March 14, 2016 § 69 Comments
The recent death of Jonathan Tansavatdi, a local South Bay cyclist and member of my club, Big Orange, has again brutally emphasized the vulnerability of cyclists. Although the cause and mechanics of the collision that took his life remain unknown at this point, it got me to thinking about our collective responsibility as a cycling club.
In other words, what is the obligation of every cycling club with regard to teaching bike safety?
This seems like it has an easy answer. Clubs encourage people to ride. They encourage people to join. And at least our club really encourages people to race their bikes. In addition to that encouragement, any club worthy of the name provides structure to make all those things happen.
Our club provides group ride activities throughout the week, and we have the best grass roots club racing program in America, a program that focuses on getting members to sign up as Cat 5 men and Cat 4 women and race their bikes.
So the question remains. What are we as racing clubs doing with regard to teaching bike safety? As with most cycling clubs, only a minority of our members actually race. Even big profamateur masters squads like Surf City and Monster Media have more actual riders than they do members who show up and race every weekend.
With the exception of on-the-job safety training, where ride leaders and allegedly experienced riders give out tips to the newcomers, I’ve yet to hear of a club that has formalized program to teach rider safety in conjunction with a requirement that all riders complete a safety course before they are allowed to join.
This is weird because:
- Most cyclists suck at safety.
- Although cycling is safe, when shit goes sideways you can die or be catastrophically injured.
- There is already a fantastic educational course called Cycling Savvy that every single bike club in America can afford to have conduct classes.
The reticence to teaching cycling safety, at least among racing clubs, is that the Cycling Savvy teachers are complete dorks. They are the guys with helmet mirrors, flappy arm sleeves, uncool bikes, hairy legs and teeth, and of course none of them race. So there is a huge bias on the part of the cool kids (think junior high insecurity and vanity without the excuse of youth) against sitting down and getting schooled by people whose business it is to stay alive in traffic. It’s crazy to think that one group of dorks riding around in their underwear look down at another group of dorks riding around in their underwear, but Ah, Bartleby, ah humanity!
The benefits to instituting a club licensing program are massive. First, it tells every single person thinking about joining that nothing matters to us more than your life. Second, it tells every single person thinking about joining that we don’t care how many races you’ve won, how many watts you put out, or how many imaginary trinkets you have stored on your imaginary Strava cupboard, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU KNOW HOW TO RIDE SAFELY IN TRAFFIC. Think velodrome certification: They don’t care how good you think you are. Until you’ve proven you can ride on a banked track without gears or brakes, you’re not allowed to play in the sandbox.
Finally, of course, certification and licensing would begin to disseminate the life preserving skills we all need as vulnerable riders in traffic. It makes us advocates for smart riding and maybe, just maybe, decreases the number of memorial rides even by one.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and learn how to ride yer fuggin’ bike. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
February 9, 2016 § 36 Comments
Road riding has a deserved reputation for unfriendliness. I’ve been to so many places where the group rides are filled with jerks. There was a group of people in Sugarland, west of Houston, I used to ride with who made a point of being assholes. They didn’t like you from the day you showed up until the day you left.
SoCal has many places that are just like that. I’ve heard awful stories about group rides in LA, Orange County, and San Diego–and participated in many–where the ethos is best described as “Sure, you belong … but not here.”
The first time I showed up in LA on my steel bike and in my fuzzy wool outfit, the local bully yelled at me for daring to mix it up in the sprint on the Old Pier Ride.
We know that as interest in competitive road racing dwindles, something has to change. The biggest thing, in my opinion, is ameliorating the tendency to be a jerk just because someone is new.
The last club I rode for was pretty elitist. It was set up on an invitation only basis. If you didn’t know the right people and couldn’t do the right handshake and couldn’t put up the right numbers, it didn’t matter how nice a person you were.
My current club is Team Lizard Collectors. It is a motley crew. But the thing that makes it a great club is that everyone is welcomed, and welcomed heartily. The only rule is “Don’t be a dick.” In its many years of existence only two people have been booted for dickishness.
Team Lizard Collectors has set the bar high in terms of not simply accepting people, but actively asking them to join. One of the reasons I was thrilled to join TLC is because I could ask people to join. This good vibration has spread to other clubs in the area.
Thanks in part to the relentless efforts of Team Lizard Collectors and their bossmen Greg Seyranian and Greg Leibert, the good vibration has spread to other clubs. Under the leadership of “El President” Robert Efthimos, the west side icon of Velo Club L’Argent has also become one of the most open door, welcoming clubs anywhere. And as clubs have gotten friendlier, the area’s vibe has gotten friendlier. Suddenly, instead of being a competition to treat people like that brown thing that’s been in the back of the freezer since ’09, there has developed a spirit of “Who can be the friendliest?”
Okay, so it’s a competition. These are cyclists we’re talking about.
I was pleased to see a dude on the NPR last week who was wearing a nondescript kit that said “Abbeville” on it. He went pretty good. I chatted him up, gave him my card, and asked him to join Team Lizard Collectors. He’d been in town for a few months and was getting to know the local rides.
“Sure,” he said. “Thank you.”
So the dude joined TLC. Turns out he is a two-time French national champion and has 47 road wins under his belt. He showed up on the Flog Ride on Thursday and put everyone to the sword without breaking a sweat. Best of all, his wife owns an awesome coffee shop with authentic French pastries that melt in your mouth, or in the back of your jersey if you stick a couple there to take home.
Next time you see someone riding down the road, take a minute to say hi. You never know who you’ll run across. And it doesn’t cost you one red cent.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and learn be a little bit friendlier, maybe. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
November 5, 2015 § 24 Comments
Rapha announced today that it would end its partnership with Team Sky at the end of 2016. Cycling in the South Bay sat down with Chauncy Chalmers, CEO of Rapha, to talk about the divorce.
CitSB: What was it? Irreconcilable differences?
Chauncy: Oh, far from it. We’ve both benefited immensely from the partnership and are leaving on the best of terms. We plan to remain friends, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Team SKY.
CitSB: And where are you today?
Chauncy: We are the dominant player in the pretentious bicycle clothing market. $345 for a pink plastic vest. See? We OWN it.
CitSB: Yes, but there’s more to your success than that, isn’t there? Rapha is regarded as one of the best fitting, most superbly designed clothing manufacturers in the bike industry, combining the understated English qualities of Savile Row with the hardman exploits of volcano dopers. That’s what they say over at Red Kite Prayer, anyway.
Chauncy: Don’t believe everything you read; that guy was nominated for Wanker of the Year. Our stuff is made by the same underpaid Chinese garment workers as every other label. And get this–the average Chinese worker makes $19.81 per day, just under $2.50 an hour. Pretty sweet mark-up, I’d say.
CitSB: Schweet, for sho. So why the break-up with SKY? Seemed like a match made in heaven. Pretentious British label hawked by marginal gains volcano dopers with funny accents that sound vaguely aristocratic to the untrained American ear, which can’t distinguish between the Queen’s English, Ozzie Jibberjabber, and Pig Latin.
Chauncy: Yes, the American market is what we’ve always referred to as “gullible.” And it certainly has paid the bills.
CitSB: So why the breakup? Faux English tailored cycling kits with a vaguely 70’s design in updated 21st Century Pink; volcano dopers who talk funny and millions of tubby Americans who think Rapha’s been around since Eddy Merckx.
Chauncy: The market is saturated.
CitSB: How can that be? There are ten new baby seals on the NPR every week, ripe for clubbing and for new Rapha kits and for 100% full carbon parts made of pure carbon. It’s only just begun!
Chauncy: Our market research shows that with the exception of New York, Los Angeles, and parts of North County San Diego, the pretentious asshole demographic is saturated and shrinking.
Chauncy: It’s true. Most people who ride bicycles aren’t snobby twits who crave approval by being treated rudely and looked down on. What’s worse, most people who ride bicycles don’t really care what their bicycle clothing looks like.
CitSB: Blasphemy! How do you know that?
Chauncy: We took our team of designers to the Tour of Palm Springs last year to examine the market first hand. Three of our designers are still in therapy. It gets worse. We randomly sampled riders, asking them if they liked Wiggins better than Froome. The answer blew our mind.
CitSB: What did they say?
Chauncy: They all said the same thing: “Who?”
CitSB: Shocking. And so you’ve pulled the plug. What’s Team SKY going to be wearing for 2017 then?
Chauncy: It’s a secret, but I’ll tell you if you promise to keep it off the record.
CitSB: You can trust me.
Chauncy: They’ve hired one of your local guys here in LA to do their kits. Apparently one of the designs here has really caught their fancy.
CitSB: Which one is that?
Chauncy: Big Purple, or Orange, or something.
CitSB: Big Orange?
Chauncy: Yes, that’s the one. You know them? They must have a pretty understated look to catch Team SKY’s eye.
CitSB: Nope. Never heard of ’em.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get the dope on biker fashion. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
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!
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and help advocate for what matters. You can also get out on your bike and take the lane! Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
April 6, 2015 § 63 Comments
One of my buddies has a place up near Paso Robles, and he rides his bike there a fair amount. There isn’t ever any traffic, the roads are scenic, and the weather is nice there year-round. But don’t let the scarcity of cars and the bucolic byways fool you. The three-tooth mouth breathers may not graduate from high school, but they can still use a spray can.
Yesterday as my buddy was pedaling along, minding his own business, a pickup coming in the other direction took the time to slow down, honk, roll down the window, flip him off, and holler in a healthy “Fuck you!” for good measure. There is nothing that reminds you how much you are hated more than people taking the time on a beautiful, uncrowded morning to honk, scream, and flip.
On Saturday morning as we returned from a ride out to Trancas on PCH a motorcyclist did the same thing. We were in Manhattan Beach, the traffic was light, and we approached a signal. The biker happily raised his middle finger and cursed us. There is also a guy who regularly rides his motorized bicycle illegally down the bike path with a surfboard on the side, spitting exhaust fumes as he rattles along. He can invariably be counted on to scream The Greeting and display The Gesture.
And of course a few weeks ago another Deppity Doofus on PCH pulled over a group of Big Orange riders on PCH and punitively ticketed one for not riding in the bike lane. Detail: There is no bike lane on PCH. Still, time and effort and expense will be wasted defending against the targeted police harassment, just as with the forty or so riders in the Conejo Valley who were all ticketed by a cop for running a stop sign that they didn’t all run.
You know, group guilt. It’s the new individual guilt.
On Saturday, May 9, at 9:00 AM I’m going to be at the Malibu City Hall, 23825 Stuart Ranch Road, to protest the continued illegal harassment of cyclists by the LA Sheriff’s Department. The city advised that I should “attend a council meeting instead,” but when I checked the U.S. Constitution there was nothing in it about the Malibu Municipal Code. Feel free to show up and voice your opinion about this.
The City of Malibu has no police force of its own and instead contracts with LASD for police services. The sheriff’s department is responsive to the demands of its employers. Both law enforcement and the entitled bike-haters on PCH need to know that their harassment is as unacceptable as it is offensive.
Anyone who wants to pedal to the city hall can meet me in the parking lot at Temescal Canyon and PCH, at Will Rogers State Park at 8:00 AM. I’ll be riding slowly, safely, and legally, where I belong.
In the lane.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and make sure the authorities know how pissed off you are. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
You can also follow me on the Twitter here:
January 16, 2015 § 48 Comments
Team Wanker showed up at the Santa Monica Courthouse garbed in its finest clothing and ready to do battle with the machinations of THE SYSTEM, or, alternatively, to hang out at the Sckubrats across the street and quaff a cup of coffee. This was our third sally into the bowels of bicycle-citation-defense law, and I was gradually coming to the realization that working for free was just as unprofitable as going for a bike ride, only less fun.
For this final inning against the minions of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, we had assembled, if not the Dream Team, then at least the Catnap Team. We had:
Defendant Scotty G.: The victim of a terrible conspiracy to pervert our civil rights, Scotty G. had chosen to take a morning off work and fight the citation for violating CVC 21202(a) even though it would have been easier and cheaper to pay the fine. Scotty had been ticketed for riding in the middle of the lane on PCH with the Big Orange noodlers. Everyone agreed that the reason he’d been served with the ticket is because he was wearing the dark blue Ironfly kit, and stood out like a sore tongue in a French kissing contest when surrounded by all the Orangemen.
Expert Witness Gary Cziko (pronounced “psycho, but not to his face): Gary now holds the record in successful expert witness bicycle defenses, having won every single case in which he was hired to testify — proving that he is well worth the cup of coffee and candy bar that it took to entice him to take a bath and pedal over to court. Hired Gun Psycho had come prepared to testify to the width of the lane and the fact that it could not be safely shared by a bike and vehicle, thereby calling into effect one of the exceptions to California’s “farthest to the right” rule for bikes. This time, sensing an all-out war, he had brushed away all the breadcrumbs, combed most of his hair, and brushed several of his teeth. It was battle time.
Expert Witness Eric Bruins: Strangely an alum of USC, Eric is also batting a thousand in his testimony regarding highway standards, although somewhat less successful in explaining why with the last name of “Bruins” he didn’t go to UCLA. Eric was prepared to testify regarding the applicable width of lanes under accepted lane-width standards, and why those standards were crucial for understanding the inherent unsafety of the lanes on PCH as concerns “FTR” travel by bicycles.
Gritty Lawyer “Wankmeister,” Senior Partner and Chief Janitor at Wanky Law, LLP: I knew this was going to be the toughest trial of my career, and not just because I’d had beans and chili the night before at the all-you-can-eat taco bar and beanerie with Bull. As I sat stewing in the endless traffic on the 405, I thought grimly about the take-no-prisoners, scorched earth tactics I would have to employ in this pitiless cage fight between titans of the law.
Deppity Doofus: Doofus was my adversary, as wily and clever as he was rotund and fond of donuts. With a mind and body honed on three decades of law enforcement along PCH, and almost as many decades spent belly-up to the counter at DK Donuts in Santa Monica, Deppity Doofus would be cagy and hard to trap. He had mostly spelled his own name correctly at the bottom of the citation, which let me know that I was dealing with the best that the sheriff’s department had to offer.
The battle plan
In our two previous court battles, Team Wanky had employed one of the most complex legal strategies ever devised. Known by its code name, JSU, the “Just Show Up” stratagem involved all four of us appearing at the courthouse at the correct time, 8:45 AM.
But that wasn’t all. After appearing, we planned to carefully find our way to Department A, where we would implement Phase II of JSU, in some ways the trickiest part of our defense. One by one we would enter the courtroom. Scotty, Gary, and Eric would all sit down. I, on the other hand, was planning to walk up to the clerk’s desk and check in. This was the linchpin of our strategy — we would then be officially checked in.
After overcoming these incredible hurdles, Phase III would kick in: We would wait for our case to be called. Then, we would wait for the judge to say, “No appearance by Deppity Doofus due to a sale at the Olde Donut Shoppe. Case dismissed.” At that point I was planning to carefully stand up and deliver the most devastating part of my legal defense — I would say, “Thank you, Your Honor,” and we would all stand up and leave.
That, anyway, was the plan.
No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy
Unfortunately, our devastating JSU strategy got derailed early. Although I had allotted thirty minutes for the one-hour drive to Santa Monica, I wound up arriving late. Then, facing complete defeat, I was forced to call Scotty G. and have him implement Phase II using our backup plan. Instead of me going to the desk and checking in, I told him, “Scotty, you go check in.” He was able to walk all the way to the clerk’s desk, give his name, and save the day.
I dashed into the courtroom a few minutes late, still in time to make my closing argument. Quickly, I huddled with Team Wanker and we practiced.
“Okay, Scotty. Get ready to sit down.”
“I’m already sitting,” he said.”
“Good job. Keep it up. Gary, what’s the square root of 5.9?” I asked.
“I have no idea. What difference does it make?”
“Just checking. Good job. Eric, how much spunk water should you drink to make a wart go away when Venus is retrograde to Uranus?”
“What?” he asked.
“Exactly,” I confirmed.
Then I sat down beside my team and waited to attack. Judge Hahn came in and surveyed us, sensing the dismissal battle that was about to take place. “Okay,” he said, “if I call your name it means that the officer who wrote the citation isn’t here, so your case will be dismissed and you can go home.”
He read off a few names, but not a single defendant had a professional team of hired guns like Scotty G. The way that Gary and Eric sat in their chairs and gaped like toads was terrible to behold.
“Scotty G.?” said the judge. “Your case is dismissed.”
I stood, and all eyes in the courtroom turned on my. It was to be my finest hour as I summoned all of my wits to persuade these twelve jurors of the justice of our cause. I paused. You could have sliced the tension with an eructation. “Your honor,” I said.
“Yes?” he answered.
I drew it out, the crowning moment of my legal career, champion of the downtrodden, hero of the oppressed, knowing neither fear nor favor in my prosecution of the things we as Americans cherish most deeply. Then I said it. “Thank you.”
“Samuel Poopinbeck,” said the Judge. “Case dismissed.”
Mr. Poopinbeck made complete mess out of his dismissal and stumbled to the door, only managing to mumble, “Thanks.”
Afterwards we high-fived in the hall, slapped backs and butts, and jogged over to the Sckubrats where I treated everyone to a cup of water. The euphoria was incredible. Scotty G. thanked me for my efforts, and we parted company. We fought the law, and we won.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and help needy cyclists get top-notch legal assistance. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
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.”
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog, which is kind of a bargain. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!