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Big bike rides exacerbate cyclist/motorist tensions

Original post made by Renee Batti, news editor of The Almanac, on Jan 2, 2007

This letter was published in the Jan. 3 edition of the Almanac:

Editor:
I am appalled at Brian Peterson's piece printed in the Dec. 13 Almanac. He devotes paragraph after paragraph to defending his cycling club from blame, trying to paint Ms. Baglietto in a bad light for noting that the water bottle said Alto Velo on it.
Who cares whether or not it was one of the club members? It was a cyclist, and someone was hurt by a deliberate act. For some reason nobody seems to note that the water bottle was thrown hard enough to hit someone on the side of the road in the face, and it was, apparently, intended to hit a car. Is that somehow better than hitting a woman in the face? Is it fine to throw a water bottle at a car in anger?
Had it been a rock thrown by an inner-city teenager, somebody would probably be in jail right now. Had it been a bullet, even one shot in self-defense, would the innocent bystander be to blame?
I note John Higgins' letter in the same issue that says, "I'll prove it to you: ride your bike." Though the point is good, it misses the fact that most motorists don't hassle bicyclists, particularly those that are riding safely.
The cyclist/motorist tension has been growing in Portola Valley and the riders are defiant, not looking for a solution so much as making sure to take their rights directly into the middle of the road to make sure the point is made. Guess what? That irritates motorists, who then do something unsafe to make their point.
The problem is pretty localized to these morning rides and packs of cyclists, and the cars among which they ride. The point that is being missed is that these are the same motorists, and the same cyclists, day after day, and it's more like a playground fight than it is any deep-seated cultural problem.
I know that these letters from cyclists are written to try to underscore the very real problem that cyclists get harassed by drivers. Unfortunately, even though my sympathies are with cyclists more than motorists, the elitist, self-righteous "morning ride" crowd does more disservice to the sport than anything else.
It's hard to feel badly for poor Mr. Peterson who seems upset that someone should blame his group for an act committed by someone he and his cyclists just happened to be riding with, and probably knows by name. Somehow my sympathies are not with cyclists, but with Ms. Baglietto, the innocent bystander.
If only Mr. Peterson had ended his letter with his first sentence, where I was congratulating him in my mind, rather than being defensive and ending by demanding an apology from a 62-year-old woman who was hit in the face by a water bottle. Good grief. Maybe the Alto Velo club should boycott the morning ride to show that you do not condone such actions.
Glenn Reid
Woodside

Comments (7)

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Posted by A Cop
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2007 at 6:12 am

This is a "community policing" problem. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the San Mateo County Sheriff hasn't taken a lead role in solving this issue.

Did the original victim report the assault with a deadly weapon (full water bottle to the head at 20+ MPH)? If so, it should have been pursued and the suspect held to account for his crime. Apparently, there were more than a few witnesses.

And, even if that crime was not reported, the Sheriff and / or CHP should get on top of this issue. There may be some confusion over jurisdiction. The CHP enforces vehicle code violations in the unincorporated areas. The Portola Valley and Woodside City Councils could invite both organizations' leaders to their next meeting to speak about their plans to fix this problem.

I'm not sure where the answer lies, but one solution is clearly a zero tolerance enforcement of the vehicle code upon bicyclists and vehicles who choose to ignore the law. I would flood the area with a task force of CHP and Sheriff Office patrol vehicles and start writing citations. Lots of them.


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Posted by Menlo Park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 3, 2007 at 4:54 pm

I've heard that cyclists in a large group will intentionally wear similarly colored clothes so that cops following them will have trouble identifying which one went through a stop sign or whatever.

If this is true, it would only reinforce the outlaw sensibility that cyclists seem to adopt when in large groups. It's not as if they are out to break laws that might end up endangering others, but that they are above the law.

A school of fish or flock of birds might be said to have whimsy in the choice of where to go next. Maybe that behavior is latent in us and shows up when a group of people ride bikes together.


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Posted by A Cop
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2007 at 5:37 am

Bicyclists coordinating their efforts to break the law by dressing uniformly to prevent identification is also a crime -- conspiracy -- though I doubt the District Attorney would charge.

You bring up a good point. In addition to the obvious Vehicle Code violations, there are other less known laws that could be put into play:

If the officer has reason to believe that the person will continue to break the law despite the agreement to appear (also known as a citation), he can take the person to jail.

Bicyclists have been known to lie about their name, address, etc. Pedestrians do this too. They don't have to carry driver licenses. Providing false information to an Officer is a misdemeanor. The officer can book a person into jail if a person commits a misdemeanor in his presence.

If the officer can not adequately establish the person's identity, then suspect can be taken to jail until such time as the true identity can be determined.

In my opinion, it's time to be "hard nosed" until the people in the community - bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians - get the message that they must obey the law. That would certainly include some citations, but it might also include free rides to the County Jail ...


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Posted by Dr. Greg Wright
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Jan 9, 2007 at 4:35 pm

I'm planning on traveling to San Francisco with my family next month for the 2nd Amgen Tour of California Professional Cycling Race. In one of my tour books, Woodside is touted as a wonderful place to ride, and so I decided to go on-line to find out more about beautiful Woodside's country roads. What I found instead is a recounting of some of the worst behavior by both cyclists and motorists anywhere in the world, who appear to be getting further away from getting along rather than closer to learning to share the roads.

The behavior by the rider with the Alto Velo club is reprehensible and the injured woman should press charges and demand an investigation. Throwing a water bottle and causing an injury, even though intended for an automobile, is inexcusable behavior. I say this not only as a physician who treats brain injury and a father of two small children (what if we had been riding by with a window open and my child had been struck by the bottle?), but as an experienced road cyclist and racer, who rides for a team and holds a license with USA Cycling. I have also treated professional cyclists who have suffered injuries due to driver negligence.

I also wear my team jersey, which in no way has anything to do with trying to hide my identity or avoid taking responsibility for my actions on a bicycle. No, indeed, that jersey means I am a representative of a team, a group that holds the highest respect for others who share a very dangerous place: the roads.

Now, while I agree that it is usually motorists who are unaware of cyclists and that it is cyclists who are usually the injured party in motorist-cyclist interactions, the behavior of this Alto Velo club member means he or she should be punished. That rider shouldn't be too hard to find. If there are witnesses, and teammates, then the entire team can be subpoenaed until the culprit comes clean. That rider's license with USA Cycling (and s/he likely has one) could be revoked. Membership in USA Cycling is a privilege, not a right. There are not only rules for behavior during races (see pp. 34-5 of the USA Cycling Rulebook: Web Link), but general rules of conduct also exist. I am sure that if the rider is in college or university, the college also has rules. And the rules of the club should also be enforced. But in addition to all that, Woodside has law enforcement at the county level that should be enforcing its rules. It is up to the victim of the incident to pursue this. I hope she does.

All that said, I know most cyclists are law-abiding, road-sharing, pleasant, friendly and healthy people. Woodside should not allow itslef to paint the cycling community with a broad brush. There are likely as many good cyclists as there are good motorists and good residents of Woodside.

I encourage you to do what we do here on Cape Cod, where more than once tensions have arisen between local slow-moving Cape Codders and fast-paced New York drivers have come head-to-head: slow down, take a breath, and share the road. Motorists have no more rights to the roads than do cyclists, and cyclists have no more rights to the roads than motorists. Motorists would do well to EXPECT riders on bicycles WHEREVER they drive, especially in known cycling communities. Cyclists would do well to ride single-file in a paceline and not hog the roads, as they likely do all over the hills of Woodside, Pescadero, San Gregorio, and other places I would like to see once before I die.

My vacation is short. I only get one week per year. I do not want to die, just when I've lost enough weight to start saying I'm healthy and can actually ride a bike 100 miles! Woodside is, and likely will remain, a major destination of road cyclists. Sharing is easy. It's EASY. Both cyclists and motorists have to begin truly sharing right now! But criminal behavior like throwing a bottle and injuring someone is appalling and must not be tolerated! Actions like that can end up in serious head injury or death!


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Posted by Menlo Park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 9, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Important point: the rider who threw the bottle and hit the pedestrian in the face was not a member of the Alto Velo club, though they know who he is.

That rider has also apparently called the woman and apologized. I think she may have decided not to press charges.


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Posted by Dr. Greg Wright
a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2007 at 4:44 pm

I accidentally clicked the wrong neighborhood on the drop-down menu. I'm from Massachusetts.


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Posted by Dr. Greg Wright
a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2007 at 4:48 pm

Glad to hear that people can work things out between themselves. That rider should kiss the ground that injured woman walks on. This ought to be a big wake-up call for the community. It's single file on narrow roads for cyclists. Paceline training is a good skill, and you can go fast enough for narrow roads. As for motorists, they simply have to expect a cyclist at every turn. It's easy. SHARE! There, I've said enough.


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