Lane control and the pandemic
April 26, 2020 § 12 Comments
I recently saw a thread from a group of cyclists who were dismayed at being forced to ride on PCH between Temescal Canyon and the Santa Monica Pier. Several of the riders thought it was unsafe and were upset that their bike path cut-off had been shut down as part of the beach closures in L.A.
I thought it was a shame that riders are uncomfortable riding in the lane on that stretch of PCH. In fact, I haven’t ridden that section of the bike path or the cut-off in years precisely because that stretch of PCH is amazingly good for taking the lane.
For starters, it has three lanes, so there’s no rational reason to feel like you’re holding up traffic. Second, the lanes are narrow so if you position even a couple of feet off the fog lane there’s no way for a car to squeeze by. If you move over into the center or left-hand portion of the lane, there’s not a car on the road that will even think of squeezing in, which you can’t say for a lot of PCH. Third, you will always get honked at at least once, which is nothing more than an acknowledgement of the driver that he sees you and is going to pass by.
Of all the segments on PCH, this is typically the most densely crowded and the one I have had the fewest issues on, and by issues I mean scenarios where I felt like I could have gotten hit. The bike path that parallels it is so jammed up with bikes and walkers on the weekend that I’ve had countless close calls, and cleaned up quite a few spills involving others. One friend suffered a life-altering fracture on that section of the bike path, without a car in sight.
One reason that riders have such problems with safe but congested roadways like this portion of PCH is because they don’t normally practice lane control as much as they practice traffic avoidance. That works for a lot of cyclists until the inevitability of traffic hits and they’re suddenly lacking the skills, and most crucially the mental calm needed to navigate the roads with cars.
Anyone thinking ahead about the pandemic landscape in six months or six years surely recognizes that we won’t be returning to crowded places with the same alacrity as before. More people will see bicycling as a way to get exercise, get to work, or spend time with the family without additional exposure to pathogens. It may also mean more riders having to learn about lane control.
Could be worse.
December 1, 2019 § 106 Comments
If you want to read a meaningless puff piece about cycling fatalities, check out this stinker by Peter Flax. It’s no surprise that it’s published in Bicycling Magazine, a publication that exists only to Sell More Shit.
What is a surprise is that Peter wrote it. He’s normally a great writer but lately his work has a pretty ugly corporate aftertaste to it, and this is perhaps the worst piece he’s ever written. Basically, he falls into lock-step with motordom, arguing that the solution to cycling fatalities is more bike lanes.
Which is crazy because the article he writes says exactly the opposite. It’s as if someone walks you through the principles of arithmetic and then announces at the end, “See? 2 +2 = 5.”
To sum up, the article claims that more cyclists are dying because of larger cars, more smartphone use, more people driving more miles, more cyclists, and Zero Vision (a/k/a A Bike Lane in Every Pot) has stalled. I’ll get to the ridiculous conclusion that we need more bike infrastructure, but first a word about the cause, singular, that Peter and like-minded advocates refuse to analyze: Cyclists get hit because motorists don’t see them.
That’s right, folks. If larger cars and more miles and more cell phone use were the cause of collisions, then we’d be seeing more car-on-car fatalities as well, or at least a parallel uptick in collisions. We see the opposite. Cyclist deaths have increased 37%, whereas auto fatalities are up about 14% over a 5-year period, less than half that of cycling deaths. While cycling deaths rise, traffic fatalities as a whole have leveled off; there was actually a 1% decrease between 2017 and 2018.
To repeat: Cyclists get hit for the most part because motorists do not see them. It’s that simple.
And it’s a horrible analysis for the purposes of Zero Vision advocates, because these people are convinced that the solution to not being seen is to create segregated bike lanes and the like, even as they admit that such programs are stalled, or that they are long-term, or that implementation will more less always be blocked by angry motorists … like Flax’s co-residents in Manhattan Beach, whose rage at losing a lane of traffic on Vista Del Mar resulted in de-striping a Zero Vision bike lane.
Any logic or fact that points to something simpler, faster, and less expensive than a billion-dollar pork barrel infrastructure project gets ignored because Zero Vision advocates aren’t really interested in fixing the problem so much as they’re interested in the political process of allocating and spending the public pork. The best example? This incredibly damning paragraph in Flax’s article:
So while the NTSB analysis focused primarily on encouraging or mandating greater helmet use, as well as things cyclists, road designers, and carmakers should do so riders are more conspicuous to motorists, those factors don’t really explain why a serious, sustained uptick of deaths began in 2011. It’s not like helmet use had a major decline, or cities ripped out quality protected bike lanes, or high-viz apparel or auto headlights got worse. These factors, especially related to road design, might have an impact on fatalities going forward, but they don’t explain why more cyclists have been dying in the past decade.https://www.bicycling.com/culture/a29762318/why-more-cyclists-are-dying/?fbclid=IwAR3VHm7AINKjqaROowsfLjGH85QyH-ozTVmOHquWJMf0dUVVMbwOs0ugE2w
Let’s break this down. First, Flax lists the flawed NTSB analysis about how to decrease cycling fatalities. He rightly notes that encouraging or mandating greater helmet use doesn’t explain increased deaths. If more people are riding and wearing helmets, why are more people still dying?
But he lumps “things cyclists, road designers, and carmakers should do so riders are more conspicuous to motorists” together with helmets as if more steps to encourage cyclist visibility to prevent fatalities is the same as wearing more helmets to mitigate the effects of getting hit. They are emphatically not the same. Helmets, to the extent that they do anything, protect you after you’ve been hit. Wearing more helmets won’t decrease collisions, and the cause of cyclist fatalities is the collision. As advocates have long noted, putting the blame on the cyclist, “You didn’t have a helmet so you deserved to die after that soccer mom hit you while texting,” is the epitome of victim blaming and abdication of responsibility for making the streets safer for bikes.
No, the things that cyclists can do to be more conspicuous to motorists is the absolute core of savvy cycling because it’s the one thing we absolutely know: Except in the most extreme cases, drivers do not intentionally hit cyclists. They hit them because cyclists are inconspicuous.
The corollary to this is key. Whereas more helmets won’t prevent collisions, more conspicuousness will. And bike lanes do not foster conspicuousness, they shunt riders off to the edge, where poor design and narrow roads force riders into the door zone or onto the far edge of the bike lane, next to the giant SUV mirrors and bumpers of passing traffic. Bike lanes are especially hazardous when they are random tack-ons, as they are here in LA, where you have a nice, wide green stripe that cars generally respect … until the stripe goes away for no reason at all.
The only thing that will keep you off mom’s windshield is being seen. And the only ways to reliably be seen by every car are to 1) park your ass in the travel lane when it makes sense to do so, and 2) illuminate yourself like an emergency vehicle rushing to a train wreck. I’ve found that even when splitting lanes or playing gutter bunny, huge lights alert cars and they take pains not to hit me.
Flax’s conclusion that we need more bike lanes is as horrific as it is nonsensical. He concludes that the death of a rider in NYC has a silver lining because it has caused a push in major bike lane/infrastructure construction, even though fatalities continue to increase as bike lanes continue to be built. “Hi, ma’am, sorry your son got run over by that dump truck. Here is a bike lane for you along with that one he was in when he got hit. Enjoy.”
This idiocy is on me-too parade in places like Encinitas, where North County planners, in response to more dead cyclists, have approved construction of a short “protected” bike lane (materializes out of nowhere, ends randomly) that will protect cars, but not the riders who are forced to dodge moms, dads, kids, surfers, walkers, strollers, and other traffic funneled into the Zero Vision solution.
Why won’t people simply admit that the best way to prevent getting hit is to be seen, and spread the word? Unless you’re willing to build a national network of protected bike lanes, at some point every rider is going to see that dreadful “Bike Lane Ends” sign and know that she is back in traffic, to say nothing of riders who pedal outside the inner city limits of LA and NYC, which is virtually all of them.
Riders do a great job of teaching others to do things like wear helmets. Public shaming, private admonition, and a whole host of other peer-pressure tools are instantly brought to bear that result in near-uniformity in cycling behavior when it comes to helmets. Similarly riders do a great job of teaching others lane control and conspicuousness when they understand it.
When I began teaching lane control on PCH several years back, the leader of my riding club publicly scorned the effort as dangerous and crazy. This very guy now leads every weekend ride down PCH … in the lane, and everyone in the club now knows that you’re safer when you’re seen. This behavior has converted hundreds, if not thousands of riders on PCH to take the lane when it makes sense to do so. And it hasn’t cost a penny of public money or required a single drop of green paint.
Cyclists don’t need infrastructure that’s never going to be built to keep them alive. They are perfectly capable of understanding concepts and passing them on, especially when survival is at stake.
But ridiculous articles brushing aside cyclist conspicuousness in favor of hiding cyclists from the traffic flow actively work to endanger more people, all under cover of a publication supposedly dedicated to cyclists written by a guy who ferfuxake actually commutes by bike.
The sad answer is that it’s easier to blame SUVs and cell phones sipping coffee at your keyboard than it is to take a Cycling Savvy class, move two feet over, and dump $500 into a legitimate bike lighting rig.
Oh, and don’t forget to wear your helmet. That’ll keep them from running you over, for sure.
The big three
May 3, 2018 § 22 Comments
I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of cyclists last night at Cynergy Cycles in Santa Monica. It’s the kind of talk I do whenever asked, because I get to cover the three things near and dear to my heart:
- Daytime lights, front and rear, run all the time.
- Underinsured/Uninsured motorist coverage. Max it out!
- What to do if you’re hit by a car (and still conscious).
Over the last five years or so there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who ride with daytime lights in the South Bay. On the rides I regularly attend, which include the Donut, the Flog, NPR, and Telo, many cyclists are lit up, and with powerful lights to boot.
It is purely anecdotal, but as these local rides and local riders become more and more accustomed to riding with daytime lights, the number of my friends hit by cars has fallen dramatically. In fact, one of the few recent cases in which a South Bay rider I know personally was hit, the rider was one of those guys who has always been too cool to ride with daytime lights. He got clocked on a busy weekend day and suffered severe injuries.
It’s funny how pride, coolness, and being a weight weenie (not to mention a cheapskate) suck so many cyclists into the death trap of riding without daytime lights. These are often the same people who don’t practice lane control and who dwell in the gutter/door zone.
In any case, I attribute the decrease in car-bike collisions among people I ride with to the continual messaging here and on the bike: Get daytime lights, and make sure they’re bright. Drivers may not like you, but they don’t want to hit you. They really don’t. They’re simply scapegoating you for their own inattentiveness. Here’s how it works.
- Driver is distracted.
- Driver sees you at the last minute because you are inconspicuous.
- Driver takes emergency evasive action, sometimes hitting you, sometimes not.
- Driver is scared shitless that he almost hit you/actually hit you.
- Driver blames you for his bad behavior.
With daytime lights, here’s how it works:
- Driver is distracted.
- Driver sees you way in advance.
- Driver avoids you.
- Driver honks/flips you off, but never comes close to hitting you.
- Driver continues on, leaving you in peace and intact.
Light yourself up. Really. Do.
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February 17, 2018 § 10 Comments
I hate it when decent, intelligent people fighting for the right things go skidding off the runway, smash into a dumpster filled with rotten eggs, and degenerate into harmful blibber-blabber. Sadly, John Schubert of Cycling Savvy has done just that.
Take a minute to read his silly rant against daytime lights. It’s important to understand what he gets wrong, which is mostly everything, but also important to understand what he gets right. The right is easily explicated, and so simple that no one could or, to my knowledge ever has, disputed it.
- Safety equipment will help some times, but not others. [No shit.]
- Daytime lights can be useful when riding in fog, heavy rain, the sun low on the horizon, confusing lighting, and short sight distances on curvy roads.
- Lane position affects how soon you’re seen, often more than any light can.
- Daytime lights need to be bright enough to be conspicuous in daylight. [Duh, as they used to say.]
- Daytime lights make you more visible, certainly.
If Schubert had stopped here, or better yet, provided insight into types of lights, mounting, number of lights, and ways to use lighting to enhance the conspicuousness of good lane positioning when it’s possible and when it isn’t, he would have done a real service to cyclists. Instead, he uses these common sense starting points as a way to savage a very real and very helpful addition to ride safety, and follows it up with a legal argument that is specious, incompetent, and wrong.
Schubert misunderstands the value of daytime lights
Schubert doubts that lights add much in terms of conspicuousness to lane positioning, but his failure to address the most important areas where lights are key shows that he is either fighting a straw man or is truly ignorant of the hazards of urban riding. Daytime lights are crucial and lifesaving in urban traffic for at least four key reasons, none of which Schubert seems aware of.
- Right hooks. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a brilliant strobe from your headlight hits the driver’s rear-view and side-view mirrors. This grabs the driver’s attention and stops her from making the right hook. If you’re occupying the center of the lane, it will also stop the guy in the adjacent lane from moving over on you. Using bright strobe headlights utilizes the multiple mirrors in cars to make drivers aware you exist and enhances your visibility greatly when you happen to be badly positioned or if you’re one of those cyclists who never rides in the center of the lane. Anyone who has ridden with bright headlights in urban traffic has seen the effect that bright lights have on stopped or slow traffic in front of you … over and over and over. It’s shameful that Schubert doesn’t actively point this out as a very big benefit to riding with daytime lights; more about that later.
- Left hooks. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a flashing headlamp square in the face of an oncoming driver will almost invariably catch his attention and cause him to yield the right of way. A recent case in San Diego, where a group of cyclists were left-hooked by a driver on a sunny day and clear road, would have been avoided if any of the riders had been running strobes. Schubert wants you to believe that lane position a-la CyclingSavvy is a “save all,” but that’s false. Lane positioning works most of the time. Most isn’t “all.”
- Driveways. When you are in a bike lane or riding in the gutter, or when you are positioned squarely in the lane, a bright strobe gets the exiting driver’s attention and gives her a way to more accurately measure your speed. Time and again, exiting drivers say that they “didn’t see the cyclist” or that they “didn’t know how fast she was going.” Every single ride I’m on here in Los Angeles involves at least one driver seeing my headlight as they’re about to race out into traffic from a driveway, then waiting. Bright front strobes are a 100% bonus safety add-on that you are foolish to eschew, especially in cities or residential areas. Often times, even with good lane positioning, an exiting driver will see you but fail to yield. Bright lights in their face can provide the split second of hesitation that causes them not to race out in front.
- Parallel parking exits. Dooring is an urban fact of life, and most of it could be prevented with proper lane positioning. However, and it should come as no shock to Schubert, there are many cyclists who ride in the door zone and do so legally, no thanks to badly designed bike lanes. Bright strobes hit the side-view mirrors and cause drivers to hesitate before opening the door or pulling out into traffic, even when they weren’t initially checking the mirror. Bright strobes again utilize the car’s mirrors to force awareness and conspicuousness that otherwise simply wouldn’t exist. A key problem with Schubert’s analysis is that he doesn’t seem to know very much, or care, about riding in high-traffic areas.
Schubert’s coda comes with the bizarre and misleading statement that the failure to ride with daytime lights can be used against a victim in court. Schubert claims that he is an expert witness for bike cases, but if he is, based on his cluelessness with regard to the rules of evidence I would never ever consider hiring this guy.
Here is what Schubert tries to scare you with:
Imagine yourself, the victim of a motorist-at-fault car/bike collision. You were plainly visible. But the defense counsel brings out a stack of articles telling you what a jerk you were for not using daytime running lights. He asks you to read them aloud on the witness stand. Your emotions go south and your blood pressure skyrockets. After the first dozen articles, he calls for a break, and out in the hall, offers you $100 to settle the case then and there.
My blood pressure certainly skyrocketed, but only from anger at such misinformation. First, Schubert actually thinks that defense counsel can make plaintiffs read “a stack of articles.” If this were how courts operated, then attorneys would simply load up plaintiffs and witnesses with “a stack of articles” and it would be a “battle of the stacks of articles.”
This is silly and false, and either Schubert knows it and should be ashamed, or he’s an incompetent who knows nothing about expert witnessing and the rules of evidence. In fact I challenge him to post a transcript of any case in which he’s been an expert witness in which any defense counsel EVER made a plaintiff read “a dozen articles” “telling you what a jerk you were” or for that matter any article at all. You can’t make a witness read “stacks of articles” in court unless the witness has stated under oath something that the “stack of articles” impeaches. In other words, if an expert witness–not a plaintiff–testifies that based on his reconstruction of the collision that lights wouldn’t have prevented it, and there is a specific article that meets the evidentiary criteria for admissibility (think Daubert challenge and foundation, among others), and that article impeaches the expert’s methodology or conclusion, the expert can be required to acknowledge that such conflicting evidence exists. Depending on the article, he can be impeached, just as he can be impeached with prior inconsistent testimony that he has used in previous trials.
Of course long before the expert witness gets on the stand, she will have been deposed and both sides will know exactly what research the expert relied on, her methodology, what research is out there to contradict her, and that research and the expert will have to survive motions in limine and Daubert motions prior to being allowed to testify (or for the evidence to be admitted) at trial. In fact, the impeaching research will often be brought up in deposition and the witness will be confronted with it then. And of course judges will never allow “stacks of articles” to be read by anyone because it wastes the court’s time and is redundant.
This, by the way, relates to expert witnesses. None of this implicates a plaintiff, as Schubert ignorantly suggests it would, because plaintiffs don’t testify as to whether or not lights would have prevented a collision. That is an expert opinion and not within the purview of a lay witness. And even if a plaintiff did say that lights wouldn’t have prevented his collision, something that would never be admissible, a “stack of articles” wouldn’t make it into court because the articles would lack foundation and because they wouldn’t have any bearing on the case at hand. These involve basic concepts such as relevance and prejudicial effect, and Schubert’s ignorance of them is monstrous. You can’t simply force plaintiffs to read “stacks of articles” about things that “tell you what a jerk you were.” It’s nonsensical and Schubert hopefully knows it. This is also a key reason that you can’t, in general, introduce past collisions to prove that a plaintiff or defendant was at fault for the collision at trial.
So Schubert makes a most unmelodious argument about how using daytime lights could result in victim blaming, failing to understand or deliberately misconstruing even the most basic rules of evidence, and this from someone who claims to be an expert witness, a job that is all about evidence and the admissibility thereof.
But Schubert’s legal incompetence does even worse damage because it ignores the fact that in California you are legally required to have lights on your bicycle after sunset and before sunrise. By not encouraging cyclists to ride with lights at all times, Schubert increases the likelihood that riders will get stuck out after dark and before dawn without lights. This is exactly why lights aren’t optional on cars and motorcycles; they’re with you all the time because you never know when you’ll be driving after dark. And unlike Schubert’s #fakenews example about the plaintiff settling for $100 after being forced to read a “stack of articles,” plaintiffs regularly see their cases go up in smoke at the claims adjusting stage because their collision occurred during a time when they were required to ride with lights and they were unlit, and the traffic collision report cites them as the at-fault party because of that.
In short, what possible reason could Schubert have for discouraging daytime lights on bicycles, and hyping them as an invaluable addition, and sometimes even a replacement for, lane positioning? Why wouldn’t he see them as a useful and helpful tool in the arsenal of conspicuousness, especially with so many lights on the market now that are bright, cheap, and that have 6-12 hour run times?
Answer: He has a good old-fashioned conflict of interest.
There’s no tread on Schubert’s tire
I have relentlessly advocated for CyclingSavvy and for its fundamentally sound approach to safe cycling, most of which is based on the work done by gadfly and Very Smart Dude John Forester. I’ve subsidized CyclingSavvy classes in my own club and have worked hard to make sure that as many people as possible understand that the first step to safety involves the conspicuousness that comes from properly positioning yourself in traffic. I’ve personally gone through the evolution from gutter bunny to lane control dude.
However, I also recognize that the need for sound bicycling education is far too great and the masses are far too set in their ways to expect that everyone will go out and get CyclingSavvy instruction in time to prevent the next fatal collision. There aren’t enough teachers, the online curriculum is poorly marketed, and many of the riders who need it most DGAF because they don’t think they need education. “I know how to ride!” they exclaim.
This is where lights come in. Beginning about five years ago I began running daytime lights, front and rear, and began relentlessly encouraging people to light up at all times. I rarely if ever have close calls with drivers anymore, and part of that has to do with my increased visibility thanks to lights. And it’s not just me. Riders who couldn’t be dragged to a CyclingSavvy course at gunpoint are now riding conspicuously, with lots of lighting. This is another point to which Schubert is tone deaf: A gaggle of riders with tons of lights are much more conspicuous than without, regardless of where they are positioned. The other fact that keeps Schubert off key is that it’s easy to scold riders for not having lights a few times until they eventually start using them, whereas scolding them to “take a CyclingSavvy class” is an infinitely harder sell.
It’s nuts that Schubert doesn’t see daytime lights for the great thing they are. Riders attend CyclingSavvy, get the lane positioning thing, and start riding with lights as well because they know that a bit more visibility is going to help, just as hi-viz clothing will, and while it’s not a substitute for lane positioning, it is a great add-on. I suspect that this is really what has gotten under Schubert’s skin, and I get it. It sucks to know that despite your best efforts, people think you are a goofball smartypants with nothing of value to offer simply because you ride like a wanker. Lots of people don’t get, and never will get, that it’s the nerds of the world who sign the paychecks. Oh, well.
Welcome to the inbred, snooty, fashion-conscious world of road racing and “serious” road cycling. Most people who consider themselves “racer-ish” already think they know everything and they are never going to listen to some bike safety guru in floppy pants with a helmet mirror. In fact, my good pal Manslaughter has point-blank said that “I think it’s stupid. I know how to ride my bike and am not afraid of gutters, trash cans, grates, roots, drunks, land mines, hand grenades, and smashed-in pavement. In fact, THAT’S WHAT I LIKE!”
But even Manslaughter can be browbeaten into riding with a light, and he does ride with one because even cyclists who think that CyclingSavvy is dumb will clip on a bright light. That’s one more point of light for a driver to see and avoid.
And perhaps that’s what makes Schubert’s song so atonal: The thought that ordinary people who purchase lights, which are cheap, easily accessible to people of all income and educational levels, and which provide lots of conspicuousness, don’t require an East Coast smartypants mansplaining “expert” to tell them how to ride. And frankly, if the legal “expert” knows as little about the rules of evidence as this one, I can’t say I blame them.
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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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Science won’t save ya
October 20, 2017 § 45 Comments
For a brief blip I saw salvation in the offing when I contemplated autonomous cars. “What,” I wondered “could be dumber than a human behind the wheel of a two-ton, speeding steel box?”
“Nothing,” was the obvious answer. “Certainly not a computer.”
Next, I read an online article in Consumer Reports about crash avoidance systems in cars and felt even better. In addition to replacing the dummy behind the wheel, sciency things were going to turn the driving over to an inanimate thing that didn’t text or drink lattes or scream “Faggot!” or live on Via Horcata. Bicyclists would only benefit.
Plus, a friend of mine who flies giant commercial airplanes seemed to think that airplane crash avoidance systems were a predictor of how cars might eventually operate. Airplanes don’t run into each other (much), and that’s because they have some sciency stuff that keeps big, fast-moving objects from hitting other fast-moving objects, such as the ground. “Why don’t they just stick airplane sciency stuff into cars and be done with it?” I wondered.
The frightening answer is that airplanes don’t use sciency stuff at all to avoid collisions. They use acronyms. Big, long, complicated, similar-sounding, confusion inducing, memorization-defying acronyms that scramble up the English language into a foul sounding soup of letters that do nothing but bring on a migraine when you try to commit them to memory. TCAS, PCAS, FLARM, GPWS, TAWS, SV, and OCAS are the acronyms that work in airplanes, along with the actual spelled-out word of “radar.”
More about that later, but about the time I started worrying about the acronymization of car driving, I ran across this gem on the Tweeter: “Semi-autonomous BMW Will ‘Fight Driver’ to Deliver Close Passes to Cyclists.”
“Huh?” I thought, so I clicked on the link and learned that my pilot friend was right. Airplane crash avoidance systems will indeed be the template for semi-autonomous cars, with the overwhelming problem being the word “semi.” In other words, the technology that will make cars safer will ironically require much better driving skills. In a society where there is a race to the bottom in every conceivable metric for driving skills–physical fitness, situational awareness, mental response time, physical response time, behind-the-wheel training, alertness, familiarity with the vehicle and its handling characteristics, patience, a safety mindset, heightened concern for vulnerable road users–we are suddenly going to be presented with vehicles that require all of those parameters to increase, and increase drastically.
Should work well in a rapidly aging society filling up with crotchedy old blind farts.
Heightened user skill makes sense, because crash avoidance systems in commercial airplanes operate in an environment of highly trained pilots who are continually tested, re-tested, and required to pass regular physical exams. No multiple DUI pilots at United, folks, and you gotta have that 5th Grade reading level, at least. As the article above emphasizes, “The key to autonomous vehicles is training, training, training. The skill of driving must be robotic before the software can be developed. The skill of driving is being eroded and this can be seen every day.”
Training? For U.S. cagers? For the idiots who throw shit at cyclists, drive while severely impaired, blame the victim, recall elected officials who support road safety, troll pedestrian/cycling advocates, and who are routinely given a pass for carelessly killing bicyclists? Those assholes? Train them how, exactly? With a rolled-up newspaper and a cattle prod to the testicles? If you think adding bike lanes brings out the rage, wait ’til you tell Joe Q. Driver that he has to actually possess driving skills before he can go rampaging down the freeway. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Every piece of technology that relies on a smarter, better, more experienced and well-trained U.S. driver is operating on a massively flawed assumption, because U.S. drivers aren’t simply horrible, I’ve always contended that they aren’t drivers at all. They are pointers. They start the car and point it, unable to do even the most basic emergency maneuvers such as brake or turn without skidding. The minute that operating the vehicle transitions from point to maneuvering, 99% of drivers are f-u-c-k-e-d, or rather the bicyclist/pedestrian in front of them is.
As a cyclist who almost got clocked yesterday by a fully autonomous idiot who decided that the No. 1 Lane was inconvenient, and he’d rather whip into No. 2 without checking any mirrors, I can tell you that in Los Angeles drivers are older, meaner, angrier, more stressed, stupider, less skilled, more impulsive, and nastier than they were even ten years ago. Thanks, Obama.
And it’s not just my anecdotal experiences. The dumbphone has crazily accelerated the trend, making the “semi” half of the semi-autonomous car nothing more than an airbag dummy for all the crash avoidance systems that have to rely on drivers who can perform at least some minimal dum-dum maneuvers, such as, say, not switching off the autonomous systems.
Fortunately, virtually all of the problems with distracted cagers, and with systems that require cager responsiveness as it concerns cyclists, can be minimized or eliminated entirely by taking the fuggin’ lane. Even the most rudimentary systems will significantly brake if not completely halt when the object (we’re “objects,” folks) is directly in front of them. Close passes and clipping will happen to gutter bunnies, but not to Christmas Tree riders smack in the middle of the lane.
So there it is. The dumbphone dummies are taking over. You’ve been warned. Science won’t save ya. But takin’ the fuggin’ lane WILL.
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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:
- The trolls oppose policies that can prevent killing or maiming vulnerable road users.
- The trolls see such bloodshed as a reasonable price for their convenience.
- 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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April 15, 2016 § 27 Comments
After many a ride Filds and I would recap the myriad stupidities of the day, and he’d always conclude, “Yeah, common sense. It just ain’t that common.”
As much as it pains me to say nice things about my friends, Gary Cziko and Pete van Nuys put on a seminar last night for our club, Big Orange. They are instructors for Cycling Savvy, a bike educational program for dorks.
In this case, however, the dorks aren’t the usual objects of contempt. They aren’t the people with panniers, recumbents, floppy dickhider shorts, helmet mirrors, sandals, and fourteen daytime lights. The dorks targeted by Cycling Savvy include everyone who doesn’t understand proper lane positioning. This means you.
Most of what Cycling Savvy refers politely to as “the lycra crowd” and I impolitely refer to as “delusional underwear pedalers,” considers itself expert at cycling safety. The reasoning goes like this:
- I wear my underwear on my bike and pedal fast.
- I enter one crit a year to get free crap from my team so I can call myself a bike racer.
- I have twelve top-10’s on the Strava leaderboard for 45+ men over 250 lbs.
- My bike is expensive.
- I ride in big groups.
- I’ve never been killed.
Of course if you ride with the lycra crowd long enough you realize that in addition to being delusional, many of them are wholly incompetent at bicycle riding, even many riders who climb well, sprunt well, and time trail well. What’s worse than their incompetence is that their insistence on bad positioning is built on an amazing resistance to criticism, let alone change.
After all, they’re wearing their underwear and have never been killed plus they got 10 kudos yesterday so they know what they’re doing, right?
Cycling Savvy’s curriculum politely but firmly begins with the premise that no, just because you ride a bicycle you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing. In fact, given the ignorance of law enforcement, the prejudice of cagers, and the lack of formalized cycling instruction, the chance that you know what you’re doing is quite small, because all savvy cycling begins with lane positioning, and a casual glance at any cyclist on any road reveals that most cyclists hug the gutter or the door zone.
It was fascinating to watch the Big Orange board get educated, a board that is comprised of people who have 12 zillion miles under their belt, who are already pretty expert at lane positioning, and who have extraordinary experience navigating large groups of idiots through the congested streets of L.A. It reinforced how badly we of the Underwear Tribe are in desperate need of education.
Unfortunately, the course is three hours long, which means your ass will be bleeding by the time it wraps up, and that doesn’t include the parking lot and on-the-road components of the class. The curriculum also contains too much information for the typical bonehead who has been roped into the session hoping to get a tip or two about how not to get killed.
Yet Cziko and van Nuys did a phenomenal job of introducing us to the law, the science, the logic, and the practice of controlling the fuggin’ lane, in addition to re-emphasizing the fact that if you put twelve boxes of Cheez-its in front of five cyclists they will devour everything down to the crumbs even when they’re no longer hungry.
I just wish they’d call the course “Control the Fuggin’ Lane, Dumbass!” and I wish more people would get educated. The rear-and-fore-facing videos showing how traffic responds to proper lane control are viscerally demonstrative of Cycling Savvy’s other premise: The life you save will be YOURS. Learning all this from people who themselves have been cycling longer than most of us have been alive, and who are professional, educated, and smart, was an added bonus.
Ultimately, if you think you know how to ride on the road, the chances are good you don’t. Because common sense just ain’t that common.
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Malibu’s middle finger to cyclists on PCH
May 4, 2015 § 41 Comments
When the Rolling Stones released “Some Girls” in 1978 I was in junior high school. Like most rock lyrics, the title track sounded like “Some girls blahblahblahblah some girls blahblahblah everything I own!” The ratio of blah-to-intelligible-words was about 27-to-one, which meant that I, like most kids, had to hum a lot.
Many years went by and thankfully rock music went with it. However, after moving to California and getting initiated to riding on Pacific Coast Highway I was able to encode one of the mystery lyrics of “Some Girls,” and it was the “blah” after “Let’s go back to blah beach, I’ll give you half, of everything I own.”
There it was, in living color: Zuma Beach. And the reason Mick was going to take the girl back there was to ply her with drugs and then, in the paternity suit/divorce settlement that followed, give her half of everything he owned because California is a community property state.
Even 1/10,000th of everything that Mick Jagger owns in Zuma Beach would be awesome because Zuma is stunningly beautiful. It has great surf. It has eye-popping scenery. The first thongs of spring usually alight here, and the section of PCH that runs through Zuma deposits cyclists onto the doorway of famed canyon climbs like Decker, Encinal, Yerba Buena, and the Beast of the Coast, a/k/a Deer Creek.
PCH also winds its way up to The Rock at Point Mugu, another stunning vista that also happens to mark the turnaround point for most 100-mile PCH sojourns from the South Bay. The stretch of PCH that goes through Zuma Beach is like the rest of PCH after you bust out from Santa Monica. It’s easy and safe and pretty much hassle-free as long as you have the presence of mind to take the lane. The flip side is that being a gutter bunny on PCH is nerve wracking and deadly.
What PCH isn’t, is susceptible to “bicycling infrastructure,” i.e. bike lanes that collect trash that you’re required by law to ride through and that make you fair game for motorists and buses who are only staring straight ahead. PCH is thankfully not susceptible to bike lanes because in most places along PCH to Zuma Beach the highway abuts cliff on the left and streetside parking on the right. There is no place for the misguided to build bike lanes into which cyclists must be corralled.
This is great because the absence of a bike lane really encourages you to take the lane and learn how to ride in it.
The City of Malibu, however, driven by bike-haters, non-cyclist city planners, foolish CALTRANS highway engineers, and I suppose a coterie of cycling “advocates” who are worse than ignorant when it comes to the reality of cycling on PCH, has put in a two-mile bike lane on the southbound section of PCH that goes through Zuma Beach.
For 25 miles in either direction there are no bike lanes and then suddenly, bam, a bike lane. To make things worse the bike lane is jammed up against a two-mile stretch of Zuma Beach streetside parking. All of the Some Girls and all of the Kelly Slaters park here. You don’t know fun until you whiz by a parked van at 22 mph only to have the door thrown open and some stoned dude tumbles out with a 7-foot surfboard. Then he yells at you and tells you to fuck off assuming you aren’t now on the pavement and awaiting a life flight.
After two miles the bike lane ends and you’re back where you started — hopefully in the lane, but more likely crammed over onto the shoulder because the bike lane has primed you to cower and huddle and avoid the passing traffic. This is an easy fear psychosis to fall into because the traffic is passing you at 60 when you’re in the bike lane, unlike when you’re in the travel lane and the approaching traffic slows, changes lanes, and passes you in the No. 1 lane with space and speed to spare.
Even if you’re a bike lane advocate (and I hope you aren’t) this one is complete rubbish unless you live in Zuma Beach. For anyone just passing through, and trust me, like Mick the residents really want you to keep on trucking, the bike lanes are the ultimate in confusion and stupidly incomplete infrastructure.
On May 9 I’ll be protesting the illegal harassment of cyclists by LA Sheriff’s Department at Malibu City Hall on Saturday, 9:00 AM and also complaining about these awful deathtrap bike lanes. I’m leaving the parking lot at Temescal Canyon and PCH at Will Rogers State Park at 8:00 AM-ish and will be riding slowly, safely, and legally — in the lane! I’m leaving the South Bay from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:30
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We’re halfway there
July 28, 2014 § 51 Comments
As part of the “Cyclists Belong in the Lane on PCH” project, on Sunday the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department met us at 8:00 AM in the parking lot of Will Rogers State Park. They were in an unmarked Ford Explorer. Greg Seyranian and Dave Kramer had rallied the Big Orange troops, along with other riders from the West Side and the South Bay. There were about fifty cyclists total.
This was the second phase of our law enforcement-cyclist cooperative. The first phase involved getting ticketed for riding in the lane, and then throwing a shit-fit about it followed by meetings with Captain Pat Devoren and his team of deputies. Much of the heavy lifting was done by Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition wunderkind Eric Bruins. Give them some money if you’re feeling so disposed.
As a result of the meetings, Captain Devoren suggested a ride-along where deputies would follow behind a Sunday group ride. This was going to be our opportunity to educate them about the realities of riding a bike on PCH, and about how much safer it is to ride in the lane than in the gutter.
The Big Orange peloton had prepared an excellent ride plan. From Temescal to Las Flores they would ride in the gutter, switching to the lane at those points where the shoulder vanishes, or where there are cars parked on the shoulder, or where other space considerations make continued progress in the gutter impossible. This would give the following deputies an opportunity to see how dangerous it is to continually switch from gutter to lane.
After Las Flores, the peloton would ride single file “as far to the right as practicable” per CVC 21202. This would show the deputies two things: first, that a line of 50 riders going single file on PCH is significantly more of an obstacle to motorists than a single, compact peloton riding 2×2. Second, it would demonstrate with utter clarity that even when riding “FTR” there is not enough space for a bike and a car to share the lane — and that’s without the 3-foot passing law that kicks in this September.
At Cross Creek the peloton would flip it and ride back to Temescal utilizing the full lane. This would let the deputies compare traffic flow, safety, and predictability of the cyclists versus the other two methods.
The peloton rolled out and we hung back in the unmarked vehicle for about a minute. Then, we got a little surprise: because it looked like we were tailgating the cyclists, a park ranger put on his flashers and pulled us over. It’s pretty awesome getting stopped by law enforcement when you’re in an unmarked vehicle with two dudes carrying LASD badges. Suffice it to say, no one got a ticket!
The deputies were immediately impressed with the difficulty and inherent danger of doing gutter-and-lane back-and-forth maneuvers. Although motorists didn’t harass anyone or honk, the constant motion from gutter to lane was plainly fraught with potential conflict, especially since the traffic at 8:00 AM on Sunday is incredibly light compared to what happens on this stretch of PCH during a weekday, or later in the day on a nice weekend.
When the Big Orange group shifted to single file, it was also clear that there was no possible way that a car could safely share the lane with the cyclists. The deputies immediately saw that putting fifty riders in a long single file created an extremely long line of riders. When I told them that as of September the weekly Big O contingent would be double that in size, they understood the importance of keeping the group as compact as possible.
On the final leg from Cross Creek back to Temescal, the chief concern of the deputies was how traffic would be obstructed. It wasn’t, not even a little. One deputy commented that it was no different from a motorist who has to go around a slow moving vehicle like a bus or a dump truck. They also noted the incredible number of obstacles for any rider who might choose to ride in the gutter. Cars parked up against the fog line, people opening doors, surfers magically appearing with surfboards, and bad surface conditions in the gutter were all things that became easy to understand when pointed out while following the peloton at a slow speed of 20/21 mph.
The deputies were fully on board with the idea that the best place for a group is in the lane. This is a huge change and represents a watershed in the way that law enforcement views bicyclists on PCH. The only concern they still had was how this type of lane control would affect traffic when it was only one or two riders and when it was done during rush hour.
I volunteered to do another drive along, this time with only one or two riders so they could see that although the obstruction of traffic was minimal, the motorist harassment is extreme and terrifying. We’re going to set up a date for that experiment, perhaps this coming week.
The take home for cyclists who want to ride in the lane on PCH is this: the deputies will report back to Captain Devoren and based on their report we will follow up with LASD to confirm that for now, at least as regards groups of riders, cyclists can expect not to be cited for CVC 21202 violations simply for riding in the lane. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that confirmation in writing or as a directive that is sent out to deputies working traffic enforcement on PCH.
I want to stress that this is a work in progress. We’ve gotten key deputies to examine this stretch of PCH from a cyclist’s perspective, and in their words, “We’ve been educated about what cyclists face on PCH.” It doesn’t mean that the issue is fully resolved, especially with regard to solo riders or cyclists in groups of two or three.
Although it’s tempting to describe this as a “victory,” it’s much more a significant step in the right direction. The sheriff’s department has been professional and not even the slightest big adversarial with regard to these discussions. With the continued support and open-minded approach of LASD — not to mention the riders who are willing to come out and help with the process of educating law enforcement — we may not be too far from the day when all cyclists will be able to exercise their right to ride in the lane all the way from Santa Monica to County Line and beyond.
Huge thanks to all of the people who have given time, lent encouragement, and donated money to keep this project moving ahead. Thanks as well to Captain Devoren and LASD for being open to change. If you want to get involved as a volunteer, send me your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also:
- Subscribe to this blog: Your $2.99 monthly donation helps me advocate for cyclists.
- Join California Association of Bicycling Organizations. $10, cheap.
- Join LA County Bicycle Coalition.
- Talk with your club and discuss riding in the lane on PCH the next time you’re out that way.
It’s been less than a year since Greg Seyranian and Big Orange began using lane control on their group rides on PCH. Thanks again to all who have helped.