Facebook Face Off: Malibu’s Anti-Bike Crusade Runs Into Opposition

7_8_10_share.jpgA cyclist blocking traffic in Malibu on the PCH. Photo:JGL Songs/Flickr

Generally, I try to avoid writing about Facebook "groups" that bag cyclists, pedestrians or transit riders and projects because they’re not really representative of anything other than an angry person with a keyboard.

However, that was before Biking In L.A. pointed us towards a new Facebook page put up by Malibu Public Safety Commissioner Susan Tellem created to urge law enforcement officials to ticket cyclists and pedestrians equally on the Pacific Coast Highway near and in Malibu. Under this reasonable sounding demand, lies a laundry list of anti-bike stereotypes. Cyclists you see, break laws constantly. It’s in our DNA. And it brings down on us the righteous wrath of the car-driving community. If those dammed cyclists would just behave and stop "blocking traffic" then everything would be ok.

No, that’s what she says:

Some how bicyclists think that they own the road instead of sharing it. They ride three abreast, give the finger to motorists, throw bottles at people and in general break every traffic law but riding through red lights and not stopping at stop signs. Let’s not forget riding on sidewalks without giving a "hey ho" to people who might not see them. And what about those nutty moms and dads who don’t wear helmets with their kids on the bikes.

Of course, riding three-abreast is legal on a four-lane road, such as the PCH, provided the cyclists stay is legal. Legally, parents aren’t required to wear helmets. And while I’m sure there’s plenty of incidents of riders acting rudely on sidewalks and blowing off stop signs and lights, something that I don’t doubt happens occasionally and is wrong; there have been a total of zero fatalities in this are caused by cyclists and three dead cyclists killed by negligent drivers.

There’s literally so much she says that is wrong, that it would take a mega-post, such as one provided by Rogers at Biking in L.A., to cover them all. I’ll just end with this. The residents living along the PCH in Malibu seem particularly outraged that they’re having trouble backing their cars out of the driveway. Tellem mentions it in a letter to the editor, and Public Safety Commission Chair Carol Randall mentions it in an article in the Malibu Times about how the city is failing cyclists.

Someone reading this column who read yesterday’s on traffic calming in Westwood might find it hypocritical that Streetsblog would support slowing traffic for cars in Westwood but oppose enforcing laws on cyclists in Malibu. But that’s not the issue. The issue here is people deciding that the street, in this case the PCH, should be a car-dominated road. In the Westwood case, the residents wanted a street open to everyone. In the Malibu case they oppose it.

  • Arthur Turner

    Bicycles and automobiles are not a good mix… The bicycle loses every time… I have witnessed terrible carnage in Brentwood and Westwood as all of the accidents could have been avoided if the cyclest had obeyed the the rules…Mant times in the last few months, I have witnessed cyclists making left turns from the veichle left turn lane, riding in the traffic lanes of San Vicente Blvd and Bundy Drive impeading traffic and not stopping at stop signes… Many times it is impossible to make a right hand turn from San Vicente Blvd due to cyclists not obeying the rules and also creating an extremely dangerous situation by making autos come to a full stop in an ongoing lane of traffic…

    Bundy Drive, San Vicente Blvd. and PCH are extremely dangerous places to ride a bicycle for recreation. You do so at your own risk. With this in mind, I totally understand Ms. Tellum’s concern for safety regarding this issue in Malibu.

    Arthur Turner

  • Eric

    Arthur, how exactly does a cyclist make a left hand turn with out using a left hand turn lane? Try reading some of the earlier posts and you will see that cyclists can legally use a lane of traffic. I’m not sure what rules you are referring to could you please provide a link to them.

  • Arthur Turner, if it’s actually “Arthur Turner” and not Tellum using a fake name as it appears she did earlier in the comments as “you wish”, is EXACTLY why LA has a long way to go in transforming itself from traffic snarled pollution capital of the nation into a family oriented healthy people place. These types of people are everywhere and they are angry at the world, locked inside their coffins in traffic, listening to AM talk radio, harrumphing about people who’ve found a better way… I just encountered one on the way to my office this morning as I was commuting by bicycle. On a freeking SUNDAY morning some asshole races up behind me and guns his engine and speeds around me and this was on a residential street and I was riding to the right of the lane…. fuckin dickhead.

  • @ Arthur Turner – what you describe is not only legal in California, it is exactly the way cyclists are instructed to ride. Perhaps you should take another look at the CA Drivers handbook: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/shr_slow_veh.htm#bike

    Or maybe check out the DMV’s Safety Tips for Bicyclists and Motorists: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl37.htm

    You’re right, cars are dangerous and a cyclist will inevitably lose in any collision between the two. However, it is not our responsibility to ensure that you operate your vehicle safely and observe the rights of other road users.

  • Richard

    It would be nice if you would get off of your soap box and pay attention to the law instead of being emotionally and politically motivated. Writing tickets to people on bicycles because they are not in the ditch, that is not the law. You should use the law as your guide not your twisted opinion. The law in all fifty US states allows people on bicycles to ride clear of obstructions such as potholes, fixed or moving objects car parts and so on. If the lane is to narrow for a car to pass safely a bicyclist may use all or part of the lane.
    I hear about bicyclists running lights and disobeying traffic laws in general. These are actual violations write the tickets. When the fruits nuts and flakes from critical mass show up write the tickets. Loitering, illegal turning, running stop lights and signs.
    If a motorist swerves at or illegally slams on the brakes trying to endanger someone on a bicycle write a ticket or hall them in. If a political figure or news media type person insists on promoting dialog that endangers others they need to reconsider what country they should live in. When someone in an automobile decides they are mad enough to attack another person with there vehicle they were mad prior to this incident. I have been back in Ca for around 2 years. I had only one motorist be angry and vulgar to me in this time. He pulled into a best buy parking lot several miles down the road and I was able to ask him who made him mad before he confronted me. He was mad at some road bike riders he could not easily get around near Redlands. A woman intentionally hit my wife throwing here over a curb onto a soccer field when she was pregnant with our first child. We were riding on the right edge of a fairly wide lane. She was also mad at a group of 20-30 road bike riders who she had trouble getting around. No excuse, allowing yourself to become emotionally unstable enough to make contact with another person with a motor vehicle should put you in the nut house or in jail.
    One town in Texas passed a law not allowing groups of over 10 bicyclists at one time to travel through there town. Another hands out $200 tickets to bicyclists who violate the law and gives them a choice to pay, fight or go to traffic school for bicyclists. Provided they are actually writing tickets for traffic violations I agree. A city in Ca has upped there ticket writing to decrease bicycle car accidents. They are concentrating on the violations that they find cause the accidents. Riding on the wrong side of the rode, making illegal turns and they are handing out educational pamphlets on why you need lights. Go figure: I believe people who ride bicycles at night without lights are missing more than a few screws.
    I do not expect everyone to believe like I do. I do live in a free country, free as long as I obey the law and respect myself and others. For those of you who do not care to read the law this implies you already know you are wrong. When you act out and intimidate or harm another person you belong in a cage.

  • Tellem

    roadblock I have registered from the very first post with my real name to open discussion. Not everyone thinks the same way you do and some people actually want to help. Mr. Turner misspelled my name as many have done including you – not something I would do. Your bad language is childish.

  • Eric

    Ms Tellum, I thought you you were done or not; “So you can keep grumbling but stick a fork in me – I am done.” Looks like you chose “or not”

    We would all like to help, but how do you work with someone who has done more than
    misquote the motor vehicle code, you invented things that don’t exist. Stating that anyone who disagrees is a hothead and lawbreaker is childish. I would have thought that someone with more than 25 years of PR experience, crisis management and media relations would be more astute to working with people.

    Before you post again do some homework. Talk to the LAPD about their recent failures and successes with the cycling community. If you don’t learn from their mistakes you are only setting yourself up to repeat them.

    p.s. – I’m not using my real name either, I just don’t have a nom de plume that people know me by. unlike Roadblock.

  • Roadblock

    Yeah sorry about the bad language it wasnt directed at you Tellem but that guy really made my Sunday morning ride stressful. I ride according to the vehicular cycling practices reccommended by the league of American bicyclists… Yet guys like the one I used bad language against made me so angry and these are the ones who are encouraged and I fluenced by your words which have a lot of weight.

  • The Friendinator

    After reading the ignorant post by Arthur and reading the stubborn — if not uneducated — words of Tellum, I think it’s clearly time this issue of bicycle safety should be moved to the state level. We can’t have local know-nothings like Tellum in charg of public safety, as dictating by way of “it’s just how I feel” benefits only one person.

    That said, I think DMV driver’s license tests should include MANY questions regarding what drivers should do when encountering cyclists.

    Example: You are in the right lane and discover a cyclist is ridin in front of you. What do you do?

    And so on. They have enough qustions about encountering other cars and trucks. Let’s invlove cyclists too so the Tellums of the world can keep their little minds shut.

  • UrbanReason

    Regarding education – Tellem’s arrogant, stubborn stance and general lack of education regarding cyclist and pedestrian law and safety aside – we’ve really got to band together and tackle the issue of lack of education among new cyclists. Obviously we also know there is a great lack of education on the motor side as is evidenced by the experience we’ve all had of someone shouting at us to ride on the sidewalk, honking incessantly, flipping us off, throwing things at us, revving their engine from behind as though threatening to run us over when we’re already going 25mph, stopping at every light, and following every law.

    At some point, and maybe this is a bit off the subject, I think the so-called “cycling community” needs to get it’s act together and find a way to ensure that all cyclists are aware of their rights and responsibilities. If not only to protect us against naive and (maybe not-so) well-intentioned public officials like Tellem.

    I’ve been wondering why it isn’t a state law that bike shops be required to inform purchasers of their rights and responsibilities on the road? Verbally and/or through some kind of simple pamphlet. It would say things like, you know: “It is ILLEGAL to ride against traffic in the state of California”, “You must stop at stoplights”, “This is what a turn signal looks like”. How much effort would it require for shops to have purchasers sign a piece of paper that they have been informed of and understand their rights and responsibilities on the road? And this piece of paper is a state requirement for all new purchases. For everyone’s safety and peace of mind – I don’t understand why this isn’t done.

  • Tellem

    @roadblock – as I have learned here, you get more from honey than vinegar. Thanks for the apology.

  • Tellem

    roadblock – as I have learned here, you get more from honey than vinegar. Thanks for the apology.

  • The Friendinator

    @urbanreason – Do car dealerships explain driving laws to car buyers? Do golf cart dealers explain laws to golf cart buyers? Fer cryin’ out loud; do gun dealers explain all gun laws to gun buyers? Why in the world should rider safety be in the hands of bike dealers?

    If a bike dealer explained the law to a bike purchaser, then that person obeyed that law, then Tellum decided she doesn’t like that law and go that rider in trouble, the liability would be on the bike vendor whom explained the law to the rider. This is America. Blame matters. You’re living in a dream world.

    Furthermore, laws vary from city to city, county to county, etc. If I purchase my bike in Orange County but live and ride in LA County, I will likely have had the wrong laws explained to me by Joe, the dude who builds and sells bikes for a living. Aside from that; what if I buy my bike from my next-door neighbor? Does he or she have to learn then explain all laws to me then get me to sign a piece of paper and submit it to authorities as proof that I have been counseled on the law?

    This should be treated as a state matter. Not a local Tellum matter…and certainly not a mom-and-pop shop matter.

  • @Friendinator – Laws vary from city to city? No, highway traffic laws DO NOT VARY from city to city in CA because of CVC 21 (though 33 US states do allow local regualtion of highway cycling). Please read my first post to Tellem for details. Cities are only given express authority to regulate bicycle licensing, sidewalk operation, and path operation. The operating rules for a highway like PCH, which is the context of this discussion, do not vary from city to city. Before you lecture about laws, please learn the vehicle codes in CA; there are a number of subtleties that are not obvious to a casual reading of the laws.

    While your point is valid that bicycle shops should not be obligated to pass out legal information, many bike shops in many states, including CA, are doing so as a service to their customers, typically by passing out state specific versions of “Street Smarts”, which include the state laws. I see nothing wrong with bicycle shops passing out good trafic skills materials like street smarts, or sponsoring LAB Smart Cycling(TM) classes to their customers, as a service that customers would not get at a big box store.

    I would suggest that since each Caltrans district is given a lot of lattitude by the Caltrans State Office in Sacramento, that this issue is a District 7 matter, and a matter for the SoCal CHP divisions that cover that stretch of PCH, and the city can and should also participate.

    – Dan Gutierrez –
    CABO District 7 Director
    Caltrans D7 BAC Policy Subcommittee Chair

  • jennix

    Ms. Tellem,

    Please do arrange a meeting regarding this issue, because as you can see, much of what you ask for is not ours to give. For example:

    Yesterday I had to visit a doctor, and rode my bike on Washington Blvd., which has large, happy bike lanes near the beach, and a 1/4 mile construction zone further away from the beach. As I traveled east, i was approached in the eastbound bike lane by a man riding west. I politely smiled at him and said, “There is a bike lane on both sides of this street.” The lack of safety in his wrong-way travel was my main concern, but since there are a lot of tourists in this area, i thought he might not be aware of the other lane.

    “Go fuck yourself,” came the reply.

    I mulled his opinion over as i traveled on. A few seconds later, i came to the construction zone. Another cyclist traveling the same direction as i was, jumped his bike up the curb to the sidewalk and rode through the construction zone at full speed shooing pedestrians and people waiting at the bus stop out of his way. I decided to offer to share my lane with him, as i was controlling this too-narrow-for-passing-lane for myself, while i passed the buses lining the right-of-way.

    “Hey, you can ride out here with me, ’cause technically what you’re doing there on the sidewalk is totally illegal.” Mind you i was smiling nicely and offering to help.

    “Mind your own business, bitch.” came this retort. I supposed the mud-flap-slut tattoos the gentlemen was sporting on his back should have been a clue to what his response might have been, but hey, I took a shot.

    These are minor examples of the larger issue. We’d love to help. But we’re kinda in the same boat you are.

    Looking forward to the meeting on improving cycling safety *THROUGH* Malibu,
    Jenni X

  • UrbanReason

    @The Friendinator:

    Hey man, take it easy, alright? I’m a friend and I really am concerned for the safety of myself and other cyclists. I understand tensions are high in this thread, but I don’t appreciate being insulted for simply making a constructive suggestion that I think is actually one of the simplest and a worth-while one. Though, as I acknowledged in my post, this thread may not be the best place.

    You may not have the laws explained to you when you buy a car, but that’s because in order to drive it you have to have a license which requires you to pass a test. Is that what you think should be required for cyclists? And I’m not talking about just mom-and-pop stores. I’m talking about all bike sales, whether that’s from Palms Cycles or Amazon.com.

    Realistically, as more and more people take to the road on their bikes (a trend which is irrefutably growing and I hope continues exponentially), education about their rights and responsibilities in the road is going to have to happen somewhere. The way I see it there are three options: through a state licensing program, with bike sales, or through law enforcement.

    Do you have any other suggestions? You say at the state level, so are you advocating a licensing program? Or are you just advocating no education policy whatsoever?

  • Eric B

    Dan G, you rock!

    UrbanReason actually has a good idea with a bike law waiver of some kind being a compromise between license advocates and no education whatsoever. The liability concern is real, though.

    Jennix points out that my policing another bicyclist is about as effective as rolling down my window to lecture another driver about speeding.

    The most ironic thing about this entire post, is that really only careful, law-abiding bicyclists can survive on PCH because it is so hostile. If you aren’t riding properly, you probably aren’t going to be remotely comfortable on the highway. Vehicular cycling in the right-hand lane (or wide shoulder) is the only safe way to ride there, which is what the spandex-clad cyclists do.

    Stop signs and sidewalk riding are non-issues on PCH because that road has neither.

    Tellem’s primary concern is that it doesn’t feel safe to her for bicyclists to be riding in the right hand lane. This is a gut reaction from many motorists who are not comfortable driving around bikes. The solution there is education:

    1) Yes, bicycles belong in the right hand lane
    2) Yes, bicycles may take the entire right hand lane at their discretion (and only theirs), including doubling, or even tripling up if the lane is not “sharable”
    3) When you come across bicycles in the right lane, slow down and make a safe, complete lane change to pass, just as you would any other slow-moving traffic on the highway (RVs, out-of-staters, etc.)

    It’s really that simple.

  • @Dan Gutierrez – I once got stopped by a cop in nearby Palos Verdes at 8:30pm and was told the roads are closed to cyclists after 8:00. No ticket, because I bailed. PV has a rep for “no outsiders” cop policy, so perhaps it was all a charade. Nonetheless, no such curfew where I live in Torrance, just beneath PV. At least, not for 30-somethings like myself, anyways… So laws, as far as I’m concerned, vary from city to city. The “law” in PV forced me to u-turn at one point in my life. The “law” there was different from the more welcoming “law” in my home city of Torrance less than a mile away.

    Regarding context, the context here for me is local authority taking matters into their own hands. The context spans far beyond just one stretch of road to me. You might see I was responding to someone else’s post. That said, I was spot-on with my response, contextually.

    As for shops promoting legal safety. Who wouldn’t be for that? Of course that’s great…when it’s voluntary. My issue was with requiring shops to inform riders. Responsible riding should not the responsibility of the vendor — especially when the vendor might be some random person at a garage sale.

    @UrbanReason – Oh. I wasn’t trying to insult you. Sorry if you felt insulted. Sincerely, I didn’t mean for you to feel that way. I’m just kind of anti conservative rule-by-business methodology. The law should not be, in my opinion, interpreted and then taught by a for-profit entity. Not just for cycling, but for all things, in my opinion.

    To answer your question though, I suppose I am advocating a licensing program of some sort. Makes sense. If we plan to use the roads cars use, I guess we might be good to get licensed like car drivers. Plus, if there’s proof (a license) that a cyclist knows the law, then there is no room for excuses when they break laws. That might increase responsible riding…

    I also think though that car driver licensing should require a bit more education on encountering bikes on the road.

    I say “state” issue because when left to localities, laws get interpreted by Tellum types…or PV cop types and so on. Obviously local handling can also be great (see: Long Beach), but it can also be lame.


  • @Freindinator – Traffic law in CA is uniform, what you described was improper enforcement. When a cop rides his badge (or if his supervisor tells him to do so), as was the case you described in PV; that’s not because the legislature allows cities to write their own laws, it was because a city, or even a rogue officer decided to restrict your civil rights. If he’d have done that to me, I’d have asked him what law he thought I was violating. It would have been interesting to hear his reply. It is apalling to hear that police officers are restricting anyone’s right to travel, or that a city is treating a public road like private property.

    Regarding context; I stand by my original statement; cities do not have the right to usurp state law. So whatever Malibu decides to “do”, it cannot conflict legally with state law.

  • Why is improving safety thrown at the feet of cyclists? You could very well do the same for children in strollers, people walking to the beach, or retirees scooting to and from the market.

    The real safety risks are being taken by those hurtling around PCH in automobiles. Handing out tickets is a non-solution. It doesn’t make the street safer for other users. PCH is designed to enable very high speeds. If the road were re-configured to slow down automobile travel times, this issue of bicycles and safety wouldn’t be such a big deal.

  • esj

    Tellem: retired LAPD? in what capacity?

  • Tellem

    Jennix – I am waiting to hear from a couple of guys on this blog about a meeting date. I experience a lot of what you mentioned here in Malibu and elsewhere when I go into LA. They don’t reflect thoughtful riders just like jerk drivers do not reflect all motorists. I don’t think there is an easy solution other than bike/car education, better engineering and enforcement when possible. We’re all pretty shook up here in Malibu over the six fatalities on PCH already this year and so the sooner we can start a dialogue the better.

    Esj – I was RO991 – a reserve officer specialist focusing on education – it was when women still had to “go over the wall” and didn’t act like ______ – well – fill in the blank.

  • SFH

    Hi all, I’m new to the westside and just rode PCH on a group ride this morning–after reading some of the horrifying accounts of previous accidents, hit and run incidents, as well as the rampant lack of education around cyclist’s rights. I also attended the Mayor’s “bike summit” last week, which was energizing to witness after several years away from the area.

    I had a good time on PCH this morning, but could see how one small mishap by a driver (or cyclist, I suppose) could cause some serious damage. In fact, there was a bike-involved accident on the across the street on the northbound PCH as I was heading south (I don’t know the details, about 9:30am). A cogent reminder that all is not well . . .

    After returning to LA from Washington, DC where I’ve been for 4 years, I am astounded at the way motorists drive, especially here on the westside. It is not as bad on the east side of LA county (SGV, where I lived previously), but that is probably due to population density and not culture. What is certain is that the motorist culture here *must* change. The “ownership” of the road that cars feel is an inalienable right is many times worse here than in other urban areas around this country, and that is what many Angelino drivers fail to grasp. Cyclists right to be on the road is not as much in question in many other cities . . . It is here.

    Since this thread has not been updated for a while, I’d love to hear whether Tellum was able to meet with some of the cyclists who have reached out to her. What was the result of this meeting?

  • The results?

    (1) “Wear your helmets!” (because we’re not going to do a damn thing to make you safer)

    (2) “Stop running red lights!” (because we all know the 150 lbs of bike and rider are a safety threat to us all)

    (3) Keep on trucking America. We’ll do what we can to keep everyone moving at 50mph+ on PCH.

  • jennix

    Yes, after the kerfuffle she inadvertently started, Ms. Tellem has been off the radar for a while. Just goes to show you that people would rather keep things dangerous for cyclists than risk having to actually slow the heck down.

  • tellem

    Hey guys – you need to read bikinginla.com (around 8/6 and 8/23) where there are several posts about our productive meeting. Unfortunately, the host of this blog could not make the meeting. We were in agreement about most everything. Both drivers and riders need to obey the laws and that’s the bottom line. We have it on our public safety commission agenda, and I think we are heading to a safer and happier PCH for all. Sometimes you have to rattle a few cages to make people uncomfortable enough to take action. I have always wanted it safer for everyone despite the negative posts about me.

  • Hello Ms. Tellem,

    I’m happy your meetings are going well on the CPH. Just so you don’t think we dropped an attack then walked away, I have continued to follow-up on the issue in our morning “Today’s Headlines” through Ted’s blog. I generally don’t report on meetings that I wasn’t at, but if/when there’s any policy changes or changes to the road itself that makes things more safe, we will cover it.

    Good Luck,

  • Dpost147

    Yes, there are ignorant, rude cyclists, but there are lots of us who are not. In today’s world there have to be new rules for us sharing the road. Lots of us could be riding to work or to do errands if we didn’t have to worry about drivers trying to run us off the road, texting while driving, talking on the phone, yelling at their kids in the backseat and just not paying attention.  

  • Doug Weiskopf

    Below is a YouTube link to a newly made documentary movie directed by German film director Alexander Gall about the Los Angeles River Bike Path, Naked Bike Ride LA, Burbank politics, and the long-simmering controversy between local bicyclists and horseback riders.

    It includes some beautiful aerial-drone video of the entire area, including a stunning fly-by of our world-famous Hollywood sign. If you like the film please share it with friends.



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