Friday, November 06, 2009

Arguments for helmets

Two years ago at roughly this time, Amynah and I were still rubbing the soreness out of our legs from our 160 km bike ride from Strasbourg to Basel, a trip we undertook, in retrospect, largely so that we could have a crazy story to tell at dinner parties. It was the first trip we had done of that length, and it really opened up the region to us: after that epic, the prospect of pedalling to Obernai, Offenburg or Baden Baden wasn't so forbidding.

We put on a few thousand kilometers on our bikes in France, and desperately wanted to maintain the habit here. So, we bought a rack, roused our Canadian bikes from their three-year slumber in a Montreal friend’s basement, and carted them all the way to Los Angeles, visions of beach-side bike paths dancing in our heads.

When we told Amynah’s Mom we were doing this she laughed, promising us that if we ever used the bikes, she would buy us a baby carrier, in the same way one might say “I’ll eat my hat.” So far, she has nothing to worry about: with Amynah’s pregnancy, she’s been unwilling to hop on her bike, and I’ve little incentive to explore the distances this city requires of its commuters on my own. So the bikes are gathering dust (well, greasy smog residue) on our balcony.

We’re actually not in a bad neighbourhood for biking by local standards – there are dedicated bike lanes that actually go places. Unfortunately, as with most North American cities, motorists tend to see cyclists as their enemies. In our short time here, we’ve met two people that have come out on the losing end of run-ins with cars while on their bikes (to say nothing of someone we know who was run down by an SUV while at a crosswalk).

Earlier this week, a Los Angeles doctor was on trial for aggravated assault, for an incident in which he cut in front of a pair of cyclists and deliberately slammed on his brakes, causing them to smash into his car. He told the responding police officer that he did it to “teach them a lesson” because they were biking side by side, so that he couldn’t pass them.

Now here, as in most jurisdictions, bikes have all of the rights (and responsibilities) that cars do on the road. If you can keep up with traffic, you’re allowed, as a cyclist, to occupy a car lane.

The cyclists had GPS equipment that proved they were traveling at 30 mph when the incident occurred, which was the posted speed limit. Meaning the driver’s defense was, essentially, that he attacked them because they weren’t letting him speed.

He was found guilty.


Nadia said...

I say you go for a bike ride. Biking in other cities like NYC and London is a beastly endeavor. I bet its nothing like biking is Strasbourg LA is relatively not so bad.

Travis said...

I'll start feeling bad for cyclists when they stop trying to run pedestrians down in crosswalks themselves. Or on sidewalks, for pity's sake. Or maybe if they start paying attention to those "responsibilities" you mention.

Still, I favour the approach of giving them more space at the expense of cars, in hopes that eventually they drop the attitude and grow up. Cars haven't been too nice to me either and I could probably stumble away from being hit by a bike.

No offense, right?

Bob said...

Hello. I've been following your pages for a few months now, and I have enjoyed your travels, both literal and figurative.

I've also followed the road-rage incident that you mention in this post.

I think that before I declare justice served in that case, I'll delay that declaration until his punishment is meted out.
Although I wish no one ill, the assailant in this instance certainly deserves more than the slap on the wrist that I fear he might get from the court. Although to incarcerate him might waste his professional skills, so be it. His professional experience should have made him aware of the physical consequences his victims would suffer. Indeed, after the courts deal with him, perhaps a medical board should weigh in as well.

In the meantime, get on your own bike, and nudge Amynah along.