The anti-cyclist cyclist

November 14, 2014 § 58 Comments

It seemed pretty harmless. My fan sent me a private email and told me about a little bike-citation-trap that the LA Sheriff’s Department was running on PCH southbound. There is a shortcut that about seventy eleven billion riders take coming home on PCH, and it’s illegal because it requires you to go the wrong way down a one-lane, one-way street for about fifty feet before it becomes a two-lane, two-way street.

The reason that you break the law here is because you are tired and it’s the last 30 miles of your ride back to PV and if you go straight with your shot legs you have to “drag your wagon” as Miss Kentucky would say, all the way up Pepperdine Hill instead of sailing back to Malibu on a pancake flat, untrafficked road.

Problem is, the untrafficked road leads by Cher’s compound, and the trillionaires along the road, or at least one of them, doesn’t like it when bikers break the law to “sneak” onto “their” road. So, after getting a tip from my fan — the equivalent of someone telling you about a sobriety checkpoint — I went onto my Facebag lawyer page and gave the cycling planet a heads-up. “Don’t break the law here, and either go straight or walk your bike until the road becomes two-way.”

Pretty soon a maroon reared his ugly head, some wanker named Heath who is presumably a cyclist, and he made a couple of nasty comments about “lazy cyclists” and insinuating that the trillionaires were right to be angry at the scofflaws. I counter-posted once or twice and then deleted all of his comments, adhering to my new Facebag policy of “you gotta pay to play.”

In the past I would hunker down and engage in multi-day Facebag comment wars that were immensely entertaining to everyone but me. I realized the depth of my illness when, coming up for air, I realized that I had posted over 200 comments in a battle of the maroons between me and some wanker in upstate New York about whether or not his ‘cross skilz class would have prevented a crash. Yep. It was that weighty a topic. I engaged in this tweetle-beetle-battle-in-a-Facebag-bottle while visiting my elder son at college, ruining the weekend, and causing permanent emotional damage to the other maroon, who threatened legal action against me. (Note to reader: threatening lawyers with legal action is like threatening Bre’r Rabbit with the briar patch.)

However, it takes two maroons to have a tweetle beetle battle, and after reflection I realized that in this case I was the other one, and vowed not to do it anymore. So when Heath began tossing out the red meat I just tossed out the red delete and that was the end of it. Henceforth, I decided that if anyone wants to argue with me, they have to do it in my sandbox, here on the blog, where I not only make the rules but where I can edit everything they write or block them completely if I so choose. It’s not fair, just like life.

What struck me about Heath, though, is a common thread that runs through cycling in which cyclists themselves are extremely critical of other cyclists when it comes to obeying traffic laws. It’s a hall monitor complex, and it’s bizarre. I don’t condone scofflawing most of the time, but unless it’s egregious and puts someone else’s life at risk, I don’t much care about it, either. Cars break the laws all the time too, and when I’m motoring along and someone changes lanes without using a turn indicator (that actually happens), I don’t honk, or scream, or post a rant about it.

My motoring time is better spent driving defensively than it is screaming, cursing, flipping off, honking, or Facebagging about all the maroons out there who are trying to kill me.

Cycling is already dangerous enough without having to split my attention to whether or not someone runs a stop sign or goes the wrong way for 50 feet down Cher’s street. And in the battle between the scofflaws, it’s the motorist, not the cyclist, who is the overwhelming bad guy.

My buddy C. was dropping down Manhattan Boulevard a few days ago, traveling at the speed limit, and lawfully riding in the lane. A very busy and important manageress of a local MB optic shop came by, speeding, let out a blast on her horn, totally ignoring the new law that requires a passing motorist to give a cyclist 3-feet of clearance. C. got out of her way just in time to avoid being turned into pulp, and at the stoplight a few feet ahead, the one she had apparently been rushing to get to so she could stop, he thwacked on her window and yelled at her.

“I’m calling the police!” she screamed.

“Great,” he said. So they pulled over while she dialed 911. Unlike the LA police, where they don’t even bother to show up unless at least three shots have been fired and one person has been hit, the MB police aren’t quite as busy, and five minutes later a cop approached. To C.’s incredible joy and disbelief, it was a cop on a … bicycle. Finally, for once, justice was about to be done.

The eyeglass lady had been speeding. She had passed C. illegally. She had broken the law prohibiting unnecessary use of the horn. She had illegally crossed the double yellow line to pass. More to the point, she admitted to all of it.

So of course, the bicycle cop on the bicycle (did I mention he was riding a bike?) began to berate … the cyclist. After hearing both sides of the story, he asked C. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“You mean while she was trying to kill me as I descended at the speed limit? Kind of whip my phone out of my jersey pocket and dial 911?”

“Well, it’s illegal to hit someone’s window like you admit to having done.”

“Right. And my reaction was in response to her assaulting me. So are you going to cite her for all the things she’s admitted doing?”

“It’s your word against hers.”

“Right, except she and I both agree that she was breaking the law.”

“Well, you should have called me.”

“Look,” said C., feeling very much as if he were living the Monty Python argument clinic or descending into tweetle-beetle-battle hell, “she called you and you’re here. What are you going to do about it?”

“It’s your word against hers,” said Deppity Doofus.

And that’s pretty much how it ended: The motorist, having admitted to a plethora of violations, one of them a moving violation, got to continue on while the Manhattan Beach bicycle cop (he was riding a bicycle) blamed the cyclist.

I thought about all this as I pondered Heath’s cyclist-hating comments and it made me think of Pogo. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Sometimes, sweat the small stuff

November 6, 2014 § 26 Comments

The judge looked down at me from his high perch. “Mr. Davidson,” he said, “I’m dismissing the case against your client due to the officer’s failure to appear in court today.”

“Thank you, your Honor,” I said.

He smirked a little bit. “Your client must be exceedingly happy at the fine lawyering you’ve done on this case.”

I smiled back. “Thank you, your Honor. I do my best work unopposed.”

And with that I, my client, his wife, and my two expert witnesses left the courtroom, where the judge would spend the balance of his morning and part of the afternoon trying various traffic citations. If there’s a smaller, less significant, more bottom-of-the-barrel niche in the practice of law I haven’t found it, and it’s not for want of trying.

Everyone was slightly disappointed at this complete victory except me. My client and his wife had wanted to see some razzle-dazzle cross examination of Deputy Duvall, the L.A. sheriff’s deputy who had written the completely bogus citation for my client’s alleged violation of CVC 21202(a). This is the law that requires cyclists in California to ride as far to the right as practicable unless one of three exceptions applies. In our case, my client was riding out in the middle of the lane because it was of substandard width, defined by statute to mean that the lane is too narrow for a bike and vehicle to safely travel side-by-side in the lane.

My first expert, Mr. Tomato Shirt, was disappointed because we didn’t get a chance to lose the case at trial and then appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court of the Crab Nebulae, where, in a 400-page decision rendered by the justices, the question would be resolved forever and throughout the universe that cyclists have the right to control the lane.

My second expert, Mr. Tom T. Earnest, was disappointed that we had all wasted another day and lots of preparation time to defend a case that was simply dismissed. He and Tomato were also angered that the deputy’s harassment in the form of writing bogus tickets didn’t get slapped down in court by the judge.

I, of course, was euphoric for the reason that every lawyer everywhere is euphoric when he wins by default: Trials always open the possibility of defeat, and only a fool wants to tempt fate with a dramatic courtroom trial when he can go home with a guaranteed win in his pocket. Add to that the fact that traffic court trials are about as dramatic as watching your wife scrub the calluses off her heel with a pumice stone and you’ll understand that as a lawyer, I just wanted to win — and I didn’t care how, and I especially didn’t care if it was handed to me on a platter.

This was the second no-show by the same deputy for the same bogus ticket. A third one, and hopefully the last one, is on the trial calendar for January 15. No surprise, I’m hoping for a no-show by the citing officer in that matter as well.

But not everyone is happy. There are cyclists who can’t get TV out of their brains, and who think that you haven’t really won until you’ve done a Clarence Darrow or a Perry Mason or a Racehorse Haynes in front of a packed courtroom. Here’s why they’re wrong.

The problem we’ve had on PCH is symbolized by the bogus tickets, but the bogus tickets aren’t the cause. The cause has been an enforcement policy that wrongly applies the provisions of CVC 21202(a), ignoring the black letter exceptions that make it legal on almost all of PCH for cyclists to ride in the middle of the lane. That enforcement policy comes primarily from the captain of the sheriff’s substation with jurisdiction over PCH, and you can fight tickets all day long but until the enforcement policy changes, you’re just swatting at flies in a manure field.

The aggressive, engaging policy of Eric Bruins and LA County Bicycle Coalition, the support of Greg Seyranian from Big Orange Cycling, the effective analysis and advocacy of Gary Cziko on the CABO forum and elsewhere, and the commitment of hundreds of cyclists to ride in the lane on PCH are what brought the sheriff’s department to the table. After several meetings, a ride-along where deputies could see the difference between riding in the lane and hugging the gutter, and an educational seminar for law enforcement officers, the captain of the substation, with the support of the L.A. County Sheriff, accepted the cyclists’ position on proper application of CVC 21202(a).

This wasn’t done through court trials, or flaming verbiage, or adversarial proceedings against the enemy. It was done between adults, evincing mutually respectful attitudes, trying to find a working compromise to a complex issue that requires balance between motorists, cyclists, and everyone else who uses PCH. As satisfying as it might appear on TV to destroy the opposition in court, it has been infinitely more effective to earn their respect and support and thereby change enforcement policies.

The fact that LASD has not written any more of these tickets to riders occupying the lane and the fact that the citing deputy hasn’t shown up to contest the ticket mean that cyclists are winning on PCH.

On the way back, though, my client was worried. “How’s your practice going?” he asked.

“Fine, thanks. Why do you ask?”

“Well, you know, pro bono defense of traffic citations … ” he trailed off.

“That’s why I have a PayPal link on my blog,” I said. “And anyway, sometimes it’s the small stuff that, in the end, is the biggest stuff of all.”

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Who’s at fault?

October 14, 2014 § 33 Comments

My friend Brent Garrigus recently began requiring customers to sign a contract when they purchase clothing that carries his shop logo. A copy of the agreement is posted below.

RIDE'r Contract

RIDE’r Contract

The idea is pretty simple. If you’re going to ride around North County with the name of Brent’s shop on your back, you should follow the law. Why would a bike shop owner care? First, because blatant lawbreaking may correlate with unsafe riding. Second, Brent doesn’t want his shop to be associated with riders who blow through red lights, run stop signs, and commit the other myriad infractions that seem to enrage so many motorists.

Brent has a solid record of practicing what he preaches. He runs his own rides out of his shop and doesn’t tolerate repeated traffic violations. People who can’t follow the rules of the road are first asked to do so, and then, if they still can’t figure it out, are asked to leave. This kind of leadership is necessary on large rides for lots of reasons. It enhances the safety of the group since everyone is riding by the same rules. It teaches new riders proper riding etiquette. And it probably results in better cyclist-motorist interactions.

On the other hand, focusing on scofflaw cyclists, in my opinion, is focusing on the wrong segment of the population. Few if any people I know have ever been hit while breaking the law. To the contrary, they are almost always law-abiding. The most recent outrageous cyclist deaths occurred when a texting sheriff’s deputy hit a biker in the bike lane and when an underage driver with a passenger killed a fully-illuminated recumbent rider who was carefully following the law. The same holds true for Udo Heinz, who was killed by a bus while riding in plain daylight following the law.

In other words, obeying the law on your bike is a good thing in theory, but it doesn’t address the real problem of cycling in traffic, which is careless motorists. You can stop at all the stop signs you want, but running stop signs isn’t what’s killing cyclists. Cyclists get hit because drivers don’t see them, which is often a function of edge-riding behavior, where cyclists hug the curb instead of occupying the middle of the travel lane where they can be seen.

Brent’s policy of helping educate and create a friendlier class of road cyclist deserves only praise. Road riders, like motorists, can often be rude; in extreme cases they can be violent. Helping enforce a policy of better behavior helps everyone, whether it saves lives or not. Leadership in the road community is a highly desirable commodity and deserves our support and respect — people who are willing to take a stand regardless of their bottom line are few and far between these days. And if you’d rather not sign the contract because you can’t resist flying through red lights on the Coast Highway during rush hour in order to snag that precious Strava KOM, well … you may have bigger issues than which jersey you wear.

END

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The taco strikes back

September 7, 2014 § 9 Comments

I rode my bike to the Milt Olin protest ride on Wednesday. It was in Calabasas, a solid two-and-a-half hour pedal from the South Bay. Milt was run over in the bike lane by a cop who was texting on his phone and typing on his mobile computer. The ride was organized to protest the decision by assistant district attorney minion Rosa Alarcon not to file misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against the deputy.

Even a slap on the wrist, apparently, was too much to ask.

There was a soul-sapping headwind all the way out the bike path. At CotKU, no one was waiting to join me, understandable since most people at 2:00 PM the Wednesday after Labor Day weekend are working. Coming into Santa Monica the most frightening thing in 32 years of bicycling happened.

I was riding in the bike lane on Main Street, just north of Abbot Kinney, when a Range Rover going the other direction swerved over into my lane. Accelerating to well over 50 mph, the bearded psycho leaned out the window and spit at me. Unfortunately for him, the onrushing wind blew the spit back into his face. Nor could he hop back into his lane because he’d overtaken three cars traveling in his direction, so he went even faster.

When I turned around to shoot the bird, he jerked back into his lane so hard that he almost flipped his car. I imagined the headline: “Cyclist killed en route to memorial ride for killed cyclist.”

Farther along in Santa Monica I stopped at the Ocean Park toilets but no one was waiting there either, so I pedaled on. Ascending Topanga Canyon I was passed by Peppy, the British neo-Cat 4 who regularly drills, grills, and kills on the NPR. “I waited at the Ocean Park toilets,” he said. “Where were you?”

“I didn’t see anyone so I kept going.”

“Um,” he said, exacting his vengeance with a nasty pace all the way up the climb.

We reached the assembly point for the memorial ride. There was a helicopter, as well as news trucks from every major TV station. The assistant district attorney’s decision not to prosecute had outraged the bicycling community. “Rosa Alarcon licks balls!” said one angry cyclist.

We put on arm bands and rolled out at 4:30, heading towards downtown, a mere three hours distant, through the worst traffic in the San Fernando Valley. I only had one water bottle and it was empty. The air in the valley was wretched and loaded with marble-sized particulates. A hacking cough began and we caught every light, hundreds and thousands of them, all the way to downtown. At one point our group split in half when the leaders rolled through a yellow light.

We remnants didn’t know the route and the leaders vanished in the distance. A mad chase ensued, with me and Peppy doing a desperate time trail to bridge and alert the leaders that half the group was four stoplights and twelve light years back. The hacking cough migrated down to the lowest part of my lungs.

In Burbank we were joined by a rider who was wearing a Total Team Sky Outfit And Team Bike. He looked just like Chris Froome except for his backpack, in which he carried a portable, hi-fidelity speaker. It was connected to his iPod, and he blasted us with an endless stream of terrible music, including Elvis, the Beatles, New Age Christian, hip-hop, Frank Sinatra, and jazz fusion. The music was so loud that when it paused between songs the background noise of LA’s rush hour traffic sounded muted, silent, pastoral.

This lasted until 7:30, when we reached the LA County District Attorney’s office. The ride had swelled as we crossed the city, and a candlelight vigil was held in Milt’s honor. Marv, Don, Brendan, and JF had joined the ride after work, and these four South Bay riders, along with me and Peppy, headed back home on Venice Boulevard in the pitch black.

It might as well have been Venice-Roubaix, so cracked and scarred and chug-holed were the roads. We had lights, but speeding along in a pace line they only illuminated the ass of the rider in front. Peppy had bonked and I was dead, even as the fresh South Bay foursome laid down a grueling pace.

JF, who had been noticeably absent from the working end of the paceline, came to the fore at last and put in a mighty turn. Peppy had yet to take a single pull, and I was about to pop. Suddenly JF, forty whole seconds into his effort, shouted out “El Dolor del Estomago! The most famous taco truck in the city!”

Almost taking us all out with a might brake and swerve, JF zoomed into the packed parking lot, where fifty people stood in line for the best of El Dolor’s offerings. Half an hour later we were standing against a trash can, each polishing of a mound of chicken-and-habanero-bean tacos.

Whether it was the energy of the food or the roaring volcano in his bowels, Peppy came to life. Everyone else retreated the other way, towards death, as he dragged us at 30mph down the barely-lit, cratered asphalt of Venice Blvd. After several miles Brendan dropped off, pleading menstrual cramps. Marv spied a blinking light that said “Beer” and vanished. JF, whose idea the taco stop had been, metamorphosed into a rolling effluent pipe.

We all parted ways on the bike path, except for Marv, who had been smart enough to stop when he found an open bar. I made it to Malaga Cove at 9:30 and called my wife to pick me up. I’m sure I’ve felt worse on a bike, but it’s hard to pinpoint when. Then I thought about Milt Olin, struck down in the prime of life, father and husband, killed by a cop who was too lazy to pull over and text.

My exhaustion evaporated and I felt grateful for being alive and angry at the kangaroo court’s cowardice. What happened to this kind and gentle man could happen to any of us, and on the way to the ride, in my case it almost did. Over a 150 people showed up on bikes and crossed the entire city to register their outrage and to demand justice for Milt, justice for every other person who dares risk death simply by riding a bicycle. With only three months left before the statute of limitations tolls, time is running out for the DA to do the right thing.

Won’t you take a few minutes out of your day to make your voice heard? The link is here with contact information and sample letters to email the DA. With prime time news coverage on every major news channel, District Attorney Jackie Lacey can be called to account only through the strength of your voice. Please help. Don’t give up.

END

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Roadkill

September 3, 2014 § 28 Comments

I had been standing out in front of the courthouse for more than an hour, “discussing” the facts of her case with a client.

“When did you first talk to him?” I asked her.

“One month ago.”

“And that was the first you ever heard of it?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And this lawyer never called you before then?”

“No.”

“And you never got any mail from him?”

“Oh, no. Never.”

“So how did you find out about it?”

“Well, about a year ago this lawyer called and told us to pay.”

“I thought you said you first heard of it a month ago?”

“I did? It was a year ago.”

“Okay. Did you talk to anyone about it more than a year ago?”

“No, never.”

“So what happened when the lawyer called you a year ago and told you to pay?”

“I told him I wasn’t gonna pay because we had already told him that.”

“Already? So you had spoken with him before?”

“Yes. About two years ago.”

It was one of those days. I left the courthouse pretty beaten down and drove along Maple to Torrance. At the light there were two cars with their flashers on. A big, white Mercedes SUV had crumpled the rear of a little Ford Transit that was wrapped with a logo saying “Prestige Auto Collision Centers.” Some stuff you can’t make up.

Instead of driving their cars into the capacious parking lot by the courthouse, the drivers simply left their cars at the place of impact, blocking the right lane. They leisurely stood around taking pictures while the rest of us got into the middle lane. The left lane was for left turns only.

I was the first car at the light, and it took forever. My mind was wandering. “Why don’t they move their cars? Why won’t my client pick a story and stick with it? What kind of beer should I grab at BevMo? What’s for dinner? My armpits itch.”

The light turned green and I had to make a right turn in front of the mashed-up Transit. My blinker was on, and Prius-like I slowly eased ahead and began to turn. Thankfully my window was down, because just as I committed to the turn a voice shrieked in the window.

“Heyyagggghfukkkkk!”

It was a biker on a fixie, no helmet, splitting the tiny space between my car and the Transit, going straight through the intersection at full speed as I tried to turn right. Reflexively I smashed the brake. The biker shot by, missing the front of my turning car by inches. He turned around towards me, mid-intersection, and flipped me off.

I was shaking.

The driver in the car on my left yelled at me. “That fuggin’ idiot! What the hell was he doing? Good job, man!”

“No,” I said. “That was my fault. I should have looked.”

“With what? The eyes in the back of your head?” The driver shook his head and I drove off.

“So that’s what it’s like,” I thought, still trembling, “when you wear the shoe on the other foot.”

END

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Shoot the messengers, but ride with them first

August 29, 2014 § 15 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 § 66 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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