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.

For what it’s worth

August 30, 2013 § 28 Comments

Today was the most perfect of days in Southern California. It began with a brisk and punchy pedal on the New Pier Ride, and after the ride we congregated at the Center of the Known Universe and enjoyed coffee … rehashes of the ride … and the joy that comes from soaking in the sun on a perfect August day just a few feet from the shimmering blue Pacific Oean.

When it came time for us to head in to work, we left the bricks reluctantly. The longer we dallied the less time we’d spend in the office, and then it would be Friday of Labor Day weekend, and nothing stops labor dead in its tracks like the Friday of a three-day weekend that exists solely to celebrate the ecstasy of not having to work.

I watched my buddies pedal off as they did their very worst to get into the office by ten.

She can’t see the sunshine now

On Tuesday afternoon Debra Deem was finishing up her workday much like we were starting out ours. She had recently retired from her high stress litigation job and was spending her retirement providing charitable legal services, and devoting herself to the gardens and plants she tended at her home.  Debra had been riding for more than twenty years and was an extremely safety-conscious cyclist. It was just her nature.

Very close to the same stretch of road where two women cyclists were hit and killed by motorists last year, and where a doctor was killed by a teenager in a runaway sports car, Debra was struck on August 27 by a minivan as she approached the intersection of Newport Coast Rd. while heading west on PCH. She died the following day.

I had gotten the news yesterday through Facebook, and though I didn’t know her, I couldn’t help feeling awful as the comments started coming in. Her husband Paul is a well-known cycling coach in Orange County, and has been a fixture in Southern California for decades. He raced the 4k team pursuit in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and won the gold medal in that event in the 1975 Pan Am Games.

I kept thinking about Debra all the way to work, thinking about how one more bicycle rider in Southern California has been killed by another careless driver. And I hate to say the obvious, but it’s just not right.

What is “right”?

In the case of cyclists being killed by cagers, “right” means reducing the risk that slower moving bikes will be hit by inattentive or errant drivers. It is a fact that putting bicyclists in bike lanes or over on the shoulder increases their exposure to careless cagers. It is also a fact that putting bicyclists in the center of the lane decreases accidents.

The down side to this simple solution of “put bikes in the middle of the lane” is also simple: It requires drivers to slow down and pass, and the more cyclists there are on the road, the more it drivers will perceive their progress to be slow, even though the increase in riders means there are fewer cars on the road and there is therefore less congestion, not more.

This perception of being slowed down is everything, and in conjunction with putting cyclists into the middle of traffic, where they belong, we must also have major changes in the way drivers are taught to drive. This includes a meaningful section in driver education classes and on the licensing exam, but it also means continuing education in the form of sharrows, those “bike + arrow” markings that tell cagers and cops that bikes belong in the middle of the lane, not over in the gutter.

The bloody history of Newport Coast Drive

The intersection of PCH and NCD is horrifically dangerous for cyclists, because they have to leave the bike lane and merge with traffic into the right-hand turn lane in order to get onto NCD. Traffic is frequently going full-bore, and even in the best situations it’s dicey.

What’s so outrageous is that at least three people have died on NCD in the last year, and numerous others have been hit and injured. Cars race up the NCD grade so fast that the wind buffets bikes on the side of the road. On notice that the road is deadly, that the traffic mix for bikes and cars must be better controlled, and that drivers treat the open stretch like a testing ground for their sports cars, the city and county have done nothing.

This blind eye, this willful ignorance makes itself known by the absence of stepped up patrols, by no changes to the configurations of the roads and intersections, and by not even a willingness to let the ghost bikes stay in place as a reminder of the ghastly deaths and injuries that have occurred here.

A sharrow might have saved Debra’s life, some simple white striping that costs a few cents. What’s a human life worth? It’s surely worth that.

And when will the death count be enough, these numbers that are real people with real lives, these statistics that leave ragged, gaping, eternally bleeding, unfillable holes in the lives of those who are left behind?

How many will it take?

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