Responding to Slate's 'Why You Hate Cyclists': Drivers Not Irrational, Simply Don't Expect Bicyclists

It's not because all because drivers are 'irrational.'

What would be "irrational", and by "irrational", I mean 'devoid of sound judgment', would be if drivers did look at these stats of bicycle accidents, deaths day-after-day, and then still continue to drive recklessly.

But fact is, most drivers probably don't see those stats, let alone seek out and mine and monitor the latest bicycle incidents.  In all likelihood, drivers don't care what bicyclists do, just as long as they're out of the way.

The problem is not that too many drivers are 'irrational' or whatever label bicyclists want to plaster upon them, it is simply this:  most drivers, least here in LA simply do not expect bicyclists to be on the streets.  This means that drivers usually do not 'anticipate' bicyclists. 

There's a reason LA is branded as having a 'car culture';  most people expect cars to take them any and everywhere with efficiency.  For example, my folks expect their Honda CRV to take them from the abode in the San Fernando Valley to my mom's job in South LA everyday, back and forth.  My godsis, a new hardcore bicyclist takes her Prius from her house in Highland Park in LA to her job down here in Long Beach.  Even if they don't really like cars, they depend on it as a basic necessity as they travel far from home to job.  The car gets each of them where they need to be, but each of them are more sympathetic to bicyclists.

But not everyone bikes, or knows me or any bicyclist period, and won't approach bicyclists with the same bit of caution and/or sympathy.

Implicit in the expectation of efficient travel is an expectation amongst many that automobiles are the only vehicles with the right of way on the streets, leaving little room for any other modes of transportation.  The resulting tensions between bicyclists and drivers are problems of environmental design and culture, not one of bad decision-making either by bicyclists and/or drivers

Speaking from my lens as a former driver-only still surrounded by tons of people who drive everywhere, most drivers view bicyclists on the street (as opposed to the sidewalks) as nothing more than anomalies.  We are nothing more than "obstacles" for which fast-moving drivers feel the need to speed around.  A lot of the time drivers tell me they aren't sure what to do when a bicyclist is on the street sharing with them.

Drivers do not expect, do not anticipate, and so are not 'prepared' to 'deal' with bicyclists, especially on streets with no large and/or clear street markings.  Now from my own experience as a bicyclist, a lot of drivers will switch to another lane, speed up, and immediately switch back, or speed by me, barely skinning me.  Sometimes, they will add a honk or a yell.  Many times I've been tempted to carry heavy objects in my bag to launch back at many a reckless driver.

Much as I'm tempted to counter a driver's 'emotional' overreaction with my own 'emotional' overreaction, it's a tension continually fueled by roads designed to facilitate automobile traffic only.  It's a tension that will continue to manifest if there aren't changes to the designs of roads.  It's a tension that will continue unless there are large, clear reminders in the form of signage and street markings to drivers that they expect...bicyclists.

When I think of drivers expecting bicyclists to be on the road as a potential big difference-maker, I think to events where streets are closed off to an automobile traffic.  I think of street fairs, Marathons, and triathlons.  People, drivers, bicyclist, expect the streets to close and respect them, allowing for pedestrian and/or bicycle traffic to actually populate what is usually the domain of cars.  Unless really old and/or de-ranged, drivers don't "irrationally" barge through cones or "Road Closed" signs.  Now, that would be irrational.

I think most drivers don't get mad when they know what to expect on the roads;  people can work their way with or around whatever is expected.  That's what I've learned from observing how drivers avoid those street fairs, Marathons, and Triathlons.  I think if you were to do a survey it's largely the unexpected occurrences, against which people don't know how to react, that pisses people off. 

When they know to expect something, it seems like people don't get as entitled, therefore not as mad or as hateful. 

Drivers need to be made to expect bicyclists to be on the road. 

That can be done in a number of ways.  In the short-term it seems it'll be through big group rides, and more people being on the streets.  Maybe we need to create more reasons for people to be on the streets, more ciclavias, runs, street fairs, etc.  Long-term, it needs to be through big signs and street markings, though arguably guerrilla versions of those infrastructural changes can be created.

Brief History of Puvungna: Cal State Long Beach Is a Holy Land

During my time in Long Beach, I've spent a lot of time with Cambodians.  Cambodians number just under 20,000 or so in the City of Long Beach, and 44,000 in LA County.  Most of them came during the 1980s after stays in refugee camps, the result of social fracture and disorganization after the Khmer Rouge regime.  Today, in 2012, we see a new generation of Cambodian-Americans:  Long Beach and other places in the United States is home and whatever environment they've grown up is their adopted "culture."

The very last semester of my classes, however, I took a slight turn away from hanging with the Cambodians.  For a project in media and ethnography, I spent time and energy researching the CSULB Special Collections for who and what used to be on Cal State Long Beach.

Cal State Long Beach is known not just as a University but as the birthplace of the Gabrielino-Tongvan deity Chingishnish. Cal State Long Beach itself erected a sign in the 1970s supporting this legend.  They used this legend in some promotional materials for the school.

The legend of Chingishnish had been first recorded in history by Franciscan missionary Geronimo Boscana in the 1820s, around the time that the California Missions had been losing financial support from Spain to continue on.  When we interviewed her, Cindi Alvitre, one of the leaders of the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe today, said that her grandfather would tell her stories about how he was not told to speak too loudly around the area near Cal State Long Beach, by then, sometime in the 1900s, known as the Bixby Farm, because it was "sacred land."

The legend of Chingishnish has been questioned for a while now, mostly by academics.  In the 1920s and 1930s, Anthropologists were disputing just exactly what the legend of Chingishnish meant:  was he a deity or a historical figure?  John Harrington thought he was a historical figure.  Alfred Kroeber, a big name in early Anthropology, questioned the overall historicity and tradition of the Chingishnish beliefs, stating that their beliefs arose as a response to the growth of the California Missions.  

Long Beach proved to be something of a hot spot for archaeologists from the 1920s onward.  According to a survey in 1993 by Scientific Research Surveys, there are officially 35 archaeological sites in Eastern Long Beach.  Artifacts had been uncovered and verified in the 1950s near what is now the Los Altos Shopping Center, which is known as LAn-270, and at a site called LAn-702 discovered in 1974.  Puvungna has historically been placed at LAn-306 at the top of Bixby Hill on Rancho Los Alamitos.  This is about a mile away from where the big discovery was to be made.

In 1972, a big discovery was made at the Cal State Long Beach campus.  A skeleton was found   where a sprinkler system was being installed next to an organic garden.  This was a site designated by archaeologists as LAn-235 and had already been a point site of interest since 1960 when Kenneth Dixon had uncovered some artifacts.

The Coroner’s office eventually found the skeleton to be “human and of antiquity beyond concern of the Coroner.” Additionally the office found that it was buried in a way consistent with an “ancient burial.” On this basis, Cal State Long Beach Archaeologist Kenneth Dixon registered the site on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. 

With this new designation of LAn-235 as a Historic Place, the university stopped plans for future development throughout the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s.  They stopped plans to build housing for a president.  On an archaeological site site designated LAn-234, right next to LAn-235 they erected a sign commemorating the historic designation and even featured the legend of Puvungna in their marketing materials.  

In the early 1990s, conflict arose again. Part of the LAn-235 land had been dedicated for use as a community garden since the 1970s.  The Tongva had determined that the community garden was "not in conflict" with its past as a site of religious significance.  However, the university had other plans. The university went public with plans to not only "delete" the community garden but first build a parking lot en route to building a strip mall and housing.  The short documentary Sacred Land, White Man's Laws outlined the conflict.

A lot of the legal conflict seemed to flame out when a new chancellor Robert Maxson scrapped the strip mall plans and promised in 1995 to preserve the land.  He kept his promise till when he left in 2005.  There hasn't been much outward conflict with the incumbent chancellor F. King Alexander who replaced Maxson, but it hasn't been all positive.  In 2007, two professors at CSULB and six tribal members proposed to develop Indigenous Educational Facility on Lot 20 as had been planned in 1978.  The offer has not been declined per se, but there hasn’t been action towards its establishment.

Today, though probably not over, the conflict seems to be contained within the theoretical and the academic world between Archaeologists/Anthropologists.  Matthew Boxt and L.Mark Raab, Archaeologists from Cal State Northridge and hired by Cal State Long Beach to survey the sites, wrote papers criticizing advocates of Puvungna. They opined that ideas of what Puvungna was and is were influenced largely by Anthropological work.  In the vein of Kroeber, they hinted that tradition was sort of fabricated by not those studied, but by those who were doing the studying.  At their worst, they took special aim at CSULB emeritus professor of Anthropology/Archaeology Keith Dixon, saying that he'd invented the idea of there being a village of Puvungna.

Meanwhile, Dixon maintains that very rarely does an archaeological site match up with a purported legendary site and that he was merely following the ethnohistorical evidence. 

The Lives of Cambodian Seniors in the LBC

Every day in LA, I discover something new.  This, as a lifelong LA resident, whose had work and home connections from the SF Valley, the SG Valley, Long Beach, South LA, Central LA, East LA, West LA, hell even mother-effin' Lancaster. 

There are also still towns in here I have had little to no interface with.  Just the other day on a bike round through Paramount Boulevard, it was the cities of Paramount and Downey. Who'd a thunk that there would be a happening place down in Downey?  As I was biking through, I wondered about the histories of people, places, and things there. What strikes me then as had always fascinated me while living in Silver Lake and staring at the rows of houses were the vastly different worlds from unit to unit.

For the past two years, I've been thrown and thrown myself into Long Beach, and in particular people in the more public aspects of the Cambodian community.

Last year at about this time, I was taking an internship class through my Anthropology program. The objective of the class was to learn about the art of grant-writing.  There was an applied twist to it as well:  we would be writing the grant for a group of Cambodian Seniors.

A group of Anthropology students and I, encouraged over and over by professors to fuse work in our classes, had the idea of making a movie about some seniors who worked at a community garden on Martin Luther King Park.  The same Martin Luther King Park featured in pretty much every 90s Long Beach rap hit.  We came up with a short documentary called "Garden without Roots."

Ostensibly our film was about community gardening at Martin Luther King Park and a backyard,  how these gardens form a place of gathering for them, but that they lack space in general. It was quite a challenge for our first film being that we had no experience behind a camera, none of us spoke Khmer, and we needed translators.

What struck me however was not what we eventually produced, but the stories, experience, and wisdom I learned from them absent the camera.

Cliche-sounding, but it was experience and wisdom that I wish would be broadcasted on national network television or hell at the very least, KCET, local television.  That better than reruns and repeats of films in America.

One man in particular I learned a lot from.

Adam, one of the other producers of the film, had originally noticed him on our very first day of shooting as the guy "intensely watering the plants."

One day outside of shooting, I took another friend, a 2nd generation Cambodian-American woman and Anthropologist whom I called "Savagery" one day to come and converse with one of the seniors, a man named Kea Cheng and can be seen in the video.  Savagery was fluent in Khmer and talked a long while with him.

Kea is no stranger to local media, as he's been featured twice in the Long Beach Press-Telegram, once as a social services client who missed his white savior, and the other time as a worker of the very Cambodian Seniors Nutrition program featured in our video. Neither article mentioned much about his personal stories, not that these articles were the appropriate venue for them.

From the conversation Kea had with Savagery, I learned that about the harshness of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia from 1975 - 1979 towards him and the tragedies of his life.  He would use human manure to fertilize plants.  If plants weren't watered thoroughly and/or correctly, he would face punishment.  He'd lost many family members, and fairly recently, a son. 

Him talking about this with Savagery, and it being apparently his first time talking to a Cambodian-American, was something that ignited the video documentary project.

As months rolled on, I got to know more about Kea and other seniors.  I'd forged a bound with Kea based on the fact that he would bike everywhere.  We would arrive at the same time on bike and lock up.  We couldn't quite speak to each other as he struggled with English and I struggled with Khmer.   With the help of translators, and his own efforts to speak English, I would later learn about his experience in the military, that he had a few daughters that were doing well in Cambodia.  I learned that he lived in a temple and had struggled with legal and social services in Long Beach, perhaps because of translation issues.

Every morning that we would film, I kept trying to talk in Khmer not to just Kea but everyone in our group.  A Herculean struggle --- I walked with a clipboard of important and circled verbs that I thought I'd use in conversation.

I was the source of much comedy when attempting to use the word for 'rice', I accidentally used the word 'girl.'  What I was trying to ask was whether or not he worked on the rice farm.  In Khmer, t'wer is the verb for "make" and is used interchangeably with the verbs "do" and "work".  Roughly translated I was supposed to ask him, "t'wer s'rai?"  "Did he make rice?"  Instead, I asked him 't'wer s'ray?", "Did he do women?"

The seniors laughed it up.  The way they let me know was when Phannaka, another "senior" in the film, went up to me with a pocketbook Cambodian-English dictionary and showed me the word 'rape' and the word for 'girl.' I was astounded because I thought she was trying to say something important, but she began to laugh in chorus with the other seniors and kept repeating what I said.

I had plenty of moments with them, despite not being able to communicate beyond hellos, and goodbyes with them.  One lady, Um Sath, would always greet me with a smile and an enthusiastic hello.  She probably didn't recognize my name but she knows my face, even as old as she gets.  "How are you today?  She always tells me in her English, "Yah so sa-weet!"  It's a line I love to repeat in my head every time.

You wouldn't know that her story by way of her personality.  Only later while working my grad assistantship at CamCHAP and searching through newspapers, did I learn that she'd lost her husband and children

When we weren't filming at the community gardens anymore, I would visit them at McBride Recreation Center otherwise known as California Recreation Center. one of the elders, Kim, would invite me to sit with her during meal time.  She would give me oranges, or donuts or milk and let the meal people know that I was cool to eat with them.  They all knew I was a poor student and served me as if I was one of their sons.  Being a starving student, I'd eat whatever was served along with them.  They'd pass me their milks and any food that was too American.

I actually did most of my talking with the translators Arun and Serey.

Arun was a former nurse during the regime and was sponsored here to learn English.  He'd also been some kind of actor; I joked that he was the Brad Pitt of our lil documentary.  I didn't think about it at the time but it was an interesting connection I unconsciously made since Brad Pitt actually does have an adopted Cambodian son by way of Angelina Jolie, named Maddox.

Serey, I didn't know much about till chancing upon a Press-Telegram article.  He was always a willing translator, and would always invite me to watch him play ping pong.  I loved how he looked like a gym coach, and it turns out that he was/is.  When Pacquiao fought, he was one of the first few to talk about him.  He would let me know what was going on with Kea, when Kea forgot to send in papers for work authorization. 

As for the Cambodian Seniors Nutrition program itself, I have not visited since May or June.  The last I had heard they were running out of funding from Little Tokyo Service Center in LA.  I'd hoped to check in late July, and it appeared that they were still up and running.

I don't view the people as weak, helpless, passive victims.  These are motherfuckin' survivors who co-own the word "survivors" with anyone who's outlasted a genocide.

 While I was still involved, I thought a lot about how these seniors could be used as assets in the community rather than seen as more people to pay for and account for.  It hit me that they are the expert teachers or gardeners or chefs, just without the title, capital, and prestige bestowed upon them.  Seems like its on us to learn from them.

Biking in LA: An Act of Trusting Strangers

I haven't been as dedicated a bicyclist as I had been the past two years, perhaps because of me now viewing my time as limited and spending most of it in Wilmington.

These days I'm around a lot of people who do not bike to commute, who at best view bicycling as a recreational activity.  My current girlfriend is one of them.

She owns the heaviest, but most stylish cruiser bike ever made.  Its like a 50-pound green bike with sunflowers on it.  It's really only made for beach cruising and nothing more.  We once took it on the back of my Corolla along with my road bike to a (Councilman) Tom Labonge bike ride where she rode a hellish 12 miles struggling to keep pace with a pack that seemed to all have road bikes.  She absolutely refuses the free, lighter mountain bike that my godsister is willing to donate to her.

She is quite terrified of the idea of biking on anywhere but the sidewalk.

Last Labor Day, we decided to bike from her place in East Wilmington to her parents' abode in West Wilmington.  It wasn't the first time, but it was the first time she'd biked in a long while.  She would do this even before she'd met me, but it would be on the sidewalk.

We rode a little bit on the road, I followed her from her back, making sure that if anyone was going to get hit, it would be me. It's a pretty calm ride, if not utterly boring for an LA biking veteran.  Good thing I had my iPhone bumping Paulina Rubio.  Despite taking only residential streets and having the luxury of this self-proclaimed "LA biking veteran" literally watching her back, there were still a few streets on which she clung to and rode the razor thin, crack-laiden sidewalk.

I was thinking of her experience as I rode from East Wilmington to Long Beach today.  Biking this route means biking industry-serving bridges that act as quasi-freeways on Pacific Coast Highway, big rigs, and drivers pressuring me to bike faster or get the hell out of their way.  Along the way along Poly, I passed 2 girls riding the wrong way on the street.

I had three thoughts, which sound a lot more organized as I write them out for you:

1)  I've seen quite a few bicyclists riding the wrong way in Long Beach on busy streets.  My girlfriend told me that "maybe" people rode the wrong way so they could "see the traffic" as opposed to being blind to it from behind.  I thought maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea if one day bike lanes were big enough as a street lane and accommodated both directions in one lane on both sides of the street.  I'm not a traffic planner, and I doubt its feasibility given the dependency on automobiles, but it seems like this would do something to make the designs of street more bicycle-friendly.

2)  As all this was swirling in my head, and I kept thinking about the video of that motorist from Brazil running over a bunch of critical mass riders, and how cyclists could continue to be killed without much uproar, I had this thought:  biking and riding with traffic on the street in LA is one activity where you put an immense amount of trust and faith in strangers operating these high speed machines.  "Immense amount" meaning you're trusting a lot of people traveling, trying to get somewhere at their convenience and at an accelerated pace that we've become accustomed to, not to mess with you, your body, your bicycle, or your ability to bicycle.  If you're riding with traffic, you can't see what people with their 2-ton vehicles behind you are doing, which immediately puts your limbs, and life at risk.  It represents too much uncertainty in the crazy social worlds of uncertainty we already have.

I feel like I put too much trust in motorists.  Many times, it seems like doing so doesn't really pay off.

3)  If riding the bike with traffic represents uncertainty, and putting trust and faith in strangers, using the car to commute a short distance is due also in part to not trusting strangers behind the wheel.  When I was doing research for what I thought would be my thesis project, I came across a few LA Times and Press-Telegram articles about how public space in Long Beach was scary for women and children during the 90s:  kids would get jumped at bus stops.  For their safety, one woman would drive around her car 3 blocks to church to avoid walking the sidewalks.

Having and using a car represents a safe, secure, time-conscious way of moving around.  If biking could ever be made safe, secure, and time-conscious, then it would decrease dependence on the car.

Experiencing the LA Public Library Branch in Wilmington, CA

Been going to the Wilmington branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) system a handful of times, the last time being yesterday.

Its utility to me:

Internet, electricity, air conditioning, a place to get work done, and watch people in their oddness --- all for my favorite price --- absolutely FREE. 


1.  Working Wi-Fi.  Per most LAPL libraries, though one in South LA that I'd visited in 2008 didn't have one.  Also had a decent number of power outlets.
2.  It gets crowded when schools let out.  Quite a few want to use the internet.  The homework/copier room though is really empty.
3.  Bonus points for the job announcement boards.  Useful, though I'm not sure of the extent of its usability when the advertised jobs are for super-professional jobs with the City of LA, or City of Long Beach.


1.  No place to nap.  No comfortable chairs

Overall, a treasure in the community that should be expanded given the number of students who pour in after-school.  Noise might bother some people, but I'm glad the space got most of it all right.