July 28, 2014 § 51 Comments
As part of the “Cyclists Belong in the Lane on PCH” project, on Sunday the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department met us at 8:00 AM in the parking lot of Will Rogers State Park. They were in an unmarked Ford Explorer. Greg Seyranian and Dave Kramer had rallied the Big Orange troops, along with other riders from the West Side and the South Bay. There were about fifty cyclists total.
This was the second phase of our law enforcement-cyclist cooperative. The first phase involved getting ticketed for riding in the lane, and then throwing a shit-fit about it followed by meetings with Captain Pat Devoren and his team of deputies. Much of the heavy lifting was done by Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition wunderkind Eric Bruins. Give them some money if you’re feeling so disposed.
As a result of the meetings, Captain Devoren suggested a ride-along where deputies would follow behind a Sunday group ride. This was going to be our opportunity to educate them about the realities of riding a bike on PCH, and about how much safer it is to ride in the lane than in the gutter.
The Big Orange peloton had prepared an excellent ride plan. From Temescal to Las Flores they would ride in the gutter, switching to the lane at those points where the shoulder vanishes, or where there are cars parked on the shoulder, or where other space considerations make continued progress in the gutter impossible. This would give the following deputies an opportunity to see how dangerous it is to continually switch from gutter to lane.
After Las Flores, the peloton would ride single file “as far to the right as practicable” per CVC 21202. This would show the deputies two things: first, that a line of 50 riders going single file on PCH is significantly more of an obstacle to motorists than a single, compact peloton riding 2×2. Second, it would demonstrate with utter clarity that even when riding “FTR” there is not enough space for a bike and a car to share the lane — and that’s without the 3-foot passing law that kicks in this September.
At Cross Creek the peloton would flip it and ride back to Temescal utilizing the full lane. This would let the deputies compare traffic flow, safety, and predictability of the cyclists versus the other two methods.
The peloton rolled out and we hung back in the unmarked vehicle for about a minute. Then, we got a little surprise: because it looked like we were tailgating the cyclists, a park ranger put on his flashers and pulled us over. It’s pretty awesome getting stopped by law enforcement when you’re in an unmarked vehicle with two dudes carrying LASD badges. Suffice it to say, no one got a ticket!
The deputies were immediately impressed with the difficulty and inherent danger of doing gutter-and-lane back-and-forth maneuvers. Although motorists didn’t harass anyone or honk, the constant motion from gutter to lane was plainly fraught with potential conflict, especially since the traffic at 8:00 AM on Sunday is incredibly light compared to what happens on this stretch of PCH during a weekday, or later in the day on a nice weekend.
When the Big Orange group shifted to single file, it was also clear that there was no possible way that a car could safely share the lane with the cyclists. The deputies immediately saw that putting fifty riders in a long single file created an extremely long line of riders. When I told them that as of September the weekly Big O contingent would be double that in size, they understood the importance of keeping the group as compact as possible.
On the final leg from Cross Creek back to Temescal, the chief concern of the deputies was how traffic would be obstructed. It wasn’t, not even a little. One deputy commented that it was no different from a motorist who has to go around a slow moving vehicle like a bus or a dump truck. They also noted the incredible number of obstacles for any rider who might choose to ride in the gutter. Cars parked up against the fog line, people opening doors, surfers magically appearing with surfboards, and bad surface conditions in the gutter were all things that became easy to understand when pointed out while following the peloton at a slow speed of 20/21 mph.
The deputies were fully on board with the idea that the best place for a group is in the lane. This is a huge change and represents a watershed in the way that law enforcement views bicyclists on PCH. The only concern they still had was how this type of lane control would affect traffic when it was only one or two riders and when it was done during rush hour.
I volunteered to do another drive along, this time with only one or two riders so they could see that although the obstruction of traffic was minimal, the motorist harassment is extreme and terrifying. We’re going to set up a date for that experiment, perhaps this coming week.
The take home for cyclists who want to ride in the lane on PCH is this: the deputies will report back to Captain Devoren and based on their report we will follow up with LASD to confirm that for now, at least as regards groups of riders, cyclists can expect not to be cited for CVC 21202 violations simply for riding in the lane. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that confirmation in writing or as a directive that is sent out to deputies working traffic enforcement on PCH.
I want to stress that this is a work in progress. We’ve gotten key deputies to examine this stretch of PCH from a cyclist’s perspective, and in their words, “We’ve been educated about what cyclists face on PCH.” It doesn’t mean that the issue is fully resolved, especially with regard to solo riders or cyclists in groups of two or three.
Although it’s tempting to describe this as a “victory,” it’s much more a significant step in the right direction. The sheriff’s department has been professional and not even the slightest big adversarial with regard to these discussions. With the continued support and open-minded approach of LASD — not to mention the riders who are willing to come out and help with the process of educating law enforcement — we may not be too far from the day when all cyclists will be able to exercise their right to ride in the lane all the way from Santa Monica to County Line and beyond.
Huge thanks to all of the people who have given time, lent encouragement, and donated money to keep this project moving ahead. Thanks as well to Captain Devoren and LASD for being open to change. If you want to get involved as a volunteer, send me your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also:
- Subscribe to this blog: Your $2.99 monthly donation helps me advocate for cyclists.
- Join California Association of Bicycling Organizations. $10, cheap.
- Join LA County Bicycle Coalition.
- Talk with your club and discuss riding in the lane on PCH the next time you’re out that way.
It’s been less than a year since Greg Seyranian and Big Orange began using lane control on their group rides on PCH. Thanks again to all who have helped.
July 22, 2014 § 72 Comments
… makes the whole world blind.
Of course, if you saw the video put up by Santa Paula reserve police officer Laura Weintraub, you might well have gone blind with rage. Her “satire” included a diatribe against cyclists that openly condoned hitting them, and concluded with an image of one of the most horrible bike-car accidents ever photographed. She captioned the photo, “Like you never thought about it.”
The terrible swift sword of justice was quick. Santa Paula’s police chief, Steve McLean, immediately repudiated the video and placed Weintraub on administrative leave. She resigned the next day, but not before NBC News, the LA Times, Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet blew up. Outraged cyclists tracked down her phone number and threatened to kill her and dismember her body.
At 4:30 AM on Monday I woke up and checked the LA Bike Blog. Ted Rogers, who had been on top of the story from its inception, penned an insightful piece wondering if, perhaps, we’d squandered the “teachable moment” for the blood lust of watching Weintraub’s head roll. Wasn’t this, Rogers wondered, in actuality an opportunity to forge understanding?
I thought about that and emailed Chief McLean. Here’s what I said:
Hi, Chief McLean
I’m a lawyer and cycling advocate in LA, and have been working with Captain Devoren over at the Lost Hills Substation and with CHP regarding cycling safety issues on PCH.
I’ve followed the matter regarding Laura Weintraub closely, and appreciated her apology as well as your department’s swift response.
I think this matter has created a great opportunity for outreach and education. Although the video clearly offended many people, it has brought attention to the conflict between cyclists and motorists in Ventura County and the need for better relationships on all sides.
If you have some time today I’d be more than happy to call and talk about some ways that we can turn this into a win-win situation for your department, for cyclists, and for motorists in Santa Paula.
Later that morning I phoned Chief McLean, and was surprised when he took the call personally. I’ve dealt with law enforcement in many adversarial situations, and fully expected McLean to be defensive and skeptical regarding my motives. He was nothing of the kind. To the contrary, when I suggested a meeting with representatives from LA County Bicycle Coalition and Ventura County cycling advocates in order to explore ways that we could provide outreach and education opportunities to the police department, he said this: “I would very much like to have such a meeting, and sooner rather than later.”
After a phone call to Eric Bruins of LACBC, we were able to set up a meeting for this coming Friday. The idea is to bring cycling safety issues to the forefront and to combat some of the most common motorist prejudices as expressed by Weintraub in her video: that cyclists are a nuisance, that their lives don’t really “count,” that people who look different deserve persecution, and that cyclists don’t really belong on the roads.
My conversation with Chief McLean convinced me that the views of Weintraub are not the views of the department. It is regularly involved with pro-cyclist activities, not least of which included acting as a host city for the 2014 Amgen Tour of California. With regard to education regarding cyclist safety issues, the new 3-foot passing law that goes into effect in September, and some of the more technical aspects of cycling law such as CVC 21202, we now have a great opportunity to provide education and outreach to law enforcement in an area heavily frequented by cyclists.
Our biggest challenge in Southern California, which is the epicenter of American car culture, isn’t how to demonize our opponents, although I’ve been known to lob my fair share of Molotovs at aggressive cagers. Our real challenge is getting law enforcement and the community to recognize and accept our right to be on the road. The city of Santa Paula’s police department seems ready to meet that challenge head on, and for that they deserve our respect.
Do you support advocacy for cyclist rights? For safer streets? For better relationships between law enforcement, the community, and bikers? Here are some ways you can have an impact:
- Subscribe to this blog: Your donation helps me advocate for cyclists.
- Join California Association of Bicycling Organizations. $10, cheap.
- Join LA County Bicycle Coalition.
- Sign up as an activist by emailing me your contact info at email@example.com
- Get out on your bike and take the lane; learn CVC 21202 by heart!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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 14, 2014 § 17 Comments
Derek the Destroyer looked at me and began speaking. His speech was slow and syrupy, disembodied almost from the movement of his mouth. Through his sunglasses I could see his listless, dying eyes.
“Wanky,” he said as we coasted down the Latigo bump on PCH towards the filling station. “I wonder if they have any ham sandwiches there?”
We were 130 miles in. We’d climbed Yerba Buena, Decker, the endless undulations of PCH, and the backdoor bonus climb at Zuma Beach. Derek had gone from bonk to the far-away stare of death, and his brain had regressed to its most infantile state, the state where, as you ponder hunger and starvation and the slowly decelerating circles of your legs, the part of your brain responsible for mental pictures of food (the subcutaneous trochanter) begins flashing images that contain the food requirements necessary to keep you alive.
For Derek, it was a ham sandwich.
“Dude,” I answered. “The only thing that gas station has are candy bars and diseases on the toilet seats. There ain’t no ham sandwiches there. There ain’t no ham sandwiches for another ten miles. Maybe the ‘Bucks at Malibu.”
He nodded dumbly. He’d known the answer before I gave it. “But don’t worry,” I encouraged him. “We only have thirty miles left to ride today.”
Surfer Dan and Manslaughter churned away on the front until we reached Malibu. We stopped at the coffee shop. Derek bought a ham sandwich and a single chocolate-covered graham cracker. He chewed slowly, his eyes staring emptily at the bricks on the sidewalk. “1, 2, 3 … ” he counted to himself.
“What’s he doing?” asked Surfer.
“He’s counting the bricks,” I said.
“I, 2, 3 … ” Derek repeated.
“He can’t seem to get past three,” Surfer noted.
“He’ll feel better soon,” I said. “Tomorrow.”
If you Facebook it, they will come
I had innocently invited the general public to join me on a mid-week jaunt up PCH after tackling the morning New Pier Ride hammerfest. This nasty 160-mile, 8,000-feet, all-day butchering attracted a solid contingent of about fifteen riders, all of whom thought that “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
At the top of Yerba Buena, a godforsaken, crack-filled, pothole-scarred, 8-mile climb, we were only at the 85-mile mark. One by one we stragglers reached the summit that the Wily Greek, Surfer, and Derek had arrived at several hours before, and we were all thinking the same thing: “There’s no fuggin’ way I’m going up Decker after this.”
Decker is a beast in its own right, a 4-mile, 8% climb with a couple of super steep sections coming at the very beginning of the climb. In our case, it came at the 97-mile mark, and no wanted to climb it. The easy choice was simply to continue home along PCH. Decker would have been easy to avoid. All we had to do was pedal by it and say nothing. No one would have complained or jeered until we had gotten back to Manhattan Beach, after we were tucked safely into our bar stools.
Sadly, as we sat atop Yerba Buena and tried to collect our wits, Derek broke The Rule and voiced our fears. “Uh, dude,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants to do Decker.”
“Well, fugg those fuggers,” I said. “‘Cause I’m fuggin’ doin’ Decker.”
“Looks like you’ll be doing it alone,” he said.
“No,” said Manslaughter. “He won’t.”
The taste of one’s own words, chewed slowly
As we approached the left turn onto Decker, the Wily Greek slinked to the back and denied that he was really a Cat 1. Sammy claimed that today was a “rest day.” SB Baby Seal, who had manfully ridden me off his wheel on Yerba Buena, stared at his Garmin and tried not to look embarrassed. Toronto shook his head like a whipped mule that wasn’t going to walk one more step. Tumbleweed dug out and flashed his AARP card, and even the ever-resilient Frenchy made it clear that she had to get home in time to watch the paint dry. Boozy and Wheezy shook their heads.
Hoof Fixerman was blunt and unapologetic. “Time you wankers get home I’ll be on my fifth Racer 5.”
So Surfer, Manslaughter, Derek, and I pedaled off to our doom up Decker, which was a thousand times worse than we thought it would be. Like a bad kidney stone, however, it too passed, and once Derek had overcome his ham sandwich attack we pointed our noses home and flew down PCH with a whipping tailwind.
Back at the bar, Surfer ordered four plates of nachos, three pizzas, and a meat pie. The rest of us had a triple-beef bacon burger with bacon sauce and bacon dressing, topped off with bacon-flavored french fries with bacon bits. Manslaughter and I selected our favorite IPA in handy 32-oz mugs, and Derek ordered an 8-oz Michelob Weenielite, which doesn’t taste great and isn’t particularly filling, either.
The ride, which was only 155 miles but had swelled to 180 by the time Mrs. Wankmeister came to pick me up, had already become a legend in our own minds, a legend that could only be confirmed with another large mug and a visit to the ice cream shop next door. Everyone agreed that although it had been an epic unforgettable day, and although it had been worth it to see Derek exhibit for the first time the human trait of frailty, it was a complete waste of time, it had ruined whatever race fitness any of us pretended to have, and it was certainly the stupidest thing we’d ever done with the exception (perhaps) of getting into cycling in the first place.
So of course we’re doing it again next Thursday. See you there.
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.
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May 29, 2014 § 63 Comments
Last fall a movement began. A handful of riders in the South Bay stopped playing gutter bunny on Pacific Coast Highway and took their rightful place in the lane.
It was like the Prague Spring of 1968, and repressed cyclists, long confined to the detritus of the roadside and the terrorization of buzzing motorists, rode smack in the lane, forcing drivers to slow down and pass them, safely, in the left-hand lane. It caught on.
The justification for selecting the dominant position in the lane was legal and practical. Under California Vehicle Code Sec. 21202, bicycle riders are required to ride as far to the right as practicable unless the width of the lane is such that a bike and car cannot safely share the lane. As everyone who rides PCH knows, the narrow lanes (often less than 11 feet wide) make it lethal to coexist in the same lane with trucks and their tow mirrors, trailers, boats, buses, big-ass SUV’s, and even ordinary passenger cars.
Before long, the South Bay’s biggest, most visible, and most activist racing club, Big Orange, was leading all of its Sunday rides on PCH in the lane. Riders who were initially doubtful about the safety and benefits of riding in the lane rather than cringing in the gutters as they dodged nails, glass, rocks, cracks, garbage cans, and the rear-ends of parked cars, became believers.
At its height Big Orange was towing 70 to 80 riders in an orderly 2×2 formation down the best bike lane in America: the right-hand lane of PCH.
Trouble in paradise
That all came crashing down one Sunday last October when the ride, being led by Greg Leibert, was pulled over by a pair of sheriff’s deputies in a squad car. G$ was cited for violating CVC 21202 — failure to ride as far to the right as practicable.
Discussion was fruitless. When G$ whipped out his handy-dandy copy of the vehicle code, one deputy advised him that “I been writing these tickets for 20 years, I know the law, and you’ll never beat it.”
For this law enforcement duo, the sight of so many riders behaving like cars was too much. Despite the clear language of the law they slapped G$ with a citation.
In one fell swoop this single ticket turned the victorious PCH Sunday riders back into gutter bunnies. All the talk about how it was legal to control the lane was overcome with one traffic ticket. Who wants to go out for a Sunday ride and come home with a fine that runs into the hundreds of dollars?
With the same force of Leonid Brezhnev’s tanks rolling into Prague, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had crushed the cyclist uprising.
LA County Bicycle Coalition to the rescue
But G$ wasn’t going down without a fight, and he had an ally in Eric Bruins, policy director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Eric had been working for months to arrange a meeting with the captain of the Agoura Hills Substation, which has jurisdiction of PCH all the way from Santa Monica to the county line.
When Captain Pat Devoren met with Eric, me, and Dr. Gary Cziko earlier this year, I laid out our chief complaint with riding on PCH: the lane was the only safe place to ride, it was legal for us to be there, and the sheriff’s department was illegally writing citations. After a few minutes, Captain Devoren raised his hand and smiled. “Guys,” he said, “I get it. I’m a bicyclist.”
We all looked at each other in amazement. A bicyclist in charge of law enforcement on PCH? The dogs must be crazy.
We continued the discussion for a while with Captain Devoren –an incredibly polite and professional man — and the sergeants who were also in the meeting. Some skepticism was expressed that riding in the lane was safe, but when we detailed the dangers of riding in the gutter, they agreed. “Anyway,” one of them said, “it’s the law.”
At the end of the meeting Captain Devoren told us that he would inform his deputies regarding the proper interpretation of CVC 21202 and that henceforth cyclists would no longer be cited for failure to ride to the right on those sections of PCH where doing so was unsafe, hazardous, or where the lane could not safely be shared with a car. The three of us walked out of the meeting in a daze. We felt like we hadn’t so much won a battle as gained an ally.
It was too good to be true but … there was still that matter of the ticket.
G$ and I showed up in Santa Monica traffic court on Tuesday morning. He had pled “not guilty” and we were going to try his case in front of the judge. Rather than descending into a he-said, she-said confrontation with the officer who wrote the ticket, we came armed to the teeth with two of the finest expert witnesses in the business.
It was the largest display of legal firepower to fight a traffic infraction that the court had seen in a while. Dr. Gary Cziko was going to be our first weapon, beating back the state’s assault on our right to ride in the lane with his unpronounceable last name. The strategy was that by the time the court had figured out how to spell it, then say it properly (Psycho? Seeko? Cheeseko?), they’d be so tired of the case that they’d acquit just to move things along.
If the slavic name stratagem failed, Gary had brought three gigantic exhibits showing the amount of space in lanes of varying width when the lane was shared by a bike and a vehicle. These exhibits would clearly demonstrate how deadly it is when a bike has to be in the lane on PCH with a fast-moving vehicle.
We planned to lay a foundation as to Gary’s expertise in cycling safety by pointing to his three decades as a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, his certification as a cycling instructor by the League of American Wheelemen and Cycling Savvy, and the scruffy patch of unshaved facial hair he’d missed in his morning shave.
We would further cement his qualifications as a cyclist to opine on the safety of the lane where G$ was ticketed by pointing out the bike helmet he brought into the courtroom, his giant commuter backpack, the strap around his ankle to keep his slacks out of the chain, and if necessary we’d take the judge out to the front of the courthouse where he could see Gary’s commuter rig chained to the flagpole, a misdemeanor. (Kidding. Gary would never chain his bike to a flagpole.)
After putting on the killer testimony of our hired gun Dr. Cziko, we planned to storm the battlements with the erudite and nattily-dressed Eric Bruins. Eric would testify regarding safe lane widths, standard lane width determinations under a variety of federal design regulations, and would further opine that the point at which G$ was ticketed could not have been safely occupied by a bike and a vehicle, and therefore G$’s decision to control the center of the lane was legal and defensible and the safest possible option.
After stabbing the twitching carcass of the police state with these sharpened harpoons, we planned to save the final bludgeoning to the head for last. We would put G$ himself on the stand.
In preparation for his testimony, our hero had shaved, brushed his teeth, bathed, put on deodorant, whacked the four inches of dust off his blazer with a carpet beater, and taken a 2-hour YouTube course on “How to Tie a Necktie without Strangling Yourself.” He was clean and buffed, his hair was combed, and he had even decided to wait until after the trial before re-dying his hair with his signature electric orange coiffe.
I had spent the previous six months preparing for this momentous trial, which I knew would be the defining moment of my career. I’d carefully analyzed every detail of the seminal CVC 21202 Supreme Court case, Pooky v. Festersore. In Pooky, cyclist Blood E. Festersore had been cited for “running” a red light. The arresting officer, Fluffer Pooky, had cited him for conspiracy to overthrow the government and Festersore received a life sentence.
In its landmark decision, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for a unanimous court said this: “Guns. Benghazi. Obamacare is for commies.”
Victory for the little people
As the court came to order, Judge Kahn looked up. “The following cases are dismissed due to the citing officer’s failure to appear for court today. Case No. 292811, Greg Leibert.”
We threw our hands up in the air and began hugging. G$ broke down into uncontrollable sobs, relieved at the thought that he wouldn’t have to pay the $221 fine, and would only have to pay $4,000 for my legal services and $15,000 in expert witness fees.
Camera crews from CBS, NBC, and Pornhub.com captured every moment of the victory celebration, and the other people in court, although they would have clapped, instead cursed and threw cigarette butts at us for being lucky enough not to have to go to trial. After interviews with major news media, we went over to a coffee shop to debrief.
Everyone was amazed at the withering cross examination I would have unleashed, and we thanked Eric and Gary for the devastating expert testimony that they would have used to crush the state’s case. The credibility and forcefulness of the testimony that G$ would have given was so brilliant that we clapped him on the back for how great he would have been and how amazing we would have felt listening to him.
Of course the true import of Greg’s case is that as a result of our discussion with Captain Devoren, the Sheriff’s Department appears to have accepted that controlling the lane on PCH is in fact legal, and CVC 21202 citations will not be issued for riders who safely and legally occupy the full lane. Let’s hope that riders will begin to take advantage of this new development, and get back to the joyful days of last fall, when we could, with nary a care in the world, cruise the best bike lane in America.
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