Do bike lanes make drivers friendlier?

May 19, 2018 § 12 Comments

You can’t help notice the change when you start getting closer to Santa Monica. The overt hostility that is a fact of life here in the South Bay seems to weaken, then disappear altogether.

Take this morning.

We were pedaling harmlessly down Catalina in Redondo Beach, when a scruffy, overweight guy in a tiny, beat-up Subaru who was double parked shouted through his open window, “Quit running stop signs!”

There were no moving cars in sight at 6:30 AM, and his engine wasn’t even on. Rather than chomp down on the bait, I flung it back in his stinking face with a smile and a wave. “Have a nice day!”

This infuriated him. He fired up the ‘Roo and raced up alongside us. “Quit running stop signs!” he shrieked.

“Thanks,” I said. “Have a great day!”

“Fuck off!” he roared.

“Jesus loves you!” I added with a beatific smile.

Into the peace zone

By the time we got to Santa Monica there were cars everywhere. It was morning rush hour and everyone was in a panic to get extra coffee extra quick while texting and driving and emailing “Traffic!” to their bosses as they frantically looked for a parking slot near their fave kaffeehaus.

We were crammed into the narrow little green stripe with traffic passing inches from us. No one wanted to know why we ran stop signs. No one honked except for a dude who gave us a friendly beep and shouted “Have a good ride!” as he passed.

As we drank our cup of coffee on the sidewalk we marveled at the constant stream of bikers, pedestrians, and people riding those little electric Bird thingies. People were everywhere, and didn’t appear to be following any noticeable rules of the road except for the rule of “The shortest distance between me and there is a straight line and I’m taking it.”

Has it changed or am I older or both or neither?

I remember when there was plenty of conflict riding through Santa Monica and Venice, or at least I think I do, back when Abbott-Kinney was an early morning ground zero for epic Walks of Shame, bedraggled waifs hoofing it barefoot with their high heels in one hand and their handbag in the other, long before Uber.

After the bike lanes went in, and it did take a few years, it seemed like bike riding in Santa Monica exploded, and along with it people’s expectations that lawless, unpredictable, stoned or soon-to-be-stoned bikers/skaters/e-bikers/walkers/Segway-ers were lurking on every corner ready to trash their clear coat. And incredibly, people slowed down, or at least they sure seemed to.

In a similar vein, the horrible Bikeway o’ Death on Hermosa Ave. in the South Bay seems to have resulted in completely non-hostile drivers for that short one-mile stretch, combined as it is with BMUFL stickers in the roadway that parallels the cycle track, which gives cyclists a choice to either ride in the Deathway or on the road. No one honks at me any more there.

Is it possible that badly engineered, inherently dangerous, congested and confusing bike infrastructure can actually slow down motorists, make them more patient, and give cyclists a safer riding environment?

Nowadays when I drive downtown I hold the wheel in a lizard grip because of all the cyclists, none of whom is predictable, and all of whom seem to zoom randomly in and out of the numerous bike lanes. It’s almost as if repeated, nonstop chaos keeps the cagers on their toes.

Or at least, it keeps us off their hoods.



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Discover your city

May 14, 2018 § 1 Comment

A couple of months ago I wrote about one of the best biking experiences of my life. It wasn’t a trip to a foreign country, it was a trip in my very own city.

Called the MVMNT Ride, it’s not so much focused on cycling as it is focused on people meeting and sharing community while riding. On Saturday, June 9, the ride leaves from Ladera Center at 6709 La Tijera Blvd. at 8:00 AM, makes a stop at Leimert Park where we will enjoy a brief talk about the area, and then stops at Watts Towers. From there the ride retraces back to Ladera Center for a total of about thirty miles.

How much does the ride cost? It’s free.

What type of ride is it? Slow.

Who should come? Anyone who wants to explore L.A. on two wheels with friends.

You can get more information here. See you there!



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Where’s a cop when you need one?

May 11, 2018 § 48 Comments

We were on our way to Dogtown Coffee when a cyclist rode up behind us. “Hey, annoying cyclists! Out of my way!”

I didn’t even bother to glance. I knew Bearclaw’s voice when I heard it. He pulled up alongside, grinning. “Where are you guys headed?”

“Coffee. You?”

“Morning commute, man. Best part of my day.”

“Bike commuting is the best,” I agreed.

“Commuting over here is amazing. None of the rage you get in the South Bay, where people hate you just for existing.”

“It’s not that bad lately,” I said.

“Really?” he was skeptical.

“Really,” I said. “With the exception of one encounter with Nasty McButtchaps, people seem to more or less accept that we’re entitled to be there. I haven’t been hassled at all.”

Bearclaw shrugged. “That’s a good thing. Wonder what changed?”

Biker friends everywhere

A few minutes after hooking up with Bearclaw, who agreed to accompany us to the coffee shop before continuing on, we ran into Gary going the other direction. He flipped a u-turn. “Mind if I join?” he asked.

“That would be awesome,” I said. “Coffee’s on me.”

We always joke before leaving on our Friday coffee rides that we are certain to run into someone we know, and we always do. I am pretty sure that doesn’t happen on the 405 freeway. It’s one of the many things that make pedaling around LA on your bike so much fun. The hectic pace of the city is slowed down to a human speed, with plenty of time to pause, take it all in, and enjoy running into people.

Once we got to Dogtown, Gary elbowed me out of the way and bought all of our coffee just as Ralf showed up. We had met Ralf and his wife there a couple of weeks ago, and he was going to ride with us for a short distance back to Venice. I’d promised his wife some sourdough starter, and I had a couple of books I figured he might like. We four sat around and talked about silly stuff, then talked about serious stuff, too, like how things seem to be headed back to the 30’s, and not in a good way.

Homeward bound

After we got the world’s most pressing problems lined out, we headed home. Everything had been perfect. Good coffee, good friends, good conversation, good bicycling.

As we turned onto Esplanade in Redondo Beach, cruising up the little bump in the middle of the lane conspicuously marked with a “Bikes May Use Full Lane” icon, a woman drove up a few feet behind us and let loose with a massive honk. I gave her a friendly one-finger wave and we continued on.

She blew through the stop sign, window down, and pulled up alongside, forcing me up against the line of parked cars. “Pull over!” she screamed. Her face was twisted like a nasty dishrag and I eyed her bumper with apprehension.

“Can’t you read, you [adjective] [colorful noun]?” I said. “The marking says ‘bikes may use full lane.'”

Now she was in full rage mode. “Pull over! Pull over now!”

“What you need,” I said, “is a reliable weight-loss program. Because the one you’re on isn’t working.”

Surprisingly, she got even madder, wildly swinging the front of her car towards me and pulling away at the last second. “Pull over! Pull over!” she continued to scream.

At this moment, a woman in a silver Audi SUV who had been following us pulled up alongside Broom Hilda. “Are you crazy? You’re going to kill them! They haven’t done anything wrong!” Now we had one driver shouting at another driver shouting at two cyclists shouting back.

Crazy lady ignored the other lady and kept screaming at me. All I could do was politely say “Hey, you [adjective] , [adjective], [adjective] [colorful noun], you can [verb] my [adjective] [colorful noun]. And lay off the Totino’s while you’re at it. That shit is making you rage.”

Oddly, this made her rage. “I’m calling the cops on you, you smartass! Let’s see what you tell the police!”

She pulled out her phone and dialed 911. “Oh boy,” I thought to myself, “another biker-v-cager he-said-she-said. We know who’s getting reamed now.”

The cavalry arrives, then leaves

At this very moment I spied an orange Lamborghini. There is only one orange Lamborghini I know of that lives on Esplanade, and it is owned by the chief sub-leader of Team Lizard Collectors, Greg S. “Sweet!” I thought. “G3 will see all this crazy and be my character witness when they try to drag me off in handcuffs!”

The Lambo slowed as Broom Hilda took another twelve swipes, running stop signs while shouting on her cell phone to the dispatcher. With all 45,000 lumens from my headlights blasting into G3’s rearview and sideview mirrors, I was all aces.

Or so it seemed, because unbeknownst to me G3 had just found the Sirius channel with a 24-hour playlist of Spanish jazz guitar songs written in the key of B, and he was oblivious to the perils of his buddy. The orange Lambo rolled away just as Broom Hilda made another vicious swerve that missed my front wheel by inches.

“I’m so fucked,” I thought.


Seconds later I saw, miracle of miracles, a Redondo Beach police cruiser parked against the esplanade. Broom Hilda shrieked with glee. “You’re gonna get it now, asshole!” she yelled.

For a couple of blocks she continued shouting into the phone at the dispatcher. “What are the cops doing?” I wondered. “I believe in donut breaks and all, but this is ridiculous.”

On cue the flashers lit and the sirens howled. I pulled over, as did Broom Hilda. She sneered and said nothing. She didn’t have to.

The first cop got out and walked up to her while the second came over to us. “Please step over here,” he said firmly. As we stepped, I glanced at crazy lady, now several yards away. She was still screaming, only this time it was at the officer. “What do you mean?” she shrieked. “I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG!”

The cop nearest us turned to me. “We’ve been following you for two blocks,” he said. “We heard the whole fake report to the dispatcher and saw everything. She’s getting cited, don’t worry.”

Of course it crossed my mind to say, “Cited? You mean arrested, right? She tried to kill us and you saw it!” But then a bunch of other things crowded in. If she had wanted to kill or hit us, she easily could have. She was a crazy lady in a beat-up POS screaming at the cops in Redondo Beach. She had basically gone to the Karma Cafe and ordered from the drive-thru express window; the rest of her week would likely be spent figuring out how she was going to pay the citation.

Then, to make it even more unbelievable, the woman who had been following us in the Audi came dashing up. “Officer!” she said. “I saw the whole thing! Those bicyclists didn’t do anything wrong! They were where they were supposed to be and that lady tried to run them over!”

The cop nodded. “Thank you, ma’am, we saw it, too.”

“Can we go now?” I asked.

“Sure. Sorry for all this,” he said.

“Thanks for being there when we needed you.”

As we pedaled by, Broom Hilda interrupted her screams of innocence at the cop and yelled “Fuck you! Fuck you!” to our quickly receding backs. I was pretty sure I’d never seen anyone get out of a ticket with epithets.

We labored up the hill, suddenly exhausted by the tension. “The South Bay,” I mumbled, thinking about the woman last week who’d had her throat cut in the middle of the day at the Peninsula Mall, a few hundred yards away from where we live. “A family place.”



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Victim blaming?

May 8, 2018 § 25 Comments

The Internet is a wild and woolly place, filled as it is with countless crazies howling at the moon on any given night. Although I’m usually impervious to the nuttiness, sometimes a particular bit of blight gets through and spatters my windshield.

This time, a reader took the time to email me a critique of my “wear a lot of lights” advocacy. In essence, he calls it victim blaming. “When you put the focus on what the rider did wrong, instead of what the driver who killed him did wrong, you are blaming the victim.”

The reader went on to point out that this is exactly what newspapers do when they report cycling deaths, never failing to mention that the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet, and almost never pointing out that it wasn’t a car that killed the cyclist, but rather a negligent (drunk/stoned/distracted) driver who did. In the same vein, he said, my advocacy for lights blames cyclists, who are the true victims, and takes the pressure off the drivers who maim and kill them.

Therefore, Wanky is bad.

Bad Wanky

That much we can agree on. I am bad. It’s been years since I’ve been swatted with a rolled-up newspaper, but the charge still stands.

But am I victim blaming when I point out that the single best thing you can do to stay alive on city streets is to be well illuminated, especially during the day? Maybe. Kind of the same way in which I’m victim blaming when I tell people to wear seat belts in my car. Because you know, the focus should be on the drunk who plows into us, not on what we can do to keep from slamming face-first through the windshield.

In fact, victim blamers are everywhere, especially in places like the aviation industry, where victim blaming FAA regulations require flotation devices and oxygen masks, rather than ensuring that no operational problems ever occur. The military does lots of victim blaming, too, requiring infantry to wear helmets and body armor, instead of focusing on the real wrongdoers, i.e. the snipers and the people who plant the I.E.D.s.

Our society has become one of victim blamers, I guess. Every time you advocate for a measure that might mitigate harm to the potential victim or avoid it entirely, you are victim blaming: Putting scent in the gas lines, home fire detectors, protective goggles in the workplace, lawyer locks on front forks, kiddie-proof caps on household cleaners, anti-lock brake systems, airbags, kill switches at the gas station, anti-slip pads in the shower, narrow grates on home paper shredders … all these things are just victim blaming. If we really cared about people being poisoned to death, we’d focus on gas leaks themselves, for example, and make sure that there never was one, ever. Then we wouldn’t have to blame victims by putting scent in the gas lines so the victims could detect the gas and escape instead of dying in their sleep.

Your orthodoxy suit doesn’t fit

Of course the real problem isn’t that I advocate using daytime lights (along with lane positioning and a host of other preventive measures), the problem is that a lot of people can’t accept that even the slightest deviation from their agenda isn’t necessarily an enemy.

We see it everywhere, all the time. If you’re not 100% for me and in agreement with everything I say, you’re against me. Trump, anyone?

Never mind that lights make you conspicuous and keep you from getting hit. Never mind that with lights you can start saving lives today, whereas with infrastructure, social change, nationwide mandatory bike education curricula, and other long-term (some would say pie-in-the-sky) solutions, it will be years before the effects are felt. And never mind that lights are something that almost everyone can afford and easily slap onto their bike.

Never mind all that.

Because we cyclists are victims, and perish the thought that we take steps to do anything about it. You can’t be a martyr if you’re still alive.



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F the bike path

May 4, 2018 § 16 Comments

I hate the bike path. Over the past several years it was always a rarity to get out on it, although in the last few months I’ve ventured forth a dozen times or so, riding north with Mrs. WM en route to coffee shops in Venice or Santa Monica.

Yes, I know, it’s some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. You, your bike, the beach, the first thongs of spring, the beautiful blue ocean, and Catalina shimmering off the coast like Treasure Island. What’s not to like?

In my opinion, three things. And they’re all biggies, big enough that I avoid the bike path like I avoid formulas in Excel.

Sand in your crack

When you ride on the bike path, you get sand in your chain, sand in between your cogs, sand on your bike, and sand in your shoes. Sand is not good for bicycles or for the movement in your Philippe Patek. No one has ever said, “Hey, I know how to fix that squeak! More sand!”

But cleaning my bike and de-sanding it isn’t the worst thing about the bike path. Not by a long shot.

Getting hurt

Do you know anyone who regularly uses the bike path who hasn’t hit someone, gotten hit, had a bad fall, or seen one? Here are just a few of the things that I personally know have happened on the Marvin Braude Bike Path that runs from RAT Beach to Santa Monica.

  1. Friend’s mother was killed in Hermosa when a cyclist hit her on the bike path.
  2. An older guy, unfamiliar with the bike path, rode down the stairwell after the exit northbound from the garage at King Harbor, killing himself.
  3. I slammed into a woman who crossed the bike path without looking. She was unhurt, my ego was badly damaged and required extensive rehab.
  4. A friend was clipped by an oncoming idiot near SM Pier, hit the sand, and broke her humerus against the edge of the concrete bike path. Lifelong disability.
  5. A woman rider was hit by two drunk cyclists and suffered permanent damage to her hand and fingers.
  6. A guy slipped on the newly resurfaced, uber-slick asphalt in King Harbor and broke his hand.
  7. Numerous friends have fallen, some getting badly injured, at Cobley Corner north of Dockweiler.
  8. One friend was battered by an asshole in Hermosa, who intentionally kicked his skateboard in front of the friend’s bike to watch him fall.
  9. A member of a local club got clipped by a passing, out of control rider, and shattered his wrist.

These are nothing more than the most superficial of anecdotal scans that pop up in my brain when you say “bike path.” There are hundreds of such collisions and injuries on the bike path every year, some resulting in catastrophic injuries. However, since it is not a public road, there are no state-logged SWITRS collision reports that you can obtain to quantify the number and type of collisions.

Suffice it to say that virtually everyone who regularly rides the bike path has seen and/or been involved in a gnarly crash. The reasons aren’t really that important to me; as more people start biking and as more people discover the joys of high-speed electric bikes, the bloodbath will only grow. I know the thing is dangerous and I avoid it. As Mrs. WM’s on-road skills improve, we have quit riding it almost completely, using it at six or six-thirty for a few miles to avoid commuter traffic on Vista del Mar.

Not getting paid

But there’s an even better reason to avoid the bike path than sand and guts. It’s the fact that if you get hurt on the bike path, it is highly likely that you will never be able to hold the wrongdoer accountable.

First, when you are hurt by another cyclist, the offending rider often hops on his bike and pedals off. Later, dude.

Second, even if the person stops, there is no liability insurance for cyclists like there is for cars. This means that if the person doesn’t own a home or have renter’s insurance, they have no coverage. There’s a phrase for these folks: Judgment proof. And of course your UM/UIM coverage only applies to bicycle collisions if you’re hit by a car. Bike-on-bike? SOL.

Third, many of these injuries are the result of poor maintenance, failure to repair the bike path, and bad design. If it were a roadway you would sue the city and force them to pay for the damage they caused. But guess what?

In California, injuries caused by dangerous, badly maintained, negligently designed bike paths and recreational trails are immune to suit. Because of this immunity, the bike path is almost always covered with sand at some treacherous point or another, even though the trail maintenance crew has machinery to sweep the path. But why bother? They can’t be sued.

If you have to get hurt, better to do it on a city street where the likelihood of insurance and favorable laws will at least help you cope with the disastrous consequences of injury. Moreover, riding in the street with lots of bike lights and using lane control techniques is a lot safer than cramming yourself into the narrow confines of the bike path, where pathletes on TT rigs, people pushing strollers, joggers wobbling hither and yon, volleyballs wandering onto the path, and surfers headed for the waves create a constant stream of lethal hazards.

Leave the bike path to those who don’t know enough to be terrified. Because I am.



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The big three

May 3, 2018 § 22 Comments

I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of cyclists last night at Cynergy Cycles in Santa Monica. It’s the kind of talk I do whenever asked, because I get to cover the three things near and dear to my heart:

  1. Daytime lights, front and rear, run all the time.
  2. Underinsured/Uninsured motorist coverage. Max it out!
  3. What to do if you’re hit by a car (and still conscious).

Over the last five years or so there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who ride with daytime lights in the South Bay. On the rides I regularly attend, which include the Donut, the Flog, NPR, and Telo, many cyclists are lit up, and with powerful lights to boot.

It is purely anecdotal, but as these local rides and local riders become more and more accustomed to riding with daytime lights, the number of my friends hit by cars has fallen dramatically. In fact, one of the few recent cases in which a South Bay rider I know personally was hit, the rider was one of those guys who has always been too cool to ride with daytime lights. He got clocked on a busy weekend day and suffered severe injuries.

It’s funny how pride, coolness, and being a weight weenie (not to mention a cheapskate) suck so many cyclists into the death trap of riding without daytime lights. These are often the same people who don’t practice lane control and who dwell in the gutter/door zone.

In any case, I attribute the decrease in car-bike collisions among people I ride with to the continual messaging here and on the bike: Get daytime lights, and make sure they’re bright. Drivers may not like you, but they don’t want to hit you. They really don’t. They’re simply scapegoating you for their own inattentiveness. Here’s how it works.

  1. Driver is distracted.
  2. Driver sees you at the last minute because you are inconspicuous.
  3. Driver takes emergency evasive action, sometimes hitting you, sometimes not.
  4. Driver is scared shitless that he almost hit you/actually hit you.
  5. Driver blames you for his bad behavior.

With daytime lights, here’s how it works:

  1. Driver is distracted.
  2. Driver sees you way in advance.
  3. Driver avoids you.
  4. Driver honks/flips you off, but never comes close to hitting you.
  5. Driver continues on, leaving you in peace and intact.

Light yourself up. Really. Do.



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Live by the sword, die by the pillow

April 12, 2018 § 8 Comments

That’s what it probably felt like, a gentle, soft pillow slowly but firmly pressing down, and down, and down, and then … done.

That’s how it must have seemed to Robert Lewis Chapman, Jr., as the ballots trickled in like water torture, vote by vote, slowly surpassing, then overwhelming, then crushing the fucking life out of his opposition to the ballot measure that would fund the Palos Verdes Mistakes’ cop shop.

All that sturm, all that drang, all those concerned citizen groups, all those HOAs with a membership of two, all those hundreds of emails, thousands of rants, billions of NextDoor character assassinations, trillions of anonymous Internet troll handles, all of it slowly crushed under the weight of a simple process called “democracy,” where the tiny minority of loud, horrible, obnoxious, and voluble screechers were shouted down by silent little paper slips stuck into a ballot box.

Is there an alternate Urban Dictionary definition for “Ankur” somewhere, one that means “Squashed troll”?

But lest we celebrate too soon, here’s what happened, and what didn’t.

What didn’t happen

Palos Verdes Mistakes didn’t put its police department under new management and vow to roll out a transparent law enforcement agency that would fairly enforce the laws. It simply voted to keep its more expensive but locally controlled police department. It also voted to spend more money to give city employees a good living wage and a good retirement. On a human level, that’s pretty awesome.

However, there was never any question about whether or not the laws would be fairly enforced, whether under LA Sheriff’s Department or under PVE Police Department. The mandate of the Peninsula communities has always been and will always be to keep out blacks, minorities, and the poor, with a few special exceptions. Gardeners, nannies, housekeepers, and construction workers, you know what I mean.

What did happen, Part 1

The good citizens of Palos Verdes Mistakes finally had their say about Robert Chapman and his demagoguery, and they said it with crushing finality. The vote to keep the cop shop and pay more taxes was over 70% for, 29% against. In elections, getting 70% of the vote for anything typically only happens in Louisiana. That’s how disgusted the community was by the anti-Measure E shenanigans.

After being subjected to personal taunts and vile insults of every kind, after being targeted by the infamous PV hate website, abused in endless email tirades, and demeaned in countless interactions with police and public officials, the people of PV refused to cave in to this Trumpian, Hitlerian, Orbanesque style of personal assassination politicking and they repudiated Bob Chapman with a thudding, steel-toed kick to the soft parts. He’ll be groaning about it for years to come. Decades.

This wasn’t even about the police force anymore. It was about the community’s collective revulsion at seeing basically decent people get pilloried, attacked, and reviled by a mini-tyrant for simply doing their job, or for disagreeing, or for exercising their civic rights and their right to free speech.

What did happen, Part 2

Less noble, the folks of Palos Verdes Mistakes behaved predictably, although I didn’t predict it. On a policy level, they voted to keep their police department because their fear of change outweighed their hatred of taxation. PVE was built to keep people out, a sentiment which itself is built on a sentiment of fear–fear of people who are different, fear of people who are poor, fear of people who (you wrongly think) want what you’ve got.

And in repudiating Chapman, PVE confirmed what people have long known about the city, namely that it will always repudiate outsiders, and no one was more of an outsider than Chapman. He belongs to the community as a resident, but not as a member. Whether it’s the exclusive privilege to surf with the graying kooks at Lunada Bay, the privilege to serve on city council, or the privilege to mix and socialize, Chapman has always been held at arms-length no matter how rabidly he carries the exclusionary banner of “Keep ’em out!” as he tries to out-PVE the PVE locals themselves.

I once lived in a small town where in order to be considered local, you had to have grandparents in the cemetery. Everyone else was an interloper and treated accordingly.

Seventy percent of the vote? That’s a message even Bob Chapman may understand.



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