One of the great things about Los Angeles is that honking is a regular and acceptable part of driving. How else would we communicate such vital information as “the light is green and you are still looking down at your phone, stupid."
I enthusiastically take part in this great L.A. motoring tradition. I’m an impatient, aggressive driver and I beep when the spirit moves me. When it’s my turn to get blasted for a bonehead move, I shrug and consider it fair play.
But my sanguinity about the horn-blowing culture has changed since I became a bike commuter in March. I’ve been tooted at as I biked in light traffic and heavy traffic, as I've crossed an intersection, even stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to turn.
A Metro bus honked at me once as I rode in the big, green obvious bike lane on Spring Street. Just this week a truck beeped at me as it passed me while I pedaled in the bike lane on Glendale Boulevard, even though it didn't have to slow down for me. It startled me enough to send me wobbling toward a parked car. I caught myself before crashing, but wanted to scream after the truck: “What? Why?!”
What makes it all the more vexing is how courteous I’ve been since I traded four wheels for two. I did not want to be one of those entitled bikers who fly through stop signs and then sneer as cars slam on the brakes. I don’t take the horn-inducing liberties that I do in the Prius. I follow the rules.
The beeping doesn’t happen every day and the vast majority of motorists are exceedingly considerate to me. But it does happen often enough that it’s becoming a concern. Maybe some are genuinely trying to send me information they think will help my commute. But the only message I hear is this: “You are about to die."
I think there’s often a less-altruistic motive behind the beeps, driven by the inchoate rage experienced by drivers finally freed from the grind of the freeway who find themselves in crawling neighborhood traffic and having to slow down even more to make way for some perky bicyclist in a bright orange jacket who can bypass the cars and will probably get home first — and get a workout in the bargain. I know. I’ve been there.
There may be some ignorance too. Once I was so frustrated by a driver who laid on the horn behind me that I confronted him after catching up with him a few seconds after he passed me. (That’s right. I had slowed him down in the race to get to end the of the block. ) I yelled, “Don’t honk at me.” His response was that I should get out of the road because he didn’t want to hit me. Then I called him an unkind word. I’m not proud.
If I find that driver again, I’ll apologize for the childish insult and say, calmly: “ I have a right to ride my bike in the road. In fact, the law even allows me to take up the entire lane on this skinny city street. Still, I’m staying as far to the right as I can safely ride so that you can pass without too much trouble. (Believe me, I don’t want angry people piloting one-ton machines just inches from my exposed skin.) So honking at me is both wrong and dangerous. It’s is like screaming in someone’s ear as they walk a tightrope. One stumble and it could be all over. Please don’t do it.”
But meanwhile, I'm thinking about ordering this extra loud bike horn. It might not stop the honking, but it would feel really good to beep right back.
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