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Harried And Hostile

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.




Frank Peters

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