4

As you can see, Los Angeles County has remained remarkably steady despite a dramatic increase in ridership, with an average of two riders killed per month. At the same time, while Orange County has dropped significantly from the horrors of 2006, it continues to reflect an average of more than one cyclist killed every month.

Meanwhile, San Diego, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties all showed a 50% increase over 2009, though both Ventura and San Bernardino were still below their five-year averages.

At first glance, it would appear that Los Angeles County is by far the most dangerous place to ride in Southern California. However, L.A. is also the most populous of the eight counties included in this count.

Ranking the counties in terms of risk of death per capita reveals some surprises, with the eight counties ranked from worst to best:

County                    Population               Rate of death

Riverside                  2,100,516               1 death per 190,956 population

Ventura                   797,740                  1 per 199,435

Orange                    3,010,759               1 per 231,597

San Diego                3,001,072               1 per 250,089

San Bernardino        2,015,355               1 per 335,893

Santa Barbara***    405,396                  1 per 405,396

Los Angeles              9,862,049              1 per 410,919

Imperial                  174,528                   0 per 174,528

Unfortunately, there’s no objective measure of how many people ride bikes in each county. But surprisingly, these stats suggest that heavily congested L.A. County may actually be twice as safe as other heavily populated counties.

Those fatalities occurred in 53 cities and unincorporated areas throughout the region, with eight cities suffering more than one fatality last year:

San Diego   7

Los Angeles  5

Long Beach  4

Garden Grove  2

Redondo Beach  2

Pasadena  2

Riverside  2

Oceanside  2

Again, using the measurement of deaths per population reveals some very surprising results:

City                               Population                 Rate of death

Redondo Beach              66,748                      1 per 33,374

Pasadena                       137,122                    1 per 68,562

Oceanside                      167,086                    1 per 83,543

Garden Grove                 170,883                    1 per 85,441

Long Beach                    462,257                    1 per 115,564

Riverside                        303,871                    1 per 151,936

San Diego                      1,301,617                 1 per 185,945

Los Angeles                    3,792,621                 1 per 758,524

While multiple deaths in smaller cities may raise a red flag, they don’t really tell us much. Two deaths apiece in each in the first four cities could be a statistical fluke; just one more in any of the other 45 cities not listed here, and they could have made this list, as well.

It’s also worth noting that some of these cities, such as Oceanside and Redondo Beach, are destination areas for cyclists, with a level of weekend ridership that can far exceed their relatively small populations as cyclists pass through from other areas.

More interesting is the fact that the City of Angels, with it’s long-held reputation for car culture, bad streets and open hostility to cyclists, has significantly fewer fatalities per capita than Riverside and San Diego. Combined.

And at least in terms of fatalities, Los Angeles is over six times safer than bike-friendly Long Beach.

That could reflect any number of factors, from the possibility of better trauma care and emergency response times in L.A., to more dangerous streets in Long Beach — including Los Coyotes and PCH — that have yet to see the improvements that have made biking safer in other areas of the city.

But it’s shocking to think that you may actually be safer riding your bike in bike-unfriendly L.A. than the streets of the self-proclaimed most bicycle friendly city in America.

Then again, the real shocker is that L.A. could a hell of a lot safer than most of us thought.

Myself included.

Now let’s look at some equally surprising stats on how these collisions occurred.

Again, bear in mind that most of this information has been gleaned from media reports; in some cases, they offer a detailed analysis of the collision, and in others, barely mention anything more than the fact that it occurred.

We’ll start with the question of who was at fault.

  • Driver:  32
  • Cyclist:  28****
  • Unknown or both:  11

This is my own analysis of the collision, based on the limited information I have; it does not necessarily reflect how the police, sheriff’s or CHP may have assigned fault.

Especially since many investigative officers tend to be poorly trained in bike collision analysis and investigation, and often appear to be biased in favor of the motorist.

In the absence of any information to the contrary, I assigned hit-and-runs to the fault of the driver, on the assumption that an innocent person has little motive to flee — while recognizing that is not always true.

I have also assigned fault for solo collisions and riders hit by trains to the cyclist. Even though it’s possible that other factors, such as near misses by motorists or poor road conditions, may have contributed to the death in some way.

These numbers also err on the low side, reflecting only the information I have been able to document; in many cases, there was not enough information to make a determination.

And there may be multiple factors involved in any given collision, so these won’t add up to a total of 71.

So let’s look at some of the other numbers.

  • At least 25 riders were hit from behind — by far the leading cause of cycling fatalities in 2010
  • At least 13 were hit-and-runs
  • At least 12 were hit at intersections or driveways
  • At least 10 involved drugs or alcohol — and not always on the part of the driver
  • At least eight were hit while riding on or leaving a sidewalk
  • At least seven were hit head-on, usually while riding on the wrong side of the street
  • Seven were solo collisions
  • Seven victims were over the age of 70
  • At least six were killed after running stop signs
  • At least six were killed while riding in a marked bike lane or off-road bike path
  • At least six were killed in right hook collisions
  • Six 12 years old or younger
  • Another five were between the ages of 15 and 17
  • At least four weren’t using lights after dark
  • Three were killed by trains
  • Three were killed by out of control vehicles
  • At least two were killed by drivers running red lights or stop signs
  • At least two were killed distracted drivers
  • At least one was killed in a left cross
  • One was killed by a truck backing into a loading bay
  • One was killed, at least in part, due to poorly designed infrastructure
  • And just one was killed as a result of a dooring

Stop and think about that.

For decades, we’ve been taught that the door zone is one of the most dangerous places to ride; vehicular cyclists often refer to it as the death zone.

Yet these stats show just the opposite. You are far more likely to be killed in a hit-from-behind collision or at an intersection than you are by getting doored. And yet, the solution we’re invariably taught is to ride in the traffic lane, directly in front of traffic coming up from behind.

Maybe that’s because so many cyclists are heeding that advice and avoiding the door zone, while placing themselves at greater risk of getting hit from behind. Or maybe because hit-from-behind collisions tend to occur at higher speeds, reducing survivability, while doorings tend to be relatively slow speed collisions that are more likely to result in injury than death — especially if the rider is wearing a helmet to protect from head injuries in a fall.

And that’s not to say that riding in the door zone is safe. But it may be far less deadly than we have been lead to believe.

Of course, that’s not the only conclusion that jumps out from these numbers.

Like far too many drivers are willing to flee the scene, leaving their victims to die in the street. Too many cyclists run stop signs — especially when other vehicles are present.

Sidewalks remain dangerous places for cyclists, particularly where they intersect with streets and driveways.

Riders can lower their risk simply by riding on the right side of the road and using lights after dark. And staying of the roads after drinking or using drugs.

Ditto for stopping for trains; once the warning signals chime and the gates drop, stay the hell off the tracks. And that goes for drivers trying to beat a train, as well.

Bike lanes are no guarantee of safety. Yet there were fewer cyclists killed in bike lanes than on sidewalks and crosswalks, and far fewer than on streets without them. But that may just speak to the scarcity of bike lanes in most of Southern California.

Then there’s the single most glaring conclusion we can make from these fatalities.

Too many people have died, and continue to die, on our streets.

One is one too many; 71 is an obscenity.

And it’s clearly headed in the wrong direction.

Update: in response to one of the comments to this post, I’ve added information on how many of the victims were under 18; six riders were 12 or under when they were killed, while another five were aged 15 to 17. In addition, seven of the victims were over the age of 70.

……..

*Most recent year currently on record

**Worst of the five years on record

***I will drop Santa Barbara County from this count next year, to reflect the 7-county area included in the Southern California Council of Governments (SCAG)

****Includes solo collisions and collisions with trains

The dog crap theory of road safety

Let’s talk responsibility.

Every morning, I walk outside with my dog, carrying a bag in my hand.

Then after a few minutes of watching her sniff every fire hydrant, bush, nook and cranny on our block — the Corgi equivalent of reading her Facebook page — she settles in for a good poop.

And inevitably, when I bend over to pick it up, I have to dodge piles of crap left behind by dog owners who aren’t as responsible.

It’s not just the unpleasant prospect of stepping in it that poses a problem. Or the simple fact that the law clearly requires owners to clean up after their animals.

What their dogs leave behind can spread disease, both to other dogs and the people who may inadvertently come in contact with it. And eventually, when the rains come, it will wash into the storm drains and out to the ocean, fouling the water that countless people swim and surf in.

Granted, one pile of crap isn’t going to cause any real harm. But multiply that by the multiple mounds on my block, and virtually every other block in this City of Angeles and the 88 other cities and towns, as well as unincorporated areas, in the county.

And you’ll start to understand why it’s not safe to eat many of the fish that come out of the bay. Or to spend much time in it yourself.

As I stand waiting for her to finish her morning rounds, I also have an opportunity to study the busy street that runs in front of our building.

I watch as a steady stream of cars flows past, observing countless drivers talking on their hand-held cell phones.

Others turn left or right or change lanes without ever using their turn signals, leaving other drivers to wonder — often with obvious impatience — why the car ahead is slowing down for no apparent reason. Or slamming on their brakes and swerving dangerously into the next lane to get around them.

Then there are the speeding drivers who weave in and out of the morning traffic, ignoring both speed limits and common sense, trusting their own driving skills to avoid the many near misses they create.

And too often, failing.

All this, despite their responsibility to obey the traffic laws they flaunt, and operate their vehicles in a safe and responsible manner.

Less frequently, I’ll see bikes rolling past as riders make their way up the street to UCLA, or down the street to jobs in Century City or beyond.

From time to time, I see one blow through the red light on the corner, forcing drivers who have waited patiently to cross the street to jam on their brakes to avoid a collision as the rider rushes into their path.

At night, as I take my dog out for the last walk of the day, I often see cyclists ride past without lights, briefly highlighted by the streetlights before rolling into semi-invisibility in the twilight between.

Other times, as I ride my bike, I often watch in amazement as I stop for a red light, only to see a cyclist ride up from behind and ride right through, ignoring my example as well as their own safety.

In fact, I was hit by one the other night, as I stopped and he kept going, brushing hard against my side as he blew through on my right, oblivious to the traffic starting to flow in either direction on the cross street.

Evidently, hitting me and risking getting hit himself were worth it to avoid stopping for less than a minute.

It breaks my heart when I reach an intersection and see oncoming or crossing drivers hesitate, despite having the right-of-way, because they expect me to ride through a stop sign or red light. Or anticipate that I’ll cut in front of them, ignoring both the right-of-way and my own safety.

Because that’s what we’ve trained them to do.

Too often, I find myself waving drivers through the intersection, granting my permission to do what the rules of the road say they have the right to do anyway. Or needlessly clicking out of my pedal and putting my foot down, so they’ll see that I am in fact stopping.

Because, like them, I have a responsibility to obey the law.

And more importantly, to share the road safely.

The difference is, when drivers act irresponsibly, they pose a danger to everyone else on the road. When we do, the risk is primarily to ourselves.

Although we, too, can harm others by our actions.

The problem isn’t irresponsible cyclists, despite what countless bike-hating internet trolls and shock-jock DJs will tell you. Or drivers who have forgotten the danger their vehicles pose, and their responsibility to operate them safely.

Or even dog owners who can’t be bothered to clean up after their pets.

It’s a society that has become irresponsible in the truest sense of the word, willing to let others clean up the messes we create. Except they often don’t do it either.

Whether on Wall Street, in Washington, Sacramento or City Hall, or on our own block.

When that lack of responsibility occurs on the streets, it forces other road users to assume responsibility for our own safety.

By blowing through that red light or stop sign, or driving while distracted — or any of the other countless, seemingly insignificant violations we commit every day — we’re placing responsibility for our own safety in the hands of others, who may or may not accept it.

When they do — or can, for that matter — everyone rolls off safely, if perhaps a little more angry at the cyclists or drivers they blame for posing a hazard to everyone else. And oblivious to the way they do the same things every day.

I’ve often said that the highest responsibility of any cyclist is to ride safely, in a manner that doesn’t pose an unnecessary risk to ourselves or others around us.

And yes, drivers bear that same responsibility, too.

So I promise I won’t make you deal with my crap on the road. I’ll ride responsibly, obeying the law when it’s safe to do so, and rarely, breaking it when safety demands doing something else, and ensuring that safety is always my top priority.

And hope that you won’t make me deal with yours.

Open letter to Gov. Jerry Brown — and a challenge to meet with L.A. cyclists

Dear Governor Brown,

By now, you’ve undoubtedly noticed a little anger  — okay, a lot of anger — directed your way from the cycling community.

Maybe you expected it when you vetoed SB 910, the three-foot passing law sponsored by Sen. Lowenthal. Or maybe you didn’t realize just how much we cared about this bill.

You see, one of the greatest dangers bicyclists face on the streets of this state comes from drivers who interpret the current requirement to pass cyclists at an undefined “safe distance” to mean anything that doesn’t actually come in contact with the rider.

No, seriously, more than one driver has actually told me exactly that when I confronted them about a pass that put my life and safety at risk.

There are many problems with that attitude.

The most obvious is that motorists frequently misjudge that distance and can collide with riders, either sideswiping them or hitting them from behind; in fact, at least two cyclists have been killed in hit-from-behind collisions since you vetoed SB 910. Maybe the drivers never saw the riders they hit. Or maybe they tried to squeeze by without giving the riders sufficient passing distance.

Chances are, we’ll never know. But many cyclists — myself included — believe their blood, and the blood of future victims, is on your hands as a result of your veto.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Cyclists also face danger from cars that pass too closely when we have to swerve to avoid obstacles in the road, ranging from broken glass and potholes to other vehicles; a simple slight swerve to the left can mean a collision with a car traveling only a foot or two away.

Larger vehicles, such as trucks and buses, can pose other dangers. The slipstream of a large vehicle can be enough to blow a cyclist off his or her bike or off the road. And when larger vehicles pass too close, they can block cyclists from moving around obstacles in their way, such as parked vehicles.

Both of these have happened to me, right here in California. I’ve been blown off the road by a semi-truck that passed less — far less — than three feet away. And I’ve been blocked by a bus that passed too close, forcing me to swerve to the right and into the back of a parked car.

Fortunately, I survived both of those incidents with only minor injuries. Other bicyclists haven’t been so lucky.

Your veto message noted that you relied on the advice of Caltrans and the CHP in deciding to veto the bill. Unfortunately, you selected the two agencies most cyclists trust least to defend our rights and protect our safety.

Caltrans has a long-standing bias in favor of moving the greatest number of vehicles at the highest possible speed, resulting in poor road design and excessive speeds that continue to put all Californians in jeopardy. While they talk about making the roads safe for everyone, here in the Los Angeles area, at least, they often don’t even show up at meetings they’ve promised to attend to discuss safety improvements on our most dangerous roadways, such as Pacific Coast Highway.

Meanwhile, CHP officers receive little or no training in bicycle law, or in the physics of bicycling collisions, resulting in flawed collision investigations that too often result in blaming the victim — who may not be alive or otherwise capable of defending themselves.

These agencies gave you bad advice. Many of us believe they lied to you; at best, they failed to understand the application of SB 910 in real life situations.

Your veto message cited the specific fear that the 15 mph passing clause in this bill would cause drivers to slow dramatically in order to pass cyclists.

This hasn’t occurred in any of the other states that have a 3-foot passing law. So what is it about California drivers that makes you think they are incapable of driving safely?

The law clearly allowed drivers to pass cyclists in virtually any circumstance without slowing down, simply by moving three feet to the left or crossing the center divider when necessary. In the exceptionally rare event when that would not be possible, even under existing law, drivers would still be forced to slow down in order to avoid colliding with the riders in front of them, then wait for an opportunity to pass safely when traffic allows.

The only reason this clause was included in the bill was to allow drivers to pass cyclists around intersections or other congested conditions.

In choosing to veto this bill, you have chosen to protect drivers — who are already protected by crumple zones, airbags and seat belts — from rear-end collisions that are unlikely to ever occur.

And instead, you’ve put at risk every cyclist on our roads from dangerous passes that are almost inevitable. Cyclists who are protected by, at most, a helmet designed to offer protection from impacts only up to 14 mph.

To put that in perspective, an impact at the 35 mph to 45 mph speeds you cited has a roughly 80% risk of fatality, with or without a helmet.

In fact, your veto may have increased the risk to cyclists. Many riders have reported an increase in unsafe passing since you vetoed SB 910, as your veto sent a clear message to some drivers that it is perfectly legal to pass a cyclist at less that three feet.

Much less, in some cases.

Just today, I was passed by two separate drivers at distances of less than one foot — close enough that a simple sneeze on my part, or that of the driver, could have resulted in a fatal collision.

And it wouldn’t have been the driver who died.

Oddly, though, despite the anger and outcry you must surely be aware of — unless your staff has failed to inform you of the many Tweets, emails, blogs, letters to the editor and phone calls that have resulted from your veto — you have failed to respond in any way.

We complain, with great merit, I might add; yet your silence remains deafening. Which frankly, is the last thing I, and many other bike riders, expected when we gave you our votes.

Frankly, I am extremely disappointed in you. And have lost a great deal of respect for a man, and leader, I formerly held in high esteem.

It’s not like I’m a single-issue voter. There were, and are, a number of reasons why I supported your campaign and cast my vote for you to become our state’s governor.

But when that single issue could determine whether I, and other cyclists like me, live or die on our streets, it becomes a matter of overwhelming importance.

So I am issuing you a challenge.

Come down to Los Angeles, and meet with cyclists such as myself. Explain more clearly why you chose to veto this bill, because the explanation you gave just doesn’t bear close examination. Then listen to us as we relate the dangers we face on a daily basis, and discuss solutions that could improve safety for all riders and encourage more people to choose to ride bikes, instead of further clogging our roadways.

Our mayor — the one who proposed what eventually became SB 910 — held a similar bike summit. And yes, he had to face a lot of angry bicyclists. But ended up building a much better relationship with the cycling community than would otherwise have been possible.

It’s your choice.

You can talk to us now, or you can continue to hide in Sacramento.

But we’re mad as hell. With good reason.

And we’re not going to go away.

……..

The racers and organizers of Wolfpack Hustle’s inspiring victory over a Jet Blue flight to Long Beach will be honored by the City Council on Friday.

And frequent contributor Todd Munson writes to invite you to attend — or compete in — the UCI Spooky Cross Weekend in Irvine’s Hidden Valley Park this weekend, beginning with registration and course previews on Friday.

……..

LACBC thanks L.A cyclists for a successful Tour de Fat and CicLAvia. Russ Roca offers his usual great eye to capture both. KCRW interviews CicLAvia’s Heidi Zeller. Last weekend’s CicLAvia ran from South L.A. to OccupyLA. Joel Epstein looks at how CicLAvia can RENEW L.A. How to make CicLAvia even better; I’d suggest starting with a name that doesn’t require awkward capitalization in the middle of the word.

No, really.

……..

Bikerowave is having a party on Friday, October 21st and you’re invited. The Santa Monica Museum of Art invites you to ride with them in celebration of the Pacific Standard Time art festival. And Pasadena’s Art Night Ride rolls tonight.

……..

The newly released L.A. County Model Design Manual for Living Streets is now available online. Notes from last week’s barely announced BPIT meeting that took several cyclists by surprise, myself included. It only takes Damien six months to get new bike racks in his neighborhood. Gary looks at the forthcoming Main Street bike lanes and says it’s time to demand more than just the minimum. When it comes to shootings, cyclists aren’t always the victims. Maybe it’s a positive thing when drivers are embarrassed about texting or threatening cyclists. Bicycling magazine likes the distinctive new Helen’s kit. Long Beach lands next year’s international Pro Walk/Pro Bike convention. Friday is the last day to register for an advance discount for next month’s California Bike Summit. Rick Risemberg will lead another edition of his popular Bicycle Fixation’s “Stitching the River” ride on Sunday, Oct. 23rd. The Red Kite Prayer’s Patrick Brady goes on a mini-REI book tour to support his new book The No-Drop Zone; sorry Tustin, you missed it already. Here’s your chance to voice your opinion on how to take back Colorado Blvd in Eagle Rock. Metro rolls out ten new bike cars.

CalBike notes that two bike-friendly bills survived the governor’s chopping block. Why drivers should support biking infrastructure for other people. Oakland has a 16-year old biking prodigy. San Diego’s had a long love affair with the bike. October 25th is Bike Day in San Diego; as far as I’m concerned, every day is Bike Day. The San Francisco Bay Guardian looks at Gov. Jerry “Buzz ‘Em” Brown’s veto of the three foot passing law, as does former framebuilder Dave Moulton. A Goleta company offers a reward for information about a cyclist missing in Oregon for nearly a month. Alaska resident Dr. Janice Sheufelt wins her division in California’s Furnace Creek 508 ultra-endurance race last weekend.

A cyclist endures a hit, F.U. and run. Former Talking Head and current bike activist David Byrne offers a Poem to Cyclists. Every state gets back more highway funds than they pay in; which means roads are paid for with your tax money. Springfield Cyclist offers an inventive solution to a lack of bike lock. Yet another attempt to ban bikes, as the incredibly small-minded people of Hull WI demonstrate their auto-centric bias against cyclists, joggers and pedestrians in the name of safety; my suggestion is that all of the above should try spending their money outside the city limits for awhile. Chicago is sued for letting a Hyatt Hotel heir off the hook for assaulting a cyclist, who got arrested for defending himself. GM declares war on cyclists, much to the chagrin of almost everyone, then rapidly backs off and says so sorry. Rebuilding New Orleans results in a more bike-friendly city. Bike-friendly DOT Secretary Ray LaHood calls it quits at the end of this term, win or lose; he also calls attention to a 9-year old bike riding victim of distracted driving. Supporting bikeable cities isn’t liberal or conservative, so it’s time to stop the politicization of cycling. A South Carolina father is killed by an apparently driver-less SUV as he walked next to his bike riding son. The afore mentioned Dave Moulton urges cyclists to consider the risks and avoid irrational fear; if you don’t read his blog, you’re missing the insights of one of the last century’s best framebuilders. Several cyclists are injured in a Miami peloton mishap.

The fatal dooring of an Ottawa cyclist raises safety concerns and advice on how to ride safely, as a Canadian driver goes on trial for running down five cyclists in 2009. The case for and against licensing cyclists in Calgary. British cyclists stand up for a safer Blackfriar’s Bridge. Once again, an overly aggressive UK driver demands a cyclist get out of his way because we don’t pay the Road Tax that was no one has paid since 1937. So who is it that really needs to wear hi-viz? A “leaked” preview of the 2012 Tour de France draws a positive review. Pro cyclist Riccardo Ricco faces a 12-year doping ban. Moscow gets its first bike lane; oddly, it looks like some of ours. A surprisingly even-handed look at Australia’s mandatory helmet laws, and a good read no matter which side of the great helmet debate you take. An Aussie cyclist selfishly rides to work every day.

Finally, unless you’ve been out on the Serengeti, you’ve already seen the video of the cyclist rammed by a buck in South Africa. Meanwhile, Kiwi cyclists are under attack by marauding magpies. Closest I’ve come is being grazed by a golden eagle swooping down to snatch its prey on the side of the road; I don’t think it misjudged it’s approach so much as just didn’t care if I was in the way.

Then again, this heat wave has brought termites swarming into our bedroom, which makes me very glad I don’t own this bike right now.

Today’s post, in which I remember the man who instilled my life-long love of bicycling

As far back as I remember, there was a bike hanging on the wall of our family’s garage.

The yellow paint had faded years before, any brand name that may have once marked its frame had disappeared in the many days since its manufacture. Its three speed gearing had long ago locked in place; the improbably narrow tires hadn’t seen air in decades.

In its day, it was a racing bike.

One that carried my father, in his own youth, on journeys to countless cities surrounding his northern Colorado home, often dozens — and sometimes hundreds — of miles on a single ride.

And usually without permission.

Where it came from, I don’t know. It may have been a gift, possibly from his own father, before he abandoned my grandmother and her children on an isolated farm on the eastern Colorado plains in the midst of the Great Depression. Or it could have come after she quit the farm and moved her family to the then small town where I grew up.

Maybe he earned the money himself. Or it could have come from some other source.

My father described himself as a bad kid when he was growing up; one who knew every cop in the area on a professional basis. When asked, he told us that meant smoking, drinking and staying out past curfew. But I often thought there might be more to the story he wasn’t willing to confess to his own children.

One thing is certain, though. He vowed that, unlike his father, he would always be there for his own children. And even though he was far from a wealthy man,  they would never endure the hardships he did growing up.

And he more than lived up to that.

To be honest, though, all you really need to know about the kind of man my dad was is contained in one simple story.

He started smoking when he was just 12 years old, and continued his pack-a-day habit for more than 40 years. He often said the only thing that got him through the horrors of World War II — first in Europe, then the Pacific preparing for the planned invasion of Japan — were cigarettes and letters from my mother.

He made a few half-hearted attempts to quit over the years, mostly at her urging. But never made it more than a day or two before starting up again.

Then one day, when I was about 12, he came home from work to learn that the doctor had just diagnosed my persistent cough as an allergy to cigarette smoke. So he took the cigarette pack out of his pocket and placed it on his dresser, without a word or second glance.

And never picked them up again.

He was, then, roughly the same age I am today; 20 years later, those same cigarettes would take his life.

In my earliest memories, I see him encouraging each of us to get out and ride our bikes; from my older brothers on their 5 and 10 speeds, to my sister’s hand-me-down Schwinn cruiser, and me, as the youngest, on a tiny tricycle.

As I got older, I graduated to a bigger trike, then to that same old Schwinn, which he had repainted in the colors of my choice. As I recall, I picked the purple and gold of the high school I would eventually attend, though it may have been the green and gold of the local university; at one time or another, it was painted in both.

It was my dad who held on tight, pushing my new grown-up bike down the sidewalk until it finally picked up enough speed to maintain my balance for a few yards. And he was the one who picked me up, brushed me off and dried my tears, and got me back in the saddle again, until at last I could tear around the neighborhood unassisted.

On those long hot summer nights, he’d urge us all to get on our bikes. Sometimes, he might even borrow one from one of my brothers and join in for a few minutes.

All the while, that old yellow bike hung on the wall, his love for it shown by the dust that never seemed to accumulate for long.

He’d talk about fixing it up and joining us, but never seemed to get around to it. Once he finally did, he found the parts were no longer available.

In my teens, I took the money I earned delivering newspapers on that old Schwinn, and bought an Astra Tour de France that looked exactly like this one. That was my primary form of transportation until I bought a car my junior year; regrettably, I sold that Astra a year later as I got ready to travel halfway across the country for college.

Then one day, a few years out of college, I found myself sitting alone in a Louisiana movie theater, far from home and the people I loved. And I was reminded once again of the sheer joy of bicycling, as I watched a young man call out “Ciao Pappa!” to his Indiana father as he rode by on his bike, wishing I could see my own.

I’ve often credited Breaking Away with kindling my love of cycling. But in truth, it only resparked a romance that began in my childhood and lasted most of my life.

A few months later, I walked into the local branch of nation’s oldest bike shop and walked out with a shiny blue Trek — one of the first of their then-new line of American-made bikes.

The day my father died, that old yellow bike was still hanging on the wall of his garage; still unridden and unridable, yet something he was never able to bring himself to give away. A sentiment I understand well, as that now 30-year old Trek sits silently in my office, one of my oldest and closest companions with whom I have shared most of my fondest memories, and one I have no desire to ever leave behind.

I don’t remember why I didn’t take his bike when I went back home for my father’s funeral; I imagine I simply didn’t have room in my tiny apartment for a bike I might never be able to ride.

We ended up donating it to the local museum, where it was on display the only time I stopped to visit, following my mother’s death a decade later.

It’s probably the right place for it, where countless people who never knew him can marvel at the antique speed machine that carried my dad so far from home, so many years before.

But sometimes I wish it was hanging on my own wall, reminding me of the man who first kindled my lifelong love affair with cycling.

And I wish I could talk to him just one more time, and beg him to ride with me once again.

And thank him for the truly precious gift he gave me.

Reimagining a more livable San Gabriel Valley; dissecting national cycling death statistics

It’s a simple question, really.

Why should L.A. area cyclists give a damn about a freight transportation project — especially one that would follow the course of the San Gabriel River, the near-mythical waterway that flows well east of Downtown, where most Angelenos fear to tread?

The answer is equally simple.

Because it has the potential to dramatically transform transportation and livability of the east L.A. basin, bringing renewed life to communities currently choked by diesel fumes and roadways gridlocked with big rigs. And at the same time, restoring one of L.A.’s concrete-clad water disposal systems to the natural, free-flowing waterway it was before fears of flooding overwhelmed common sense and drove nature to its knees.

Oh, and it includes a bike path, too.

Rick Risemberg, of Bicycle Fixation fame, wrote me last week to call my attention to a proposed project I had been only vaguely aware of, and to which I hadn’t given more than a few moments thought.

GRID — the San Gabriel River Infrastructure Development project — would replace the current system of loading cargo at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with integrated cargo cranes that would load cargo containers directly onto electric trains, cutting offloading time from 36 hours to two. And at the same time, eliminating the need for thousands of semi-trucks that currently ply the ports and clog SoCal freeways.

The trains would then run through special bunker-strength tunnels placed under the banks of the San Gabriel River up to distribution yards in the Inland Empire, where the cargo would be transferred to trains and trucks for transport throughout the country.

The result would be a dramatic reduction in freeway traffic along the 710 and 605 freeways, virtually eliminating traffic congestion and improving air quality. In fact, traffic could be reduced to such a degree that one or both of the freeways might become obsolete and candidates for removal — greatly improving the livability of an area blighted by massive roadways.

At the same time, a second tunnel could be built for passenger rail, tying into existing Metro Rail, Metrolink and Amtrak railways. Existing high-voltage power lines would also be placed in underground tunnels, freeing thousands of acres of power-line right-of-ways for redevelopment, while pipelines could be included for fresh water and sewage.

And the massive construction project would provide an opportunity to rip out the concrete banks of the river, and return it to the natural riparian basin it was before we felt the need to “improve” it. The result would be a natural riverway lined with parks, wetlands and nature preserves, as well as what would undoubtedly be one of the area’s most beautiful and popular bikeways along the full course of the river.

Yes, it would be expensive. Costs would undoubtedly rise well into the billions, if not more.

But it would provide tens of thousands of good, high-paying jobs in the short term, just as construction of the Hoover Dame did during the last Great Depression. And in the long term, it would result in savings and tax revenues that could far exceed the cost to build it, while providing much needed wildlife habitat and improving the quality of life for every community along its banks.

And it would eliminate the need for the much-debated tunnel under South Pasadena to complete the 710 freeway — which would free up hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for construction costs, while preserving the quality of life in one of the area’s most livable communities.

Of course, getting a massive, expensive project like this approved by today’s small-thinking, auto-centric Tea Party-addled Congress would be challenging, to say the least — even though it would be build largely, if not entirely, through private funding.

Then again, a couple of years ago, I would never have imagined that a bike-friendly L.A. might happen in my lifetime, either.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released statistics for bicycling deaths in 2009; 630 cyclists were killed in the U.S. and another 51,000 injured. That works out to 2% of all traffic deaths, as well as 2% of traffic injuries, and marks a 12% reduction over 2008.

Contrary to common perception, only one-third of the deaths occurred at intersections, while 72% occurred during daylight hours — though they define daylight as anytime between 4 am and 8 pm.

The average age of cyclists killed and injured on the streets has gradually risen over the previous 10 years to 41; cyclists under the age of 16 accounted for just 13% of fatalities and 20% of injuries. Seven times more men were killed than women, and four times as many men were injured.

Forty percent of fatalities involved alcohol use; surprisingly, 28% of the cyclists who were killed had been drinking.

California had more than it’s share of fatalities, with 99 cyclists killed; 3.2% of the total 3,081 traffic fatalities. That works out to 2.68 bicycling fatalities per one million residents, which places us in the top ten most dangerous states per capita. Yet that pales compared to Delaware and Florida — which once again ranks as the nation’s deadliest state to ride, with 107 cycling fatalities — at 6.78 and 5.77 fatalities per million residents, respectively.

Main, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia had no bicyclists killed in 2009.

Just in case you’re thinking about moving somewhere a little safer.

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Rick Risemberg endorses bike advocate Stephen Box for L.A.’s 4th Council District, with some reservations. LACBC calls on cyclists to bike the vote, offering survey responses from some of the city’s council candidates. Grist says the new bike plan shows the cabbie who ran Mayor Villaraigosa deserves a big, fat tip, while the National Resources Defense Council says the plan paves the way for a greener Los Angeles. The L.A. Times endorses the bike plan, though that might have carried more weight before the council vote.

Tree Hugger offers a list of bike Twitter accounts to follow; Joe Anthony’s Bike Commute News and Long Beach expats PathLessPedaled were the only Southern Californians to make the list. A bike ride a day could keep the doctor away. Utah shoots down a proposed Idaho Stop bill. While New York police continue to crack down on cyclists, they continue to ignore far more dangerous behavior by drivers; the Wall Street Journal says Gotham cyclists really aren’t that bad. Protected bike paths increase riding while easing congestion. The New York assemblyman who proposed a law requiring license plates for all cyclists has wisely withdrawn his bill. Fairfax VA’s bike coordinator position is under attack as a “political statement position.”

Finally, a ban on biking London’s South Bank is reversed, and considerate cyclists are now welcomed. And a British drivers’ organization says kids should glow in the dark; maybe we should require anyone under 16 to wear a flashing neon sign that says “Don’t Hit Me.”

After all, there’s obviously no point in asking drivers to pay attention.

A hero rides the bus — DWP employee Chris Bolivar stops a thief and saves a $2500 bike

Dan McLaughlin at the Tour de Palm Springs with his boss Andy Leeka; Dan is on the left

When Dan McLaughlin rode his bike into work on Wednesday, he never thought it would be stolen before he could get back home.

And he never thought a total stranger would run to his rescue, retrieving the bike almost before he knew it was gone.

According to Dan, he tries to ride his bike into work at least once a week. But the two-hour, 25-mile ride each way to his job at Good Samaritan Hospital is too much to sandwich around a full day at the office, so he usually takes the Commuter Express bus back to his home in Palos Verdes.

Wednesday night, he placed his $2500 Trek Madone in the rack at the front of the bus, and settled in to check his email in the back of the bus.

He barely noticed when the bus pulled over at a Downtown bus stop — it was somewhere on Flower, might have been at Washington Blvd, maybe Pico or Venice. What got his attention was the angry honking of the driver; soon everyone was standing, and someone yelled out “Your bike!”

He looked up to see his handlebars moving out of view through the windshield; by the time he got to the front of the bus, the bike was gone. He could see a young man struggling to hop on and ride it off, possibly because of the clip-in pedals.

As he stepped off the bus, though, he saw someone holding his bike. In the excitement, he ran towards him, only to realize that the man was walking back with it.

The other passengers were more than happy to fill him in.

When the bus stopped, the young man got off and immediately started to remove Dan’s bike from the rack. The driver, Pat Kesvy, started honking to stop him, but the thief kept going.

Thanks to DWP employee Chris Bolivar, this bike made it back home Wednesday

That’s when Chris Bolivar flew off the bus in pursuit of the thief. Bolivar, on his way home from his job with the Customer Service Department at DWP, quickly caught up to the struggling thief, scaring him into tossing the bike aside as he ran off down the street.

Bolivar picked it up and walked back, still shaking from the adrenalin rush.

Dan thanked his rescuer, and placed the bike back onto the rack. As they entered the bus, the passengers broke out in a spontaneous round of applause, applauding again when Bolivar got off at his stop.

And despite all odds, Dan McLaughlin made it home with his bike; as he puts it, it would have broken a roadie’s heart to lose a bike like that.

Meanwhile, one of the other passengers sent out an email telling the story, describing Bolivar as a gentleman who typically gives up his seat when the bus is crowded.

I’m told that email made it’s way to Chris Bolivar’s boss at DWP. And when he arrived at work Thursday morning, his co-workers stood up and applauded, as well.

McLaughlin is planning to take him to lunch next week to show his gratitude.

Maybe we should all thank him, in whatever way we can. After all, it could have been your bike. Or mine. And a total stranger cared enough to keep it safe.

It’s not every day you find a real hero riding the bus.

Update: A couple people have contacted me to point out that Chris Bolivar will honored at this year’s Blessing of the Bicycles at Good Samaritan Hospital on Tuesday, May 17th.

And am I the only one who sees a wonderful symmetry in a good Samaritan being honored by Good Samaritan?

Blaming the victim — some drivers say cyclists are just asking for it

It wasn’t that long ago that a woman was just as likely to be blamed as the man who attacked her.

All too often, a woman would report a sexual assault, only to be asked why she was out that late or what she was doing in a place like that. And if a case overcame the odds and made it to court, a judge or jury might conclude that her short skirt or tight top meant that she was asking for it.

Or if a woman was the victim of domestic violence, she was likely to encounter an attitude that she was the one to blame because she shouldn’t have made her husband or boyfriend that mad to begin with.

Case dismissed.

Fortunately, times have changed. That sort of attitude went out with the onset of the women’s movement, when it slowly dawned on society that a woman had a right to say no or stand up for herself. And that we all need to be held accountable for our own actions, regardless of what anyone else does or doesn’t do.

Except, it seems, when it comes to sharing our streets.

The last socially acceptable vestige of that blame-the-victim attitude is firmly on display whenever the subject turns to bicycling and a riders’ right to the road — and the wisdom of putting our wheels on the asphalt some motorists claim as their exclusive domain.

Consider the L.A. Time’s recent Talk Back L.A. post asking for comments on the proposed anti-harassment ordinance, for instance.

By now, we’ve become accustomed to attitudes like this one that merely express a misguided hatred for anyone who moves on two wheels.

EVERY single person i know hates bicyclists. Your cute little mass protest rides have pissed off a lot of people. Your very existence on busy, clogged streets is an annoyance. Learn to drive or bust a gut-check and pay for gas like the rest of us.

No, the problem comes from those who absolve themselves of any responsibility for their own actions. It’s the cyclists’ fault for being where we shouldn’t be, in the eyes of the outraged and inconvenienced drivers.

ban all bicycles from main roads and their riders won’t get hurt or killed. they can’t keep up with traffic and provide no passenger protection. automobile drivers have enough to worry about when on the road, traffic rules, stop lights, pedestrians and now we have to watch over these cry babies who think they are special, really.

Yes, drivers have enough to worry about without watching out for other traffic on the road. And there’s certainly no need to acknowledge that a car or truck is a dangerous machine and must be operated carefully.

It’s just those two-wheeled crybabies who think they’re special, and insist on using the roads as if the law said they could.

Which it does, of course.

If you ride a bicycle on the street, you’re taking your life in your own hands. Bikes are too slow, too hard to see and take up space in the lane preventing cars from driving around them.

It’s the cyclists, they insist, who are risking their own lives; it’s not the drivers’ responsibility to look for them or pass safely. So if you hit one, it’s really his or her fault, not the fault of the careless, distracted or overly aggressive person behind the wheel.

On a busy 8 lane (8 lane!) street I had a bicyclist pull up in between my truck and another car at the stoplight at one of the busiest intersections in the city like he was on a motorcycle or something. Ridiculous. Just an accident waiting to happen. He perfectly could’ve use the available bike lane and cross walk. But no, he uses a major throughfare as his preferred route of transportation. And guess who’s fault it is when they get hit?

Honestly, the nerve. A cyclist riding on the street like it was a safe, legal and reasonable thing to do. Which it is — or at least, should be.

Then there are others who make the connection more directly.

Rather than a new law, enforce the current laws, laws that bicyclists are supposed to follow. If they drove as they are supposed to drive, harassment would become a non-issue.

From their perspective, drivers are entitled  to harass cyclists because cyclists break the law, or at least they’re not acting unreasonably if they do. Never mind that, despite what some people seem to think, a drivers license does not authorize vigilante enforcement of traffic laws.

I had to hit her, your honor. She made me so mad, I just couldn’t help myself.

Then again, there are some who bend over backwards to blame the victims.

This conviction (of Dr. Christopher Thompson) was total B.S. The doctor DID NOT hit the bicyclists. They ran into the BACK of the doctor’s car. The bicyclist that went thru the car’s back window was going 40 mph at the time. Why was he going so fast? Because he was CHASING the doctor’s car.

Even when a motorist is clearly breaking the law, it’s never the law-breaking driver who’s to blame — as in this heartless comment about the death of cyclist James Laing in Agoura Hills last month.

You have no idea what you are talking about, but that doesn’t stop you from hollering with your righteous indignation.
 Don’t want to get killed? Then stay off the streets, there are PLENTY of parks with bike paths. Insist on your “right” to participate in inherently dangerous behavior, then expect there to be tragedies like this.

No, it couldn’t be the fault of the driver who got behind the wheel after drinking and ran down a cyclist riding on a wide road in a well-marked bike lane. It’s the fault of the cyclist for simply for being on the road.

Or just being born, perhaps.

And it’s not just Los Angeles. And not just anonymous motorists.

A father who tragically lost his daughter in a cycling collision concludes, not that the driver who took his daughter’s life should have been more careful, but that bikes don’t belong on the street.

When are people going to realize bicycles and cars don’t mix? I have had horrible days driving along Highway 1 in Marin County, where the bikers are so thick that they force cars to pass on the opposite side of the road — in many cases on blind curves. We need some strict laws that restrict bicycles to roads specifically designed with bike lanes. How about a registration and helmet requirement to ride on streets and highways? Anything else should be illegal and subject to a citation. How many more people need to die before something is done?

Never mind that the law clearly prohibits passing on blind curves, or that it only takes a few extra seconds to pass safely in most cases.

The fact is, it’s not easy to have a collision.

It requires one or more people violating the law or using the road carelessly; if everyone drove and rode carefully, paying close attention to the traffic and circumstances around them, while observing the law, it would be virtually impossible to have a collision. And wrecks, whether between motor vehicles, bikes, pedestrians or any combination thereof, would become so rare that a simple fender bender would be front page news.

Because most accidents aren’t accidents.

But even the newly elected mayor of Toronto says it’s cyclists’ own fault if they get killed — whether or not they’re riding in a traffic lane.

What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks, and sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. And no wonder, roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. And my heart bleeds for them when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.

No need for drivers to be careful.

No need to slow down or put down that cell phone, watch the road or take alternative transportation if you’ve been drinking.  It’s not your fault, really.

It’s those darn cyclists who just don’t belong on the road.

They made me do it.

Case dismissed.

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In a truly astounding example of a driver refusing to take responsibility for his actions, a convicted drunk driver sues the parents of the bike riding boy he killed for allowing him to ride without a helmet — even though no helmet on earth would protect against a car moving at 83 mph in a 45 mph zone.

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And in case you ever wondered just what a harassing driver looks like, they seem to look kind of sheepish when they get caught.

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In a horrific weekend for New Zealand cyclists, two men are killed and a woman critically injured in a collision that left a bike embedded in the side of a car, and another woman killed by a car during a training ride, leading a cycling organization to call for urgent action; meanwhile, a Christchurch cyclist is seriously injured after colliding with a pole.

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Herbie says Google responded very quickly to a suggested change for a more appropriate riding route. The paparazzi catch Gwen Stefani teaching her son to ride with training wheels in West Hollywood. Bike lanes are coming to Valencia exactly where they’re not needed most. A Corona del Mar cyclist traces his route to bike advocate. A biking and baseball literary doping doubleheader can be yours for just $5. It’s your bike, ride it the way it feels right to you. Orem, Utah plans to become more bike and pedestrian friendly. Hats and scarves for cold weather riding. Police reports are often wrong. Yet another case of a cyclist suddenly materializing out of nowhere. As Witch on a Bicycle aptly put it, one zero-emissions vehicle collides with another. Evidently, L.A. isn’t the only city where the roads are falling apart. Sometimes, a sacrifice to the biking gods may be in order. Ivan Basso wants his first bike back. Italian police raid the home of Lance Armstrong teammate Yaroslav Popovych.

Finally, a tongue-in-cheek study shows that electric cars take up as much space as the gas-driven ones.

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