Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Being Assaulted On The Road

Downtown Streets

I was preparing a happy and chipper post to usher in the New Year and talk about what I've been up to during this little break, like tandem riding with my girl and my first time at the velodrome. I thought it would be a nice way to break the ice after my short hiatus from the blogosphere. As the title of this post suggests however, the nice things are put on hold for a bit.

Anyone who has really spent time cycling in this city has either been subject to some form of harassment or knows some one who has. Usually this takes non physical forms, like aggressive honking, buzzing or passing with little room, or shouting obscenities. Less often is the occasional thrown garbage usually with poor aim and thus not physical. Sometimes it's with no real provocation or reason other then being a cyclist on the road.

Well in a rather frightening fashion I encountered some sickening individuals in a car who felt they would get physical with me last night. I had heard stories of cyclists being attacked, usually at dead hours in shady parts of town, but my encounter was at about 10:30 pm on the busy road of Santa Monica Blvd. while going through West Hollywood. Traveling through there is something I do often as I live in Santa Monica and my girlfriend Meghan lives in Hollywood and she gets off work at 11.

I was traveling east bound and went through the intersection of Santa Monica & Fairfax as the light turned green, hustling along as I always do, when a car pulled up beside me scarily close. I thought this was a driver trying to buzz me for a scare, since they surely saw at least one of the 4 (yes 4) tail lights I had on. Then it happened, I saw hands reach out of the rear passenger window and grab my messenger bag. The assailant tugged on the bag hard and I tugged back and amazingly shook him off without losing my balance. I noticed it looked like it was a fully loaded car 4 or 5 people, white or silver 4 door sedan, all males either white or light colored Hispanic.

I screamed fuck at them at the top of my lungs when it sunk in what just happened, and started pedaling at sprinting speed to try and catch the license plate. When I really push it I can get going over 30 mph, but apparently the scream was intense enough they felt compelled to floor it and started weaving between vehicles probably close to the 45-50 mph range. With a series of synchronized greens and light traffic to their advantage all my strength wasn't enough to catch up.

After burning out and giving up the chase, I pondered if they were seriously trying to steal the bag right off my back or just trying to fuck with me because they could. When I got to Meghan's place I discovered yellow sticky gunk, presumably egg, was on the side of my bag. This made it pretty clear to me their intent was to fuck with someone, and I just happened to be the convenient target.

What really had me burning with anger though was that had I not been such a strong cyclist, I easily could have been knocked off balance and fallen in the middle of the road way, which could have led to more serious injury, potentially even death if the following car could not avoid collision. These are people with no qualms about jeopardizing the lives of others because they fucking can, and can get away with it.

I filed a report with the police of West Hollywood, but without a license plate number there is little I can really do. I'm a pretty easy going guy who rarely wishes ill will on others, but I'd be lying if I didn't start envisioning some U-lock justice on their vehicle. I don't know what else to say other then it was really fucking scary and I hope karma catches up with them one of these days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Going On Mental Vacation

Santa Bike

I've been debating internally for a little while about this, but I think I need to take an extended mental break. I've been scouring cycling and transit related news feeds like a crack addict and it's not healthy. With my busy full time job, personal photography and even a few small commercial gigs on the side, and writing this blog to top it off, I've been stretching my self too thin. I've not been getting enough sleep and even worse, not riding my bike as much. Yeah I bike everyday, it's my mode of travel, but I used to spend a lot more time riding because riding is something I do for fun too.

So I will be pausing with this blog for a little while, and after some zen reflection will come back more focused. I'm grateful to you the readers for tuning in and I've seen my readership numbers grow quite a deal since I decided to take this blog more seriously. Before this gets too sappy and melodramatic, just keep your feed readers pointed here and I will be back for more in the new year.

Ride on!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Cyclist's Bill Of Rights Biggest Endorsement Yet, The L.A. City Council


Today was the vote on the approval of the Cyclists Bill of Rights by the L.A. City Council, and it has passed [LAist]. This does not mean a whole lot technically speaking as this is not a legally binding document, but is rather an affirmation of cyclists rights and a symbolic commitment to our needs and interests. I've heard some ask why this document matters, since it has no legal teeth or guarantee of actions. I feel it is an important first step in getting our political leaders to talk about cycling.

Talk precedes actions, and if we don't get our political leaders talking about us, then there is little hope for action to follow. Although it would have been nice if we were given a heads up on this meeting sooner so we could have organized a turn out like we did for the transportation committee meeting.

The fight for better cycling infrastructure and policy (aka action) will be an ongoing process but at least we've got a little victory in getting the City Council to acknowledge and support this document. For some background on the CBR, created by founding members of the Bike Writers Collective of which I am now a part of, check out the ibikeu wiki page.

So the next time you put the fun between your legs, you can rest assured the L.A. City Council symbolically has got your back.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Big Blue Bus Service Changes

Use Crosswalk

I know many cyclists are also transit users, so I would be remiss to not mention the upcoming community meetings regarding service changes for the Big Blue here in Santa Monica. Basically, smaller transit budgets through out the state means there is not enough money to maintain existing service at current fares. So on the table are service cuts, but also service expansion for more popular routes. The idea is to relocate resources to cut costs but shift some attention to the successful routes.

I would not be opposed to fare increases if it meant maintained or improved service, however for me the bike takes care of most of my transit needs. For those who use the bus everyday, I'm sure fare increase are a more touchy subject, although it is cheaper by a whole 50 cents compared to the MTA. There are only 2 Big Blue Buses I use with any frequency and they are the number 3 for when I need to get to the airport or the Green Line Metro train & the number 10 when I want to get to Downtown & Union Station without the crosstown cycling journey. The 3 would get expanded service under proposed changes, and the 10 would get a small cut in Sunday service.

There are a number of routes on the cutting block however, including some or even all of the little tide local buses. The always informed green LA girl has some more details about the proposed changes over at her blog. So if you have a stake or interest in Big Blue Bus service you should make your voice heard at one of these meetings. Reliable transit service is a critical component of living and promoting a car-free or car-lite lifestyle, and the Big Blue Bus is the lifeblood of transit service in our seaside town. Every bus is a bike bus!.. unless the rack is full, and then you get to choose between wait or ride.

Monday, December 8: 6:00pm–8:00pm
Fairview Library, 2101 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica
Big Blue Bus Line 8 serves this meeting site

Tuesday, December 9: 10:00am-12:00pm
Ken Edwards Center (Room 104), 1527 4th Street, Santa Monica
Big Blue Bus Lines 3, 4, 5, and 9 serve this meeting site

Tuesday, December 9: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Westside Pavilion (Community Room B, 3rd floor)
10850 W. Pico Blvd, (enter Landmark parking structure), Los Angeles
Big Blue Bus Lines 7, 8 and 12 serve this meeting site

Saturday, December 13: 10:00am-12:00pm
SM Main Library (2nd Floor Multi-Purpose Room)
601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica
Big Blue Bus Lines 1, 7, 8, and 10 serve this meeting site

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Old Drivers

This may come off a little ranty, but we need to start taking drivers licenses from senior citizens, I mean really. One nearly hit me in a big truck tonight and started grumbling "fucking bikers" with oxygen tubes in his nose and inch thick glasses on. He said he couldn't see me, but anyone who has seen me lately knows I have been packing the latest super flash blinky red LED's of multiple types all going at once and a Niterider MiNewt X2 (I endorse this product because it is awesome, no financial ties) headlight flashing the ground ahead of me.

The problem is seriously impaired reaction time that is often accompanied by failing eye sight in old age, and as such I feel they are not qualified to operate heavy machinery moving too fast for them to react to sudden changes. The death rate per mile traveled for drivers over 85 is four times that of the 30-59 age group [MSN], making them the next most dangerous drivers after the notoriously intoxicated and inexperienced teenage set. It wasn't that long ago an 85 year old driver killed 10 people including an infant, at the Santa Monica Farmers market. All because he thought he was hitting the brake when he floored the gas apparently.

Driving is a privilege, not a right. It's time we said take the test again and if you fail, sorry you are too old to drive now, here's a a discount on bus fare. Maybe with some more grumpy folks on the bus yelling at Metro and leveraging their voting power and retirement money, we might get some real improvements in transit service.

Ride A Bike, Give A Toy

All City Toy Ride
(Stevo at last years All City Toy ride)

Wow it's hard to believe it's almost that time of year again, time to deliver toys on bicycles in mass. In the fledgling state that my blog was in last year I briefly wrote of my experience at last years Midnight Ridazz All City Toy Ride. It's a great event, in which toy packing cyclists from all corners of Los Angeles organize rides to converge at the Olvera Street Plaza. From there they ride to a delivery drop off point for The Alliance for Children's Rights and have F.U.N. at the after party.

Marcus of Funderstorm fame helped lead the West Side contingent last year, directing riders from behind a dolphin mask with a megaphone wearing a Santa hat. I love the holidays.

For more info, check out the ride listing, and note that additional details about satellite rides are likely to be added or changed leading up to the event. Here are the details for the West Side Ridazz:

Friday December 12th
West Los Angeles (Culver City) [route map]
Helms Bakery Parking Lot
Venice Blvd. a block or 2 east from National
Meet at 8pm.
Depart at 8:30pm Sharp!

The meeting time for all rides to converge at Olvera Street for the conglomerated super ride, is 10 PM.

Alternatively, or additionally depending in your dedication to delivering holiday cheer on bikes, C.I.C.L.E. is hosting the next morning, their third annual Toys & Mittens ride in Pasadena. This one is a shorter distance and more family friendly, so if wondering Los Angeles with a bunch of crazy people isn't your thing, you might be more into their event. If you can swing it, why not do both and have ultimate cycling karma.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

First Impression Of New York City

Statue of Liberty

Getting around New York City for the first time on the recent Bike Kill trip, was an interesting learning experience. First of all, their Metro train system is amazing, and you can really get pretty close to just about anywhere in the city with it. When I first got there, one of the first things on the agenda after getting to Ridazz HQ (the sublet the Midnight Ridazz rented for the trip), was getting to the loft of friends of friends in New Jersey to buy a $20 beater bike to use for the weekend. We took the train to the World Trade Center transit center and got on the PATH to New Jersey.

My NYC Rusty Beater Bike
(My rusty ride at Coney Island)

Once Meghan and I had bikes, the feeling of mobility when combined with the trains and the walkable areas was amazing. Riding over the Brooklyn Bridge led by our New jersey cohorts was breath taking though not without some difficulty in avoiding wayward pedestrians who step into the bike lane while texting on their smart phones.

Riding bikes in the city there is quite a different experience from LA however. It is in some fashions safer but in others just as or more hazardous then LA. For one thing, traffic in some regards is a controlled anarchy. People walk whether it says to walk or not, and drivers frequently turn and change lanes without signaling (something not foreign to LA but it seemed a little more often in NYC). The blocks are much shorter and there are many more one way streets, and for these reasons most local cyclists treat red lights like stops signs and one way streets as suggestions.

This would all mostly seem like suicidal behavior in LA, but in NYC it kind of worked because drivers there are much, much, slower. Drivers expect all this behavior and so drive more cautiously, and if anything, seemed surprised when we would do things like stop at a red and actually wait for it to turn green. Riding there felt sketchy at times, but I never had an SUV flying past me going 50 like I do in LA. The key to survival there regardless of your vehicle or lack of one, is be alert.

There was a pretty expansive network of bike lanes and sharrows. One detail that felt odd at first from being used to always being on the right, is that bike lanes on one way streets were on the left with street parking on the right. This means cars opening their door open their door into car traffic and not cycling traffic, eliminating the door zone hazard for cyclists on those streets. However door zone dangers were plentiful on other streets and with the high number of taxis, it became necessary to be alert to the possibility of being doored from the left by exiting taxi passengers in slow moving traffic, in addition to the usual right by exiting parked drivers.

It was all a little crazy but we adapted and went with the flow. I'll write more about the trip and the insanity that was the infamous Bike Kill in an upcoming post. Alex T., who also went on the trip wrote a great piece looking at some of those traffic flow differences that you can check out here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

San Louis Obispo To Santa Barbara Bike Touring, A Success

I ♥ adventure! It was an absolutely amazing weekend of riding trains, riding bikes, and camping under the stars with my wonderful girlfriend Meghan. More details and photos to come.

My Bianchi Bergamo Fully Loaded