Archive for August 27, 2009

Who is at fault in cycling collisions? And who decides?

Let’s go back to that buzzing incident with the garbage truck, in which the driver honked loudly as he passed me with only about a foot’s clearance.

What if I hadn’t managed to maintain control over my bike when the horn startled me? As I noted yesterday, I could have swerved to the left, which could have meant going under his wheels. Or I might have swerved right, where I would have bounced off the parked cars, and possibly been thrown back underneath him.

So who would be at fault when the police filed their report?

Would it be the driver who passed too closely, honking his horn in a threatening manner, or the cyclist who responded by losing control and colliding with the truck?

Or would they decide it was just one of those things, and no one was really to blame?

Or take today’s ride, when I was nearly right-hooked by a truck driver who passed me on the left, then made a right turn directly across my path — while I was still beside him.

Fortunately, I try to anticipate such things. So I grabbed my brakes, dropped behind him, then passed him on his left before he could even finish his turn.

But what if I hadn’t?

What if I’d collided with the truck? Would he be at fault because he turned into my path? Or would it be my fault because I hit him?

The law suggests the driver should be at fault. Yet when a Baltimore cyclist was killed recently in collision just like that, the police determined that he was at fault — evidently they felt it was his responsibility to somehow avoid the truck that cut him off.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area cyclists are responsible for twice as many bike vs. motor vehicle collisions as drivers are. The same article quotes statistics from the California Highway Patrol, which found cyclists responsible for nearly 60% of all statewide cycling fatalities.

Yet a recent study by a Toronto physician found that cyclists were only responsible for less than 10% of local collisions.

So are Canadian cyclists really that much better than California riders? Or does the problem actually rest with who is analyzing the data — and investigating the accidents?

Do you really have to ask?

The problem isn’t that police hate cyclists, despite common perceptions in the cycling community. It’s that most officers receive little or no training in bike law — and none in the mechanics of cycling or investigation of bike accidents.

That’s not just my opinion. Consider this recent quote from a retired police officer:

In virtually every state, bicycles have most of the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators. Many officers don’t seem to know, or care, that they do. Training in bicycle traffic law is virtually nonexistent in police academies and crash investigation courses.

Unfortunately, many serious road cyclists know and understand traffic laws regulating bicycles far better than most street cops. Officers who have received quality bike patrol training, such as the IPMBA Police Cyclist™ Course, have been trained in the legal status of bicycles in traffic, proper and legal lane use, and other pertinent provisions.

When investigating a bicycle-vehicle crash, it may be a good idea to involve a trained bike patrol officer to help get a comprehensive perspective as to the bicycle-related factors and conditions involved. Criminal charges may be warranted. An officer knowledgeable in bike law could be a victim cyclist’s best advocate, or a legal opponent, providing the details for fair prosecution.

The simple fact is that the operation and mechanics of bicycles are different from that of motor vehicles. And unless the investigating officer understands that, he or she won’t be able to accurately determine how the collision occurred and who is actually at fault.

Like the infamous downtown Hummer incident, in which the investigating officer concluded that the cyclist hit the SUV, even though the rear of the bike was damaged and the rider was thrown forward — suggesting that he somehow backed into the other vehicle.

Or my own case, when I was struck by a road-raging driver while stopped at a stop sign. Yet the investigating officer chose to accept the driver’s explanation that I had run the stop sign and fallen while making a right hand turn, even though that would have meant falling to the left while leaning into a right turn — something an officer who rides, or who was at least trained in cycling, would have understood was virtually impossible.

Then there’s the fact that in a car/bike collision, the driver is usually unhurt, while the cyclist can be seriously injured or worse. Which means that the police often hear just one side of the story.

Maybe that’s why, in virtually any repot of a collision at a controlled intersection, you’ll hear that the cyclist ran the red light or stop sign — never that the driver ignored the rider’s right of way or ran the signal themselves.

That also could explain why so many drivers involved in hit-from-behind collisions claim that the cyclist darted out in front of them without warning. Never that the driver was distracted or failed to see the rider in the first place.

In fact, many cyclists refer to that type of collision as an SWSS — Single Witness Suicide Swerve — because the frequency of such collisions would suggest that there must be a lot of death-wish cyclists out there.

That’s not to say cyclists are never at fault. I’ve seen enough riders attempt to pull off stupid life-risking stunts — myself included — to know that’s not true.

But the simple fact is, every cyclist is, and will remain, a 2nd class citizen on the streets until all police officers are trained in bike law.

And every bicycle-involved collision is investigated by an officer who understands the physics and realities of cycling.

………

Next year’s LA Bike Tour won’t be held in conjunction with the new Stadium to the Sea L.A. Marathon. Efforts are underway to ban cars from the annual bike-banning Festival of Lights instead. Where do I sign up? Streetsblog notes the anger over new bike lanes in Santa Clarita, where some residents feel ambushed, while others fault the design. Bike thefts are up across the country, including Downtown L.A.; some victims are using social media to get them back, Lance included. Even with the current budget cuts, Elk Grove gets state funding for a new bike overpass. Minnesota artists create bike racks that salute their Scandinavian heritage. Lebron James leads local kids and cyclists in a charity bike ride; so when can we expect the first annual Kobe Bryant Bike Classic? Even bike-friendly Portland suffers from the fatal hit-and-run plague. Cyclists roll by in a Chinatown bike lane as a NY politician holds a press conference to claim no one ever uses it. Finally, an 81-year old Welsh paperboy has his bike stolen while one of his customers thanks him with a piano recital.

Monday’s ride, on which I got dangerously buzzed

I never get honked at when I ride.

I honestly can’t remember the last time it happened. I go out of my way to ride safely and courteously. Yet the other day, two separate drivers honked at me as I was riding.

Maybe it was the stress of driving crowded L.A. streets. Maybe they were still ticked off about some other cyclist who cut them off or ran a red light. Or maybe Rush Limbaugh or some other bike-hating jerk went on another anti-bike rant and got their listeners riled up once again.

Maybe it was just a coincidence.

But two drivers honked at me yesterday. And not in a friendly way.

The first came about 30 miles after my encounter with the undead dog. I was riding east on Washington, after the bike lane from the beach ends a few blocks before Abbot Kinney.

Even without the bike lane, the roadway is wide enough that I was out of the traffic lane, and riding only a few miles below the speed of traffic. And yet, as a driver came up on my left, he suddenly blared his horn.

Not the friendly tap some drivers employ in a misguided attempt to tell us they’re there. As if we don’t already know. No, this was a loud, long leaning on the horn that could only be heard as “get the f… out of my way, ‘cause I’m coming through.”

No really. I’m quite proficient in horn as a second language. And there was no mistaking his message.

Nor was there any mistaking mine as he went by.

Of course, he was shocked and appalled that I would respond in such a manner. In fact, he wanted to continue the conversation at the next red light. But I’ve had that discussion before, and didn’t see any reason to get into it again.

So I gave my signal, and made a left onto Abbot Kinney as he continued to shout after me.

The next one was more troubling, though.

I was headed north on Ocean, directly in front of the Frank Gehry designed building with the binoculars.

The road is narrower there, although traffic is lighter, so I’d taken the lane since turning off from Abbot Kinney. As I passed the Gehry Building, a huge garbage truck came up from behind.

I moved slightly to the right to give him a little more room. But just as his front bumper came up beside me, he suddenly laid on his horn — a loud, long basso profundo blast that was completely unnecessary, since he was already in my field of view.

Then he buzzed me, passing not more than a foot away, so close that I couldn’t extend my elbow — let alone my arm — without hitting him.

Fortunately, even though I was startled, I stayed in control. Because swerving in either direction could have been fatal.

Had I reacted by swerving left, I would have hit him and probably ended up under his wheels. Swerving to the right would have sent me into the parked cars, and most likely caused me to ricochet back into him with the same result.

Of course, what he did is perfectly legal in California. While other states are rapidly adopting the three-foot passing law, the law here only requires that motorists pass at a safe distance — which is usually interpreted as anything that doesn’t actually come in contact with the rider. And there is no law here against harassing a cyclist, even if that harassment causes an accident.

Sure, other charges can be filed. But they usually aren’t. And calling the police is often a waste of time.

In retrospect, I wish I’d chased the driver down, and gotten enough information to get him fired. Anyone who drives like that doesn’t belong on the street. Let alone behind the wheel of a multi-ton vehicle the size of a small house.

But I was too shaken to even catch the name of the company. And frankly, even though I knew I could catch him, I was angry enough that I didn’t trust what I’d do once I did.

So I rode home, shaken and angry.

And he gets to keep his job, and will likely do it again to someone else — who may not be as lucky.

And he’ll probably get away with that, as well.

……….

The Mid City West Neighborhood Council — covering what the rest of us would call the Fairfax District — took matters into their own hands, and designed their own bike plan. Write your Congress person to support HR 2521, which would create a development bank to fund infrastructure projects, railways and — dare we hope? — bikeways. Stephen Box explains how Melbourne has it backwards, or maybe upside down, compared to L.A. Mark your calendar for the upcoming Bike MS 2009 charity ride, and movie night at the Encino Velodrome (be honest, did you even know there was an Encino Velodrome?). Here’s your chance to tour Pasadena by foot or bike, and discover upcoming bike routes. The Christian Science Monitor asks if bikes and cars can really share the road, while N.Y. Times finds that more bikes lanes fail to bring peace to the city. A paper in Quebec goes on an anti-bike rant — citing a tragic pedestrian-bike collision that occurred nearly 20 years ago — and suggests that all bike lanes in the city center be removed. Paramedics in London — where everyone has medical coverage — have taken to their bikes. Finally, goodbye Teddy. You’ll be missed.

Today’s ride, in which I annoy a dog

I was just a couple miles from home when I passed a dog laying stiffly on his side.

He was in the grass next to the road, just feet from the traffic lane. And having spent the better part of my life around dogs, his complete lack of movement so close to the roadway could only suggest one thing.

I rode on, wishing there was something I could do. But I’d only gone about a block when that little voice in my head started nagging at me. And I asked myself, WWWCD?

As in, what would Will Campbell do?

So I rode back, and my initial observations confirmed the initial diagnosis of le chien mort.

Then I saw his tail move just a bit.

I started speaking in a low, soothing voice, hoping I could get close enough to read the tag on his collar. As I spoke, an eye opened. Then slowly, agonizingly, he turned his head to look at me, his body still stiff and unmoving.

Encouraged, I spoke a little more, as I tried to figure out how I could get him to a vet.

“Good boy. Are you okay, boy? Can you get up? Huh? Can you boy?”

Slowly, his front legs stirred underneath him, and he rose slightly to lift his upper body. Yet my heart broke as his back legs didn’t so much as twitch.

As I continued to speak softly, he barked once to answer me. At first, it seemed like a canine version of a Monty Python routine, as he bravely insisted he still had some life in him.

But then he barked again. And again. And he kept barking, seeming to get more and more annoyed each time I spoke.

And that’s when the door opened behind me, and a voice called him by name, saying “shut up out there!”

I turned to see a middle-aged man in a wife beater and suspenders, who seemed every bit as annoyed as his dog now was. I explained that I’d seen the dog laying next to the street, and was worried that he’d been hit by a car.

“No,” the man said, “he’s just lazy. He’s working on his tan.”

So I offered my apologies to both man and dog. Got back on my bike.

And rode off with my tail between my legs.

………

Damien Newton offers his own thoughts on the prosecution of cyclist-killing drivers. Will Campbell overcomes rejection to promote this week’s Bicycle Film Festival. Stephen Box asks if the system is upside down, when a cyclist is pushed into a parked car, and must pay for the damage her body caused to it. Joe Linton explores the bike lanes that suddenly appeared on Myra Ave, and explains why he bikes. Flying Pigeon announces their next Dim Sum Ride. Mr. Bicycle Fixation himself writes about the benefits of making L.A. more bike friendly. Honolulu proposes a three-foot passing law to protect cyclists from motor vehicles. Boston tries to shed it’s image as a bicycle-unfriendly city. Finally, police determine a Baltimore cyclist is at fault in his own death — even though they have video of a truck turning across his path.

The definition of tragedy

I remember reading a short story years ago, back when I was still in grade school.

I couldn’t tell you now who wrote it, or even what it was called, just that it was about a detective investigating the death of someone killed in a hit-and-run collision.

But it must have made quite an impact.

The reason it stuck with me all these years was that he hated cases like that, because he knew he wouldn’t find a homicidal monster at the end of the case. Just a scared person who ruined two lives in a single irrevocable act.

I was thinking about that today because, as promised, Danny attended this morning’s arraignment of Robert Sam Sanchez, the driver charged with killing Rod Armas and critically injuring his 14-year old son in a drunken hit-and-run collision during the June Grand Tour Double Century.

Here’s what he had to report:

Sanchez pled NOT GUILTY to all charges and denied all affirmative allegations in the criminal complaint.

Criminal Counts:

1)Cal. Penal Code 191.5(a) – gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated

2)Cal. Vehicle Code 23152(a) – driving under the influence

3)Cal. Vehicle Code 20001(a) – failure to stop after an accident involving an injury

Preliminary Hearing is set for Tuesday, Sept. 15 @ 8:30 am in Dept. 1 at the Malibu Courthouse.

A group of 10 people, mostly family I believe, were there in support of Robert S. Sanchez.  They all seemed concerned and a little new to the criminal process and courthouse setting.  Sanchez appeared calm and clean cut, wearing a dark suit.  Nothing about his appearance or his family really compelled me to form a negative opinion about him.  He did not speak at all during the arraignment.  His attorney James Armstrong spoke on his behalf.  At the end of the hearing as Sanchez and his attorney were walking out,  Judge Lawrence Mira asked the district attorney what the blood alcohol level was.  The D.A. responded, “.05, but that was about 5 hours later.”

I was a little troubled by that.  Why the hell would it take the Sheriff 5 hours to get a breathalyzer test from this guy?  It’s not like this happened in downtown L.A. or Hollywood where there is a line of drunks backed up at the station waiting to get their breath tested.

I have to admit, I share Danny’s concern about the long-delayed blood alcohol test. Maybe someone out there can explain why there was such a long delay in administering the test to Sanchez, and what effect, if any, that could have on his trial.

In addition, Danny later went down to the criminal courthouse in Downtown L.A., to gather information about the trial of Alejandro Hidalgo, the driver charged with killing Jesus Castillo in another DUI collision, this time in Echo Park:

Later in the afternoon, I took a trip to the Downtown L.A criminal courthouse.  The clerk’s office filled me on the details in this case.

Arraignment took place May 15, 2009.  The clerk seemed a little confused about the plea, but she “thinks” it was a NOT GUILTY plea.

Charges:

1)Cal. Penal Code 191.5(a) – gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated

2)Cal. Vehicle Code 23152(a) – driving under the influence

3)Cal. Vehicle Code 23152(b) – driving under the influence with a B.A.C. over .08

Preliminary Hearing is set for Friday, August 28, 2009 @ 8:30 am in Dept. 35 at the Downtown L.A. criminal courthouse (Clara Foltz Criminal Justice Center).

This one also made me wonder. Why the hell wasn’t a hit and run charge added?  I thought there was a witness that saw it all happen and followed the car to get the plates.

Similar cases at first glance, but we’ll see if there are similar results.

Once again, a good question. Why wasn’t Hidalgo charged with leaving the scene? And was that 5-hour delay the reason Sanchez wasn’t charged with having a BAC over .08, as Hidalgo was?

Two cyclists are dead, another seriously injured. Their families face a lifetime of loss, a hole in their lives that can never be filled.

Meanwhile, two drivers face years of imprisonment, their lives forever ruined.

Because they each got behind the wheel after drinking.

Took the life of a total stranger.

And ran.

……..

Will introduces the world to his sort-of-new bike, 8-Ball. Russ and Laura offer striking photos from their journey through the Northwest, and relate a visit from a formerly cycling Father Time. Bicycle Fixation offers a solution to the problem of what to do with your helmet when you lock up your bike. The Tucson Bike Lawyer goes head over handlebars on a Colorado mountain bike run, but fares better than some of the others. A Florida cyclist is killed in a hit-and-run, after losing his own license for a DUI. A Wisconsin legislator injured a cyclist after running a red light. Finally, while we struggle to get — and keep — a patch of paint on Reseda, Copenhagen gets bicycle superhighways.

When someone complains about dangerous cyclists, show them this

As we drove through the Westside this past weekend, my wife and I watched in amazement as one driver after another attempted maneuvers you won’t find in the driver’s manual, with varying degrees of success.

We agreed that the overall quality of driving in L.A. was worse than we’d ever seen it. And it clearly hasn’t gotten any better since.

Take yesterday’s ride, for instance.

It started before I could even get out of the alley behind my building. A driver was trying to back his van around a blind corner from the street into the alley. His view was completely blocked by the building next to me, so he had no idea what, if anything, was behind him — yet he did it anyway.

And what was behind him was me.

So I hugged the side of the building and waited until he finally stopped, then pulled around him, shaking my head as I passed.

Just two blocks later, I waited at a stop sign as a trash truck crossed the street in front of me. Instead of clearing the intersection, though, the driver stopped part way, then backed around the corner onto the street I was on. It wasn’t until he finished backing up and was facing me that he finally saw me there, waiting to cross.

Most drivers would have recognized that I had the right-of-way, and let me go first. Instead, he looked directly at me as he cut me off to complete his three-point U-turn.

A few minutes after that, I crossed Wilshire Blvd on a green light. Just as I reached the other side, a car lurched out from the curb just ahead of me, then stopped, blocking the lane, and cut me off again as he turned left into a driveway. All without signaling, of course.

I don’t know if he didn’t see me, or just didn’t care.

Then at the very next intersection, I pulled up to a four-way stop at the same time that two cars came up to the intersection on the cross street, one behind the other. The first driver looked my way, so I nodded for her to go, then started across the street.

As I was crossing, the second driver looked directly at me, gunned her engine and cut me off as she zoomed through the stop sign just feet in front of me. But evidently, it was okay — in her mind at least — because she gave me the dismissive “so sorry” wave as she passed.

I responded with another kind of wave. And forty-two days of middle-finger sobriety went down the drain.

And that was just first mile of my ride.

By the time I got back home, I’d also encountered a Range Rover — without plates, of course — who cut into the bike lane right in front of me so he could pass a long line of cars that weren’t speeding quite fast enough for him.

Then there was the driver who pulled out from a cross street right in front of me — which another driver waiting to cross in the opposite direction took as her signal to go, even though I was directly in front of her. Fortunately, she stopped just in time, as I braced for the impact.

The winner, though, had to be the driver I encountered on the last leg of my ride as I rode east on Ohio.

I took the lane soon after crossing Westwood Blvd, like I always do. The street is too narrow for cars to pass safely there, while the steep downhill lets me to go as fast, if not faster, than the speed of traffic.

This time, however, the driver behind me tried to pass on the wrong side of the road, even though I was riding at least as fast as the 25 mph speed limit — and common sense — allowed.

We were side-by-side as we went through the intersection at the bottom of the hill. Then she zipped up the next hill and turned left at the next corner, running the stop sign in the process — all without ever coming back to the right side of the road.

Of course, not everyone drives like that.

Even though it seems like a lot, these were just seven drivers out of the thousands I encountered that day — many of whom went out of their way to pass safely or wave me through a challenging intersection.

But the next time someone complains about all those damn law-flaunting cyclists, remind them that we’re not the only ones who do stupid, illegal and extremely dangerous things on the road.

Sure, there are cyclists out there who treat traffic laws with an excessive degree of flexibility.

But safe operation has nothing to do with the number of wheels you travel on.

……..

Brayj gets a neighborhood council to endorse the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, after biking to the wrong meeting. The Anonymous Cyclist explains how to address the problem of putting 135 mm disk hubs on a 130 mm road bike frame. Santa Clarita ambushes drivers with unannounced bike lanes. Now Hollywood celebs can finally afford to ride along with their dogs; poor people will have to continue holding the leash. Santa Rosa experiments with a Bike Boulevard, proving a city can move forward without making a permanent commitment. A Silicon Valley cyclist bounces back from a near-fatal collision with a drunk driver. Even in Baton Rouge, where I was once regarded as a two-wheeled freak, they’re making room for bikes — maybe there’s hope for L.A. after all. Cycling deaths are up in Seattle despite increased spending to make cycling safer because drivers fail to yield — a $101 ticket. Cyclists attack a Boca Raton driver for passing too close; witnesses say he hit one of the riders. A Staten Island driver faces charges for assaulting a cyclist who tried to make a point by blocking cars from a bike lane. A Texas cyclist gets shot with a pellet gun, and assumes it’s a prank. Finally, it appears to be legal in New York to ram your car into a bicycle and drive 200 feet with the rider clinging to the hood, as long as he isn’t seriously injured. Gentlemen, start your engines — it’s open season on Gotham cyclists.

An alleged killer to be arraigned; peak hour lanes to be debated again in Northridge

A couple of quick notes.

A reader named Danny sends word that Robert Sam Sanchez, the driver arrested in connection with the hit-and-run death of cyclist Rod Armas, will be arraigned this Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

As you may recall, Rod and his 14-year old son Christian were nearing the finish of the L.A. Wheelmen’s Grand Tour Double Century when they were struck by an alleged drunk driver on PCH near Malibu early in the morning of Sunday, June 28; Rod was killed and Christian was seriously injured. The driver ditched his truck about a mile away and was arrested by sheriff’s deputies a short time later.

According to Danny, the arraignment will take place in Dept. 1 of the Malibu Courthouse this Thursday, August 20, at 8:30 am. He says he plans to be there and will fill us in on any details. If anyone else plans to attend, feel free to forward observations you may have (you can find my email on the About BikingInLA page.

My prayers go out to the entire Armas family; if anyone can provide an update on Christian’s condition, let me know. And you can still make a donation to the Armas family online through the Talbert Family Foundation.

On another note, on the heels of last week’s successful turnout at the Northridge West Neighborhood Council meeting to fight the “rumored” peak hour lane proposal, BAC Chairperson Glenn Bailey sends word that the subject will be taken up by their Northridge East counterparts on Wednesday:

Fellow bicyclists and other interested persons:

This morning I received the attached agenda for the Northridge EAST Neighborhood Council meeting for 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, August 19 which includes Item 7d:

7. Old Business

d. Proposed Peak Hour Lane Reseda Boulevard

[Possible Action]

The meeting will be held at CSUN’s University Club located northwest of Nordhoff and Zelzah, enter from Dearborn St.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and refreshments are usually served.  (NOTE:  When I called the University Club (818-677-2076) inquiring about bicycle parking I was told to “Tie it to a tree.”  <sigh>  I requested that they get a bicycle rack by tomorrow night’s meeting.)

FYI, I made a presentation at the Northridge East NC’s July meeting as to the information I had obtained as of then and I was well received.  This morning I emailed the NENC board recommending that they vote to OPPOSE the Reseda Boulevard peak hour lanes and SUPPORT the installation of the long planned bicycle lanes between Nordhoff and Rinaldi streets.  (The bicycle lanes would assure that no peak hour lanes would be installed in the future, or at least that it would be a much more difficult process.)

I am hoping you might be able to attend this meeting and inform others.  As you can see, this time there is no motion listed on the agenda so it could go either way.

I will not personally be able to attend this meeting as I have a previous commitment out of town.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email and/or telephone me,

Thank you for your interest and assistance.

Cordially,

Glenn Bailey, Chairperson

Bicycle Advisory Committee

City of Los Angeles

If you live or ride in the area, I urge you attend the meeting if you can. LADOT may claim they don’t have any current plans for peak hour lanes on Reseda, but that could change as soon as we turn our backs. Let’s keep up the fight until we get those long-promised bike lanes painted on the street. (And thanks to Joe Linton for providing a link to the NENC agenda).

………

Evidently, Stephen Colbert reads Streetsblog LA, at least when it’s about him. Mikey Wally announces a party at Orange 20 to celebrate his return, along with two other SoCal cyclists, from a NY to LA cross-country ride.  C.I.C.L.E. and the Santa Monica Museum of Art join together for an art ride this weekend, promising a slow pace and observance of all traffic laws. The Springfield Cyclist can now legally run red lights. A Colorado jerk motorist says bikes have as much right on the road as sheep, but at least sheep have enough sense to get out of the way. Athletes from the University of Colorado come to the aid of a fallen cyclist. Tucson unveils the Bike Church, a memorial to fallen cyclists made entirely of bike parts. Graphic evidence that cycling casualties go down as ridership goes up. A Toronto cyclist returns to find her bike ticketed for excessive awesomeness. Ireland agrees to pay for bike parking facilities; one of their top amateur cyclists is killed in a single vehicle car crash. Finally, in what may be the most vile incident in recent memory, a cyclist in Texas is killed by a hit-and-run driver who pulls the victim inside his back seat and drives home, leaving him in the car to die.

Today’s post, in which I beat a dead horse

Let’s take a quick look back at last week’s LADOT controversy, before I move on to other subjects.

As you may recall, last Monday I broke the news that the Los Angeles Department of Transportation was secretly planning to install peak hour lanes on Reseda Blvd, which would have necessitated the removal of two miles of existing bike lanes, as well as the cancellation of another long-planned — and long delayed — 3-mile extension.

This came to light courtesy of Glenn Bailey, chairman of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. He had learned of the plans in an official LADOT status report to the BAC, which indicated that the planned extension conflicted with “peak hour usage in the near future.” Bailey then confirmed those plans in a conversation with Ken Firoozmand, Transportation Engineer for the West Valley division of LADOT.

The response was overwhelming, as the story quickly spread through the Internet. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition issued an action alert from urging cyclists to attend a meeting of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council, which was planning to vote on a resolution in support of the plan after learning about it from Bailey; the large, highly motivated turnout resulted in a unanimous vote against the peak hour lanes.

And that’s when the inevitable backlash began.

Representatives from LADOT contacted both Streetsblog and LAist, insisting that the agency had no plans to install peak hour lanes on Reseda and that “…It was all based on rumor, nothing that we had propagated.”

Obviously, they were mistaken. Or lying. I chose to give them the benefit of the doubt; others didn’t.

Joe Linton, BAC member and founder of the LACBC, responded by providing the original document revealing the existence of the peak lane plan, and expressed concern for the LADOT staffer who was only doing his job in providing that information to the BAC.

Meanwhile, Glenn Bailey circulated an open letter providing full details of how he became aware of the plan and confirmed its existence with Firoozmand. He also pointed out the Notice of Street Work for a one-mile section of Reseda where the proposed bike lanes would go, which local residents were concerned would provide an opportunity to install the peak hour lanes; Glenn has requested that this section be restriped for the long-promised bike lanes, instead.

A commenter on Streetsblog noted that the bridge over the viaduct near Victory Boulevard was widened with the express purpose of turning the Reseda into a major north-south thoroughfare. In my initial conversation with Bailey, he’d quoted Firoozmand as saying “We wouldn’t have widened the bridge if we weren’t planning to include peak hour lanes. The only reason I didn’t include that in the initial story only because I had failed to write down which bridge he was referring to.

Yet incredibly, when LADOT was confronted with proof of the plan, they stuck by their initial denials. Damien at Streetblog offered this official response from LADOT:

The information provided yesterday is accurate and still stands: the Department has no current plans to remove any portion of the bike lane or to install peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard.

Note the key word “current.”

All they had to do was acknowledge their error, and admit that a plan had been considered but was no longer under consideration — whether or not that had anything to do with the massive response in opposition to the plan.

Instead, they chose to engage in a cover-up — not exactly the kind of open, honest government we have a right to expect as citizen of a democratic society. And in the process, they continued to smear both Glenn Bailey and me as the unnamed sources of those unfounded “rumors.”

Unfortunately, as of this writing, a few local websites still haven’t corrected the stories based on LADOT’s false denials, despite the overwhelming proof to the contrary.

And a full week later, none of the council members I contacted before publishing the initial story — Rosendahl, Kortetz, Zine and Smith — has bothered to respond in any way.

Meanwhile, Joe Linton has written an open letter to Rita Robinson, General Manager of the LADOT, as well as Mayor Villaraigosa, Council President Garcetti, and Council Members Rosendahl, Smith, and Zine. It reads in part:

It doesn’t surprise me that LADOT would favor a peak lane plan that would increase capacity for cars, indeed this is LADOT’s job and what LADOT has historically successfully focused on. What surprises me is that LADOT staff lied. Governmental agencies depend on the trust of the public to make our city work. When LADOT staff deny something that LADOT staff have already put in writing, this duplicity damages the public trust and makes it difficult for all of us to work together in the future.

I urge you to work with your staff to be honest, clear and transparent and to rebuild the public trust that their actions have strained. I also urge you to immediately implement the long-delayed bike lanes on Reseda Boulevard.

Meanwhile, the LACBC has sent out another Action Alert calling attention to the LADOT’s false denials, and urging everyone to contact the appropriate officials:

Some of you may have been getting letters assuring you that the bike lane was never going to be removed and that this was all a rumor.  Due to the overwhelming response to this threat, it seems that DOT has retracted their plan and is now claiming that there is currently no plan to install a peak hour lane.

We want to make sure that there will never be a plan to install peak hour lanes on Reseda Blvd.

Let’s install the already approved bike lanes on Reseda Blvd!

Due to your emails and the extreme circumstances of this issue, Mayoral staff requested a meeting with LACBC. They suggested that if there is community consensus, a bike lane could be completed this year.

Here’s what you can do:

Please write to Councilmembers Smith and Zine and let them know that you would like to see the already approved extension of the Bike Lane of Reseda Blvd from Vanowen to Rinaldi installed by the end of 2009.

Please send in and email your letters to:

Honorable Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine
200 North Spring Street, Suite 450
Los Angeles, CA 90012
councilmember.zine@lacity.org

Honorable Los Angeles City Councilmember Greig Smith
200 North Spring Street, Suite 405
Los Angeles, CA 90012
councilmember.smith@lacity.org

Jonathan Brand, Planning Deputy for Dennis Zine
jonathan.brand@lacity.org

Phyllis Winger, Chief Planning Deputy for Greig Smith
phyllis.winger@lacity.org

Honorable Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
200 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
mayor@lacity.org

It’s your government. And it’s up to you to decide whether to accept secret plans and cover-ups. Or whether you’re going to do something about it.

This just in: Did LADOT lie? Or don’t they even know what they’re doing?

Earlier this evening, Joe Linton left the following comment on today’s post — about LADOT’s official denial of any plans to put peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard — which I’ve moved up here to give it the attention it deserves:

The LADOT owes you an apology, Ted! Bicyclists were responding to an earlier document from LADOT that pretty clearly states that they intended to implement the peak hour parking restrictions, and put the bike lane project on hold. From the June report from the LADOT bikeway engineer to the LA Bicycle Advisory Committee – regarding the status of the Reseda lanes: “West Valley District does not concur with the [Reseda bike lane] project, cites peak hour lane usage in near future.”

See the original LADOT report document here: http://glatwg.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/bike_lane_projects_in_progress1.pdf

Cyclists deserve an apology from the LADOT for their lie… and the immediate implementation of the long-delayed Reseda bike lanes.

Note item #8 from the LADOT document:

Reseda-1

And note the status report:

Reseda-Cropped

The question is, did LADOT intentionally lie to us? Or do they honestly not know what their various divisions are doing?

I don’t know which possibility scares me more.

Thanks, Joe. I owe you one.

But I’m not going to hold my breath on that apology.

Update: 8-14-09, 3pm:

BAC Chairperson Glenn Bailey has written a detailed rebuttal to LADOT’s denial of their plans to install a peak hour lane on Reseda Blvd. Damien Newton has put the full text of Glenn’s letter online at Streetsblog — and says he doesn’t believes that LADOT intentionally misled him.

LADOT: We didn’t do it, nobody saw us do it, you can’t prove anything*

We could declare victory. But the opposition now claims they were never playing.

In fact, they have no idea what we were even talking about.

No, really.

I first heard about the West Valley DOT’s plans to install Peak Hour Lanes on Reseda Boulevard when I was sitting in on the meeting of the Bike Advisory Committee last week. Committee Chairman Glenn Bailey mentioned it in passing, saying he’d like it added to the agenda for the next meeting.

He said it had come to light when bike planners had tried to coordinate with their West Valley counterparts about installing another three miles of bike lanes on Reseda, and were told not to bother because it wasn’t going to happen. The decision had been made to go with the peak hour lanes instead.

In speaking with Glenn later, he related a conversation with a district engineer who confirmed the plans.

Yet a spokeswoman for the LADOT now tells Damien Newton that there were never any plans to install peak hour lanes or to remove the existing bike lane.

Fair enough.

Maybe a few rogue engineers had been acting on their own without getting approval from their superiors. Maybe it was only under consideration and they were just making preparations in case such a plan was approved.

Or maybe they were surprised by the overwhelming opposition from the cycling community, and are now in full backpedal mode, sounding like Sgt. Schultz as they deny any knowledge of any such plan.

As Stephen Box sagely points out, the fact that the old bike plan called for a bike lane the full length of Reseda, while the new bike plan calls that “currently infeasible,” indicates that someone, somewhere made a decision to do something else with the boulevard.

But that’s the advantage of secret plans.

They’re easy to deny if anyone finds out.

*Also known as the Bart Simpson approach to public relations

……….

Bike Date uncovers the latest high-tech bike prototype, complete with biodegradable wheels. Metblogs notes the opening of Bikrowave 3.0. Stephen Colbert offers his tips for cyclists. A blogger questions the quality of police investigations of cycling accidents — scroll down for some fascinating insights from a retired cop. Following the recent attempted shooting of a cyclist, an Asheville writer calls for a peace treaty between cyclists and drivers. Four years after a near fatal collision on the same spot, a New York cyclist marks the opening of a new protected approach to the Manhattan Bridge. A new Missouri law allows bikes and motorcycles to run red lights if they fail to change. A Minneapolis-area driver attacks a cyclist with an ax following an on-road dispute. The author of the new Colorado Bike Safety bill explains how it should benefit cyclists and drivers. Finally, a Louisiana cyclist is stopped for riding with a three-foot alligator on his shoulders.

Incomplete Streets: A line in the sand — and on the street

The line is drawn.

At first, I didn’t notice a lot of excitement following yesterday’s post about the West Valley DOT’s secret plan to remove two miles of existing bike lanes from Reseda Blvd, along with another three miles of planned lanes.

Then Damien at Streetsblog picked up the story.

The next thing I knew, it was featured on the website of KPFK and a topic of discussion on the Ridazz forum and on Los Angeles Fixed Gear, as well as countless Facebook and Twitter pages. LAist gave it a brief mention, as did the Examiner.

And the LACBC sent out an action alert late in the day — thought they failed to give BAC Chairman Glenn Bailey credit for his legwork in bringing this to light:

EMERGENCY ACTION NEEDED:

STOP THE REMOVAL OF RESEDA BIKE LANES!

TAKE ACTION TODAY!!

Unbelievably, LADOT’s West Valley office has proposed to REMOVE the existing bike lanes on Reseda Blvd. between Ventura Blvd. and Vanowen to make room for peak hour traffic lanes.  The City’s current Bicycle Master Plan actually calls for extending these lanes three miles farther north, which would also be killed by plans to run the peak hour lanes there as well.

There is a motion in favor of the Peak Hour Lane proposal before the Northridge West Neighborhood Council Tuesday night at 7pm, in the auditorium of Beckford Avenue Elementary School, at 19130 Tulsa Street in Northridge.

What you can do:

1) Attend this meeting and oppose this outrageous plan!

Where: 19130 Tulsa Street in Northridge

Auditorium of Beckford Avenue Elementary School

When: Tuesday 7 pm

2) Contact the local Council Member, Dennis Zine, to let him know how you feel!

Jonathan Brand, Planning Deputy for Dennis Zine

jonathan.brand@lacity.org

213-473-7003

200 N. Spring Street, Rm 450

Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 473-7003 Tele

(213) 485-8988 Fax

3) Contact LA Mayor Deputy Borja Leon Borja.Leon@lacity.org and Deputy Mayor Transportation Jaime de la Vega jaime.delavega@lacity.org

Key points:

• Rather than removing the bike lanes on Reseda, they need to be extended north three miles as called for in the current Bicycle Master Plan

• The current Bicycle Master Plan also stipulates that before any bike lanes are removed, there must be a public hearing before the Transportation Commission. -Insist that this procedure be followed.

• Peak hour lanes have also been installed recently on Balboa, De Soto, Tampa and Topanga Cyn Blvd., key arterials in an area that serves cyclists poorly.

• Are the peak hour lanes were actually needed?

This is a significant move backwards on bicycling issues in Los Angeles.  With the LA Bicycle Plan soon to be released, we need to take positive steps forward.

According to Glenn, the result was a great last minute turnout at the Northridge West Neighborhood Council meeting last night — with over 60 “bicyclists, homeowners, residents and stakeholders” — which he was told was their largest crowd ever.

And as a result, they voted unanimously to oppose the plan.

Unfortunately this is only the beginning. A line has been drawn, but it’s going to be a long, hard fight.

So don’t stop just because we’ve won the first battle. Call or write your councilmember, as well as councilmembers Zine and Smith, who represent the districts affected, along with the deputy mayors listed in the LACBC alert.

As Glenn put it,

This effort has just begun, and it won’t be easy.  Fighting City Hall never is.  But that will make our ultimate victory that much more significant.

…………

Evidently I inadvertently broke the news about the new Transportation Committee officers. Oops. A cyclist collided with a deer on Angeles Crest Highway over the weekend; L.A.’s Cycling Examiner says be prepared to offer first aid in an emergency. Green LA Girl calls our attention to this weekend’s Bike Day LA. Stephen Box calls on LADOT to slow down its mad rush to approve higher speed limits that risk everyone’s safety. Bike Date looks at Idaho Stops and bike lanes that disappear at intersections. Someone is attacking Wilmington, DE cyclists and joggers with blow darts. The Philadelphia Enquirer says it’s time for détente between cyclists and drivers. A Boston writer uses the cycling death of her own daughter to call for fairer treatment for bicyclists. Following a typical anti-cyclist rant, a Baltimore writer says we all have to share the road. Finally, after a conflict between Critical Mass riders and a driver in the bike Mecca of Ogden, Utah, the mayor plans to ride with cyclists. Yeah, like that could ever happen here.

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