The Verdict 2 — Fighting Anti-Bike Bias in Baltimore

FADE IN: ESTABLISHING SHOT OF EXT. BUSY URBAN COURTHOUSE

CUT TO INTERIOR OF COURTROOM

A lawyer rises and addresses the court

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

We call BikingInLA as an expert witness.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY

Objection! What makes him an expert on cycling?

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

He’s been riding in Los Angeles traffic for nearly 20 years.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY

So?

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

He’s still in one piece.

JUDGE

Works for me.

A strikingly handsome man rises from the gallery, immaculate in his finely tailored three-piece suit. He then steps aside to make way for a man in well-worn spandex biking clothes, helmet tucked under his arm, his cleats clacking loudly on the marble floor. He takes a seat in witness stand.

The bailiff offers him a bible; he waves it off and pulls out a biography of Eddie Merckx, placing his hand on it.

BAILIFF

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you…Eddie?

BIKINGINLA

I do.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

I’d like to direct your attention to the case of John “Jack” Yates, a Baltimore cyclist who died recently in a collision with a tanker truck. I understand you’ve made some observations on the case…

BIKINGINLA

I have.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY

Objection! What does this have to do with bicycling in Los Angeles?

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

Your honor, if you’ll grant me some leeway, the connection should become clear.

JUDGE

Overruled. But make it quick.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

Continue.

BIKINGINLA

As you may be aware, Jack Yates was riding his bike on a city street just before noon when a tanker truck made a right turn in front of him; according to police, Yates collided with the rear of the truck, became entangled in the truck’s wheels and was killed. The driver left the scene, apparently unaware of the collision. The police obtained security camera footage of the collision, and determined that Yates was at fault. And society lost a respected cyclist and a man who had dedicated his life to knowledge and helping others.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

And you have reason to believe the police report is not accurate?

BIKINGINLA

I do. Let’s start with the fact that the lawyer retained by the victim’s family viewed the same video footage and said that the driver failed to signal. Independent witnesses also reported that the driver didn’t make sure the intersection was clear before turning into the cyclist’s path.

Now let’s consider how the accident occurred. According to the police, Yates struck the rear of the truck. However, the family’s lawyer said: “He did not crash into the rear [of the truck]. He was literally taken under the passenger-side rear wheel.” Now, that suggests that the rider struck the right side of the truck and fell under its wheels. So unless Yates felt a sudden suicidal urge and deliberately broadsided a turning truck, the only way that could happen is if the truck had turned into the path of the rider — what’s known as a right cross collision, and one that is almost impossible for a cyclist to avoid.

There are virtually no circumstances in which the driver shouldn’t be at fault in a right cross, just as a driver in the left lane who turned across the path of a driver in the right lane would be at fault. However, police often blame the cyclist for failing to stop or riding in an unsafe manner — a clear indication that they fail to understand the basic physics of bicycling.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

Yet the police determined the driver wasn’t at fault…

BIKINGINLA

There is speculation that the police believe Yates was riding too close to the curb, and therefore couldn’t be seen by the driver as he passed. By this theory, he should have taken the lane, which presumably would have put him in the driver’s field of view.

There are a few problems with that, though. First of all, the driver should have seen Yates regardless of where he was on the road. A truck cab sits high above the road, offering the driver a superior view of anything in front of him. Whether Yates was in the lane or hugging the curb, the driver should have seen him as he passed — especially in broad daylight.

Secondly, for Yates to be at fault, he would have been riding at an extreme speed — which no one has suggested, and which is unlikely for a 67-year old cyclist — or been unaware of the truck before running into it. But any experienced cyclist can tell you that if a truck that size is in front, behind or beside you, you know it.

Just as I did last week when I got buzzed by a garbage truck.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

And when you sense a large truck approaching like that…

BIKINGINLA

Typically, a cyclist would respond by moving to the right to give the truck as much room as possible — which would explain his presence next to the curb, rather than further out into the lane.

As Bob Mionske pointed out the other day, cyclists are require to ride as close to the right as practical if they are traveling below the speed of traffic. And it is up to the cyclist to determine exactly what that means, and where and how to safely position themselves on the road.

Yet because Yates isn’t around to defend his actions, the police can say he was in the wrong place without fear of contradiction.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

Is there anything else about this incident that doesn’t seem right to you?

BIKINGINLA

Yes. The police have stated that the driver may not have known that he struck anyone, but I find it inconceivable that a truck could run over a grown man, and the driver not be aware that he hit something. He may not know what he hit, but he should have known something wasn’t right.

And he certainly would have become aware of it as soon as he examined his truck, which any professional driver does on a regular basis.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

This incident occurred in Baltimore. So what does this have to do with Los Angeles, or any other city, for that matter? Why isn’t this just a tragic, but strictly local, matter?

BIKINGINLA

Simply this. The police in Baltimore have responded to questions about this case by issuing a statement in which they say the case has been thoroughly investigated, by officers who have been trained in “the physics of a pedestrian crash and a cyclist fatal crash.”

Yet the explanation they’ve offered simply doesn’t add up. Either they have additional evidence they haven’t revealed, or their conclusions appear to be invalid.

And if that doesn’t sound familiar to Angelenos, it should.

I’m not saying that police are intentionally biased. But even experienced police officers say the training most officers receive in bike accident investigation is inadequate.

Clearly, this isn’t just an L.A. problem, or a Baltimore problem. It’s a nationwide problem. And cyclists will continue to be injured and killed on American roadways, with little or no protection or recourse, until we find an effective solution.

Simply put, we are vulnerable on the streets. And we can’t survive without the protection of an informed and trained police force that truly understands how, and why, bicycle accidents occur.

PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY

Thank you. Your honor, we rest our case.

FADE TO BLACK

………

Prepare yet another ghost bike. A Duarte cyclist was killed on Monday just blocks from his home. As usual, the authorities haven’t released any information; if you have any details, let me know. Stephen Box responds to an invitation from the Mayor. The Examiner suggests avoiding smoke by riding up the coast from the ‘Bu. Marin County does something about those red lights that never change for bikes. A driver in Colorado intentionally strikes a cyclist in a case of mistaken identity. Oops. The makers of my 2nd favorite beer — this being #1 — suggest going car free. A cyclist in New York gets punched in the face after criticizing a driver for driving in the bike lane; police do nothing. A Seattle writer calls sharrows a sham, while Oregon drivers wonder if Portland just makes up those stats about cycling in the city, proving that “bike friendly” is a relative term. Bad infrastructure and adrenalin are blamed for cyclist/driver tensions north of the border. Researchers say cycling has killed more Londoners than terrorists. Finally, the cyclist killed by a former Canadian Attorney General in an apparent road rage incident may or may not have been too drunk to ride.

2 comments

  1. Joe Linton says:

    “The police have stated that the driver may not have known that he struck anyone, but I find it inconceivable that a trucker could run over a grown man, and not be aware that he hit something. He may not know what he hit…”

    Ah the metonymy of our vehicular vernacular! Semantically, was it the driver that struck, ran over, or hit this victim? or the truck?

    • bikinginla says:

      Dang, you’re just not going to let me get away with lazy writing, are you? You just volunteered to proof my novel, if I ever get around to finishing it.

      No, seriously, thanks for catching that. I proofed this sucker three times and still didn’t see it. Hopefully, it reads a little better now.

      And metonymy? God only knows how much business you’re going to drive to Dictionary.com today. Even I had to look that one up.

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