Notes From the field Archive

Garden Grove Open Streets Event

Posted October 12, 2014 By Frank Peters
Car-free streets for walking, biking and dragons

Car-free streets for walking, biking and dragons

Two Open Streets events in 2 weeks here in Orange County — today’s event in Garden Grove was a smashing success!

The route was unique – a mini-grid around the Civic Center and Historic Main Street – it took me awhile to find my way, but there were delights tucked away along many sections of the route.

CicLAvia's Aaron Paley lent his considerable experience to the event

CicLAvia’s Aaron Paley lent his considerable experience to the event

Free of cars, like all the similar Los Angeles events, Garden Grove Open Streets came just a week after Santa Ana’s SoMoS, the first cyclovia in Orange County.

Pick up a piece of chalk...

Everyone had something to say — pick up a piece of chalk…

Dancing to Michael Jackson tunes

Dancing to Michael Jackson tunes

Could we host a cyclovia for ourselves? What would car-free streets in Newport Beach look like? Where would we stage it? What would we showcase?


SoMoS: Santa Ana Energy Looking for Somewhere to Ride

Posted October 7, 2014 By David Huntsman


I saw a lot at the City of Santa Ana’s inaugural SoMoS “no cars” Ciclovia-style event on its three miles of Main Street last Sunday. People walking, skating, big wheeling and riding bikes. Experiencing the street as streets were experienced for centuries, before the invasion of cars. It was a hot, but wonderful day.

It was as I left for my bike ride back to the coast that I saw the small crowd of young people standing proudly with their bikes. Fast bikes, fixed-gear and single speed, and some bike racing clothing.

It was the image of the day for me. If I had to guess what was going on I’d say these kids enjoyed their time at SoMoS, but now, as it ends, are asking, “Now what?”

4pm on a Sunday is awfully early to call it a day when you have something as stimulating as a Ciclovia under your belt.


The Wiggle

Posted September 6, 2014 By Frank Peters

It’s a mixed bag, vacationing in San Francisco this week.

On the one hand, there’s excellent bicycle infrastructure, but on the other, it leads to jealousy.

Why can’t we enjoy similar safe bike riding conditions in Newport Beach?

It’s quite a climb up to Golden Gate Park, so we rode The Wiggle, zigzagging our way up to The Haight. It’s safe and amazingly flat!

Like at home, this city is jammed with frantic motorists, but while my wife and I navigate the top tourist spots, everyone’s cool, no horns blow.

I expected fewer cars — what was I thinking? Many streets are busy arterials, like Coast Hwy, MacArthur or Jamboree, but cyclists are accommodated. It’s an inspiration.


Walk to the Movies

Posted July 26, 2014 By Frank Peters
A Most Wanted Man

A Friday night double-date to see A Most Wanted Man

Parking’s no problem — not when you walk to the movies.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled over a change to the Newport Beach Land Use Element. Many fret over parking and congestion.

We walk to the movies and avoid both issues.

From Big Corona it’s a two-mile trek each way; it gets the heart pumping. As a bonus, it’s all downhill on the way home.

Walking is good for the environment, good for congestion and good for us, too.

Add a little urban adventure to your weekend plans — walk to the movies.


Memories of Santa Barbara Getaways

Posted July 25, 2014 By Frank Peters
The Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara

The Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara

When your barber tells you it’s time for a vacation, I guess I better listen.

We’ll be off to Oregon shortly, but we needed something quick, car-free and close, so we dashed off to Santa Barbara. Of course we’ve been many times, over 100 times I keep saying, but we’d never stayed at the El Encanto. Not together that is – I remember visiting the hotel about 12 years ago, well before the current remodel, back when I was a dance photographer.


My stay was in the middle of a local performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Group; I had a New York friend dancing in the Group, which is how I met Baryshnikov. I was invited to shoot a few backstage shots and then after the performance pix of Misha with the local insiders. He didn’t like his picture being taken, but he minded less when it was me doing the shooting – we were close in age and he admired my volunteer work at the High School for the Performing Arts in NYC, the Fame School. After this brief time together in Santa Barbara I got an invite to join the group for a 3-week tour of Europe.

Those were the days.

But back to that dance performance 12 years ago… After the photos everyone moved out of the concert hall onto the plaza to mingle – no one wanted to leave. I’ll never forget the press/publicity agent for the theatre, she admired my access to the artist – she tapped me on the shoulder to inquire of my relationship, my credentials. I modestly mumbled something like, “Just a friend,” which didn’t satisfy her apparently. She turned about 2 feet, back to her companion to summarize, “He’s a nobody!”

I love telling that story.

This week’s trip would be less glamorous, although the views from the hotel dining patio were mesmerizing, the service fantastic and the air quality crisp and clean — our ambitions for this trip were derailed as we fell into a relaxation coma.

Before we lost it that first night we had the foresight to reserve the hotel’s electric bikes for the next morning. The elevation is equivalent to Newport Coast, only with a lot more windy roads to get there, so the Pedego eBikes were perfect for zipping around town.

Santa Barbarans are used to cyclists apparently, no one blowing their horns, courtesy at every turn. We stayed out on the bikes so long I kept wondering if there was an implicit time limit. Would 4 hours hogging the bikes be considered rude? It turned out fine. We returned the bikes after an all-morning excursion into Montecito and back, just in time for a little siesta.

Our bungalow retreat

Our bungalow retreat at the El Encanto


When the Big One Hits, We’ll Be Mobile

Posted April 8, 2014 By David Huntsman

An email I received from the office of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) regarding earthquake preparedness left me at a loss, and (this time) I figured out why. It suggested preparing the typical things, like strapping water heaters and having water supplies. Those are good ideas.

Enough supplies to stay at home, but not enough to carry on...

The kit suggests enough supplies to stay at home, but not enough to carry on living.
We have to get around!

But what about transportation after a disaster strikes?

I’ve lived through the aftermath of one major earthquake as an adult, the 1994 Northridge quake. It brought down the Santa Monica Freeway. Street-level motor-vehicle traffic in Los Angeles was a seriously impacted for quite a while after, and forget parking your car in a multi-level parking lot until the engineers signed off that it was still stable.*

I poked through the links on the Senator’s email and, while I found suggestions that we keep our cars maintained, I couldn’t find anything about how we were supposed to get to work, or to school, or to the store, the doctor, the community center or any of the other places we might need to go after an earthquake.

What if roads are too damaged for driving, the traffic lights don’t work or there is little or no fuel? For everyone in my neighborhood it means a long walk to the closest store. But it would be a very nice bike ride.

We'll be mobile.

We’ll be mobile.

So, my email response to Senator Boxer:

“Dear Senator Boxer,

As a Californian, it is hard to imagine an earthquake preparedness kit without provisions for immediate transportation after a damaging quake. You will remember the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which destroyed Interstate 880 in San Francisco and the 1994 Northridge quake which brought down the Santa Monica Freeway.

When another earthquake large enough to do damage to our already strained California transportation network does occur, there would be no way for most of us to get to work or to school, stores, doctors, community meetings et cetera. This is because roads could be too damaged for cars to use, traffic signals may be non-functioning and gasoline supplies may be limited or cut off entirely. A bicycle will be the only reliable transport available, does not need gasoline and can manage the roads when they are too damaged for cars.

Your office should be recommending all Californians have bicycles in good repair for every member of the family, extra tubes and the ability to patch a flat tire. At least one bike per family should have a handlebar basket to carry briefcases, schoolbooks, groceries and other supplies.

Yours sincerely,


You may do the same here.

* Here’s a 2002 USDOT report on transportation issues in Los Angeles after the 1994 earthquake. Note, in Appendix A, Day 3, Metrolink went so far as to let bicycles on the train. We’ve come a long way!

A Simple Question

Posted March 21, 2014 By Frank Peters

How’s your day goin’?

I turned to see who was asking.

There was a young woman driving a pickup – she was in the right turn lane right next to me. Her window was down. She was smiling. When the expected reply was slow to come she looked a tad self-conscious. I’m still wondering what to say to her.

Just moments prior as I rolled up to the traffic light I looked in my mirror – there was no one on the street as far as I could see. I was on Laguna Cyn Road in industrial Irvine where the roads are wide and bike lanes abound.

Seldom do I get friendly comments from people driving cars, least of all yesterday. Less than an hour earlier back in Corona del Mar, not one, but two motorists tried to run me off the road in less than a 30 second span. Probably neighbors of mine. The first guy, he was older and they can get impatient — “Move over!” he screamed as he roared past me in his BMW convertible. Jeesh, we were on Marguerite where there’s a 4-way stop on every block – Where’s he goin’ in such a hurry? Yes, I did almost catch up to him at the intersection.

The next guy was way more dangerous. He pulls out to pass and as he does he burns rubber – he is flying as he shaves me. No words were exchanged. I was too busy checking to make sure everything was ok. Then I noticed – he had a kayak on his roof and other playthings inside. Where was he coming from so pissed off? Is there such a thing as a bad day kayaking?

Back in Irvine all this flashed through my mind as I attempted to answer the young woman. Maybe she asked because she rides with her grandfather.

What was I up to? I was going to see my internist after last week’s colonoscopy. It will be my last time seeing him. It’s the way he spoke to me,

Benign, benign, benign…

So my day was turning into something like the Twilight Zone. Freaky bad then increasingly good.

I wanted to make a joke about going to buy a lottery ticket, but I couldn’t sort it out, besides I don’t play the lottery.

My long ride home was uneventful if not breezy. It’s not till I get back into CdM that things get spooky once again.

I’m riding the Sharrows on Coast Hwy – riding them right, controlling the lane – traffic obliges me and allows me to move over. It’s a little bit congested because it’s getting to be late afternoon. I’m heading to my pharmacist with a prescription; he’s just a few blocks ahead. I notice that traffic starts moving and I fall into line. The lane on my left is stopped and I’m apprehensive. A woman’s getting out of her car as I roll past then stop. The car behind me stops and he gets out. There’s a big black beautiful dog on the road, next to the median – it’s disoriented and I can see feces running down its leg. The woman shouts, “Good grief!” as she opens the back door of her SUV. The man driving the car behind me approaches the dog and herds him into the woman’s car. It all happens in 15 seconds – a possible doggie tragedy turns into a rescue. I start pedaling away before traffic gets moving – I’m guessing everyone’s gonna be distracted.

After a suitable lapse, as my druggist works on my prescription, I tell him of the dog rescue on Coast Hwy I just witnessed. He doesn’t miss a beat,

I wonder if they’d be that considerate to a cyclist in the same condition…

I don’t have a comeback for this either. I’m still wondering.


Harried and Hostile

Posted March 17, 2014 By Frank Peters

It was a beautiful weekend all over Southern California, no less so in Newport Beach.

The parking lot at Big Corona was 90% full which meant that the neighboring streets – what the locals call the Flower Streets – were jammed with those looking to save the 15 bucks at the City lot and park for free. It’s no fun walking the neighborhood on days like this – our motorist brethren are frazzled. They’re almost at their destination, if they can just find that elusive parking space. Needless to say, they’re not always the most respectful drivers when they encounter pedestrians.

They are harried and hostile.

I always had an untested theory that motorist behavior towards pedestrians varied, depending on the culture of the neighborhood they come from. This hypothesis came to mind as I noticed some motorists who I suspected did not live local, driving with imprudent speed and a lack of consideration for those on foot or on bike.

After this weekend I’m ready to chuck this theory.

My first example occurs on the peninsula during the St. Patrick’s Ride. Our route included a quick trip to the Wedge and I thought I’d lead the small group on E. Balboa Blvd then return on the beach boardwalk. This way they’d get a taste of the difference between riding on the street and the peaceful quiet that is common on the boardwalk. My secret motivation was I want to attract supporters of the Draft Bicycle Master Plan that, as of today, includes the possibility of extending the boardwalk to the Wedge. I demonstrated the need a little too well.

Pinch point at E. Balboa Blvd at A Street

Pinch point at E. Balboa Blvd at A Street

As you look at the Google Earth photo, picture us moving from left to right. You can see the road narrows and parked cars are contributing to a potential hazard for cyclists. If there isn’t room on the road for a bicycle and a car to travel safely together then it’s up to me to control the lane and make the motorist wait until the roadway widens, in this case about half a block.

There was just one motorist behind us, so I signaled before moving over and placed myself in the center of the travel lane. The driver expressed his displeasure by driving right up behind us and blowing his horn. Nonetheless, I continued controlling the lane. Eventually he had space to pass us which he did with gusto — blowing his horn repeatedly at us as he drove by. We inconvenienced him for about 7 or 8 seconds, but it was just too much to bear – he was harried and hostile.

“He was older,” my wife was quick to gloss things over, but I was concerned that my little bicycle group found the experience unsettling, threatening.

We continued without incident and maybe the drama of the harried and hostile motorist added more weight to my later remarks about extending the boardwalk.

Scenario #2 occurs Sunday at 2:30pm at Jamboree at Coast Hwy. My wife and I are leading two friends from brunch at the Back Bay Bistro to Big Corona. My favorite route is up the hill through Back Bay View Park then do a ‘Copenhagen left turn’ from southbound Jamborree to eastbound Coast Hwy. I’ve taught the Boy Scouts how to make this move so as to position themselves safely as they traverse the intersection.

A 'Copenhagen Left turn'

A ‘Copenhagen left turn’ — This image shows traffic moving through the intersection, but of course, we moved across while east-west traffic was stopped at the light

With 7 traffic lanes, courtesy isn’t abundant here. What I’ve noticed previously, motorists in the far right lane, like the ones right behind us, know their lane disappears up ahead, so they’re ready to blast off when the light turns green. Except there were these cyclists ahead of them.

This was a much more dangerous confrontation with the harried and hostile. Yeah, there was horn blowing, but the 2 lead cars were taking no prisoners — they sliced by us with inches to spare, as if they’d made this move once or twice before. It was my wife again who was the only one to comment, “He came so close to me.” At high speed, too.

In Washington D.C. at the National Bicycle Summit I attended a terrific session, Dealing with Bikelash. The main message comes to mind here:

If you’re explaining, you’re losing.

But I can’t help myself; a little explanation: Notice the dashed treatment on the bike lane stripe – that’s a clue to the cyclist to move to the left, out of the bike lane, such that cars approaching from behind can make a right on red.

That’s some comfort, knowing I did the textbook technique, but the harried and hostile made it unnecessarily dangerous.


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?


Lido Outreach

Posted January 8, 2014 By Frank Peters
Before the Lido Island Community Association meeting

Before the Lido Island Community Association meeting

A member of the Lido Island Community Association board came to the December Bicycle Master Plan Oversight Committee (BMPOC) meeting – he had a question about the suitability of Sharrows on the bridge to the island.

That’s how I met Quentin Wall. I volunteered to come to their next meeting and answer questions.

To establish credibility I rode my bike. This was something I was quite used to as the Lido Clubhouse hosts Boy Scout Troop 37 on Tuesday nights and I had attended for the past 11 years. For me it’s a beautiful 15-mile nighttime ride with a shortcut via the Balboa Island ferry. As is often the case, I was the only one who came by bike.

As I hoped, bike issues came early on the agenda.

I didn’t come with a presentation, instead I thought I’d wing it. Just like my own homeowners board meetings, this one turned quite feisty once bicycles were introduced. One board member attempted to shout down other board members with her insistence that Lido’s 58-year old “policy” of keeping bikes on sidewalks be maintained. I tried to explain that bicycles are vehicles and you can’t restrict them from riding over the bridge in the traffic lane. Then I was shouted down.

The discussion got everyone involved and pretty soon I catch the Chair glancing at his watch. I didn’t have a dog in this fight, so I was able to cooly observe the interactions.

I invited them all to attend the next BMPOC February 5th meeting where we could discuss the issue further.