The finest bike path in Southern California

September 2, 2013 § 97 Comments

Bicyclists are conservative and don’t like change, with good reason. People are always advising you about training, racing, equipment, technique, you name it. Bikers quickly learn that skepticism is their friend. Easy reliance on the suggestions of others is folly.

So when I suggested that we all ride our bicycles out in the middle of the lane on PCH today, the 80+ riders were skeptical, to put it politely. To put it impolitely, they gave me the “You’re outta your fucking mind” look, especially when I explained the plan in detail.

The plan was to take control of the right-hand lane by riding in it. We would not cross the fog line and venture into the guttery shoulder in which the PCH rides always take place. By riding in the lane we would avoid the trash, the holes, the parked cars, the concrete barriers, and the door zone. It would be a steady but totally doable pace of 18-19 mph.

Even though less than 2% of all bike-car collisions are rear-enders, we were all still afraid, particularly since only a handful of the eighty-strong contingent chose to ride in our group. “We support you, dude,” one friend said as he rolled off.

“I’m a gutter bunny, sorry,” said Junkyard.

One after another people defected until we had only seventeen riders. We all felt fearful, but we were also committed to putting theory into practice: By controlling the lane we’d be safer, cars would pass us with wide margins, and the worst we’d have to deal with were honks and curses.

Off they go

We picked a great morning to implement. It was the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, and by the time we hit PCH at about 8:15 there weren’t many cars, and none of them were furious yet at having had to spend the day in sweltering in bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic. The weather was perfect.

We started in the lane and it felt deliciously bad, like I was cheating on my wife — it felt so bad, but it felt so good! Of course, what we were doing was perfectly legal, but we’d all been so brainwashed into thinking that the lane was for cars only that the simple act of being there felt wrong, even as the liberation from the slavery of the gutter felt so empowering.

In the first couple of miles we kept waiting for something bad to happen, but the only thing that happened was that cars passed us on the left with tons of room. We could see onesy-twosy riders ahead of us in the gutter getting passed by those same cars with inches to spare.

Then, as we kept going, we began seeing gutter bunnies with flats, a certainty on PCH if you ride the guttery shoulder. We noticed that our bike lane — the “car” lane — was smooth, devoid of detritus, and not pockmarked with holes and cracks. The frantic waving and pointing and shouting, “Hole! Rock! Barrier! Door!” was gone.

Next we saw a moto cop whiz by in the opposite direction. He kept on going. Our first angry beep, and it was a pathetic one, came from … a motorcyclist. We laughed. By the time we got to Cross Creek, seven miles later, we’d been transformed.

PCH was no longer the terrifying alley of death it had been before. It was now our road, too, and we had plenty of room to negotiate it and, most importantly, to enjoy our ride. When have you ever ridden from Temescal to Cross Creek and back while chatting easily the entire way?

Never, I’m guessing, but that’s exactly what we did. The cars passed us, with only a couple of irate honks, and for the entirety of the out-and-back, including stretches of PCH that normally pucker your sphincter tight enough to crap diamonds, we chatted. Not only did we chat, but for the first time ever we enjoyed what is one of the most beautiful views in California, one you never see in the gutter because you’re lasered in the door zone, the bumps, the garbage, and the cars pulling out of garages and highway parking spots, not mention the traffic that’s often buzzing your handlebars with inches to spare.

Note to users: If you try this technique you will notice that off to the right of PCH on the way back into Los Angeles, there is a giant and beautiful blue, shimmering ocean. You’ve never seen it before, but you will once you’re in the lane and not playing Survivor in the Gutter.

Our end game

We got back to the Center of the Known Universe unscathed, with a total of four irate honks and one catcall, from a guy in a convertible going the other direction who yelled at us, “Hey you motherfucking assholes! Get out of the fucking lane!”

We smiled and waved.

But just one group ride isn’t enough. In the name of those who have needlessly died on PCH and other death traps in SoCal, we’re going to be repeating this exercise throughout the winter. We hope that the skeptics and the inveterate gutter bunnies will take a chance and experience the liberation of riding in the real bike lane — not the one filled with crap and potholes and into which texting drivers drift at 60 mph, but the one that is perfectly maintained, that provides a safety buffer from exiting cars and pedestrians, that provides an unparalleled view of the ocean and the hills, and most importantly, that forces cagers to notice us, slow down, and pass us on the left with plenty of room to spare.

It’s an exercise that, if repeated often enough by enough people, will train the PCH cagers, educate them one at a time, to understand that bicycles don’t simply belong in the lane, they are an expected part of the traffic flow and are guaranteed to be there.

To the riders who were brave enough to do something that turned out to be completely uneventful, yet profoundly cathartic precisely because nothing happened, thank you! To those who are unconvinced, I hope that in a few weeks or months you’ll join us for a test run.

It will be the best ride in the finest bike lane you’ve ever had.

§ 97 Responses to The finest bike path in Southern California

  • CPR says:

    YESSSSSS!!! FINALLLLYY!!!!

  • bonnev659 says:

    I hear ya… today I road in the middle of some of the the right lane for the parts that had an extra lane and wow what a difference.. it also helped there was no traffic today as well. well happy riding!

  • Seth is a man of words and, action. Bravo!

  • Erik says:

    Dude! All I can say.

  • David Huntsman says:

    Repeat Bravo! DIY Ciclovia.

  • channel_zero says:

    Can you estimate a time you hit Channel/Chataqua intersection in Santa Monica? I need to do this.

  • All I can say is, “THANK YOU!” Someone go get Mionske to pay attention. Educate, Encourage, Enforce, Evaluate, then Engineer. Don’t jump to Engineering first.

  • Great work, Seth! I need to mount my new HD video cameras and shoot one of these rides. It will be a good excuse for me to hang with pace-lines again!

  • Mindy Reed says:

    Sounds like a drive in from the desert would be worth it for this! Awesome!!!

  • Great work! Glad you had fun.

  • Robert C says:

    Well played Seth! I’m IN.

    I ride up PCH almost every weekend and came within 6″ of getting clipped by a City work truck on Saturday (even though I was to the right of the white line). Your ride sounds much safer and enjoyable.

    A bit of local news coverage wouldn’t hurt the cause either.

    • fsethd says:

      It was an awesome ride. Local news coverage (aside from being more work) isn’t nearly as important to me as getting the rank and file users of PCH to start changing riding behavior. The news will want an “angle” i.e. bikes v. cagers, and for me it’s really not that at all. I just want to use the nice bike lane they’ve created and made it lawful for me to use.

  • bikinginla says:

    It’s taken a lot of hard work, mostly by Eric Bruins, Jen Klausner and others with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coaliton, to get that motorcycle cop to just keep going.

    While Malibu Sheriff’s deputies disagreed at first, the LACBC has worked to convince them that A) bikes have a right to ride in the traffic lane, rather than the shoulder, and b) once riders have taken the lane, there is nothing prohibiting riding two or more abreast within the same lane. In addition, controlling the lane by riding abreast makes the riders more visible and decreases the risk of close passes a single line of riders further to the right would face.

    Glad you had such a good experience, and I’m surprised you had such difficulty convincing your fellow riders to take the lane. Not sure I’d be willing to do that as a solo rider on such a busy, high speed highway, but for a group ride, it’s definitely the smartest and safest place to be.

    • fsethd says:

      Eric, Jen, and LACBA have done the hard part. We’re just drafting off their efforts.

      I wasn’t surprised at the reticence. I ride with these people all the time, and we’re a very conservative, slow-to-change bunch.

      Lots of people still can’t shake the fear that they’ve got better chance of getting whacked in the lane than in the gutter. Lots. And they’ll tell you so.

      The acid test will be when PCH cagers are sufficiently accustomed to bikes that one rider can take the lane. Probably a ways to go on that, right?

      • bikinginla says:

        Very. Maybe once we can get the roadway reconfigured and drop the speeds down to, oh, 35 mph. That’ll happen, right?

      • fsethd says:

        Another person to whom much is owed for the change in attitudes on PCH: YOU. Thanks, Ted.

  • Arkansas Traveler says:

    Better than riding the line and bunny-hopping black dildoes. Pretty sure one of those honks was an attempted friendly toot. Much better warm up before climbing Piuma than the typical hammerfest. Highly recommend!

  • Gary Cziko says:

    Here’s a photo of Seth and the group controlling the slow lane of PCH:

    Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 4.42.36 AM

    And here is Vickie and Renée chatting away at the rear of the pack:

    Vickie & Renée on PCH

    I was privileged to be a part of this group for my very first ride on PCH. And having just cycled back with my wife to my new home in Playa del Rey from Marina del Rey on the Ballona Creek bike path, I can tell you that with Labor Day congestion that was a whole lot scarier than our ride yesterday on PCH.

    Video of ride coming Tuesday.

  • Stephen Yang says:

    This is something that really needs to be done regularly, just to raise awareness. :)

    • fsethd says:

      Yep. Start in small groups and then work down until solo riders feel safe. It will take a while, but Job 1 is getting groups to start riding in the lane.

  • Bonhomie says:

    This makes me want to ride on PCH again…

  • This is great. Please do this again soon and we will come out and support from Redlands.

    • fsethd says:

      Sunday after next, for sure. But I hope people will start doing it in groups as a matter of normal behavior rather than as an event.

      I didn’t start with the idea of civil disobedience — civil obedience, really, since it’s the law — and my hope is that we’ll begin using PCH for what it truly is: A world class bike lane.

  • Deb says:

    One day I hope to ride this stretch! I’ll get a group of like-minded, like-speeded folks together and give it a go now that you’ve paved the way. I do agree with bikinginla that this isn’t something I’d attempt solo, though. Definitely safety (and increased visibility) in numbers.

  • karlfun says:

    Bravo.

  • Toronto says:

    You had me at gutter bunny.

  • JPrumm says:

    So about 67 others decided not to join the cause! Well I guess you know who your friends are.

    • posinihilist says:

      Maybe that peculiar feathered swirling break in the clouds that we saw from the strand was a good omen! Props to Gary for staying in the back, which, in this case was the frontline. Felt like a human again. Thanks all.

    • fsethd says:

      Nope. They’re all my friends. But change takes time, especially when it runs counter to everything we “know” and are comfortable with. Over time, if the lane is where it’s at, people will use it. I’m not a draw-a-line-in-the-sand, if-you’re-not-with-me-you’re-agin-me type on matters like this. “Work together,” as Jack from Illinois (not his real name) would say.

  • raceready says:

    I’m still skeptical. I do think for the “take the lane” ride, it is safer. The cars, even if really unhappy about it, will see and go around the large group. However, the idea of a solo rider (or even pair of riders) going down the middle of a lane the whole time assuming they will be seen is a bit terrifying because it’s pretty obvious that there are more than a few distracted drivers who might not notice them. I’m also concerned that taking the lane when there is no obvious reason to do so result in more angry cyclist hating drivers who might cut other solo cyclist riding in the gutter/side close to prove a point. I’ve been had this happen and know cyclists have been killed by such drivers. Creating more of them worries me. If drivers understood WHY groups take the lane for not only segments of their ride but for the whole time, then maybe they would not get pissed off and take out that anger on other cyclists. But I don’t think that understanding is there. I’m not opposed to the idea of groups taking the lane and would consider joining them, but I do think it could have unintended consequences for other solo riders or groups.

    • fsethd says:

      This is kind of like wearing a condom. Everyone has to make their own decision. I would feel totally comfortable in the lane with a bright flashing light. I feel like the lane is always a happier place than the gutter, especially after Sunday. It’s all about the happy, at least for me. Which is another reason I like SPY’s Happy Lens …

  • Richard Marubayashi says:

    This is the idea behind the Critical Mass rides. If you haven’t already, you should join one sometime. Last Friday of every month.

    • fsethd says:

      My idea isn’t really connected with anything other than riding my bicycle in the lane on my normal rides. I’d like to do Critical Mass, but it’s not a normal ride for me … should give it a try, though.

      What PCH needs is ordinary people in broad daylight throughout the day to take the lane, just like cagers do, without organization, dates, times, ride leaders, or police escorts. Just ride in the PCH bike lane as provided by law!

  • Rob says:

    To make it even safer, how about a designated driver to man the support vehicle at the back with hazards flashing.

  • Glenn says:

    Awesome! Yes!! YES!! YES!!

  • I applaud your effort. There seems to be safety in numbers, especially when the totally unavoidable a$$hole in a convertible proves how big an a$$hole he really is.
    I take the lane as often as I can. I avoid the right turn only lanes when I plan to go straight through an intersection, I get on the left turn lane when I make a left turn, etc.
    I am convinced that my bright cycling clothing makes me easy to see. Additionally, my size (ok I’m fat) makes people think of the damage I can do to their precious little car, so they avoid me.
    I have to admit, though, that the bravery to take the lane, even with seventeen other riders, is a little too much for me. I keep thinking that with my luck the angry motorcyclist will wipe me/us out, or worse yet, a psycho, hung over, pissed off, distracted due to texting, or simply because he/she is having a bad day will mow us down. I’ll stay away from that busy stretch of PCH for the foreseeable future.
    More power to you, and please, please stay safe!

  • Quiche says:

    Way to go, Wanker! Today, in San Diego, we rode from La Jolla to the lighthouse on Cabrillo, through Pt. Loma, downtown, Hillcrest, Mission Valley and back to La Jolla, and many times we took the lane. The word is spreading.

  • Dan K says:

    I was chatting about taking the lane on the way back from Mandeville today. I honestly think it’s safer to ride on the road and control the lane then to be anywhere else.

    The closest pass we had was on VDM near the youth center we drifted into the right turn lane out of habit. Other than the two of us had a wide berth as we rode side by side in the right lane.

    Be an expected part of the road traffic. Separate but equal is not a solution.

  • Patrick says:

    ‘Taking the Lane’ is about safety, or ‘being seen’ as I understand it. That’s great. Share the road and be seen. Who can argue with that?

    It’s the perfect setup for my longstanding rant against our tribe.

    I don’t have the vocabulary to describe cycling fashion anything other than moronic. When the Ralpha drop down color selections display jerseys that are charcoal with a vertical white stripe, or all black tops that would be perfect camouflage if the rider were hunting cars, it became clear to me this sport has an element of fashion that works against us.

    All black frames, black helmets….whatever looks the most like asphalt is the fashion.

    Speaking as a runner that couldn’t give a shit about the shirt I sweat in so long as it’s seen, cycling attire is really fucked up.

    Love the sport and will ride until I die. But please for your children, spouse, parents, and the others who love you…and the distracted driver that won’t be able to cope with taking a life….put on the loudest jersey combo you can find. More often than not, drivers run us over because they don’t see us. Don’t be a victim of fashion.

    • fsethd says:

      Red light all the time.

    • Esther Lumsdon says:

      I live on the east coast, and the only black biking clothing I wear is shorts. My new bike is black, but there were no color choices. I have 3 red blinkies on it. When the weather is cool enough, my yellow helmet cover makes my white helmet more visible.

      I take the lane often. I applaud you taking the lane on PCH. I won’t be riding with you unless I can rent motor assist on the west coast, because I am way slower than your group.

  • Dave Holland says:

    Good job, I hope you are starting a trend. These group rides are the most visible/noticed cyclists on the road/gutter. If they don’t start using the roadway properly we are all in danger of loosing it by being relegated to Greenaways and sidepaths.

  • steven says:

    Wanker,

    Bravo! Bummed I could not be out there with you for the pilgrimage. 100 miles each way, excuse, excuse…

    Last time I rode PCH was at the end of some brevet. In the darkness, sporting three or five taillights, two headlights, reflective everything on the bike and person, with an overcoat of raw terror.

    The whole time, thinking of the friends who have died and been clobbered on their bikes. And my own history with car collisions.

    NEVER AGAIN, I said. PCH is gorgeous, but too dangerous.

    Hope to be there in two weeks.

    saxman

  • judy says:

    This photo was taken on PCH in Encinitas California. After a cyclist died in this section we worked with the city to educate drivers and cyclists that bike may and should use the full lane by having Sharrows and Bikes May Use Full Lane sign put in. I control the full lane whether I am riding there alone or with others and did so before the new treatment was done. I feel safe before and after but, the drivers are much less obnoxious with the new treatment and change lanes to pass usually without comment. . This treatment has also been done in the next city south in Solana Beach as well. Maybe you could work with your cities to have the Sharrows put in. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200507864931310&set=a.10200507795009562.1073741825.1598342146&type=3&theater

  • Steve says:

    When is the next ride? I’d like to ride PCH with your group. I have no qualms taking the lane, especially PCH with a group. Sound wonderful.

    Steve from Whittier

  • […] Then again, a group of riders recently took the lane on PCH instead of hugging the shoulder. And declared it the best bike lane in the world. […]

  • Gary Cziko says:

    Here is a very boring 32-minute video of the rear view of the “Control the Lane” Pacific Coast Highway ride led by Seth that took place last Sunday.

    The most exciting part is the motorcyclist who beeps at us at 12:23 (you can skip to the highlights by clicking the time stamps in the comments).

    Of course, in this context a boring video is an indication of a safe, enjoyable ride in which cyclists can chat easily and enjoy the scenery.

    The video also shows what a cyclist would see with a rear-view mirror. When controlling the lane like this on a road with a fair amount of fast motor traffic, it is re-assuring to see how far back motorists change lanes to pass. A little helmet- or eyeglass-mounted mirror allows the cyclists to see this.

    We were 100% successful in controlling the lane and getting complete lane changes by motorists.

    • David Huntsman says:

      Hi Gary, great footage. Quick question: at about 6′, you warn to keep it at max 2 abreast to stay legal. What is your source for that? Thanks, David

      • judy says:

        There is no law that says you can only ride 2 abreast. If you can fit in the lane and it’s safe you can ride more abreast. Not all Law Enforcement know they law. They ride their motorcycles 3 abreast if they can. The far to the right as practicable law is not in force once the exception exists that the lane is too narrow to share side by side. Then, you control the full lane.. as many abreast as is safe.

      • fsethd says:

        Clogstacles!

    • fsethd says:

      Most awesome part of the ride was when the dude cursed us and honked at us … and he was going in the other direction!

  • David Huntsman says:

    All along, I’ve been thinking “This has been done before”.

    Like deja vu.

    Seeing Gary’s excellent video brought it all back to me.

    In 1984 I lived in WLA, near Sunset Blvd and the 405 Freeway. All my life I had been warned “you don’t ride on Sunset Blvd. Too dangerous.” I had tested that warning a few times as a kid, and decided to abide by it. So I never rode on Sunset. Nobody did. Maybe a long block or so in the Palisades doing Amalfi Loops. But never in the lane, and never for any great length.

    But in 1984 The Olympic teams were in town, housed at the Olympic Village at UCLA.

    Well, nobody told the Olympic cycling teams “you don’t ride on Sunset Blvd. Too dangerous.” And if they were so warned, they probably didn’t care. Looks like any other street, right? They looked at their maps and saw Sunset Blvd was how you got from Westwood to (a) the beach and (b) Hollywood. And for a few weeks, unassuming international and even American cyclists rode Sunset Blvd back and forth, all day long, in twos, threes or groups, in the middle of the right lane, as if it was the most normal thing to do in the world.

    It obviously didn’t catch on.

    • Richard Marubayashi says:

      Thanks for the memories, David! During the 84 Olympics, I was a volunteer at the Olympic Village at USC. I was a driver in the “motor pool”, taking athletes and other VIP’s wherever they wanted to go. Eventually I got assigned as the regular driver for the French road cycling team, since I speak some French.

      In the days before the Olympics opened, I would take them various places to have their workouts, and then drive behind them as they rode. I do recall one of these rides following PCH out of Santa Monica and up around Pacific Palisades. They definitely took the lane, but then again they had me behind them in the van running interference for them. I suppose they would have done it anyway had I not been there.

      In the end, they didn’t win any medals — even the Americans beat them — but it was an experience I treasure. I do think that at least for a while after that, cyclists were more respected on the roads of L.A.

    • fsethd says:

      But it will now.

  • Gary Cziko says:

    I apologize for my error in telling the cyclists that they needed to ride no more than two abreast to be legal. That’s the case in Illinois where I just moved from and most other states.

    For information on state laws concerning cycling, see Dan Gutierrez’s info maps at:

    http://iamtraffic.org/advocacy-focus-areas/equality/u-s-bicycle-laws-by-state/

    There you will learn that there are only six states, including California, that don’t limit cyclists to two abreast or single file.

    • David Huntsman says:

      Thanks Gary. I was concerned about the possibility CHP or the sheriff up Malibu way had told you that. Welcome to California!

  • Love the term “gutter bunnies.” Not so fond of the “cheating on your wife” line.

  • ladyfleur says:

    I’m 100% behind taking the full lane in a large group of riders. When you’re riding in a large group taking the full lane, drivers can see you well in advance and it’s easier to pass a big group once than pass a long stream of individuals anyway.

    I’m also 100% behind taking the lane on narrow city streets with slow-moving traffic. My problem comes with the expectation that solo riders should take the lane on roads where vehicle traffic is >35 mph. At those speeds, a solo rider is hard to see at a distance. I won’t do it except for very short distances when absolutely necessary.

    The solution here is not to expect all riders to suck it up and learn to co-exist with > 35 mph traffic. The solution is to either slow the cars down or give people who don’t want to ride bikes that way a convenient, comfortable alternative.

  • Mike says:

    Nice job, Seth. I hope you have continued success with this.

  • Ward Thompson says:

    And no panic yell, “Car back!”
    I want to join your ride all the way from Red lands.

  • David Huntsman says:

    Six months later, did the center-of-the-lane behavior catch on? Did the ride regress like a poorly maintained headset to its worn in groove on the edge of the road? Somewhere in-between?

    • fsethd says:

      Yes, it has returned to its old gutter habits. G$ was ticketed while leading a group for taking the line. His case will be heard in May. One of the ride leaders most active promoting the new style tore his ACL skiing and no one has stepped up. I rarely ride PCH, but almost always take the lane.

      • judy says:

        There are people that can help with a court case. We have lots of good expert witnesses here in San Diego. I’m sure the same through LABC. . There is not ticket for taking the lane. What actual code were they sited for? If it was CVC21202, not riding far to the right, the exception that applies is except when the lane is substandard width and not wide enough to share which is the case on coast hwy. Especially where there are parked cars. On the 101 in North San Diego, where the road is not wide enough for bike lanes, we now have sharrows in the middle of the lane to educate police, cyclists and motorists to the actual law

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