People of the State of California v. G$

May 29, 2014 § 63 Comments

Last fall a movement began. A handful of riders in the South Bay stopped playing gutter bunny on Pacific Coast Highway and took their rightful place in the lane.

It was like the Prague Spring of 1968, and repressed cyclists, long confined to the detritus of the roadside and the terrorization of buzzing motorists, rode smack in the lane, forcing drivers to slow down and pass them, safely, in the left-hand lane. It caught on.

The justification for selecting the dominant position in the lane was legal and practical. Under California Vehicle Code Sec. 21202, bicycle riders are required to ride as far to the right as practicable unless the width of the lane is such that a bike and car cannot safely share the lane. As everyone who rides PCH knows, the narrow lanes (often less than 11 feet wide) make it lethal to coexist in the same lane with trucks and their tow mirrors, trailers, boats, buses, big-ass SUV’s, and even ordinary passenger cars.

Before long, the South Bay’s biggest, most visible, and most activist racing club, Big Orange, was leading all of its Sunday rides on PCH in the lane. Riders who were initially doubtful about the safety and benefits of riding in the lane rather than cringing in the gutters as they dodged nails, glass, rocks, cracks, garbage cans, and the rear-ends of parked cars, became believers.

At its height Big Orange was towing 70 to 80 riders in an orderly 2×2 formation down the best bike lane in America: the right-hand lane of PCH.

Trouble in paradise

That all came crashing down one Sunday last October when the ride, being led by Greg Leibert, was pulled over by a pair of sheriff’s deputies in a squad car. G$ was cited for violating CVC 21202 — failure to ride as far to the right as practicable.

Discussion was fruitless. When G$ whipped out his handy-dandy copy of the vehicle code, one deputy advised him that “I been writing these tickets for 20 years, I know the law, and you’ll never beat it.”

For this law enforcement duo, the sight of so many riders behaving like cars was too much. Despite the clear language of the law they slapped G$ with a citation.

In one fell swoop this single ticket turned the victorious PCH Sunday riders back into gutter bunnies. All the talk about how it was legal to control the lane was overcome with one traffic ticket. Who wants to go out for a Sunday ride and come home with a fine that runs into the hundreds of dollars?

With the same force of Leonid Brezhnev’s tanks rolling into Prague, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had crushed the cyclist uprising.

LA County Bicycle Coalition to the rescue

But G$ wasn’t going down without a fight, and he had an ally in Eric Bruins, policy director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Eric had been working for months to arrange a meeting with the captain of the Agoura Hills Substation, which has jurisdiction of PCH all the way from Santa Monica to the county line.

When Captain Pat Devoren met with Eric, me, and Dr. Gary Cziko earlier this year, I laid out our chief complaint with riding on PCH: the lane was the only safe place to ride, it was legal for us to be there, and the sheriff’s department was illegally writing citations. After a few minutes, Captain Devoren raised his hand and smiled. “Guys,” he said, “I get it. I’m a bicyclist.”

We all looked at each other in amazement. A bicyclist in charge of law enforcement on PCH? The dogs must be crazy.

We continued the discussion for a while with Captain Devoren –an incredibly polite and professional man — and the sergeants who were also in the meeting. Some skepticism was expressed that riding in the lane was safe, but when we detailed the dangers of riding in the gutter, they agreed. “Anyway,” one of them said, “it’s the law.”

At the end of the meeting Captain Devoren told us that he would inform his deputies regarding the proper interpretation of CVC 21202 and that henceforth cyclists would no longer be cited for failure to ride to the right on those sections of PCH where doing so was unsafe, hazardous, or where the lane could not safely be shared with a car. The three of us walked out of the meeting in a daze. We felt like we hadn’t so much won a battle as gained an ally.

It was too good to be true but … there was still that matter of the ticket.

 L.A. Law

G$ and I showed up in Santa Monica traffic court on Tuesday morning. He had pled “not guilty” and we were going to try his case in front of the judge. Rather than descending into a he-said, she-said confrontation with the officer who wrote the ticket, we came armed to the teeth with two of the finest expert witnesses in the business.

It was the largest display of legal firepower to fight a traffic infraction that the court had seen in a while. Dr. Gary Cziko was going to be our first weapon, beating back the state’s assault on our right to ride in the lane with his unpronounceable last name. The strategy was that by the time the court had figured out how to spell it, then say it properly (Psycho? Seeko? Cheeseko?), they’d be so tired of the case that they’d acquit just to move things along.

If the slavic name stratagem failed, Gary had brought three gigantic exhibits showing the amount of space in lanes of varying width when the lane was shared by a bike and a vehicle. These exhibits would clearly demonstrate how deadly it is when a bike has to be in the lane on PCH with a fast-moving vehicle.

We planned to lay a foundation as to Gary’s expertise in cycling safety by pointing to his three decades as a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, his certification as a cycling instructor by the League of American Wheelemen and Cycling Savvy, and the scruffy patch of unshaved facial hair he’d missed in his morning shave.

We would further cement his qualifications as a cyclist to opine on the safety of the lane where G$ was ticketed by pointing out the bike helmet he brought into the courtroom, his giant commuter backpack, the strap around his ankle to keep his slacks out of the chain, and if necessary we’d take the judge out to the front of the courthouse where he could see Gary’s commuter rig chained to the flagpole, a misdemeanor. (Kidding. Gary would never chain his bike to a flagpole.)

After putting on the killer testimony of our hired gun Dr. Cziko, we planned to storm the battlements with the erudite and nattily-dressed Eric Bruins. Eric would testify regarding safe lane widths, standard lane width determinations under a variety of federal design regulations, and would further opine that the point at which G$ was ticketed could not have been safely occupied by a bike and a vehicle, and therefore G$’s decision to control the center of the lane was legal and defensible and the safest possible option.

After stabbing the twitching carcass of the police state with these sharpened harpoons, we planned to save the final bludgeoning to the head for last. We would put G$ himself on the stand.

In preparation for his testimony, our hero had shaved, brushed his teeth, bathed, put on deodorant, whacked the four inches of dust off his blazer with a carpet beater, and taken a 2-hour YouTube course on “How to Tie a Necktie without Strangling Yourself.” He was clean and buffed, his hair was combed, and he had even decided to wait until after the trial before re-dying his hair with his signature electric orange coiffe.

I had spent the previous six months preparing for this momentous trial, which I knew would be the defining moment of my career. I’d carefully analyzed every detail of the seminal CVC 21202 Supreme Court case, Pooky v. Festersore. In Pooky, cyclist Blood E. Festersore had been cited for “running” a red light. The arresting officer, Fluffer Pooky, had cited him for conspiracy to overthrow the government and Festersore received a life sentence.

In its landmark decision, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for a unanimous court said this: “Guns. Benghazi. Obamacare is for commies.”

Victory for the little people

As the court came to order, Judge Kahn looked up. “The following cases are dismissed due to the citing officer’s failure to appear for court today. Case No. 292811, Greg Leibert.”

We threw our hands up in the air and began hugging. G$ broke down into uncontrollable sobs, relieved at the thought that he wouldn’t have to pay the $221 fine, and would only have to pay $4,000 for my legal services and $15,000 in expert witness fees.

Camera crews from CBS, NBC, and Pornhub.com captured every moment of the victory celebration, and the other people in court, although they would have clapped, instead cursed and threw cigarette butts at us for being lucky enough not to have to go to trial. After interviews with major news media, we went over to a coffee shop to debrief.

Everyone was amazed at the withering cross examination I would have unleashed, and we thanked Eric and Gary for the devastating expert testimony that they would have used to crush the state’s case. The credibility and forcefulness of the testimony that G$ would have given was so brilliant that we clapped him on the back for how great he would have been and how amazing we would have felt listening to him.

Of course the true import of Greg’s case is that as a result of our discussion with Captain Devoren, the Sheriff’s Department appears to have accepted that controlling the lane on PCH is in fact legal, and CVC 21202 citations will not be issued for riders who safely and legally occupy the full lane. Let’s hope that riders will begin to take advantage of this new development, and get back to the joyful days of last fall, when we could, with nary a care in the world, cruise the best bike lane in America.

Victory for the people!

Victory for the people!

END

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§ 63 Responses to People of the State of California v. G$

  • Tom Paterson says:

    It always starts at the top (moral of the story).
    Moral of the Story, Part Deux: Get a good lobbyist.

  • Chris says:

    Damn, I’m bummed the case was dismissed. I hated for this great story to end! But Happy Endings are good!
    Thanks!

  • David Huntsman says:

    One more time, “oh hell yeah”.

  • Wild Bill 6949 says:

    It’s too bad this case didn’t get a decision. I’m happy for Greg not paying a fine and all, but it would’ve been even better for a legal precedent to be set. It would then have broader implications for cyclists on California’s roads other than the just the PCH in Santa Monica…..

  • Jeff Cozad says:

    All Hail The Mighty Wank Meister!

  • I’m free!!!!
    FYI…I never even brushed my teeth!!!!

  • Peter says:

    Nice job counselor. Well, it would have been a nice job if you had actually had to argue in front of the judge, but I know you would have won the case no matter what.

  • Bearclaw says:

    Awesome recap. Thank you Wanky, Greg, Eric and Gary. We will be taking the lane on Sunday! Oh yeah, nice suits

  • Way to stick it to the man, man!

    • fsethd says:

      The man helped out quite a bit. I think there’s been a change in enforcement at the top level of the Agoura Hills substation, which has jurisdiction over PCH. Very good to have an ally in law enforcement rather than an adversary.

  • christian tregillis says:

    typo police caught you on a code 8675309 (typing PHC when you meant PCH).

    trial exhibit 1:

    “We all looked at each other in amazement. A bicyclist in charge of law enforcement on PHC? The dogs must be crazy.”

  • Tomato says:

    I was hoping for some riveting courtroom drama, ala Matlock..

    • fsethd says:

      Did I leave out the part where I cross-examined the sexy witness who admitted to perjuring herself in my bed? I mean, on the stand?

  • Worldchamp says:

    Yay! Thanks for getting PCH back for us!

    And it sort of looks, from the picture, like you forgot to shave a patch also that day. :)

  • spinner says:

    WOW! How about traveling out here to the old Midwest and helping us out?

    Many the time I have explained to irate motorists and cops WHY I AM NOT RIDING ON THE OUTSIDE WHITE LINE or on the road’s shoulder: trash, glass…etc as detailed in the above story. They ALWAYS say, upon hearing my well presented reasons for violating “the rules”: “Gosh, I didn’t think of that…..”

    Great writing once again, old man.

  • Admin says:

    Great job almost! Way to go guys!

  • sibex9591 says:

    Judging by the three young ones in the pic above, I guess we can now attach a face to a name. Congratulations on your victory. We will expand on this out here in the east.

  • Stefanovih says:

    same happened to me, I was turning left at a red light, o’dark:30 empty intersection; made sitting there kinda dangerous – motorcycle cop sprung outta the bushes. Went to court twice: once to plea, next time for trial. Cop didn’t show….happy-days!

    The second time was sprunting through a STOP sign in RSF on the swami’s sat ride – I was advised to TWD, you pay your money up-front, 2 weeks later a letter shows up saying the verdict was GUILTY!! My advice: NEVER TWD – always show up for your cycling infractions. The reason: a cop who busts a guy in spandex sitting in a courtroom among his peers who are locking-up drug dealers and pedophiles equals extra towel snapping in the showers….

  • Wily says:

    Chapeau!

  • Gary Cziko says:

    Having been there, I can vouch that everything Seth writes here is true, except for the parts he made up, including that my last name is Slavic (in fact, it’s Hungarian which is not only not Slavic, it’s not even Indo-European) which Slavic people may find highly insulting.

    I am truly honored to have been a part of this pivotal dismissed case. And to have learned that expert witnesses can earn more than attorneys (I no longer regret not having attended law school).

    • fsethd says:

      Really appreciate your help, Gary. I called you Slavic as a cover for our next big case, when we’ll spring the Hungarian thing on them at the very end.

      You’re a great advocate. Thanks again.

  • pvannuys says:

    “Bike advocates” differ from “bicyclist advocates,” and often forget that two of the 5 Es they like to taut are Education and Enforcement. And education of enforcement is the highest service a Bicyclist Advocate can perform. Thank you, Seth.

    • fsethd says:

      You’re welcome, Pete. 99% of the little I know about bike advocacy comes from CABO. I really appreciate what you guys do, and even more your vigorous debate. The clashes on CABO are a great example of how open, well-defended arguments lead to action. John Forester and Neal Henderson’s clashes have really moved the ball forward, and without the guidance and tutelage of Dan Gutierrez and Bob Shanteau I would still be cowering in the gutter.

    • Stacy Kline says:

      Hear, hear Pete re: “educating enforcement”. Great job Seth, G$, Eric and Gary (do we get to call you “Psycho” now?) for fighting to keep our right to use the road like any other darn (this is the internet, so no swearing) vehicle…on the PCH at least. The last time we led a rando train through Huntington Beach on PCH, taking the lane, a very seasoned friend told me it was the best time he’d ever had cycling. Keep up the great work!

  • jorgensen says:

    Of course, there goes any possibility of case law.

    • fsethd says:

      The “case law” would only happen if we had lost and then gone through the appeal process and then won on appeal. This is lengthy (who’s paying Greg/Gary/Eric from time away from work), and racks up expensive legal fees. Then there’s the risk that you lose, and the case law you make is bad case law. Better to win-win through cooperation between riders and law enforcement. There’s an inverse correlation with the number of lawyers on an issue and the happiness of those involved in the matter at hand …

  • DangerStu says:

    Nice!

  • Gary Cziko says:

    Concerning the expert witnessizing that I didn’t get to do, here is the exhibit I would have shown if the case had not been dismissed, I had been allowed to testify, and I had brought with me a more appropriate exhibit to the courtroom than the ones I had with me.
    [https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-Gu4I2V0ZScYkZNVGQ4S3pkaFU/edit?usp=sharing]

    I can generate similar diagrams as needed to defend cyclists against similar tickets for controlling the lane. I can vary lane widths and vehicle sizes as appropriate to demonstrate that normal travel lanes are not wide enough for a cyclist to share safely side by side with motor vehicles (actually so could anyone, using the interactive graphics created by Keri Caffrey and available at [http://iamtraffic.org/resources/interactive-graphics/], but then I wouldn’t be able to justify my $7,500 expert witness fee!).

  • Doctor says:

    This is horrible, is like a BBC series – 45 minutes to set up the conflict followed by 90 minutes of tension and then a sonic screwdriver ruins the climax.

    Looking forward to the next episode. :-)

  • […] After a cyclist on a group ride is illegally ticketed by LA County Sheriff’s Deputies for the unforgivable crime of riding abreast in an unsharable traffic lane on PCH, Cycling in the South Bay teams with the LACBC’s Eric Bruins to win the right riders should have already had. […]

  • […] Read the entire story at People of the State of California v Greg Leibert. […]

  • […] Cyclists Take the Lane on PCH, Fight Ticket, and Win (Cycling in the South Bay) […]

  • John McNary says:

    I’ve been on Pornhub all morning and can’t find this case.

  • Allan says:

    I failed to figure out where the ticketing was actually handed to our heroes! I know it states on PCH and I’m betting it was between Santa Monica and Malibu. Is there anyway you can give a better location and direction of travel?

    Also, this isn’t some spam or something, but I’d like to recommend a great rear light for daytime riding solo. I really like my Cygolite for this occasion. This gives a little more confidence in establishing lane occupation. It’s a 2 watt light that charges on a USB port. And yes it is blinding at night, so be a bit courteous in group rides and turn off the flashing.

    • fsethd says:

      It was just after Las Flores, southbound on PCH.

      I use a Serfas, also a good daytime/nighttime tail light.

      Thanks.

  • BILL SIX says:

    THANKS FOR YOUR HELP—————–BILL 6

  • The Ood Duck says:

    I don’t mean to rain on anyone parade but here is the weak side of California Vehicle Code Sec. 21202 I have a adult three wheeler that cruises at seven miles per hour and following the interpretation of that particular merits of the case I can use the center of the lane if I felt being endangered by the edges. I wonder how you feel if you had your family in the car and had to fallow me at 7mph. The thing to remember its in Officers Judgment if you are traveling safety or if your vehicle is in a safe condition. With all the laws that are out there and judges next time maybe you might not be so fortunate, as there is impeding the flow of traffic. Legislators on a slow year or getting heat can come up with some very creative laws for bicycles. Having be in this back in 70’s on a motorcycle you should bear this in mind.

    • fsethd says:

      I would wait until it was safe to pass you, then I would do so. Bicycles belong in the road. I have to slow down for stopped vehicles, objects, bad drivers all the time. And I’d wave.

  • Allan says:

    I’d say keep riding in the right lane. Especially riding in a group. The popo is going to have a REALLY hard time arguing that the group is inhibiting faster traffic when there’s a lane open on the left. He would have a point if there’s one or two riders and there’s a badly managed shoulder.

  • kh says:

    Congratulations counsellor!

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