The tired radicals

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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38 thoughts on “The tired radicals”

  1. Great job, Wanky! I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. One concern: with regard to the comment from the West Valley CHP, how do they determine what is “impeding traffic?” Doesn’t that leave the door open to say cyclists are “slow,” and therefore, impede traffic? I would hope it would have a more reasonable application in practice, but an approach like this just hands the discretion back to the patrolling officer to ticket whenever he or she subjectively thinks there is an impediment.

    1. You’re right, but it certainly narrows the set of circumstances. Plus, we’ve never been cited on PCH by CHP, perhaps because of the similarity of the acronyms.

      Also, a bike isn’t required to get out of the roadway for holding up traffic.

      Also also, a good practice when you’re in the lane if you ARE holding up traffic is to pull over where it’s safe and let the stacked up traffic by.

      Also also also, you practically never hold up traffic.

      1. Your last point is probably the most important, we rarely hold up traffic, even though they think we do. We’ve seen and documented on these rides that the cars see us, merge to the other lane, and traffic flows normally. There’s only a perception that the inconvenience they endured caused them to be delayed. It doesn’t actually delay anyone.

        And I agree, if you’re holding up a lot of cars, take a moment to let them pass and everyone will be happier. This is a “relationship” which means at least two people need to help the cause.

    2. Final point. Lots of people couldn’t make it–we saw them happily riding with their favorite pack on PCH! Each absence lessened our impact, and therefore the benefit to you, significantly.

      1. Bugger, My bad. I thought this was next Saturday. What a silly Bunt. I’ll protest next weekend!

  2. Our law here in Pa is bizarre to say the least. Section 3505 of our code begins by stating “Except as provided in subsections (b) and (c), every
    person operating a pedalcycle upon a highway shall obey the applicable rules of the road as contained in this title.” To me that means take the lane, right?

    The next section goes on to say ” A pedalcycle may be operated on the shoulder of a highway and shall be operated in the same direction as required of vehicles operated on the roadway. Note the use of the word MAY. That said if Johnny law catches us taking the lane we get pinched not to mention drawing the ire of every hillbilly in SE Pa, De and Md. Truth is the fuzz out here liberally interprets the law and 99% of the time we are wrong in their eyes.

    Finally the next section talks about prevailing speeds which basically says if we are slower than “prevailing speeds” we have to stay to the right. Fucked up for sure. The thing is at least (in my observation) folks out your way at least somewhat “get it.” Maybe, kinda. Out here what I get is a bunch of shit, run off the road and if I’m lucky a bottle or full can of PBR thrown at me. Advocacy here to say the least is non existent and you’re right. Getting people to assist is hard to say the least. Ok. Back to coffee, stage 2 of the Giro and off this shit.

    ps. What’s a pedalcycle?

    pss. Moving to Denver in 6 months. Had enough of this shit.

  3. Thanks for passionately creating, leading, coordinating, marshaling, researching, writing, risking, advocating and otherwise spending time, effort and personal funds, et al. on this important cause.

  4. Thanks for your commitment and work, Seth. You’re making cycling safer than all the Krails in California will ever do.

  5. Actions like this are important in keeping the issue alive. But the only real solution is to eliminate CVC 21202 and other California laws that deny equal rights to drivers of bicycles as set out in CVC 21200(a):

    “A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to a driver of a vehicle . . . “

    1. Jonathan Gradin

      I really like the bicycle law revision adopted during this legislative session in Montana, which has gotten little to no press except when introduced:$BSIV.ActionQuery?P_BILL_DFT_NO5=LC1967&Z_ACTION=Find&P_Sess=20151

      Basically, the law changes the FTR law to state that a cyclist may use the full right through lane, unless the lane is wide enough to share, “as judged safe by the bicyclist,” and explicitly states that cyclists are not expected to ride on dangerous shoulders or other conditions.

      The law also allows motorists to pass cyclists over a double yellow when safe, if the cyclist is doing less than half the posted speed limit (most likely given the high speeds on Montana’s two-lane highways).

  6. Glad to support your effort Seth. Sorry I couldn’t ride as well, had a dire IT problem to deal with.

  7. When I take the lane, especially by myself, I’m surprised how many CYCLIST tell me that I need to get in the gutter. I inform them that it’s perfectly legal and safer to take the lane (especially somewhere like PCH). They tell me I’m going to die and proceed on. haha Yes, I will die and hopefully on a bike, but I think they are taking the more risk position.

    1. It’s ironic that law enforcement is coming around much more quickly than the rank and file bike wanker.

  8. >> Also, a bike isn’t required to get out of the roadway for holding up traffic.

    I had a cite for this, but can no longer find it, nor remember it! Help.

    I believe it has something to do with the inability of the device to travel at the “speed of traffic.” Like if a loaded truck simply can’t go any faster up the hill…

  9. Anecdote from March, 2015 Solvang Wanker’s Century.

    A few minutes out of Santa Maria Airport, wankers hit a very congested road on our collective way to Foxen Canyon road. Road has a bike path stripe, **maybe** 3 feet wide and then two (??) auto lanes.

    Road climbs a little. At the bottom of the climb, CHP sits in a lot telling riders, effectively, “stay in your lane” over their PA.

    Don’t think I didn’t think about doing the right thing and taking the lane as law permits. But, another trip up to the area for a court date just doesn’t work for me.

    1. There’s a limit to how much of an advocate any can be, or wants to be. That’s why group lane control is so effective. It distributes the risk of getting a ticket, and it educates lots of drivers at once. Hope it was a good ride!

  10. I’ve ridden the PCH solo and in groups and find that taking the lane seems to be the safest course of action on this dangerous price of road if you’re in a group. The cars seem to be very courteous in LA and move around the bunch without fuss.
    What annoys me though (and I think the drivers too) is when the group who is taking the lane slips up the inside of the cars on the shoulder at the lights and then pushes out to take the lane again as they set off.
    This could be seen as wanting to “have your cake and eat it too” and aggravate drivers. Why not take the lane then just wait in the lane as a group behind the cars and set off in turn?

  11. First time I ever did a “take the lane” on PCH, and yeah, I really felt safer and more relaxed without having to constantly watch for poodles suddenly dashing out from between parked cars. And whatever else.

    We did get a couple angry honks, and those invariably are people with personal anger issues, freely expressing their inner angst out on the wide open. We offered these blokes the opportunity to vent and thereby reduce the odds they’ll punch out their SO’s any time soon.

    Another public service, courtesy of your friendly local cyclists.

    1. Well, every time you ride in the lane on PCH it’s a protest ride.

      But yes, I will be doing some additional rides as time permits.

      1. Dessicated Old Man

        Thank you. I mostly ride solo. I hope to become a stronger rider, so that I can someday keep up with a group.

  12. Seth,
    You are correct, that AASHTO 2012 guidelines for the minimum width of a bike lane is four feet, precisely for maneuvering around debris and road imperfections that are of little concern for motorists, but also because of the need to balance our method of conveyance, especially at slower cycling speeds at startup and hills. Bike lane studies:

    However, you need to reassess you estimation of the vehicle space. The legal maximum width of vehicles (without special permit) is 8.5 feet excluding mirrors, and that includes most any light to heavy truck with tandem wheels, RV bodies, boat and landscape trailers. Bicyclists are not required to look over their shoulder and size up the approaching motor vehicles for width, and change lane positioning based upon their estimation, nor should they be obligated to have x ray vision and size up all the vehicles in a line of overtaking vehicles.

    Given the above, the minimum width of a “shareable lane” is actually >15 feet.

    Tony Philpin Board

    1. There’s a 3-foot passing law now in effect in CA. So the minimum width of a shareable lane should be 8.5 + 4 + 3 = 15.5 feet.

      Thanks for the info on vehicle width.

      1. The next time you have occasion to talk with an official from the sheriffs dept or local constabulary and you want to drive home the point… ask them how wide their vehicle is… then go out and measure the width. Few know how wide their vehicle actually is, and when you do the math, there is little room for opinions.
        As an attorney, you might be interested to read a State Supreme Court Case from the State of New Jersey which ruled on a lower court case involving the death of a cyclist who crash as a result of a road defect on the shoulder. The court in its opinion stated that the shoulders are not considered part of the roadway, and are not intended for travel. Although cyclists may use the shoulder, they do so at their own risk. You would know better than I the applicability. See:

        1. In California as well the shoulder is not considered part of the roadway and cyclists cannot be required to ride on it.

          Good point about the width of the vehicle.

  13. “I always find it hilarious and pathetic when the second-most vulnerable users on the road treat us with aggression and hatred.”

    You’re not the only one.

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