Archive for April 30, 2009

The very definition of four-wheeled irony

Just a quick aside before getting back to this week’s topic.

It didn’t take long on today’s ride to realize it was going to be one of those days, when I had to be extra careful because a lot of the drivers weren’t. Like the one who turned his post-red light left into a long delayed U-turn, nearly t-boning me in the process.

But the winner had to be the woman who was waiting impatiently as I approached a four-way stop at the bottom of a steep hill.

The driver ahead of her might have been aware that a lot of riders blow through that stop sign; or maybe he was just being cautious and waiting to see if I was going to stop. Either way, she was having none of it as she laid on her horn and yelled out “He has to stop, moron!”

He continued waiting until I came to a full stop, then proceeded through the intersection as I nodded to thank him.

And then she ran the stop sign.

Officer Krupke, you’ve done it again — Cyclists plan to Storm the Bastille

Man the barricades.

Last week saw a vehicular assault on a group of cyclists, which was followed by threats of gun and gang violence — not to mention the crushing of several bikes as the driver attempted to flee the scene in his plate-less two-ton Hummer.

Then, in an action many cyclists recognize as typical of the LAPD, the driver was allowed to leave the scene without so much as a warning — despite being stopped by the police with a bicycle still lodged beneath his vehicle. And to top it off, the officer in charge not only said that he would have done the same thing, but implied that he might have used a gun himself.

Clearly, whatever may have lead up to this event, cyclists will never be safe on the streets of Los Angeles until we have the full support and protection of the LAPD that should be the right of every citizen of this city — and something that is promised by the 1st, 3rd and 4th clauses of the recently adopted Cyclists’ Bill of Rights:

1) Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear.

3) Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement.

4) Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

This past Tuesday, a group of cyclists met with Los Angeles Police Commission and the police Inspector General to file a protest.

Now riders are being called on to attend this Friday’s City Council meeting at the Van Nuys City Hall to express our dissatisfaction and demand action from the city government. If you can’t attend in person, contact your city council person now.

I’ll leave it to Dr. Alex to explain why immediate action is necessary.

Because we all have the right to be safe on our streets, whether we use two wheels or four.

Gary rides bikes, and now tweets, too. Lance starts his comeback at New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila. Coconut Grove cyclists take a page from the Dutch. The good news is, California no longer leads the nation in cyclists killed; the bad news is, we’re number two. Our rash of hit-and-runs spreads to neighboring Arizona, while a Utah driver who intentionally drove into a group of cyclists is sentenced to just 30 days in jail. An Iowa cyclist is injured after being struck with a full can of beer thrown from a passing car. Finally, a judge in Australia blames a rider’s accident on not having a headlight — even though he was hit from behind, despite his rear flasher.

Officer Krupke, you’ve done it again — LAPD’s anti-bike bias

Earlier this month, Dr. Alex left a comment on something I’d written. The last line in particular has stuck with me for the last few weeks:

…I feel more and more that the leading edge of bike activism is in law enforcement issues, not urban planning

You see, in the 10 months since I started this blog, I’ve become more and more focused on the politics of cycling — the need to elect candidates who actually support bicycling and will work to change the laws to help encourage riding, and keep cyclists safe and alive.

But Alex has a damn good point, especially in light of the LAPD’s apparent failure to enforce the laws prohibiting vehicular assault this past weekend — let alone protect riders from threats of gun and gang violence.

Unfortunately, it’s nothing new.

My own experience with police bias dates back to a road rage incident I’ve mentioned before, when a driver intentionally knocked me off my bike while I was stopped at a stop sign.

Once the police finally got there, the driver insisted that she never hit me or my bike, and in fact, had no idea why I was upset or why I was blaming her. According to her version, she was just minding her own business, driving patiently behind me, when I blew through the stop sign without even slowing down, and simply fell over when making a right turn.

The officer in charge listened to her, then came over to me, and — without bothering to get my version of the events, either from me or the officer I’d given my statement to — said he believed her, “because none of you bike riders ever obey stops signs.”

I realized then that nothing I said was going to influence how he wrote his report.

Of course, I tried.

I pointed out the injuries on my left side, to show that I had fallen to my left. Which meant her version would make me the first cyclist in history to fall to the left while making a fast right turn. But his blank stare confirmed my suspicions that beginning physics isn’t a required course at the police academy these days.

Then I pointed to the long arc of deep gashes on my right calf, and showed how they lined up perfectly with the teeth on my large cog. And explained how that proved my foot was planted firmly on the ground when her car struck me, since my leg wouldn’t have hit it like that if I’d been clipped in.

Finally, I pointed out that the damage to my bike, while minor, was consistent with my version of the events, and could not have occurred the way she described it. Yet when I got a copy of the accident report, he’d written that there was no damage to my bike.

And that’s exactly what her insurance company cited as justification for denying my claim.

In the end, she left without even a warning, while I was threatened with arrest for filing a false police report. And it was then that I realized that cyclists can’t count on the LAPD for protection or support.

And nothing that has occurred in the years since to change that opinion.

Of course, not all officers are like that. And as Zach Behrens pointed out on LAist, there are two sides any story.

But it’s up to the police to protect the rights and safety of all citizens, without bias. Not protect the right of those on four wheels to attack and intimidate those of us on two.

L.A.’s Channel 2 covers last weekend’s Ghost Bike installation. An Ohio paper offers nine good tips for safe riding. Stephen Box reports on the “not my job” jurisdictional failure of the Orange Line Bike Path. The Weekly profiles Flying Pigeon’s Brayj-Ali brothers among their LA People 2009. Colorado’s common-sense bike safety bill awaits the governor’s signature, while Wisconsin passes an anti-dooring bill. Great Briton considers a Pounds for Pedals plan to encourage people to trade in their old bikes. Finally, a cyclist injured in a Santa Rosa collision is suspected of BRWI (that’s bike riding while intoxicated).

Ghost bike for Echo Park cycling fatality; Police-blessed vehicular assault Downtown

Stephen Box managed to get the information I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Earlier in the week, I’d written about the cyclist killed by an intoxicated hit-and-run driver in Echo Park early Sunday. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to learn any more about the victim than had been included in the initial reports; Box reports that he was a day laborer from Sonora, Mexico, who used his bicycle as his primary means of transportation.

Just one of the countless nameless, faceless workers we Angelenos pass every day without a second thought.

Yet he died as one of us. 

And he is being memorialized this evening where he was killed on Glendale Blvd. As Box put it:

Let’s work together to make sure this is the last Ghost Bike placed in our community.

Meanwhile, the local cyber wires are buzzing with the news that a cyclist was injured late last night when he was struck by a driver in Hummer with no license plates — apparently intentionally. The occupants of the vehicle then threatened the other riders with guns and gang violence, and ran over several of their bikes when they tried to block the vehicle until police arrived.

But the real injustice came when the lead officer let the driver go, and told the cyclists that he would have done the same thing the driver did — and suggested that he might have used a gun, as well.

So who exactly is he trying to “protect and serve”?

As a number of people have commented on the Midnight Ridazz forum, some of the other officers on the scene were far more sympathetic. But this represents an anti-cyclist bias that seems far too common in the L.A.P.D. — one that I’ve experienced myself, when I was threatened with arrest after being the victim of a road rage incident a few years back.

The difference is, now there really is a cycling community in Los Angeles, and protests are already being planned for next week. And in fact, may be occurring right now, as there were plans to extend the Ghost Bike ride into a protest at Parker Center.

And less than a week after Jesus Castillo was killed in Echo Park, another cyclist was the victim of yet another hit-and-run in Orange County today.

Some run away.

And some just get away with it.

Is an accident just an accident?

There’s an interesting debate going on over at Streetsblog.

As I noted the other day, Damien Newton has written about a new ghost bike at Fountain and La Brea — a memorial to two women who died when one of the cars involved in a typical traffic accident careened into the women as they stepped off the curb, killing them both.

Just another tragic accident.

After all, no one intentionally did anything to endanger these women. They were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time, when things when out of control with unintended consequences. And yet, they’re still dead.

As Damien put it:

Of course, neither driver was charged in the crash because of a little-known, but oft-cited, part of the vehicle code that clearly states, “Unless a driver is drunk, runs away from the crash or does something else horrific but telegenic action; said driver can kill as many pedestrians as he or she desires.”  I guess causing a chain reaction of crashes that kills two elderly women, and injured a third pedestrian, wasn’t quite exciting enough.

A few people took exception to that. David Galvin, for instance:

Right. Because the drivers of both of these vehicles really desired to kill two people that day. How do you know that? Because they were driving cars. Murderous monsters. Do drivers of the blue line “desire” to kill someone when that happens?… The incident mentioned in the post was tragic. And yes it resulted from either wrecklessness OR a momentary lapse in judgement OR a mistake. And yes, it cost the lives of two people. But there IS such a thing as an accident.

Which got me wondering, is there really such a thing as an accident? Or to put it another way, is it possible to have a collision without at least one of the drivers — or yes, cyclists or pedestrians — violating the law in some way?

I’m not sure it is.

Invariably, one or more of the people involved is speeding, tailgating, or fails to yield the right-of-way. Or simply isn’t paying enough attention.

I’ve been wracking my brain — or what’s left of it, anyway — and can only come up with two ways an accident could occur with no one being at fault.

The first is when someone or something, such as an animal or a child, darts out into the roadway without warning, forcing drivers to react; of course, this requires the inability to understand the consequences of their actions, otherwise they would be at fault. The other is when a mechanical, road or weather condition eliminates the ability to control the vehicle, such as a steering or brake failure, or hitting a patch of glare ice (though the latter seldom happens here in L.A.).

Of course, it’s not always the vehicles involved that are responsible. Some drivers — like the jackasses who drive city streets at 80 mph, weaving in and out of traffic — cause far more collisions than they seem to have themselves.

And yes, that goes for some cyclists, as well.

But we live in a society that has accepted collisions as a natural, and seemingly inevitable, consequence of mobility. We call them accidents, implying that no one is really at fault. We don’t have enough police officers to fully investigate them or effectively enforce the laws. We have an overburdened court system that discourages filing charges in anything but the most egregious cases. And we have an insurance system that ensures that drivers seldom suffer the financial consequences, either.

And so people die, and it’s no one’s fault.

Damien wrote a great response to the comments — one I highly recommend reading. But this seems to sum it up:

The same logic applies here. People should be paying more attention to the road when approaching a crosswalk, not having momentary lapses. If there’s some external reason (hepped up on caffeine, distraught that his girlfriend dumped him, tired from a day of exams) they shouldn’t be driving in the first place. Cars are deadly when not utilized safely and we should treat them as such and the people driving them should be responsible for their actions.

If a car hits another car, the occupants have over a ton of steel to protect them, along with assorted seat belts, air bags and head restraints. Cyclists and pedestrians, on the other hand, have little or nothing to protect them. And the consequences of someone’s inattention, inability to control their vehicle, or unwillingness to obey the law can be quite different.

Or as another blogger I’ve been reading lately recently wrote:

…when a driver screws up and hits a cyclist, the cyclist gets injured or dies, but when a cyclist screws up and hits a car, the cyclist gets injured or dies.

Update: A man was struck by an out-of-control car today on Lincoln Blvd. in Playa del Rey, apparently while seated on a sidewalk bus bench.

But hey, it was just an accident.


Flying Pigeon gets a visit from a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. Alex tells the LACBC to stop twitter stalking his mom. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation supports cycling, so why can’t our own mayor? Texas cyclists put on suits and lobby their legislators. Seattle riders get more infrastructure. A mountain biker dies falling from an unofficial bike trail, and a UK driver fatally runs down a cyclist for damaging his mirror.

Los Angeles CD5: Things are getting interesting

Monday night, I attended a debate between the candidates in the May 19 general election for Los Angeles 5th Council District, Paul Koretz and David Vahedi.

Afterwards, I had hoped that I might be able to talk to someone from the Koretz campaign and encourage them to finally provide their comments about bicycling and transportation issues, like four of the six candidates in the primary election did, including Vahedi. Unfortunately, they left before I had a chance to catch anyone.

Instead, I was approached by Vahedi’s campaign manager. He asked if I had any questions for Vahedi, and offered to have him write another post for this blog.

Yeah, like I’m going to turn down an offer like that.

Then the next morning I received an email from someone with the Koretz campaign, who offered to respond to my earlier request for his comments.

So I gave it a little thought, and taking my cue from Damien Newton’s survey for the city attorney candidates, I emailed both campaigns a brief list of questions this morning:

1. A bicyclist was killed by an intoxicated hit-and-run driver Saturday night, the latest in a string of hit-and run incidents. What can be done on the city level to reduce the rate of both drunk driving and hit-and-runs? And what can be done to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians?

2. The Los Angeles City Council recently gave approval to the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights. Are you familiar with this document, and if so, do you support these rights as written? Are there any you disagree with, and why? And what would you consider the next steps to transform those rights from mere words into tangible action?

3. There is often a high level of tension between cyclists and drivers in Los Angeles as they compete for limited road space, as illustrated by last year’s incident in Mandeville Canyon. What can the city do to help reduce that tension, and encourage both sides to safely and courteously share the road?

4. What role, if any, do you see bicycles playing in city transportation policy and improving traffic flow within the city?

5. Are there any other issues you want to address, or any additional comments you’d like to make to the bicycling community?

We’ll have to see if they actually follow through, and what they’ll have to say. If they do, I’ll get it online as fast as I can. And if not, that should tell us something as we prepare to cast our ballots.

Either way, things are starting to get interesting around here.

Streetsblog reports on the appearance of a new ghost bike at Flower and La Brea. Congratulations are in order, as Gary graduates to CAT 4. Stephen Box explores the homeless encampment known as the Orange Line Bike Path. Alex provides a step-by-step plan for bicycle activism. West Seattle is becoming a hub for cycling; so, evidently, is Changwon. Finally, an Irish writer asks why it’s so hard to transition to two wheels, while another hangs up her helmet for good.

Yeah, but it was worth it


“Hi, where are you?”

“I’m at the pier in Manhattan Beach.”

“I thought you weren’t up to riding that far yet?”

“I didn’t think I was.”

“Yeah, but now you have to ride back…”

Gary notes that Santa Monica bike lanes are for meant bikes, not cars. Bicycle Fixation lists micro-manufacturers serving U.S. cyclists with Made in the U.S.A. products. Will observes the restoration of the graffiti-scared Ballona Creek Mural. Stephen Box attends a statewide safety summit hosted by the California Office of Traffic Safety, and fails to spot the L.A. contingent. And finally, Daily Kos endorses the Idaho Stop for every state (you have to scroll all the way down).

This just in…

Maybe you recall this from a couple weeks back.

In stumbling around the Interwebs, I’d come across a guy ranting about what jerks cyclists can be. And wrote a response in which I explained why we do some of the things we do when we ride, amid some of my usual snarky comments.

Tonight the writer of the original post responded with a comment to my post. And I thought it was worth moving up here, where everyone can see it.

Hey, I just wanted to say that you’re referring to my blog ( After reading yours however I have changed my mind about bicyclists.

Please understand that I cannot classify all cyclists into one stereotype so if I came across that way I apologize.

I now have a better understanding of things you do (like riding to the front of a line of cars at an intersection).

You’re right, I mostly cycle on trails or side streets. I hate riding with cars because the car drivers (yes even me) can be clueless. I however do try to really look out for bicyclists and people on motorcycles because most people don’t.

“So the question becomes, how can we communicate to all these people that we’re not going out of our way to be rude just because we can, and there’s actually a good reason why we do the things we do. Because they don’t read cycling blogs like this.”

You just did my friend. I will change how I behave around cyclists after reading this. The Internet has a wealth of information and we should use it as constructively as possible.

I thank you for taking the time to reply or even rant on my post, as it got me to thinking and got me to reading and is now helping me be less ignorant.

I mean this entire comment as a compliment and I am not being sarcastic at all. It’s nice to know that other people can write a reply to something the disagree with and not be a total turd when doing so.

Nice job mate!

Here’s to safer cycling and better drivers.

Now, that’s what I call a class act. 

Thanks, Dave.

Another drunk driving hit-and-run fatality; CD5 candidates duke it out tonight

Two seemingly unrelated items.

First, a cyclist was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Echo Park early Sunday morning. As of the time I’m writing this, no real information has been released.

All we know is that he was a 44 year old man, riding south on Glendale Blvd around 1:45 am, when he was struck by a driver and pinned against a car.

He could have been anyone; commuting after a late shift in a bar or restaurant, or riding home after a night out. He could have been making his way home after Saturday’s C.R.A.N.K. Mob, or just out for a late night ride.

In other words, it could have been any one of us.

Like the recent incident in Orange County, the driver appears to have been intoxicated. And like the driver in that incident, a suspect has been arrested, based on an eye witness who wrote down the license number.

Just another needless death, and another chapter in Southern California’s recent rash of high-profile hit-and-runs. Except this time, it wasn’t a famous athlete, or a beautiful young college student.

Just another dead cyclist, which means we’ll probably never hear another word about it.

With that in mind, I’m going to attend a debate between the candidates for Los Angeles 5th Council District tonight.

We know where David Vahedi stands on the subject of bicycling. Paul Koretz is, so far, has been another matter.

If I learn anything worth repeating, I’ll let you know. And if I get a chance to talk to Koretz or his campaign manager, I’ll invite him once again to contribute his comments about cycling and transportation issues.

Because we’re finally starting to make some progress here in L.A. And this election will go a long way in determining whether that progress continues.

Or whether more cyclists will have to die before we do something about it.

City Attorney candidate Jack Weiss — the council person Vahedi and Koretz are competing to replace — completes Streetsblog’s candidate survey. Green LA Girl comments on bicycling and mean bus drivers. A New York writer complains about the return of the bicycle menace. Ireland announces a new national Policy Framework to encourage cycling. An officer of the LACBC says both cyclists and motorists must obey the law, while a RAGBRAI rider says bicycle courtesy goes both ways. Evidently, baseball season brings out an extreme form of harassing cyclists. And finally, hit-and-runs against cyclists clearly aren’t just a SoCal problem these days.

It’s spring, and I’m head over heels


You can't really tell from my crappy, left-handed into-the-mirror photo, but that lump is about the size of a golf ball.

You can't really tell from my crappy, left-handed into-the-mirror photo, but that lump is about the size of a golf ball.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Me, I mean.

Between work, weather and other assorted issues and obligations, I hadn’t been able to get out on my bike for over a week.

But today dawned under a clear blue sky, at the gateway of what promises to be an extended warm spell. For once, my calendar was clear. And I was feeling good as I set out for a long, fast ride up the coast.

That lasted for about a mile and a half.

Before I even got out of my own neighborhood, I found myself at the end of a long line of cars, lead by perhaps the most indecisive driver I’ve ever encountered. He’d come to a dead stop in the middle of the traffic lane, forcing the drivers behind — and me — to jam on their brakes. Then he’d pulling over towards the curb, before jerking back into the traffic lane.

This was followed by a feint to the left, another to the right, and yet another full stop in the traffic lane. Finally, he put on his left turn signal, and I saw my chance. I slipped past the line of cars on the right, and was just about to blow past him and into the clear.

But at that exact moment, instead of turning left as his signal indicated, he swung hard to the right to make a U-turn — despite the line of cars behind him and oncoming traffic from the other direction. And despite my presence in the space he was about to occupy.

I grabbed my brake hard — exactly the wrong thing to do, since I only had one hand on the handlebars, and the only brake within reach was the one in front. Instantly, I got that eerie feeling of briefly defying gravity as my momentum carried me forward, while my rear wheel rose up off the ground to follow.

As I felt myself flip over the handlebars, I took my own advice for once by tucking my head down, pulling in my elbows and rounding my shoulders.

Sure enough, I flipped over the front wheel, landing on my shoulders and rolling forward to absorb the impact. Luckily, his U-turn had stopped traffic in both directions, so I was able to clip out of my pedals and get the hell out of the way before traffic started moving again.

And needless to say, words were exchanged; needless to say, the driver considered himself blameless in every possible way.

But the bottom line is, I have no one but myself to blame.

I was the one who trusted his turn signal, despite his previous actions. I was the one who failed to have both hands on the handlebars. And I was the one who grabbed only the front brake, despite decades of experience that should have taught me what happens you do.

Fortunately, I’m fine, more or less. I’ve got a jammed left wrist and lump the size of a golf ball on my left elbow, along with other assorted aches and pains. But both will heal with a few days rest and a lot of ice.

But one interesting thing came out of it.

After icing my elbow for an hour or so, I rode my bike down to the shop where I bought it to get everything straightened out again for next week. And while I was there, I struck up a conversation with another rider who was also having a little work done.

Turns out, he was someone I knew, if only from his blog.

So, I’ve got a few bumps and bruises, a freshly tuned bike and a new friend.

I’ve had worse days.

Gary writes a heartfelt explanation of why he won’t be cranking with the Mob this weekend. Caltrans can’t find enough shovel-ready bike projects to fund; maybe they aren’t looking hard enough. No Whip takes in bike night at the Hammer Museum. Velocouture explains the concept of a city bike. The San Gabriel paper offers advice for competitive training. Albuquerque get its first bike boulevard, while Bulgaria gets bike alleys. The UT student paper notes the importance of the upcoming city council election in making the city more bike friendly. Sound familiar?

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