When Riding to the Right is Not Practicable

Santa Monica Boulevard pavement irregularitiesHave a look at Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills. This corridor presents every kind of challenge to the cyclist, including poorly striped intersections and the occasional sheared-off lamppost  waiting to impale a rider gone astray. This road varies in width, is crossed by many streets, bears heavy traffic (50,000/day) and is plied by several bus lines. And yet the poor cyclist also has to dodge grates, broken pavement and potholes.

What does it say for our city’s policymakers and Public Works department when officials let Santa Monica Boulevard deteriorate to this extent when these degraded conditions affect cyclist safety disproportionately?

First, it shows that city leaders continue to value motorist convenience over cyclist safety. When the city released its request for proposals for boulevard construction this Spring, for example, not a word was included about Complete Streets designs that ensure safe passage for all road users. Indeed our Public Works officials are content to simply rebuild it as it stands today (but with better landscaping). City Council sent the RFP back for Complete Streets language. Ignoring Complete Streets flies in the face of state policy to make our roads safely accessible.

Second, it reminds us that five years after taking control of Santa Monica Boulevard from Caltrans (the state transportation agency long known for insensitivity to the hazards and aesthetic impact of its facilities) our city has yet to better conditions. After more than a year of waving away any improvements, for the first time in memory the blacktop specialists were out this past weekend. But that is too little and comes very late.

The failure to remedy Santa Monica Boulevard safety hazards suggests that the city is unafraid of liability for these conditions. Underscoring our city’s contempt for non-motor mobility are the blacktop moguls, inappropriate drainage grates, and utter lack of safety signage that would alert motorists of the presence of cyclists. This on a corridor that transits 50,000 vehicles a day!

The next time you ride the corridor, take note of conditions because in the unfortunate event of a solo fall, or a collision with a vehicle, your attorney will be very interested to know if a pavement problem contributed to your crash. Even better, let’s pool our efforts to document hazards. We invite personal injury attorneys to drop us a line if we can be of any help. Let’s hold the city accountable and liable for failing to ensure safe passage for cyclists.

(State law says that cyclists must ride to the right except when practicable. One of the factors determining practicability is the presence of road hazards, including debris and pavement irregularities that would make two-wheeled passage unsafe. To manage safely, then, merge into motor traffic and be sure to control the entire right-hand lane. Yes, that sometimes sows frustration among motorists behind you, but it’s your right under the law. Remember: if you marginalize yourself as a rider, motorists will marginalize you too. Repeat it like a mantra: Ride to the right only when practicable.)