We’re halfway there

July 28, 2014 § 38 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.

An eye for an eye …

July 22, 2014 § 65 Comments

… makes the whole world blind.

Of course, if you saw the video put up by Santa Paula reserve police officer Laura Weintraub, you might well have gone blind with rage. Her “satire” included a diatribe against cyclists that openly condoned hitting them, and concluded with an image of one of the most horrible bike-car accidents ever photographed. She captioned the photo, “Like you never thought about it.”

The terrible swift sword of justice was quick. Santa Paula’s police chief, Steve McLean, immediately repudiated the video and placed Weintraub on administrative leave. She resigned the next day, but not before NBC News, the LA Times, Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet blew up. Outraged cyclists tracked down her phone number and threatened to kill her and dismember her body.

Whew. Ugh.

At 4:30 AM on Monday I woke up and checked the LA Bike Blog. Ted Rogers, who had been on top of the story from its inception, penned an insightful piece wondering if, perhaps, we’d squandered the “teachable moment” for the blood lust of watching Weintraub’s head roll. Wasn’t this, Rogers wondered, in actuality an opportunity to forge understanding?

I thought about that and emailed Chief McLean. Here’s what I said:

Hi, Chief McLean

I’m a lawyer and cycling advocate in LA, and have been working with Captain Devoren over at the Lost Hills Substation and with CHP regarding cycling safety issues on PCH.

I’ve followed the matter regarding Laura Weintraub closely, and appreciated her apology as well as your department’s swift response.

I think this matter has created a great opportunity for outreach and education. Although the video clearly offended many people, it has brought attention to the conflict between cyclists and motorists in Ventura County and the need for better relationships on all sides.

If you have some time today I’d be more than happy to call and talk about some ways that we can turn this into a win-win situation for your department, for cyclists, and for motorists in Santa Paula.

Best regards,
Seth Davidson

Later that morning I phoned Chief McLean, and was surprised when he took the call personally. I’ve dealt with law enforcement in many adversarial situations, and fully expected McLean to be defensive and skeptical regarding my motives. He was nothing of the kind. To the contrary, when I suggested a meeting with representatives from LA County Bicycle Coalition and Ventura County cycling advocates in order to explore ways that we could provide outreach and education opportunities to the police department, he said this: “I would very much like to have such a meeting, and sooner rather than later.”

After a phone call to Eric Bruins of LACBC, we were able to set up a meeting for this coming Friday. The idea is to bring cycling safety issues to the forefront and to combat some of the most common motorist prejudices as expressed by Weintraub in her video: that cyclists are a nuisance, that their lives don’t really “count,” that people who look different deserve persecution, and that cyclists don’t really belong on the roads.

My conversation with Chief McLean convinced me that the views of Weintraub are not the views of the department. It is regularly involved with pro-cyclist activities, not least of which included acting as a host city for the 2014 Amgen Tour of California. With regard to education regarding cyclist safety issues, the new 3-foot passing law that goes into effect in September, and some of the more technical aspects of cycling law such as CVC 21202, we now have a great opportunity to provide education and outreach to law enforcement in an area heavily frequented by cyclists.

Our biggest challenge in Southern California, which is the epicenter of American car culture, isn’t how to demonize our opponents, although I’ve been known to lob my fair share of Molotovs at aggressive cagers. Our real challenge is getting law enforcement and the community to recognize and accept our right to be on the road. The city of Santa Paula’s police department seems ready to meet that challenge head on, and for that they deserve our respect.

———

Do you support advocacy for cyclist rights? For safer streets? For better relationships between law enforcement, the community, and bikers? Here are some ways you can have an impact:

  1. Subscribe to this blog: Your donation helps me advocate for cyclists.
  2. Join California Association of Bicycling Organizations. $10, cheap.
  3. Join LA County Bicycle Coalition.
  4. Sign up as an activist by emailing me your contact info at fsethd@gmail.com
  5. Get out on your bike and take the lane; learn CVC 21202 by heart!

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.

Progress

July 13, 2014 § 43 Comments

As a result of the rants posted on this blog, the videos taken by Big Orange, the letter sent by LA County Bicycle Coalition, the voices of individual cyclsts, and Gary’s green wrinkled shirt with the tomato stains in front, a small step forward has been made with regard to riding 2×2 in the lane on PCH north of Temescal up to LA’s county line.

Captain Pat Devoren, who runs the Lost Hills substation, reached out and suggested a meeting to further discuss the issue of cyclists on PCH. Eric Bruins of LACBC, Greg Seyranian and Dave Kramer of Big Orange Cycling, cycling instructor Gary Cziko, and I met on Thursday with the captain, three of his officers, and two traffic officers who work for California Highway Patrol.

After about two hours of discussion, we learned that there is resistance on the part of all law enforcement to allowing bicyclists to control the lane by riding 2×2 all the way up PCH. The resistance is based on disagreement regarding where on PCH the CVC 21202 exceptions apply, and because of the concern that so many cyclists will begin using lane control that the right-hand lane becomes, at certain times, so filled with bicycles that it impedes traffic. Impeding traffic involves a separate section of the vehicle code.

What we were all able to agree on is that there are some sections of the roadway on which it is legal for cyclists to ride 2×2 and to fully control the lane. The disagreement is where we cannot. Rather than engage in an theoretical legal dispute about exactly where the lane is either of substandard width or where it is reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, Captain Devoren make a great suggestion which we immediately agreed to: Let’s do a ride-along with law enforcement on PCH so that we, the cyclists, can point out the points of the roadway that make riding as far to the right as practicable … impracticable and unsafe.

We improved on the suggesting by agreeing that we’d do part of the ride-along following a group of cyclists so that law enforcement can see the difference with regard to traffic safety when you have riders switching from gutter to lane versus controlling the lane in a 2×2 formation. The date for the ride-along has not been confirmed, but it will likely be the latter part of this month. In the meantime we were asssured by Captain Devoren that there would not be additional citations written under the same conditions as the two that were written in the past couple of weeks.

The goodwill and sincerity of LA Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol was undeniable. They want this to work and they want all users of the roadway to be able to safely and legally use the road. The dialogue was fantastic and I’m optimistic that after a ride-along, law enforcement will see this stretch of roadway differently.

Captain Devoren also invited LACBC to work together by providing education to his deputies regarding application of 21202 and cycling law.

We’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of effort by trying to find a collaborative solution, and we’re not there yet, but it would never have occurred without the support and assistance of so many riders out there, and readers of this blog. I’ve received over $600 in donations as of today, money I’m using to show my wife when she asks why I’m not doing “real work.” Much of that money has come in the form of small monthly $2.99 donations to this blog — are recurring in nature and they add up. Thank you to everyone who has also offered vocal support and who has asked to be put on the list of people who are willing to write letters, make phone calls, and engage in other outreach as it becomes necessary.

Here’s the info about how you can contribute:

  1. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Your monthly $2.99 donation will be used to defray the legal expenses of defending David and Scott and to promote activities that help secure the right of cyclists to ride on PCH.
  2. Email me at fsethd@gmail.com if you are willing to actively support these efforts. Activities will include letter-writing, phone calls, organized full-lane rides on PCH.
  3. Notify me if you or someone you know has been cited for a CVC 21202 violation so that I can try to arrange pro bono representation in defending their citation.

No sympathy for the devil

July 7, 2014 § 104 Comments

Bicyclists of California, unite!

The Los Angeles Sheriffs Department has embarked on a methodical campaign of illegal ticketing, threats, and intimidation against law-abiding cyclists who dare to exercise their right to ride in the lane on Pacific Coast Highway.

Despite personal assurances given by Captain Patrick Devoren, assurances made in the presence of me, Gary Cziko, and Eric Bruins of the LA County Bicycle Coalition, the department has stepped up its illegal ticketing and harassment campaign against cyclists. Even worse, the captain and his deputies have targeted the Big Orange cycling club in a brazen attempt to use force, threats, and fines to frighten cyclists out of the roadway.

Bicyclists who believe that they are inferior, who support the right of motorists to abuse and intimidate them, and who think that legally using PCH on a bicycle is counterproductive because it will “anger the motorists of Malibu” will be thrilled to know that they are firmly on the side of the sheriffs department.

Cyclists who do not consider themselves second class citizens will be outraged.

After being promised by Captain Devoren at a meeting in January that we would no longer be cited by deputies for obeying the law, the same abusive deputy — Deputy Duvall — pulled over David Kramer on June 29, 2014 while he was legally riding two abreast in the far right lane on PCH.

David was part of a 20-person contingent, and Deputy Duvall cited him for violating VC 21202, which requires a cyclist to stay as far to the right of the lane as practicable unless the lane is of substandard width or unless the lane cannot safely be shared by both motorist and bicycle. If these either of these conditions apply — and both did — cyclists are not required to ride “FTR” (as far to the right as practicable), and they are allowed to use the full lane pursuant to the section of the Vehicle Code that gives bicycles the same travel rights on roadways as motor vehicles.

Check out these two videos, both of which show that Deputy Duvall has no idea what the law is and is simply harassing the riders because he can:

Video 1
Video 2

While Deputy Duvall was citing Kramer, I phoned the watch commander who, after patient discussion, agreed with our interpretation of the law: That the cyclists were allowed to ride in the lane 2-by-2 on that section of PCH. Duvall cited Kramer anyway.

The following day I spoke with Captain Devoren, who proposed a meeting — I never heard back from him after that — at which we could explore, possibly with judicial input, the legality of our interpretation of the law, a law which needs no interpretation because it is explicit regarding when and where cyclists are not obligated to ride FTR.

Yesterday, July 6, a motorcycle deputy pulled over a group of Big Orange riders again and cited cyclist Scott Golper for “riding in the lane,” allegedly in violation of CV21202. Scott at the time was at the back of the group and hugging the fog line. The deputy took Duvall’s absurd mis-interpretation of the law even further and told the cyclists that they were not allowed to ride in the road at all. When asked to put the rider’s road position on the citation, he threatened Scott with arrest. He then added that bicyclists on PCH were an endangerment to cars, and if cyclists didn’t want to ride in the gutter they should STAY OFF PCH.

Deputy Young then called the watch commander and told him he was citing “the same group as last week.” It was clear from his tone of voice that the department had decided to target Big Orange, and that they were using this intimidation tactic to get the word out to all cyclists on PCH: Ride on the shoulder or don’t ride PCH at all.

Most incredibly, the deputy admitted to Scott that he probably wouldn’t even appear as a witness to prosecute the case, which means that the case will be dismissed. This is exactly what Deputy Duvall did in a previous case against Greg Leibert, a matter which required multiple court appearances, expert witnesses, and legal representation just so the department could harass cyclists, force them into court, and then not show up to prosecute their bogus case. This is harassment of the worst sort. The ticketed cyclist has to defend himself or hire a lawyer and the deputy just writes the ticket, harasses the group, and goes about his business.

Below is a video of Deputy Young in action, adding his truckload of cluelessness to the body of law enforcement ignorance that already makes riding PCH extremely unpleasant as well as hazardous for law abiding cyclists. That this unpleasantness and danger is exacerbated by the very people who are supposed to make PCH safe is outrageous beyond words.

Video 3

Keep in mind that there is no law in California that requires a cyclist to ride on the shoulder, and that Deputy Young is telling Scott that he can’t do what’s legal, and that he must do what isn’t required.

What I believed was a professional and honest attempt on the part of Captain Devoren and his deputies to reach an understanding with cyclists about proper enforcement of the law was apparently a ruse that the department has been using to keep us from collective action to defend our right to use the road.

I have taken David’s and Scott’s cases pro bono in an attempt to get a fair decision from the Santa Monica court in which the court will rule in our favor on these tickets and every other one like them. The motorists who pull the strings at LASD have obviously elected to make this the battleground, and it will have repercussions throughout the state of California.

If cyclists can be legally harassed, threatened with incarceration, fined for riding in the road on PCH, and illegally ordered to ride on the shoulder, then you can be absolutely certain that law enforcement will take this very significant victory and use it to illegally prosecute cyclists throughout the state.

Riding in the lane is a matter of safety, and more importantly it is a matter of legality. We are entitled to use the roads only to the extent that we are willing to stand up and fight for that right. Motordom and the police state would prefer that we either ride on bike paths or not ride at all. Imagine every group ride you do for the rest of your life being subject to this new and illegal prosecution of law-abiding bicyclists.

So, how can you help?

Simple.

  1. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Your monthly $2.99 donation will be used to defray the legal expenses of defending David and Scott and to promote activities that oppose harassment by the LA Sheriffs Department.
  2. Email me at fsethd@gmail.com if you are willing to actively oppose this illegal harassment of law abiding cyclists. Activities will include letter-writing, phone calls, organized full-lane rides on PCH, and mass meetings of cyclists with the sheriffs department to demand that they stop their illegal harassment.
  3. Notify me if you or someone you know has been cited for a VC 21202 violation so that I can try to arrange pro bono representation in defending their citation.

 

Worst day cycling ever

June 28, 2014 § 170 Comments

After experimenting with riding in the lane on the fastest, most heavily trafficked section of Pacific Coast Highway between Temescal Canyon and Trancas, I reached the following conclusions.

  1. A large group of 10 or more riders can do it easily and safely with little or no cager hostility.
  2. A small group of 2-4 riders will get a small amount of harassment in the form of honking and yelling, with an occasional chop.
  3. Riding in the lane and obeying the traffic laws while politely defending my right to be there is safer and more enjoyable riding on the edge of the lane or in the gutter.

Last Sunday I rode by myself, further testing the practice, curious to see what the difference in cager reaction would be towards a small group versus a solo rider. Exiting onto PCH at Temescal Canyon at about 8:00 AM, I elicited six quick angry honks, but not much else all the way to Cross Creek and back. My confidence soared.

Then yesterday morning I took the plunge, getting out solo on PCH at about 7:00 AM on a Friday morning. It was the worst cycling experience of my life. As dedicated as I am to lane control on this stretch of PCH, I simply cannot recommend that a solo rider tackle this stretch of road riding in the lane on a weekday morning.

I stopped counting the honks at fifty, and that was only until Cross Creek. One driver after Pepperdine got on my rear and laid on his horn for almost a full minute. I was buzzed several times, and although this has never really bothered me in the past because buzzers usually pass with plenty of room, one cager missed me by less than a foot. I was flipped off and yelled at continually.

The hatred and anger fed on itself; as one motorist began honking, others would lay on their horns as well. I noticed that by far and away the most common harassing vehicle type was a pickup, usually with a toolbox in the back or a modified tool rack in the bed. Young surfer types in cheap cars were also more likely to honk,  but I was blasted by everyone.

Going up Pepperdine I thought I would be killed. Drivers were screaming and tailgating, and a line of cars was backed up behind me in my lane. A succession of about ten cars in a row honked as they passed. I even got screamed at by a jogger who was running against traffic on the shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” she yelled. I have pretty thick skin and am pretty good at holding my ground, but I was shaken. I’ve never been abused like this before on a bike, and the cute chick in pink running tights added insult to injury.

However, none of this was anything compared to what happened after climbing the hill past Latigo. Firmly in my lane, traffic backing up behind me, I heard the squeal of tires. My heart leapt into my mouth. “I’m going to get hit,” I thought. I looked back and a Toyota minivan packed with construction workers had avoided rear-ending me by a couple of feet.

They were laughing, doubtless from the look of abject fear on my face.

I wasn’t just terrified, I doubted the principle that you’re safer in the lane — at least riding solo on this stretch of PCH during a workday. One of the criticisms that gutter bunnies make about lane control is that riding in the lane makes you more liable to getting hit from behind. Despite thousands of miles in the lane, I’ve never had a cager rear-end me or even come close, but it almost happened yesterday.

The minivan changed lanes and raced by, and a pickup got on my tail and started honking and gesturing. I was still shaking from the minivan, so I flipped him off. He raced past and pulled over, jumping out of his truck and motioning me to stop.

We had a heated exchange. He told me to ride “in my lane,” pointing to the shoulder where he was parked.

“That’s not a lane, it’s a shoulder, and the law doesn’t require me to ride there.”

“Yeah? Well you’re a fucking idiot because you almost got killed. And you could have killed someone else!”

“How?”

“By making someone hit the person in the car who hit you, asshole!”

“So it’s my fault when a driver runs me over illegally and then someone who’s tailgating him has an accident?”

“You’re fucking right it is! Get out of the road! You were in the middle of the fucking lane! You have the whole goddamned shoulder! What’s wrong with you? You’re a complete fucking idiot!”

I thought he was going to punch me out. I tried to stick to the law and my right to be there, but I was still shaking from fear, and the conversation got crazier. “I don’t give a shit about the law!” he said. “Your Nigerian president spies on me with his fucking IRS and lets all these fucking Mexicans into the country. What about those laws? People break laws all the time!”

The only thing that might have fanned the flames was to mention the 2nd Amendment or maybe Benghazi, or to tell him that it was Kenya not Nigeria. “You don’t seem real happy about laws being broken,” I said.

“Damn right I’m not!”

“So why are you making the case that it’s okay to break the traffic laws? I have a right to be here.”

“Fuck you! This isn’t a goddamned debate it’s a fucking freeway! You are gonna be in the right all the way to the fucking morgue and you’re gonna kill someone else. Hope you and your fucking legal rights are happy! And I’ll tell you something else. You are the biggest idiot I have ever met in my whole fucking life. Goody-bye, Big Fucking Idiot!”

With that he got back in the cab and drove off, but not before I started again, got out in the lane, and made him pass me in the other lane.

Still, I was shaken, and worse, my ride was worse than an 8-hour trip to the dentist. When PCH turned into two lanes past Yerba Buena, I moved over onto the shoulder. My stress level plunged. I was happier dodging shit and running over glass and nails than getting continually harassed.

On the return trip I stayed in the shoulder except for sections — particularly past Cross Creek — where the parked cars are right against the fog line and there’s nothing to do but get in the lane. Moreover, when I did get in the lane I never ventured more than two or three feet from the edge, even though this encouraged cagers to squeeze by in my lane, passing me uncomfortably closely.

When I got back to the bike path at Temescal, I was relieved beyond belief.

So although I still think that group riding in the lane is the way to go for this roadway, it’ll be a while before I tackle it again solo on a workday morning.

In order to make this stretch safe, and more importantly, enjoyable for bicyclists riding solo, much work needs to be done. More groups need to take the lane so that cagers expect us there. Shared lane markings need to be put in the lane, along with plentiful “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage. The people who are advocates for lane control need to get their asses out on PCH on a workday morning, solo, and ride this stretch of roadway. And don’t be surprised at the brown stripe in your chamois after you get home.

END

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Going down the road feeling bad

June 12, 2014 § 128 Comments

I belong to a listserv called “CABO,” the California Association of Bicycling Organizations. It is an amazing place, where traffic engineers argue with one another about whether bikes should be in the road or shunted off to the side in bike lanes, cycle tracks, hamster wheels, etc.

It was from CABO that I first learned about riding in the middle of the lane. I tried it out on Del Amo eastbound between Prospect and Hawthorne one day and it scared the crap out of me. However, it scared the crap out of me less than being shoved up against the nonexistent shoulder and having close-passing pickups shave me by inches.

The thing I learned is that no matter how pissed off my presence made the cagers who had to slow down behind me, they always changed lanes and passed. I’ve never been hit from behind or even had brakes squeal from a rear-approaching vehicle.

Eventually I tried it on Hawthorne. Same thing. The occasional honk or middle finger, lots of (presumably) pissed off people slowing down, changing lanes and then passing, but that’s pretty much it. Riding my bike and hogging the lane was better than scrunching up against the edge and having people pass me within a few feet or a few inches.

Taking it to the next level

After getting comfortable with riding in the lane on local streets I took this method to PCH. I did it with a group of 8 or 10 riders, and I have done it several times since then. The results were unsurprising (to me). We got a few honks but people slowed, passed in the other lane, and left us alone.

I have used these experiences as the basis for encouraging people to get out in the lane on PCH.

Then yesterday I found myself in a new situation. I was on PCH with just one other person, Jay. I suggested we ride in the lane and he looked at me like I was crazy. “Okay,” he said. “But I’m fine in the gutter.”

And he is. As one of the most skilled off-road and on-road bike handlers I know, he’s not the least bit fazed by rocks, glass, chugholes, car doors, trash cans, the ends of surfboards, Cher, etc.

What I found during this little experiment was amazing, and a lot of it was bad. Whereas a medium-to-large sized group attracts little motorist hostility, two riders taking up the lane evokes the Wrath of the Cagers. We rode from Temescal Canyon to Decker Lane, averaging 15 or 16 mph, and we were met with an endless stream of honks, shouts, middle fingers, and plain old-fashioned road rage.

I was tenser after the first five minutes than I’ve ever been in any bike race. This was as to nothing when we hit Pepperdine Hill after Cross Creek. Still taking the lane, we climbed at a very slow speed, perhaps 10 mph or less. With 30 or 40 drivers backed up behind us, I fully expected to be run over.

Cars came raging by us in the next lane after having had to slow to a crawl on the hill, and they revved their engines, honked, flipped us off, screamed, and were livid. Of course the point is that they all slowed and passed, but the other point is this: how much fun is a bike ride when you feel like everyone wants to kill you?

Answer: no fun at all.

When the weird turn pro

On the return ride it was pretty much the same until we reached Cross Creek. I told Jay that I was done, I couldn’t take any more of the honking and screaming, so we rode for about two miles in the gutter up against the long line of cars parked at Malibu. What’s weird is that as awful as the lane had been, the gutter was now worse by orders of magnitude.

Despite the cager rage, I have become so accustomed to the smooth, wonderful riding surface of the lane, where you have better visibility, no obstacles, and lots of room to maneuver, that getting back in the gutter is intensely stressful. The other amazing thing about riding in the lane is that you ride side by side and get to talk. So we got back in the lane and started to take advantage of a good tailwind and flat road. Averaging 22 or 23, with sustained segments of 25-27 mph seemed to result in much less cager rage and not a single honk.

And here is where the CABO advocates have their work cut out for them: if it’s this hairball for a pair of riders who can carry a steady speed over the course of a 100-mile ride, what would the experience be like for an elderly traffic engineer pedaling up Pepperdine Hill at 4 or 5 mph? I’m not easily cowed or intimidated, but the unending torrent of honks and curses was unnerving, to put it mildly, and it didn’t seem like the rage abated until we were cruising in the mid-20’s and up.

In other words, it’s really easy to advocate lane control and vehicular cycling on PCH, but after my experience there’s no way I’d recommend that the average cyclist take the lane on PCH solo. Unless of course you want to!

How educational was it?

For the drivers, I’m convinced it was very educational, although also rage-inducing. One woman roared by us honking and flipping us off, then pulled over about 1/4 mile ahead to talk on the phone. We passed her, and after she finished talking she came by again.

This second time she didn’t honk or rev her engine. She expected us to be there and acted accordingly. I think she was educated by our behavior.

Another educational encounter was less prosaic. At the light past Latigo a sow in an SUV put down her window. “Why don’t you get out of the road?” she asked.

“Because we have the legal right to be here,” I answered.

“Yeah, but it’s really dangerous.”

“Only if you don’t know how to use your brakes and change lanes,” I said.

“It’s DANGEROUS!!!” she screamed, roaring off at the green light. There were several cars backed up behind us and behind her. Several of them honked and gave the middle finger salute.

Still, the implication is that only by getting more and more people in the lane will PCH drivers come to expect us to be there and make accommodations, maybe even to the sluggard dragging ass up Pepperdine Hill at 4 mph. There’s no way to know for sure, but I think a lot of the anger was because people simply didn’t expect us to be there.

What this means in practical terms is that if vehicular cycling advocates really want to make a difference, at least on PCH, they need to get off their keyboards and out in the traffic, preferably in ones or twos. It is hairy and will scare the crapcakes out of you but there’s no other way to acclimate cagers to the presence of single riders in the lane on PCH.

We’ll be out there again this morning, although with a larger group. My sphincter’s already clenched.

END

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Sometimes, nice guys don’t even finish

May 16, 2014 § 41 Comments

There is a rancid piece of burnt meat that bicycle “advocates” regularly wrap in a burrito and try shove down the throat of everyone else. It goes like this: Cars hate us because we’re not nice. Until we are nice, we will never get the treatment we deserve. The latest purveyor of this bankrupt, blame-the-victim, “Can’t we all just get along?” vacuousness is someone named Richard Fries. You can read his thoughts here.

Or not.

The problem isn’t, and has never been, that “we are our own worst enemy.” It is something much simpler. Road cycling is a negotiation for space. For the car, more space means quicker travel, if even a mere second faster. For a bike, more space means reducing the chance of hitting something or getting hit.

That’s all there is to it. If you’re going to use the roadway, you will have to negotiate your place on it every pedal stroke of every single ride, and it’s a zero-sum game. The more space for you, the less for the car. You win, they lose, and no none likes to lose.

Negotiation theory

Of all the losing strategies in a negotiation, none fails as quickly or completely as “being nice.” People win tough negotiations by being tough, by being firm, by being consistent, and by understanding the strengths, weaknesses, psyche, and intentions of the other party.

There are two scenarios in which bikes have to negotiate with cagers. The first is the group ride. In this scenario, the bikes are in a strong position. They occupy the entire roadway. The cager, if he’s going to pass, has to be ultra-cautious in order to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic if it’s a two-lane road. If it’s a four-lane road, he has to be careful not to hit anyone in the group — not because he cares about them, but because doing so will expose him to liability due to the large number of witnesses.

In the group ride scenario, being nice adds nothing to the negotiation. Unless the driver is severely impaired or intent on killing you, in which case your demeanor means nothing anyway, you’re going to win the fight for road space. The cager will give you and your pals a wide berth. He may honk, he may flip you off, he may scream obscenities, but you will certainly win the negotiation for space on the roadway.

“But if you’re a jackass then he’ll hate all cyclists!” the Friesians claim.

Maybe he will, but so what? There’s no evidence that being a “nice” group rider, whatever that is, will cause him to treat a single cyclist any differently. It’s like saying that because he got beat by someone with a full house, he is going to go easy next time on someone with a pair of two’s. The group ride is the strongest hand you have. If it makes you feel good to wave and smile at cars, do so, but it isn’t affecting your negotiation at all. You’ve won, the driver has lost. Sucks to be him.

The single cyclist scenario

The other scenario is when the cyclist is alone. In this negotiation, the rider’s mere presence will not force the driver to cede ground if the rider is up against the shoulder. The cager need not slow down, and need not particularly fear hitting the rider, especially if the driver is confident in his driving skills.

Ever meet someone who admitted to being a shitty driver? Me, either.

In this negotiation, the cager has (for him) a small risk of getting hit since he needn’t change lanes or cross the yellow line, although a miscalculation could scratch his clearcoat or get some of your internal organs on his door handle. He also has much more size and speed relative to the single rider. Against a group of 20, the car’s mass is much less intimidating, and the driver has to psychologically contend with the multitude of riders who might, quite reasonably, come to the defense of anyone who was hit.

The single cyclist is in the weakest of all positions. He’s against the shoulder, so he’s at the mercy of whatever detritus the road offers up. He’s alone, so there’s no one to back him up. He’s fighting for a narrow sliver on the edge that doesn’t put the cager in much, if any risk. Even if the rider wins this negotiation, the cager loses nothing and the rider’s risk increases exponentially.

Make no mistake, the driver calculates all of these risks, summed up as “Am I gonna hit him?” and almost every time the car will make minimal adjustments in speed and position for the single rider who’s playing gutter bunny. The only thing the single rider can do to put the cager at risk is to occupy the full lane and force him to increase his risk by making bigger adjustments.

Now the cager has to make some hard choices. “Kill the cyclist and fuck up my hood and possibly have him come through the windshield and knock out my implants?”

“Run over the cyclist and deal with insurance, ambulance, wrecker, and possibly the police?”

“Curse the bastard, slow down, change lanes, and honk?”

Very few cagers make the conscious decision to kill or intentionally hit. Rather, they make the obnoxious adjustment of braking and changing lanes or worse, waiting as their blood pressure mounts and you gaily pedal on to work with that smug satisfaction of knowing that you’re not only saving the environment but you’re driving someone insane in the process.

What’s nice got to do with it?

What’s most important is that none of the cager’s choices depends on the cyclist’s demeanor. Whether you’re Miss Manners or a fire-spitting demon’s rectum, the driver is going to make his decision based on where you are in the lane and how much risk you pose to him and his cage. The more risk he faces, the more he will compromise.

The only time that nice would be a factor is if you somehow were able to divine the driver’s demeanor, and something in it told you that smiling or waving would get you more roadway than, say, implacably taking the center of the lane.

Ask yourself when the last time was that being nice got you a good result in a conflict. Without exception, it’s when you had zero leverage, the other person had all of it, and your only avenue was to smile. Think getting pulled over by a cop. Forgetting your wedding anniversary. Trying to get a credit card company to take off a late fee.

Nice is the last ploy before you get your head staved in.

In scenarios where you have leverage, the best results are always obtained by maximizing the leverage such that it increases the other wanker’s risk. Ever won a chess game by being nice? Ever won a bike race being nice? Of course not.

It’s the same when you’re alone on your bike. You can depend on niceness if you want, but the best way to get your piece of turf is by playing the hand you’ve got and playing it to the hilt. Take the lane and hold it against all comers. Make them consciously choose to kill you — there will be infinitely fewer who make that choice than those who clip you by mistake as they veer too closely while you’re sucking gutter.

And if for some reason you’d rather be the sniveling, smiling simp begging for mercy, I guess that’s okay. Just don’t demand that I do it, too.

 

END

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If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

Let your voice be heard

May 3, 2014 § 29 Comments

Saturday, May 3rd at noon, my pal Joel Elliott will start riding in circles; actually in “L’s.” He will be riding his bicycle for 24 consecutive hours to raise awareness for his daughter Hannah, who has selective mutism. Joel will be riding to bring attention to the failure of the Torrance Unified School District to properly address Hannah’s needs. 

Joel’s goal is to ride at least 328 miles in that time. Of course I know Joel as being pretty much a wanker, so the 328 miles is hopeless … but what he’s riding for is not!

Hannah suffers from selective mutism, a rare condition that renders her unable to speak. Even though the Torrance school district agrees that Hannah qualifies for special services, they refuse to consider the advice of experts in formulating an individual education plan to help her. This is like someone saying, “I know you’re an Olympic caliber athlete, but you don’t need any special training in order to get there.”

In other words, cheap-ass bullshit.

Selective mutism is fully curable, but it takes time, patience, lots of love, and the right kind of help. With selective mutism, the wrong kind of help makes it worse. The district certainly understands this, but due to its inherent cheapness or its unwillingness to treat each student as an individual, it is unwilling to meet Hannah’s needs.

In a very real sense, her life is at stake. When treated properly, 99% of selectively mute children begin to speak within two years, but Torrance Unified doesn’t seem to care.

This school year has been extremely difficult. Though Hannah’s teachers have been amazing, the principal and the district continue to generate obstacles for Hannah.

Another parent recently reported that earlier this year, her daughter found Hannah on the playground, surrounded by a group of older boy who were abusively bullying her. Hannah was standing with her hands over her ears as tears streamed down her face. The other little girl stood up for Hannah and broke up the abuse, and though the matter was reported to the principal, the school has never reported the incident to Hannah’s parents.

This is just one example of how a child with developmental issues, a child who is fully capable normal adjustment, has been thrown under the CYA bus of Torrance Unified.

Joel’s ride will take place on the 1-mile industrial loop just outside of the Strand Brewing Co.’s tap room, on the famous TELO crit course in Torrance. Everyone is invited to come help Joel kick off his ride. Hannah needs a voice. We can all speak for her, by speaking from our bikes.

Judge Ballbreaker

May 2, 2014 § 40 Comments

The first time I had a case in Judge Ballbreaker’s courtroom, he scared me pretty good. The first case that day was Ninewhacker LLC v. Stinkboard. I’m not making that up.

The attorney for Mr. Stinkboard shuffled up to the lectern. His hair was stringy, greasy, and uncombed. He was wearing a tan corduroy jacket with an orange tie that hung off to the side of his neck; the tie was spotted with what looked like grease or coffee stains. His blue jeans were lashed to his waist with an ancient cordovan belt, and the collar on his wrinkled, light blue shirt was unbuttoned at the top.

The lawyer, who I’ll call Mr. Geetus, had three or four days’ worth of stubble and was wearing tennis shoes. “Mr. Geetus?” said Judge Ballbreaker.

“Yes, your Honor?”

“Before I call this case I’d like to say a few words about courtroom decorum. And I’ll be brief. When I get up in the morning I shower, wash my hair, shave, and put on a three-piece suit and a white dress shirt that has been starched and pressed. I’m wearing all of that under my judicial robe, Mr. Geetus, and it’s for a reason. The reason is that I represent the federal district court of the United States government, and it’s my belief that as a representative of our federal courts people will have greater faith in the work that I do when my appearance shows the lawyers, the debtors, the creditors, the plaintiffs, and the defendants in my courtroom that I respect them enough to look my very best. Do you understand me?”

“I think so.”

“I don’t think you do, Mr. Geetus, because you’ve come into my courtroom looking like a slightly refined version of a bum. You’ve not taken the time to make yourself even slightly presentable. In short, you’ve come into my courtroom dressed in such a way as to communicate that you don’t care what anyone thinks about how you look, and more importantly, that you don’t care what people think about your client. You’re an officer of the court, Mr. Geetus, and you can’t be bothered to comb your hair, shave your face, or press your shirt. So here’s what I’m going to do. Are you listening?”

“Yes, your Honor.” Mr. Geetus was now about two feet tall.

“I’m going to continue this matter until next Thursday. When you next come into my courtroom you will be professionally attired and you will attend to your personal hygiene such that all who look upon you will regard you as an honorable member of an honorable profession. Do you understand?”

“Yes, your Honor.”

“Good. And I’ll add something else. If you were a pro se litigant who had never been in a federal courtroom before, or if you were an indigent petitioner without the means to pay for legal counsel, I would accord you nothing but the highest regard and would treat you with the dignity I’d show to a lawyer wearing a two-thousand-dollar suit. But you’re not. You’re an experienced attorney and you are an officer of the court. So look the part.”

Mr. Geetus slunk out of the courtroom, and Judge Ballbreaker surveyed the rest of us. “I hope you all got the memo,” he said. “That this isn’t the place for beach attire.”

Mayday, Mayday!

On Wednesday evening I received an email from the court’s electronic filing system. Due to the annual May Day protest at City Hall, anyone with a morning hearing was advised to allow for street closures, full parking, and traffic congestion.

“Great,” I thought, figuring that instead of leaving at 9:30 AM for an eleven o’clock hearing I’d have to leave at eight. Then I thought of other major downtown traffic events, where I’d been stuck in traffic that was so bad I couldn’t park within a couple of miles of the courthouse.

So I had an idea, a very multi-modal one. I’d drive downtown with my ‘cross bike in the car. If traffic looked like it was going to be too gnarly, I’d park in the ‘hood in South Central, pedal the two or three miles to the courthouse, lock my bike outside and still get to the hearing on time.

On Thursday morning I put on my lawyer outfit, loaded the bike, and tossed in my giant, bright yellow messenger bag, which I’d need to carry my briefcase, bike lock, and cable. Sure enough, the traffic was terrible, and by ten o’clock I was nowhere near downtown.

This was multi-modal transportation in action. If I’d felt any greener the dentist would have had to clean my teeth. I found a spot on Avalon, unloaded my bike, and headed downtown with plenty of time to spare.

I hadn’t gone more than a mile when my rear tire went soft, then flatted. I’d had the foresight to bring a tube and CO2, but hadn’t brought tire levers. The new tires fit more tightly on the rim than a noose after the trapdoor had opened, and within minutes I’d torn most of the skin off my palms trying to get the tire off.

The weather was blazingly hot for Los Angeles in May, and beneath my wool suit I began to sweat profusely. It forever to change the tire. The cuffs of my white dress shirt were covered in dirt and smudges of grease and I was sopping sweat, but I still had enough time, even if my case was the first one called, and my cases never get called first.

There’s never “plenty of time”

Once I’d inflated the tire, I raced to the courthouse. When I got there I pulled out my lock and discovered that I’d left the key to my Kryptonite back in the car. Now the oaths got really artistic and I went into full TT-mode, retracing the trip to the car, blowing stop lights and weaving through the dense downtown traffic.

I recovered the key and did another TT back to the courthouse. I now had five minutes to spare. The security people looked at me funny and checked my giant yellow messenger bag twice in the scanner before they let me through.

As luck would have it, I got to the courtroom at eleven o’clock sharp, gave the clerk my card, and found out that the first case on the calendar was mine. I limped up to the lectern, as wet as if I’d just gotten out of the shower.

Rivulets of sweat poured off my head. My collar was drenched. My suit was rumpled and my necktie askew. Worst of all, I hadn’t had time to switch from my bright orange-and-blue ‘cross shoes into my courtroom Oxfords, and the cleats clattered on the floor as I walked.

Judge Ballbreaker looked at my dirty shirt cuffs and completely disheveled suit. He remembered me from the previous hearing and he remembered the lecture he’d given us about appearance. “Mr. Davidson?” he said, looking sternly at my shoes and my big plastic yellow bag and my just-got-out-of-the-center-of-a-tornado appearance.

“I’m so sorry, your Honor. I got the court’s email about the May Day demonstration and rode down here on my bike, but I forgot the key to my lock and had a flat tire and didn’t have any tire levers and … “

“You rode to court on your bicycle?”

“Yes, your Honor.”

He peered over his glasses. “What kind of bicycle?”

“It’s, uh, a ‘cross bike, your Honor. A Giant.”

“I see,” he said. “I ride a Giant, too, a TCR. Integrated seat post. Those are good bikes.”

I was stunned. “Uh, yes, your Honor. They sure are.”

“Next time you come here on your bike, counsel, be sure to bring tire levers.”

“Uh, yes, your Honor.”

“However, you’re to be commended for cycling to court. I wish more people would do that.”

He went over the ruling in my case, explaining why he’d granted my motion. Then he finished with the most amazing comment of all. “Your appearance this morning is excused,” he said. “But don’t think that the next time you can show up in your kit.” Then he grinned.

“Yes, your Honor,” I said. Yes, indeed.

 

END

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Did you know that you can subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay”? Your donation will go directly to buying extra tire levers! Plus, everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

 

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