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My San Diego commute

October 4, 2009

Five days a week I am subjected to motorists screaming obscenities at me, threatening me and feinting their vehicles recklessly close to me. Why? Because I bicycle to and from work.

Think San Diego

From where I live in Hillcrest / Mission automobile traffic and a very steep downhill run. On the way home, which is uphill, I take 5th Hills it is just under three miles to my office, if I take a direct route. On the way to work, I commonly take a route through neighborhoods that have little Avenue near Balboa Park. 5th is a three lane, one way road. It is less steep coming up the hill and it provides a longer route for me to exercise.

Traffic in downtown San Diego is sparse. This is not San Francisco, Seattle or even Minneapolis. Traffic in San Diego is so sparse in fact it is odd to those of us who are accustomed to cities like San Francisco.

San Diego SunsetSan Diego Gaslamp District at 6:30 PM on a Friday night.

Leaving from work I turn on 5th Avenue from Beech Street. I usually will bike on the sidewalk, which is illegal, for the first several blocks because that first section of 5th Avenue is busy with speeding cars getting on and off Highway 5. Moreover, there is little to no foot traffic in that area.

By the time I reach Kalmia Street, where foot traffic begins to pickup, I take to the road. When I bike on roads with no bike paths I tend to take up an entire traffic lane if there are parked cars. San Diego has very few bike lanes. By taking up a traffic lane I ensure motorists see me. This is legal. In fact, this is the only way to legally bike when there is no bike lane.

Why is it important to stay to the center of the lane taking it up entirely? It’s as simple as it is unobvious to passing motorists. When I stay to the side of the lane I risk cars pulling out from side streets and car doors opening, which then force me to skirt erratically and dangerously into traffic.

BIKE TO WORK DAY FRIDAY MAY 15

When I take up the traffic lane I can pretty much keep up with the traffic – thanks to the traffic lights. However, every day I have, at least, one road raged motorist verbally accosting me, or worse. Motorists will honk and scream obscenities at me, flash me the finger while shouting, threaten verbally to run me over and even go so far as to feint their vehicle dangerously close to me. These feints are often so close that were I to flinch and crash my bike I would be run over by them or the vehicle behind them.

One day while commuting home a motorist in a van squeezed me out of the traffic lane into a parked car while screaming profanities at me and honking. The door of the parked car opened and the only way I could avoid getting run over by the van or hitting the car door was to drop my bike. I looked up as the van drove off and it was the catering van from Cafe Zucchero, a restaurant two blocks from my office. I learned later the driver’s name is Greg. Thanks Greg. I can assure you that had you not forced me to crash I would have gotten to the next light just as fast as you.

_

Damien, one of my co-workers, was biking to work recently when a Police officer demanded he move out of the traffic lane over his loud speaker. A Police officer. Clearly, this fellow does not know the law. Nor do the belligerent motorists who regularly accost me. When I bike alongside them at the next traffic light after they’ve verbally assaulted me, for biking, I will inform them I am obeying the traffic laws and so too should they. Those brave enough to acknowledge my presence will usually scream at me not to take a lane and threaten me again with being run over.

Recently, I have noticed public service ads around town that state “Lose the Roaditude” and are directed at bicyclists. These instruct bicyclists to obey traffic laws. “Roaditude”? Bicyclists? I suspect these stem from the rise in popularity of Critical Mass here in San Diego. Is it any wonder Critical Mass is growing in popularity?

Where are the “Share the Road” signs? Where are the public service ads informing motorists of their obligations to bicyclists? I want to see an effort to inform motorists of bicyclists rights. There needs to be a concerted effort of City officials and Police to protect bicyclists.

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4 Comments
  1. new_commuter permalink

    I recently started commuting from Tierrasanta to Mission Valley and most of the drivers I’ve encountered have been very cautious/gracious. There have been one or two cars in a hurry to squeeze past but most of the time they give me the lane when I need it.

    • Sorry for the belated response. I've noticed a difference out of downtown. I think it's because there are no bike lanes downtown and I'm forced to take a lane. If I try to stay to the right of the lane I find myself narrowly missing opening car doors and dodging cars; whereas, if I take the full lane I'm much safer. Few drivers realize this is well within my legal rights.

  2. mmmark permalink

    Get a helmet cam, record your experiences and share it. Local stations love to make items out of it.

  3. I feel for you. Here in the 'burbs of Philly — on roads with little to, often, no shoulder — bikes and motorists coexist peacefully (for the most part). It is not uncommon to see a long line of cars waiting their turn to pass the lone cyclist or cruising behind a pack or paceline. I'm also starting to see more "share the road" signs around town…except ours are directed at those on four wheels.

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