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03/09/2012: "When VC Is PC"
Vehicular cycling advocates, including Grand Old Man John Forester, have been taking a lot of hits in the blogosphere lately for their relentless attacks on bike lanes and separated cycle tracks. Though many years ago I agreed with them--and in fact I am still largely a vehicular cyclist, if only because I live in Los Angeles and do need to go places--I now feel they are wrong.

Decades of research, including many polls addressing not just cyclists but potential cyclists really do show that if you build more comfortable infrastructure for cycling, more of that now-notorious "interested but concerned" 60% of the population that is not yet riding will, and do, in fact start getting out on their bikes.

I think what VC riders really fear--and it is a fear I share--are mandatory-sidepath laws requiring all cyclists to stay in bike lanes, where they exist. Such laws are found in parts of England and a few other places.

However, they are rare and perhaps non-existent in the US. The Universal Vehicle Code, like the Calfornia Vehicle Code it was modeled after, expressly recognizes the right of cyclists to use street lanes. A right that, by the way, is morally, legally, and fiscally defensible, despite the rantings of the car-addled droolers infesting newspaper comment boxes.

Nevertheless, there are times when I realize that things really would be much better if cyclists adhered to the fundamental credo of the VC crowd, and ride as if they were operating a vehicle on shared roads. Which they are. Even if the roads are shared only with other cyclists.

Today, for example, I was riding down the Ballona Creek bike path, nine miles of velocipedal freeway unsullied by motor vehicles or intersections. As I approached Overland from the east and prepared to follow the path under the roadway, I noticed three fellows that appeared to be together pedaling up the path from the undercrossing. They wore similar clothing, were riding similar upright hybrids, and even looked a lot alike. The first one was a little ahead of the other two, reached my level ahead of me, and turned onto the off-ramp to Overland. I assumed that the other two would follow, and I also assumed that, since I was moving right along, they might figure I was a through rider and give way to me, as is both law and custom. Even on a bike path.

However, their vapid expressions put me on guard--and well it was that they did. Rather than wait for me to pass, they rolled right up and turned directly into me as I went by.

Since I was expecting some sort of boneheaded move, I was able to dodge them, though I skimmed the edge of the asphalt, barely missing an excursion into the gravelled planter.

I didn't bother remonstrating with them, as I figured I might have to draw pictures in the dust to get the message across.

A little VC behavior on their part would have been entirely appropriate--that is, simply assuming that someone riding along a path without signaling another intent might be intending to continue on that path, and so is likely to constitute through traffic. In which case, if you are the party turning left off the path, you just effing wait two seconds for me to pass.

A left cross is a left cross, whether you're in an SUV or on a bike. Even on a bike on a separated cycle path.

Fortunately, in true VC style, I was prepared for them to try to hog the road, and so evaded a crash.

I see similar behaviors all the time on the paths: riders suddenly coming to a dead stop in the lane, when there is a handy shoulder available for the purpose; riders (and joggers) making sudden unsignaled U-turns without looking; riders doing the opposite of the three I encountered today and surging blithely onto the path from an entrance, without the slightest sideward glance to see if someone be zipping along towards them on this popular and often very busy bikeway.... In short, behaving like oblivious three-year-olds.

It's a pity, since one of the pleasures of that bike path is the rare chance to ride in LA without having to deal with fools in cars. It's doubly discouraging, then, to have to deal with fools on bikes in our own sanctuary!

It was still a beautiful ride. You can't let every fool bother you, or you'll spend your entire life feeling bothered. But a smidgeon of attentiveness on the part of people who are, after all, operating a vehicle that augments their speed, would make the bikeways more pleasant, as well as safer, for everyone involved.

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