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They see the worst of L.A. drivers 'The anger I see out of people does surprise me'

August 13, 2007|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

Hurled milkshakes, heated confrontations, serious accidents -- they're all a part of hitting the road for many cyclists and runners. In these tales from the front lines, L.A.-area riders and runners talk about their worst encounters with motorists.

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Driveway's invisible man

It took Flavio Olcese exactly one week after getting his new bike to crash it.

He was heading down a Santa Monica street in March when a car turned into a driveway in front of him. Olcese braked, but he went over the hood, sustaining a sore shoulder, broken helmet and damaged bike. "The point," says Olcese, 38, "is everyone's looking for a car; nobody's looking for a bike. And people don't realize how fast a bike is."

Other incidents have come up since Olcese, a bid and contract manager from Venice, started riding last October. A carful of teenagers pelted him with eggs (one hit him but didn't break), someone tossed a milkshake at him (missed, hit the car instead) and one driver attempted to clip him as he was riding. On that ride, he was leading a group of some 30 riders who happened to see the incident and confronted the driver, who eventually apologized.

Yet none of this has dimmed Olcese's enthusiasm for the open road. "I'm not out there to get angry," he says. "Even if I'm thinking that, I've lost my serenity. I go out there to find peace, and I do. I feel for [drivers]. They're stressed, and that's OK."

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Tires versus sneakers

NAEEMAH LOGAN was not prepared for running on L.A. streets; the second-year UCLA medical student now lives in Westwood but hails from Athens, Ga., where she could run unaffected by cars, buses and trucks. "I could run in the middle of the road if I wanted to," she says. But she wasn't about to let crowded streets here force her onto a treadmill: "I love to jog outside, and I hate being in a gym."

On one of her daily five-mile jogs through the Westside, a car nearly ran over her foot; while in a driveway she wound up in a motorist's blind spot and he caught the edge of her sneaker under a tire. "My foot was stuck under the car," she says. "He tried moving the car forward and back -- he was scared." Her foot eventually unwedged.

Running, she says, "seems to offend people. They yell at me to hurry up. When it's my turn to go into the crosswalk, drivers will turn and not see you. I've had some close calls. When I first moved here, it distracted me and kind of bothered me -- why did they say that? I don't know if I'm hardened by living in L.A., but I realize there are lots of crazy people out there."

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Inattentive, or just mean?

Motorists can be divided into two categories, according to Scott Sing: "the ones who don't pay attention" and "the ones who are outright mean."

A few years ago, as he and a friend were biking to the South Bay, "some kids in a car threw a tire iron at us. It bounced on the road a couple of feet away. We tried to chase them down" but couldn't catch up. And once, when he was on Westwood Boulevard heading south, someone in a car hit him in the back of the head with a bottle of water (he almost lost control of the bike). "People will spray water from a hose, try to grab you, yell at you, try to scare you -- people think it's funny," he says. "They think, 'There's a guy on a bike, let's mess with him.'

"If anything, it's getting worse," says Sing, 48, who logs 250 to 400 miles a week and is a salesman for Helen's Cycles as well as a Venice-based computer consultant. "As I've become more experienced, I feel less threatened," he adds, "but twice or three times a week I hit the brakes because somebody is doing something illegal."

Sing says that through the years he's changed the way he rides. "I've learned where to position myself, where to look," he says. "I definitely make myself as visible as possible, day and night. . . . It means being more than defensive, it's being proactive and trying to anticipate and predict what drivers will do."

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Numbers mean nothing

PAtti Goldman leads a group of 35 runners as director of the L.A. Galloway Training Program and says there's not always safety in numbers.

"I was leading a group of runners in the marina, and a guy pulled out and gunned his engine," she says. "He drove by and was shaking his fist and screaming, 'We don't like you here! We don't want you around our neighborhood!' "

Shouting at runners, it seems, is a favorite pastime for some drivers: "I've had all sorts of things yelled at me -- Get off the street, go home, why are you running, why do you run when you can drive? Sometimes I think they're kidding, but sometimes they might be serious. It's hard to tell. But the anger I see out of people does surprise me."

Goldman, a 57-year-old Los Angeles executive assistant for a real estate company, has had several close calls in residential neighborhoods as well. "I don't think they're cognizant of people running," she says. "I've had a couple of incidents where people are backing out of their driveways and not looking."

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More than a door ding

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