Memorial ride for James Laing, and why it’s important to remember those who died

Jim Laing, photo courtesy of his sister Peggy Laing-Krause

Late word is that the memorial ride for James Laing scheduled for Saturday morning will be held rain or shine.

Sponsored by the San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club, the easy, 16-mile ride is being held in memory of the cyclist killed by an alleged drunk hit-and-run driver in Agoura Hills on October 23rd, and will visit the roadside memorial where he was killed. The ride is scheduled to begin at 8 am at the Agoura Hills Bicycle John’s, 29041 Thousand Oaks Blvd.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be there; if you can’t, or if you read this later, I hope you’ll join me in offering a short prayer or a moment of silence for Jim, his wife Lulu and all of their family and loved ones.

.………

A couple of friends raised a good point lately.

They said that, while they enjoy reading about biking in this overgrown traffic-choked city we call home, it’s depressing to read about the seemingly endless barrage of deaths on SoCal streets lately.

I couldn’t argue with them; that’s something I’ve worried myself. And trust me, if you think it’s depressing reading things like that, try writing about them.

So let me explain why I do it.

It’s certainly not to suggest that cycling is dangerous. The number of people killed or injured on bikes pales in comparison to the number of miles we ride every day. And as studies have shown, the benefits of bicycling more than outweigh whatever risks we may face on the roads.

Though you can certainly improve your odds by doing simple things like using lights after dark, signaling, stopping for red lights and riding with traffic.

But there are reasons why these stories need to be told.

First, it’s import to remember the victims.

Except in rare cases, traffic fatalities seldom make the news. Or if one does, it’s usually just a few paragraphs buried in the paper or on a news website.

If you’ve been a reader here for awhile, you may have noticed that few things offend me more than a news report that doesn’t tell you much more than someone was killed while riding a bike.

Nothing about how it happened or why, or who was responsible; nothing about the victim or the heart-wrenching hole that’s been torn in the lives left behind. Sometimes, not even a name, or any follow-up once it’s released.

On rare occasions, the press gets it right. Other times, I feel like someone has to make sure they aren’t forgotten. And when I look around, I see that someone is usually me.

I’ve received enough comments and emails from family and friends of the various victims to know that it offers at least some comfort to know that someone, even a total stranger, cared enough to say something.

Second, I want to put whatever pressure I can on the mainstream media to same them into reporting these stories.

Somehow, we long ago reached the point where traffic fatalities ceased to be news. The 33,000 or more deaths that occur on American roads each year have come to be seen as collateral damage, the cost of getting from here to there — if we even stop to think about it at all.

We don’t want to consider the carnage on our highways, or the 93 people who leave home every day and never return.

But it’s something we have to think about, because the cost is too damn high.

The average American driver has long ago forgotten that a motor vehicle is an exceptionally dangerous thing. When we look at our cars, trucks, vans and SUVs, we see friendly, almost anthropomorphic machines that carry our loads and get us where we want to go.

And no one ever looks in the mirror and sees a careless, distracted or overly aggressive driver.

But maybe we should.

It’s responsibility of the press to be that mirror, and force us to take a cold, hard look at ourselves. Even if we don’t like what we see.

It may be too much to ask them to report on each of the nearly 31,000 or more fatal collisions every year (the numbers don’t add up because some collisions result in more than one death). But the relative handful of bicycling deaths — 630 nationwide last year — can, and should be, reported.

Because along with pedestrians, we’re the ones most vulnerable to the actions and distractions of those with whom we share the road.

Finally, it has to stop.

No one should have to risk their life simply because he or she decided to go out for a bike ride, or chose to benefit our city and planet by choosing a healthier and less harmful mode of transportation.

Compared to 33,000 total traffic deaths, 630 may not seem like much. But even one death is one too many — let alone 14 in the last four months alone.

As others have pointed out, the death of a cyclist is no more tragic than the death of pedestrian or a motorist, or any of the other countless accidental or violent deaths that occur in our cities everyday.

I learned a long time ago, though, that I can’t fight every fight, no matter how much I may care. But this is one I can take on.

I’m a cyclist, and this website is about bicycling.

That makes it my fight.

Our fight.

And I intend to do everything in my power to make sure that the last bike death was the last bike death.

If we can do that, then the loss of people like Jim Laing and Danny Marin may not feel any less tragic or heartbreaking than they do today.

But maybe, just maybe, some good will come out of them.

.………

In a non-bike related case, a driver with two previous DUI convictions gets 15 years to life for causing a fatal freeway collision by trying to pass rush hour traffic on the shoulder at over 70 mph while high on grass and prescription drugs.

.………

Bike Talk airs Saturday at 10 am; listen to it live or download the podcast from KPFK.

Flying Pigeon sponsors its next Get Some Dim Sum Ride on Sunday, November 20th, including a visit to the Arroyo Arts Collective 18th Annual Discovery Tour; riders meet at 10 am at Flying Pigeon LA, 3714 N. Figueroa St. in Highland Park.

Flying Pigeon and the Bike Oven host the free Spoke(n) Art Ride on the 2nd Saturday of every month; the next ride will take place on Saturday, December 11th, starting 6:30 pm at 3714 N. Figueroa St. in Highland Park.

Bike Long Beach sponsors a two part Traffic Skills 101 Course to teach cyclists how to ride in traffic. November’s session has been cancelled due to expected rain; the next class is scheduled for Wednesday, December 15th from 6 – 8 pm, with part two following on Saturday, Dec. 18 from 9 am – noon at Cal State Long Beach.

Mark your calendar for the LACBC’s all-day Holiday Open House on Tuesday, December 28th at the Library Alehouse, 2911 Main Street in Santa Monica. Festivities begin at 11 am and continue until closing with great food and beer, fun and raffle prizes; a percentage of the days sales will be donated to the LACBC.

Explore the effects of bicycles on art and culture at Re:Cycle — Bike Culture in Southern California, at U.C. Riverside’s newly relocated Sweeney Art Gallery at the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts3834 Main Street in downtown Riverside, exhibition continues through December 31st.

The Bikerowave will ring in 2011 with a New Years Eve party, starting at 8 pm on December 31st at 12255 Venice Blvd.

..………

Damien Newton presents three more candidates to lead LADOT; lets just hope the Mayor reads Streetsblog. Bicycle Kitchen still has workshops open this month, including one Saturday morning on wrenching bottom brackets and headsets. And I though getting a flat from a late night pothole was a problem. CicLAvia explores uncharted territory, as the biking community finally discovers South L.A. Work starts on the northern extension of the Orange Line Bikeway. Bikes and ebikes crash the L.A. Car Show. Pasadena City College students discuss why they ride. Bike-banning USC may soon provide cyclists and pedestrians with their own bike boulevard; maybe one day they’ll even be a Bike-Friendly University, but I’d put my money on UCLA first. Charlie Gandy invites you to ride Long Beach in search of the perfect tres leche. Just Another cyclist covers the vital topic of bike lights, particularly now that it’s getting dark earlier. A Palo Alto cyclist is hit by a salmon hit-and-run driver. To clip or not to clip, that is the commuting cyclists’ question. San Francisco cyclists get five new green boxes on Market Street.

Sure, you can prepare your bike for winter storage, but why would you — especially if you live in L.A.? Good advice: grant yourself permission to be a beginner. Helmet cams and carbon wheels for junior racers won’t be banned after all. A comparison of bike commuting benefits in the US and the UK. A Portland writer says please don’t dump your trash in the bike lane, or you’ll hurt his dad. Serial numbers and Samaritans unite three hot bikes with their owners. An OKC thief makes his getaway by bike with a large flat-screen TV. A Chicago cyclist decides to keep riding after getting doored. People for Bikes offers an introduction to federal funding for bicycling, while Streetsblog DC says the GOP wants to take transportation funding back to the 1950s and an influential group fights bike projects in the district. A DC cyclist gets hit by a cab, then ticketed while still in the hospital — without ever speaking to a cop about the collision. Family members question whether a rider’s apparent solo accident was actually a homicide.

A Toronto cyclist killed in a collision with a streetcar may not have been able to see the traffic signal. Alejandro Valverde fails to overturn an Italian doping ban. Biking Barcelona’s beachfront bikeway. After a Kiwi cyclist is fatally doored, officials decide to remove the offending parking spots. Unbelievably, the Singapore driver who hit a cyclist, bouncing him off her windshield, before driving home with the bike still stuck under her car, gets off with an $800 fine. Pneumatic tires — like the ones on your bike — were invented because John Dunlop Jr. had a bumpy ride on his trike.

Finally, to help get you in the mood for the upcoming holiday season, how about a Christmas tree made entirely of bikes?

7 comments

  1. Will Campbell says:

    These friends of yours getting bummed out by the cycling deaths you report reminds me of those who discourage the consumption of media because it’s always about the bad things that happen. Nothing is more depressing to me than to be kept unaware and uninformed.

    Please don’t hesitate for a second to continue to do the great job you do covering ALL aspects of cycling.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks Will, I really appreciate that. But they have a good point; I have to find a balance between the good news and bad news, and I’m not there yet. But I’ll keep working on it.

      It would certainly help if people would stop running us over, though.

      • Will Campbell says:

        Well, good luck. But while balance is a requirment to ride, I don’t see it as an imperative in regards to bicycling reportage. You cover what happens, and unfortunately a percentage of tragedy happens.

        Trying to counter that with “good” biking news is potentially problematic in that it risks not being very newsworthy. For every cycling death there are literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of cycling survivals. My best urban cycling moments are the ones in which literally nothing happens, but you can only write so many stories that begin with “Spokes McGee biked from Silver Lake to Westchester without incident yesterday…”

        • bikinginla says:

          You’re certainly right about that. Unfortunately, it’s been an exceptionally difficult fall this year, and I’ve found myself writing far more of that kind of story than usual. And the overwhelming majority of rides are blissfully mundane; when people look at the relative handful of incidents as “proof” that cycling is dangerous, they have to ignore the millions of rides that go off without a hitch every day — and the much higher number of people who are injured without ever leaving their homes.

  2. Aaron says:

    That BikePortland stolen bike registry is great. I’m sure only a really small percentage get returned to their owners through it, but even just these three make it worth it. I don’t suppose anyone has put together anything similar for LA?

  3. What a beautiful tribute to my brother to ride in his honor and visit the accident site. I have come down from Sacramento 3 times since Jim’s death and each time I visit the site, it has grown larger than the last. So touching to me, and to my family who live in So. Cal., to see the compassion from all the riders. Being an avid cyclist myself, I know of the close unity that exists in the bicyling community… no matter where you live. Thank you for your tremendous support and thoughtful coverage of Jim’s accident. You ARE making a difference.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thank you, Peggy. I can’t tell you how much it means that you took time to hare this with us. My condolences to you and your family.

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