A bicycle does get you there and more…. And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive. Dogs become dogs again and snap at your raincoat; potholes become personal. And getting there is all the fun. ~Bill Emerson, “On Bicycling,” Saturday Evening Post, 29 July 1967
How sweet it was (yes, I am old enough to remember ’67), nothing to worry about but dogs and potholes. Getting there is still all fun, just a ‘tad’ more dangerous. My ride today felt like I was a tagged deer in open season. I rode 24 miles and I kid you not, had to come to a full emergency stop twice, got cut off by a car turning right three times, swerved around four car doors carelessly flung open and barely avoided a motorcycle shooting out of a stop street disregarding the ‘STOP’ in it all together.
Today’s more than usual ‘bullets’ got me thinking about the recent movements, such as ‘bike to work week’ and ‘bike for life’ initiatives. Whereas I really support these noble quests in principle, how realistic are they for the average rider? I don’t race, I don’t belong to clubs, don’t to crits, but, I ride a lot. With that comes the confidence of handling the bicycle in various situations. But what about the average ‘Joe’ or ‘Jane’ (please make a note not to name your children this way) who just purchased their first bike in a long time, or lugged the long forgotten and slowly rusting dust collector to their LBS to get it ride ready? And what about those who even forgo these basic safety steps and rely on old rusted cables, frayed and torn, and chains which haven’t seen a drop of oil in centuries?
Add to this conundrum the bicycle path (or lack thereof) infrastructure. You might say “what do you want, man, that’s LA!” and of course you have a point. To further expand on your point let’s have a look at my local “bicycle lane”. Yes, living on the Westside does have its perks, and unlike less fortunate parts of Los Angeles, we do have some dedicated lanes. But, and here comes the BIG but, look at the setup of the lanes.
- Far right of the street: parking spaces for cars
- Left of parked cars: bicycle lane
- Left of bicycle lane: at least two, sometimes three car lanes
The result of this is that we cyclists are nicely sandwiched between stationary cars to the right(which have the nasty habit of flinging doors open and/or pulling out in front of us without a signal) and moving cars to the left (which often drift towards us because the driver has to check the incoming text message on the phone and is too busy watching the road). Don’t get me wrong, this is not a rant against car drivers. Anyone who knows our sprawling Los Angeles city also knows that you need a car to get around in it. No, my rant is with the city planners and special interest groups. The former for the lack of foresight to build an infrastructure to support alternative transportation and the lack of commitment to improve and inadequate system. And for the interest groups, we’ll get to that in a moment.
For instance, take the ‘Sharrows‘ concept. The City of Los Angeles approved a pilot program to install (paint onto the road surface) shared road signs back in 2005. The project has been halted and stalled ever since. The universal sign is a bicycle crested with a chevron in the direction of travel and simple ‘paints’ a lane through intersections (a street in Manhattan, NY pictured to the left). This is not the magic solution, but adds guidance to cyclists and motorists alike.
One of the biggest problems to overcome, perhaps even bigger than the inaction by city, state and fed, is the mental approach of motorists towards cyclists. The culture does not support the existence of the cyclist, who is seen as a nuisance on the road, an annoying bug to be squashed. Cyclists take too much time to get through intersections, take up valuable real estate and often behave as if traffic laws do not apply to them. Yes, many of our fellow cyclists are responsible for an unfavorable view of us as a whole.
How many times have you seen a cyclist blow through a stop sign? – a red light? – change lanes without signaling? – smash their hands on someone’s hood? – scream profanities? My guess is many times. I am not saying that I am a saint, oh no, there are times when I go through a stop sign or roll through red. (very early morning, with no cars or pedestrians in sight)
And then, yes, my absolute favorite, the interest groups. Critical Mass and one of their underground off-shoot called Crimaminal_Mass, riding on the freeway to prove what point? In my opinion these organizations do more harm than good.
So where does all this rant and rave get us? For me, I feel better because I vented, for you, I hope you get worked up enough to think about this difficult issue and how you can get involved wherever you are and better the status quo. For the Los Angeles crowd, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition is a good place to start.