Bicycling and the Law Archive

Dangerous Bike Riding – The Bigger Picture

Posted December 28, 2015 By David Huntsman

I cut my bike racing teeth on Southern California criteriums and road races as a kid in the early seventies, and also participated in a Sunday club ride known as the “La Grange Ride” after the host cycling club Velo Club La Grange Westwood. It is now known as the “Nichols Ride”.

That ride started at La Grange Restaurant on Westwood Boulevard and was known for a long climb up Nichols Canyon, a few miles of knee-busting rollers along Mulholland Drive, a regroup at the 405 Freeway and a sprint on Sepulveda Boulevard before you rolled back to the restaurant to brag about your performance.

Over the decades, sometimes fit for racing and sometimes fit for breakfast, I’ve participated in a few hundred editions of the La Grange Ride. I know the climbs and turns by heart. Seriously, I know the pavement by heart.

It was always fun, if you approached the ride sensibly. Most did, when the club was made up mostly of riders out for a spin and some conversation. But many treated the ride like a race and pretended they were on a closed course: they crossed the center line on Nichols Canyon or ran the red light at Coldwater Canyon and Mulholland Drive. I’m proud of mostly riding it like a social ride but acknowledge treating it like a race from time to time.

Like the riders in this article and video, doing what would get them disqualified or seriously injured even if it was a race.

December 27, 2015 Nichols Shenanigans from Robert Efthimos on Vimeo.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the article and the analysis of the video. While I understand the intersection of Mulholland Drive and Coldwater Canyon very well, and have surely run that red left arrow, I have a “pot-meet-kettle” reaction to the criticism of only the most egregious behavior (the rider who passes an oncoming car to the left). We can all do better than this. Every rider in that video crosses the line. No matter how confident they are of their safety, there’s no way I’m ever telling a junior rider that any of them is a safe wheel to follow.

Nor would I expect any to say I was always a safe wheel to follow back in my early racing days.

But something happened for me, in the latter part of my racing days: I definitely stopped riding the La Grange Ride like a race.

It wasn’t just because of the danger of pretending it was safe to race bicycles on open Los Angeles roads. I’d like to pretend I was that thoughtful; it just wasn’t the case.

The real reason was, it was poor training.

What?!  But, the La Grange Ride is one of the hardest rides in Southern California…

Yeah, well, guess what. It’s still not good training. I learned this from better riders, guys like Kevin Byers or Max Sciandri, European bike racers who got the value of a nice social ride with a competitive aspect, but who had trained with UK and Italian national teams before they came to California and knew better ways to spend Sundays.

These guys weren’t just fast on a ride like the La Grange Ride, they also won bike races. Real bike races.

Kevin explained that you don’t race your bike through inner-city neighborhoods and run red lights. Max explained that “once up a hill and off for a coffee” was just not how it’s done. In different ways they introduced me to real training. For example, a light-tempo but safe ride up Pacific Coast Highway out past Malibu and, then, Latigo repeats. Yes, Latigo repeats. Of course, I was 22.

The La Grange Ride then became a warmup, where Tim Bengston and I would ride it for fun, fast but safe, and then turn right on Sepulveda and head toward Topanga Canyon to intercept Mulholland Highway and some real training in the long climbs of the Santa Monica Mountains.

I’m happy that this is what GS Andiamo is teaching young bike racers. On top of a foundation of traffic safety training, we purposefully do not participate in what amounts to unsanctioned free-for-all racing on city streets, hoping for the best and tempting fate as you race among cars. And even where there are no cars, we proceed respectfully. No illegally fast riding on Back Bay Drive or river trails, weaving in and out of families on beach cruisers. We ride safely to a good safe training location, somewhere with no traffic conflicts and safe pavement, and only there do we ride hard and fast. For example, my son and I ride a safe 20 mile loop out the Back Bay and the San Diego Creek trail and, at the end, we do loops on Spyglass Hill with intense sprints at the top of each loop.

That’s how you train for bike racing and develop safe wheels to follow.


Bicycle Licensing On Its Way Out?

Posted August 1, 2014 By Frank Peters

Voice of OC

In yesterday’s Voice of OC Nick Gerda writes:

Local homeless advocate Igmar Rodas was successful Wednesday in fighting a citation he received for riding his bicycle without a bike license, which is a crime in Santa Ana, after a judge said his bike was apparently subjected to an unlawful search.

While Long Beach and Los Angeles have repealed their bike license laws, both Santa Ana and Irvine cling to their bewhiskered regulations, but that could be changing soon.

Yesterday in an email exchange, Santa Ana City Councilwoman Michele Martinez told me she’d be introducing an agenda item during Tuesday’s City Council session:


Read the report

It’s not hard to find critics of bike licensing. The Washington, D.C. based Alliance for Biking and Walking claims licensing backfires:

  • Resulting in Police harassment
  • Deterring new riders, another hassle
  • Costing more to enforce than the license fees generated

That’s why most bike-friendly cities repeal bike licensing laws.

Read the Alliance’s complete report here.

Lend your voice to the discussion: Come to the City Council meeting at 5:45pm Tuesday August 5th at 22 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana.

Then let’s get focused on repealing Irvine’s licensing law.


Houston — We Have Cops On Bikes

Posted April 11, 2014 By April Morris

Monday’s Newport Beach Bicycle Master Plan meeting covered a variety of topics including:

  • A proposal from a conservancy group that wanted to limit cyclists’ access to the Back Bay loop
  • An update by the Alta Planning consultant on the progress of programs, e.g. Education, Encouragement and Enforcement, included in the Bicycle Master Plan, and
  • A report by NBPD on collisions involving cyclists for the month of March.

For me, the most important moment came when Ramon Zavala, Supervisor of Sustainable Transportation for UCI, reported that the City of Houston is utilizing an undercover program whereby police officers are riding bicycles through the key areas of Houston and citing motorists (and I suppose cyclists) for safety violations. Fantastic idea!

Coincidentally, NBPD just acquired 2 new electric bicycles.

My brain went into high gear:

What if some of the funds we raised for the Bike Safety Fund were used to purchase say 4 or 5 bicycles that NBPD would ride in uniform — NOT undercover?

Police officers would ride key areas like Coast Hwy through Mariners Mile while on the lookout for motorists that are not following the law. The officers would be in the stream of traffic, stopping at lights, turning left, turning right, all the while showing motorists that it is legal and correct for cyclists to be on the road and occupying turn lanes when necessary. As an added bonus, the bike-riding officers would become more familiar with problem traffic patterns and street conditions that cyclists face.

What better way to Educate and Enforce the rules of the road? We could influence thousands of motorists each and every day.

Tourism is a huge industry for Newport Beach — what a better way to encourage tourists to rent or ride in the bicycle-friendly City of Newport Beach?

Would this be an appropriate use of funds? What if $25,000 were spent to put more officers on bikes?
Share your thoughts, please.


When in Rome, or, “Darling! Avert Your Eyes!”

Posted February 26, 2014 By David Huntsman

Some comments I saw on a friend’s FB page concerning this wonderful video of Dutch kids arriving at school and filling a bicycle parking lot with their bikes got me thinking generally about some of the general differences between “us” and “them” (bicycle education and type of bicycle ridden) but also about one major difference in particular: helmets. Some of the comments indicated many non-Europeans aren’t aware of the bike education Dutch kids get, nor did they appreciate the kind of bike the Dutch kids are riding, and they definitely are perturbed by the lack of helmets.

Education: The Dutch provide bicycle education to kids: how to ride the bike, of course, but also how to negotiate road markings, signs and traffic (both car and bike). But it’s not like they are robots… they are still kids. And they manage to get safely to school and back under their own steam.

Bikes: Note that the kids in the video are on upright “utility” bikes, and not on “toy” bikes like the BMX bikes, mini mountain-bikes or currently trendy “fixies” that are the standard for North American and Australian kids. The utility bikes are much easier to ride and do not lend themselves to the hi-jinks one would expect from a youngster. So, they are safer.

Helmets: Somebody commented “Where are all the helmets?” I have come to expect that question among North American, Australians and to some degree the English, where cycling is more a sport/exercise than a normal means of transportation and in some jurisdictions kids and even adults may not ride a bike without a helmet. But I wonder what “helmet people” here (The USA and Australia are the places that in my personal experience seem the most dogmatic about bike helmets) do when they visit continental Europe, where people get around on bikes as much as they do in motorized transport, and see that there are many more cyclists on the roads by magnitudes and – except for occasional young bike racer types – virtually none of them wear helmets? Even on roads in cities like Paris, among vehicular traffic?

After school shopping, Bordeaux

After school errands, Bordeaux, 2012

By way of background, I was raised in the “pre-helmet” USA so, for me, it is normal for cyclists of all ages to ride without a helmet, regardless of the style of cycling. I rode and raced a bike as a kid, but only when racing did I wear a little leather strap “hairnet” helmet. As an adult, when racing (but not otherwise) I wore a hairnet until about April of 1986 when the bike racing governing body in the USA mandated “hardshell” helmets. And even in 1987, in France, I raced without any helmet at all. While I haven’t raced since the eighties, I have ridden a racing bike regularly since then but it never occurred to me to wear a helmet until the late 2000s, when, frankly, I realized I was the only one who didn’t have one. I can’t say exactly what made me don one (and no I have never bumped my head).

But, newer cyclists (US and Australian) have evolved the idea that a helmet is part of cycling. And I wonder: what would be their reaction when faced with the absence of helmets in continental Europe? Would it cause a reassessment of the belief that helmets are required for all cycling? Or would it be patronizingly dismissed as a “When in Rome” peculiarity like red wine at lunch, topless women at the beach and public breast-feeding? Because many American, Australian and English cyclists must go to Paris, where helmetless cyclists on the road, among cars, are the norm and there is no great incidence of head injuries.

More specifically, I’m curious about the mindset of those people – cyclists and non-cyclists alike – who feel it warranted to shout “Where’s your helmet?” to complete strangers who pedal past them bare-headed (whether you are riding 20MPH on a street or 5MPH on the grass). I’ve seen kids on tiny training-wheeled bikes scolded by condescending strangers for pedaling around on the grass without helmets in the USA and in Australia.

I wonder what those people would do if they were transported to the street corner in this video I made last summer near the Louvre in Paris.

Would they simply “not see” the bareheaded cyclists? Would they see the cyclists, but cynically, write it off to some European deficiency?

Or, possibly, would they reassess their mindset?


Caltrans Classroom

Posted January 17, 2014 By Frank Peters

Dan Gutierrez

Dan Gutierrez

Caltrans hosted an all-day training class in Irvine yesterday, the Understanding Bicycle Transportation Workshop. It was well-attended, about 50 advocates, planners, Caltrans Ops types, even the CHP was in the audience.

Dan Gutierrez is the instructor and he integrates a lot of video into the session. It’s entertaining! He’s gone out camera-in-hand with other bike advocates to record bike riding’s best practices and he’s come back with quite a bloopers reel.

He’s an engineer’s engineer — he knows the CVC inside and out and will answer your question off the top of his head citing chapter and verse. He knows the ins and out of safe cycling, too, and he demonstrates various challenging road conditions and the safest way for cyclists to navigate them. His message to the Caltrans road designers is so valuable, because he speaks their language. He comes across as quite the authority.

But Dan’s also an unabashed vehicular cyclist – he’s never met a green lane he likes. Separated or protected bike lanes that are all the rage in many cities today, just don’t cut it with Dan. He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s no longer a LCI; he’s severed his relationship with the League of American Bicyclists over their support of cycle tracks and other protected bike lanes. That seems a shame. Too few times in life have I ever come upon the single, right answer — for me there are many shades of gray. Not so for Dan — when it comes to safe riding, he wants everyone to get out there in traffic.

Riding in traffic like a vehicle is fine once you’re a competent adult cyclist — Moms and kids won’t be joining the party though. This approach to infrastructure design (read It’s Time to Stop Building Black Diamond Bike Lanes) is why we have abysmal mode-share here in Southern California. Given another decade or two, vehicular cyclists might be successful in adding another single percentage point mode-share, but that’s too slow for most of us.

When I ask bike advocates in Platinum Portland what they’re focusing on to take their mode-share numbers to the next level, their response is short and sweet: cycle tracks.


California’s New 3 Foot Passing Law – Will it Help?

Posted September 24, 2013 By David Huntsman
I can assure you I'm not pedaling 47MPH; that's the speed of the car about to overtake me...

I can assure you I’m not pedaling 47MPH — that’s the speed of the car that will overtake me,
just as I’m forced out of the bike lane by the thoughtless placement of a speed camera…

Governor Jerry Brown just signed AB 1371, the Three Feet for Safety Act, into law effective September 16, 2014. Doing so made California the 22nd state to enact a defined buffer zone between cyclists and overtaking motorists’ cars.

It is expected to be effective in preventing the kind of overtaking collisions that kill so many cyclists. But, I have doubts that it will be as effective as many hope.

The “teeth” of new California Vehicle Code section 21760:

(c) A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.

Sounds helpful, right?

The problem is that the law doesn’t address motorist speed at 3 feet and then provides:

(d) If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.

In other words, the new law says: “Pass bicycle riders with three feet to spare at ANY speed, but if you can’t pass with three feet to spare, slow down to a safe speed and SQUEEZE PAST.”

Not as helpful when you get in to the details, is it? A car going the same speed as me kills me just as handily as a car going faster than me if it knocks me down with its right-side rear-view mirror and runs me over…

(In fact, it merely codifies current (unsafe) motorist behavior. Kind of the same legislative logic as California’s “85th percentile rule” which says speed limits can’t be enforced if they are lower than the 85th percentile of speeding motorists on that street. A situation also known as “the lunatics are running the asylum”…)

But even if its teeth were sharp, I don’t have high hopes of this law being enforced.

Why? Because motorists have ALWAYS been required to slow to safe speeds when bicycles or pedestrians are present on the road or adjacent sidewalk under California’s “Basic Speed Law” (Vehicle Code Section 22350). But motorists don’t obey this law. They don’t slow to safe speeds, and they aren’t ticketed for it (as any cyclist who has been passed – a yard away or not – by a car going 50 to 70 MPH in the right lane on Newport Coast Drive, in the presence of law enforcement, will tell you). And it’s virtually the same analysis of motorist behavior. So, why expect that the same illegal behavior will get ticketed under the new law?

SILVER LINING: I believe that many “dangerous” drivers are victims of peer pressure. They want to slow down; they want to pass safely. But when there are other cars on the road, especially when when tailgated by another driver, they don’t slow down because they don’t want to be a “goody-two-shoes” in the mind of the driver behind. So they speed. They cut off cyclists at intersections to make right and left turns. They don’t stop when pedestrians are waiting to cross at crosswalks. I believe that in most cases, a driver left to his own devices will do the right thing. Perhaps knowledge of this law will provide the emotional justification (righteousness?) a driver needs to do the right thing around bicycles on the road.



Posted September 18, 2012 By Frank Peters

Deputy Chief Dave McGill just called me to announce an arrest in the hit and run death this Saturday of Dr. Catherine Campion Ritz. “An arrest was made at 2am; we got the guy and the vehicle.”

Read the NBPD Press Release.

A Special Meeting of the Bike Safety Committee

Posted September 17, 2012 By Frank Peters

Catherine A. Campion, M.D.
Killed Saturday in a hit and run

Sarah Leaf died Friday morning

The Newport Beach Citizens Bicycle Safety Committee meets today at 4:30pm in the Friends Room at the Central Library on Avocado.


View Larger Map

Urge ‘Yes’ Vote on 3-Foot-Passing-Law

Posted August 22, 2012 By David Huntsman

California’s State Assembly will vote on enacting SB 1464, the 3-Foot-Passing-Law, Friday in Sacramento. It is not too late to send your assembly person an email urging a ‘yes’ vote using this handy link. Please pass this on to any California cyclists and their friends and families.


CdM Sidewalk

Posted June 8, 2012 By Frank Peters



Riding bikes on the sidewalk, in this case outside Ace Hardware on Coast Hwy in Corona del Mar, is never a good idea.

Here, these two nearly collided as the cyclist in white made a move to pass the cyclist in black — and who would expect to be passed while you’re riding on the sidewalk?

Sharrows should reduce the incidence of bikes on the sidewalk, as riding in the road gets safer.

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