The tired radicals

May 10, 2015 § 38 Comments

On Saturday morning I rolled up to the Manhattan Beach Pier and was pleasantly surprised to find a large group of riders who had made the 6:30 AM commitment to pedal north for a couple of hours, take the full lane on Pacific Coast Highway, and then lodge an informal protest at Malibu City Hall regarding the illegal ticketing of cyclists on PCH.

By the time we arrived we had added another ten riders or so, and a handful had only ridden part of the way. The pre-ride publicity was pushed by Greg Seyranian of Big Orange, and I got a lot of help from Mario Obejas at the Beach Cities Cycling Club, as he invited me to come speak to the group about our protest and included ride information in the club’s newsletter. I also greatly appreciated the efforts of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, who sent their president from San Diego, Jim Baross, and his henchman from San Clemente, Pete van Nuys.

Don Ward of Wolfpack Hustle also put the word out on Facebook and Twitter, and a random and incomplete list of people who showed up includes Dan Kroboth, Steven Thorpe, Robert Cisneros, David Huntsman, Mikki Ozawa, Tamar Toister, Debbie Sullivan, Michael Barraclough, Pete van Nuys, Gary Cziko, Jim Baross, Eric Richardson, Bob Kellogg, Peter Richardson, Connie Perez, Alx Bns, Mark Jacobs, Don Young, and Les Borean.

The day before the ride I got a call from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The lieutenant and I spent close to an hour talking about cycling on PCH. Although the department understands the right of cyclists to control the lane when there are debris or other hazards that make riding as far to the right as practicable unsafe, the bone of contention continues to be what constitutes a substandard width lane, because it is this exception to the FTR law that cyclists use to get away from the fog line and out into the full lane on PCH.

Our position has always been that the statute, CVC 21202(a) is plain. It defines a substandard width lane as one in which a bike and a car cannot travel safely side by side. Some of the sheriff’s deputies believe that on PCH this is a matter of judgment and interpretation, whereas regular cyclists who simply want to follow the law insist that it’s no more subject to interpretation than the rules governing stopping at traffic lights.

Simple math shows beyond any reasonable dispute that the substandard width exception applies on PCH. Why? Because nowhere on the stretch from Santa Monica to the Ventura County Line do the lanes exceed 11 feet in width, 12 at the absolute most. The width of a cyclist, when you add in one foot for variation of the line of travel, is about 4 feet. California law now requires cars to pass bikes with a minimum 3-foot buffer. This puts the effective width of the cyclist at about 7 feet. The width of a car or truck, including its mirrors, is at least 6 feet.

6 + 7 = 13, and 13 > 12. In words, a 12-foot lane isn’t wide enough to accommodate 13 feet of bike and car. And of course along many sections of PCH, the lanes are only barely 10 feet wide.

We took the lane as soon as we exited onto PCH at Chautauqua, and the entire morning we saw only two squad cars, neither of which paid us any attention whatsoever. It’s my opinion that the upper management at the sheriff’s department agrees with our interpretation of the law, but I also think there are deputies on the line who simply don’t accept the right of cyclists to take the lane no matter what the law says. They see a group of riders who aren’t cowering in the gutter and think, “That can’t be legal.” But during our ride we got nothing but courtesy from the law, which was kind of the point: The ride was staged as a protest against a ticket issued to a Big Orange rider several months ago for failing to ride in the bike lane, and at the time there were no bike lanes on PCH.

At Temescal Canyon we took a break, waited for the West Side riders to show up, and tweeted/facebagged our protest ride info to the Lost Hills Substation, the City of Malibu, and the CHP.

The entire ride from Temescal to Cross Creek, about six miles, we got honked at exactly once and were chopped exactly once — by an asshole on a motorcycle, no less. I always find it hilarious and pathetic when the second-most vulnerable users on the road treat us with aggression and hatred.

Although getting our message across to law enforcement and to the City of Malibu was the main purpose of the ride, as it turns out the real impact of this type of cycling is the message it sends to cagers. Hundreds of motorists were educated this morning about the rights of cyclists to take the lane on PCH–it was a lesson worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in radio spots or TV ads. Forcing drivers to see cyclists in the lane and accept the reality that as with a slow moving bus or cement mixer you have to slow down, put on your blinker, change lanes, and pass on the left, are the most important results of this type of activity.

Which leads to a couple of other observations: First, of the couple of hundred cyclists we saw on PCH that morning, none was in the lane, all were huddled in the gutter. Several times we even had riders catch up to us, sit on for a few minutes, and then come racing around on the left, only to dive back into the gutter. Whereas law enforcement seems to be coming around to our point of view, judging from the cyclists on PCH, most riders prefer to be entirely out of the roadway. This is where the actions of large groups like La Grange, Big Orange, and semi-organized rides such as NOW and Kettle need to continue pounding home the message that the lane is legal and it’s safe. In fact, when I did the NOW ride a few weeks ago it was amazing to see the entire 70-person peloton crammed up onto the shoulder.

The most extreme example of the cower mentality was on the BWR a few weeks ago, when riders refused to take the lane even when protected by a police-escorted, full rolling enclosure. Old habits die hard.

On the other hand, you can’t force people to do what they don’t feel comfortable doing, and the main point is that riders who understand that they’re safer in the lane now have a pretty strong reason to take it without too much fear of harassment. Even as I’m writing this the California Highway Patrol from West Valley tweeted to say that they agreed cyclists can ride in the lane as long as they’re not impeding traffic.

A final point was recognizing that despite all of the advocacy and fundraising by the numerous bicycling organizations in Southern California, the most effective thing you can do is to get a group together and take the lane. All the emails and fundraising campaigns in the world don’t speak as loudly as 25 riders legally riding in the lane.

Related to that there’s this issue: Getting riders to commit to a Saturday or Sunday of cycling advocacy is tough because the weather’s nice, the early morning roads are relatively empty, and would you rather get in your workout with your pals … or try to change the world with a little two-wheeled advocacy? Most people will choose the former, but for those who took the time to make themselves seen and heard on PCH, thank YOU!

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Paradigm shift

April 26, 2013 § 21 Comments

When I rolled up with my daughter and son in-law to the Ruby’s Diner in Redondo Beach, I was out of my comfort zone. I’d taken up Jim Hannon of Beach Cities Cycling Club on his invitation to join his ride up to LA’s Ciclavia. We would intersect Ciclavia in Venice and then take part in the daylong cycling festivities.

What is Ciclavia? It is proof that Los Angeles is one of the great cities in the world. More importantly, it’s the most subversive and revolutionary activity I’ve ever been part of.

The city shuts down a major road or series of roads to car traffic and makes the streets the province of people and bicycles rather than automobiles. When we merged with the event, which had already been going on for a couple of hours, I thought I would be prepared to see one of LA’s most iconic roadways, Venice Boulevard, clogged with 200,000 people riding bicycles.

I wasn’t.

State-sponsored subversion is the best subversion

And until you do the Ciclavia, you won’t be ready for it either, because it completely upends our notions of what this city is, what the streets are for, and who the people are who really make up our larger community. For example, did you know there’s a guy who rides a fourteen-foot high bicycle with no brakes that is so tall he has to mount it from the second floor of an office building? I suppose he’s doing his part to convince skeptics that bicycle riders aren’t batshit crazy.

Did you know there’s a group called Compton South Side Riders for World Peace who have the most beautiful hand-crafted chrome easy-riders that you’ve ever seen?

Did you know that the fat lady lying flat on her back with the paramedics trying to get her heart going again shouldn’t have eaten so many gutbusting lardburgers before throwing a leg over and riding 35 miles from downtown to the sea and back?

Did you know that LA is a brown city?

Did you know that tens of thousands of children have bicycles and love to ride them in the street?

Did you know that most people don’t ride bicycles with stretchy lycra panty thingies?

Did you know that cars are the enemy, and that they are not vital to our existence?

Did you know that with planning and cooperation, huge swaths of a city like LA, famed for traffic snarls and the supposed “automobile love affair,” can be turned into one giant playground for kids, families, and people who just want to enjoy being outdoors?

Did you know that if you open the streets to people on bicycles, small businesses have an actual competitive advantage over the giant chain stores?

Did you know that tens of thousands of people ride fixed-gear bicycles and virtually none of them are hipsters?

Did you know that the police are smiling and in a good mood when they’re policing bike traffic instead of chasing cars on the freeways, in fear for their lives and ready to shoot on sight?

Did you know that bicycles bring people together because bicycles are a metaphor for freedom, and a tool to make people free?

That’s “Mr. Fred” to you, pal

I would discover these and a thousand more things, but at the start of the ride I had my hands full grappling with my stereotypes. The Beach Cities Cycling Club people were the kind of people I never ride with, and their behavior was so bizarre that after we’d gone a half-mile I wondered whether I could make the ride. Of all the weird things they did, the weirdest was talking. Yep, they talked to each other, and I don’t mean the conversation you and I have on the bike, you know, this one:

“Hey. How’s it going?”

“Good. You?”

“Good.”

Followed, of course, by a flurry of attacks and panting and gasping and a relentless 2-hour hammerfest.

No, the BCCC folks had these weird conversations that were slow paced, that exchanged information, that were filled with laughter, and in which the people actually got to know each other. And no one screamed at anyone else or shouted, “Pull through, wanker!”

Like I said, I was freaking out.

The weirdness of this crowd intensified as we rode. They stopped at every single red light. The first time I almost crashed out. “Don’t they know that those lights are suggestions?” I wondered.

They stopped at stop signs, too. “Wow,” I thought. “So that’s what those are for.”

They pointed out obstacles in the road instead of swerving at the last minute and dragging the rest of the group over the open manhole cover.

Then, the thing that blew my mind was the sweeper. That’s right. They had a dude who was one of the stronger riders sit at the back and make sure no one came unhitched or got lost. “WTF?” I wondered. “As long as they’ve got a sweeper, how are they going to bury and abandon somebody 50 miles from home? How are they going to shred their friends in a paceline and leave them for dead? How are they going to attack, out-sprint, drop, and humiliate the people they like? Don’t they know that cycling is supposed to be an extended index of misery and pain?”

Clearly they didn’t, and then an even weirder thing happened. I started talking to the person next to me. Like, it was a real conversation, the kind I’m told people have with their spouses. By the time we reached Venice I was relaxed and had gotten to make friends with several different people, learning more about them in a few short miles than I’d learned about the countless cyclists I regularly meet up with on the Donut Ride or NPR. For the first time since I was a kid I was on my bike and the purpose of the activity wasn’t riding the bike.

“It’s not about the bike,” I told myself. “Hey, that’s a good name for a book.”

The ride was fun, but the fun didn’t involve a beatdown. I can’t really describe it. It was fun without being painful and awful and ending with a crushing defeat. I know, you can’t understand it, either. But it was. Why? Because this pain-free fun stuff, well, it’s pretty cool.

And on June 23, the date of the next Ciclavia, I’m doing it again.

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