Bike Injury Lawyer

Pepperdine Death Trap

By Seth Davidson
Bike Injury Lawyer

One of the most common bike routes from Santa Monica is PCH North. We all know it intimately and have done it hundreds and hundreds of times.

For decades, the prevailing approach to the stretch of PCH from Santa Monica to Cross Creek was gutter hopping. Sometimes you’d ride in the gutter, other times you’d hop into the lane, and then a bit later you’d hop back into the gutter.

This approach doesn’t make much sense and was always done out of habit rather than as a result of safe riding practice. However, starting about five years ago, cyclists began utilizing the No. 2 lane and foregoing the gutter. This comports with the law, makes the cyclist highly visible to traffic approaching from the rear, and makes for a much more pleasant riding experience since the gutter is, by its very nature, filled with obstacles of every imaginable kind, mentionable and otherwise.

But cyclists who practice this type of lane control have run into difficulty applying it to Pepperdine Hill. The reason is simple: Bike speed is so slow going up the hill that if you control the lane you invariably back up traffic when there are a lot of cars, and even when there aren’t, vehicles in the No. 2 lane have to slow down considerably and change lanes. They wouldn’t get annoyed if you were a tractor, but they get very annoyed when you’re wearing Spandex and they assume you belong in the gutter.

A few years ago I tried to ride in the lane up Pepperdine Hill and it absolutely infuriated the cars. I received a steady stream of honks and not a few epithets. Crucially, no one came close to hitting me. After that experience I relented in my lane control advocacy for Pepperdine, for PCH going up towards Latigo, and for the climb out of Zuma on PCH, where bike speed drops to a crawl.

A couple of days ago, the folly of this accommodation made itself clear. A cyclist was riding up Pepperdine Hill on the shoulder, and moved over to the left to avoid glass. He came to within a foot of the fog line. At that spit second, a passing tour bus came by at 40 or 50 mph, and the vacuum created as the bus hurtled by made a vortex that sucked the cyclist up against the side of the bus. Incredibly, he wasn’t drawn into and crushed to death inside the wheel well.

The side of the bus did hit his shoulder and hand, and as he spiraled out of control the bumper of the bus clipped his front wheel. In an amazing feat of bike handling and impossible luck, he stayed upright but shot out into the No. 1 lane where, another split second before, a car had just blown by. If another had been in its wake he would have been hit at speed and severely injured or killed.

All of this happened because riding in the gutter is unsafe. There are too many obstacles, especially when riding with even a small group, to maintain a straight line. This one combination of bad events could have easily left a friend catastrophically injured or dead. Had the riders been in the lane, the worst that would have happened is that the bus would have had to do what it was legally obligated to do: Yield and change lanes.

Cyclists have a right to control the lane on PCH between SaMo and Malibu because the lanes are of a substandard width, which carves out an exception to the state law requiring cyclists to stay as far to the right as practicable. In the future, as unnatural as it feels and as annoying as it may be to cars, I’ll be exercising that right.