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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

L.A. Bicycling Activists Speak Out at Public Safety Workshop

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

Approximately 20 people—an almost equal number of city representatives and members of the bicycling community—gathered on Saturday morning at city hall, for the City of Malibu Public Safety Commission’s workshop on bicycle issues.
“We’ve been talking about this workshop since the beginning of year,” Safety Commissioner Chris Frost, an avid cyclist, said at the start of the meeting. “[Our goal is to] make the cycling environment safer for everyone. I want people to walk out of here feeling there’s a basis for moving forward.”
Biking advocates used the workshop as an opportunity to explain some of their Pacific Coast Highway safety concerns to the public safety commission and two members of the city council.
“You don’t have street sweepers, and when you do they don’t sweep the shoulder,” said cycling activist Eric Bruins, who routinely bikes to work from Culver City to Malibu.
“Debris gets swept there. The fog line is clearest part,” Bruins said, explaining that even tiny pieces of broken glass and debris from landslide activity can make the shoulder unsafe for cyclists.
“There may be design issues with the shoulder, even if it appears clear,” Bruins said.
Bruins also indicated that there are areas on PCH where cyclists have no choice other than to move into the right lane.
“The reality is when I’m riding I expect people to come up behind me to see me...If I’m riding on the fog line, there’s a lot of ambiguity.
“You don’t know if you’re going to fit. A lot of people don’t know where the right side of their car is. As a cyclist, if for whatever reason the shoul der isn’t clear, I need to make it clear to the driver behind me that they aren’t going to fit. I have to move farther left. I have to take the lane. I'm sticking out arm. I'm moving over in a predictable manner.”
The biking advocates presented data from 2005-9 that supports their contention that bicycle-related accidents on PCH occur more frequently in through areas, rather than at intersections. Rear-ending and sideswiping incidents account for the largest number of serious accidents, according to the data presented.
Commissioner David Saul raised the issue of bicyclists riding through red lights on PCH. “How do we get out word that cyclists have to follow the law?” he asked. “Failure to stop at signal is a ticket. I don’t know how many they're writing, it’s hard to track.”
“The law is the law and you can’t selectively choose what works for you,” said Jay Slater, spokesperson for Velo Club La Grange, one of California’s largest and oldest cycling clubs.
“Just like cars, some cyclists, like some motorists, choose to [run lights],” Slater said. “We talk about it constantly. It's on our website that we follow traffic laws, but we're not able to police it. One-hundred-percent compliance? Forget it. It’s never going to happen. It's up to the law to enforce it. It is what it is. You’re not going to go out with fishing net and catch everyone who runs a red light.”
“It’s better since we’ve been talking about it,” replied Commission Chair Carol Randall. “And if [word] gets out there, if people understand why it’s a concern…”
“Cyclists tend to have an independent spirit,” Bruins said. “We’re riding in a hostile environment.” Bruins indicated that it makes a difference to cyclists to know that stopping at a red light enables residents like Randall to exit a driveway safely, rather than just knowing that stopping at a red light is the law.
“One common mistake is the talk about the cycling community. There is no cycling community,” said Ted Rogers, who maintains the bicycling blog Biking in LA.
Rogers called it a “common misconception” that deaths occur from cyclists running red lights. He said that there have been 27 cyclist deaths this year in California, “not one killed this year running red lights or violating signal.”
“I want to make it really clear that when you see a guy blow a light he’s an individual, he doesn’t represent ‘the cycling community,’” Slater added.
Jennifer Klausner, executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said “We are more connected then ever through the Internet, blogs. We network to the extent that we can. Cycling is on a total upswing right now. Gas is more expensive, there’s a health crisis, cycling is very cool among kids, individuals who don’t belong to a club. There’s a huge influx of new cyclists. If the feeling is that its getting better [on PCH] than we’re doing really well. Cycling population is growing exponentially.”
“Blog sites like Ted’s and La Grange reach cyclists,” Slater agreed. “When it goes viral that’s the best way to reach the public.”
The bicycling activists commended sharrows—painted rode-sharing arrows that remind motorists to respect bike traffic—that were recently installed on Thousand Oaks Blvd.
“Sharrows are a relatively new safety bike facility device,” Slater explained. ‘They’ve done several test areas. Hermosa Beach. Take a look at the way they’ve done it, 100 percent right. [It has an] outside door zone where car doors open, black and and white signs with a little bicycle picture say bicycles have use of the lane. The people who live down there love it. As soon as they see a cyclist they move to the right. It is literally the perfect example.”
Bicycling activists also praised new legislation in the City of Los Angeles that would make harassment of bicyclists a crime.
Slater described proposed California legislation that would give cyclists the legal right to cross over a double line by as much as three feet, “as long as it is safe.” The bill has passed out of committee and will be before the senate soon, he said.
The intersections at Las Flores and Cross Creek were pointed to as unsafe for cyclists, The eastern stretch of PCH got low marks as well, largely because of the number of parked cars cyclists must navigate.
Drivers are looking for what's in front of them,” Bruins said. My job is for them to see me as soon as possible. If I get into the lane earlier and farther then there’s no panicking. You often see a car, a space, a car. It's safer for me to just stay in the lane. The active unsafe thing is the merge.
“I want to minimize the number of times I merge until the hazard is past. I need to take lane at the intersection to prevent vehicle from passing me and turning in front.
“One of the only advantages we have is that we are going slower, have more time to maneuver,” Slater said. “The [most dangerous] things for me is getting right-hooked or doored. East Malibu is the most problematic area of PCH-not only doors to worry about, but people who park diagonally.
“We end up in traffic lane all the line. When people are standing there with the door open we shout ‘door,’” Slater elaborated, adding that cyclists are here to stay on PCH. “There isn’t an alternative,” he said. “There isn’t a coast [bike] route.”
“Every road is a road where you should expect to find bicyclists,” said Klausner.

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