Flawed Views on Bicycling, Part 2

(This is part 2 of a response to John Nese’s article “Safety on York Boulevard”. See an introduction and Part 1 here)

Part 2

The article continues:

“I think bicyclists can be good for businesses like mine. In fact, I would love to see how creative cyclists can be with carrying their purchases. I know in some countries, it’s quite a feat to carry large packages, boxes, etc. atop a bike.

But my overall issue with bikes is about safety.”

  • Nese asserts he feels bicyclists can actually have a positive impact on local business and this agrees with a growing number of studies that compare spending habits of cyclists and motorists. However Nese’s statement does not agree with his quoted comment in the Boulevard Sentinel’s article “New York Blvd. Lane Striping Annoys Business“. In that article Nese states, “the bike lanes are nice, but they’re not good for business. You’re not gonna see anyone buying cases of soda pop or anything else sizable when they’re on a bicycle”. The statement in the Sentinel is clearly in contradiction to the statement Nese makes on his website– which statement are we to believe?
  • Nese then purports that despite his opinion that bicycling is good and that bicyclists can be good for local business, he is still too concerned with safety of York Boulevard’s new configuration. While it is too early to make conclusive and informed comments on the new bike lanes because they are less than a month old as of this writing, as stated earlier– this new lane configuration is a partial “road diet”, which have a positive safety track record.

Nese’s then recommends, what he believes, is a better, safer route for cyclists:

“I know there are safer routes for bikes, residential streets without the traffic we have on York. I wish that officials would have put the bike lane up one street away from York, say on Meridian [Street], a street that connects four schools – Occidental, Aladma, Yorkdale and Luther Burbank. Right now it’s labeled a Bike Route. Why couldn’t that have been a bike lane?”

  • It’s true that adjacent residential streets such as Meridian Street can have a higher degree of safety due to relative lower motorized traffic volume and speed. However cyclists, like motorists, sometimes cannot avoid riding on York Boulevard even if they wanted to.
  • Even if there were bike lanes on Meridian Street there would remain the need to improve cyclists’ safety on York Boulevard precisely because the street currently experiences dangerous speeding and lacks the subjective safety found on quitter, residential streets. However, Nese can take comfort in the fact that Meridian Street is slated to receive traffic calming treatment to make a safe, bike friendly route on that street as well.

Nese continues his article to shares an anecdote in which he hit a cyclist with his car when exiting the driveway of his business:

“About 6 months ago, I was leaving the store, heading out the exit onto York Boulevard. A mother and her three kids were cycling on the sidewalk and her little boy (all of them without helmets) was riding ahead of her and going very fast. He didn’t stop at the driveway and I didn’t see him until he was under my car and I heard a crunch.

I can’t tell you how frightened and scared I was. We called the police, ambulance and paramedics. The boy was fine, nothing broken, just scraps, but very shook up – as we all were. The police told the mom that he could have given her a ticket for riding on the sidewalk and for not wearing a helmet.

That episode turned out OK, but I worry that something similar is going to happen again with these bike lanes.”

  • First off, while children under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets in Los Angeles, it is actually legal to cycle on the sidewalk– so what the police officer said in Nese’s anecdote is only partially true, the only citation the officer could give was for the children not wearing helmets. Secondly, it is likely that the family was cycling on the sidewalk only to compensate for a lack of a sufficiently safe bicycle facility on York Boulevard; perhaps if there were a safe bikeway this collision could have been avoided. Based on Nese’s experience it would seem he would support safety measures that help reduce the number of cyclists riding on the sidewalk, as bike lanes do.
  • It should also not be forgotten that while it may be true that the child was at fault, any motorist exiting a driveway is legally required to yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk and other roadway users– did Nese stop before crossing the sidewalk? If he did, how did he not see the cycling family before proceeding? It seems based on Nese’s own description there was a degree of negligence from both parties involved.
  • Nese then states he believes the bike lanes can cause collisions similar to his experience where he hit a child cycling on the sidewalk. This belief does not quite match with reality; a bike lane places cyclists in a more visible location than the sidewalk, therefore eye contact can be made more easily and conflicts can be avoided as cyclists can now be expected in the designated bike lane.

Nese elaborates on his opposition to the York Boulevard bike lanes, with more generalizations about bicyclists:

“I worry that cyclists will think that bike lane line means that they are magically safe from two-ton cars that swish by at top speeds. I also can’t tell you the number of times I see cyclists riding without helmets or not adhering to simple laws of the road – like stopping for stop lights, signaling when they want to turn. For every biker with a helmet, I see 7 others without lights, reflectors or helmets.

Then there’s bikers plugged into technology, listening to MP3s or iPods while cycling. How on Earth can this be safe? I see that all too frequently! How do you know what’s going on around you?”

  • It is true, mere painted bike lanes do not provide physical separation from careless drivers, however they do tend to improve safety, even when design is not perfect, as studies have shown numerous times.
  • Nese then makes several generalizations about the behavior of cyclists based on his personal experience. Nese notes a lack of helmets. As mentioned before, helmets are only required for children under the age of 18 and helmets are not designed to save cyclists from collisions with motor vehicles.
  • Nese then shares personal observations of cyclists that don’t adhere to traffic laws. Maybe Nese would be delighted with the new bike lanes if he knew that bike lanes tend to improve cyclist compliance with traffic laws, in part because they make cyclists feel more comfortable and less marginalized.
  • Yes, there needs to be greater education to improve traffic laws and safety from the cyclists’ perspective, however cyclists aren’t the only ones to break traffic laws on York Boulevard. Observing any intersection on York one can see motorists failing to yield to pedestrians crossing, failing to adhere to speed limits, running red lights. Drivers are hardly saints on the road either, should we revoke privileges of law abiding motorists because of the behavior of scofflaw motorists?

Nese then says a safer future is possible, as he has seen in other cities:

“Other cities in the country, like Boulder, CO, are wonderful examples of riders knowing the rules of the road. We need to better educate our bicyclists here about safety, consideration and learn to share the road with other vehicles.”

  • Nese’s example of a city where cyclists and motorists get along – Boulder, Colorado – is actually one of America’s most bike friendly cities, further confirming that cyclists behave better when they have safe, dedicated infrastructure. Boulder is designated a Platinum-level bike friendly city (alongside bike friendly Portland, Oregon and Davis, California) by the League of American Bicyclists.
  • Nese’s subtly places the majority of responsibility on cyclists to behave better and learn to “share the road”. Of course, there is responsibility for motorists too– Los Angeles passed the nation’s first bicycle anti-harrassment law that protects cyclists legally from aggressive drivers because cyclists in Los Angeles have historically been threatened or harmed by drivers purely because of their status as bicyclist. There is work to be done on both ends of the spectrum and Nese should acknowledge this to appear less bias.

Nese closes his article with how he would improve safety, and then shares yet one more anecdote in which a cyclist broke a traffic law:

“Here’s an idea: let the local bike communities organize a free helmet give-away but first recipients must take a bike safety class and learn the right and wrong way to cycle.

The other day, I was driving and saw a rider go through a stoplight intersection without stopping. I beeped my horn at her, not just letting her know that she broke the law, but that also she could have been hit by side traffic. She turned to me and gave me the finger.

Once again, I worry about the safety of York Boulevard because of these bike lanes.”

  • Surely Nese is being sincere with his suggestion of helmet distribution and education, though the best thing a city can do to improve safety for cyclists is provide infrastructure, as can be noted in America’s safest cities for cycling– like Portland, Davis, and Boulder.
  • Nese’s anecdote of a cyclist running a red light is hardly unique but the described behavior is not isolated among cyclists. Drivers break traffic laws in Los Angeles everyday– causing great injury, damage and death. Furthermore, the poor behavior of cyclists is unlikely to injure anyone but the cyclist. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of car drivers breaking traffic laws. Anyone remember the driver that crashed into Troy’s Burger, on York Boulevard?
  • If he were truly concerned with safety on York Boulevard, he would advocate measures that lower speed limits (like road diets). He may even advocate heavily restricting car use or getting rid of cars altogether as road traffic kills about 40,000 people per year in the United States and is the leading cause of death among young people. To quote Peter Jacobsen, a Sacramento Public Health Consultant “…if safety was our societal goal, we’d definitely get rid of automobiles”. John Nese, though surely sincere with his safety concern, is ignoring the bull in the china shop. There is danger on York Boulevard from a traffic perspective, and it largely comes from the people operating cars and traveling at speeds in excess of 30mph.

We at Walk Eagle Rock would like to close our response to John Nese’s article by clarifying a few things. First of all, we don’t doubt John Nese cares about safety. However, based on his article, we feel he is using the argument of safety to justify anti-bike measures and biases he has against cyclists. As our analysis of his article shows, he repeatedly makes generalizations about cyclists based on his personal experience as a means to argue against bicycle infrastructure.

In our response we have countered his anecdotal arguments with facts, references to California and Los Angeles traffic laws, and numerous studies. This 2 part response has also demonstrated that John Nese was simply lying about his reason for rejecting free, city provided bike parking– there would absolutely be no interference or conflict with his driveway. We feel our criticism is fair: we hope it can help enlighten John Nese to make better informed opinions with regard to safety and his views on cycling.

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11 thoughts on “Flawed Views on Bicycling, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Flawed View on Bicycling, Part 1 « Walk Eagle Rock

  2. “organize a free helmet give-away but first recipients must take a bike safety class and learn the right and wrong way to cycle.”

    Mr. Nese might be interested to know that there is a group that already does this. The Westside-based nonprofit Sustainable Streets gives away a free helmet as well as a light set to everyone who completes its Confident City Cycling class, which stresses adherence to traffic laws. http://sustainablestreets.org/education/ccc/

    Closer to NELA, local organization CICLE offers an excellent safety training and education program. Perhaps Mr. Nese would be interested in underwriting their efforts so they can waive the registration fee, or include his free helmet idea as part of the program? If money is tight (understandable for a small business), then perhaps Mr. Nese could promote the organization to his customers and on his site? http://www.cicle.org/learn-to-ride/bike-safety.html

    If Mr. Nese is so supportive of cycling and concerned about bike safety, I encourage him to reach out to these organizations, work productively with them, and follow up his words with action.

  3. Pingback: Flawed Views on Bicycling, Part 2 « Walk Eagle Rock | Bicycle News Gator

  4. Perhaps ironically, I work in the office building across from Galco’s and sometimes use the bike rack in front of the building. Though, more often, just carry my bike into my office. Perhaps if I had left my bike on the rack a few more times Neese would have a different view of riders.

  5. i ride motorcycles and have to agree that a lot of cyclists do not adhere to rules of the road > often i’ll find them riding without lights into oncoming traffic…. and some are real a*holes if reminded that they are not only jeapordizing their own safety but also that of other road users.

    • We acknowledge this in our article, cyclists, like motorists, are hardly saints in traffic:

      “Nese’s anecdote of a cyclist running a red light is hardly unique but the described behavior is not isolated among cyclists. Drivers break traffic laws in Los Angeles everyday– causing great injury, damage and death. Furthermore, the poor behavior of cyclists is unlikely to injure anyone but the cyclist. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of car drivers breaking traffic laws. Anyone remember the driver that crashed into Troy’s Burger, on York Boulevard?”

      We could expand on this to say, when you remind a dangerous idiot of their dangerous behavior, they don’t respond well– ever honked at someone for texting while driving or for dangerously cutting you off in traffic? It’s not unusual to be met with an angry rev of their engine or the middle finger.

  6. “Furthermore, the poor behavior of cyclists is unlikely to injure anyone but the cyclist. ”
    ….you’ve obviously never ridden a motorcycle. Swerving or braking hard upon an unlit, or signal hopping cyclist can cause major injuries to both parties….. motorists are fairly safe in their cages, not so motorcycle riders. I’m not saying that any of us are more saintly than the other…. we are not …..and this is very evident on the road and in this conversation. L.A is a dog eat dog traffic snarl. Motorists believe their autopia belongs to them solely…and the rest of us want a slice …..just a slither of the alternative reality. I was a cycle courier in Europe for years. It has to be said that there is something known as road courtesy there that is not evident here. And therein lies the problem.

    • sawadeekhrap– I am referring to bicycle, not motorcycle so I think my argument stands. As for there being a cultural difference that makes Europeans more civil in traffic, I think it’s perspectival and that infrastructure surely has something to do with it. It’s seems more than coincidence that people tend to behave better, and drive slower on traffic calmed streets.

  7. Pingback: Walk Eagle Rock in 2012 « Walk Eagle Rock

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