Shoot the messengers, but ride with them first

August 29, 2014 § 13 Comments

This is gonna be short. (That’s what he said.)

On Wednesday, September 3, the LA County Bicycle Coalition is rolling out from the crash site on Mulholland to hand deliver a letter urging the Los Angeles County District Attorney to revisit the decision by assistant D.A. Rosa Alarcon not to file charges against Deputy Andrew Wood for killing cyclist Milton Olin, and to consider prosecuting him for vehicular manslaughter.

I hope you’ll join us for some or all of the route, which is:

  • 4:00 p.m. Meet at crash site (around 22532 Mulholland Hwy, Calabasas, CA 91302)
  • 4:15 p.m. Moment of silence
  • 4:30 p.m. Start ride
  • 6:30 p.m. Leave from the L.A. Zoo parking lot (5333 Zoo Dr, Griffith Park, CA 90027). Other riders can meet up here.
  • 7:30-8:00 p.m. Arrive at District Attorney’s office (210 W Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012)
  • 8:00 p.m. Candlelight vigil

See more information on the LACBC website: la-bike.org/milt-olin

It will be a slow pace, no-drop ride.

This is a great way to get off the Internet and venture out into the “meatspace,” where real shit happens. Let’s all take a stand for Milton Olin and the other bicyclists who have been killed because some cager decided that texting was more important than watching the road.

This one’s for Milton.

END

P.S.: While you’re at it, you can sign this petition demanding that the District Attorney file charges.

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License to kill

August 28, 2014 § 65 Comments

Welcome to America, kids, where justice is for those who wear a badge. Everyone else, your life isn’t worth squat.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney just released its report on the death of Milton Olin, Jr., who was killed by L.A. Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood. Olin was riding his bike in a bike lane on Mulholland Drive when Deputy Wood, instead of following the curve of the road, drove straight into the bike lane and spattered Olin all over the pavement.

Deputy Wood was typing a message into his mobile digital computer at the time, responding to a non-emergency query from a fellow officer. Prior to the accident, a witness following Deputy Wood had noticed Olin in the bike lane. After killing Olin, Deputy Wood stated that he never saw Olin and didn’t even remember what he was doing prior to killing him.

With no one to contradict him, Deputy Wood then offered up the explanation that Olin had swerved into his travel lane, claiming that Olin “appeared” to have driven in front of the patrol car. Dead men don’t testify, and neither did Olin.

Deputy Wood, however, had been actively texting up until the time he hit Olin, so it’s no surprise he “didn’t see” him.  With nine text messages to and from his wife, beginning at 12:51 PM, the final text message sent by Wood at 1:04 was just before the moment of impact, 1:05. Neither Verizon nor Deputy Wood’s computer record seconds.

If you or I had been texting at the moment we mowed down a cop, we’d be sitting in jail right now awaiting trial on felony charges for second degree murder. Deputy Wood, however, faced no such danger. The district attorney investigated this as misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, but Wood needn’t have worried.

The prosecutor declined to believe the text records showing he was texting at the moment of impact, and instead accepted Wood’s claim that at the time of impact he was typing on his mobile cop computer. This of course shouldn’t absolve Wood from looking at the road, since it was a non-emergent, routine response to another officer asking if he’d finished his earlier run.

Ignoring the fact that one of the witnesses saw Olin, ignoring the fact that Wood was going 3 mph over the speed limit, ignoring the fact that he was texting non-stop leading up to the accident, ignoring the fact that Wood was not responding an emergency, ignoring the gentle curvature of the road, and ignoring the fact that Woods’s claim of Olin “driving in front of him” was self-serving and not in keeping with the road or the experience of the rider, the district attorney declined to file charges. Click here to see the putrid whitewash of a report penned by Assistant D.A. Rosa Alarcon.

Deputy Wood can breathe a sigh of relief while Olin’s family picks up the shattered remnants of their lives. The rest of us should also get the message: Your life is worthless if it’s taken by a cop.

Is this how people feel in Ferguson?

I’m guessing it is.

And really the only question is, “Are we going to take it?”

END

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People over money

August 26, 2014 § 28 Comments

Matthew O’Neill was an extraordinary man living an extraordinary life when he met his death in the most pedestrian of ways. A 16-year-old driving a pickup and hauling a horse trailer struck Matthew from behind, killing him instantly. The driver, son of local politico Abel Maldonado, may have been breaking the law at the time. He was carrying an 18-year-old passenger, even though state law forbids youth drivers to have such passengers unless an adult driver, minimum age 25, is also in the car. For his part, Matthew’s reflectors and lights made him “lit up like a Christmas tree.”

In addition to being one tough guy on a bike — Matthew was riding a 1,200-km randonneuring event at the time he was killed — he was a force for good in the world. Whether advocating for the handicapped in Los Angeles, or advocating as a Ph. D. student working on his degree in special education, or simply mentoring riders who were trying to finish their first 1,000-km “rando,” Matthew lived his life in the service of others.

For his fiancee Jennie Passwater, his parents, his fellow students and teachers at the Gevirtz Graduate School of education, and his cycling buddies, the trade was horrific: The convenience of some careless punk in a pick-up in exchange for the life man who bent his back to make the world a better place. No amount of rational thought will ever make sense of it.

The things that we’ve all become accustomed to as we seek to find a word less frayed and tattered than “tragedy,” are all here. There is a memorial ride on September 7; a memorial service is being planned by the graduate school; and there’s a memorial Twitter account to which you can donate money.

These are all important ways to express your support for his friends and family. But the most important thing you can do is also the hardest: Be a person with a voice.

Here’s what I mean.

Matthew’s parents, his fiancee, his friend Stacey Kline, and some of his rando buddies have decided to use this awful occurrence as an opportunity to do what Matthew would have done: Educate people. And what they need to be educated about is the 3-foot passing law that goes into effect on September 16, 2014, CVC 21760. Had Matthew’s killer given himself adequate room to pass, Matthew would be alive today.

When we think about help and advocacy, especially political change, we think about asking for and making donations. Money is the way we’re taught to express our desire for change. I’ve donated money to all kinds of causes, and have solicited on behalf of others and on behalf of my own pet projects. And while money is important, at best it’s second best.

Why?

Because people are more powerful than dollars. That’s why a thousand angry letters to a congressman means more than $10,000 from a lobbyist. It’s why the political system whispers in your ear that your vote doesn’t matter, your voice doesn’t matter, your pen doesn’t matter — all that matters is money, and you don’t have enough of it.

This message of counter-democracy is a lie. One person calling, or writing, or showing up to talk in person is worth a thousand dollars in advertising, or more. Matthew made change in the world as one person, as a person with a voice. He helped people not with donations but with his voice, his mind, his spirit, and his time. He reached out, and there’s reason that “reach out” is such a powerful metaphor: It is a human hand holding another, it is the essence of giving, it is the soul of humanity.

The times that I have seen change happen, it has happened because people dropped what they were doing and went out and made themselves heard. Whether it was Greg Seyranian and Gary Cziko and Ron Peterson riding two-by-two on PCH, or Ralph Abernathy refusing to be silenced, change is at its most powerful when people speak their voice to those who are, by law, paid to listen to it.

Change happens on a personal level too, when you take the time to tell people what you think. In this case, California has a new 3-foot passing law that many cyclists don’t know about, and hardly any drivers are aware of in a state where cagers and the other minions of motordom regularly shout at cyclists to “Ride on the sidewalk!”

Your voice matters, just like Matthew’s did. His friends and family are committed to getting the word out about the 3-foot law, even if it’s one person at a time. You can talk about it with a friend, a co-worker, or another rider. Every voice counts, every person you make aware is a potential saved life. People over money.

Why “cyclists” make the worst advocates

August 8, 2014 § 20 Comments

Have you ever noticed that for the most part, good bicycling advocates are hardly ever “cyclists”? By “cyclist” I mean:

  • Wannabe racer
  • Racer
  • Anyone who owns more than $5k worth of bike

The people who show up at town hall meetings, city council meetings, and transportation committee meetings are almost always slow, hairy-legged, wall-eyed bicycle riders who stumble up to the lectern with one pant leg still rolled up.

They are so uncool.

The cool people “ain’t got time for that.” They race. They train. They sprunt. They fall of their bicycles and file police reports. They send in entry fee reimbursement requests to their team boss, the timely receipt of which will determine whether they can pay the rent. But they sure as hell don’t drag ass downtown to make a 7:00 PM meeting so they can add their comments to Subsection 2-15(a) of the amendment of the municipal city plan that addresses bicycle infrastructure.

Nope. The people who take the time and make the effort are the one-leg-rolled-up wankers who get shelled on the first lap of the Tuesday Night World Championships. Worse, they’re often technical people, like engineers, who actually study traffic patterns, who have experience in roadway design, and (the real whackos) who spend their free time analyzing detailed planning reports.

And of course, it’s thanks to them that the rules get changed, that laws get passed, that the rights of bicyclists are addressed by our non-cycling elected officials.

It would be a cliché if it didn’t hurt so bad: The most numerous people who show up at public planning meetings are the rabid, SUV-driving, bike-hating crazies who shout the loudest, while the isolated bike advocate, smelling of a long commute, stares down the mindless cager mob with facts, statistics, and the bloody, penetrating lance of reason.

Fortunately, the Bike Plan Team in charge of the Regional Bicycle Master Plan for the Las Virgenes-Malibu regions has set up the equivalent of a cyclist roach motel in order to snare the wary and cunning “cyclists” into doing something positive for the greater riding community. The Bike Plan Team will be hanging out this coming Sunday at Malibu Country Mart from 8:30 AM to 12:00 noon. They’ll be there so that all of the “cyclists” rolling up and down PCH can engage in the equivalent of Internet activism. All you have to do when you roll through Malibu is stop for a minute and give your thoughts about making the Las Virgenes-Malibu region safer and more comfortable for bicycling.

When you stop by the Bike Plan tent to speak with team members you can complete a short bicycle survey and grab free bicycle-related swag. This approach recognizes that cyclists just want to ride, and generally don’t want to attend evening meetings (except for Brad House and David Kramer). It also lets you (yes, YOU) add your voice to a plan whose goal is to make the PCH corridor and region a more enjoyable and safer place to bike. Hint: Advocate for our and YOUR right to control the full right-hand lane on PCH.

Another thing you can do when you roll through is to tell them that you want — NOW — sharrow lane markings and “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs on Pacific Coast Highway.

Of course, many “cyclists” are too busy to even do that because, Strava. There are KOM’s to chase, pace lines to keep up with, and training databases to populate with VAM’s, w/kg’s, and what you had for breakfast. But the Bike Plan Team is ready for you. You don’t even have to stop; you can fill out an online survey to help create a plan that reflects your needs, wishes, and dystopian fantasies, most of which likely involve Cher on a 400-mile gravel grinder somewhere east of Bakersfield. Take the survey by going to this page and clicking on the survey link. No matter how lazy you are, and if you’re a bike racer you’re plenty lazy, you can’t possibly be too lazy to do this.

I would absolutely be there in person for the event except, you know, I have to race on Sunday.

END

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Win a chance to see Brooke Shields

August 1, 2014 § 26 Comments

This will only excite men over fifty, but last year Brooke made an appearance at the Brentwood Grand Prix. She walked around and chatted with folks, and even took in some of the racing.

This year, the race offers something even more exciting than the chance to mingle with former child stars: the Expo Ride. Roaring into the 19th Century full speed ahead, the Los Angeles metro is expanding its train stops so that you will one day be able to go up and down the west side without having to sit on the freeway or ride a bus. It’s a revolutionary and radical concept, and one day other major cities such as New York, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, and Beijing may one day follow suit. Visionaries even predict that one day the train will go from downtown to the airport.

While we’re waiting for those backwater capital cities get with the program, however, Los Angeles will be building ten new rail stops on the west side of the city, and you can sign up for the August 3 Expo Ride to take a bike tour of the planned train route. The 11-mile, leisurely paced tour starts at 9:30 AM and will show you how the new stops can be integrated with bike travel to make your west side transportation seamless and coordinated with your bicycle.

I often cringe at encouraging people to enter bike races, any bike race. This isn’t because I dislike races, it’s because sending someone off to a bike race feels like sending them off to the Battle of the Somme. But … if you’re going to do a bike race … and dog knows why you would want to … Brentwood Grand Prix is a good one.

It’s well organized, it has great prize money that most of us will never win, it’s in a fantastic location, it’s on a challenging course, and this year it’s also raising money for the Melanoma Research Alliance and for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition through the Expo Ride.

There are a couple of simple reasons to support these two organizations. The first is that MRA actually raises and donates money to research on melanoma. This is the disease that sneaked up on and almost killed west side legend Stuart Press. In a perfect world, the government would spend our tax dollars on melanoma research instead of spending $1 trillion on military aircraft that don’t work, but that’s a different rant.

LA County Bicycle Coalition is the strongest, most committed bike advocacy group in our area, and one of the best in the nation. It helps pass legislation. It helps get infrastructure implemented. It defends the legal right of cyclists to ride in the lane. It has educational programs for law enforcement and for schools. And it works to solve problems through dialogue and mediation rather than ideological broadsides. Plus, Eric Bruins is my good friend.

Some things are worth doing. The Expo Ride at Brentwood Grand Prix is one of them.

A stand-up cop

July 31, 2014 § 40 Comments

When Laura Weintraub posted her inane video, insinuating that hitting cyclists in your car was not only good, but something that everyone secretly wants to do, the shit hit the Internet. She is now in hiding, having received death threats and having been told that she would be decapitated. She has also been booted off the Santa Paula police force, where she served for three years in the records department as a reserve officer.

She will never work in law enforcement again.

Moral of the story: The Internet’s a bitch, yo.

But as with every story, there’s a back story as well. When Chief Steve McLean offered to talk with anyone who had concerns about Ms. Weintraub’s “embarrassing” video, I took him up on the offer. Expecting voicemail, I was surprised to speak with the chief himself. “You pick the day and time, and I’ll clear my calendar for you,” he said.

So last Friday, Eric Bruins of LA County Bicycle Coalition, Nina Moskol of the Santa Clarita Valley Bicycle Coalition, Randi Zabriskie of Yield to Life, her husband David, and I met with Chief McLean in Santa Paula to figure out what had happened and how we could make some lemonade. Quickly.

What became clear after only a few minutes is the following:

  1. Chief McLean took responsibility for his employee, even though Ms. Weintraub made it off the clock, as a civilian, in a different city, in a different county, and never affiliated herself or the video with the police department.
  2. Administrative action was immediately taken against Ms. Weintraub. She was put on leave, then terminated from the force. This all happened in less than 72 hours.
  3. Despite the fact that none of Ms. Weintraub’s actions had any affiliation with the department, the city and the police department felt the full wrath of the bicycling community.

Many people might be fine with that last part. I’m not, because it turns out that Santa Paula is hardly the bike-hating, cyclist-murdering place that Ms. Weintraub’s actions have wrongly made it out to be. The city has hosted the Amgen Tour of California three times. The city has implemented a $4.2 million bike trail, part of a rails-to-trails project that will ultimately connect Piru to Fillmore to Santa Paula to Ventura to the sea. Santa Paula is the first city in the project to complete its segment of the trail.

Santa Paula has recently completed the design phase for a Class II bike lane from Harvard Boulevard to Santa Paula Street. This $650,000, grant-funded project soon moves into the implementation phase. Additional planned projects will connect the bike lane to the rails-to-trails corridor.

The city is more than committed to the recreational and transportation side of cycling. It has three full-time bike officers, an impressive number for a city that only has 28 police officers total. An annual bike fair and bike rodeo have taken place in the city for years, and, what’s a revealing statistic for cyclists accustomed to getting harassed by law enforcement, there hasn’t been a single traffic citation written for a cyclist in the past year.

Tack on the fact that Santa Paula is a key part of the popular cycling corridor that goes to Ojai and Lake Casitas, and it’s no exaggeration to say that with regard to Ms. Weintraub’s actions, the city and its police department have gotten a bum rap. Unlike Calabasas, the city where Ms. Weintraub lives and shot the video, a city that is one of the wealthiest enclaves in California and the home to numerous celebrities and movie stars, Santa Paula is a gritty small town with significant social problems.

The biggest one is crime. The city has suffered from a plague of violent crime — nine murders last year alone — after the city council reduced the size of the police force. As LA-area gangs and drug runners have moved in, the city hired Chief McLean to deal with the problem. He reduced violent crime by 40% in his first year alone, this in a city where many of the families have one parent in jail, and where many others are headed by a single parent or by two parents who both work full time. With a shoestring budget, the police department and the community have done much in terms of outreach to bicycle riders.

Nonetheless, every city can improve when it comes to bike-car-community relations. Chief McLean took the meeting by the horns and worked with us to develop the following three proposals:

  1. Bring in a bicycle education course from LA County Bicycle Coalition, to be delivered to the city’s bicycle cops.
  2. Use the bicycle officers to perform outreach and education to the broader community at the annual bike expo and other venues.
  3. Designate two school resource officers to teach bicycle safety at the elementary and middle school level in Santa Paula.

We also discussed a wide-ranging series of possibilities for furthering bike-community-motorist awareness, not limited to an education and registration program modeled after the LA Sheriff’s Department program that Chief McLean spearheaded when he was captain at the Alta Dena Substation. What was clear was that increased coordination and cooperation with Santa Clarita Valley BC, LA County BC, and Yield to Life were all things that the department was more than willing to commit to.

What was also clear is that Chief McLean and his department deserve praise for the way they handled an incredibly tough situation. They’re ready to move ahead. Let’s judge them not by the mistakes made by a rogue employee, but by their efforts to make Santa Paula a better place to ride … and to live.

END

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If you like Chief McLean’s attitude and approach, drop him a line on Facebook, Santa Paula Police Department, to voice your support.

We’re halfway there

July 28, 2014 § 51 Comments

As part of the “Cyclists Belong in the Lane on PCH” project, on Sunday the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department met us at 8:00 AM in the parking lot of Will Rogers State Park. They were in an unmarked Ford Explorer. Greg Seyranian and Dave Kramer had rallied the Big Orange troops, along with other riders from the West Side and the South Bay. There were about fifty cyclists total.

This was the second phase of our law enforcement-cyclist cooperative. The first phase involved getting ticketed for riding in the lane, and then throwing a shit-fit about it followed by meetings with Captain Pat Devoren and his team of deputies. Much of the heavy lifting was done by Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition wunderkind Eric Bruins. Give them some money if you’re feeling so disposed.

As a result of the meetings, Captain Devoren suggested a ride-along where deputies would follow behind a Sunday group ride. This was going to be our opportunity to educate them about the realities of riding a bike on PCH, and about how much safer it is to ride in the lane than in the gutter.

The Big Orange peloton had prepared an excellent ride plan. From Temescal to Las Flores they would ride in the gutter, switching to the lane at those points where the shoulder vanishes, or where there are cars parked on the shoulder, or where other space considerations make continued progress in the gutter impossible. This would give the following deputies an opportunity to see how dangerous it is to continually switch from gutter to lane.

After Las Flores, the peloton would ride single file “as far to the right as practicable” per CVC 21202. This would show the deputies two things: first, that a line of 50 riders going single file on PCH is significantly more of an obstacle to motorists than a single, compact peloton riding 2×2. Second, it would demonstrate with utter clarity that even when riding “FTR” there is not enough space for a bike and a car to share the lane — and that’s without the 3-foot passing law that kicks in this September.

At Cross Creek the peloton would flip it and ride back to Temescal utilizing the full lane. This would let the deputies compare traffic flow, safety, and predictability of the cyclists versus the other two methods.

The peloton rolled out and we hung back in the unmarked vehicle for about a minute. Then, we got a little surprise: because it looked like we were tailgating the cyclists, a park ranger put on his flashers and pulled us over. It’s pretty awesome getting stopped by law enforcement when you’re in an unmarked vehicle with two dudes carrying LASD badges. Suffice it to say, no one got a ticket!

The deputies were immediately impressed with the difficulty and inherent danger of doing gutter-and-lane back-and-forth maneuvers. Although motorists didn’t harass anyone or honk, the constant motion from gutter to lane was plainly fraught with potential conflict, especially since the traffic at 8:00 AM on Sunday is incredibly light compared to what happens on this stretch of PCH during a weekday, or later in the day on a nice weekend.

When the Big Orange group shifted to single file, it was also clear that there was no possible way that a car could safely share the lane with the cyclists. The deputies immediately saw that putting fifty riders in a long single file created an extremely long line of riders. When I told them that as of September the weekly Big O contingent would be double that in size, they understood the importance of keeping the group as compact as possible.

On the final leg from Cross Creek back to Temescal, the chief concern of the deputies was how traffic would be obstructed. It wasn’t, not even a little. One deputy commented that it was no different from a motorist who has to go around a slow moving vehicle like a bus or a dump truck. They also noted the incredible number of obstacles for any rider who might choose to ride in the gutter. Cars parked up against the fog line, people opening doors, surfers magically appearing with surfboards, and bad surface conditions in the gutter were all things that became easy to understand when pointed out while following the peloton at a slow speed of 20/21 mph.

The deputies were fully on board with the idea that the best place for a group is in the lane. This is a huge change and represents a watershed in the way that law enforcement views bicyclists on PCH. The only concern they still had was how this type of lane control would affect traffic when it was only one or two riders and when it was done during rush hour.

I volunteered to do another drive along, this time with only one or two riders so they could see that although the obstruction of traffic was minimal, the motorist harassment is extreme and terrifying. We’re going to set up a date for that experiment, perhaps this coming week.

The take home for cyclists who want to ride in the lane on PCH is this: the deputies will report back to Captain Devoren and based on their report we will follow up with LASD to confirm that for now, at least as regards groups of riders, cyclists can expect not to be cited for CVC 21202 violations simply for riding in the lane. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that confirmation in writing or as a directive that is sent out to deputies working traffic enforcement on PCH.

I want to stress that this is a work in progress. We’ve gotten key deputies to examine this stretch of PCH from a cyclist’s perspective, and in their words, “We’ve been educated about what cyclists face on PCH.” It doesn’t mean that the issue is fully resolved, especially with regard to solo riders or cyclists in groups of two or three.

Although it’s tempting to describe this as a “victory,” it’s much more a significant step in the right direction. The sheriff’s department has been professional and not even the slightest big adversarial with regard to these discussions. With the continued support and open-minded approach of LASD — not to mention the riders who are willing to come out and help with the process of educating law enforcement — we may not be too far from the day when all cyclists will be able to exercise their right to ride in the lane all the way from Santa Monica to County Line and beyond.

Huge thanks to all of the people who have given time, lent encouragement, and donated money to keep this project moving ahead. Thanks as well to Captain Devoren and LASD for being open to change. If you want to get involved as a volunteer, send me your contact info to fsethd@gmail.com. You can also:

  1. Subscribe to this blog: Your $2.99 monthly donation helps me advocate for cyclists.
  2. Join California Association of Bicycling Organizations. $10, cheap.
  3. Join LA County Bicycle Coalition.
  4.  Talk with your club and discuss riding in the lane on PCH the next time you’re out that way.

It’s been less than a year since Greg Seyranian and Big Orange began using lane control on their group rides on PCH. Thanks again to all who have helped.

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