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.


Rach Stevo said...

I say no benefit of the doubt, no hoping she does the right thing. That page needs to come down. She needs to apologize and re-read the CVC. Then she needs to come on a group bike ride along PCH.

I submitted a complaint to the Malibu City Council (I think...). We'll see if that goes anywhere.

Joe Anthony said...

I'm with Rachel, and I'd go even further.

If the woman who started this group is indeed a safety commissioner in Malibu, it's crystal clear she should not be holding that position.

Gary said...

I would like to try and extend some openness to diplomacy. If she can come to realize she is in the wrong, and makes a concerted effort to make amends, it could be an eye opening experience. There have been reporters who wrote malicious content against cyclists who were called out on it and were open enough to going on a ride to see for them self what it's like and gone on to write a more balanced piece afterward.

If she continues onward to bury herself with her existing rhetoric, and not make amends, than I am all for a big group going to an upcoming commission session and calling for her resignation, along with offering our own solutions for PCH and safety for all road users.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Gary. While I believe she couldn't be more wrong, I hope that she will drop her knee-jerk defensiveness and see that there is another side of the story – willingly or otherwise. If so, it will create an opportunity for cyclists to work with the city to improve the current conditions. Don't forget, the LAPD was initially resistant to making any changes, and look how they've come in working with the cycling community.

Lets also not forget that she's clearly not the only one; at least two other members of the current Malibu city government have expressed similar attitudes in the past. It's far more important to change the anti-bike attitudes in the city government than remove Tellem or her Facebook group.

And Gary, great post. Thanks for jumping in there so strongly; as always, you add an important voice to the discussion.

Joe Anthony said...

@gary and bikinginla: Those are optimistic comments, and I agree diplomacy is best.

However, I'm admittedly pretty skeptical about that actually happening in this case. I'd rather weed out any public officials standing in the way of progress.

Her comments are still coming in... I

n any event, it'll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, as it turns out Susan is president of a PR firm, and an "expert in crisis management".

Awesome :0)

Eric B said...

Gary, I'd like to be included in this when something gets firmed up. I bike PCH 3-4 days a week and work in Malibu.

Gary said...

Hey Eric, if you're still interested in this, could you send me your e-mail to Ted Rogers and I are working this thing out, how many and who should be at such a meeting with the Malibu commission.