Monday, March 31, 2008

Peaceful streets

Car free streets. A rare but beautiful sight.

This kind of thing only happens during races and special events (and usually for only a few hours) but this particular street closure is due to construction. It's only a short stretch of West Cliff Drive, maybe a quarter of a mile, but lemme tell you - the difference between this and riding alongside car traffic is amazing!

No noisy engines, no competition for space, no hassles. A bicyclist and pedestrian paradise! Don't know what the construction is for, or how long the street will be closed to pinche cars so enjoy it while you can. In the meantime, I'm gonna contact the city and see if they can keep it closed permanently...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Racial Profiling of a Bicicleta Bandito

When I rushed back outside with my camera Tuesday evening, bicyclist "Felipe" was still being detained but the cops had yet to start writing him a ticket. His crime? Being an "errant" bicyclist. Oh yeah, he's also Latino.

I start taking pictures, officer 1 immediately approaches me.

"Can I help you?"

"Just curious."

"He was riding on the sidewalk."

(I'd only seen him riding in the bike lane in the opposite direction when the cops pulled him over, but I'm sure it's possible - cops never lie).

"Anything else you need?"

"No sir. Just curious."

Officer 1 walks back over and joins officer 2, who is now taking Felipe's picture. They discuss something, look in my direction, give Felipe his ID back, and take off.

I approach Felipe...

He looks a little shaken up. Ironically, I'm about to tell him about Santa Cruz's new bicycle traffic school, where he can get a $35 scolding instead of a $100 fine, when I realize, they didn't give him a ticket.

Felipe explains that the police had initially pulled him over for riding his bike incorrectly but then started asking him where he's going (home), where he's coming from (soccer practice), if he's in a gang (no), and then take his picture. He points out that his street is the next block over and that it makes little sense to cross 30-40 feet of pavement just to cross back in a couple of seconds. He also points out that he's seen little girls riding their bikes the way he has and asks me if I think the police would have pulled them over.

I try to picture a scenario where the police pull over some of the girls I'd also seen riding "errantly" in the neighborhood, asking for their IDs, if they were in a gang, and then taking their picture - I can't come up w/ anything.

As Felipe gets back on his cruiser and rides down an empty sidewalk, I'm filled with more questions than answers: Does the bicycle traffic school do anything to address the issue of police using minor traffic violations to start a profile on someone who isn't white? Is it possible that it gives the police a green light to start pulling over more bicyclists? Does the fact that modern day streets are designed for car-use (wide lanes, soft corners, etc) play a role in discouraging bicyclists from complying with traffic laws? Should traffic laws designed for motorized vehicles be equally applied to non-motorized vehicles?

It would be foolish to claim there aren't bicyclists who don't ride recklessly. But it would be more foolish to claim that having to occasionally maneuver around oncoming riders in a bike lane is the safety equivalent of dodging car doors, or getting paralyzed by a driver who was talking on his cell phone. Anyone who's ever ridden on the San Lorenzo levy or by the buffered Boardwalk "Rail-Trail" path knows this. Seriously, most bike lanes can easily fit two way bike traffic - it's the parked cars that make space tight.

As for Felipe, the good news is he didn't get a ticket. The bad news is the police now have a file on him, and to a certain degree, have given off the impression that the law isn't as color blind as they claim. To that end, I think I'll keep a camera on me from now on...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Traffic School For Bikes

Santa Cruz, California has just begun a traffic school for "errant" bicyclists.

Perhaps it's too early to venture an opinion on this but my instinct says this is a really stupid idea. Why? Well, for one thing, the reasons bicyclists get cited for traffic violations in the first place only makes sense if you accept the premise that roads are mainly for automobiles and bicycles are an equivalent technology.

In downtown Santa Cruz for instance, bicyclists often get ticketed for riding in the opposite direction on the one-way streets. Now, if you're in a car driving the opposite direction down a one-way street, clearly this poses a hazard to public safety. A bike on the other hand is less of a problem; anyone who's been on Pacific Ave knows it's a very slow moving street (cruising speed) and there's ample room for bicyclists to safely pass a car coming in the opposite direction. During busy hours, any lack of space really stems from having cars parked on each side of the street. A simple solution to this would be to ban parking on one side of the road and designate it a bike lane. (Such an alternative path has already been established on lower High St, with a buffer zone).

Then there's the issue of running stop signs - Any honest bicyclist will tell you that they stop when cars are present. If not, we treat them as yields - and rightly so. Once again, a car running a stop sign in a residential area clearly poses a public safety hazard. A bike? Who are we kidding?

There are many people out there that will say cars often can't see bicyclists and it's for our own safety that traffic laws designed for cars should be equally applied to bicyclists but they're forgetting one important factor - Bicyclists, are always aware of the presence of cars, and it's not just because we don't have windows and an engine buffering us, it's because cars are really loud. In traffic, our own safety is always a high priority but the traffic laws being touted as our saviors really make little difference in the grand scheme of things.

Of the two bicycle deaths reported in the Santa Cruz Sentinel article (they left out bicicleta bandito Benjamin Mora, who was killed by a drunk driver just off Soquel Ave last May), both deaths had nothing to do with stop signs, riding on the sidewalk, or one-way streets. John Myslin, was riding WITH traffic when a semi-truck made a right hand turn and crushed him like an ant. Lucian Gregg, was riding WITH traffic when he collided with a truck (the vehicle and driver still haven't been found). And at the beginning of this month, 2 San Jose weekend warriors were killed while riding WITH traffic when a police officer ran his patrol car head on into them.

You'd think people would wise up by now and acknowledge that maybe it's the cars that are the problem, not the bicycles.

Sadly enough, Santa Cruz's ample supply of middle class liberals will probably view the bicycle traffic school as a boon for bicycle advocacy. After all, $35 at a one-day class is a lot more palatable than $100-200 ticket. My point is though, we shouldn't be getting ticketed in the first place.

Rather than take an apologetic approach with the dominant car-culture, bicycle advocates should challenge the premise of existing laws and see how they can be reformed (simplified?) to accommodate those utilizing non-motorized transportation technologies. Anything less, only serves to increase the bureaucracy and power of the state, and ultimately does little service to those who need the most advocacy.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Small is Beautiful

Back on the Benotto...

This morning while riding by the beach I noticed something small and sparkly to my right. I slowed down, turned around, and went back to look. A ruby red 6 sided die. In my pocket it went...

Though I can't speak for other bicyclists, I'm in the habit of picking up odd bits and ends whenever I find them. To date, I've found a pair of stretchy red gloves, a 10 foot PVC pipe (for jousting!), a bike light, bungee cords, a plastic toy bear head, and now, a pretty red die. It looks like a piece of candy.

This got me to thinking - Do drivers ever stop to pick up stuff they see on the road? Of course they do - only, they'd never notice a pretty red die or bike light. Driving a car simply removes one from seeing the little but sweet nuances of life.

This difference isn't limited to just the medium of the automobile. I notice things while walking that I never would have taken note of on a bicycle. True, on a bike, you're forced to pay attention to the road, the speed of the cars around you, but also the air, the smells, the sky. In a car, you're completely cut off from your surroundings and for all intensive purposes, traveling in a tank minus the turrets and cannon.

(As if to RIDE this point home - this afternoon I rode past a little caterpillar moving swiftly across the road, something someone in a car would never catch).

Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase, "The medium is the message" comes into play here as well as Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful." I'd prattle on about Thoreau's call to, "simplify," but I'll stop here and say turn off your computer and go outside.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

re: When Parking Gets Personal

I don't know if this link will work as I believe you need to be signed up w/ the LA Times in order to see it - Nonetheless, I'm posting it anyway.,1,2457176.story
(if this doesn't work, try and entering "When Parking Gets Personal")

The gist of this piece is how most American households now have almost one car per person - like 3-4, (a stark contrast to the 1950s where most households owned one car); that folks don't use their garages anymore as they're filled with a bunch of useless shit, and so they park their cars out on the street, often in front of their neighbors houses, which really ticks people off.

Apparently, at least 2 people have gotten shot over this issue.

This sets off so many emotions and thoughts in me, all I can offer is the following montage of words and sentences:

political -> gun accessibility, land use and design, advertising, car manufacturing, oil extraction

cultural -> sense of personal space, shopping addiction, autodependence, crisis of desire

humor -> this one time, my grandma set the garden sprinklers on this woman who had a habit of parking her car outside my parents place, while smoking cigarettes with the window down. that was fucking funny.

personal -> shortly before i sold it, my old millennium falcon (grey 87 Honda) received a few tickets for being left out on the street to rot as i'd become a full time bike rider. The fact that the law favors those who own property and have access to a parking space (I rent), not to mention gives little incentive to those who choose not to feed the capitalist beast, is just another reason i have little love for it.

But there are answers - For starters, there's which allows folks to trade used stuff for free, I've gotten rid of tons of stuff I no longer use and also have received everything from bicycles to seeds.

The other crucial aspect is the difficult task of weening oneself off of corporate propaganda - i.e. advertising. If you live in a big city, you're totally mind fucked already - corporate graffiti in the form of billboards has its way with you everyday. Then there's commercial radio, who's main function is to sell you stuff you didn't realize you needed. Turn it off. And the worst carrier of all is television - turn it off/destroy it. When you're done doing that, and your brain begins to heal, get rid of your car or start sharing it with other folks - try Zipcars (

Oh yeah, be nice to your neighbors.


This morning I left the Benotto at home as I'm fasting and took the bus instead. Energy conservation.

At the bus stop I bump into a kid on a fixie and we get to talking. His ride has nice shiny handle bars, the body spray painted white with two spoke cards in the wheels. I comment on the lack of handle bar tape - how that shit must get really cold, it does he says. He shows me the front left side, how it's scraped up due to a recent crash. I wanna tell him to forgo the hipster image and put some freakin' tape on that bitch but offer these words of wisdom instead, "leather gloves go a long way."

On the bus, we talk more bike talk - climbing hills on a fixie, bike polo, alley cat racing, cruisers vs. road bikes, etc. He asks if I have a fixie too to which I reply, hell no, I mean, I can get down w/ the sleek look and the lightness but, you see, it's already challenging enough riding in traffic surrounded by heavy machinery on four wheels...

He gets off the bus a few stops before me - I never get around to asking why he put his bike on it in the first place.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Bike more, drive less

Hurray! This video makes me smile:

and while we're at it, please consider signing this petition - For years I've been boring friends at parties with tirades about how MapQuests should have bicycling directions (lord knows we need em'), check eet out....

p.s. Report back from my L.A. marathon adventure coming soon...