riding in the dark

Been a while since last writing, though the riding goes well.

Tonight’s ride wasn’t so much to speak of (down Westwood to Santa Monica, push up through Century City and split lanes through Beverly Hills until Santa Monica South widens into Burton Way; thought about crossing lanes in traffic to catch the left turn onto Sixth, but decided in favor taking the crosswalk and a moment to rest before catching up to traffic at Fairfax; move up to Fourth, split the darkness, roll stop signs east of Western, turn up Kenmore in the suddenly gathered night), but I’d like to pick up on a note or two after last week’s election.

As Gary pointed out, last Tuesday’s election was indeed a victory for transportation, no matter how cynical you are. It was not, unfortunately, an election that delivered everything that one might have hoped for, but I suppose elections never are. All that said, I have been turning over a couple of things in my head.

First is the issue of Measure R. To gloss the issue – imperfectly – the fine citizens of LA County have just voted themselves into a higher sales tax, with the increased revenues slated to be spent by Metro on a variety of transportation projects all across the county. It’s a great idea, but I just have one request: Can whomever is doling out that money or soliciting project ideas think for a moment about bicycle infrastructure from the perspective of the bicyclist? I’m not talking about designated bike lanes on every bike-friendly street; I’m not even saying that we need sharrows on every street (though that would be sweet). I’m thinking really only of the small section of Fourth Street that’s been affectionately named the Bike Boulevard. It’s a great way to sneak home from the Westside: Really light traffic, which leaves ample room to swerve past what would otherwise be maddening pavement, and beautiful scenery to either side. My complaint, I suppose, centers on the intersection of Rossmore and Fourth. There’s a light at Third that holds up traffic, but the light cycles seemed perfectly timed to leave a gap on one side of the street when traffic is coming on the other. As a cyclist trying to cross that north/south traffic, I have one of two options: Wait what seems an interminably long time until I get a break wide enough to roll across (which is what I did tonight); or wait only long enough to see a half-opening before jumping through traffic (which I’ve definitely done). Neither solution seems particularly satisfying, but I have to be clear: The issue isn’t so much the wait. It’s how absolutely invisible I feel to traffic (and on the note of invisibility: Bikes are utterly invisible to sensors at Wilton and Fourth) curving north or speeding south on Rossmore. There’s little to no street lighting – probably a function of neighborhood policies, I suppose – and the intersection is further darkened by a stand of trees about the intersection. Beautiful to look at, but absolute murder to see in. It’s kind of terrifying.

So why not take steps to increase visibility of bicyclists at what is – by most accounts – a fairly popular east/west route for LA riders? I’m not saying put in flood lights or even demanding that flashing lights go off whenever a bike approaches the intersection. It doesn’t even need a stop sign. But there must be some way to both moderate cross traffic speeds and increase the visibility of cyclists. And as planning proceeds and the debates unfold over Measure R, I’d love to see changes in the infrastructure that come out of the experience of riding a bike in this city and not from some idea of what some study said in a different place.

Second, about this whole business of California Propositions. Relic as they are of a particular moment in the Californian democratic (demagogic?) imagination, I have decidedly mixed feelings about the whole institution. That said, I’ve been thinking about ways in which the institution of the Proposition might be turned towards cycling advocacy. Taking a couple of BikinginLA’s recent suggestions as case studies, what would happen if citizen cyclists wrote a proposition that made vehicular assault a criminal violation? Perhaps it might be possible to put drivers at fault for accidents occuring in the bike lane, in the same way that a driver who rear-ends another driver is automatically at fault. Or better yet, rewrite our vehicular code to make cars more responsible for the damage which they can inflict on bikes and pedestrians. Just a thought or two.

More, I hope, soon.

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5 responses to “riding in the dark

  1. I also rode in West LA last night.

    I’m a very beginning adult bicycle rider. All my previous riding was when I was under driver license age, and I’m 53 now. So I’m learning how to ride in traffic, as you described in the first para.

    I rode from WeHo down Doheny Road to Burton to Robertson at about 3:00, for a doctor’s appointment. That’s some hill. They should put a net at the bottom. Or padding. Or maybe anemergency room 🙂

    At 4:30, I started my ride to Century City to catch the Commuter Express bus back to the Valley. I rode down Robertson, across Wilshire to Charleville, slowly rolled (four way) stop signs all the way to Santa Monica Blvd, where I was yeilding ROW and taking ROW with cars, just as if I were driving. This includes one right in front of a Beverly Hills Cop (as it were.) It was getting pretty dark on Charleville. I was surprised to get full respect from the cars (with my blinky lights, front and rear.) Of course, the guy who blew past me on his bike at about 15MPH with zero lights or reflectors was a bit farther out there on the risk side.

    I did not realize that Charleville had a slight uphill grade, which kind of took it’s toll on me over the 1.8 miles to Century City.

    By the time I was riding on large multi-lane streets in CC, it was full dark, full rush hour, but I was still getting really good respect from the cars.

    I think that the best choice at an uncontrolled intersection, like the one you describe above is to take the unique opportunity to convert oneself into a pedestrian and stand in the crosswalk. I think people will stop for you. If you’re not seen, perhaps a few more reflectors would help.

    Of course, if the city was willing to spend some money at that intersection, a button driven pedestrian signal (http://www.xwalk.com/) would be of great benefit there.

  2. Hi Ed – great to hear about your ride!

    And I agree with your suggestion about converting myself into a pedestrian, except for the fact that that particular intersection doesn’t have a crosswalk either. All of the pedestrian infrastructure is concentrated one block up at Third and Rossmore, leaving the intersection at Fourth in the proverbial and literal dark. So as it stands right now, there are no visual markers to cars that pedestrians or cyclists might be trying to cross, and I think that’s the heart of my complaint.

    But good to hear about your ride, and best of luck!

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  4. Okay, so I’m a little late responding to this post…it’s been one (or now, two) of those weeks. I’d love to work with anyone to get some of those ideas turned into laws, but I don’t think the proposition route is the way to go. I’m afraid we’d find, like the No on 8 supporters, that we cyclists aren’t as popular in this state as we might hope. I think we’re better off taking our chances in the legislature, where common sense might stand a fighting chance against visceral anti-cyclism.

  5. You’re likely right, but just imagine: We could title the Proposition the “Safe Roads and Puppies Act”. Even if people don’t like safe roads, everybody loves puppies, right? Who would ever vote against puppies? That’s like amending the state constitution to deny people their right to get…. oh…. right.

    CALPIRG might be a better group to approach – they tend to do a lot of environmentally responsible work, and this might mesh with their portfolio.

    Hope those weeks are now behind.

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