Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Protest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License Campaign

Protest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License Campaign
(Alex Thompson speaking before the crowd)

The justice system is failing us, and we went out to the courthouse to make some noise about it. It's not just about this case with Loius, it's about the fact that it could happen to anyone of us. You can learn everything there is to know about safe defensive bicycling, but an intoxicated driver can come by and take you out regardless, that goes if your a cyclist, a driver, a pedestrian. Some people do not deserve to be behind the wheel, and yet are allowed to go right back to driving. I wrote recently about some of my thoughts on road justice, and it's clear something has to be done about this issue.

Protest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License Campaign
(Cyclists painted them selves with fake blood to call attention to our vulnerability, and that it could have been anyone of us)

Though most drivers kill and maim without the intent to do so, the fact of the matter is reckless drivers kill far more people than murderers with guns and knives. Whether someone is injured or killed by a driver or caught in gang violence cross fire, the outcome is needless dead youth all the same, automobile collisions rank first in cause of death of those under the age of 30. Most of these people are themselves drivers, this is not just a cyclist issue, this is an everyone issue. I think cyclists are just more tuned to these dangers, because we don't have the illusion of safety a metal cage provides. It should not be considered acceptable for us to lose 40,000 Americans every year on the road as collateral damage just getting from point A to point B.

Protest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License Campaign
(Roadblock of Midnight Ridazz, himself a victim of hit and run. Fortunately despite being hit directly from behind at speed, only suffered minor injuries. Unfortunately for Louis, his injuries are not so easily recovered from.)

One of the serious deficiencies in our system that was a major point of contention by many cyclists was the fact that violations for hit and run are so low, lower than penalties usually given for DUI, that drivers are given an incentive to flee. They might get caught anyways, but if they are sober by the time they are caught, DUI charges can't be made. In most cases the driver is never caught at all. When drivers do caught, they are often not prosecuted. As in this case even if prosecuted, a driver is sometimes not sufficiently punished for the damage they have caused. Our hit and run laws are really written for automobile to automobile collisions, which can sometimes be minor bumper to bumper incidents, but cyclists and pedestrians don't have bumpers, any collision is serious and potentially physically harmful.

One of the reasons cited for not perusing a driving suspension, was so Mahdavi could get to work.  I'm sorry but if one cannot drive responsibly, than they can ride a bike to work, or if they aren't ready for life in the street outside a metal and glass bubble, they can take the bus. People joke about LA being a car only town, but the reality is the Metro system in LA is one of the most extensive networks of buses and light rail in the country, this is not some middle of nowhere town with few options. All the many people living in Los Angeles that cannot even afford to drive, they can still get to work. That is no excuse. If people want to the privilege to drive to work, they should learn how to drive without killing and maiming people in the process.

Protest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License CampaignProtest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License CampaignProtest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License CampaignProtest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License CampaignProtest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License Campaign

One of the most powerful aspects to this event was that after the opening speakers, the mic was left open for all cyclists to come and tell their own stories, points of views, and proposed solutions to these issues. Changing this kind of stuff is not going to be easy, but the more motivated people we have taking up the cause, the better our chance of really making a difference.

Bikeside is proposing a campaign Life Before License to take up the issue to the state level, and press for legislative change. I plan to support and be involved in this campaign how ever best I can help. I'll write up more when the effort begins to take more shape.

My complete set of photos from the event can be found on flickr. In addition to the event today, there are plans to bring Los Angeles Critical Mass to Beverly Hills this Friday over this issue as well. Also for any cyclists who happen to be residents of Beverly Hills, judge Elden S. Fox, who gave the ruling in this case, is up for re-election this year. Giving him the boot would certainly send a clear message how people feel about these kind of rulings.

Protest At Beverly Hills Courthouse Of The Sentancing Of Celine Mahdavi, And Launch Of Life Before License Campaign

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Santa Monica Bike Committee Getting The Ball Rolling

In a packed Ken Edwards Center community room, exceeding the bike parking available at the building,  Parks and Recs commissioners Richard McKinnen and Phil Brock outlined plans for a Santa Monica Ciclovia proposal and the possibility of bringing a bike share system to Santa Monica, like a number of other cities are doing. They also solicited input from the audience on a host of various issues on what needs to be better in Santa Monica for cyclists, from paint on the streets to racks for bike parking. The great thing about McKinnen and Brock stepping in to champion cycling in Santa Monica, is that while they do not have the power and authority of the council members, they can with voting support of fellow parks commissioners place items on the council agenda to be considered. Expect to see a lot of council consideration on cycling issues moving forward.

In fact, jumping in to get things on the agenda immediately, councilman McKeown has tacked the Ciclovia proposal onto the end of the agenda for tonight's council meeting. This the same evening that earlier in the day McKinnen will be hosting another meeting, this one specifically to form the committee for the Ciclovia proposal specifically. To work out the various logistics and who will be on board to help manage it. A number of the people behind managing the Santa Monica Independence Day parade have already stepped in to support the idea, and have experience with blocking down Main St. to automobile traffic. The Santa Monica Daily Press has also just put out an article on the brewing Ciclovia idea.

Santa Monica Twlight Dance Series, Massive Bike Valet Parking
(Temporary event parking with the bike valet has proven Santa Monicans will ride bikes. Concept proven. Now is the time to start seeing  permanent facilities for cycling city wide.)

Momentum is building, the more we can keep pressing the issue, the better. I feel Santa Monica has a lot of potential to become a world class cycling city, it certainly has some of the best weather and terrain for cycling on planet earth. When bikes are accomdated, people will ride. At last Thursday's Twilight Dance series event, I saw hundreds if not thousands of bikes crammed into the bike valet corrals. I think we are getting very close to the tipping point beyond which cycling becomes a constant and serious consideration of cross departmental city planning and services. There is still a ton of work to be done to make needed changes, and some changes will be harder to make than others, but I think some of the work put in by advocates is starting to pay off. Let's keep it going.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Update: An Additional Meeting On Tuesday Night To Discuss Santa Monica Ciclovia Planning, and Same Night Issue Is Tacked To End Of City Council Agenda

Things are coming together fast. In addition to the Monday night bike committee meeting, Tuesday night there will also be a specific committee meeting on Santa Monica Ciclovia proposal, to start ground work for planning, also at the Ken Edwards Center, from 6-8pm. The same evening, as a final item on the agenda, the City Council will also be discussing moving forward with Ciclovia. If you're local and not going to the event in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, there are great opportunities here to voice support for bringing a Ciclovia to Santa Monica. I'm pretty amazed actually how quickly this is all coming together, and have to hand it to Richard McKinnen (and McKeown for appointing Richard to the parks commission) for being a big part of jump starting this.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Upcoming Events At The Beginning Of The Week, Monday SM Bike Committee Meeting, Tuesday "Blood In" Protest And Press Conference In Beverly Hills

Things are coming together fast. In addition to the Monday night bike meeting, Tuesday night there will also be a specific committee meeting on Santa Monica Ciclovia proposal, to start ground work for planning, also at the Ken Edwards Center, from 6-8pm. The same evening, as a final item on the agenda, the City Council will also be discussing moving forward with Ciclovia. If you're local and not going to the event in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, there are great opportunities here to voice support for bringing a Ciclovia to Santa Monica. I'm pretty amazed actually how quickly this is all coming together, and have to hand it to Richard McKinnen (and McKeown for appointing Richard to the parks commission) for being a big part of jump starting this stuff.

Monday: The Bike Committee of the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission Is Meeting

On Monday is the first public meeting of the newly formed bike committee of the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission. Phil Brock will Chair the meeting, and Richard McKinnon, the other committee member (also on Spoke steering committee) will be putting together an agenda of bike related issues to be brought before the rest of the commission and eventually the council. City transportation staff will also be present. If you have praise, complaints, suggestions, or general input on cycling issues in Santa Monica, Monday's meeting will be an official avenue for such input. I know Phil and Richard are both committed to advancing cycling in Santa Monica and will take any input seriously.

The Bike Committee of the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission is meeting:
7 pm Monday July 26 at the Ken Edwards Center


In completely different news, this Tuesday, Roadblock of Midnight Ridazz and Alex Thompson of Bikeside have helped organize with the support of many others from the cycling community, a press conference event in Beverly Hills. The event is being staged with spectacle in mind (stage blood will be on hand) to attract press attention, and protest the failure of our justice system in the case of Celine Mahdav, the DUI SUV driver who seriously injured Louis Deliz, nearly taking his life, and has got off with only community service time. Riders are encouraged to come to speak out about the injustice of this case, and personal experiences and complaints about how the system fails cyclists, and really all road users for that matter. I know a lot of us have personally dealt with law enforcement that treats us differently than drivers, or don't even know cycling laws, or had police discourage us from filing a police report after a crash and not take our concerns seriously. All those things need to be said for the public to hear. 

I've been recently reading up a lot on the history on the how we got to be the automotive dependent society we are today, in books like Fighting Traffic, and Republic of Drivers. One of the things that seriously impeded further development for cars in the early years, was spectacle and outrage.  Rants and comics in the newspapers were almost always depicting drivers who killed as demons and sobbing outrage from grieving mothers dominated the discourse as death tolls rose. Memorials were erected to the fallen children of automobile collisions, and mass mourning events were held in all the big cites. 

The automobile interests began to align themselves together between the 1920's and 1930's to in every manner possible reshape the discourse of the public. To influence media with money, to shift attention away from the bloody reality, to the advertising they wanted people to see. They created the term jay-walker, the beginning of the movement to blame the victim rather than the perpetrators. It was only through years of concerted effort at changing the cultural construct of what streets were for, which had previously been the domain of mostly pedestrians, trolley systems and cyclists, that it became possible and political palatable to fuel more auto-oriented development.

If we want to change the culture of our streets it will take a culture war, because it took a culture war by the automobile interests to get us to cluster fuck, people killing, planet killing, situation we are living in today.

So let's go make a bloody mess, hopefully on television. More details on facebook.

Tuesday · 5:00pm - 6:30pm
L A County Courthouse
Dept 400, 9355 Burton Way
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-3619

Friday, July 23, 2010

Palisades Park Planning Invite

I meant to post this earlier, it's a bit last minute now, but tomorrow is a public planning meeting for a future public park in the heart of the city across from the pier and in front of the Civic Center and Santa Monica Place.  I'm planning to go and see how cycling might be considered in the design and provide input. I'd also love to see a rubberized jogging path of some sort. I've been trying to put in some running for cross training, but man my knees hurt from running with my weak shock absorbing muscles from years of mostly just riding a bike everywhere.

This is an ideal plot of land to be turning over to public park space, and a great opportunity to transform the city for the better. I can't wait to see this happen.

 Blast from city e-mail:


The City is embarking on the planning and design of two new parks in the Santa Monica Civic Center:  Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square.  Together these parks will create 7-acres of open space in the heart of Santa Monica.  

You are invited to participate in a Community Workshop + Open House + Site Walk on Saturday, July 24th from 1:00 – 4:00 pm on the park site across from Santa Monica City Hall.   Meet the Design Team, led by James Corner Field Operations, and make your mark.  See the project web site for details.

Whether or not you attend the workshop, please complete the brief survey at and sign up for the interest list so we can keep you informed.

We are trying to disseminate this information as broadly as possible and are using multiple lists. We apologize for any duplication.  Please feel free to share this information as appropriate.

Questions? Contact Community & Cultural Services at or 310-458-8310.

Bike Valet will be provided at the event in the parking lot across from City Hall.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Some Thoughts On The Meaning Of Justice For Our Roads

Responding to recent incidents and court cases has had me thinking a lot about what justice means, and what punishments are most fitting for crimes on the road. It's clear from observing cases locally, cases around the country, and past cases written about in books like Bicycling And The Law, that our system of road justice is broken. It is especially broken for cyclists who are often treated to a double standard under the law.

Downtown Streets

Jail time is the typical deterrent we assign to crime in our society. There is problem however when someone who sprays some paint on a wall, or smokes some pot, can get more jail time than someone who clobbers a person to the brink of death with an automobile and flees the scene. It's clear how we assign jail time is not always equitable to the damage the crime has caused.  But is jail time really the best answer for dealing with reckless drivers?

There are the occasional cases of a sociopathic deliberate act of violence using a car, where jail should not be a question, such as the Mandeville case, or David Jassy mowing down a pedestrian after kicking him in the head. However most tragedies on the road are the product of extreme carelessness behind the wheel, and not the deliberate intention to harm. Though they may realize their carelessness can lead to such harm.  Unlike other criminal behaviors, the endangerment to society created by reckless drivers is really only when those drivers are behind the wheel. Some people who might otherwise in their life be generally nice people, never steal or cause harm to others, can also turn into something quite sinister behind the metal and glass confines of the automobile. I still think Disney best parodied this social phenomenon in the animated short "Motor Mania". Tom Vanderbilt's book Traffic, which I reference often, explores driving from a more psychological and sociological perspective, and is an enlightening read on the topic.

So it would seem clear to me, the best course of action to address the problem of dangerous drivers, is to stop them from driving. Driving is not a right in this country, and hasn't been for a very long time. As the death toll grew and grew during the dawn of the motoring age, it became clear that driving must be made a licensed privilege to protect society. Despite the much slower machines and smaller numbers of vehicles on the road, the 1920's alone saw over 200,000 American deaths from automobile collisions (58,169 Americans died fighting in the 9 years of Vietnam for comparison). 60% of those road fatalities were pedestrians during that era. Today approximately 40,000 Americans die a bloody death every year on our roads. [Stats From Fighting Traffic]

In many public discussions of driving, the so called right to drive is invoked, but really there is no such thing. We must remind people driving is a privliage, and we must have a legal system that is actually willing to revoke that privliage when nessisary to defend the right to life and safety of other citizens.

So in conclusion, what I want to see most in the punishment of criminal drivers, more so than jail sentences, is complete revocation of driving for life with vehicle impound, in the most extreme cases. Suspensions and substantial fines in any serious cases, varying in length to fit the crime, with consideration to bodily harm that was caused. And finally the fine structure for all road crimes should be reconsidered. In our current system, a rich man with a fast car can speed, get a ticket, and not think too much of it. To them that's like a lift ticket for someone snowboarding, or comparatively speaking, much cheaper. Sliding income fine structures ensure a fine is a serious blow for any driver, while not being overly punitive on the middle class and poor.

Additionally we need to strengthen the means by which we keep suspended or revoked drivers off the road. There are plenty of cases of fatal collisions caused by someone who's license was already suspended after developing a deep record of violations that never amounted to much punishment. For this I would propose steep fines and jail time for being caught unlicensed that multiplied for repeat offense. There also needs to be better data tracking across state lines to ensure a driver doesn't hop around from state to state racking up offenses in different jurisdictions, one of the ways drivers get around suspended licenses.

It's also essential that we stop tolerating people driving around with dealer plates. License plates are an essential part of the accountability for dangerous vehicles on the road, and it is illegal to drive without a license plate or a valid temporary license plate card.  The incident a while back with the SUV driver who plowed through a group of cyclists, they had no license plate. Which emboldened them to be so aggressive with their vehicle. One of the witnesses said they heard the occupants say "no plates" during the altercation.

I was shooting photography in Santa Monica recently and got a photo of an SUV stopped at a light completely blocking the entire crosswalk at Ocean Ave. and Colorado. One of the most populated crosswalks in Santa Monica because of it's connection to the famous pier. I later zoomed into some of the photos, and surprise surprise, dealer plates with no temp sticker. What is it with all the bad SUV drivers with dealer plates? Start scanning for plates in any big parking lot and you quickly realize just how many people are rolling without accountability. Pretty scary.

An important component to successfully revoking and suspending drivers licenses, that is less often discussed, is the need to combine any such enforcement with education on living car-free. Some of us already live car-free out of necessity, or by choice, or have learned to get by with much less driving thanks to cycling and our growing public transit network. For those who could never afford a car, it was never a choice to learn how to get around without one.  For those of us who made a conscious decision to get by without a car, it's usually a transitional process. To suddenly lose the ability to drive is a shock, and those without a solid grasp of alternatives will sometimes cling to the steering wheel even if they aren't allowed to.

For many people, driving is thought of as the only way to get around, and our society raises the status of owning a car to being a necessity of living. To not drive is to be a failure in this cultural narrative. Though of course all of us living sucessful lives without driving know this does not have to be the case. I didn't realize until seeing some relatives playing board games during my recent vacation, that even in "The Game Of Life", your playing piece is a car. No car, no life, it is presumed.

So amidst this culturally ingrained perception it is essential to the success of any attempt to ban someone from driving, that education comes with that mandate. They could have a lesson on using public transit, ride-shares, and taxi services, with a take-away pamphlet with all the essential resources to get started in their area. They could take a course in road cycling from a certified instructor.  I can almost guarantee that anyone who comes back to driving from an extended period of cycling, walking and taking the bus, they will drive with a very different perspective of the road. The safest drivers I know are also people who ride bikes as a regular part of their getting around.

So as we take in the injustice of the system around us, and rightfully get pissed off about it, let's also start thinking beyond just the calls for justice, and start framing what real justice should look like.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Justice System Fails To Serve And Protect Cyclists, Again, & Again & Again...

For those of you haven't been following the hit and run case in which local cyclist and bike racer Louis Deliz was hit and left for dead on the road by a young drunk driver, hospitalized for 49 days with severe injuries, the verdict came out yesterday. Alex Thompson of Bikeside has the first write up, and sadly, like the vast majority of cases that victimize cyclists, even if the driver is at fault, fails to render aid and then flees the scene, the justice system goes limp. The Mandeville case got a lot of attention, but it's quite exceptional when a driver gets a real punishment for road crimes against cyclists. Anyone who reads Bob Mionske or the Tucson Bike Lawyer blog will have read countless cases of double standard treatment of cyclists by the law at every level of the legal system, all around the Country. In this case, for Louis Deliz, like most cyclists who become victims, the punishment for shattering a persons bones, nearly taking their life, and cowardly running away, is a slap on the wrist.
The prosecution offered Mahdavi a plea of 1 year in jail and 5 years probation.  Instead, Mahdavi’s defense submitted a memorandum of disposition, effectively falling on the mercy of the court, and allowing the judge to sentence Mahdavi without trial.  Fox offered the far lesser sentence, with a variety of self contradictory justification.  Sometimes calling the collision an “accident” – implying that there was no intent without explanation – Fox explained how he considered a 1 year, 6 month, then a 4 month, and finally a 90 day sentence in County jail.  Finally, he explained, he settled on no jail time at all (or 1 day for each count, but 1 day also credited for each count.) [Bikeside]
So there you have it, Celine Mahdavi, an SUV driver who nearly took a life, gets off easy. If you're young and drunk, and have parents that can afford a good lawyer, you can drive around ruining other people's lives and only have to worry about doing 90 days of community service. This an outrage, and there is rumblings of bringing Critical Mass or a staged protest to Beverly Hills to express that outrage. If I hear anymore on that, I'll pass along the info.

As Alex pointed out in the comments, most hit and run drivers get away, and when they are caught, they don't always go to prosecution, and when they finally are prosecuted, punishment is often generously forgiving. So when do we get justice, only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the time. Where is the disincentive to hit and run drivers in this system? It's also disturbingly common to discover after the fact that in fatal collisions, the driver responsible has a laundry list record of past vehicle crimes that were forgiven, and they kept getting behind the wheel again, and ultimately ended up killing eventually. At some point we have to start revoking people's privilege to drive if we want any hope of bringing down our annual 40,000 American road deaths.

I'll finish with one of my favorite quotes of Tom Vanderbilt, “It’s far too easy to get a license and it’s far too difficult to lose one.”

For more back story on the case, here are all the Bikeside links that have been following the case:

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Santa Monica Ciclovia Takes A Step Closer To Reality

At the Parks & Recreations Commission meeting last night at Santa Monica city hall, Richard Mckinnon, of Santa Monica Spoke, and now on the parks commission, made a presentation on the idea of a semi-regular Ciclovia in Santa Monica (streets-wiki post for those less familiar with concept). The idea was very well received by the commission, and a few other members of Spoke, my self included, and some members of the public I had not met before, nearly all spoke in strong support. With unanimous agreement within the Parks & Recs commission a motion will be made for City Council consideration, which ultimately has the power to decide to move forward. Richard is pushing for a first run date of 10/10/10, which would certainly be an easy one to remember, and could put Santa Monica in a position to jump the date set for the larger scale one being planned in Los Angeles.

One of the funnier moments in what are usually very dry city meetings, a commissioner brought up the what if sceneiro if rain were to happen, and commissioner Phil Brock, a long time advocate of cycling on the commission, happened to know that on the 10th of October it has actually never rained in Santa Monica since the city was founded. Though on the odd chance it were too, I don't doubt people would still take to the streets for a fun time anyways.

So hopefully this can garner the support of the Council, and become a reality sooner than later. I'm sure that even under a relatively short notice for such an ambitious event, the number of people willing to volunteer time to make it happen and promote it, would guarantee a successful first run with high attendance.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hopefully A New Path Forward For Cycling In Malibu

A lot of noise was generated about the facebook page created by Malibu safety commissioner Susan Tellem, posted briefly first by Ted Rogers of BikingInLA, followed by Streetsblog and myself. The facebook page began with a lot of butting of heads, started by the initial rather inflammatory page description, and I think there is still some head butting lingering. However in a sudden change from a discussion that was going downhill, Tellem has agreed to requests for offline, person to person dialogue on the issue, the only way to really form common ground.

I disagreed with her initial approach toward targeting cyclists, some have expressed stronger words for it. But as I mentioned in comments, I wanted to extend the opportunity for diplomacy even though I made my self very much a part of the offensive effort against the content of the page. Working toward promoting safety on PCH can only benefit from cyclists being involved. I do not think Tellem herself should be overly vilified in this, her comments reflected what are very common undercurrents of mode bias in our culture. What made this time different than a random person on the internet, was this was a public figure overseeing matters of safety in a place many of us ride through. However many of her past deeds and statements suggest she is certainly not an uncaring person, and she has spent a lot of effort criticizing unsafe driving in Malibu in other forums as well. I don't doubt that her interest in safety on PCH is sincere and her strong support and advocacy for tortoises and wild life protection are certainly worth commending. In case you didn't know, I like turtles.

We came in fast and loud asserting our positions, and we have their attention now, but I don't think much good can come from continued arguments on the facebook page. Lets try and transition into constructive solutions mode.

I'll be talking to Tellem tomorrow about arranging a meeting with cyclists. From my experience, sitting down and talking about cycling, in a real meeting, is most effective at resolving disagreements. I'll post more details about further developments as soon as I find out more.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Malibu Safety Commissioner Starts An Anti-Cycling Facebook Group

After reading BikingInLA's recent post on PCH it caught my eye that a public safety commissioner of Malibu, Susan Tellem, has started a facebook page titled Share The Road - Share The Tickets with language obviously intended to antagonize cyclists. The sort of behavior typical of internet trolling, but in this case a public figure charged with promoting public safety. Also she is a head figure of a major public relations company, so it seems odd to me she would kick off a share the road campaign by making every effort to piss off the cycling public in her comments.

Here's a few sample quotes that went along with her several posted videos, only 1 of which that was constructive education:
"I started a Facebook page called “Share the Road – Share the Tickets. Go to Share the Road to become a friend. Many cyclists are often rude, crude and think that they are above the law." (Example of mode bias, you can easily replace the word cyclist with driver here.)

"Hate Critical Mass - another example of coddling." (Followed by a link to NBC story on the recent successful critical mass ride in L.A. partnering with LAPD)

"Some how bicyclists think that they own the road instead of sharing it. They ride three abreast, give the finger to motorists, throw bottles at people and in general break every traffic law but riding through red lights and not stopping at stop signs."

"Mr. Quartz: It is obvious you do not want to work together to make the roads safer for everyone based on your inaccurate letter to the editor. You cannot legally impede traffic on PCH, or ride side by side and you must ride as far right as safely possible. If you get a ticket and come to court in Malibu for any of these infractions, you will lose every time." (She later admitted California law does not expressly prohibit riding 2 abreast but seems to misunderstand the meaning of when it is safe to do so)
You know the usual ignorant comments we cyclists put up with on most any internet forum. However one might hope someone charged with public safety might know a little better. I've seen a lot of bike rides of all shapes and sizes and I've never seen anyone chuck a water bottle outside of offloading at a bike race in the feed zone (where it is sanctioned practice before picking up a new bottle). On the other hand I have while riding and entirely unprovoked, been grabbed by a car passenger, hit with egg, had trash thrown at me, and watched a beer can sent flying out of a car at my wife (then girlfriend, and luckily their aim was a little off). One of my friends was hit with a slushy once. I think Ms. Tellem is a little misguided about who the real road ragers are.

As someone who has ridden PCH quite a lot to enjoy the coast and ride it's surrounding canyons, I found the adversarial language of her comments, her ignorance of traffic safety issues, and the vehicle code, quite alarming. PCH through Malibu is the only route along the coast, and is part of the CA Pacific Coast Bicycle Route that long distance cyclists use to tour the State. Cyclists will always ride PCH, in spite of how poorly the infrastructure is designed and the attitude of the drivers who drive on it, and so it is imperative any effort to promote safety on PCH involve the cycling community. It does not bode well for such a relationship if a safety commissioner is making it a personal crusade to vilify vulnerable road users like cyclists while motorists are the ones doing the killing and the maiming on PCH, making it one of the most dangerous highways in the state.

I'm not suggesting that cyclists should in any way be exempted from law enforcement, we can be ticketed under the law and do get them. The one time I have been ticketed though, the officer misunderstood the law, I was legally in the right, and the ticket thrown out by the court. However it's hardly surprising that the overwhelmed law enforcement that does patrol PCH would spend most of it's time ticketing motorists, since there are more of them, they break laws in abundance, and are the ones responsible for the carnage we see every year on PCH. Last time I checked cyclists weren't the ones running down children at the side of the road. Since it's aparent to anyone who rides through Malibu that speeding and general recklessness are common amongst PCH drivers, it would also seem they are not able to give out enough tickets to drivers, which would surely not be helped by putting extra emphasis targeting cyclists with their time.

(Some young drivers apparently drive through Malibu fiddling with their video camera and interviewing them self. A quote from the video "This is really dangerous, I can't believe I'm doing this." Yet Tellum seems to suggest ticketing cyclists, that's the real solution to problems on our roads.)

Really I think the situation has most to do with the general neglect of Caltrans to design the Malibu portion of PCH with the unique needs of the area in mind. Independant Sources has a great post that Ted from BikingInLA referenced, outlining with photos some of the terrible infrastructure design and constant poorly marked blockages of shoulder space. Where there are centers of pedestrian activity, and lots of cyclists, there needs to be special design considerations. Traffic should be slowed, something that can be accomplished more successfully with engineering than depending on police tickets. There needs to be safe and visible places to cross that are spread closer than miles apart from each other, prompting people to try and dart across like deer chased by wolves. Given the popularity of cycling on the route and the road width available, a deticated bike lane seems like an obvious way to reduce conflict. On portions of PCH in other cities across the state, there exists some bike lanes in areas not nearly as popular for cycling as Malibu. I don't recall precisely where, but having ridden PCH all up and down the coast of California, I remember at least one portion where a bike lane was not only available, but it had a decent buffer space as well to reduce conflict with the faster moving traffic.

I'm a strong supporter that we do need better cycling education, and that while motorists are really the ones responsible for the road carnage, cyclists have a responsibility to stay safe and look out for their own mortality. Contrary to the beliefs of Tellum that are supported more by hear say than facts or experience, most cyclists do a pretty good job of riding safe. The D.C. group Wash Cycle has a great post on debunking the myth of the scofflaw cyclist. There are however a minority of cyclists that we tend to all be lumped in with, who really ride in odd ways and often break the rules and violate rights of way, but I think the only way to truly get at the issue is a concerted effort at cycling education. Counting on police tickets first to be education is not effective. Police are not roadside teachers, while on patrol they don't have enough time, and some of them are barely familiar with cycling laws if at all, and often have no road cycling experience them self, let alone sufficient knowledge to be instructors.

If Malibu is truly interested in promoting safety on PCH, I suggest their safety commission drop the bike hate, and extend an invitation to the cycling community to be involved in the process. Since as far as I know, this anti-cycling internet media campaign is purely a product of Tellum, I would like to see from her an apology, to take down the facebook page or replace it with one focused on solutions and not name calling and finger pointing. She insisted the page has nothing to do with the Malibu safety commission when pressed on Malibu specific issues, but as a safety commissioner looking after and representing the public interest, she ought to expect public scrutiny for these actions. The original page is rendered useless of it's original intent anyways, as cyclists are used to facebook bike hate mongering groups forming, and we promptly co-opt them until the group is more cyclists than haters and it turns into a jumbled mess of mixed messaging (see example "There's a perfectly good path right next to the road you stupid cyclist!").

I'm going to give Tellum the benefit of the doubt and say she was simply misguided in her approach to a complex problem, and hope that she does the right thing. She's obviously a caring person, being a big supporter of tortoise rescue efforts, a worthy cause and one I firmly believe in.  I know several people and different cycling groups who I'm sure would love to be involved in promoting a safer PCH, but we have to feel welcome if we are to collaborate, and so far the message from the quotes I've read by the Malibu safety commission, is that cyclists are not welcome in Malibu. If an apology is given, and the facebook group removed or changed,  I'm certainly willing to forgive and forget. So lets do this over again, with a clean slate and a real solutions focused effort without the cheap shots and baiting comments that invite divisiveness.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Investigating The New Santa Monica Sharrows on 14th St.

14th St. Sharrow Markings In Santa Monica
(Newly re-paved and painted 14th St., sharrows added and center line made into dashed single yellow)

I checked out those new sharrows on 14th I announced last week, on my way home today. I missed seeing them earlier since this was my first day back from an Independence Day vacation to Chicago and then spending time with my wife and her family in neighboring Indiana (the reason I missed investigating sooner). It's exciting to finally be seeing sharrows on local streets and I'm happy to report this new stretch of sharrows in Santa Monica does not seem to have any of the inconsistent design issues with alignment found in some stretches of the new City of Los Angeles sharrows that Stephen Box has so adamantly been reporting. These do appear however to be in standard paint and not themoplastic, suggesting these are more of a test (according to points from national sharrow conference quoted in Box's article) and thus may fade fairly quickly.

(Google street view of 14th St. before the changes)

I think a very positive but lesser commented upon change in the design of this new repaving and painting is the change of what was a double yellow line to a single dashed yellow line. For stretches of road such as this, I think this change is almost as important as the sharrow itself. Although a motorist can legally cross a double yellow to pass a cyclist when it is safe to pass, I always find a reluctance to do so. This sometimes results in motorists either getting stuck behind me and getting irate about it, but more often motorists trying to pass with hardly any room at all to squeeze by while crossing the line as little as possible. On roads with a dashed line, or no line at all, I always feel a wider and more consistent passing room is given.

For anyone who's read Tom Vanderbilt's book Traffic, you know those bold lines on the road often have as much or more to do with increasing driving speeds through psychology than any notion of creating safety. Drivers tend to intuitively slow down and are more alert when lanes of travel are not as clear like on some residential streets, fearful of the potential for a head on collision. Drivers feel more confident speeding up when big double yellow lines mark the road separation. So this change of line separation treatment works in tandem with the sharrow to suggest that while the lanes are separated, you can cross freely as needed when necessary, making for a more shared space feel to the road.

I love seeing these sharrows on the ground so close to home, they are an important step in promoting awareness of cyclist's place on the road, and encouraging safer lane positioning and passing. They also add to the tool kit of promoting bike commuting a means of change that requires less political wrangling. Sharrows do not actually change the allocation of street space like bike lanes, they simply reinforce cyclists already existing right to the road, and with much more clarity than poorly understood and hard to notice little share the road signs. Thus there is usually far less resistance to their implementation than installing bike lanes but they may become a skipping stone toward bike lanes or bicycle boulevards on the same street in the future if ridership grows. They can be a very effective tool to bridge gaps in other cycling infrastructure like streets with bike lanes that disappear when the road gets too narrow. In some cities I have seen sharrows used, they are even in the middle of tricky intersections to suggest the best path of travel across.

My one criticism of these new sharrows, and one that should be addressed, on this and any future projects planning to use them, is there needs to be more frequency to get the most benefit. Currently these sharrows are placed only at the beginning and end of each intersection with no mid-block markings. The problem with this is that for the less confident cyclist, they may retreat to the door zone after the intersection crossing. Drivers may misunderstand and think cyclists are meant to only be able to move to the center at intersections, and may revert to assuming cyclists must get out of their way mid-block. One of the primary purposes of sharrow markings is to encourage cyclists to hold a consistent and predictable line on the road, as many newer cyclists tend to swerve with a lot more lateral movement than motorists are used to dealing with. The absence of any mid-block sharrows undermines this goal.

Here's hoping we see a lot more of these sharrows on Santa Monica streets in the near future.