Home > Culture, John Forester, Vehicular cycling > A lane of one’s own

A lane of one’s own

When I wheeled the Bullit last Saturday into Charles Picture Framing to pick up some packages, Charles was understandably confused, and maybe a little startled. “Can I help you?” he asked. I was (admittedly) pushing the notion of “rock star parking” to the bleeding edge. You can’t get any closer than in the shop, but it sure made sense to me to get the bike as near as possible to the goods. When I told him I was picking up some frames, Charles recovered quickly, got my packages, and helped me load. He said he couldn’t remember any pick-ups by cyclists his thirty years there. I guess that wouldn’t be too far out of character for our town.

I love running errands by bicycle. It’s great to be out in the sun, hearing the wind whistling in my ears, and seeing the bustle of the city from the unique perspective available only to cyclists. I use the word “unique” advisedly: you won’t find me or any pedestrian standing squarely in the middle of the Sepulveda and Santa Monica intersection, two feet on the ground, waiting to make a left turn, with four lanes of cars whizzing by on either side — but put a bicycle between my legs, and there I am.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that I also find cycling in Los Angeles to be an act of quiet desperation, an activity almost always accompanied by low level terror? When I was headed home with all those picture frames, “driving” north on Overland Avenue and listening keenly for the sound of overtaking cars, I found myself overcome with a sudden rush of jealousy at the sight of a father on the sidewalk, out for a walk with his child, enjoying the afternoon unconcernedly, unhurriedly, with no care for traffic. The contrast made we wonder at my sanity: I must have a screw loose to “enjoy” the death riding on my left. I have a car. I can afford gasoline. Shouldn’t I be driving?

Last May, one of the more astonishing crash statistics came from the League of American Bicyclists. In a funding appeal letter, the LAB mentioned that “more than one in four of crashes we’ve documented involve cyclists getting hit from behind.” I’ve heard almost nothing about this number since, but it might be one of the more compelling data points that cycling has seen in years. If anything, this statistic should jump off the page to any vehicular cyclist who’s used to hearing that fewer than ten percent of crashes involve hits from behind. The ten percent number has been used to justify any amount of “proper” cycling behavior, from avoiding sidewalks, to taking the lane, to advocating against separate bicycle paths – because, the line goes, we’re “safer” in traffic than elsewhere. That such behavior often goes completely against common sense has never counted for much, in part because it’s hard to argue against a statistic without something comparable. But that low-level terror I feel when riding comes in large part because of the many, daily near-misses I face riding exactly where the “vehiculars” say I should be. Now, maybe, finally, we have statistics that correspond to the terror. At the very least, we have cause to reconsider a set of forty-year-old studies that may have no basis in current reality. The broader implications are tremendous: these are numbers that can change policy, that go far to show the need for separate lanes and real infrastructure.

Tom Vanderbilt — he of that famous book on traffic — tweeted this nugget the other day: “My general feeling on painted bike lanes and sharrows is: Would pedestrians feel comfortable on sidewalks that were made of icons & paint?” When I was looking over at that lucky father walking with his child on the sidewalk, I had to ask myself what the hell I was doing in the middle of Overland Avenue, creeping along at ten miles-per-hour, cars rushing and squeezing by me with inches to spare, and trying my best to keep those six picture frames from getting banged up. What the hell indeed? I was jealous because he had a lane of his own, and I did not. I was a supplicant in a land of brazen and selfish giants, the dog begging for scraps at the table; he was the master of his space. I want a lane of my own, a lane of one’s own.

  1. KARL
    July 18, 2012 at 3:33 AM

    To make a film reference(or a few(- we are social animal, like ants, who in Starship Troopers invade and have a diversity of roles- some of us are for the front lines, some better on the trainer in front of the picture window or movie screen pedalling like the agent in that movie about the paranoid dude who watches her run- and knows she can run therefore when it saves her life. IN Vervehovens vision the nerds didn’t have to go up to battle- but could stay home safe in research. Some of us need to be out there proving how fatal it is- but if you believe your life is better spent living, the becoming a martyr you do have choices beyond driving your car on gas- that include transit and relocationo and tgrip reduction etc. I’m tired of pointing it out but if you are in fact an advocate then that father you saw walking is a bad anology- bikes travel farther then pedestrians, and need far more space to do so therefore. A single car lane or two shouldn’t be assumed to be sufficient, and for los angels if you think bikes take up more space then cars on the highway then that means they NEED MORE WIDTH THEN THE HIGHWAY!

    To preven tcars from accidentally running over us on multilane roads we only need to have sufficient bikes in use to congest at least one or more lanes and then ride in it or them! I have little interest in providing safe passage for a token few while the strollers are drowning in fumes from even miles away- it’s one biosphere and no wound wall however opaque makes any difference to the real killer and poison and toxicity of cars.

    One fourth from behind? Here it’s 99% from no air that cars kill and maim our minds. It’s notabout our bones being snappedand tearing through our flesh like some halloweeen scene- it’sabout carcinogens and invisible gases and capital that coulld cure not just prevent cancer if not so spent being available for peace and anything our hearts actually contend for.

    Yes your crazy to risk your life unless in your death your expecting tobe a greater part of the solution then in living. And for almost all of us that is the case. To not enlist requires real facts- or service, sufficient, tobe excused. But ifwe are to serve at home, we must do so, we must not simply pay for gas, or even own a car as you confess to. We must own as many as possible and park them as widely as possible because for every parked car a car otherwise driven at least some of the day has a harder time finding a way to stay. It is easy to move thema nd far too many free parking spaces exist- in Santa MOnica a small number of people could fill up the garages without having to pay a dime now just 90 minutes insteado f120 at atime. These cars need not be fuel efficeint, or clean burning. THe same ones can be shared to move from garage to garage and then people wiht yards can let them sleep overnight. I is easy to win this battle, for even 50k they can tax us to build another space a dozen spots with mere gravel or availabe in sane peoples yards. That free parking exists at all, or subsidised parking for publkic employees- is what happens when we think risking our lives moving frames a few miles is all we can do. Frankly i think you can park pedal cars and tie up the space, but they of course cost a hell ofa lot more the na car good for man yyars of garage pluggin service- which will run at most afew hundred bucks tobuy.

  2. Eric W
    July 29, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    Bike on – if the cars can see you, and then have time figure out a safe way to pass you… you’ll be fine. And you seem to be too, as you wrote this after the ride. All you need is the visbility, and enough space to make time for the cars to avoid you. See? Easy!

    Wear bright colors to contrast the background, use lights, ride predictabily…take the lane as needed.

  1. July 18, 2012 at 12:27 AM

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