You can’t help notice the change when you start getting closer to Santa Monica. The overt hostility that is a fact of life here in the South Bay seems to weaken, then disappear altogether.
Take this morning.
We were pedaling harmlessly down Catalina in Redondo Beach, when a scruffy, overweight guy in a tiny, beat-up Subaru who was double parked shouted through his open window, “Quit running stop signs!”
There were no moving cars in sight at 6:30 AM, and his engine wasn’t even on. Rather than chomp down on the bait, I flung it back in his stinking face with a smile and a wave. “Have a nice day!”
This infuriated him. He fired up the ‘Roo and raced up alongside us. “Quit running stop signs!” he shrieked.
“Thanks,” I said. “Have a great day!”
“Fuck off!” he roared.
“Jesus loves you!” I added with a beatific smile.
Into the peace zone
By the time we got to Santa Monica there were cars everywhere. It was morning rush hour and everyone was in a panic to get extra coffee extra quick while texting and driving and emailing “Traffic!” to their bosses as they frantically looked for a parking slot near their fave kaffeehaus.
We were crammed into the narrow little green stripe with traffic passing inches from us. No one wanted to know why we ran stop signs. No one honked except for a dude who gave us a friendly beep and shouted “Have a good ride!” as he passed.
As we drank our cup of coffee on the sidewalk we marveled at the constant stream of bikers, pedestrians, and people riding those little electric Bird thingies. People were everywhere, and didn’t appear to be following any noticeable rules of the road except for the rule of “The shortest distance between me and there is a straight line and I’m taking it.”
Has it changed or am I older or both or neither?
I remember when there was plenty of conflict riding through Santa Monica and Venice, or at least I think I do, back when Abbott-Kinney was an early morning ground zero for epic Walks of Shame, bedraggled waifs hoofing it barefoot with their high heels in one hand and their handbag in the other, long before Uber.
After the bike lanes went in, and it did take a few years, it seemed like bike riding in Santa Monica exploded, and along with it people’s expectations that lawless, unpredictable, stoned or soon-to-be-stoned bikers/skaters/e-bikers/walkers/Segway-ers were lurking on every corner ready to trash their clear coat. And incredibly, people slowed down, or at least they sure seemed to.
In a similar vein, the horrible Bikeway o’ Death on Hermosa Ave. in the South Bay seems to have resulted in completely non-hostile drivers for that short one-mile stretch, combined as it is with BMUFL stickers in the roadway that parallels the cycle track, which gives cyclists a choice to either ride in the Deathway or on the road. No one honks at me any more there.
Is it possible that badly engineered, inherently dangerous, congested and confusing bike infrastructure can actually slow down motorists, make them more patient, and give cyclists a safer riding environment?
Nowadays when I drive downtown I hold the wheel in a lizard grip because of all the cyclists, none of whom is predictable, and all of whom seem to zoom randomly in and out of the numerous bike lanes. It’s almost as if repeated, nonstop chaos keeps the cagers on their toes.
Or at least, it keeps us off their hoods.
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