Notes From the field Archive

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.


Car’s in the Shop

Posted January 6, 2014 By Frank Peters

I’m not ready to abandon my car — I still fantasize about a long-distance road trip with my bike on the back.

So I’ve got to keep this old Audi with 100k miles in reasonably good condition – mostly that means keeping my teenage son from driving it. Today it’s in for fluids, oil change and the like. It’s been awhile since its last tune-up and I could tell the service agent was a tad flustered that I’d driven so few miles since the last service, but gravity does its work and besides, various blinking lights keep appearing on the dash.

Need a rental?

Instead I bring the bike — used to be the Brompton, but a buddy wanted it more than I did, so today I had to fit the bike rack on the trunk.

I walk into the service desk and it never fails — a bike chat begins.

One of the Audi guys wants to talk about my rear-view mirror; he has one, too, “I can’t live without it.”

“Quite literally,” I quip back.

Every time I come in by bike someone on staff wants to strike up a conversation. I have a feeling not many other customers do…


Conversation with the HOA about bikes…

Posted November 8, 2013 By David Huntsman

You know, you should be able to get in and out of your neighborhood without gates. But some people want gates. OK. But the gates should open for bikes, as they do for cars. Our gates don’t. Sometimes they used do, but then you had to know exactly where to put your wheels and it didn’t always work. Sometimes, when there were sunspots or it was too humid or whatever the cause was, you had to wait for a car to come up behind you and trigger the in-ground sensors, like so many left turn sensors in Newport Beach that will have to be upgraded with bicycle-friendly detectors as equipment is replaced. And that didn’t always happen at convenient times. Like when your kid’s trying to get to school on time.

My family knew where to put the tires, based on trial and error, but a week ago they were repairing the gate and somehow left the sensors completely inoperable by bikes. Nothing. You truly have to sit there and wait for a car to come up behind you. Or, dismount, climb the curb and go through the pedestrian gates. Or worse, and this is probably what kids do, go out the entry gate when a car comes in.

I have written the HOA before, to no avail. No response.

So I am addressing the issue again. Here’s the email chain, which I will add to as it progresses.
Continue reading “Conversation with the HOA about bikes…” »

Paris by Bicycle: You Are One of Them Now

Posted September 19, 2013 By David Huntsman

Who Doesn’t Love the Streets of Paris?

Yes, you may even ride Velib at night

Yes, you may even ride Velib at night.

One of the joys of a vibrant old European city is the street life. Paris certainly sits near the top of the list in this category. You can throw a dart at a map of Paris and hit a lovely neighborhood to enjoy shops, restaurants and people.

One of the challenges, though, is getting around. Nobody really wants to rent a car to explore Paris because the driving habits are different, the road markings are alien and there is generally nowhere to park.

So, most visitors to Paris do what we do: pick a well-situated hotel and work outward from there. First, you explore the walking-distance around the hotel. If you’ve picked well, you have a wonderful day or two within a few blocks.

But then you get restless. Should we go to the Louvre? To the Eiffel Tower? Montmartre? That famous old bike shop in a neighborhood tourists don’t frequent? Or should we get to a train station and explore a neighboring city?

I know most visitors to Paris pride themselves on their familiarity with the Metro. You can get to all of the notable places on the train. But its drawback is having to climb down into the tunnels to catch a train, only to emerge across town in another neighborhood. You miss a lot when you miss the surface streets you are riding beneath. So, the other option is to catch a cab. But you can’t always get a cab, and it costs quite a bit more, and while you get to SEE the neighborhoods you pass through, you don’t get to stop and ENJOY them along the way.

The Bicycle-On-Every-Corner Solution…

It's like paying for car parking, but you get a bike

It’s like paying for car parking, but you get a bike.

So here’s what we did: we were staying a few miles and on the other side of the river from the Louvre. On our first day, we asked our concierge to arrange three Velib bike hire accounts.

The Velib stand (a bike rack full of Velib bikes) was about 6 doors from our hotel. It was as simple as the concierge going online to the website and signing us up using our credit card. It took 10 minutes, and we were presented with three account numbers and a password. All we had to do was walk to the Velib bike rack, enter the accounts/password in the kiosk (like paying for parking at the beach) and pull three bikes out. They were ours for 30 minutes for free, and a few dollars an hour after the first 30 minutes. Of course, there are Velib racks every few blocks so you can be canny and return your bikes every 29 minutes and ride all day for free. But we quickly found out that when you ride through Paris, you stop every few minutes to enjoy the street anyway. So sometimes we changed bikes; sometimes we didn’t.

The grand total for three of us, three bikes over a week was $210. That’s about $10/day/person to get around Paris the way we wanted to, on our schedule.

It Takes a Leap of Faith

I’ll admit we panicked the first day on our Velib ride to the Louvre. It was probably a three mile ride. We were nervous (unnecessarily) in Paris traffic and weren’t sure where to park our bikes once we got there. When we got there, we asked a cabbie if he knew where to put our bikes. He kind of waived his arm in a broad arc, and we set off in its range of maybe 30 degrees from Place du Carousel. After a bit of searching we circled around the back, and found one. But it was full. We were frustrated at not being able to get rid of our bikes, knowing that the clock was ticking both on our bikes but also on our window of opportunity in the museum. We waited 5 minutes and nobody opened a bike parking spot, let alone three. Of course, we realized, that in the morning there would be a crush at the Louvre. We almost rode back to the hotel to get a cab! But, we finally noticed other Velib bikes cruising past and followed. We discovered, a block and a half away, another Velib station with empty slots. We parked our bikes. And all of a sudden we saw another. And another. They are everywhere; about a knight’s chess move from each other. You can almost see one from the other, if you know where to look. We just weren’t looking before.

So we explored the Louvre.

It's a busy place, and riding a bike there primes your body and mind for exploration.

It’s a busy place, and riding a bike there primes your body and mind for exploration.

And when it was time to go, we simply went to the closer, full Velib station to pick some bikes for the ride back to the other side of the river

And at the end of that first adventure, we realized there is simply no other way to travel in Paris. You start when you want, stop where you want, and it costs almost nothing.

You Are One of Them Now…

And man-oh-man do you get to experience the streets of Paris like you never have before. All those French people you see on bikes, pedaling around, stopping here for a baguette, here for a coffee, here for some groceries and a bottle of wine, here to chat with a friend or a shopkeeper, here for a glass of wine, here to watch the sunset from a bridge over the Seine and even here for dinner? You are not one of the out-of-towners at the mercy of the cabbies, or crawling out of the tunnels of the Metro and seeing the same tourist traps you saw last time you were in Paris.

You are experiencing Paris like a local: you are one of them now…

Well, I don't think I looked this good. My wife did, but not I.

Well, I don’t think I looked as elegant as this gentleman. My wife did, but not I.

Enjoy these videos of a short and a longer ride through Paris, one on a street and the second intentionally staying on meandering bike paths. Yes, my son rides through a puddle in the first video:

Again, the Velib website.

Breakers Drive Memories, Part I

Posted August 6, 2013 By Peggie Parrott

Sisters Peggie and Bonnie grew up on Breakers Drive in Corona del Mar. They own homes next to each other. Recently they’ve both torn down the old homes to build beautiful beach homes. Peg’s home is for sale and before she leaves the neighborhood I asked her to share some of her stories of growing up at Big Corona beach. — Ed

Mr. Tate ran the beach when we first moved to Breakers Dr. He lived in a one-story home at the end of the block on the sand side. He was a burly man and a little gruff. Every morning he would clean the beach with a contraption on his vehicle that would sift through the sand so that he could check for valuables. One day my brother (maybe 8 years old) had a sifter and proceeded to work the beach — Whamo! Mr. Tate was after him and let him know the beach was his!

He ran a tight ship hiring good workers, mostly young guys who loved the beach. These workers did the landscape maintenance, parking collection and beach rentals. The concession stands were separate. I don’t remember when the city took over but the parking lot in front of our house was black-topped and became a permanent lot, and Tate just vanished along with his house. The city now had control of the beach.

The concession stands were a motley group, but ah the food was terrific. Of about 10 stands, Kirkwood’s was on the edge so did the most business, decent hamburgers, shakes and malteds. Next was the taco stand, delicious! A couple more stands down had fresh-squeezed orange juice and fat hamburgers — the best! Bonnie and I worked at Kirkwood’s and Mr. Kirkwood went to work at the Ace Hardware store when the city tore down the seasonal stands. A couple of more contemporary stands were built.

One of Tate’s workers applied to the city to continue to care for the beach. I can’t remember his name, it will come to me in the middle of the night! He won the contract for the concessions. Even though he was a good guy, the food was mediocre and it was never the same. He had lots of competition for the contract every year and once he went to the Breakers neighbors to ask for letters of recommendation. He won the contract and Bob McAllister got some cookies for the nice recommendation! Don’t know when the city had big plans for construction for the new eatery and 2-story life-guard stand but all was torn down and new buildings constructed.

Next will be the “Neighbors on the block” or if you have any questions about those early days I will try to answer.

Making a Difference

Posted March 13, 2013 By April Morris

New Sign on Santa Ana Canyon Road

In today’s world, it’s hard to make a difference, but together we can do it.

Take, for instance, the City of Anaheim.

A few weeks back I wrote about a dangerous area on Santa Ana Canyon Road near my home, where the City had posted a “Bikes Merge” sign just in front of a pretty much blind curve. After calling the City of Anaheim, they have changed the sign to denote a bike lane (see photo) AND painted new bike lane markings on part of Santa Ana Canyon Road. Not a huge step, but one more pebble of sand that has been moved. I say that because the bike lanes are in need of major repairs, as you may be able to see from the photo.

And speaking of pebbles of sand, let’s move to mounds of sand.

Newport Beach is still matching on a $3 to $1 basis all donations to the Bicycle Safety Improvement Fund received by March 31, 2013.

If you or your company have a budget for donations this year, we would greatly appreciate a contribution to the BSIF. All you have to do is write a check to the City of Newport Beach Bicycle Safety Improvement Fund and mail it to the city at: 3300 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, CA 92663. Donations are tax deductible. Every $1 becomes $4 with the City’s match. To understand what the City has done and has in store for future bicycle project improvements, over and above the Bicycle Master Plan that is in process, take a look at this list: Attachment A – BSIF Project Summary 1-7-13.