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:
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?
- 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.)
- Join the ride for John and Debra on Sunday.
- Join the OC Bicycle Coalition and the LA County Bicycle Coalition.
- 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.
- Follow the best cycling blog in Los Angeles, if not the world, “Biking in L.A.“
- Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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:
- 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.
- Email me at email@example.com if you are willing to actively support these efforts. Activities will include letter-writing, phone calls, organized full-lane rides on PCH.
- 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.
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:
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.
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?
- 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.
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
- 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.
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.
- A large group of 10 or more riders can do it easily and safely with little or no cager hostility.
- 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.
- 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!”
“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.
Now is a great time to subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay,” before I get killed on PCH! It’s only $2.99 per month, which is kind of a bargain. Sort of. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
June 12, 2014 § 132 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.
Please take a minute to subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay.” It’s only $2.99 per month. If you can’t do that, then at least get a group together and ride in the lane on PCH!
Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
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.
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.
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.
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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.