Tag Archive for drivers vs. cyclists

Who is at fault in cycling collisions? And who decides?

Let’s go back to that buzzing incident with the garbage truck, in which the driver honked loudly as he passed me with only about a foot’s clearance.

What if I hadn’t managed to maintain control over my bike when the horn startled me? As I noted yesterday, I could have swerved to the left, which could have meant going under his wheels. Or I might have swerved right, where I would have bounced off the parked cars, and possibly been thrown back underneath him.

So who would be at fault when the police filed their report?

Would it be the driver who passed too closely, honking his horn in a threatening manner, or the cyclist who responded by losing control and colliding with the truck?

Or would they decide it was just one of those things, and no one was really to blame?

Or take today’s ride, when I was nearly right-hooked by a truck driver who passed me on the left, then made a right turn directly across my path — while I was still beside him.

Fortunately, I try to anticipate such things. So I grabbed my brakes, dropped behind him, then passed him on his left before he could even finish his turn.

But what if I hadn’t?

What if I’d collided with the truck? Would he be at fault because he turned into my path? Or would it be my fault because I hit him?

The law suggests the driver should be at fault. Yet when a Baltimore cyclist was killed recently in collision just like that, the police determined that he was at fault — evidently they felt it was his responsibility to somehow avoid the truck that cut him off.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area cyclists are responsible for twice as many bike vs. motor vehicle collisions as drivers are. The same article quotes statistics from the California Highway Patrol, which found cyclists responsible for nearly 60% of all statewide cycling fatalities.

Yet a recent study by a Toronto physician found that cyclists were only responsible for less than 10% of local collisions.

So are Canadian cyclists really that much better than California riders? Or does the problem actually rest with who is analyzing the data — and investigating the accidents?

Do you really have to ask?

The problem isn’t that police hate cyclists, despite common perceptions in the cycling community. It’s that most officers receive little or no training in bike law — and none in the mechanics of cycling or investigation of bike accidents.

That’s not just my opinion. Consider this recent quote from a retired police officer:

In virtually every state, bicycles have most of the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators. Many officers don’t seem to know, or care, that they do. Training in bicycle traffic law is virtually nonexistent in police academies and crash investigation courses.

Unfortunately, many serious road cyclists know and understand traffic laws regulating bicycles far better than most street cops. Officers who have received quality bike patrol training, such as the IPMBA Police Cyclist™ Course, have been trained in the legal status of bicycles in traffic, proper and legal lane use, and other pertinent provisions.

When investigating a bicycle-vehicle crash, it may be a good idea to involve a trained bike patrol officer to help get a comprehensive perspective as to the bicycle-related factors and conditions involved. Criminal charges may be warranted. An officer knowledgeable in bike law could be a victim cyclist’s best advocate, or a legal opponent, providing the details for fair prosecution.

The simple fact is that the operation and mechanics of bicycles are different from that of motor vehicles. And unless the investigating officer understands that, he or she won’t be able to accurately determine how the collision occurred and who is actually at fault.

Like the infamous downtown Hummer incident, in which the investigating officer concluded that the cyclist hit the SUV, even though the rear of the bike was damaged and the rider was thrown forward — suggesting that he somehow backed into the other vehicle.

Or my own case, when I was struck by a road-raging driver while stopped at a stop sign. Yet the investigating officer chose to accept the driver’s explanation that I had run the stop sign and fallen while making a right hand turn, even though that would have meant falling to the left while leaning into a right turn — something an officer who rides, or who was at least trained in cycling, would have understood was virtually impossible.

Then there’s the fact that in a car/bike collision, the driver is usually unhurt, while the cyclist can be seriously injured or worse. Which means that the police often hear just one side of the story.

Maybe that’s why, in virtually any repot of a collision at a controlled intersection, you’ll hear that the cyclist ran the red light or stop sign — never that the driver ignored the rider’s right of way or ran the signal themselves.

That also could explain why so many drivers involved in hit-from-behind collisions claim that the cyclist darted out in front of them without warning. Never that the driver was distracted or failed to see the rider in the first place.

In fact, many cyclists refer to that type of collision as an SWSS — Single Witness Suicide Swerve — because the frequency of such collisions would suggest that there must be a lot of death-wish cyclists out there.

That’s not to say cyclists are never at fault. I’ve seen enough riders attempt to pull off stupid life-risking stunts — myself included — to know that’s not true.

But the simple fact is, every cyclist is, and will remain, a 2nd class citizen on the streets until all police officers are trained in bike law.

And every bicycle-involved collision is investigated by an officer who understands the physics and realities of cycling.


Next year’s LA Bike Tour won’t be held in conjunction with the new Stadium to the Sea L.A. Marathon. Efforts are underway to ban cars from the annual bike-banning Festival of Lights instead. Where do I sign up? Streetsblog notes the anger over new bike lanes in Santa Clarita, where some residents feel ambushed, while others fault the design. Bike thefts are up across the country, including Downtown L.A.; some victims are using social media to get them back, Lance included. Even with the current budget cuts, Elk Grove gets state funding for a new bike overpass. Minnesota artists create bike racks that salute their Scandinavian heritage. Lebron James leads local kids and cyclists in a charity bike ride; so when can we expect the first annual Kobe Bryant Bike Classic? Even bike-friendly Portland suffers from the fatal hit-and-run plague. Cyclists roll by in a Chinatown bike lane as a NY politician holds a press conference to claim no one ever uses it. Finally, an 81-year old Welsh paperboy has his bike stolen while one of his customers thanks him with a piano recital.

When someone complains about dangerous cyclists, show them this

As we drove through the Westside this past weekend, my wife and I watched in amazement as one driver after another attempted maneuvers you won’t find in the driver’s manual, with varying degrees of success.

We agreed that the overall quality of driving in L.A. was worse than we’d ever seen it. And it clearly hasn’t gotten any better since.

Take yesterday’s ride, for instance.

It started before I could even get out of the alley behind my building. A driver was trying to back his van around a blind corner from the street into the alley. His view was completely blocked by the building next to me, so he had no idea what, if anything, was behind him — yet he did it anyway.

And what was behind him was me.

So I hugged the side of the building and waited until he finally stopped, then pulled around him, shaking my head as I passed.

Just two blocks later, I waited at a stop sign as a trash truck crossed the street in front of me. Instead of clearing the intersection, though, the driver stopped part way, then backed around the corner onto the street I was on. It wasn’t until he finished backing up and was facing me that he finally saw me there, waiting to cross.

Most drivers would have recognized that I had the right-of-way, and let me go first. Instead, he looked directly at me as he cut me off to complete his three-point U-turn.

A few minutes after that, I crossed Wilshire Blvd on a green light. Just as I reached the other side, a car lurched out from the curb just ahead of me, then stopped, blocking the lane, and cut me off again as he turned left into a driveway. All without signaling, of course.

I don’t know if he didn’t see me, or just didn’t care.

Then at the very next intersection, I pulled up to a four-way stop at the same time that two cars came up to the intersection on the cross street, one behind the other. The first driver looked my way, so I nodded for her to go, then started across the street.

As I was crossing, the second driver looked directly at me, gunned her engine and cut me off as she zoomed through the stop sign just feet in front of me. But evidently, it was okay — in her mind at least — because she gave me the dismissive “so sorry” wave as she passed.

I responded with another kind of wave. And forty-two days of middle-finger sobriety went down the drain.

And that was just first mile of my ride.

By the time I got back home, I’d also encountered a Range Rover — without plates, of course — who cut into the bike lane right in front of me so he could pass a long line of cars that weren’t speeding quite fast enough for him.

Then there was the driver who pulled out from a cross street right in front of me — which another driver waiting to cross in the opposite direction took as her signal to go, even though I was directly in front of her. Fortunately, she stopped just in time, as I braced for the impact.

The winner, though, had to be the driver I encountered on the last leg of my ride as I rode east on Ohio.

I took the lane soon after crossing Westwood Blvd, like I always do. The street is too narrow for cars to pass safely there, while the steep downhill lets me to go as fast, if not faster, than the speed of traffic.

This time, however, the driver behind me tried to pass on the wrong side of the road, even though I was riding at least as fast as the 25 mph speed limit — and common sense — allowed.

We were side-by-side as we went through the intersection at the bottom of the hill. Then she zipped up the next hill and turned left at the next corner, running the stop sign in the process — all without ever coming back to the right side of the road.

Of course, not everyone drives like that.

Even though it seems like a lot, these were just seven drivers out of the thousands I encountered that day — many of whom went out of their way to pass safely or wave me through a challenging intersection.

But the next time someone complains about all those damn law-flaunting cyclists, remind them that we’re not the only ones who do stupid, illegal and extremely dangerous things on the road.

Sure, there are cyclists out there who treat traffic laws with an excessive degree of flexibility.

But safe operation has nothing to do with the number of wheels you travel on.


Brayj gets a neighborhood council to endorse the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, after biking to the wrong meeting. The Anonymous Cyclist explains how to address the problem of putting 135 mm disk hubs on a 130 mm road bike frame. Santa Clarita ambushes drivers with unannounced bike lanes. Now Hollywood celebs can finally afford to ride along with their dogs; poor people will have to continue holding the leash. Santa Rosa experiments with a Bike Boulevard, proving a city can move forward without making a permanent commitment. A Silicon Valley cyclist bounces back from a near-fatal collision with a drunk driver. Even in Baton Rouge, where I was once regarded as a two-wheeled freak, they’re making room for bikes — maybe there’s hope for L.A. after all. Cycling deaths are up in Seattle despite increased spending to make cycling safer because drivers fail to yield — a $101 ticket. Cyclists attack a Boca Raton driver for passing too close; witnesses say he hit one of the riders. A Staten Island driver faces charges for assaulting a cyclist who tried to make a point by blocking cars from a bike lane. A Texas cyclist gets shot with a pellet gun, and assumes it’s a prank. Finally, it appears to be legal in New York to ram your car into a bicycle and drive 200 feet with the rider clinging to the hood, as long as he isn’t seriously injured. Gentlemen, start your engines — it’s open season on Gotham cyclists.

A not-so-brief thought on otherness to start the week

Yesterday my wife and I were driving to meet some relatives for breakfast.

As we drove, a car pulled up at the next intersection, paused briefly, then made a right turn onto the street we were on. The car behind him followed through the light without stopping, then tried to pull around the other car while he was still finishing his turn. And both cars ended up trying to occupy the same space in the left lane at the same time.

The second car reacted by swerving onto the wrong side of the road, driving head-on towards oncoming traffic. Then he cut back to the right lane, and proceeded to weave in and out of traffic as he sped down the road.

Yet as I watched that unfold, I didn’t mutter anything about “aggressive, arrogant drivers.” And I doubt anyone else did.

Because I’m a driver myself.

I don’t drive like that, and simple observation tells me that most other drivers don’t, either. So why is it that so many drivers may see a cyclist run a red light or cut across traffic without signaling, and assume that we all ride like that — or worse?

It’s basic human nature to define people by their degree of otherness. That is, to look at other people, and notice the ways in which they are either “like me” or “not like me.”

To a driver, for instance, other drivers are “like me.” They share a number of the same characteristics, as defined by their mode of transportation, so he judges their behavior as individuals rather than as a group. If one acts like the driver at the beginning of this post, he may consider that driver a jerk, but he doesn’t assume all drivers are jerks.

But if he sees a cyclist do the same thing, his mind makes a mental calculation that the cyclist does not share those same defining characteristics, and therefore, must be part of some other group. Then in a subconscious attempt to define that group, he ascribes the actions of the individual to the larger group.

So if a cyclist runs a red light, he concludes that’s what cyclists do; every time he sees a cyclist run a red light, it reinforces that prejudice. But he may fail to note all the cyclists waiting patiently at the intersection for the light to change, because that doesn’t fit the mental image he’s already drawn.

Don’t believe me?

Ask yourself how many people you know who don’t like blacks, or whites, or Mexicans, or foreigners, or Jews, or Muslims, or Christians, or Republicans, or liberals, or gays, or straits. Or any other narrowly defined group.

Or short people, for that matter — or did you miss Randy Newman’s point?

Or cyclists.

Or drivers.

They see a few members of some group, and assume that every member of that group is like that — ignoring the countless others who aren’t. Because those don’t fit the mental image they’ve already created.

And it’s human nature to discard any data that doesn’t fit, rather than modify the hypothesis.

It took me years to shift my focus to the thousands of drivers who didn’t cut me off or pass too close when I ride, rather than the few who did. And to accept that not all drivers are jerks, no matter how some people may drive.

As J. Haygood wrote on his blog the other day:

I think we riders that try to cooperate with cars on the road need to make our numbers known, highlight our good citizenship, otherwise all people remember is that guy flying through a four-way stop filled with cars, salmoning up the wrong side of the road, and acting like the inevitable near-miss is the car driver’s fault. Smart money says those riders are probably dicks when they get behind the wheel, too.

And that, I think, is the bottom line. An LAPD officer put it best a few weeks back, when he stopped after a pedestrian tried to chase me off a Class 1 bikeway.

“Some guys,” he said, “are just jerks.”


A Big Bear cyclist was killed when the wind blew his hat off his head, obscuring is vision. Mikey Wally runs into RAGBRAI, which kicked off yesterday, on his ride across the country. California drivers are not allowed to pass a car on the right if it means driving in the bike lane. Seattle is being sued by a number of industrial groups and companies who fear a bike path extension may ruin their environment. S.F. commenters argue whether bike helmets are unsafe. Fix a man’s flat, and he’ll ride for a day; teach a man to fix his own flat and he’ll never bother you again. In Montana, drivers are required to stop for cyclists in a crosswalk. Two cyclists were shot as they competed in the Tour last week; one fished the bullet out himself while he rode. Finally, a triathlete was injured when a tree fell on his bike during yesterday’s race.

This just in…

Maybe you recall this from a couple weeks back.

In stumbling around the Interwebs, I’d come across a guy ranting about what jerks cyclists can be. And wrote a response in which I explained why we do some of the things we do when we ride, amid some of my usual snarky comments.

Tonight the writer of the original post responded with a comment to my post. And I thought it was worth moving up here, where everyone can see it.

Hey, I just wanted to say that you’re referring to my blog (http://davesays.wordpress.com). After reading yours however I have changed my mind about bicyclists.

Please understand that I cannot classify all cyclists into one stereotype so if I came across that way I apologize.

I now have a better understanding of things you do (like riding to the front of a line of cars at an intersection).

You’re right, I mostly cycle on trails or side streets. I hate riding with cars because the car drivers (yes even me) can be clueless. I however do try to really look out for bicyclists and people on motorcycles because most people don’t.

“So the question becomes, how can we communicate to all these people that we’re not going out of our way to be rude just because we can, and there’s actually a good reason why we do the things we do. Because they don’t read cycling blogs like this.”

You just did my friend. I will change how I behave around cyclists after reading this. The Internet has a wealth of information and we should use it as constructively as possible.

I thank you for taking the time to reply or even rant on my post, as it got me to thinking and got me to reading and is now helping me be less ignorant.

I mean this entire comment as a compliment and I am not being sarcastic at all. It’s nice to know that other people can write a reply to something the disagree with and not be a total turd when doing so.

Nice job mate!

Here’s to safer cycling and better drivers.

Now, that’s what I call a class act. 

Thanks, Dave.

Today’s post, in which I examine two- and four-wheeled a**holism

Let’s go back to a topic I touched on last week.

You see, I’ve got a very simple rule of thumb:

When someone calls me a jerk, asshole or whatever other insult happens to pass their lips, I generally assume it’s the other person who actually has the problem.

If it happens again, though, I start to consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I might be doing something to inspire that. And if it happens a third time, I’m pretty convinced that I just may, in that particular case at least, be what the French would call le trou de cul.*

(Of course, the opposite holds true as well. If I keep encountering people I think are jerks, assholes, et al, it’s a pretty good indication that I’m at least partially to blame.)

Yet there are a significant number of drivers who remain quite convinced that every cyclist they encounter is a flaming rectal orifice.

For instance, I once took part in an online forum in which a number of people went to great lengths to point out the inherent rudeness of cyclists, as well as their willingness to teach us a lesson in vehicular Darwinism by running us off the road. Or worse.

Of course, these comments were met by a similar number of cyclists who argued the counterpoint with equal vehemence, and varying degrees of civility.

But one comment in particular stuck with me.

This person said he couldn’t begin to count the many times that riders had cursed, gestured or spit at him, or actually struck his car with their hands or bike locks. And took that as proof that cyclists are rude, vile and disgusting creatures, unworthy of life — let alone the few feet of roadway we insist on occupying.

So, invoking the above rule of thumb, I inquired just what it was he was doing behind the wheel that would make so many cyclists feel so ticked off. Then suggested that perhaps it wasn’t the cyclists who were actually the problem.

Needless to say, that was the last we heard from him. But clearly, he was not alone in his certainty that cyclists are responsible for all the evil in the world, or at least on the roadways. And that we all have a major attitude problem.

You can find similar comments on countless online discussions of bicycling. Yet in over 30 years as a licensed driver, I have never had a confrontation with an angry cyclist.


Maybe that’s because, as a cyclist, I make a point of driving safely and courteously around other riders. Or maybe just because I go out of my way not to be a jerk behind the wheel.

So if, as a driver, you find yourself having repeated conflicts with angry cyclists, it may be time to consider that perhaps they’re not the problem. And ask yourself what you’re doing, or failing to do, that could be causing, or at least contributing, to it.

Of course, that’s not to say that cyclists are entirely blameless.

Occasional conflicts are to be expected as we all learn to share the road and compete for the same increasingly limited piece of asphalt. But the key word there is occasional.

So if you find yourself having frequent conflicts with angry drivers, maybe it’s time to consider how you might be contributing to the problem. Because in any traffic confrontation, there’s usually at least one asshole involved.

And sometimes it’s me.


Damien Newton wants your input on Streetblog’s questionnaire for the Council District 5 candidates. A Salt Lake City writer applauds cyclists, even while resisting the occasional urge to turn them into hood ornaments. An economist applies game theory to four-way stops. Flying Pigeon suspects the thief who stole one of their bikes was an L.A. Sheriff. Another college newspaper takes on cyclists, and Oregon’s proposed Idaho Stop law. A group in Bend, Oregon suggests that bike safety is a two-way street, involving cyclists and drivers. And finally, last week’s discussion of a New Jersey newspaper editorial about their proposed three-foot law comes full circle, as one of their bloggers quotes yours truly.

*Courtesy of a truly indispensible pocket guide, The Little Book of Essential Foreign Swear Words, by Emma Burgess.

Today’s post, in which I consider my attitude

Let’s talk about negativity. Mine, in particular.

You see, during the panel I was on at last week’s Bike Summit, I mentioned that one of the many reasons I’d started this blog was that I was concerned — okay, pissed off — about the state of cycling in Los Angeles. And said that this is, with the possible exception of 1980’s era Louisiana, the worst city in which I’ve ridden.

Then someone asked if I thought that cycling had gotten better or worse in my 30 years of riding — and here in L.A. over my near two-decades of residence, in particular.

My response was, worse. Much, much worse, in fact.

And it’s true.

Once I learned to avoid busy streets unsuitable for cycling — and to never, ever ride after an LSU home game, when the risk of being intentionally run off the road by drunken frat boys increased exponentially — Louisiana really wasn’t that bad. There were lots of quiet side streets perfect for cycling, and the River Road along the levee was wide, flat and virtually car free. And cyclists were enough of an anomaly in those days that drivers usually gave us a wide berth.

Every other city I’ve passed through or called home, for whatever reason or length of time, had a system of cycling infrastructure far superior to present day L.A. Even San Diego, circa mid-‘80s, had a better system of Class 1 and Class 2 bikeways (off-road paths and on-road lanes) than L.A. does today.

And in many ways, L.A.’s bikeways are in worse shape than they were 10 years ago, as crumbling asphalt, increased traffic and lax enforcement of bikeway restrictions take their toll.

Another thing that’s changed over the last 10 years is the willingness of local drivers to share the road. And in case you’re unsure where this is going, I’m not suggesting that it’s gotten better.

Maybe it’s the fact that traffic here on the Westside is significantly heavier than it once was. Maybe it’s the added stress everyone is under these days. It could be the distractions to drivers offered by the proliferation of cell phones, iPods and PDAs.

Or it could be the simple fact that L.A.’s understaffed police force, combined with an increasing population and shifting departmental priorities, means there aren’t enough officers on the streets to enforce traffic laws. As a result, local drivers seem to feel free to do whatever strikes their fancy, legal — or safe — or not.

And whether or not there’s a cyclist in their way.

So if that sounds negative, I’m sorry. That’s just my experience, from my perspective.

On the other hand, it’s not all bad.

Things actually seem to have gotten better over the past year. There seems to be less tension on the roads today than there was just a year ago. Maybe the Mandeville Canyon incident has made drivers rethink their attitudes.

Or maybe we’re all just trying a little harder to get along.

Then there’s the fact that even a bad day on the bike is better than just about anything else I might be doing. And for every negative moment on the road, there are a thousand moments that make it all worth while.

Some people at the forum thought that it was wrong to focus on the negatives. They felt that too much negativity might discourage people from riding.

And they have a point.

This sport needs its evangelists. We need people who will encourage beginners, and help them get the skills they need to start on a long, safe and rewarding riding career.

But we also need to talk about the wrongs we see and experience on the road. The things that can, and should, be changed, so that the people who start riding today will experience a better, safer and more bike friendly city than we did yesterday.

Because we owe them that.


One of my fellow panelists says it’s time to become a more considerate cyclist. According to Streetsblog, cyclists may finally be getting some respect in Washington. An economics professor at Oregon State University says instead of taxing cyclists, they should pay us to ride. An off-duty police officer in Tucson was killed when his bike was struck from behind in broad daylight; as usual, the driver was not cited. And also as usual, it doesn’t take long for the anti-cyclist rants to start. Another cyclist, also run down by a pickup truck, credits his survival to wearing a helmet; while this site suggest that learning how not to get hit in the first place is an even smarter option. Evidently, I’m not the only rider who complains about iPods on the bike paths. And finally, L.A. Magazine has added a postscript to their description of Los Angeles’ Bike Culture, discussing the role we cyclists may have played in influencing the outcome of last week’s primary election.


Control the intersection, part 2: Actually, it is polite to point

Just last week, I was riding towards a busy intersection. Ahead of me, there was a long line of cars facing me, waiting to make a left turn onto the cross street.

The driver of the first car had plenty of room to make his left before I got to the intersection, crossing my path and going on his way with room to spare.

The second car probably shouldn’t have gone. The driver’s view had been blocked by the first car, and he had no idea I was there until he followed the first driver in making his turn. Fortunately, I hadn’t quite entered the intersection, so he rounded the corner without posing an undue threat.

The third car was another matter.

It was clear that his view had been totally obscured by the cars ahead of him. And if he followed their lead, neither one of us would make it to the other side.

So I pointed at him.

I wasn’t trying to be rude. It’s just a little trick I’ve learned over the years. When a driver doesn’t seem to see me, I extend my arm and point at him. And invariably, they notice me, and respond appropriately.

Don’t ask me why it works. It just does.

In this case, I pointed at the driver as soon as he came into view, after the other car turned. We made eye contact, he nodded, and I rode safely through the intersection and on my merry way.

I’ve used the same technique as I’ve been stopped at a light, when it appeared a driver a going to try to get the jump on me as soon as the light changed. In that case, the driver appeared to be purposely ignoring me, refusing to make eye contact — always a bad sign.

Sure enough, the light changed and he gunned his engine, lurching into the intersection, despite the fact that I had the right of way. So again, I pointed.

And God help me, he stopped.

He sat there with an embarrassed look on his face and let me ride past. Then gunned his engine again, screeching through the corner and down the road.

Other times, I’ve used an extended digit — the first one, not the second, which I tend to employ all too often — to indicate where I intend to go. By pointing straight ahead, I could show that I was going to ride straight across an intersection, even though it was a situation where most drivers would have expected me to turn.

Or I’ve pointed out at a slight angle, to tell drivers that I was entering the lane briefly to go around some obstacle, rather than taking the full lane — or risk confusing them by making a left turn signal.

And in every case, it’s worked. Drivers slow down, and give me enough space to make my move or cross the street. And more amazingly, I’ve never gotten a single horn, shout or obscene gesture in response.

Don’t ask me why.

I’ve even been known to take it a step further by actually directing traffic.

Like at a four way stop, for instance, when no one knows who should go first. In some cases, it may have actually been my right of way. But only a fool would insist on taking it without knowing that the other vehicles intended to cede it.

And as they say down south, my Mama didn’t raise no fools.

So I point at one driver, and hold up my hand to indicate halt. Then point at the other driver and wave him through the intersection, before waving the first car through. And once the intersection is clear, I’ll go through myself — sometime holding out that same halt signal to tell a late arriving vehicle I’m going through.

I always expect the drivers to ignore me. Or laugh. Or get pissed off. But oddly, it never seems to happen.

Instead, they invariably respond to my points and hand commands as meekly as a herd of sheep with a border collie nipping at their flanks.

I can’t explain it. I won’t even try.

All I know is that it works. And the fact that I’m still here to tell you about it is all the proof you need that it does.


Bicycle Fixation offers their stylish Limited Edition Herringbone Knickers; very cool, but at that price, I think I’ll continue to wear my decided unstylish spandex. Meanwhile, another rider offers a jersey indicating the three foot passing distance we should all insist on — at least until our personal portable bike lanes hit the market. Gary relates his semi-soggy saga of riding to San Diego over the weekend. Another local bike path becomes a habitat for homeless humanity. Leave it to the Japanese to meld a parking garage with a bicycle vending machine. The Expo Construction Authority seeks an alternate for the Expo Bikeway through NIMBY-ist Cheviot Hills. Yeah, good luck with that. Bike paradise Boulder, Colorado is about to get a state-of-the-art off-road bike park, while Belmont, CA drivers are raging over the new bike lane. Finally, the Rearview Rider, aka the Bicycling Librarian, offers up her new blog of bike-worthy links.

Control the intersection, control your safety


Recently, my wife and I were driving up Doheny, just below Beverly, when we came upon a young woman riding slowly in the right lane.

She was nicely dressed, as if she was going out for the evening. Yet she seemed to know what she was doing, riding just inside the right lane — and just outside dooring range.

I made sure to give her a wide passing berth as I drove around her, as a courtesy from one cyclist to another, before stopping at a red light at the next intersection.

As we waited for the light to change, the rider carefully worked her way past the cars lined up behind us until she reached the intersection. Then she moved left, stopping in the crosswalk just in front of our car.

My wife was annoyed that she was in our way once again. But recognizing a skilled rider, I told her to be patient. And sure enough, as soon as the light turned green, she pulled to the right, allowing us — and the other cars behind us — to safely pass while she crossed the intersection, before reclaiming her space in the lane.

I could fault her for not wearing a helmet — while she looked great, her stylish tam wasn’t likely to offer much protection in the event of an accident — but I had to admire the way she rode. And the way she controlled the intersection.

Because an intersection — any intersection — can be a dangerous place for a cyclist. And too many make the mistake of letting traffic dictate how they ride, instead of taking control of the situation.

For instance, a lot of riders will just stop in place when traffic comes to a halt, and stay right where they are in the traffic lane behind the line of cars.

They probably think they’re doing the right thing. But drivers coming up from behind may not expect to find a bike there, and may not react in time. And waiting behind even a single car could hide a rider from cars coming from the opposite direction, dramatically increasing the risk of a collision.

Which is not to say that drivers shouldn’t be aware of everyone on the road — bikes and pedestrians included.

But this is the real world. And you shouldn’t risk your life based on the limited skills and attention spans of those sharing the road with you.

Moving up to the front of the line ensures that everyone can see you, no matter what direction they’re coming from. It also means that the cars behind you are stopped, instead of leaving you exposed and vulnerable to any cars that are still moving — and drivers who may not be paying attention.

But even riders who make a habit of moving up to the intersection sometimes stop there, and wait patiently next to the lead car.

That can present it’s own problems, though.

By waiting beside the lead car, you run the risk of blocking access to the right turn lane, preventing cars from being able to make the right turn on a red light that we Californians treasure as our God-given birthright. And that can mean having an angry, impatient driver behind you — which is never a good thing.

Then there’s the risk that the driver at the head of the line won’t notice you waiting there beside him, and make a sudden right turn across your path — or worse, directly into you.

But you can virtually eliminate that risk by moving slightly forward and to the left, coming to a stop in front of the driver’s right front bumper.

That way, the turning lane is clear for anyone who wants to go right. And you’re directly in the lead driver’s field of view, where he can’t help but see you — and blocking him from any sudden moves that could put you in danger. Yet you’re still close enough to the side that you can get out of the way quickly if anything goes wrong.

Then once the light changes, just move slightly to the right so the cars pass while you cross the road. And then back into the traffic lane when you reach the other side.

I’m usually faster off the line than most drivers, and often reach the other side long before they do. But I still move to the right when the light changes — both out of courtesy and to protect myself from any impatient jerks who feel the need to race me across the street.

Bob Mionske, the cycling lawyer, joins the debate on changing the law to treat stop signs as yields. A self-described mediocre cyclist wants your help to become a full-fledged racer. An Alaskan rider explains why some riders prefer the streets to a “perfectly good” bike trail. Green LA Girl notes that LACBC is looking for bilingual bike safety advocates. Finally, City Watch points the lack of bike parking — and quality crappers — at Downtown’s new LALive.


This bike lane is mine, God gave this lane to me

Today’s vastly oversimplified and seemingly off-topic history lesson:

It wasn’t that long ago, a little less than a century, that there were very few Jews in Israel. In fact, there was no Israel.

At the end of the first World War, less than 90,000 Jews lived in what was then known as Palestine. Then the Zionist Movement encouraged the migration of Jews to Palestine, reclaiming the land the Romans expelled them from nearly two millennia before.

The turmoil preceding World War II led to further migration, as did the resettlement of refugees following the Holocaust — resulting in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

The only problem is, there were already people living there.

Over 700,000 Arab Palestinians became refugees virtually overnight. And a conflict began that defies resolution 60 years later, as two distinct groups claim their right to the same limited space.

Remind you of anything?

There was a time — a very brief time — when the bicycle was the king of the road; the cleaner, more efficient, new-fangled contraption that was to replace the horse and buggy. At least until the car came along and claimed the roads for themselves.

Bikes were relegated to the side of the road — or banned from the roadways entirely. Some cyclists and traffic planners believed the solution was to build segregated bike lanes and off-road paths; others felt the answer lay in reclaiming our space on road, just as any other form of vehicular traffic.

The problem was, drivers felt the streets belonged to them, and would not willingly give up any part of the road, or make way for what they considered an inferior mode of transportation invading their turf.

And so began the conflict we deal with every day. A cold — or sometimes, very hot — war between cyclists and drivers, as we fight for our right to ride, and the motorized world too often refuses to give an inch.

Does it compare to the tragedy currently unfolding in Gaza?

Of course not. But the roots of the conflict are similar, and a resolution just as unlikely.

Even the cycling community is divided as to what approach to take. Some riders refuse to be confined to a separate but unequal lifestyle; others are willing to utilize bike paths and lanes, but believe the solution lies in a better educated motoring public. Some believe in sharrows, while others are willing to fight for their bike lanes; yet even those who support those painted lines on the street accept that they may not always be the best solution.

Then there are those of us who want to take their bike lanes with them, and others who are just happy to stay off the sidewalk.

As for me, I suppose I have a wheel in both camps. I agree with Will, in that I believe the ideal solution lies in educating drivers, so they’re more willing to share the road. And make room for us as equal users of the streets.

I just don’t believe that will ever happen.

So unless, and until, it does, I will take my place on the road, while staking my claim to the bike lane — even if it doesn’t go anywhere. And fight to defend it from any form of abuse, encroachment or foreign invaders. Because separate and unequal may not be ideal, or even right, but it’s ours.

And right now, it’s the best we’ve got.

Gary reports on Bike Kill, complete with killer photos. Matt fills us in on L.A.’s upcoming tour de hills (and yes, we do have a few), while Will once again demonstrates his mastery of the cyclist’s revenge — with no blood, or anything else, spilled. C.I.C.L.E. announces their new office in Northeast L.A., courtesy of the brewers of my favorite beer. Denver follows up on its bike sharing program during the Democratic Convention with an affordable city-wide rent-a-ride plan. And Lauren, AKA hardrockgirl, fills us in on her first four months of L.A. riding, part 1 (and thanks for the kind word).

Yesterday’s ride, in which I emulate Mr. Campbell

I set off yesterday for a long ride, on a route that took me south on Ocean Avenue through Santa Monica.

Thanks to a slight decline, it’s easy to build up speed along there, so I was doing a relatively easy 25 mph as I approached California Ave. Maybe you know it, where the bike lane moves a little to the left, to make room for a right turn lane on the right.

Naturally, I was keeping a close eye on traffic, when I saw a small pickup truck heading north on Ocean drive past the intersection, then make a wide, looping U-turn right in front of me. So I slammed on my brakes to avoid a collision, and watched as she swung all the way across the road, into that right turn lane leading down to the California Incline.

Evidently, waiting in line with all those other cars to make that left at California had been just too much effort for her.

By the time she completed that maneuver, though, the light had changed, and she had to sit there and watch as all those cars who had patiently waited for their chance to turn left — instead of making an illegal U-turn in a vain attempt to speed up the process — went in through in front of her.

So while she sat there at the red light, waiting for the traffic she had tried to skip go by, I found myself rolling up right next to her in the bike lane — and right next to her open driver’s-side window.

Of course, keeping my mouth shut under such circumstances would require more self control than I would ever claim to possess. And certainly more than I’ve demonstrated in the past.

But before I could open my mouth, my mind flashed on Will Campbell’s description of keeping his cool during a confrontation with a driver.

So trying to keep my voice as even as possible, I asked, “Did you even know that I was there?” What I really meant was, did she even care? But I was making a conscious effort to be nice and as non-confrontational as possible.

Her answer was a non-committal “Yeah,” so I pressed my luck. “That’s a very dangerous thing to do when someone is bearing down on you that fast,” I said. “I could have rear-ended you.”

She looked up at me for the first time, and said simply, “Yeah, my bad.”

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the heartfelt apology I was hoping for, but under the circumstances, I’ll take it.

Of course, unlike Will, I wasn’t dealing with a young Mustang-driving man hopped up on testosterone — just a young woman who gave every indication of being at least a half-bowl into her day already.

But still, everyone stayed calm. No one got mad. No voices were raised. No one suggested performing any anatomically impossible acts. And no one’s day was ruined, as we both went our separate ways.

So I have to admit it, Will.

You may just be on to something.


In today’s news, Streetsblog reports the conventions may not be so bike-unfriendly after all. Gary continues his tales of the recent AIDS LifeCycle ride down the Pacific coast. Will once again stands up to evil doers by riding Ballona Creek. Somehow I missed this post from Alex, in which the L.A.P.D. shows more maturity than the Culver City cops. Bicycle Fixation notes that the privileged set is starting to show a little responsibility, as well. Delaware discovers it’s not easy to build a bike culture in a car-centric state. Yeah, tell me about it. A Pennsylvania congressional candidate campaigns by bike. And finally, a Tampa cyclist pledges to ride a 100 mile Tour de Donut if the Rays clinch a playoff spot. Looks like a safe bet if any Dodger fans who want to join in

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