Taking control of PCH in Orange County

July 18, 2014 § 8 Comments

The work that has been done in Los Angeles County to bring attention to cycling and lane control on Pacific Coast Highway is already paying dividends. Thanks to the efforts of LA County Bicycle Coalition, local activists, and most importantly to the cyclists who are taking the initiative to utilize lane control techniques while riding on PCH, others in Southern California who face the same issues as we do are taking matters into their own legs.

David Huntsman, a friend, fellow lawyer, and board member of the Orange County Bicycle Coalition, has been following our experiences on PCH in Los Angeles. The reason is simple: Laguna Beach in Orange County has an even worse problem with motorists on PCH than we do here in Los Angeles (although we do have Cher, which makes our stretch of PCH aesthetically much less appealing).

On June 17, slightly more than a month ago, John Colvin was riding his bike on PCH in Laguna Beach in the gutter while training for his first Iron Man. John’s edge-riding position is the default one for cyclists in Orange County along this stretch of PCH, just like it is in Los Angeles. A 19-year-old local resident struck John and killed him. Then, after casually killing John, the teenager drove along for another mile before deciding to stop and notify law enforcement. His car was badly damaged and the windshield smashed in; perhaps if the damage to his Prius had been less the driver wouldn’t have even stopped.

Since he was very distraught at having killed someone, and since he was a local OC boy, law enforcement asked him a few questions, then released him and sent him home to his mother. No charges have been filed, and no explanation has been given for why he hit-and-ran or for why he was driving on the shoulder.

Debra Deem was killed last August, also on PCH, by a cager who “didn’t see her.” This is a valid excuse in Orange County and most other parts of the U.S. for killing cyclists. Like Colvin, Debra was riding on the edge of the road; this stretch of PCH has no bike lane or other infrastructure to accommodate cyclists even though it is heavily used by bicycle riders. The plain fact is that cyclists on this part of PCH who occupy the edge or who are on the shoulder are much less visible than riders who are legally controlling the lane, especially given the dangerous design of the roadway, which makes zero accommodations for cyclists.

Orange County riders commemorate the lives of John and Debra by taking the lane

This Sunday, July 20 at 8:00 AM, the OC Bicycle Coalition will commemorate the lives of Debra and John through a short ride on PCH. Riders will be using full lane control techniques along this stretch of Pacific Coast Highway. The 5.1 route is as follows:

–Heisler Park to Newport Coast Villas
–R Cliff to PCH  0.3 miles
–L PCH to Newport Coast for 4.4 miles
–R Newport Coast to Pelican Hill Road So 0.4 miles
–R on Pelican Hill Road So (aka Tuscany)
–Regroup, and then turn back or continue with a regular Sunday ride

Some riders will go all the way over to Newport Coast; some plan to take mountain bikes high above Laguna to get back; some will head on to do their regular Sunday triathlon training; some will enjoy the trails in the State Park before completing the the ride back into Laguna on PCH.

OC Bicycle Coalition considered and rejected the idea of a traditional memorial ride with police escorts. “It sends the wrong message,” said my buddy Dave. That message, of course, is that bikes don’t belong on PCH except for special occasions and when accompanied by the police. The real message that cagers need to hear is that bikes belong in the lane, that they belong on PCH, that John and Debra’s lives were needlessly lost, and that we refuse to passively ride by as motorists kill us at will.

Riders will not be riding on the edge or in the gutter during this ride, but will be exercising their legal right to control the lane pursuant to CVC 21202. The families of John and Debra want the ride to help make motorists on this deadly stretch of road keenly aware that cyclists have the right to be in the lane; they also want cyclists like John and Debra to know that they are safer in the lane on this stretch of PCH than they are when hunkered down in the gutter.

By forcing motorists to see us by forcing them to change lanes to pass us, and by forcing them to take note our position squarely in the lane, the families of Debra and John support this ride not simply as a memorial to needlessly lost lives, but as a positive agent for permanent change.

So … how can you help?

  1. When you’re on your bike, ride in the lane, and know CVC 21202 by heart, because you may well get a ticket. (If you do, let me know and I will try to arrange a pro bono defense of your ticket.)
  2. Join the ride for John and Debra on Sunday.
  3. Join the OC Bicycle Coalition and the LA County Bicycle Coalition.
  4. Subscribe to this blog: Your monthly $2.99 donation will be used to promote activities that help secure the right of cyclists to legally ride on California roads, and to provide legal defense for cyclists who are illegally ticketed by law enforcement.
  5. Follow the best cycling blog in Los Angeles, if not the world, “Biking in L.A.
  6. Send an email to fsethd@gmail.com to be put on my Activist List. I’ll notify you of upcoming protest rides, letter writing campaigns, and general thorn-in-the-eye activities designed to keep us where we belong: Alive.

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