You can thank John for that

June 5, 2020 § 11 Comments

I was riding my bicycle along Del Amo Blvd. in Torrance several years ago, pushed up against the curb by fast-moving traffic. I’d been reading a string of Facegag posts by Dan Gutierrez, a Long Beach bike instructor and advocate. Dan was part of a discussion group that advocated riding your bike using the rules of the road used by other vehicles, in other words, not cramming your bike and your life onto a shoulder or into a gutter.

Seemed crazy to me.

A car came frighteningly close as I hugged the gutter more amorously, wondering which was crazier, moving my bike over into the center of the lane and forcing cars to slow and pass around me, or riding on Del Amo at all? It’s a big, fast, busy, car-clogged street and I was one extended pickup mirror away from having my shoulder broken.

Back in those days I angered quickly, and as the next car buzzed me, I got pissed. Why did I have to choose between shredding my expensive bike tires in the nail-glass-debris-condom-strewn gutter or abandoning a road that I had a legal right to ride on? I considered the craziness posed by Gutierrez and his buddies. What would happen if I took the lane? Would I get mowed down from behind?

I still remember the fear of moving over and tensing, but you know what? The hit never came. My next big intersection was Hawthorne, a street I avoided at all cost. It was a sperm whale to the guppy of Del Amo. Once I had the lane on Del Amo the riding improved immediately. I may have drawn a honk, but I was so exhilarated by being sprung from gutter jail that I decided to turn right on Hawthorne rather than select the narrower street Anza.

Anza had a bike lane, which in LA means “on-street car parking and sudden door-opening zone filled with debris and pedestrians.” I had always hated Anza because the fake security of the bike lanes forced me to zig and zag for several miles before getting to the place where the bike lane suddenly and without warning simply stopped. “These bike lanes are so safe and good for you that it’s over now bye.”

I turned right on Hawthorne and easily centered my bike in the lane, which was narrow to begin with. In the next mile or two I drew a couple of hard, angry honks, but in my elation I didn’t care. I had an entire lane of the huge, busy thoroughfare at my disposal. And for the cars that honked, there were countless ones that did what cars have been doing ever since: Seeing me, slowing down, changing lanes, and passing.

Just like they do when they encounter a bus, a dump truck, a broken car, a collision scene … the only difference was that I was on a bike.

That one day opened up Los Angeles to me and began a process that eventually led to me abandoning motor transport (almost) altogether. In August of last year I quit driving, and in December I sold my car. I have sat in a car a handful of times since as a passenger, and ridden the bus once. The change in my quality of life has been profound, but that’s another post.

This post is about John Forester, who died on April 19, 2020, at age 89. John is the person who inspired and articulated the bicycle method known wrongly as “vehicular cycling”; it’s the method that Gutierrez had been discussing on Facebook and it was the method that I ripped a page out of when I abandoned the gutter forever and took charge of the streets I was on.

What John did for me, he did for tens of thousands of other people, many of whom live right here in LA County. As a result of my revelation that bikers needn’t be gutter bunnies, and that we were safer following the rules of the road than we were cowering on shoulders, gutters, sidewalks, and deadly bike lanes, I began a series of rides on PCH that controlled the far-right travel lane.

Local cycling leaders labeled this insanity, and Big Orange made a point of separating from me on the Sunday rides up PCH. I still remember that first ride with Gary Cziko, Tara Unversagt, and a handful of others. We pedaled the gnarliest stretch of PCH all the way to Cross Creek and back with maybe one honk and more than twenty miles of clear, unobstructed roadway lining the beautiful Pacific Ocean. I think I called PCH, when you take the lane, the most beautiful bike lane in the world.

At that time Velo Club La Grange, the NOW Ride, and most other large groups rode gutter-style on PCH. It was always miserable and scary, especially when the pace picked up. But after less than a year, and thanks to coordination with CHP and LA Sheriff’s Department in which Eric Bruins, along with Gary and several others, educated law enforcement about our right to control the lane, it became normative riding for a lot of people. The outreach was a key step because law enforcement’s first reaction to a group of cyclists following the rules of the road was to pull them over and write a ticket.

I defended several of those tickets successfully, and the outreach worked. CABO, with Pete Van Nuys and Jim Baross, helped stage a protest in Malibu protesting the illegal ticketing. CHP and LASD now accept that cyclists should follow the rules of the road on PCH. It’s a small step for mankind, but it was a massive step for the entire cycling community.

Eventually Big Orange, a fierce opponent of the “insanity” of lane control, became an equally vociferous advocate for taking the lane on PCH. So did other clubs. How many tens of thousands of cyclists in the intervening years have benefited from this revolution? I don’t know, but I know that it all came about because of John Forester and a relentless advocacy that spanned six decades.

As John fought the prevailing philosophy of what he called “motordom,” he was called every name in the book up until and after his death, with the harshest criticism leveled at him by fellow cyclists whose idea of safe cycling is spending billions of dollars on paint, “infrastructure,” and supporting laws that marginalize cyclists, literally, on the edge of the road.

John suffered those insults because he could never be shaken from the facts that supported his approach. John suffered as does every person who, in the face of harshest opprobrium, dares to speak the truth. And what his critics never understood, and never will, is that to speak the truth is no suffering at all.


Another salvo in the helmet wars

December 11, 2018 § 10 Comments

It would be so nice if we could say that wearing helmets is always better than not wearing them, and the great news is that if you live in the South Bay, where people love to shout “WHERE’S YOUR HELMET???”, you can certainly live out your cycling life believing that the little styrofoam and plastic doohickey atop your skull is making you live longer, safer, healthier, more happily, and without having to consider facts, science, competing ideas, or, dog forbid, studies.

Two doozies recently popped up on my radar screen thanks to friends who, like me, wear helmets, just not all the time, and who, like me, find it amusing that so many cyclists screech and wail about helmets as if they were the panacea to everything from head injuries to herpes.

The first study was a confirmation of an earlier study which found that cagers are more likely to subject riders to dangerous punishment passes when the riders are helmeted. This means that in many situations wearing a helmet actually encourages motorists to endanger you, and of course some of those punishment passes result in collisions.

To repeat: In some instances, helmets INCREASE your risk of injury or death. Here’s the study, so fascinating as it shows how a dedicated researcher spent five years validating his results after they were attacked by helmet nazis, and it shows how truly disturbed and careless many motorists really are. Passing someone closer because they wear a helmet?


Hold on there just one darn minute!

Before the anti-helmet forces burn down all helmet factories and declare victory, another study popped up that sort of debunks the risk compensation hypothesis, which states that cyclists with helmets engage in riskier behavior than those without.

Anyone accustomed to wearing a helmet knows that when you take off your lid you feel more exposed and try to be more careful, at least for the first few minutes until you are overwhelmed with the joyful free feeling of the wind in your hair, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that once you strap on the helmet you become a kamikaze.

You can read the abstract here; it’s kind of a plus for helmets unless you are unlucky to run the thing by America’s best bike analyst, John Forester. John basically says all of the studies are crap because of one tiny little detail: None of the studies can define risky behavior; safe cycling isn’t as cut/dry as safe sex. Here’s his analysis:

I have read the summaries presented in the article listed below. The question is whether or not the wearing of a cycling helmet induces more risky behavior. It is believed that this is a question that is worthy of consideration. In some kind of theoretical consideration of the science of psychology this issue may be worthy of consideration, but in this specific and practical case consideration is completely worthless. Why? Because nobody knows which cycling behaviors are safe and which are risky. Consider whether obeying the traffic laws is, or is not, risky. There is plenty of evidence that many Americans believe that cyclists obeying the traffic laws are riding in a very dangerous manner, whereas obeying the traffic laws is the key to safe operation.But which traffic laws? Those which make vehicle operation safe, or those intended to restrict cyclists for the convenience of motorists under the excuse of cyclist safety? The article repeatedly referenced the relationship between fear of danger and risk aversion. However, it is well known that those who most fear traffic dangers are also those who ride in the most dangerous style, curb hugging. Dutch-style slow and helmetless cycling seems to be safe, while faster cyclists seem more likely to use helmets. Does that mean that fast cycling is a risky behavior? To some extent it does. The faster the cyclist in a crash, the more likely is he to be carried forward (by his own momentum) and therefore the more likely he is to land on or near his head. So it is reasonable that faster cyclists tend to wear helmets. But does that mean that fast cycling is risky behavior? Or only that slow cycling is inconveniently slow? As long as opinions about cycling risk are in such contradictory confusions, any attempt to analyze cyclists’ habits in terms of risk homeostasis is bound to fail.

John Forester, 2018

Of course anyone who can use the words “risk homeostasis” in a sentence wins the Internet for the day, so those who would force everyone everywhere to always helmet up … try again.



Big City, Bright Lights

October 21, 2017 § 18 Comments

Where you sit in the roadway or the shoulder while pedaling your bike is up to you. I simply hope you’re doing it with a lot of lights.

After the recent smashback here in L.A. from cager trolls and the pitchfork peasants who were enraged that a safer, cleaner, cheaper, sexier, healthier, happier mode of transportation might slow them down fifteen seconds on their one-hour commute, it has become even more evident that cyclists themselves are riven. Lane control advocates shrug at the loss of bike infrastructure; they never wanted it to begin with, beyond sharrows and BMUFL signage. Infrastructure lovers are heartbroken and trying to rally themselves for the next big beating, like kids shuffling into dad’s bedroom knowing he already has the belt off.

I’m happy to report that there’s a solution. We lane control advocates should stop poking a thumb in the eye of the infrastructure lovers. We should stop sharpening our rhetorical sticks, hardening them with fire, and jabbing them into the tender fallacies of those who want more things built in roads to protect bicycles. We should let them go about their business.

In fact, I’m happy to give infrastructure advocates all the rope they want. They can take it out to Playa del Rey, Manhattan Beach and Palso Verdes, do their advocacy, show up at meetings and present factual data, but when they do, here’s a pro tip: Don’t do it near any trees with sturdy, low hanging, horizontal limbs. Because when the pitchfork peasants see your bike infrastructure rope, and understand that it’s a threat to the hegemony of their cages, they will know what to do with it.

Rather than poking holes in the infrastructure lovers’ arguments, we should make common cause with them in this way: Tell them, without judging, that while we’re waiting for the amazing infrastructure that will protect us from cagers (for example, the Santa Monica bike path where no one ever gets hurt by other bicycles and where no bicycle has ever run over and seriously injured a pedestrian), we will all take the fuggin’ lane while lit up like Christmas trees. This includes the infrastructure lovers.


And then, after my cremated ashes have been dispersed by the winds of time, been blown to Jupiter and are circling its outer moon, eventually, I say, when the great infrastructure project is completed such that it has constructed those supremely segregated, superbly striped, sexily signed, perfectly protected, and beautifully barrier-ized bike path/lane/road/highways to cover every alley, every back road, every country lane, every cul-de-sac, every county road, every byway, every dirt road, every highway, every city street, every parking area, and every other possible place where cars and bikes might possibly be at the same place at the same time, then we will be able to have another discussion about whether bike infrastructure is better, safer, preferable, cheaper, more efficient, cheaper to maintain, more popular, and more conducive to expanding cycling than following existing traffic laws and exercising lane control in a lawful manner.

‘Til that happy day when The Infrastructure Saints Go Marchin’ In, however, let’s all take a deep a breath, swallow our ideologies, and take the fuggin’ lane. Lit up like Christmas trees, of course. Mirrors optional.



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The sting of defeat

October 19, 2017 § 35 Comments

I winced when I saw a couple of recent tweets by Peter Flax and Ted Rogers acknowledging that their support for the road diets in Playa del Rey and other parts of Los Angeles have been beaten back by the entitled cager class. Peter has written a great article about the fake democracy, fake news, and relentless trolling that has played an outsized role in perverting government on the local level into what it mostly is on the national level: Everything for me, nothing for you, with “me” being the wealthy and “you” being everyone else.

Flax, Rogers, and a whole host of advocates are feeling the pain that South Bay cyclists felt last year when the PV Estates City Council, fueled by the trolling of Garrett Unno and his horrible wife Zoe, the unprincipled rage of bad people like Cynthia Zaragoza, and the anonymous, pseudonymous trolling by Robert Lewis Chapman, Jr., voted to shelve any proactive steps that would make PV safer for vulnerable road users. Flax and Rogers have come to grips with two nasty realities:

  1. The trolls oppose policies that can prevent killing or maiming vulnerable road users.
  2. The trolls see such bloodshed as a reasonable price for their convenience.
  3. The trolling powerfully affects the levers of governmental power.

When the realization hits, it’s devastating. Voting, canvassing, public debate, even modest funding by advocacy groups … all of these things lose to the power of the trolls. The power of a few moderately wealthy, angry trolls who have lots of time on their hands and limitless spleen to vent can galvanize entire voting blocs and can steamroll the needs of the many for the selfish wants of the few. Facts, data, logic, and republican ideals of protecting the weakest in society are laughable concepts that mean nothing when it comes to making transportation decisions regarding bicyclists and pedestrians.

With regard to making LA’s streets safer for vulnerable road users, though, the defeat is largely a function of advocates’ failure use existing law. Road diets, road striping, segregated cycle tracks, and bike lanes are the byproduct of a cyclist-inferiority pathology that has been vigorously promoted by cagers and motordom. Thanks to relentless fearmongering, many cyclists now believe that the only way they can safely use the roadways is by being segregated from it, and their overwhelming fear is of being hit from the rear, even though statistics show that such collisions are a minority of all car-bike collisions.

The bitter truth is this: Whether or not cyclists think that lane control works, road diets and bike infrastructure won’t work in Los Angeles’s angry, white urban areas. White and affluent cagers have shown that they are more than happy to subsidize the perception of speed and efficiency with more pedestrian/cycling deaths. It’s no different from the blase attitude towards the Las Vegas Massacre and Terrorist Attack. Such deaths are the well known, well accepted, and perfectly irrational price that America is more than happy to pay for the unrestricted right to have and use guns. Why should additional dead and maimed vulnerable road users be any different?

Hint: They aren’t.

Unlike the road diets that are never going to happen and the citywide carving out of bike lanes from normal traffic lanes that will never come to pass, lane control uses existing law to empower cyclists and make their activities safer. But empowerment isn’t something that comes and knocks at your door. You have to take it.

This means knowing the circumstances under which you are entitled to take up the full travel lane, when you have to ride as far to the right as practicable, and when you have to pull over to let faster traffic through. Learning these things and pounding them into the heads of cyclists is a task that few advocacy groups want to do because they are so committed to the infrastructure policies that angry cager Angelenos have proven they will never accept. I challenge anyone in LA County Bike Coalition to come to PV Estates or Rancho PV, two of the best cycling destinations in America, and make any headway at all against the evil mayor and her callus henchwankers. To add to the impossibility of positive policies, monstrous and slothful bike hater Zoe Unno now sits on the traffic safety committee. It’s like putting the wolf in charge of the henhouse and giving her a carving knife and gas range to boot.

If bike advocates haven’t gotten the message, they need to listen again: Los Angeles isn’t going to cede an inch of roadway for your exclusive use. So admit defeat and take up arms using existing law: Teach your friends and fellow cyclists, and most importantly teach yourself how to ride safely and legally in the traffic lane. After my years of experience with this technique, I’m confident you’ll find that the water is fine.

Another harsh reality has gradually become clear. As unfair as it may be, and as much of a double standard as it is, we are at a point in cager-bike relations when you have to take care of yourself first. This means lights. If you’re running anything less than two powerful headlamps and anything less than 3-4 powerful lights from the rear at all times, day and night, you are heaping additional risk onto yourself, especially if you are still riding in the gutter or in the door zone. As much as the PV cagers may hate cyclists, the chances are slim that they will kill you intentionally–with the exception, of course, of John Bacon, who appears to have died precisely because of an intentional hit.

In short, the people have spoken: They hate you and don’t care if you die. But at the same time, they don’t want to get your blood on their hood or, even worse, see an increase in their insurance premium. So take the lane. Ride like a Christmas tree. It still beats living on Mom’s couch.



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The stubbornness of a good idea

July 16, 2016 § 43 Comments

Few people are as infuriating as John Forester. I’ve never met him but I have read countless of his commentaries on bicycling safety. To call him a thorn in your side is like calling a lobotomy a “minor procedure.”

John is a real old dude and I doubt that he rides a bike much, if at all. I’ve certainly never heard of him showing up on a group ride. That’s kind of weird because all he ever writes about is bikes and bike safety.

Not only that, he has an unparalleled ability to aggravate. When he puts pen to paper, there is an edge to his writing that just pisses you off. I’ve often tried to figure out what that edge is. It’s not the commentaries that sometimes spill over into ad hominem attacks, although that’s part of it. What really gets me is his tone, which is the tone of “STFU, I’m right and I know it, and if you had half a brain, you’d know it, too.” Takes one to know one, I guess.

John was the subject of a hit piece in the Los Angeles Times the other day in which the author announced that John’s philosophy of “vehicular cycling” was officially dead. If you wanted to sum up John’s approach to bicycling in traffic, it’s this: Bike fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.

In other words, for us to be safe we don’t need bike lanes or protected cycle tracks or anything other than the roads we currently have, along with a set of equally applied rules. The hit piece essentially says that John got it wrong. The best way to boost ridership is by shunting riders out of traffic and into bikes-only infrastructure. Create a parallel, separate-but-equal system (that conveniently costs billions), and you will have more cyclists and fewer car-bike casualties.

While I loves me a good hit piece, and while John is a super annoying, crotchety old curmudgeon, I don’t loves me a shit piece. And I especially don’t loves me a shit piece when it’s dumping on a super annoying, crotchety old curmudgeonly sonofabitch who happens to be right.

Not simply right, but one-hundred-fucking-percent right. The language may have changed from “vehicular cycling” to “sharrows” and “BMUFL–Bikes May Use the Fuggin’ Lane,” but Forester’s principles are as ironclad and correct as they were when he first proposed them.

Riding off to the edge, stuck in the gutter, dodging trash and glass and cracks and manhole covers and used dildos (yes, Knoll once found a giant pink dildo on PCH) makes cyclists less visible and much more likely to get clipped, right-hooked, rear-ended, or otherwise hurt. John’s principles embody the Savvy Cycling course and they give cyclists control over what happens to them in traffic. Unlike the false perception of safety afforded by bike lanes, BMUFL gives cyclists the real protections of a) being seen, and b) not being treated as inferior road users, but rather as vulnerable ones deserving of special attention and care by bigger, faster, deadlier cars.

In his inimitably annoying way, Forester demolishes the shit piece in the LA Times with diamond hard prose, not a comma out of place, relentless, unapologetic, with the force of an artillery shell hitting a cardboard box. To wit:

“Pitting cars against cyclists” is the first lie. Vehicular cycling holds that motorists and cyclists have equal right to use the roads. Is that pitting cars against cyclists? The logic is all wrong: cars are obviously not motorists. So are the politics; making sure that black people have the same legal rights as white people cannot, justly, be held to be pitting blacks against whites. Besides, the only cycling alternative to advocating legal equality was accepting Motordom’s motorist supremacy policy and its Jim Crow laws that demeaned cyclists. There’s no doubt about it: I stood up for cyclist equality and fought motorist supremacy.

The claim that vehicular cycling had any dominance in American cycling policy at any time in the past is the second lie. At no time, at least since 1925, have cyclists been officially considered equal to motorists, and they were made legally subservient to motorists in the 1944 Uniform Vehicle Code. The idea that American governments had a policy that cyclists were legally equal to motorists is just plain false. If any jurisdiction differed in that, it certainly had insignificant effect. At all times (with maybe some insignificant exception) cyclists were legally inferior to motorists and instructed to be subservient to them.

The argument that American governments supported cyclist equality because they failed to put up money for bikeways is another lie. They failed to fund bikeways because they didn’t care to spend money on bicycling facilities, not because they supported vehicular cycling. While some bikeway advocates make that argument, they fail to produce the official budget arguments stating the support for cyclist equality.

The fact that American governments now fund bikeway construction demonstrates only that America has now decided to fund the bikeways that Motordom has always demanded to instutionalize motor supremacy.

It is correct that the bikeway funding by American governments is now also supported by bicycle advocates in a program designed to accommodate fearful, traffic-incompetent, rules of the road rejecting cyclists with only the maturity of an untrained eight-year-old. That program has won its political battle and is now irreversible. But the political victory does nothing to change the content of the program. What it means is that those of us who reject the emotionalism and anti-science bases of that program have the legal means to refuse its imposition upon us simply because it is trying to unlawfully impose Motordom’s selfish motorist supremacy upon us. Rejecting Motordom and teaching vehicular cycling to all we can reach, and maintaining our legal opposition to Motordom’s motorist supremacy policy, are the two tasks to which we should devote ourselves.

John’s methods have made me a better rider, kept me alive and unhurt longer, taught countless motorists about how to safely deal with cyclists, and inspired thousands of people to ride bikes with confidence and competence.

If the price for that is a cranky old dude yelling at people from his porch and shaking his fist at passing cats, it’s well, well, well worth it.



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