Some advice for cyclists: Being self-righteous can be dangerous

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There’s a joke about a little kid with a trike and a neighbor who professes to like young children and their energetic pedaling up and down the street. But then the neighbor has his driveway redone and the youngster wheels his way all over the wet cement. The homeowner pitches a fit, to which the child’s father says, “I thought you liked the kids who ride around here.”

“I like them in the abstract,” the neighbor replies, “but not in the concrete!”

I have to confess to sharing his feelings about bicycles. In theory, I love the idea of a population that is fit and nonpolluting on its two- (or even three-) wheelers. When I encounter them whizzing down hiker-only trails, though, it takes a measure of self-control not to stick my walking staff through their spokes.

VIDEO: Do you drive in L.A.? Watch this to see what scares cyclists.


In fact, one of my very favorite hiking days lately was in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, where the park ranger was taking a stroll with friends on her day off, so not in uniform. As some bicyclists neared, she informed them firmly that they were on a forbidden trail. They informed her firmly that she should do something beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet.

She made a call, and toward the end of the trail, the cyclists were met by another ranger, this one in uniform.

We all love those little moments of incidental justice. The problem is when we try to carry out the justice ourselves, in our civilian identities.

VIDEO: Do you bike in L.A.? Watch this to see what concerns all those drivers.

An online news site in Laguna Beach recently reported on a road rage incident involving a bicyclist and the driver of a van. The cyclist was in the bike lane of a busy, narrow and somewhat treacherous road. The driver didn’t encroach on the bike lane but didn’t move over either, even though there was room to do so. State law says drivers must take maneuvers to leave a safe space between their vehicles and bicycles, but it doesn’t specify what that space needs to be.

Come September, a new law will define that as 3 feet, whether or not there is room for the vehicle to move over. In other words, even it’s not possible to give the bicyclist a wide berth, the driver has to maintain the distance. That could mean slowing down to bike speed.


The law strikes me as a little nuts. On Laguna Canyon Road there are some stretches where there simply isn’t enough room to move over without crossing a double-yellow line marked with lane bumps and possibly into a head-on collision at 50 mph. The bike lane is narrow, and motorists generally do their best. So should a whole line of cars slow down to 20 mph or so to leave 3 feet of space between them and a cyclist for miles on end? Sometimes, it seems to me as though lawmakers don’t get around the state much.

FULL COVERAGE: Sharing the road in L.A.

In this case, according to the report, when the van was stopped at a red light, the bicyclist tapped on the window to inform the driver that he was supposed to leave more space. The driver didn’t take this well, and when the cyclist crossed the street in front of him, he nudged his van forward, pushing the cyclist over. The article didn’t say whether the driver had been detained and cited by police.

Outrageous, obviously. But assuming everything in the report fully reflects what happened, mistakes were made on both sides. Sometimes even well-meaning motorists will make errors around bikes — if this was indeed a mistake. The bicyclist wasn’t in the driver’s seat, so to speak. And the driver might have been within the law. Just as I don’t chase down the cyclists who speed through stop signs and stoplights without so much as a pause — and oh, am I tempted — motorists don’t need self-righteous lectures from bikers. That’s not how we will achieve bike-car peace on or in the concrete.


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This post is part of an ongoing conversation to explore how the city’s cyclists, drivers and pedestrians share and compete for road space, and to consider policy choices that keep people safe and traffic flowing. For more: and #roadshareLA.