Who Teaches the Teachers?

8_5_09_BID_BOX.jpgPhoto of a BID Bike crushed in a crosswalk sent after this story was first published by Stephen Box.

Public Safety officials continually lecture cyclists about the need to follow not just the letter of the law, but also to follow proven safety tips to stay safe during their rides.  However, during a recent trip through the Downtown and in my own neighborhood, I’ve begun to notice anecdotal evidence that those charged with protecting us on the street don’t know what those rules are.

Last Sunday while biking through the Downtown I noticed the LA Business Improvement District’s "Purple Patrol," those cyclists with the purple shirts and black pants charged with keeping the Downtown safe and clean, rode as close to the curb as possible, even if it meant weaving back and forth where cars were parked, crossing intersections in the crosswalk before weaving back into traffic and even positioning themselves in right-hand turn lanes at signaled intersections before crossing when the light turned green.  I observed this same behavior from three different members of the Purple Patrol during my slow ride through the Downtown.

None of this behavior is illegal, save for the one incident of a Purple Patrolman crossing the street in the right hand turn-lane, but the constant weaving stands in stark contrast to what I’ve learned in safe bicycle courses which is to "take the lane" and "hold the line."  The constant weaving is much more likely to create confusion with drivers, and if it hasn’t happened yet, I worry that a crash is inevitable if this is common practice for the Purple Patrol.

But the most egregious example of bad behavior came from a driving instructor.  After a car with "STUDENT DRIVER" announced loudly on the back cut me off by making a left-hand turn well after the arrow had turned red, I caught up with the instructor at the next light and asked him why he thought that was an appropriate thing to teach a new driver.  After calling me an expletive, the instructor told me to "look it up" and that making a turn after the arrow turned red was perfectly legal.

The state of driver safety education in Los Angeles worries me if driving teachers are encouraging their students to run red lights.  While the Downtown LAPD has a pretty poor record enforcing traffic laws on everyone except pedestrians, it’s chilling to get told off by a safety instructor for questioning the running of a red light.

  • joe

    My favorite thing I see is Beverly Hills Police on bikes riding on sidewalks, crossing at crosswalks. Doing all they can to stay out of the street.

  • Spokker

    I was reading the California Drivers Handbook the other day and cyclists and pedestrians are mentioned all the time. Every other sentence is “Watch for cyclists.” I have a feeling most drivers don’t even read the goddamn thing or else they’d might be more aware of cyclists and their rights.

    But then again I saw a cyclist slam on his brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian crossing the street at a crosswalk along Wilshire Blvd. the other day (he failed to stop before the crosswalk), so it seems like everybody is screwing up out there.

  • MTS

    Um, crossing the street in the right-turn lane is just fine for a cyclist since that is often the only space for the bike. The other alternative, riding in the lane to its left, is not always the safest choice.

  • MTS, what do you do once you cross the street?

  • David Galvan

    I think the idea is that, when waiting at a stop light, the cyclist should position himself such that motorists who want to turn right during the red light are able to. This means positioning yourself far enough to the left that cars can get by you on the right. Depending on the street width, I’ve found I can usually do this in such a way that the cars going straight can easily pass me when the light turns green, though that’s not always the case, in which case you just have to take the lane.

  • Beautifully said, Mr. Galvan. There is nothing more to add to that perfectly eloquent and educational post on the topic. Seriously.

  • Great write-up, Damien! I’m always amazed how badly the BID and the LAPD ride. On the sidewalk, in the gutter, weaving in and out, etc.

    If the PD is to protect people on the street, they need to enforce the law. If they are afraid of traffic, then they should slow it down for everybody’s sake.

    The city acts so helpless with speeding motorists, as if it wasn’t up to them to say “Hey, you can’t make up your own rules. You have to be responsible and if you can’t be then we’re going to take your license away.”

    Every other city does it. If I drive through Glendale, I know that I will be pulled over for not signaling or for looking the wrong way. They have cops watching for your every move. That’s what we need everywhere. Watching and ticketing. I guarantee that every driver will slow down then and remember all those rules.

    Btw. today I was riding in Hollywood, and two guys in a minivan harassed another cyclists and threw something at him. It makes me sick that that kind of behavior is tolerated on LA streets!

  • Tony

    Was the driving instructor’s left turn from one one-way street to another? Because that is in fact legal. It’s taught as as uncommonly cycling laws.

    http://www.cal-driver-ed.com/dmv-handbook/21.htm

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