Monday, May 25, 2009

Santa Monica, Home Of Beach Day Traffic Disasters And Near Death Experiences Riding To The Video Store.

Pier Pigeons
(Typical traffic conditions at Downtown Santa Monica intersections)

Meghan and I decided to ride our tandem over to the local video store extraordinaire, Vidiots, to pick up a couple movies for a double feature. Vidiots by the way has a pending issue with the city over their famous window paintings that change seasonally and are full of movie references. They violate some obscure window painting signage law on the books about percentage of window space that is painted, though they have been a landmark here for over a decade. Typical bureaucratic morasses, but if you would like to voice your ire over this, they have a petition in the store.

We decided to take Broadway to Ocean to Pico to be in bike lanes and bus lanes for the majority of the ride. This should have been a relatively uneventful trip, but on a popular beach day sort of weekend, which will increasingly become almost every weekend, it can become a minefield of close encounters of the automobile kind. The better the weather for cycling, the worse the drivers, which makes cycling much more stressful precisely when it should be more pleasant. Ironically if more people rode bikes to the beach and downtown Santa Monica, than we wouldn't have so much traffic, but since so many do drive, and drive like such god damned maniacs, it discourages cycling. It doesn't help that the all the bike lanes dead end as soon as you hit downtown. There are the bus lanes which cyclists are allowed to ride in, but anyone who has seen a busy day in downtown Santa Monica knows that bus lanes are really right turn lanes for motorists and through way lanes for swerving taxis and clueless tourists.

It is not uncommon on busy days Downtown for intersection rules to become optional, and rights of way to become fuzzy guidelines. Motorists stranded in the intersection blocking oncoming traffic and trying to nudge their way through stuffed pedestrian crossings is a common sight. As we approached Ocean, a city worker in a City Of Santa Monica stamped pick up truck decided he was above the rules of the road and skipped out of the backed up Eastbound traffic on Broadway and crossed the double yellow lines to drive the wrong way, barreling right toward us as we moved into the left lane for our turn. We shouted at the driver as I steered us a safe distance away, and he scowled at us and seemed aghast that we dare question his "right" to drive on the wrong side of the road for a short cut. The City of Santa Monica, always setting the example for traffic carnage.

We finally get to Vidiots after some sketchy conditions on Ocean as drivers cut us off to make right turns without signaling and some temporarily parked vehicles in the bike lane. After we picked up our movies we used the nearby pedestrian crossing to get to the other side of Pico, walking the tandem, as this is the easiest way to get going back the other way. Meghan hit the flashing pedestrian button as an extra precaution. As an extra extra precaution when I walk a bike through a crossing I always put the bike on the side facing oncoming traffic as an extra shield. In the case of our monstrous steel tank of a tandem, I couldn't think of a better shield.

Well sure enough some ass hole on a cell phone comes barreling down Pico and slams the brakes just short of a foot from the bike I was about to throw into his car if he went an inch closer. Just as the first driver came to a stop an irate women behind him drove swerving around him, again using the wrong way traffic lane as a shortcut, only to realize she had to stop too because we were trying to use the damn crosswalk. This of course left her stopped on the wrong side of the road. Meghan had already started yelling at the first driver, who sheepishly tried to hide his cell phone when he realized he had been caught red handed. At the end of my fuse for the day I flipped off both of the drivers and was just short of pulling my u-lock. We often talk of cycling rights, but pedestrian rights are just as important and just as violated. Meghan was really jittery, worrying that I could have been hit.

We took Main St. cutting across using the new bike lane by City Hall to skip the carnage on Ocean on our way back to Broadway. The ride back was less eventful, but we were both quite on edge, and quite frankly pissed off at the total disregard for human life that was far too frequent for a simple ride to the video store. A stop at the Co-Op for some snacks calmed our nerves, and we decided to walk the bike home from there instead of ride. Santa Monica does not deserve the Bronze award from the League Of American Bicyclists, and the LAB has lost a lot of creditability in my eyes for how casually they pass these awards around. If they spent some time riding these streets instead of reading what looks nice on paper, they would realize what a farce it is to be awarding Santa Monica.

Santa Monica at this point may be doing a better job than most places in Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is absolutely terrible, so that's not a real basis for comparison. Right now in Santa Monica there is a half-assed commitment to support cycling, until the whole ass is committed, no more shiny awards. Until the city devotes half as many resources as it does to harassing critical mass as it does to ticketing maniac drivers who routinely endanger the lives of cyclists and pedestrians, not to mention other drivers, no more shiny awards. Until an experienced road bike racer with impeccable bike handling skills can feel safe riding in the city, let alone a normal person, no more shinny awards. Until city employees respect the rules of the road, instead of driving like they are the sole owners of the pavement, no more shinny awards.


Brent said...

I don't think any city deserves awards until their council members provide constituents with bike lanes/paths on which they would allow their children to ride to school. Lesser bike lanes accommodate fearless riders, but do little to encourage new ones. By contrast, if a path is safe enough for children, it's safe enough for everyone.

jhaygood said...

Santa Monica has pieces of bike-friendliness scattered around like pixie stiks. But we all know that getting from point A to point B always requires some improvisation, retreating to the sidewalk, and other tricks not for the uninitiated (to get all double-negative on you).

You mention the new lane past City Hall - my recollection is that once you get to Colorado, you're on your own again in hostile territory, right? Downtown is a mess for bikes - the very place it should be helpful...

Gary said...

The City Hall bike does in fact dump you into Colorado, which we took along with 4th to get back to Broadway. Although neither Colorado nor 4th is all that friendly for bikes, ironically, it felt a lot safer than riding Ocean to Broadway, which does have a bike lane. Ocean becomes like a second Pacific Coast Highway if the weather is good.

jhaygood said...

Yes, the bike lanes can be iffy (the one going up Ocean Park is about 2" wider than the reach of the doors of the parked cars...) and nothing says "second class citizen" like the way the lanes come and go in the crosstown streets (like 11th) at every intersection, to make way for the left turn lanes. Cars come first, after all.

Getting anywhere by bike is a patchwork deal, and definitely not family-friendly. We use the bike trailer every day and often neither the street nor the sidewalk works - we've just learned the routes that we can fit into.

And the really sad thing is, Santa Monica actually IS better than most other areas of LA...

jericho1ne said...

I also feel that Santa Monica is better in comparison to the rest of LA. But this doesn't quite call for an award, the city seems more like it tolerates bikes, it's not "bike-friendly" just yet. maybe we should be getting a Honorable Mention and a swift kick in the ass to actually step it up and do better.

jhaygood said...

Oh man that is SO a new category we need to suggest to the LAB... "And to Santa Monica we award the Swift Kick in the Ass Award for Lukewarm Commitment to Bike Friendly Infrastructure in a Location Ideally Suited to Movement Away from Completely Car Centric Transportation."

OK, the title needs work. But a Swift Kick in the Ass award is an excellent idea, and I mean that seriously. After looking at all the things happening in NYC (this is just the latest I've seen: ) there could be real value in a little shame... "Well, they seem to be able to make things more bike friendly in NEW YORK CITY!"