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More Lights for L.A. Night Bicyclists Needed, Coalition Says

The Los Angeles County Bike Coalition's "Operation Firefly" program to get lights to riders at night is in its first campaign, and needs donations to buy more lights for distribution.

Riding your bike at night in Los Angeles when the sun goes down poses safety concerns for cyclists and motorists alike, and there is even a state law on the books to require that riders be visible.

The Los Angeles County Bike Coalition launched "Operation Firefly" last fall to ensure Angelenos riding bicycles have front and rear lights, but one of its organizers says they are running out and need donations to continue the light purchases.

"It's tough enough as it is to make a motorist see you riding during the day, let alone at night," said Colin Bogart, education director of LACBC. "I found myself ridng behind a kid the other night who nearly got hit by a driver turning left, because he didn’t have a light. Our goal is to get people to have a light, particularly that front light. I have seen police pull over bicyclists and citing them. Those can be, from what I understand, pretty expensive."

Drivers in L.A. kill pedestrians and bicyclists at a significantly higher rate than drivers nationally, according to a federal study cited in a recent Los Angeles Times story, Bogart added.

"We're doing street distribution of lights around town, focusing on lower income communities and most likely people riding without lights who need them," he said.

"Operation Firefly" started with 500 sets of lights and in December had already given out more than 300 sets. LACBC also has the lights for sale.

"We've recooped about one third of our initial investment," he said, "but we could really use community's help for donations and light purchases. Eventually, we're going to run out and I'd like to keep this program going throughout the winter months until [Daylight Savings] time changes again."

Bogart said they've done four street distributions and in each case, they went through 40 to 50 lights in about 90 minutes.

In addition to front and rear lights, LACBC is distributing "Operation Firefly" spoke cards in English and Spanish, which will provide a summary of the California Vehicle Code requirements while riding at night, along with additional tips for enhanced visibility when it's dark.

Bogart added that LACBC is working with bike co-ops spread throughout L.A. to help distribute the lights, spoke card and its message. Some of those co-ops include:

For more information on LACBC's "Operation Firefly" program, click here.

grrlyrida January 14, 2013 at 05:58 PM
When riding a bicycle, many times it's safer riding side by side. It keeps drivers from passing unsafely and too close. Besides it is legal. All you have to do is wait until it is safe to go around them with your car. You would do no less with a slower elderly driver. Do the same with cyclists.
JohnCySmith.com January 14, 2013 at 07:36 PM
As an avid cyclist who commutes by bike for short trips, errands and exercise but also owns a car, I offer another perspective. Dedicated cyclists tend to obey traffic laws and ride single file. It's the right way, the safe way and the law. I've ridden several 100 mile-a-day trips with avid cyclists and everyone obeys the laws and rides single file because they don't want to get hit. I find that occasional riders are the worst offenders when it comes to blowing through stop signs, and Santa Monica needs to educate riders even as they encourage more to ride. If you ride a bike and want to be safe, you ride safely. If you don't you're taking your chances. Drivers should also remember this... every person on a bike is ONE LESS person in a car, clogging the street you're on, and we don't take the parking space you need. LA and Santa Monica are tough enough to navigate no matter how one gets around, so let's get along, respect each other and be safe. There is room for all of us.
Keith Martin Kaucher January 14, 2013 at 08:08 PM
I agree with you John if they would obey the laws more I think less motorist would have issue with them. I've had them blow through stop signs up on Topanga Canyon Road and when I dam near ran my car into the side of the mountain to miss hitting the guy he flipped me off when he ran the stop and I had the right of way. If cyclist want respect they need to be respectful too just because you're being environmentally conscience doesn't give you any special rights.
JohnCySmith.com January 14, 2013 at 08:25 PM
Keith, The point is... There will always be a few bad cyclists and bad drivers. A few bad apples don't spoil the whole bunch. Bike riding takes cars off the road. And as a whole, I think we all see a lot more bad drivers who endanger others. Bad cyclists are a danger, mostly, to themselves, and most avid cyclists obey laws just like the rest of us.
Niall Huffman January 15, 2013 at 08:16 AM
As Gary's comment points out, bicyclists are hardly the only group of road users getting a free pass when it comes to violating the law. The notion that there's any kind of prejudice against motor vehicle drivers is flat-out ridiculous. It's all a matter of law enforcement priorities; the police simply don't have time to waste sitting at 4-way stop intersections trying to catch every last scofflaw cyclist. And frankly, if someone on a bike does roll through a stop sign and doesn't cause anyone to slam on their brakes or otherwise create a hazard, I'd much rather the cops let it go and turn their attention to more serious violations that pose way more of a threat to public safety -- speeding, texting and failure to yield to crossing pedestrians being but a few examples.
Niall Huffman January 15, 2013 at 08:29 AM
I know of no one who rides a bike and thinks that being environmentally conscious gives them the right to disobey the law. If someone violates the law while on a bike, it's for one of two reasons: a) they don't know the law (some people are genuinely misinformed, for example, about whether bikes have to obey stop signs); or b) more likely, they do it because they know they can get away with it -- the same reason people flout the law every day on foot (jaywalking) and behind the wheel of a car (going 5-10 miles over the limit, rolling right on red, failing to signal a turn, texting, etc.). People on bikes -- all other things being equal -- are no more selfish or entitled than any other group of human beings navigating the streets we all share.
Niall Huffman January 15, 2013 at 08:50 AM
To answer the question at the end of the article, yes, I do ride a bike with front and rear lights at night. They're an absolute must; the brighter the better. You need to take responsibility for helping motorists see you and ensuring your safety. If you're wondering whether you can afford it, there are some pretty good lights on the market for not a lot of money. These, for example: http://ecom1.planetbike.com/3032.html
Glenn E Grab January 15, 2013 at 04:08 PM
grrlyrida.....you put yourself in traffic lanes on purpose?.....what, are you trying to teach a 3500 pound car a lesson?....bad idea...
Glenn E Grab January 15, 2013 at 04:13 PM
niall, I was riding with a few guys on motorcycles last month on PCH near Frisco.....there was a guy on a bicycle riding in the middle of the right lane, pulling a child, in a bike trailer....this guy should have been arrested...
Niall Huffman January 15, 2013 at 11:31 PM
What's your point, Glenn? If it wasn't on a freeway, it was completely legal, and if there wasn't a usable shoulder, it would have been the safest way to navigate that particular stretch of roadway. Not sure I would have decided to ride on a road like that myself, but if I found myself on that road in those conditions, that's what I would do to get through that area. Again, my comment was in response to the idea (misguided, IMO) that bicyclists feel some particular entitlement to flout the law. I don't see how your anecdote shows that to be the case. It may seem counterintuitive, but riding a bike in the middle of a traffic lane isn't as dangerous as it sounds. Drivers are perfectly capable of noticing and avoiding slow-moving vehicles directly in front of them, and if we stipulate that the lane is too narrow for a bike and a car side-by-side, bicyclists are actually easier to see and avoid the farther out into the lane they are, because a driver approaching from behind knows right away they need to make a lane change and can plan ahead. Rear-end car-on-bike collisions actually aren't all that common; hooks and sideswipes due to overly close passing within the same lane are actually a greater risk.
Keith Martin Kaucher January 16, 2013 at 06:12 AM
I'm sure that you're right John, but I have to say I see more cyclist running stop signs then I've ever seen actually stop, and when I almost ran my Shelby into the side of the mountain because a cyclist and a train of his cycling cohorts blasted through a stop sign in Topanga Canyon to avoid running them over, it's not just their lives, had I been on the other side of the road I could've went off the side of the mountain. Then to ad insult to injury he flipped me off. Had I caught him there would've been another dead cyclist that day.
Glenn E Grab January 16, 2013 at 10:51 AM
Niall, it's guys like you that make people resent bicyclists,.....I ride at least 100 miles per week, btw...
Keith Martin Kaucher January 16, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Glenn, you're so right I can't believe this: " It may seem counterintuitive, but riding a bike in the middle of a traffic lane isn't as dangerous as it sounds. Drivers are perfectly capable of noticing and avoiding slow-moving vehicles directly in front of them, and if we stipulate that the lane is too narrow for a bike and a car side-by-side, bicyclists are actually easier to see and avoid the farther out into the lane they are, because a driver approaching from behind knows right away they need to make a lane change and can plan ahead." Niall you're putting your life in the hand of the drivers you assume are paying attention. You have no idea who's behind you a season driver that is awake and alert at the wheel or a young driver texting on their phone. Motorcyclist will tell you y that in order to survive on the road they prtend they are invisibale and never assume the driver can see you they have several major advantage that a cyclist don't too. One they have a larger profile, Two they make noise so even if a driver doesn't see them they can hear them, and three, they have horsepower to help them evade getting hit by twisting the throttle. Niall you keep riding like that and you're tempting fate and you'll piss off a lot of motorist to boot.
Glenn E Grab January 16, 2013 at 05:17 PM
keith, I also ride and own motorcycles, street and dirt, so I know exactly what you mean
Keith Martin Kaucher January 16, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Me too Glenn, I grew up riding Motocross and trail bikes. I bought my first motor cycle when I was 11 or 12. So even out in the dirt my uncles told me never assume the other rider can see you. I apply that even when I'm behind the wheel. Knock on wood I haven't had an accident since the fender bender I had when I was 17.
Niall Huffman January 16, 2013 at 06:33 PM
What's the alternative? Hug the curb and get clipped by someone's wing mirror? Again, we're talking about a lane that is ***too narrow for a car and a bike to safely share side-by-side***. Regardless of whether the person on the bike is owning the lane or riding in the gutter, the driver needs to move into the next lane to pass safely. It's better if they pick up on this from way back behind the bicyclist, instead of coming right up behind them and realizing at the last second that it's impossible to pass within the same lane. This post illustrates the point more clearly: http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/2010/11/29/helping-motorists-with-lane-positioning/ Seriously, it's pretty hard to miss something directly in front of you. Even drunk and distracted drivers routinely pick up vehicles directly ahead, because that's where their vision focuses. There are perception studies that prove this.
Niall Huffman January 16, 2013 at 06:42 PM
The advice to "assume you're invisible" generally applies when you encounter a potential right-of-way conflict, i.e., where one or more road users are about to make a turn or lane change and the potential exists that two vehicles might attempt to occupy the same space at the same time. In these cases, yes, it's absolutely good practice to assume you haven't been seen and let the bigger vehicle go. But you'll never get anywhere on a bike if you go diving into the gutter every time someone comes up behind you in a car, especially if doing so doesn't take you completely out of their path, which is true on most city streets. At some point, you have to rely on the basic competence of other drivers. I need to emphasize that bicyclists stay away from the gutter for their own safety, and not out of any sense of entitlement beyond a basic right to use the public roads their taxes pay for. Here's a good illustration of the many hazards you expose yourself to by riding too far to the right: http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/animations/lane-control/
Niall Huffman January 16, 2013 at 06:48 PM
IOW, 'assume you're invisible' shouldn't be taken to mean 'make yourself invisible' (by riding too close to the road edge).
Niall Huffman January 16, 2013 at 07:04 PM
Another thing I should emphasize: I fully endorse riding to the right in a wide lane, on a usable shoulder, or in a bike lane *when it's available*. Believe me, I don't enjoy riding in the lane -- I only do it to stay out of the gutter or out of the door zone of parked cars.
Glenn E Grab January 16, 2013 at 07:17 PM
Niall, are you serious?....what, are you trying to teach drivers a lesson?....I'll visit you in the orthpedic ward of the hospital, if you're still alive, that is....
Gary Kavanagh January 16, 2013 at 07:22 PM
In the same manner that motorcyclists will "control the lane" on street or highway, even though they may be narrow enough to do otherwise, applies the same to bicycling in contexts where a lane is considered "substandard width" to safely share side by side, the right side of the roadway is obstructed, or a bicyclist is able to keep pace with the flow of traffic as if often the case in congested areas. Most bicyclists do not want to or enjoy having to do this, but experience and data support that is a safer alternative to hugging a curb in appropriate contexts, and in the city limits of Santa Monica, a sidewalk is not a legal alternative, not to mention being highly a highly compromised place to ride for speed and a safety risk to those on foot. If motorcyclists really pretended they were invisible, they wouldn't ride the center of a lane for improved visibility and lane control.
Glenn E Grab January 16, 2013 at 07:52 PM
Gary, there's one huge difference between motorcycles and bicycles.....acceleration..on a bicycle you're a sitting duck....a motorcycle can accelerate away from a bad situation, a bike can't...
Keith Martin Kaucher January 16, 2013 at 09:05 PM
When you talk about riding directly in front of a car waiting for the light to change, you should be to the far right of the car as I stated before you're assuming the driver behind you is actually paying attention to you, but another thing you forget is about the car coming up from behind the driver directly behind you that is changing radio stations dropped his French frys and hits the car behind you if you're off the the side as most motorist have their wheels turned to the left even a bit when they are going to turn left the car gets hit from behind it will tend to move that direction away from you the cyclist, it also puts you in prime position to get immediately into the bike lane as soon as you make your turn instead of having to look over your should and slow up traffic while you get over to the bike lane which I see so many of the cyclist do. Look this is a car town it was developed as a car town cyclist are relatively new to this car centered culture and you the cyclist need to know you're not riding in Mayberry. I know I would never ride a bike on the city streets in this town now I did when I was kid before I had a car but the traffic in this city was so much lighter, no matter how safe you are it's dangerous all I'm pointing out that cyclist need to know the laws and ride a lot more cautiously then I've observed.
Glenn E Grab January 16, 2013 at 10:03 PM
bottom line is that the bicyclist is responsible for his or her own safety....wrong and right don't matter if you're dead...
Niall Huffman January 17, 2013 at 12:20 AM
What on earth are you talking about, Glenn? Are you saying I shouldn't use bright lights when riding at night?
Niall Huffman January 17, 2013 at 12:28 AM
Which I and the other bicyclists commenting on this article 100% agree with. I just have a different understanding of what constitutes safe riding and the best ways to manage risk.
Niall Huffman January 17, 2013 at 12:34 AM
Are you seriously complaining that bicyclists hold up traffic in left turn lanes? How much longer does it take a bike to make a left turn than a car? 3 seconds, maybe? And it's prudent to wait in the center of the left turn lane rather than on the right edge, for the same reason it's prudent to stay away from the curb when riding straight through an intersection: it discourages people from accelerating ahead of you and cutting you off to make a quick right turn.
Niall Huffman January 17, 2013 at 12:58 AM
I would also point out that bikes have been a fixture on the streets of Southern California for well over 100 years. They're hardly a new phenomenon. And no one will argue with you that people on bikes need to ride legally and safely. It's unfortunate what happened to you in Topanga Canyon; what that guy did was genuinely dangerous and stupid, and it sounds like he was a jerk to boot. I don't condone that type of behavior. I merely attempted to refute your original claim that people on bikes feel a unique sense of entitlement, or are the only road users getting a free pass from the police.
Niall Huffman January 17, 2013 at 03:13 AM
To answer your question, Glenn: No, I'm not trying to teach drivers a lesson. I'm merely trying to get home safe and taking responsibility for ensuring that I'm visible. And I'm VERY visible with two rear LED lights (one solid, one flashing) and a headlight that emits 150-350 lumens (bright enough to stand out amongst a bunch of car headlights), in addition to reflective patches on my bike, clothing and backpack.
Glenn E Grab January 17, 2013 at 06:46 AM
of course bright lights at night are a good idea, but riding on a fast moving street at night (like Washington Blvd) with a lot of half drunk motorists isn't....I'd just take the sidewalk....

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