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They see the worst of L.A. drivers ‘The anger I see out of people does surprise me’

Times Staff Writer

Hurled milkshakes, heated confrontations, serious accidents -- they’re all a part of hitting the road for many cyclists and runners. In these tales from the front lines, L.A.-area riders and runners talk about their worst encounters with motorists.

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Driveway’s invisible man

It took Flavio Olcese exactly one week after getting his new bike to crash it.

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He was heading down a Santa Monica street in March when a car turned into a driveway in front of him. Olcese braked, but he went over the hood, sustaining a sore shoulder, broken helmet and damaged bike. “The point,” says Olcese, 38, “is everyone’s looking for a car; nobody’s looking for a bike. And people don’t realize how fast a bike is.”

Other incidents have come up since Olcese, a bid and contract manager from Venice, started riding last October. A carful of teenagers pelted him with eggs (one hit him but didn’t break), someone tossed a milkshake at him (missed, hit the car instead) and one driver attempted to clip him as he was riding. On that ride, he was leading a group of some 30 riders who happened to see the incident and confronted the driver, who eventually apologized.

Yet none of this has dimmed Olcese’s enthusiasm for the open road. “I’m not out there to get angry,” he says. “Even if I’m thinking that, I’ve lost my serenity. I go out there to find peace, and I do. I feel for [drivers]. They’re stressed, and that’s OK.”

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Tires versus sneakers

NAEEMAH LOGAN was not prepared for running on L.A. streets; the second-year UCLA medical student now lives in Westwood but hails from Athens, Ga., where she could run unaffected by cars, buses and trucks. “I could run in the middle of the road if I wanted to,” she says. But she wasn’t about to let crowded streets here force her onto a treadmill: “I love to jog outside, and I hate being in a gym.”

On one of her daily five-mile jogs through the Westside, a car nearly ran over her foot; while in a driveway she wound up in a motorist’s blind spot and he caught the edge of her sneaker under a tire. “My foot was stuck under the car,” she says. “He tried moving the car forward and back -- he was scared.” Her foot eventually unwedged.

Running, she says, “seems to offend people. They yell at me to hurry up. When it’s my turn to go into the crosswalk, drivers will turn and not see you. I’ve had some close calls. When I first moved here, it distracted me and kind of bothered me -- why did they say that? I don’t know if I’m hardened by living in L.A., but I realize there are lots of crazy people out there.”

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Inattentive, or just mean?

Motorists can be divided into two categories, according to Scott Sing: “the ones who don’t pay attention” and “the ones who are outright mean.”

A few years ago, as he and a friend were biking to the South Bay, “some kids in a car threw a tire iron at us. It bounced on the road a couple of feet away. We tried to chase them down” but couldn’t catch up. And once, when he was on Westwood Boulevard heading south, someone in a car hit him in the back of the head with a bottle of water (he almost lost control of the bike). “People will spray water from a hose, try to grab you, yell at you, try to scare you -- people think it’s funny,” he says. “They think, ‘There’s a guy on a bike, let’s mess with him.’

“If anything, it’s getting worse,” says Sing, 48, who logs 250 to 400 miles a week and is a salesman for Helen’s Cycles as well as a Venice-based computer consultant. “As I’ve become more experienced, I feel less threatened,” he adds, “but twice or three times a week I hit the brakes because somebody is doing something illegal.”

Sing says that through the years he’s changed the way he rides. “I’ve learned where to position myself, where to look,” he says. “I definitely make myself as visible as possible, day and night. . . . It means being more than defensive, it’s being proactive and trying to anticipate and predict what drivers will do.”

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Numbers mean nothing

PAtti Goldman leads a group of 35 runners as director of the L.A. Galloway Training Program and says there’s not always safety in numbers.

“I was leading a group of runners in the marina, and a guy pulled out and gunned his engine,” she says. “He drove by and was shaking his fist and screaming, ‘We don’t like you here! We don’t want you around our neighborhood!’ ”

Shouting at runners, it seems, is a favorite pastime for some drivers: “I’ve had all sorts of things yelled at me -- Get off the street, go home, why are you running, why do you run when you can drive? Sometimes I think they’re kidding, but sometimes they might be serious. It’s hard to tell. But the anger I see out of people does surprise me.”

Goldman, a 57-year-old Los Angeles executive assistant for a real estate company, has had several close calls in residential neighborhoods as well. “I don’t think they’re cognizant of people running,” she says. “I’ve had a couple of incidents where people are backing out of their driveways and not looking.”

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More than a door ding

IT’S called getting doored -- when a cyclist, riding near parked cars, encounters a car door suddenly opened by a driver oblivious to the possibility of an oncoming bike. This common cycling accident can have serious consequences, as Katharine King tells it. It happened to the 54-year-old Santa Monica concert producer last November while in the bike lane on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

“I ran right into the edge of it, split my lip and knocked my tooth out.” She went to the emergency room in an ambulance, received 14 stitches and later learned her bike was totaled. “I was lucky that nothing worse happened. Once I found out how often this happens, I realized there’s no public education about remembering the bicyclist.” Because cars can park alongside the bike lane, she says, “people aren’t thinking of it as a bike lane.”

The fallout: “I haven’t been back on a bike since, other than at the gym,” King says. “I do want to get back on, I really do, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. It takes the fun out of it. But there has to be a safe way to do it.”

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A backpack grab

In January, a month after she started cycling, Nora Kirkpatrick became familiar with the way of the reckless L.A. driver. A truck full of men grabbed the 22-year-old actress’ backpack as she was pedaling on Hollywood Boulevard. “They were yelling, ‘Hey, baby!’ and I’m thinking, ‘Don’t endanger my life.’ I tried to regain my balance as they pulled on it, and I slowed down, and they had to keep moving.”

Kirkpatrick, from Los Feliz, has also been clipped by a truck pulling a trailer. “He swerved a bit and hit me and I fell,” she says, adding that she wasn’t injured. “But it did scare me.”

She’s learned to toss off the comments she hears while riding, which include “people hitting on me in some weird way. It happens a lot more often on the bike than not. More than that, though, I get people yelling at me to get off the road. I don’t know what to say to them anymore.”

None of these experiences has made her chuck the bike, however. “It’s worth it for me, even though it’s dangerous and a lot of times people make it difficult for you. It’s almost worth the risk to not sit in your car for hours.”

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Two times the ‘fun’

As a triathlete, Greg Ramos runs and cycles on L.A.-area streets, bearing the wrath of drivers on both fronts. There was the time two years ago while riding on Mulholland when a car full of guys, laughing, passed him. Ramos felt a sting on his back and figured it was a bee; it wasn’t until he got home, washed his jersey and saw a burn hole that he realized someone had flicked a cigarette at him.

However, the 56-year-old Moreno Valley resident says he’s had closer calls while running. On six-mile jogs to the Rose Bowl from his job as a system administrator at JPL, “I’ll wait for a light at a crosswalk and start to go, and people will still turn in front of me. It’s, like, ‘Get out of my way, I’ve got to go someplace.’ ”

Although he now avoids some heavy-traffic thoroughfares, such as Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, none of these incidents has dampened his enthusiasm: “For me, cycling is such a release; that’s why I like to get out there. A lot of times I won’t even bring my cellphone. I don’t want anybody bothering me.”

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Time to back down

Bruce GILBERT estimates he’s had “a million” close calls with drivers as a runner, skater, walker and former cyclist. But one stands out, and it happened while he was out for a walk with his girlfriend and dog about two years ago. They were about to step into a four-way stop sign intersection in a residential neighborhood in Miracle Mile when a car, according to Gilbert, rolled through the stop, cut in front of him and “almost wiped everyone out.” He’s convinced the driver knew he was there.

Gilbert says he called the man a name, a response that prompted the driver to get out of his car. The two exchanged words, with Gilbert eventually backing off when he realized he was physically outmatched -- the driver was about 6 foot 3 to Gilbert’s 5 foot 6. “The only thing I’m sorry about,” he says, “is that I didn’t get his license plate number.”

Intersections usually prove dicey. “The thing that always happens,” says Gilbert, a 41-year-old L.A. personal trainer, “is that people will come to an intersection and they’ll just go and you have to jump out of the way. I’ve had people look at me, and then go. They see me, we make eye contact, and then they pull the car up as I’m about to cross. What is this person thinking? This happens weekly. . . . I think the urban exerciser sort of takes a second-class-citizen role in the heads of drivers.”

All Gilbert would like, he says, is “for people to treat me with respect. I’m not 100% perfect, but it’s the way I try to live my life.”

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Off to the emergency room

Malinda MULLER doesn’t recall everything about the November accident in Beverly Hills that resulted in a concussion and a torn medial collateral ligament in her knee. “I was told I slipped up on top of the car, and when I came to, I was lying on my back on the ground in the middle of the street.” She was taken by ambulance to an emergency room where she was treated for her injuries.

“I’ve done a lot of cycling in the last two years, and there are definitely places that are more frightening and anxiety-producing than others,” says Muller, a research analyst in Occidental College’s Institutional Advancement department. “Malibu is definitely a frightening place. Traffic is very fast on certain roads.” Topanga Canyon, with its twists, turns and drop-offs, is one of those. “You have a drop-off on your side, and the cars come so close.” Oftentimes when she trained in Canyon Country, she says, “the cars would ride close to you on purpose. Certain places you can tell they don’t want you, which is really unfortunate.”

Although the 56-year-old Studio City resident still rides, her training has definitely changed. She won’t ride alone on city streets, only in lightly trafficked places such as Griffith Park. When she rides with her cycling group, the Los Angeles Wheelmen, “I’m limited in my range of where I’ll go. . . . It’s made me feel extremely vulnerable. It took a little of the wind out of my sails.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Group efforts

Cyclists and runners should know the rules of the road before taking to the street, advocates and coaches say. It may help cut down on accidents and ultimately create better harmony with motorists.

In the event of an incident, try to get the license plate number and a description of the vehicle. But cycling veterans advise against engaging with drivers in a shouting match or physical altercation. Escalating the situation will help no one. It’s also a good idea to carry ID and a cellphone, as well as a list of people to call in case of an accident. For more information on Los Angeles-area cycling and running groups (some of which have information on sharing the roads), go to:

Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange, www.cicle.org, an L.A.-based bicycle advocacy group.

Bicycle Kitchen, www.bicyclekitchen.com, a nonprofit LA organization with workshops on bike repair and maintenance.

Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, labike.org, a local bicycle advocacy group.

Twentysixers marathon training group, www.twentysixers.com, offers group runs and training.

Los Angeles Wheelmen cycling group, www.lawheelmen.org, a recreational biking club.

-- Jeannine Stein


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