F the bike path

I hate the bike path. Over the past several years it was always a rarity to get out on it, although in the last few months I’ve ventured forth a dozen times or so, riding north with Mrs. WM en route to coffee shops in Venice or Santa Monica.

Yes, I know, it’s some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. You, your bike, the beach, the first thongs of spring, the beautiful blue ocean, and Catalina shimmering off the coast like Treasure Island. What’s not to like?

In my opinion, three things. And they’re all biggies, big enough that I avoid the bike path like I avoid formulas in Excel.

Sand in your crack

When you ride on the bike path, you get sand in your chain, sand in between your cogs, sand on your bike, and sand in your shoes. Sand is not good for bicycles or for the movement in your Philippe Patek. No one has ever said, “Hey, I know how to fix that squeak! More sand!”

But cleaning my bike and de-sanding it isn’t the worst thing about the bike path. Not by a long shot.

Getting hurt

Do you know anyone who regularly uses the bike path who hasn’t hit someone, gotten hit, had a bad fall, or seen one? Here are just a few of the things that I personally know have happened on the Marvin Braude Bike Path that runs from RAT Beach to Santa Monica.

  1. Friend’s mother was killed in Hermosa when a cyclist hit her on the bike path.
  2. An older guy, unfamiliar with the bike path, rode down the stairwell after the exit northbound from the garage at King Harbor, killing himself.
  3. I slammed into a woman who crossed the bike path without looking. She was unhurt, my ego was badly damaged and required extensive rehab.
  4. A friend was clipped by an oncoming idiot near SM Pier, hit the sand, and broke her humerus against the edge of the concrete bike path. Lifelong disability.
  5. A woman rider was hit by two drunk cyclists and suffered permanent damage to her hand and fingers.
  6. A guy slipped on the newly resurfaced, uber-slick asphalt in King Harbor and broke his hand.
  7. Numerous friends have fallen, some getting badly injured, at Cobley Corner north of Dockweiler.
  8. One friend was battered by an asshole in Hermosa, who intentionally kicked his skateboard in front of the friend’s bike to watch him fall.
  9. A member of a local club got clipped by a passing, out of control rider, and shattered his wrist.

These are nothing more than the most superficial of anecdotal scans that pop up in my brain when you say “bike path.” There are hundreds of such collisions and injuries on the bike path every year, some resulting in catastrophic injuries. However, since it is not a public road, there are no state-logged SWITRS collision reports that you can obtain to quantify the number and type of collisions.

Suffice it to say that virtually everyone who regularly rides the bike path has seen and/or been involved in a gnarly crash. The reasons aren’t really that important to me; as more people start biking and as more people discover the joys of high-speed electric bikes, the bloodbath will only grow. I know the thing is dangerous and I avoid it. As Mrs. WM’s on-road skills improve, we have quit riding it almost completely, using it at six or six-thirty for a few miles to avoid commuter traffic on Vista del Mar.

Not getting paid

But there’s an even better reason to avoid the bike path than sand and guts. It’s the fact that if you get hurt on the bike path, it is highly likely that you will never be able to hold the wrongdoer accountable.

First, when you are hurt by another cyclist, the offending rider often hops on his bike and pedals off. Later, dude.

Second, even if the person stops, there is no liability insurance for cyclists like there is for cars. This means that if the person doesn’t own a home or have renter’s insurance, they have no coverage. There’s a phrase for these folks: Judgment proof. And of course your UM/UIM coverage only applies to bicycle collisions if you’re hit by a car. Bike-on-bike? SOL.

Third, many of these injuries are the result of poor maintenance, failure to repair the bike path, and bad design. If it were a roadway you would sue the city and force them to pay for the damage they caused. But guess what?

In California, injuries caused by dangerous, badly maintained, negligently designed bike paths and recreational trails are immune to suit. Because of this immunity, the bike path is almost always covered with sand at some treacherous point or another, even though the trail maintenance crew has machinery to sweep the path. But why bother? They can’t be sued.

If you have to get hurt, better to do it on a city street where the likelihood of insurance and favorable laws will at least help you cope with the disastrous consequences of injury. Moreover, riding in the street with lots of bike lights and using lane control techniques is a lot safer than cramming yourself into the narrow confines of the bike path, where pathletes on TT rigs, people pushing strollers, joggers wobbling hither and yon, volleyballs wandering onto the path, and surfers headed for the waves create a constant stream of lethal hazards.

Leave the bike path to those who don’t know enough to be terrified. Because I am.



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16 thoughts on “F the bike path”

  1. Preach!!!! I avoid the bike path like I avoid the plague. Except I’m less likely to get the plague and more likely to get injured on the bike path.

  2. Agree on all points. I always cringe when I see a group ride I am interested in joining has part of the route on our local bike path.

    1. Favorite d-bags are the sport cyclists who troll the path at 20-22 mph. On Sunday afternoon. Training, yo.

  3. I’ll add to your beach bike path woes the severely faded center and edge paint lines that are difficult to see in the dark even under a bright headlight, making the path visually blend into the surrounding sand. But at least that’s something that can be fixed with proper maintenance.

    1. My iPhone blew up with messages from people about their and other near-death experiences honoring Marvin Braude.

  4. Yeah the MUPS along the shore are one of the bragging points of living in coastal Southern California. Thanks to dockless bikeshare I don’t have to loan my friends one of my bikes when they come visit. We can get sand inside someone else’s bikes! Sorry Ofo and LimeBike!

    One of my favorites from neighborhood NIMBYs when I bring up the need for motorists to be competent and for law enforcement to do their jobs when bad actors are reported (aka when I post dashcam or bikecam footage online) on the roads is when they insist we “bikers” shouldn’t be allowed on the roads because “they” built us “bike paths.” Then in the same breath they whine (because they know they got caught endangering others with their driving) that they can’t go out on the bike paths without being mowed down by cyclists, e-scooter riders, surfers, etc. And now you’ve got e-bikes and people who don’t understand how to ride them safely! What’s hilarious is how a lot of these neighbors also ride, but on the sidewalk and in flip flops to these meetings, but not on the “real roads.” I ride on the “real roads” because they take me where I need to go and when I’m training or riding for recreation I do the same.

    On the topic of lights, the price drop, lumens arms race , and lack of regulation (no focus, cutoff point) has resulted in a Wild West for bicycle lights being sold in the US. The good thing is they’re cheap, durable, long lasting, lightweight, and bright as shit. The bad news is they’re bright as shit and they’re super annoying on MUPs and sometimes to other road users. For example, I had another bicyclist come up and pass me today on the road and his light was so damned bright I couldn’t tell there was actually a car behind him. We were both in a bike lane and I was doing a shoulder check and arm signaling to prepare to change lanes to make a left turn.

    Maybe you can confirm this Seth butI heard that bicyclists doored in door zone bike lanes also cannot hold government accountable in CA for what is essentially defective infrastructure. I say defective because these are traffic control devices that tell bicyclists to ride in a hazardous area and this is contrary to what traffic control devices are designed to do. It’s mindboggling that Professional Engineers, people held to an ethical standard of protecting the safety and welfare of the public, still sign off on these types of facilities when it’s an objective “bears shit in the woods” type fact the door zone is a hazardous place for a bicyclist to ride and no infrastructure should tell them to ride there. Dooring crashes are hit or miss to find in SWITRS too so there’s a reporting issue with them.
    Will “protected” bike lanes, aka cycle tracks have this type of immunity too? Will crashes inside them be reported to SWITRS? These also manufacture conflicts and while we’re not legally required to use them, the more and more of them that get built the more we’ll be expected to get off “their” roads.

    Speaking of “cycletracks,” and then I’ll shut up, one of the members of my city’s bicycle advisory committee the other day suggested the bollards being installed for our downtown “cycletrack” network be BLACK so they’re more visually appealing and don’t stick out as much as to not have a repeat of the “visual pollution” statements from NIMBYs.

    1. My head hurts. Yes, the cycle tracks will likely be immune to suit because they follow an approved design. Great point about how “Ride on the path!” is advice that even (especially) the cagers won’t take.

    2. It’s been some time since I rode the path, but last time I did it had “BIKES ONLY” stenciled in big letters at regular intervals.

      That is not a MUP, it’s a bike path. Which is another peeve, the path is filled with scofflaws walking or on non-bike vehicles, as there is scant enforcement.

      1. Dump all non-cagers in a hole and see who survives. This is bike path engineering principle number 1. And 2. Etc.

      2. flehnerz: Interesting point.
        About the time I stopped using the path, I think it was Manhattan put in a specific pedestrian path right parallel to the bike path just a short distance away. And STILL some walkers and runners used the bike path anyway.

  5. I think the bike path you wrote about here runs along the coast from Torrance to Santa Monica. I’ve never ridden there, but I have ridden along the Huntington Beach Bike Trail. It’s much like your description – full of hazards. There is a 10mph speed limit along the Huntington Beach path. I don’t know if it’s enforced, but that limit seems about right, as long as you’re not actually trying to get somewhere. At 10mpg the scenery is enjoyable, and there’s usually plenty of time to avoid kids, strollers, loose balls or whatever.

    Fortunately, the beach paths – LA or Orange County – are just a small part of the bike paths in this area. The LA River, San Gabriel River, Coyote Creek, Santa Ana River (and more) bike trails are local treasures, especially if you avoid weekends. You can ride for about 35 miles non-stop along the San Gabriel River Trail from Seal Beach to the mountains. There’s some nice scenery, plenty of solitude, miles and miles of car-free riding, no stop signs or stop lights and more to enjoy. The paths also serve as important non-motorized transportation corridors.

    During my lunch-time rides it’s common for me to see no one at all or just a few people along the Coyote Creek bike trail. It’s an refreshing break from our busy metropolitan congestion. Along with the solitude comes a need for self-sufficiency. Law enforcement and similar services are almost non-existent. If you get a flat or something breaks, and you can’t repair it, you can be in for a long, long walk. I use the RideWithGPS app so my wife knows where I am – just in case.

    It would be our pleasure to meet you some time for a ride from one of the parks along the San Gabriel River Trail down to Seal Beach for a cup of your favorite hot beverage.

  6. Bike path fine – as long as you’re moving at a walking pace, or it really early in the morning, like dawn. Green paint on the path really helps with walkers… and yes I’ve hit, and been hit, my people on the Northern Reaches of the path. I do try to “talk” to mis-placed people.

    Just have ta slow down there

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