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DOWNEY – Last month’s article on Downey’s “Summer of Cycling” concluded with a promise of safety tips and rules of the road for cyclists. Since these are issues with which I am intimately familiar as a recreational and commuter cyclist, I’ll take the liberty of speaking in the first person on this topic.
To begin with, bicycle safety has to be a two-way street between cyclists and drivers—if you’ll forgive the pun. Both groups are guilty of errors of both omission and commission regarding the rules of the road relating to bicyclists, which have long been on the books of both local and state government, including thorough treatment in the CA Driver Handbook.
That said, here follows my view, from personal experience, on the Downey driver.
To put it bluntly, Downey vehicle drivers are woefully ignorant concerning the rights of cyclists on the streets. Why would I make this pronouncement? Here is why: I’ve been commuting to work part-time on my bike from Downey to Culver City for most of the last two years, rigorously abiding by all traffic laws. During that time I’ve logged more than 2,000 miles to and from work through residential northwest Downey and Bell Gardens, commercial Commerce, Bell, Vernon, residential East L.A., and the USC area through West L.A. to the eastern edge of Culver City, where my work is located.
In all those miles, I’ve been honked at only once, and have only once been passed by a motor vehicle closer than the three-foot margin that’s about to become the legal minimum clearance between a vehicle and a bicycle, according to a new California law that goes into effect on September 16.
By contrast, in Downey I ride my bicycle on the nearly deserted residential streets as much as possible. However, in the same two-year period mentioned above, I’ve found it necessary to ride on major arterial streets in town about five times. In those five outings on major Downey streets, I’ve been honked at on three of those five occasions—60% of my trips—for merely taking the lane, which the law clearly allows me to do as a cyclist.
On the most recent occasion, when I really had to be heading east on Firestone Boulevard, after stopping at a red light at Downey Avenue, the driver behind me honked at me as soon as the light turned green, then veered towards me as he passed to within about 18 inches, in an obvious attempt to scare me.
If this is not ignorance, then it’s a kind of arrogant hubris that dramatically flouts the law and puts cyclists in potentially grave danger. Given the overwhelming proportion of my being honked at as a cyclist in Downey compared to my experiences across the rest of the central L.A. area, I choose to conclude that in Downey it’s simple ignorance.
So here’s RULE ONE for the Downey driver: if a bicyclist takes the lane, you are legally required to give it to him/her. As a driver, you don’t have a right to pass judgment on his/her reasons why. There are many legitimate safety reasons why a bicyclist may feel the need to take the lane. One big one is the possibility of getting “doored,” hit by a car door that opens suddenly. Others include the possibility of grates or obstacles in the gutter, or of ruts or gaps in the concrete or asphalt which, though they may not even be noticeable to you, could be a big safety hazard to the cyclist.
Next month, we’ll return with more safety tips, including one or two cardinal cyclist errors that take place too often in the Downey area.
In conclusion, Downey’s Summer of Cycling draws to a close in the upcoming weeks with two major public workshop opportunities on the City’s proposed Bicycle Master Plan. The first of these meetings will take place next Thursday, Aug. 28, at the Barbara J. Riley Community and Senior Center next to Apollo Park.
Scheduled from 6-8 p.m., the meeting will include two consecutive one-hour “Open House Sessions,” with a specific presentation scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
If you’re a bicyclist, you really need to be there. If you’re a concerned citizen, you do too.
Published: Aug. 21, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 19