Archive for Best of

What to do when the road rages and bumpers bite — part 2

I thought I knew what to do if I was ever in a cycling collision.

I was wrong.

Yesterday I wrote about defusing a road rage incident, based on what I learned as a result of my own run in with a raging driver. A case in which I did just about everything wrong, costing me any chance of a settlement — as well as blowing any shot at a criminal prosecution.

Hopefully, it’s something you’ll never run into. But if you ever find yourself sprawled on the pavement looking up a looming bumper, maybe you can avoid making the same mistakes I did.

After all, it’s so much more fun to make your own.

Let the driver leave.

No, seriously. After knocking me to the pavement, the driver who hit me started to flee the scene. So I jumped up and blocked her from driving off until she finally turned off the engine and got out of the car.

Wrong move. Not only did I put myself at risk of getting hit a second time, it might have been better if she had run away. Police usually take a hit-and-run far more seriously than they do a mere traffic accident, even if you say it was road rage. Hopefully, any driver would have enough decency to stick around, but if not, just note the license number and get out of the way.

Don’t move anything until you have to.

First, make sure you’re out of traffic or that someone is directing cars around you. Then ignore the people who tell you to move it, and leave your bike exactly where it is. And try to keep the driver from moving his car, as well.

Both are now evidence, and the relative positions between them could help show what really happened. Move either one before the police tell you to, and you’ve eliminated a key part of the puzzle. Or at the very least, pull out your camera phone and take photos of everything before anyone moves anything. Trust me, you’ll need them once the lawyers get involved.

Shut the hell up.

This isn’t a bike ride anymore; it’s a legal case. Who was at fault has yet to be determined — and you are just as likely to be blamed as the driver who hit you, if not more. So remember that anything you say can, and probably will, be used against you.

In my case, I tried to attract attention and keep the driver from fleeing the scene by yelling that she’d tried to kill me. But someone told the police that I’d threatened to kill her, instead. As a result, they refused to give me her contact information — and threatened me with arrest if I tried.

So make sure everyone else is okay. Exchange information. Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses. Listen closely if the driver or passengers say anything, and write it down if you can find a pen and paper. But keep your own lips zipped until it’s time to talk with the investigating officer.

You’re the victim. So act like it.

As soon as the driver got out of her car, she screamed that it was my fault for being in her way. So I found myself yelling back to defend myself against my attacker. Or at least, that’s how it felt from my perspective.

But as bystanders began to arrive, what they saw was a grown man yelling at a middle-aged woman — with no knowledge that she had just used her car as a weapon to run me down. So guess which one they felt sorry for?

I’m not suggesting that you lie or exaggerate. But how sympathetic you seem to the bystanders will determine whose side they’re on — and could influence what they tell the police.

Never refuse medical care

The fact is, you probably are hurt. But you may not know it yet, as the adrenalin and endorphins flooding your brain mask any pain.

So when the paramedics ask if you want to go to the hospital, the answer is always yes. The charges the driver may face will depend largely on the severity of your injuries, as will any future settlement you might receive. And the police will take the case more seriously if they know you’ve been injured.

I refused transportation to the hospital, so the official police report said I was uninjured. And that never changed, even after I was diagnosed with a broken arm and permanent vascular damage.

Be prepared for bias

As I waited for the police to arrive, I was surprised to hear bystanders, who had no idea what happened, say it was my fault because those aggressive, arrogant cyclists never obey the law.

But I was shocked to hear similar comments come from the supposedly impartial officer conducting the investigation. Even though I was stopped at a stop sign when she hit me, the driver claimed I’d run the stop sign and fell over while turning onto the cross street. The investigating officer said he believed her because “all you guys run stop signs.”

Expect to explain the evidence

The simple fact is, many, if not most, police officers don’t receive adequate training in investigating bike accidents. So chances are, they may miss or misinterpret key evidence proving who was really at fault.

In my case, the officers didn’t understand that it wasn’t possible to fall to my left while making a high-speed right turn, as the driver had claimed. And they didn’t grasp that the imprint of the chainwheel on my calf could only have occurred if my foot was firmly planted on the ground at the time of impact. So be prepared to walk them through the evidence. But don’t be surprised if they don’t believe you.

Don’t take no for an answer

This was probably the biggest mistake I made. After conducting their investigation, the lead officer said it was a “he said, she said” situation, and let the driver go without a ticket or charges — then tried to intimidate me by saying I could be charged with filing a false police report if I continued to argue with their decision.

It worked.

So I settled for an incomplete and inconclusive police report that virtually eliminated any chance of justice, financial or otherwise. What I should have done — and what you should do in a similar situation — was insist on talking to a supervisor and demanding a fair and unbiased examination of the evidence.

And if you still don’t get satisfaction, call the station and ask to talk to the watch commander.

Maybe if enough of us do, things will start to change.

Update: The LAPD now has four bike liaisons representing each of the four Traffic Divisions. You can find their email addresses — which is the best way to contact them — on the Resources page.

One more bit of advice.

Since my road rage incident, I’ve taken to wearing a helmet cam and recoding all the time I spend riding in traffic. It may look silly, and it may be awkward and inconvenient, but it’s your best way to prove what really happened in any traffic situation.

If nothing else, you’ll end up with lots of stupid driver tricks to post on YouTube.

 

What to do when the road rages and bumpers bite — part 1

I’m going to do something today I usually try very hard not to do.

Repeat myself.

But lately, I’ve heard and seen a lot of reports about conflicts between bike riders and road raging drivers, and sometimes, riders taking out their frustrations on motorists, deserving or not. 

A few years back, I offered my own advice on the subject, as well as advice on what to do if you’re the victim of a collision, based strictly on my own personal experience. 

The advice still stands. But unless you’ve been following this site from the beginning, chances are, you may not have seen it before. 

And even if you have, a refresher might be in order to help keep you safe on the roads, and protect your interests if the worst ever happens.

……..

“Boy, boy, crazy boy, get cool boy! Got a rocket in your pocket, keep coolly cool boy!”

— Cool, from West Side Story

On a good day, nothing beats a good ride.

Days when the sun is shining and traffic effortlessly parts to let you glide by. And you find yourself offering a nod and a wave to express your gratitude for the courtesy of others on the road.

And there are the other days.

Days when traffic snarls and tempers flare. When horns become curses and cars are brandished like threats.

In most cases, that’s as far as it goes.

But when steel and glass impact flesh and bone — intentionally or otherwise — how you respond in the first few minutes before and after can go a long way in determining whether you finish your ride. Or whether you have a case.

I was the victim of a road rage attack a few years back, and in retrospect, I did almost everything wrong. Over the next couple days, I’d like to share some of the painful lessons I learned so you’ll know what to do if, God forbid, it ever happens to you.

Maybe you’ll be smarter than I was and find a way out that doesn’t pass through the emergency room. Or lose your case before it starts.

Let’s start with those precious few minutes before the impact, when there’s still time to de-escalate and find an exit strategy — or at least find a way to protect yourself and your legal rights.

Ride courteously

Let’s face it. There are hotheads on the road. A driver might be mad because he had a fight with his significant other. Maybe he’s an aggressive driver who doesn’t want to share the road. Or maybe he — or in this case, she — is just a bike-hating jerk. How you react to them can go a long way in determining whether that anger gets directed towards you. So always ride courteously. And if you see signs that a driver may be angry or acting in an aggressive manner, try to give them a very wide berth.

Ride legally

I won’t to tell you how to ride. But I will make one simple point: As Bob Mionske observed, whether or not you obey traffic laws could determine whether you have a legal case in the event of a collision or road rage incident. Simply put, if you run a stop sign or red light, or fail to signal a turn or lane change, chances are, you will be found at least partially at fault regardless of what the driver may have done.

And not just during the incident; police and lawyers will look for anyone who may have seen you riding in the miles and weeks leading up to the incident. So the red light you blew through half an hour before, or even last week, may be used to show that you probably didn’t stop at the stop sign when you got hit — even if, as in my case, the physical evidence shows you did. It may not be fair, but that’s the world we live in.

Keep your fingers to yourself

It’s a bad habit, one I’ve struggled to break with limited success. Unlike drivers, we don’t have horns to express our fear and anger, so it only seems natural to flip off someone who’s just cut you off or threatened your safety in some way. The problem is, it doesn’t work. I’ve never seen anyone respond to a rude gesture with an apology; instead, it only escalates the situation. At best, they may ignore you or respond in kind; at worst, it gives an angry driver a reason to retaliate.

And never, ever flip off a driver behind you.

Let dangerous drivers pass

You have a right to the road, no less than anyone with a motor and four wheels. And you have every right to take the lane when the situation warrants it; drivers are legally required to follow or pass safely. But just because it’s the law doesn’t mean that’s what they’re going to do. So the question becomes whether it’s better to stay where you are and fight for your right to the road, or pull over and let the driver — and the situation — pass.

Before my road rage incident, I would have stayed right where I was and held the lane. But I’ve learned the hard way that cars are bigger than I am, and they hurt. So when you find an angry driver on your ass, pull over and let the jerk pass. Then take down the license number, pull out your cell phone and call the police.

Snap a photo

Your camera phone may be one of the most important safety tools you own; I keep mine within easy reach in a Topeak case attached just behind my handlebars. When tempers flare, simply pull it out and snap a photo of the other person, as well as the license of their vehicle. Instantly, you’ve established a record of the incident and documented the identity of the driver — destroying the sense of anonymity that allows most violent acts to occur.

I’ve used mine on a number of occasions. And in every case, the driver has backed down and driven away.

Next: What to do after a collision

 

A simple four — or maybe five — point plan to end hit-and-run in California once and for all

The news hit like a bombshell Wednesday night.

After years of ignoring the problem, the Los Angeles press discovered the city’s hit-and-run epidemic when the LA Weekly unveiled an extensive examination of what may be the city’s most common crime.

The article, by writer Simone Wilson, cites the shocking news that 48% of all L.A. collisions are hit-and-runs. Or at least, shocking to anyone who hasn’t been fighting to call attention to the problem, and trying desperately to get city officials to actually do something about it.

Although to be fair, in the meetings I’ve attended, LAPD has consistently said that roughly 33% percent of all collisions are hit-and-runs, based on COMPSTAT data. And unfortunately, the Weekly doesn’t explain where they got the higher figure.

But either way, it’s too damn high.

I won’t recap the article here. If you want the short version, you can get it from LA Streetsblog or The Atlantic Cities; if there’s any justice at all, it will soon be picked up by the larger mainstream press.

Or better yet, click the link in the second paragraph and read the full article yourself. And try to retain the contents of your stomach when you do.

The question is what can we do about it.

Most of the efforts by advocates working to do something about the problem have focused on addressing it after the fact.

Like raising the profile of the crime to put it on equal footing with other violent crimes. And increasing the number of officers assigned to investigate hit-and-run collisions — particularly those involving serious injury. Which won’t be easy given that the department is desperately trying to avoid further budget and staffing cutbacks.

Meanwhile, others, such as the recent Life Before License campaign, have focused on ensuring that drivers who aren’t willing to observe the most basic requirement to remain at the scene of a collision will have their driver’s licenses suspended — something that has failed to happen in a shocking number of cases.

Which sends clear message just how seriously our courts don’t take traffic crimes.

All of these efforts are important, and deserve our support.

On the other hand, I’d rather stop hit-and-runs before they occur by changing state law to remove the incentive to flee. And making the cost for running away so steep that no one in his or her right mind would think it’s worth the risk.

Long-time readers may recall that I’ve advocated a three-point plan to do just that. And recently added a fourth to address the heartless bastards who leave their victims to die on the street.

1. One of the most common reasons people take off following a collision is that they’ve been drinking or are otherwise under the influence of something. Yet current state law actually encourages drivers to flee by making the penalty for hit-and-run less onerous than the penalty for DUI. So we should start by removing that incentive, as Colorado did at the urging of cyclists, by making the penalties for hit-and-run equal to the penalties for DUI.

However, given California’s current prison overcrowding, it’s highly unlikely that anyone convicted under a toughened law would serve their full sentence. So I suggest we take it further.

2. Anyone who leaves the scene of a collision should have their license automatically revoked — not suspended — by the DMV. By committing the crime of hit-and-run, they’ve shown a callous indifference to both the law and the lives and safety of others, and are undeserving of the privilege of driving. By making this an administrative action, it can be taken regardless of whether the driver is ever charged or convicted. The driver would have to go before an administrative judge to request the right to apply for a new license — and should face a higher standard to get it.

3. Hit-and-run is the only crime where the criminal is allowed to keep the weapon he or she used, even after a conviction; after all, bank robbers aren’t given back the gun they used. Any car used to commit a hit-and-run should be impounded as evidence until a decision is made on whether to file charges or until the trial is concluded. If the driver is convicted, the vehicle should be seized by the state and sold, with the proceeds going to the victim. After all, the state can already seize cars used in drug crimes or to solicit prostitutes; isn’t running away after killing or injuring another human being just a little more serious than trolling for a blowjob?

And I guarantee people will think twice about running away if they have to continue making payments on a car they don’t own anymore.

As I mentioned, I’ve recently added a fourth item to this list, after one too many cases in which a hit-and-run driver has left their victim to die on the streets — yet authorities can’t manage to find anything to charge the driver with that’s in any way commensurate to crime.

4. The greatest tragedy in any fatal hit-and-run is that in many cases, the victim might have been saved with prompt emergency care. But instead of calling for help, the drivers run off, leaving their victims to suffer and die alone, when they might otherwise have been saved. So prosecutors should be encouraged — if not required — to file unpremeditated degree murder charges in any case where there’s even the slightest possibility the victim might have survived if they’d gotten help.

It’s a tough approach. And quite frankly, despite discussions with a few state legislators, I’ve yet to find one willing to take up the fight.

They’d rather pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Or that nothing can be done about it, while countless cyclists, pedestrians and motorists continue to bleed.

Or die.

Then there’s one other element that should be considered.

Every police officer with whom I’ve discussed the problem of hit-and-run, without exception, has said there are two primary reason drivers flee. First, because they may be intoxicated, or second, because the drivers may be undocumented, with no license or insurance.

Of course, there’s also a third, somewhat smaller category. Some people are just gutless assholes who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

But until we allow all residents of the state — whether or not they are here legally — to apply for a license and buy the insurance required by law for all drivers, we will continue to give them a reason to run away.

It doesn’t mean we are legitimizing their status; the state does not have the power to do that.

It just means that we recognize the problem.

And it’s long past time we did something about it.

Before you ride, before you work, before it’s too late

I almost lost my wife today.

Not the way I often do at the mall, where her petite five-foot frame too easily disappears behind department store racks.

And not the way I sometimes fear, when I foolishly question whether love is stronger than the anger that never fails to fade following a fight.

This time the heart I fell in love with gave out without a warning.

Or rather, without one we heeded.

Like the odd pain she complained about last night, that felt like someone punching her between the shoulder blades.

Or this morning, when she was too tired to help make the bed. Something we put off to a long standing iron deficiency still awaiting approval for another round of treatment.

But off to work she went, just like any other day.

Then a little after noon, she told her boss she wasn’t feeling well. Moments later, she was passed out at her desk.

Fortunately, the people she works with found her right away, and knew exactly what to do. And within minutes, paramedics from the Beverly Hills Fire Department had her on a gurney and on her way the ER, red lights and siren blaring.

She was already in surgery before I was halfway to the hospital.

That was followed by a tense couple hours in the waiting room, surrounded by strangers with worried faces just like mine, waiting for word on loved ones of their own.

A steady parade of physicians walked through the door, calling names that weren’t mine. And breaking news that brought smiles to faces that weren’t mine, either.

Finally I heard my name, and looked up as a doctor in surgical scrubs beckoned me down a hall leading to the cardiac ICU.

His words didn’t make me smile. That heart I loved was badly broken.

But unlike Humpty Dumpty, they were able to put it back together again. And the prognosis, thankfully, is good.

Only time will tell how much damage was done. If any.

Her life will be different. She’ll be on medication for the foreseeable future, and under the care of a cardiologist for life.

But at least she’ll have one. And I’ll still have her.

It could have been different.

If her coworkers had been at lunch. If the hospital had been farther away. If it had happened tonight, when I would have been away at a meeting, and she would have been home alone, with only the dog to call 911.

And the dog can’t reach the phone. Even if she did know how.

As cyclists, we accept a certain degree of risk. We understand that bad things can happen when we ride, but probably won’t.

And we get angry when it does, usually to someone else. Maybe because we’ve all had enough close calls to know it could be us, some other place, some other time.

People are fragile.

And bad things can happen to anyone. Anytime. Anywhere.

And sometimes, there’s no second chance to say the things you wish you’d said.

So say them. Please.

Now.

Take a moment to tell the people you love that you do. Before you ride. Before you go to work. Before it’s too late.

Because one day, hopefully not soon, it will be.

Tonight I’m going to sleep in an empty bed, with just the dog to keep me warm. And my heart will be miles away, badly broken. But getting better.

And thankfully, that bed won’t be empty long.

It ain’t necessarily so — new study proclaims L.A. one of the nation’s most dangerous places to walk or ride

This morning, the L.A. Times discovered the unacceptably high rate of bike and pedestrians deaths in this city. Quickly followed by a number of other news outlets.

Only problem is, they got the story wrong.

The study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute looks at bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in New York and Los Angeles, compared to other large cities in the U.S.

They concluded that while bicyclists represent 1.7% in other cities nationwide, they make up 2.8% of traffic fatalities here in Los Angeles. And pedestrians fare even worse, with nearly three times as many deaths on L.A. streets, as a percentage of total traffic fatalities, as in the rest of the nation.

Needless to say, New Yorkers fared even worse, with cyclists making up 6.1% percent of all traffic fatalities, and pedestrians nearly half.

And the media took that limited and misleading information and ran with it, proclaiming — loudly and falsely — that L.A. and New York are exceptionally dangerous places to walk and bike.

The problem is, as stated above, this study only considered these deaths as a percentage of overall traffic fatalities. Which means that if motor vehicle fatalities in those cities — which make up the overwhelming majority of traffic fatalities nationwide — were lower than the national average, it would skew the results and make bike and pedestrian deaths look disproportionately high.

And guess what?

Driver and passenger deaths in New York accounted for just 43.6% of traffic fatalities and 63.6% in Los Angeles, compared to a whopping 86.3% nationwide.

In other words, because fewer people are getting killed in motor vehicles in New York and L.A., it incorrectly suggests that more people who bike or walk are getting killed.

What’s missing from the study is an appendix with hard numbers of how many bicyclists and pedestrians were killed in each city, rather than just a percentage. As well as individual stats for each city that was included in the study, rather than a national aggregate.

Because the one statistic that would allow us to compare apples to apples is the number of deaths per capita for each city.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to access stats for individual cities from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s FARS database today, which would allow us to figure that out. And let us determine whether Los Angeles is really a more dangerous place to ride a bike than Dallas or Des Moines. Or any other city of any size in the U.S.

What I can tell you is that in 2011, Los Angeles County had the lowest per capita bike fatality rate of any county from Santa Barbara to San Bernardino and south to the Mexican border, with the single exception of sparsely populated — and even more sparsely biked — Imperial County.

And the City of Los Angeles had just one bicycling fatality for every 763,940 people who call L.A. home. That’s one for every three-quarter of a million people in this city.

Which sounds like pretty damn good odds to me.

In fact, that compares with one cycling death for every 189,454 people in San Diego. One for every 116,394 in Long Beach. And one for every 69,050 residents of Pasadena.

Don’t get me wrong.

One death is too many. Let alone the four the city has already suffered this year. And nothing in this study, or the press reports that followed, considers the city’s rate of serious cycling injuries, as opposed to fatalities.

But one of that nation’s most dangerous places to ride a bike?

Far from it. At least as far as your risk of dying is concerned.

And study’s authors — and the media who ran with it — would have known that if they’d just dug a little deeper.

Thanks to Harris M. Miller II and Where to Bike Los Angeles co-author Jon Riddle for the heads-up.

Update: Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who had a WTF response to this study and the hype that followed. The Native Angeleno had a similar reaction, as did our friends at Los Angeles Walks, who offer suggestions on how to improve safety for our fellow bipedalists. And L.A. Streetsblog meister Damien Newton looks at the over-the-top — and highly repetitive — media response.

………

On a related note, Pasadena public radio station KPCC responds to the study by asking for your help to map the area’s most dangerous intersections. It’s a great idea.

Although checking out the map Bikeside LA already put together would have been a nice place to start.

………

OC Bike lawyer David Huntsman forwards word of a road raging Dr. Thompson wannabe.

The Press-Enterprise reports that 38-year old Carl Albert Robbins of Temecula “accidently” hit a rider after intentionally swerving at four cyclists riding on Rainbow Canyon Road near Temecula around 8 am Monday. Robbins reportedly drove his car at the riders in the back, then swerved again at the lead rider, hitting the rider’s hand with the car’s mirror.

According to a Riverside Sheriff’s spokesperson, Robbins claimed the riders didn’t belong on the road, but he didn’t intend to actually hit one.

So let me get this straight.

If I try to fire a warning shot past your head, but miss and blow your ear off, it’s just an accident, right?

Evidently the authorities disagreed with Robbins, as well as the paper, booking him on $25,000 bond.

………

A full-time — and apparently very sarcastic — parking lieutenant for LADOT, among his many other jobs, is running for president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council. Walk Eagle Rock sends word that he doesn’t seem to be exactly bike friendly; you’d think an LADOT parking enforcement official would know not to put a business sign in a bike lane.

And sarcastic or not, suggesting someone light up a joint seems a tad inappropriate for a city official. Let alone a potential NC president.

But maybe that’s just me.

………

My good friends at Altadenablog send word that Cher, the original singularly named recording and Hollywood star, apparently hates PCH cyclists.

Or maybe just cyclists in general.

But she swears, cross her heart, that she would never text from behind the wheel. Honest.

We can only encourage her to Cher the road.

Thanks to Century City cyclist and attorney Stanley E. Goldich for the heads-up, as well.

………

It’s been a busy few days in my inbox.

George Wolfberg forwards a link to this New York Times story of a lovely journey by bike through the French countryside.

And he send us another NY Times story from over the weekend saying cities need to lose the helmets to promote bicycling.

Or at least bike share programs.

But lets stop for a moment to consider the claim that Dutch cyclists don’t wear helmets.

Dutch cyclists enjoy some of the world’s best biking infrastructure, and ride relatively heavy, slow bikes that are easy to step off of in the event of a fall.

Most American’s don’t

American bikes tend to be faster, lighter machines that usually take the rider down with them when they go down. And American roads don’t begin to compare with Dutch bikeways, in either quality or separation from vehicular traffic.

Whether or not you wear a helmet is your choice.

Personally, I never ride without mine, bearing in mind that they’re not magic hats that prevent all harm to the wearer; you’re far better off avoiding a collision than counting on your helmet to save you from it.

But let’s stop using the Amsterdam experience to argue against helmet use here. Because it just doesn’t translate from the Dutch.

………

Cyclist Jim Lyle send news that Hermosa Beach has rejected a plan to put bike lanes on Aviation Blvd.

HB City council members claimed the 2 – 3 person Public Works Department had more pressing issues, and couldn’t afford the 10 to 20 hours a month it would take to save cyclists’ lives plan the bikeway.

“Once we pave our streets, let’s talk about bikes,” Mayor Pro Tem Kit Bobko said.

Although you’d think with such a small staff, they might know how many people actually work for them.

………

Finally, my adventure cycling, Iditarod dog sled racing brother Eric offers a heads-up about the 100-year old former French bike racer who set a new 100 kilometer age group speed record.

I plan to race him myself when I turn 100; my brother, not the Frenchman.

Of course, I may have an unfair advantage, since he’ll be 109.

The terrible tyranny of two-wheel tribal wear

One day last winter, I found myself riding Downtown to attend an early morning press conference.

And something I’ve learned in recent years is that the press likes to talk to people who look like their preconceived notions of a cyclist.

It doesn’t matter if the guy next to you is the head of a bicycling organization, a professional cyclist or someone who’s been riding for decades. If he or she is dressed in street clothes and you’re in spandex, you can expect the camera in your face.

Since there were things I wanted to say on the day’s subject, I put on my best road gear and set out on a rush hour ride to City Hall.

On the way, though, I noticed an interesting thing.

Despite the chilly early hour, there were a lot of other riders on the road.

Some, like me, were dressed in spandex. Many of whom nodded in my direction as they passed, acknowledging me as one of their own.

Others were clad in jeans or business attire, apparently on their way to work or school. And not one of whom seemed to take any notice of me, as if we were members of two separate species.

More interesting, though, was what happened later that same evening as the situation was reversed.

I had a business party to attend that night, starting just after working hours. And since it was located in an office building on Wilshire Blvd, in an area where parking is virtually non-existent — or unaffordable — during the evening rush, I concluded that riding was once again the most viable option.

So I threw on my jeans and a button-down shirt, along with a semi-professional looking jacket, and set out along the same route I’d taken earlier that day.

Except this time, the situation was reversed.

Many of the bike commuters I encountered threw a brief nod in my direction; a couple even struck up a conversation as we waited for red lights to change.

Yet the spandex-clad riders I passed hardly cast a glance in my direction. The way I was dressed marked me as a member of another tribe.

And that, my friend, is when it finally sank through my thick helmet-covered skull.

I was exactly the same rider on both the morning and evening rides. I was on the same bike and riding the same way. Let alone the same direction.

But I was seen in a completely different manner by different people, strictly because of what I was wearing.

The clothing we bike in isn’t just what feels comfortable as we pedal to our destination, or what will be appropriate once we get there.

It’s what connects us to others like us, identifying us as members of our own cycling tribe. And more importantly, what separates us from all the other self-selected cycling tribes, whispering — or sometimes shouting — in the unmistakable language of bicycle fashion, I’m not like you.

And probably don’t want to be.

Divide, and self conquer.

No wonder we can’t even present enough of a unified front to get the governor to sign a damn three-foot passing bill.

Too often we’ve seen the spandex crowd turn up their noses at the fixie riders in our midst. Or the cycle chic and citizen cyclists, to borrow a phrase or two from Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic fame, criticizing those who insist on donning specialized bicycling attire instead of regular street clothes, let alone helmets.

Or haute couture and drop dead heels, in some cases.

Then there are the women who wonder why they should have to dress to the nines just to ride a bike. The hipsters who wouldn’t be caught dead wrapped in a skin-tight logo-covered road jersey.

And the great mass of casual riders who just want to go for a bike ride, and don’t know what all the fuss is about.

Or even that there is a fuss.

Of course, there are reasons for what we wear.

When I first started riding, I saw no reason to wear anything other than the T-shirt and cut-off jeans I wore for any other physical activity.

Until a couple of more experienced riders explained that bike shorts and jerseys actually make for cycling would dramatically cut down on the wicked wind resistance that wore me out before I barely got going. Not to mention eliminating those aggravating sweat and chafing issues, while offering the support necessary to help ensure the existence of any potential future generations.

If you get my drift.

And so I rode for over twenty years; eventually the concept that I could ride in something else, even for a quick trip to the market or out for coffee, lost in the deep dark depths of bike days long past.

As my fellow cycling advocates and colleagues can attest, it took me a couple years of riding to various meetings — and the embarrassment of usually being the only one sitting through them just a stretchy microthread’s-width away from near nudity — before I worked up the courage to bike in regular clothes like they did. And dress for the destination rather than the ride.

It just seemed oddly foreign to me after all those years in spandex.

Just as it would to many fixie or casual riders to wear the brightly colored skin-tight attire most roadies wrap around themselves before they hit the road. Even if they would likely be far more comfortable on long rides, as I learned myself so many years ago.

Now I still wear spandex for long, fast rides demanding physical exertion. And jeans and casual shorts and shirts — some made for bicycling, some not — for transportation and more relaxed riding.

The bottom line is, clothes don’t make the bike rider.

It doesn’t matter who you are, how you ride, what you ride, where you ride, or what you wear. Especially not what you wear.

The only thing that really matters that you ride.

The rest is just details.

And once we finally figure that out, once we realize that the one thing that links us all together is more important than all our tribes and differences, we’ll be a social and political force no one can resist.

Not even Jerry Brown.

……..

On a related subject, Melissa Balmer of Long Beach-based Women on Bikes SoCal offers a must-read look at women, bicycling and cycle chic — and whether bike advocacy has to make room, not just for all the many types of women who already ride, but all those who might want to.

If we don’t agree with one and other’s approach could we step back and and try and understand where she is coming from rather than attacking first? Is there something we could learn from each other? Could we find the places where we agree and be cordial in our agreeing-to-disagree where we disagree? If we become known as a movement of great diversity yet united in our good will towards getting women and girls on bikes won’t we be much much stronger and powerful for it?

Seriously. It’s an important topic for anyone who cares about bike advocacy and reaching out to women — and potential bike riders — of all sorts. And not just because she mentions me in it.

So read it, already.

A heartwarming story to end your week, a bunch of legal updates and week’s worth of links

Now that there’s finally a lull in this week’s rash of bad news, let’s catch up on all the news that’s been on hold this week.

………

First off, maybe you remember the story.

It was about a year and a half back, when I told the tale of a hero bus rider who jumped off his Commuter Express bus after a long day at the DWP to stop a bike thief, and rescue the prized ride of a total stranger.

It’s one of my favorite stories I’ve told on here, second only, perhaps, to a pair of female triathletes who saved two men from drowning off the Malibu coast.

And I was there last year when Good Samaritan Hospital, where the owner of the bike, Dan McLaughlin, serves as a vice president, honored him at the annual Blessing of the Bicycles.

But after that, I lost track of the story until L.A. Times writer Nita Lelyveld gave me a call a few weeks back.

What I didn’t know was that the story didn’t end that day when McLaughlin handed his bike’s rescuer a plaque in front of a group of gathered cyclists. They had become friends, bonding over bikes, and Bolivar and his wife had even taken to riding a tandem together.

It’s a beautiful story. And one that Nita tells beautifully.

It’s definitely a must read, if you haven’t already.

………

My apologies to Shane Feldon.

I had promised to write this week about a new light system currently looking for funding on Kickstarter. Unlike other bike lights, it doesn’t just attach to your handlebars, but actually is a structural part of your bike.

So it’s always there when you need it, and you never have to worry about forgetting it or having it stolen.

Unless they take your whole bike, of course.

Sadly, there’s only a few hours left to get funded, and it looks like it’s going to end up well short. But if you’ve got some money to invest — or happen to own a bike company — this looks like a great idea with a lot of potential.

………

Nineteen-year old Korean college student Jin Hyuk Byun has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of hit-and-run causing death for allegedly killing 18-year old Angel Bojorquez as he rode home from work in Rancho Santa Fe last Friday.

The judge recognized the risk Byun posed, calling him “an extreme danger to the community,” as he raised Byun’s bail from $50,000 to $1 million, according to the North County Times.

The NC Times also reports that Byun allegedly stopped after killing Bojorquez — not to render aid or call for help, but to push a broken headlight assembly back into place and strip the torn rubber from his tire before driving home on the bare rim.

Remarkably, he faces a maximum of just four years in prison for leaving another human being to die on the side of the road.

Surely there are other charges the DA can file.

Vehicular homicide might be a good start.

………

In other legal news, the Highland Community News confirms that Patrick Roraff has entered a guilty plea in the 2010 death of pro cyclist Jorge Alvarado, as we discussed Monday; co-defendant Brett Morin is still pleading not guilty.

Dj Wheels reports that Phillip Goldburn Williams, charged with vehicular manslaughter in the July, 2010 death of cyclist Victor Apaseo-Rodriguez in Downtown L.A., has been convicted after changing his plea to no contest.

And walked away with a slightly bruised wrist.

Williams received a three years of probation, $194 in fees, 20 days of Caltrans road work, and 160 hours of community service. Oh, and a whopping 12 hours of anger management; we can only wonder what that’s about.

Meanwhile, his victim received a death sentence, carried out on the bumper of Williams’ Chevy Avalanche.

Wheels also reports that a preliminary hearing took place this week for a very pregnant Christine Dahab, charged with felony counts of driving under the influence causing injury and driving with a blood alcohol count over .08, after injuring 13 cyclists in Culver City in June of last year.

And our anonymous South Bay source reports that Joel Alexander Murphy has pleaded not guilty in the hit-and-run death of cyclist Roger Lippman in Huntington Beach last month, as well as for violating his formal parole on drug charges.

I’m also told that both the D.A.’s office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have been trying to reach out to Lippman’s family and friends to aid in the prosecution and prepare Victim Impact Statements to present to the judge to influence sentencing.

………

In racing news, David Millar wins stage 12 of the Tour de France, seven years about coming back from a doping ban, in what’s turning into a British dominated race. Cadel Evans cracks in stage 11, while Wiggins tightens his grasp on the lead, and Thomas Voeckler won the first mountain stage of the Tour de France.

Bicycling offers an update on the eight Americans who started this year’s Tour; it ain’t pretty. Meanwhile, young riders Chris Froome and Tejay Van Garderen learn the hard way what it means to be a domestique.

Not content to go after Lance, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency bans his doctors and former trainer, while Armstrong refiles his lawsuit against USADA, and a U.S. representative calls for an investigation into the USADA for wasting time investigating Armstrong. And current former TdF champ Alberto Contador plans to return from his doping ban next month.

It’s been 45 years since British rider Tommy Simpson died in the Tour de France, the first, but sadly not only, fatality in its 109 year history.

The route for the fourth stage of August’s badly named USA Pro Cycling Challenge is in danger, as a giant sinkhole threatens to swallow the roadway.

In local racing, the Easy Reader offers a good wrap up of last weekend’s Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, as Ken Hanson and Shelby Reynolds take the top men’s and women’s categories, respectively.

………

A new date — and new routes — have been announced for this fall’s CicLAvia, in order to make room for the space shuttle. Here’s your chance to ask CicLAvia’s Stephen Villavaso about the changes. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offers up a video explaining how CicLAvia is transforming our streets, while Better Bike provides a detailed look at the new areas you’ll experience.

………

Bill Cosby narrates a 1970s-era public service video about bi-cycling, as he calls it; who knew Santa Ana used to be bike friendly?

………

A reader sends in this photo of an angry Santa Monica bus driver cursing him out after he asked the driver to be more careful. He notes that Big Blue Bus officials were very helpful in handling his complaint, and that simply taking a photo is often the best thing you can do when confronted with a traffic altercation.

I’ve long been a believer in pulling out a camera when confronted with angry driver.

Especially ones that may have been otherwise distracted.

………

The monthly Spoke(n) Art ride rolls tomorrow. CD13 City Council candidate Josh Post is hosting a two hour fun ride along the L.A. River bike path on July 22nd to share his vision for a bike-friendly L.A. and revitalization of the L.A. River. If you’re in the market for a new job, Bikes and Hikes LA is looking for in-shape, bilingual tour guides. LADOT will be testing new treatments Sunday for the badly worn Spring Street green bike lanes. BIKAS offers a better than passing grade for L.A.’s new bikeway efforts. Will Campbell creates another great timelapse through Griffith Park. Santa Monica moves forward with their own 13 station bike share program, which may or may not be compatible with the upcoming L.A. bike share; Better Bike asks what role, if any, the Westside Council of Governments will play on the region’s expanding bike share plans. Glendale gives up on the Honolulu Ave road diet, as auto-centric council member Dan Weaver observes that the city’s streets were designed for automobiles, not bicycles; thanks to Michael Wade for the heads-up. The route has been set for Pasadena’s inaugural Gran Fondo. A ghost bike was installed Friday for Larry Schellhase, the cyclist killed when he hit road debris in Redondo Beach last April.

Newport Beach votes on placing sharrows on the East Coast Highway; word from cdmCyclist’s Frank Peters is that they were approved. San Diego cyclists are understandably upset after Caltrans decides to remove a ghost bike for fallen rider Nick Venuto, but manage to save another for Chuck Gilbreth; they’ll also host a ride to honor fallen cyclists Theodore Jones and Angel Bojorquez on July 25th. San Diego hires Safe Moves to provide bike and pedestrian safety training to students. A local resident asks why Coronado isn’t bike friendly. Sharrows are coming to Highway 101 in Solano Beach. The Bert and Ernie approach to sharing the road. Be careful biking with your dog running alongside; or better yet, just don’t. Security video catches a Solvang burglar breaking in to a bike shop and running out with two bikes. Palo Alto moves forward with a new bike plan. Good news, as the Modesto girl seriously injured when she stepped in front of an antique car to save her bike riding brother returns home from the hospital. Cyclists are gaining political influence in the Bay Area, though not everyone is happy with it. A not guilty plea from the driver accused of critically injuring New Zealand pro cyclist Michael Torckler in a Sonoma County hit and run.

The Bike League looks at our own Dorothy Wong. States can’t wait to spend former bike funding on other projects. New pedals double as bike locks. A Portland study shows bicyclists spend more at local business. Clif Bar celebrates its 20th Anniversary by giving Public bikes to their employees. According to a Denver paper, either cruiser bikes rule, or they’re ruining cycling for the rest of us. A micro brewery in my home town converts its parking lot into secure bike parking. Survivors of the devastating Colorado fires say their lives would be better if they could just get rid of those damn bikes. Aspen CO cyclist can now expect to get a warning instead of a ticket. A North Dakota’s Supreme Court rules a cyclist can be convicted of drunk bicycling. Republican candidates in Madison WI unite to oppose a local bike path. Turns out riding a bike in Chicago is safer than riding in the suburbs. A Michigan driver rear-ended and critically injured a rider, then casually continued on to the same casino where his victim worked. Ohio bike lawyer Steve Magas asks if this is the worst crash report ever. A reminder that cyclists aren’t always the good guys, while a Columbus writer says that city’s drivers are courteous, but cyclists are road-hogging jerks who should be ticketed — and describes unsafely passing a rider as proof. New York plans to slow more drivers down to a 20 mph speed limit. Boston’s Lovely Bicycle finds the middle ground in appreciating John Forester, the father of vehicular cycling. Shockingly, it turns out drivers break the law more than cyclists. Turns out that the DC-area cyclist who killed a pedestrian recently wasn’t a spandex-clad maniac after all. North Carolina cyclists ride in honor of Steve Jordan, the state director for mental health, who was killed while riding his bike on the 4th of July. Florida plans to allow bikes on some limited access highways on a trial basis.

A San Diego physician saves the life of a doored cyclist while vacationing in Vancouver. The British Medical Association says curb car use and make room for bikes and pedestrians. From anorexic model to a favorite in team pursuit at the London Olympics. A British Paralympic cyclist sees her games in doubt after she’s Jerry Browned by a passing car. German cyclist Kristina Vogel bounces back from a broken neck to compete in London. A London cyclist rhetorically asks why not just ban bikes entirely after they’re barred from bus and Olympic lanes prior to the games. A British cyclist receives the equivalent of 36 cents in court ordered compensation for his stolen bike. “Pranksters” nearly decapitate a 12-year old English boy by stringing rope across the footbridge he was riding on; yeah, real funny. Tests show cyclists using earphones at a reasonable level can still hear warning sounds from other riders, comparable to a car driver with no music playing. An Aussie cyclist calls for an end to road rage.

Finally, that’s what I call a rough ride, as a Type 1 Diabetic riding in the Tour Divide stops to check his blood sugar, encounters a bear, slides off of an embankment and nearly drowns in a river before making his way back to his bike — and on to a hospital. This is what I call a sharrow. And these are the rules that should govern every bike club:

1) Ride Bikes

2) Try not to be an ass

………

My apologies to everyone who sent me links this past week. Between all the breaking news and an inadvertent email crash, I’ve completely lost track of who sent me what. But I am grateful to each of you, and hope you’ll all keep sending me more stories as we move forward.

There are no safe streets for cyclists

Yesterday, I received an email from a man who had moved with his wife from Portland to South Pasadena.

They had chosen South Pas, at least in part, because it appeared to offer the most rideable streets in the area. Yet in less than a year, he’d suffered two minor right hook collisions.

His point was that riding in the L.A. area is a completely different experience than riding in Portland. And that local communities need to do more to make other forms of transportation besides motor vehicles a priority.

He’s right.

While South Pasadena has recognized the problem, and is actually doing something about it, a lot more has to be done throughout the county to make cycling safer for every rider.

Though not everyone seems to be getting that message.

The LACBC affiliate chapter BikeSGV reports that the Arcadia City Council decided this week not to develop a bike plan — in part because the city’s Mayor Pro Tem doesn’t think bikes are a legitimate form of transportation.

Vincent Chang

Just got back from a disappointing Arcadia City council meeting where Mayor Pro Tem Robert C. Harbicht took the lead to nix a contract with a bike plan consultant to prepare a bike plan for the city. Unfortunately, the rest of the council, including the Mayor (who established a city “mayors bike ride”) went along. Harbict stated he had concerns about federal funding for bike access in general as he didn’t believe cycling can be a legitimate form of alternate transportation. Ironically, both Harbicht and the Mayor claims to be avid cyclists.

I don’t know whether that reflects ignorance of the potential utility of their preferred form of recreation, or the dangers of riding in their own city.

Either way, they’ve failed the residents of their city by denying them the opportunity to ride in greater convenience and safety, whether for recreation or safety.

Then again, the problem could be that they’re “avid” cyclists, as some — though not all — Vehicular Cyclists actively oppose the sort of infrastructure preferred by the overwhelming majority of riders.

They believe that every rider — even the most unskilled, slow or risk-conscious cyclist — is safer riding in the traffic lane ahead of oncoming, often high speed, vehicles than in a separate lane devoted to bikes.

In fact, John Forester, the father of the VC movement, recently commented on the New York Times website that “nobody has yet “create[d] safe bike lanes”; we don’t know how to do it.”

I think many riders in the Netherlands — and even in New York — would beg to differ.

It’s a battle that rages on in cities and states throughout the country. Like in San Diego, where Forester himself helps lead the fight against more and better bike lanes, much to the chagrin of more mainstream riders.

Despite denials from VC adherents, there have been numerous studies that show well-designed bike lanes can improve safety for everyone. Not just cyclists.

Meanwhile, I have yet to see a single credible study that supports the oft-repeated argument that cyclists are safer riding in traffic than in a good bike lane.

Which is not to say there aren’t a lot of bad ones out there.

Maybe that’s because, like Forester, they refuse to believe such things exist. Sort of like another group that denies compelling scientific evidence.

But it does raise a question another rider brought up awhile back, when he asked for my advice on whether it was better to ride a busy street with a bike lane or a quieter backstreet route with no bike infrastructure.

And the sad answer I gave him was that there is no such thing as a safe street for cyclists.

Depending on your perspective, both present their own unique set of dangers.

On a busy street, you have the risk of high speed traffic and an unacceptably high rate of careless and/or distracted drivers. Along with the near-constant risk of doorings, right hooks and left crosses, as well as drivers who consider the bike lane another motor vehicle through lane, or maybe a parking lane.

Meanwhile, riders on backstreets risk drivers backing out of driveways without looking, children and dogs running out into the roadway without warning, and drivers who don’t even consider the possibility of bikes on their bucolic byways.

Even on country roads, where I did some of my most enjoyable riding in my pre-L.A. days, you might not see a car for hours. But there are still dangers posed by truck drivers and farm equipment operators who assume there’s no one else there, and speeding teenagers out for a joyride — sometimes tossing their empties at any unfortunate victim they happen to pass.

And yes, I speak from experience.

And don’t get me started on the ubiquitous risk of potholes and otherwise dangerous road surfaces and designs. Or the unique thrill presented by riding past bears or gators.

Or bees.

That’s not to say bicycling is dangerous.

It’s not.

But it does demand a constant awareness of your surroundings, as well as a focus on defensive riding by anticipating the dangerous presented by your current environment, wherever you happen to be. And being prepared to respond to risks before they arise.

That doesn’t mean that drivers and other in the road aren’t responsible for using it safely. But it’s your life that’s on the line, and you can’t count on them to focus on your safety. Or even know you’re there.

Or care, for that matter.

That point that was driven home the other day on the quiet residential streets of my own neighborhood, as I made my way through the last few blocks at the end of an otherwise enjoyable ride.

I’d just stopped for a stop sign, and was beginning to resume my route across the intersection when an SUV came up on the cross street. The woman behind the wheel looked directly at me, then gunned her engine just as I was about to pass in front of her, cutting right onto the road I was riding on.

Fortunately, I was prepared, anticipating that the driver might run the stop sign — though not that she would attempt to hit me in the process. I was able to swing out onto the wrong side of the road, allowing her to screech past me and race off into the distance.

Yet as so often happens, I caught up to her at the next red light.

So I asked, as politely as I could under the circumstances, with fear and anger and adrenalin coursing through my body, why she’d just tried to run me over.

Her response?

“Cyclists have to stop at stop signs too!”

Never mind that I had already stopped before she ever got to the corner, while I was still the only one at the intersection. Or the irony that she ran a stop sign in her attempt to run me down.

In her mind, she was entitled to enforce traffic laws with the bumper of her car. Just another driveway vigilante using brute force to intimidate, if not injure, another human being.

Fortunately, I’m not so easily intimidated.

I would have loved to continue the conversation, but she quickly cut from the left turn lane she was in to make a quick right in front of high-speed traffic in order to get away from me.

Evidently, I scared her, even though she was the one wrapped in several tons of steel and glass. And I wasn’t the one who’d just tried to attack someone.

Though I did break my Lenten vow to not swear at drivers, however much they might deserve it; risking eternal damnation for the momentary relief of releasing my anger verbally before I exploded into a thousand spandex-clad pieces.

As usually happens in such cases, I didn’t have time to get her license or a good description of her car. And even if I had, there were no witnesses, so there’s nothing the police could have done anyway.

The really scary thing, though, is that the residential nature of the street she was on means that she’s likely to live here herself. Which means that she’s probably one of my neighbors, and there’s a high probability I could run into her again.

Whether either of us will recognize the other is a good question. As is what would happen if one of us does.

Where you prefer to ride is a matter of your own comfort level. Whether that leads you to ride vehicularly in a busy traffic lane, in various bikeways or on quieter bike streets that seldom see another road user, on two wheels or four.

But it’s a good reminder that no matter how peaceful they may look, there are no safe streets.

Even the ones in your own neighborhood.

Thanks to everyone who forwarded me the link to the San Diego KPBS story.

Update: Oddly — or maybe not so oddly, given the KPBS story — Bike Snob wrote Vehicular Cycling today, as well. And as usual, he’s much funnier than I am.

Analyzing 2011 SoCal cycling fatalities: Los Angeles — and door zones — may be safer than you think

Earlier this month, we remembered the people behind the statistics, the victims of cycling collisions on Southern California streets.

Now lets take a look at the numbers. And some of the surprising findings those statistics reveal — including some that suggest Los Angeles could be your safest place to ride. And that the door zone may be a hell of a lot safer than we all think.

But first, a couple of big important disclaimers.

These stats are based strictly on the fatalities that I am aware of, whether they have been reported in the press or have come to my attention in other ways. It is entirely possible that there were other bicycling-related deaths that I don’t know about.

These numbers also do not include non-fatal collisions. It’s possible that any given area could have had a high rate of injury collisions while having few or no fatalities. Or that one risk factor may result in a high rate of fatalities but few injuries — or the other way around.

The limited data I have to work with simply doesn’t show that.

Nor does it suggest why one area may appear to be more dangerous than another, even though I may make a guess at it.

And with that, let’s get on with it.

By my count, 71 cyclists were killed in traffic-related collisions in Southern California last year. That does not include another nine riders who were fatally shot — eight in Los Angeles County and one in San Diego.

Those 71 fatalities represent a dramatic increase over most recent years on record, with 55 cyclists killed in both 2008 and 2009. In addition, it’s slightly more than the five-year average from 2005 to 2009, at just over 68 traffic-relating cycling fatalities per year.

It also marks a return to the roadway carnage of 2005 and 2006, when 76 and 89 riders were killed, respectively.

Fatalities by county: 2011       2009*       2006**     Ave. 2005 – 2009

Los Angeles                24           22             24           24.2

Orange                       13           11             21           13

San Diego                   12           8               5             8

Riverside                     11           7              14            10

San Bernardino            6            4              11            7.4

Ventura                       4            2              11            4.6

Santa Barbara***        1            1               3             1.8

Imperial                       0            1               0             .4

As you can see, Los Angeles County has remained remarkably steady despite a dramatic increase in ridership, with an average of two riders killed per month. At the same time, while Orange County has dropped significantly from the horrors of 2006, it continues to reflect an average of more than one cyclist killed every month.

Meanwhile, San Diego, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties all showed a 50% increase over 2009, though both Ventura and San Bernardino were still below their five-year averages.

At first glance, it would appear that Los Angeles County is by far the most dangerous place to ride in Southern California. However, L.A. is also the most populous of the eight counties included in this count.

Ranking the counties in terms of risk of death per capita reveals some surprises, with the eight counties ranked from worst to best:

County                    Population               Rate of death

Riverside                  2,100,516               1 death per 190,956 population

Ventura                   797,740                  1 per 199,435

Orange                    3,010,759               1 per 231,597

San Diego                3,001,072               1 per 250,089

San Bernardino        2,015,355               1 per 335,893

Santa Barbara***    405,396                  1 per 405,396

Los Angeles              9,862,049              1 per 410,919

Imperial                  174,528                   0 per 174,528

Unfortunately, there’s no objective measure of how many people ride bikes in each county. But surprisingly, these stats suggest that heavily congested L.A. County may actually be twice as safe as other heavily populated counties.

Those fatalities occurred in 53 cities and unincorporated areas throughout the region, with eight cities suffering more than one fatality last year:

San Diego   7

Los Angeles  5

Long Beach  4

Garden Grove  2

Redondo Beach  2

Pasadena  2

Riverside  2

Oceanside  2

Again, using the measurement of deaths per population reveals some very surprising results:

City                               Population                 Rate of death

Redondo Beach              66,748                      1 per 33,374

Pasadena                       137,122                    1 per 68,562

Oceanside                      167,086                    1 per 83,543

Garden Grove                 170,883                    1 per 85,441

Long Beach                    462,257                    1 per 115,564

Riverside                        303,871                    1 per 151,936

San Diego                      1,301,617                 1 per 185,945

Los Angeles                    3,792,621                 1 per 758,524

While multiple deaths in smaller cities may raise a red flag, they don’t really tell us much. Two deaths apiece in each in the first four cities could be a statistical fluke; just one more in any of the other 45 cities not listed here, and they could have made this list, as well.

It’s also worth noting that some of these cities, such as Oceanside and Redondo Beach, are destination areas for cyclists, with a level of weekend ridership that can far exceed their relatively small populations as cyclists pass through from other areas.

More interesting is the fact that the City of Angels, with it’s long-held reputation for car culture, bad streets and open hostility to cyclists, has significantly fewer fatalities per capita than Riverside and San Diego. Combined.

And at least in terms of fatalities, Los Angeles is over six times safer than bike-friendly Long Beach.

That could reflect any number of factors, from the possibility of better trauma care and emergency response times in L.A., to more dangerous streets in Long Beach — including Los Coyotes and PCH — that have yet to see the improvements that have made biking safer in other areas of the city.

But it’s shocking to think that you may actually be safer riding your bike in bike-unfriendly L.A. than the streets of the self-proclaimed most bicycle friendly city in America.

Then again, the real shocker is that L.A. could a hell of a lot safer than most of us thought.

Myself included.

Now let’s look at some equally surprising stats on how these collisions occurred.

Again, bear in mind that most of this information has been gleaned from media reports; in some cases, they offer a detailed analysis of the collision, and in others, barely mention anything more than the fact that it occurred.

We’ll start with the question of who was at fault.

  • Driver:  32
  • Cyclist:  28****
  • Unknown or both:  11

This is my own analysis of the collision, based on the limited information I have; it does not necessarily reflect how the police, sheriff’s or CHP may have assigned fault.

Especially since many investigative officers tend to be poorly trained in bike collision analysis and investigation, and often appear to be biased in favor of the motorist.

In the absence of any information to the contrary, I assigned hit-and-runs to the fault of the driver, on the assumption that an innocent person has little motive to flee — while recognizing that is not always true.

I have also assigned fault for solo collisions and riders hit by trains to the cyclist. Even though it’s possible that other factors, such as near misses by motorists or poor road conditions, may have contributed to the death in some way.

These numbers also err on the low side, reflecting only the information I have been able to document; in many cases, there was not enough information to make a determination.

And there may be multiple factors involved in any given collision, so these won’t add up to a total of 71.

So let’s look at some of the other numbers.

  • At least 25 riders were hit from behind — by far the leading cause of cycling fatalities in 2010
  • At least 13 were hit-and-runs
  • At least 12 were hit at intersections or driveways
  • At least 10 involved drugs or alcohol — and not always on the part of the driver
  • At least eight were hit while riding on or leaving a sidewalk
  • At least seven were hit head-on, usually while riding on the wrong side of the street
  • Seven were solo collisions
  • Seven victims were over the age of 70
  • At least six were killed after running stop signs
  • At least six were killed while riding in a marked bike lane or off-road bike path
  • At least six were killed in right hook collisions
  • Six 12 years old or younger
  • Another five were between the ages of 15 and 17
  • At least four weren’t using lights after dark
  • Three were killed by trains
  • Three were killed by out of control vehicles
  • At least two were killed by drivers running red lights or stop signs
  • At least two were killed distracted drivers
  • At least one was killed in a left cross
  • One was killed by a truck backing into a loading bay
  • One was killed, at least in part, due to poorly designed infrastructure
  • And just one was killed as a result of a dooring

Stop and think about that.

For decades, we’ve been taught that the door zone is one of the most dangerous places to ride; vehicular cyclists often refer to it as the death zone.

Yet these stats show just the opposite. You are far more likely to be killed in a hit-from-behind collision or at an intersection than you are by getting doored. And yet, the solution we’re invariably taught is to ride in the traffic lane, directly in front of traffic coming up from behind.

Maybe that’s because so many cyclists are heeding that advice and avoiding the door zone, while placing themselves at greater risk of getting hit from behind. Or maybe because hit-from-behind collisions tend to occur at higher speeds, reducing survivability, while doorings tend to be relatively slow speed collisions that are more likely to result in injury than death — especially if the rider is wearing a helmet to protect from head injuries in a fall.

And that’s not to say that riding in the door zone is safe. But it may be far less deadly than we have been lead to believe.

Of course, that’s not the only conclusion that jumps out from these numbers.

Like far too many drivers are willing to flee the scene, leaving their victims to die in the street. Too many cyclists run stop signs — especially when other vehicles are present.

Sidewalks remain dangerous places for cyclists, particularly where they intersect with streets and driveways.

Riders can lower their risk simply by riding on the right side of the road and using lights after dark. And staying of the roads after drinking or using drugs.

Ditto for stopping for trains; once the warning signals chime and the gates drop, stay the hell off the tracks. And that goes for drivers trying to beat a train, as well.

Bike lanes are no guarantee of safety. Yet there were fewer cyclists killed in bike lanes than on sidewalks and crosswalks, and far fewer than on streets without them. But that may just speak to the scarcity of bike lanes in most of Southern California.

Then there’s the single most glaring conclusion we can make from these fatalities.

Too many people have died, and continue to die, on our streets.

One is one too many; 71 is an obscenity.

And it’s clearly headed in the wrong direction.

Update: in response to one of the comments to this post, I’ve added information on how many of the victims were under 18; six riders were 12 or under when they were killed, while another five were aged 15 to 17. In addition, seven of the victims were over the age of 70.

……..

*Most recent year currently on record

**Worst of the five years on record

***I will drop Santa Barbara County from this count next year, to reflect the 7-county area included in the Southern California Council of Governments (SCAG)

****Includes solo collisions and collisions with trains

The dog crap theory of road safety

Let’s talk responsibility.

Every morning, I walk outside with my dog, carrying a bag in my hand.

Then after a few minutes of watching her sniff every fire hydrant, bush, nook and cranny on our block — the Corgi equivalent of reading her Facebook page — she settles in for a good poop.

And inevitably, when I bend over to pick it up, I have to dodge piles of crap left behind by dog owners who aren’t as responsible.

It’s not just the unpleasant prospect of stepping in it that poses a problem. Or the simple fact that the law clearly requires owners to clean up after their animals.

What their dogs leave behind can spread disease, both to other dogs and the people who may inadvertently come in contact with it. And eventually, when the rains come, it will wash into the storm drains and out to the ocean, fouling the water that countless people swim and surf in.

Granted, one pile of crap isn’t going to cause any real harm. But multiply that by the multiple mounds on my block, and virtually every other block in this City of Angeles and the 88 other cities and towns, as well as unincorporated areas, in the county.

And you’ll start to understand why it’s not safe to eat many of the fish that come out of the bay. Or to spend much time in it yourself.

As I stand waiting for her to finish her morning rounds, I also have an opportunity to study the busy street that runs in front of our building.

I watch as a steady stream of cars flows past, observing countless drivers talking on their hand-held cell phones.

Others turn left or right or change lanes without ever using their turn signals, leaving other drivers to wonder — often with obvious impatience — why the car ahead is slowing down for no apparent reason. Or slamming on their brakes and swerving dangerously into the next lane to get around them.

Then there are the speeding drivers who weave in and out of the morning traffic, ignoring both speed limits and common sense, trusting their own driving skills to avoid the many near misses they create.

And too often, failing.

All this, despite their responsibility to obey the traffic laws they flaunt, and operate their vehicles in a safe and responsible manner.

Less frequently, I’ll see bikes rolling past as riders make their way up the street to UCLA, or down the street to jobs in Century City or beyond.

From time to time, I see one blow through the red light on the corner, forcing drivers who have waited patiently to cross the street to jam on their brakes to avoid a collision as the rider rushes into their path.

At night, as I take my dog out for the last walk of the day, I often see cyclists ride past without lights, briefly highlighted by the streetlights before rolling into semi-invisibility in the twilight between.

Other times, as I ride my bike, I often watch in amazement as I stop for a red light, only to see a cyclist ride up from behind and ride right through, ignoring my example as well as their own safety.

In fact, I was hit by one the other night, as I stopped and he kept going, brushing hard against my side as he blew through on my right, oblivious to the traffic starting to flow in either direction on the cross street.

Evidently, hitting me and risking getting hit himself were worth it to avoid stopping for less than a minute.

It breaks my heart when I reach an intersection and see oncoming or crossing drivers hesitate, despite having the right-of-way, because they expect me to ride through a stop sign or red light. Or anticipate that I’ll cut in front of them, ignoring both the right-of-way and my own safety.

Because that’s what we’ve trained them to do.

Too often, I find myself waving drivers through the intersection, granting my permission to do what the rules of the road say they have the right to do anyway. Or needlessly clicking out of my pedal and putting my foot down, so they’ll see that I am in fact stopping.

Because, like them, I have a responsibility to obey the law.

And more importantly, to share the road safely.

The difference is, when drivers act irresponsibly, they pose a danger to everyone else on the road. When we do, the risk is primarily to ourselves.

Although we, too, can harm others by our actions.

The problem isn’t irresponsible cyclists, despite what countless bike-hating internet trolls and shock-jock DJs will tell you. Or drivers who have forgotten the danger their vehicles pose, and their responsibility to operate them safely.

Or even dog owners who can’t be bothered to clean up after their pets.

It’s a society that has become irresponsible in the truest sense of the word, willing to let others clean up the messes we create. Except they often don’t do it either.

Whether on Wall Street, in Washington, Sacramento or City Hall, or on our own block.

When that lack of responsibility occurs on the streets, it forces other road users to assume responsibility for our own safety.

By blowing through that red light or stop sign, or driving while distracted — or any of the other countless, seemingly insignificant violations we commit every day — we’re placing responsibility for our own safety in the hands of others, who may or may not accept it.

When they do — or can, for that matter — everyone rolls off safely, if perhaps a little more angry at the cyclists or drivers they blame for posing a hazard to everyone else. And oblivious to the way they do the same things every day.

I’ve often said that the highest responsibility of any cyclist is to ride safely, in a manner that doesn’t pose an unnecessary risk to ourselves or others around us.

And yes, drivers bear that same responsibility, too.

So I promise I won’t make you deal with my crap on the road. I’ll ride responsibly, obeying the law when it’s safe to do so, and rarely, breaking it when safety demands doing something else, and ensuring that safety is always my top priority.

And hope that you won’t make me deal with yours.

%d bloggers like this: