Tag Archive for blaming the victim

Pointing the finger where it belongs — LA cyclists don’t die because of their own careless actions

Uh, no.

Hell no.

Tuesday morning’s LA Times contained a column by formerly auto-centric, anti-bike columnist Sandy Banks, who seemingly saw the light following her first exposure to CicLAvia.

After a recent column in which she related the tale of a mother who launched a battle against distracted driving when her son was killed crossing a busy street, she followed up with unexamined criticisms from readers who blamed pedestrians — and cyclists — for their own deaths.

Needless to say, none of the responses took drivers to task for failing to pay attention, observing the speed limit or putting down their damn phones.

No, the comments she highlighted blamed the victims, placing full responsibility for avoiding collisions squarely on the shoulders of those not driving the big, dangerous machines capable of killing other road users.

As in, I don’t want to kill you. So it’s your responsibility to get the hell out of my way.

Like this one, for instance.

“I know that there are plenty of inconsiderate drivers, but I see just as many inconsiderate pedestrians that need to take some personal responsibility for their own safety,” wrote Wayne Pedersen.

His drive along busy Foothill Boulevard resembles a dangerous game of chicken, with pedestrians oblivious to stoplights, crosswalks and even corners, he said. “Not a month goes by that I do not have a close call, [almost] hitting someone.”

Call me crazy, but if I almost hit someone at least once a month, I’d take a long, hard look at my own driving, rather than pointing the finger at others.

On the other hand, I won’t waste your time pointing out all the problems with this piece. Streetsblog’s Damien Newton did that already.

And as usual, did it well.

I don’t think Banks is anti-pedestrian, or even anti-bike anymore. Her heart seems to be in the right place, even if she’s looking at the problem from the wrong angle.

My problem comes with the LAPD traffic officer who pointed her in the wrong direction.

“Many, if not most, of the pedestrians and bicyclists that get hit (and often die) are the cause of their own demise,” wrote reader Kurt Smith. “They are not obeying the laws, and/or not paying attention.”

Smith ought to know; he’s a traffic cop. A sergeant in the LAPD’s Valley Traffic Division, he deals “with the aftermath of poor choices” made by people who are struck while walking, running and riding bikes.

Yes, Sgt. Smith ought to know. But evidently, doesn’t.

Whether it’s a case of windshield perspective, police bias or selective amnesia, he gets it dangerously wrong. At least as a far as fatal collisions involving cyclists are concerned.

  • Take Christopher Spychala, the 49-year old cyclist killed when the driver of a parked car threw her door open in his path. He was, by all accounts, obeying the law; if he is to be faulted at all, it’s for riding in the door zone and not wearing a helmet to protect himself from a careless driver.
  • Or David Granatos, the 18-year old bike rider killed by a speeding, red light-running hit-and-run driver while riding in the presumed safety of a crosswalk.
  • Yes, 90-year old Joo Yoon was riding against the light when he was killed by a hit-and-run driver. But most likely because he couldn’t ride fast enough to get across the street before the light changed.
  • Then there’s the rider, to the best of my knowledge never publicly identified, who was the victim of a driver who deliberately ran him over in Downtown LA before fleeing the scene; kind of hard to blame a murder victim for the actions of his killer.
  • The limited information contained in the LAPD press release doesn’t explain how or why 44-year old Max De La Cruz was hit by the car that killed him. But since the driver fled the scene, I know who I’d blame.
  • You’d be hard-pressed to blame the publicly unidentified rider who was collateral damage when a driver slammed into his bike, killing him, while attempting to flee after shooting into his girlfriend’s car.
  • Yes, Jose Cuellar was probably responsible for his own death, since he died in a solo fall, although there were reports of screeching tires before witnesses saw him wobbling on his bike.
  • Forty-seven year old Samuel Martinez reportedly ran a red light when he was hit and killed by a car last July, making him at fault for his own death.
  • Eighteen-year old Markeis Vonreece Parish was walking his bike across an intersection when he was hit by a speeding car that fled the scene, leaving him to die in the street.
  • There is no suggestion that 39-year old Victor Awad was doing anything wrong when he was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Chatsworth last August.
  • There is also no suggestion that the publicly unidentified rider killed by a turning car in Tarzana in August broke the law in any way.
  • Luis “Andy” Garcia certainly wasn’t at fault in any way when he and two other riders were run down by a drunk driver who fled the scene, leaving him lying in the roadway where he was hit and killed by a second vehicle.
  • You’d be hard-pressed to blame 20-something cyclist Billy Martinez, who was killed when a driver turned left directly in front of him as he rode home from his job in Sunland.

Thirteen cyclists killed in the City of Los Angeles since the first of this year; several of them in the same San Fernando Valley district Sgt. Smith patrols.

Of those, there’s no indication that 10 were in any way responsible for the collisions that took their lives, while only three could be clearly blamed for actions that resulted in their own deaths.

Or looking at it another way, seven of the riders were clearly not at fault, three were, and for another three, we don’t have enough information to point the finger one way or the other.

Either way, that’s far from the “many, if not most,” who cause their deaths through their own carelessness, as Sgt. Smith suggested.

I can’t speak for riders who have been injured, rather than killed; there are far too many for any one person to keep up with.

And I leave it to someone else to track pedestrian deaths. While my heart goes out to all traffic victims, this blog is about bicycling, and it’s all I can do just to track the bike riders who lose their lives on our streets.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Sgt. Smith’s heart is in the right place. And he’s speaking based on his own perceptions, in an attempt to keep cyclists and pedestrians in one piece.

But any suggestion that bike riders are responsible for their own deaths just doesn’t stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.

And it is irresponsible for anyone to suggest otherwise.

………

There’s one important though I forgot to add when I wrote this.

It is true, as Banks said, that some cyclists and pedestrians put their own safety at risk through carelessness or distraction when they ride or walk, just as some drivers are careless, distracted or overly aggressive behind the wheel.

The difference is, even the worst rider or walker is a danger primarily to him or herself, while bad drivers are a danger to everyone around them.

However, there is nothing you can do to control the actions of others.

All you can do is control your own behavior.

And ride, walk or drive defensively, in a way that protects your own safety and doesn’t pose a danger to those around you.

………

One other quick note.

I got an email today from Mark Elliot, author of Better Bike and one of the area’s leading bike advocates, almost single-handedly taking on the challenge of making the former Biking Black Hole of Beverly Hills a little more bike friendly.

And it’s largely thanks to his efforts that we can call it the former Black Hole.

He writes to let us know that meetings are starting this Thursday to discuss the planned remake of Santa Monica Boulevard through the city. And the need for bike riders to be heard to ensure there’s space for us when the work is finished.

I wanted to give you a heads-up that City of Beverly Hills this fall will be developing design options for tomorrow’s SM Blvd as part of our reconstruction of the corridor. As you know, much-needed bicycle lanes must be on the table, but there is some public (and City Hall) opposition to be overcome.

To facilitate public input, the city recently created a ‘blue-ribbon’ committee. I’ve been appointed; I’ll be representing cycling interests. More important, this presents an opening for the cycling community to be heard. Anyone with an interest in plugging the  SM Blvd bike lane gap in Beverly Hills should be aware of the process and the opportunity for comment.

The first meeting is this Thursday, November 7th at 6pm in Beverly Hills (in the library). The 2nd meeting follows in December with a third (and final) meeting in early January. Design recommendations will go to Council in late January, most likely, and we want to be sure that the recommended option(s) includes Class II bike lanes.

Here is the project page:
www.beverlyhills.org/SMBLVD
 
Here are my posts about it:
http://betterbike.org/2013/11/mark-your-calendar-sm-blvd/
http://betterbike.org/2013/10/beverly-hills-calls-for-public-input-on-sm-blvd-project/

I’m not sure I can make there it this time; if not, you’ll see me at one of the other meetings.

But if you can make it on Thursday, I urge you to show up and make you voice heard to close the dangerous gap between the bike lanes on the boulevard through West Hollywood and Century City.

Your safety, and mine, could depend on it.

Update: Cyclist gets double smackdown crossing PCH — seriously injured by car, then blamed by police

First he gets run down by a car on PCH.

Then he gets smacked down once more by the LAPD.

According to Pacific Palisades Patch, a bicyclist was riding his bike in the crosswalk across Pacific Coast Highway at Temescal Canyon Road at 7:51 am on Tuesday, October 30th when he was hit by a car heading north on PCH.

The rider, identified only a 30-year old white male, suffered severe injuries, including broken legs and lacerations to his arms and chest.

Then, Patch reports, police blamed him for the collision simply because he was riding in the crosswalk.

(Officer) Johnson said the accident report has the bicyclist listed as the cause of the accident.

“Bicyclists can’t ride in the crosswalk,” he said. “You have to walk it. As soon as you start pedeling (sic) you’re basically considered a vehicle and have to consider the rules of the road.”

Never mind that in order for the collision to occur the way it’s described, someone had to run the red light. Either the cyclist was crossing against the light — which would seem unlikely, given the heavy traffic on PCH at that hour — or the car that hit him ran it.

Either way, that would seem to be a more immediate — and important — cause of the collision than the simple presence of the rider in the crosswalk.

And never mind that the explanation given by Officer Johnson would appear to be in direct contradiction to state law.

According to California law, bikes are allowed to use crosswalks, which are legally considered an extension of the sidewalk. So if it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk — which the City of Los Angeles allows — it’s also legal to ride your bike in the crosswalk.

Sort of.

In a failed attempt to clarify the law, the state legislature recently amended the law to say that cyclists can ride along a crosswalk. Yet failed to clarify what exactly that means.

After all, you can ride along a pathway or along a river, with very different meanings. One puts you on it, the other next to it.

So depending on who is interpreting the law, and how, you can either ride on the crosswalk or alongside it.

Thanks for the clarification, guys.

Then there’s the question of which way you can ride on the crosswalk. And that’s where it really gets complicated.

According to the LAPD, after consulting with the City Attorney, they’ve come to the following, extremely convoluted, interpretation of the law.

As we discussed, cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk in Los Angeles. And since sidewalks don’t have any direction, bike riders can legally ride either way — as long as they remain on the sidewalk.

But in what appears to be a gross misinterpretation of the law, the LAPD says as soon as a bike enters the street, it becomes a vehicle. Even if it’s just crossing the street. And regardless of whether it’s in — or next to — the crosswalk.

And since it’s a vehicle, it then has to be ridden in the direction of traffic.

Even though pedestrians are allowed to use the crosswalk going in either direction. And even though state law says absolutely nothing about direction in allowing bikes to ride along the crosswalk.

That would appear to be the actual violation the police were referring to in this case, rather than riding in the crosswalk.

And there is nothing — absolutely nothing — that I am aware of in state law that says riders must dismount and walk their bikes across the street.

In fact, that would appear to be another violation of state law, which assigns bike riders all the rights and responsibilities of other vehicle users. I am unaware of any requirement that drivers have to get out of their cars and push them across the street before being allowed to get back inside and drive off.

Which brings up the other problem with this collision.

This intersection is a popular route for riders leaving the beachfront bike path along Will Rogers State Beach, whether to ride up Temescal Canyon or cross to the other side of PCH to continue on towards Malibu.

But there is no way for cyclists to trigger the green light at this intersection. The signal detectors embedded in the pavement don’t recognize bikes, and there is no push button for bikes or pedestrians headed east across PCH.

During busy summer months, that’s usually not a problem. Cars leave the parking lot on a regular basis, triggering the light and allowing riders to cross with the light.

But this time of year, you can wait hours for a car to come by and trigger the signal.

So the workaround many riders use — myself included — is to ride over to the north side of the intersection, push the signal button at the crosswalk, then ride across the street on or next to the crosswalk.

Which is probably exactly what the victim was doing that morning when he was hit by a Subaru. And which is now illegal, according to the LAPD.

So first this cyclist was victimized by bad roadway design, which robbed him of his right to ride like any other vehicle, and forced him to use the crosswalk.

Yes, state law does require signal detectors that recognize the presence of bikes, but only when the intersection is repaved or rebuilt in some other way. And just like drivers, cyclists are legally allowed to cross against the red light if it fails to change for several cycles.

Although you might have a hard time explaining that to a cop. And it would be a foolish thing to attempt at rush hour on a busy, high-speed highway like PCH.

Then he was hit by car, which may or may not have run the red light.

And finally, if the article is correct, he appears to have been victimized a third time. This time by the LAPD, with what looks like a highly flawed interpretation of the law.

He may or may not have been at fault.

But he certainly wasn’t at fault for the reason given.

Update: Now it makes more sense. 

It turns out that the Patch story misplaced the location of the collision, according to the LAPD’s new bike liaison for the West Traffic Division, Sgt. Christopher Kunz, in response to an email from Colin Bogart, Education Director for the LACBC.

Rather than the intersection of PCH and Temescal Canyon, the collision actually occurred about 1700 feet north at the crosswalk leading from the parking lot to the trailer park

And rather than being cited for riding in the crosswalk, the primary factor leading to the collision was a violation of CVC 21804(a), entering a highway without yielding to oncoming traffic. Sgt. Kunz says independent witnesses reported the victim rode across PCH at a high rate of speed, in an apparent attempt to beat oncoming traffic.

And failed. 

So while the intersection of PCH and Temescal remains a difficult and dangerous place for cyclists to cross, and the department’s current interpretation of crosswalk law would seem to leave a lot to be desired, neither one had anything to do with this collision. 

Instead it appears to be a case of bad judgement. A rider taking a chance he shouldn’t have taken.

And a news report that only told part of the story.

Blaming the victim — some drivers say cyclists are just asking for it

It wasn’t that long ago that a woman was just as likely to be blamed as the man who attacked her.

All too often, a woman would report a sexual assault, only to be asked why she was out that late or what she was doing in a place like that. And if a case overcame the odds and made it to court, a judge or jury might conclude that her short skirt or tight top meant that she was asking for it.

Or if a woman was the victim of domestic violence, she was likely to encounter an attitude that she was the one to blame because she shouldn’t have made her husband or boyfriend that mad to begin with.

Case dismissed.

Fortunately, times have changed. That sort of attitude went out with the onset of the women’s movement, when it slowly dawned on society that a woman had a right to say no or stand up for herself. And that we all need to be held accountable for our own actions, regardless of what anyone else does or doesn’t do.

Except, it seems, when it comes to sharing our streets.

The last socially acceptable vestige of that blame-the-victim attitude is firmly on display whenever the subject turns to bicycling and a riders’ right to the road — and the wisdom of putting our wheels on the asphalt some motorists claim as their exclusive domain.

Consider the L.A. Time’s recent Talk Back L.A. post asking for comments on the proposed anti-harassment ordinance, for instance.

By now, we’ve become accustomed to attitudes like this one that merely express a misguided hatred for anyone who moves on two wheels.

EVERY single person i know hates bicyclists. Your cute little mass protest rides have pissed off a lot of people. Your very existence on busy, clogged streets is an annoyance. Learn to drive or bust a gut-check and pay for gas like the rest of us.

No, the problem comes from those who absolve themselves of any responsibility for their own actions. It’s the cyclists’ fault for being where we shouldn’t be, in the eyes of the outraged and inconvenienced drivers.

ban all bicycles from main roads and their riders won’t get hurt or killed. they can’t keep up with traffic and provide no passenger protection. automobile drivers have enough to worry about when on the road, traffic rules, stop lights, pedestrians and now we have to watch over these cry babies who think they are special, really.

Yes, drivers have enough to worry about without watching out for other traffic on the road. And there’s certainly no need to acknowledge that a car or truck is a dangerous machine and must be operated carefully.

It’s just those two-wheeled crybabies who think they’re special, and insist on using the roads as if the law said they could.

Which it does, of course.

If you ride a bicycle on the street, you’re taking your life in your own hands. Bikes are too slow, too hard to see and take up space in the lane preventing cars from driving around them.

It’s the cyclists, they insist, who are risking their own lives; it’s not the drivers’ responsibility to look for them or pass safely. So if you hit one, it’s really his or her fault, not the fault of the careless, distracted or overly aggressive person behind the wheel.

On a busy 8 lane (8 lane!) street I had a bicyclist pull up in between my truck and another car at the stoplight at one of the busiest intersections in the city like he was on a motorcycle or something. Ridiculous. Just an accident waiting to happen. He perfectly could’ve use the available bike lane and cross walk. But no, he uses a major throughfare as his preferred route of transportation. And guess who’s fault it is when they get hit?

Honestly, the nerve. A cyclist riding on the street like it was a safe, legal and reasonable thing to do. Which it is — or at least, should be.

Then there are others who make the connection more directly.

Rather than a new law, enforce the current laws, laws that bicyclists are supposed to follow. If they drove as they are supposed to drive, harassment would become a non-issue.

From their perspective, drivers are entitled  to harass cyclists because cyclists break the law, or at least they’re not acting unreasonably if they do. Never mind that, despite what some people seem to think, a drivers license does not authorize vigilante enforcement of traffic laws.

I had to hit her, your honor. She made me so mad, I just couldn’t help myself.

Then again, there are some who bend over backwards to blame the victims.

This conviction (of Dr. Christopher Thompson) was total B.S. The doctor DID NOT hit the bicyclists. They ran into the BACK of the doctor’s car. The bicyclist that went thru the car’s back window was going 40 mph at the time. Why was he going so fast? Because he was CHASING the doctor’s car.

Even when a motorist is clearly breaking the law, it’s never the law-breaking driver who’s to blame — as in this heartless comment about the death of cyclist James Laing in Agoura Hills last month.

You have no idea what you are talking about, but that doesn’t stop you from hollering with your righteous indignation.
 Don’t want to get killed? Then stay off the streets, there are PLENTY of parks with bike paths. Insist on your “right” to participate in inherently dangerous behavior, then expect there to be tragedies like this.

No, it couldn’t be the fault of the driver who got behind the wheel after drinking and ran down a cyclist riding on a wide road in a well-marked bike lane. It’s the fault of the cyclist for simply for being on the road.

Or just being born, perhaps.

And it’s not just Los Angeles. And not just anonymous motorists.

A father who tragically lost his daughter in a cycling collision concludes, not that the driver who took his daughter’s life should have been more careful, but that bikes don’t belong on the street.

When are people going to realize bicycles and cars don’t mix? I have had horrible days driving along Highway 1 in Marin County, where the bikers are so thick that they force cars to pass on the opposite side of the road — in many cases on blind curves. We need some strict laws that restrict bicycles to roads specifically designed with bike lanes. How about a registration and helmet requirement to ride on streets and highways? Anything else should be illegal and subject to a citation. How many more people need to die before something is done?

Never mind that the law clearly prohibits passing on blind curves, or that it only takes a few extra seconds to pass safely in most cases.

The fact is, it’s not easy to have a collision.

It requires one or more people violating the law or using the road carelessly; if everyone drove and rode carefully, paying close attention to the traffic and circumstances around them, while observing the law, it would be virtually impossible to have a collision. And wrecks, whether between motor vehicles, bikes, pedestrians or any combination thereof, would become so rare that a simple fender bender would be front page news.

Because most accidents aren’t accidents.

But even the newly elected mayor of Toronto says it’s cyclists’ own fault if they get killed — whether or not they’re riding in a traffic lane.

What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks, and sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. And no wonder, roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. And my heart bleeds for them when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.

No need for drivers to be careful.

No need to slow down or put down that cell phone, watch the road or take alternative transportation if you’ve been drinking.  It’s not your fault, really.

It’s those darn cyclists who just don’t belong on the road.

They made me do it.

Case dismissed.

.………

In a truly astounding example of a driver refusing to take responsibility for his actions, a convicted drunk driver sues the parents of the bike riding boy he killed for allowing him to ride without a helmet — even though no helmet on earth would protect against a car moving at 83 mph in a 45 mph zone.

.………

And in case you ever wondered just what a harassing driver looks like, they seem to look kind of sheepish when they get caught.

.………

In a horrific weekend for New Zealand cyclists, two men are killed and a woman critically injured in a collision that left a bike embedded in the side of a car, and another woman killed by a car during a training ride, leading a cycling organization to call for urgent action; meanwhile, a Christchurch cyclist is seriously injured after colliding with a pole.

.………

Herbie says Google responded very quickly to a suggested change for a more appropriate riding route. The paparazzi catch Gwen Stefani teaching her son to ride with training wheels in West Hollywood. Bike lanes are coming to Valencia exactly where they’re not needed most. A Corona del Mar cyclist traces his route to bike advocate. A biking and baseball literary doping doubleheader can be yours for just $5. It’s your bike, ride it the way it feels right to you. Orem, Utah plans to become more bike and pedestrian friendly. Hats and scarves for cold weather riding. Police reports are often wrong. Yet another case of a cyclist suddenly materializing out of nowhere. As Witch on a Bicycle aptly put it, one zero-emissions vehicle collides with another. Evidently, L.A. isn’t the only city where the roads are falling apart. Sometimes, a sacrifice to the biking gods may be in order. Ivan Basso wants his first bike back. Italian police raid the home of Lance Armstrong teammate Yaroslav Popovych.

Finally, a tongue-in-cheek study shows that electric cars take up as much space as the gas-driven ones.

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