I ride my bicycle in Los Angeles, and I belong on the same road as your car.
If the road is too narrow, watch out for me. I will take the middle of the lane because that is the safest place for a bicyclist.
Whether it's for meetings, hearings, classes, I'm inclined to use my bicycle to commute. Whether those meetings are as far away as Long Beach or just around my corner in the Valley. I bike to get to places.
But, I am told every day implicitly and explicitly that there is something wrong with this.
Who tells me this?
Drivers throughout Los Angeles. Drivers on the hilly Cahuenga Boulevard honk at me on a nice brisk Saturday morning. Drivers on an empty Woodman Boulevard at night yell at me to "bike on the sidewalk." Drivers on Nordhoff Street speed by me and make sure to establish their dominion of the road by cutting me off.
A few weeks ago, I biked through Sepulveda Boulevard from the San Fernando Valley into Westwood. This was about the 3rd time I had ever taken this route. Sepulveda Blvd is a hilly alternate route to the notoriously traffic-packed 405 freeway. As an alternate route to a packed freeway, people are inclined to drive really fast.
However, there is a bike lane on the street, and many cyclists are inclined to use it as a regular route. Every time I see a bicyclist heading the opposite direction, I give a knowing nod acknowledging the difficulty of not only mounting the hill, but surviving the unforgiving torrent of cars whizzing by you at 50 mph while you ride on narrow shoulder lanes full of uneven pavement splashed with a helping of jagged rocks and other random debris, just to test the mental fortitude of your tires.
On the day I chose to ride down a few weeks ago, there was construction on the street before Montana Avenue, leaving a stretch of just one-lane going in both directions. I knew that this wasn't going to make drivers happy, but fearing for my safety, I took the middle of the one lane going south on Sepulveda towards UCLA.
This held up traffic for at least one driver. He would not stop honking. How dare I prevent him from getting half a mile of practice in his Beamer before his Indy 500 qualifications.
Even if I wanted to, I couldn't pull over to the right, because it would be hard for him not to pass me and take my left arm with him in the process. I could not pull off to the sidewalk because I would lose momentum, and I'd have to wait for traffic to clear before proceeding again. Plus, there wasn't any wheelchair access for me to get on the sidewalk.
So the only option was to keep going. I was pedaling as fast as I could in front of yet another weekday-Juan Pablo Montoya in Los Angeles.
All he could do was honk. All I could do was yell back. Nothing was really solved, except I'm glad I wasn't yet another victim of road rage or carelessness against cyclists.
However, in addition to this yelling I'd already and prefer to do much less of in the future, I could also write an article addressing any and everyone else who operates a motor vehicle alongside my bicycle in Los Angeles County. In the article, I would tell motorists this:
It is state law to ride on the street.
In the state of California, a bicyclist has the same rights to the road as any vehicle driver. This means that a cyclist could take up one lane if that lane is too narrow.
So yes, I was legally within my rights to take the lane, but I was made to feel wrong about it by yet another impatient LA driver.
I don't like having to explain the nuances of the state code to enraged drivers. That's a battle I'm almost never going to win. If they are mad, they likely have this expectation that car drivers are the only ones entitled to the road. He or she will think I'm wrong; I can't show him/her that he/she's wrong unless I'm carrying a copy of the state Vehicle Code or better yet, a travel-sized LA Superior court judge who could fit snugly inside my backpack to vouch on my behalf.
As is the tense relationship between drivers and bicyclists, were just going to end up yelling at each other and eventually get into a confrontation before a solution.
There has been a fresh new political momentum swinging in favor of recognizing bicyclists' rights in LA. After having sustained an injury while riding his bicycle in West Los Angeles, last week Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presided over a Bicycle Summit emphasizing various aspects of bicycle safety, and general support for development of bikeways and anti-harrassment ordinances.
Yesterday, Villaraigosa unveiled a citywide campaign to raise awareness of bicyclists on the road. The "Give me 3" campaign headed by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition as well as the popular bicycle collective Midnight Ridazz is specifically aimed at making motorists more aware of bicyclists on the road. Posters of the campaign will appear on bus shelter posters and other public places.
Mayor Villaraigosa and the "Give Me 3" Campaign Brian J. Delas Armas, Examiner.com
"Give me 3" is a reference to the three feet of space behind and beside a cyclist that a vehicle must yield to a cyclist. Fifteen states currently have a law mandating that cars yield three feet of passing room for cyclists. Villaraigosa emphasized his intention to make California another state with such a law.
While there is some newfound political momentum for bicyclists rights, I will still have to ride the streets of Los Angeles. This means I will still ride side by side with drivers who will not know or even care about this political momentum and/or awareness of bicyclists. They will continue to operate in this expectation that the road is exclusively theirs for the taking.
The street is where bicyclists belong. There really is no other place. In the City of Los Angeles, you could be cited for riding on sidewalks if in the highly subjective opinion of a police officer you show a "willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property."
If California's Vehicle Code isn't good enough for you, and you'll still feel mad about bicyclists, there is one more take-home message that I would like to send to you and motorists everywhere in LA: Expect bicyclists to ride on a busy street near you.
The operative word is "expect." If you "expect" bicyclists on the road, the less likely you are to hold onto this false expectation that streets belong to cars, and that bicyclists are merely in your way. If you let go of that false expectation, the less likely you are to be mad.
Bicyclists don't block traffic, we are part of it.