We were riding along, not very fast, in the middle of the lane on PCH just past Pepperdine. A big new Ford SUV pulled up alongside us, slowly, with the window rolled down. The guy in the passenger seat stuck his head out the window. He had a joint in one hand and his eyes were redder than a Bloody Mary.
“Dude,” he said. “You need to get out of the road.”
“I need a lot of things,” Jay said to him. “But I’m pretty sure that’s not one of them.”
“Cool, man,” said the stoner, taking another hit on the joint. “Whatever.”
We rode on for a while. Then, a couple of miles before we got to the long downhill at Zuma Beach, we heard a different kind of honk, the braaaat of a cop car followed by a siren burst.
“Oh, boy,” said Kenny. “Here we go.”
We pulled out of the lane and onto the shoulder. The deputy sheriff got out, cherries and berries flashing away.
“Hi, officer,” I said.
“Hi, there,” he answered. He wasn’t angry or rude or aggro, just professional and polite. “Would you guys all come over here so I can talk to you together?” We gathered around — Kenny, Jay, Peyton, David, and I. “So can you tell me why you guys are riding out in the middle of the lane?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “It’s kind of a long story, but we met with Captain Patrick Devoren back in January, him and the sergeant, and we discussed the issue of bicycling on PCH and enforcement of CVC 21202 and its requirement that we ride as far to the right as practicable.”
“Okay,” said the deputy.
“And we discussed the fact that 21202 has a couple of exceptions that, when certain conditions exist, no longer require us to right as far to the right as practicable.”
“Which exceptions are those? I don’t think I’m familiar with them.”
“One is when a bike and car can’t safely share the lane. Another is when the lane is of substandard width. When those conditions exist, we can occupy the full lane.”
“Why can’t you safely share the lane with a car?” he asked.
“Well, we need about 5 to 6 feet total, taking into account the width of the bike and the natural lateral movement of the bike for those of us who can’t ride in a perfectly straight line. These lanes on PCH are all about 11 to 12 feet, so that puts the total amount of space needed very close to the center of the lane. A car, pickup, van, or truck can’t fit into the remaining 6 or 7 feet of lane space safely next to a bike without running it over.”
From that point on we talked about the safety of riding in the lane versus hugging the fog line; the unsafe nature of the shoulder with its debris and pavement irregularities; hostile drivers; the unlikelihood that there would ever be a bike lane on PCH; the right of bikes to use the roadways; the risk of road rage induced by bikes in the lane; the necessity of patrol officers to interpret the law as required to provide for the public safety; the rules of the road as they relate to backed up traffic and when those rules apply.
I also explained that although there was certainly some risk of getting hit by an enraged driver, in all of the bike-car accident cases I’ve handled, only one was caused by something close to road rage. The rest were the result of the driver not seeing the cyclist and hitting him when he was either on the shoulder or over on the edge of the road.
It was a great conversation that ended with the officer enjoining us to ride with care and agreeing that we could ride in the lane. The deputy was a credit to the L.A. Sheriff’s Department and treated us with respect.
We continued on to Decker Lane, climbed it, descended Encinal, and rode in the lane all the way from Encinal back to Temescal Canyon. We got honked at less than half a dozen times on the way back and got shouted at once or twice. By the time we got back on the bike bath we’d begun waving at every person who honked or shouted, and had stopped taking umbrage at the honking. We saw it instead as a cager saying “I see you. Fuck you, but I see you.”
A copy of the letter that I sent to Captain Devoren is printed below:
Hi, Captain Devoren
Just a note to let you know that I and four other cyclists were pulled over yesterday by Deputy Mulay near Zuma Beach while riding north on PCH. He very professionally and respectfully initiated a discussion with us regarding why we were riding in the lane. It was not hostile or confrontational in any way. We talked about the hazards of riding on the shoulder and talked about the exceptions to CVC 21202 – substandard lane width, or when bike and car can’t safely travel together in the same lane – as reasons that we were not required to ride as far to the right as practicable and were legally entitled to make full use of the right-hand lane.
He shared concerns about safety, about shared use of the roadway, and about his work as it involves ensuring safe use for cyclists and motorists. It was a great discussion and reflected well on your department and the respectful way they interact with us cyclists. After we finished talking, we continued on our way, utilizing the full lane without incident all the way to Decker Lane and then back again to Temescal Canyon. I really appreciate the time you and your staff spent with me, Eric Bruins, and Gary Cziko back in January to discuss proper enforcement of CVC 21202 on PCH as well as motorist/cyclist issues on this beautiful but sometimes congested road.
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