Tag Archive for Los Angeles Times

Manny Ramirez defense leads to acquittal for Gordon Wray; The Times’ Hector Tobar likes bikes

Evidently, killing a cyclist because you can’t see is nothing more than an accident.

Just say the sun got in your eyes, and walk away.

That’s what happened today, as Gordon Wray was acquitted on a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in the death of Doug Caldwell.

A jury of his peers — though not necessarily the victim’s, since cyclists are usually excluded from bike case juries — took little more than an hour to agree that the prosecution’s case failed to meet the necessary burden of proof.

Never mind that most rational people would agree that the sudden, violent death of another human being should amount to more than just “oops.”

However, Wray’s attorney astutely played the Manny Ramirez defense, claiming the sun was in his client’s eyes at the time of the collision. And rather than pull over until he could see, proceeded to slam into two other people who had the misfortune of sharing the road with him.

At least when Manny used the excuse, he only lost the ball and allowed a few runs to score.

The crux of this case was CVC 22350, which reads:

No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.

Unfortunately, as cyclist and attorney Dj Wheels points out, the problem for the prosecution was determining just what speed was reasonable under the circumstances. They were forced to argue that if Wray was truly blinded by the sun, he should have slowed down to a speed that allowed him to see the two riders, even if that meant coming to a full stop.

The defense countered that Wray understood the risk posed by the sun shining in his eyes, and slowed down to 35 mph in a 50 mph zone as a result.

Except that still wasn’t good enough. And a well-loved man died as a result, while another suffered road rash so severe that he required plastic surgery to repair the damage.

Yet the jury’s reaction was to be expected.

Virtually every driver has found him or herself in that same position at least once. And when they put themselves in Wray’s position, they had to ask what they would have done under the same circumstances.

Which, given the verdict, should serve as a frightening warning to everyone else on the road.

If you want to look on the bright side, it was a victory for cyclists that this trial ever came to court. The case was never strong, and it shows just how seriously authorities took it that charges were ever filed in the first place.

But my heart breaks for Caldwell’s family, who had to watch the man responsible for his death walk away, knowing he’ll never be held accountable in criminal court.

Maybe they’ll have better luck in civil court, where the burden of proof is lower.

Although this acquittal won’t help.

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Better news comes from the Orange County Transportation Authority in the form of OCLINK, which they describe as “an innovative and convenient pass that allows riders to hop on trains and buses throughout the county.”

According to their release, the OCLINK pass provides unlimited weekday transfers on a buses and Metrolink trains throughout Orange County for just $7 per person. As a result, OC cyclists can easily hop the bus or train to the riding destination of their choice — even if that happens to be in L.A. or Ventura County — then return home without breaking the bank.

For those of us a little further away, Metrolink is now offering an All-Weekend Pass for just $10 a person, allowing unlimited train rides from 7 pm Friday to midnight Sunday. And anywhere Metrolink travels throughout Orange, L.A., Riverside, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.

Which means you can now take the train to one of those great far-flung riding routes you’ve only heard about, then ride the rails back home without breaking the bank.

The downside is, like the long-despised and recently revoked Metro policy, Metrolink allows only two bikes per passenger car. Although rumor has it they’re considering a prototype bike car that will accommodate up to 20 bikes, making future group tours by bike and train a more viable possibility.

Maybe we should encourage that idea.

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LADOT Bike Blog has announced that the city’s long-awaited Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance is finally ready for final approval, and should come before the full council sometime in the next two weeks.

The groundbreaking ordinance, the first of its kind anywhere in the U.S., would make harassment of a cyclist a civil matter, rather than criminal, allowing riders to take threatening drivers to court themselves. And it contains a provision for legal fees, making it worthwhile for lawyers to take cases that might not otherwise be financially viable for them.

Meanwhile, reader Alejandro Meruelo writes to remind us that L.A. Mayor — and my CicLAvia riding buddy — Antonio Villaraigosa has asked for suggestions on how to make L.A. more bike-friendly.

Meruelo suggests using the Ask the Mayor website to encourage hizzoner to inform law enforcement officers that CVC 21202 allows cyclists full use of the lane under many, if not most, circumstances. While every LAPD officer should be well versed on the subject thanks to the department’s bike training video, it wouldn’t hurt to have a little official support from the mayor’s office. And it could carry a lot of weight with other law enforcement agencies that aren’t nearly as enlightened.

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The Times’ Hector Tobar talks with some of L.A.’s Ridazz, and decides that the city needs an attitude adjustment regarding bicyclists — concluding that we’re not only a part of the community, but have as much right to the roadway as anyone else.

And yes, that chill you felt was hell freezing over, as the Times has officially crossed over to our side.

Mostly.

Contrast that with this absurdly biased anti-bike lane piece from New York’s WCBS, which argues that city streets should accommodate the 90% in cars and buses, rather than making space for the 10% who ride bikes — even if those bike riders make more room for everyone else. And suggests the danger posed by theoretical bomb-laden bicyclists, who might conceivably use the new lanes to roll up in front of the Israeli consulate.

Because terrorists evidently aren’t brave enough to take the lane in New York traffic.

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Bike friendly ad agency Colle+McVoy — the people behind my all-time favorite bike-to-work ad (scroll to the bottom) — has created a Facebook app to let the world know you’re out on your bike. Just download the app, and it will replace your profile photo with the Out Biking image when you ride.

Although I’m not sure I want my clients — or my wife — to know I’m out riding when I should be working.

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Finally, thanks to George Wolfberg for forwarding this photo from Jonathon Weiss, showing the new bike-friendly ads on the back of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Buses. I was pleasantly surprised to see that one myself the other day, but was a little too busy trying to survive the obstacles blocking the Ocean Ave bike lanes to grab a photo myself.

Evidently, Santa Monica drivers assume that if we can use their lanes, they can use ours.

Casting a critical eye on Times columnist Sandy Banks’ Wilbur Ave auto-centric bias

You didn’t really think I was going to forget about Sandy Banks, did you?

CicLAvia may have pushed her recent one-sided column about the Wilbur Avenue road diet to the back burner. But far from out of mind.

There it was on Saturday morning, on the second page of the L.A. Times — the same paper that recently flaunted their new journalistic standards by replacing their front page with an ad for Law & Order Los Angeles.

And don’t get me started on the entirely inappropriate photo that accompanied Banks column.

Maybe all the paper’s photographers had the weekend off. Or maybe they were stuck in Valley traffic and couldn’t make it back in time to meet the paper’s new early press deadline.

Still, I expected better from her.

Her column usually focuses on feel-good stories about her family life, or those of ordinary Angelenos trying to make it in this megalopolis we call home.

This time, though, it was all about her anger and frustration over the road diet that cut Wilbur from four through lanes to two, making room for a center turn lane with bike lanes on either side.

For years, Wilbur Avenue had been a free-flowing community secret, a commuter street that bypassed the congestion of Northridge’s main routes. Then a “street improvement” project last month turned our speedway into a parking lot.

It wouldn’t have taken much research to reveal that her speedway was never intended as a bypass to the Valley’s more crowded boulevards, as drivers turned what should have been a quiet, safe residential street into a cut-through throughway that only benefitted the people who don’t live there.

The road diet merely returned a little sanity to a single local street. And if that slightly inconveniences the people who don’t live on it, it’s a small price to pay to preserve the livability of the neighborhood.

Despite denials from the people who should actually know, she also suggests that the mayor’s recent Road to Damascus conversion to bike advocate may have had something to do with the sudden, unannounced striping of bike lanes — forgetting that we live in a dysfunctional city where bureaucrats seldom speak to one another, let alone the public. And even though she notes herself that bike lanes have been slated for that street since 1996.

Then again, she’s probably not the only one who was shocked that something from the ’96 bike plan actually made it onto the streets.

Despite talking to LADOT’s John Fisher and Bikeways Coordinator Michelle Mowery, she fails to mention that the actual purpose of the road diet was to slow high-speed drivers like herself and return a little sanity to Wilbur Avenue. Or that the bike lanes were added almost as an afterthought because there was finally room for them.

Instead, she based her entire column on the mistaken concept that her inconvenience was due to the city giving cyclists priority over drivers.

Like that would ever happened here.

Needless to say, she had 12th District City Councilmember Grieg Smith, who never met a speed limit he didn’t want to raise, firmly in her corner.

“Wilbur is the wrong street for this kind of improvement,” said Smith, his sarcasm clear. His district office is on Wilbur, at the bike lane’s southern terminus. “I’ve driven that street for 30 years, and I have probably seen a total of 30 bicycles on Wilbur in all that time.”

Maybe he really was blindsided by the unannounced road diet. On the other hand, you’d think a council member would be able to pick up the phone and find out what’s going on in his own district.

And why.

Instead, he responded in typical knee-jerk, car-centric, anti-bike fashion, saying that the 98% of the public who drives shouldn’t be inconvenienced for the 2% on two wheels.

Never mind that many of us do both. And a lot more might if they felt safer on the streets of the council member’s own district.

In fact, the city’s new bike plan suggests that up to half of L.A. adults ride a bike from time to time, and roughly 12% ride on at least a monthly basis.

Smith should also know, as the mayor and many of his peers on the City Council seem to have figured out, that this city can no longer afford the same failed focus on automotive throughput that has destroyed the livability of many parts of our city. By focusing all our efforts on moving more and more cars through our streets, we have created gridlocked streets, destroyed our air quality and blighted countless pass-through neighborhoods.

On the other hand, by providing effective alternatives to driving — like well-designed bike lanes, for instance — we can create a safer, more walkable, ridable and livable Los Angeles that will improve the quality of life for everyone.

What we need to do is increase our 1% share of bike commuters on the street to the nearly 6% in Portland — or even the 3% currently enjoyed by San Francisco — rather than mercilessly drive them off the streets as Smith would do.

And make it safer and more convenient for people to leave their cars at home for short errands around their own neighborhood, which currently account for nearly half of all car trips.

Then everyone would benefit from the reduced congestion.

Even drivers like Banks who feel hopelessly inconvenienced by the first baby steps to get there.

Damien Newton looks at the Wilbur Ave controversy, and embeds a report from KNBC-TV 4.

Reports indicate that last night’s Northridge West Neighborhood Council meeting did not go well for the cyclists in attendance. Word is that drivers are on the offensive, and ready to steamroll cyclists and local residents to regain their high-speed Wilbur Avenue throughway. Although how effective it would be now that they’ve told everyone about their secret speedway is another matter.

.………

Frequent Kiwi contributor the Trickster forwards a link to a fascinating Aussie study of the role of traffic violations in collisions reported to the police. In over 6,000 crashes between bikes and motor vehicles, the cyclist was found at fault in 44% of the time, while cyclists were held at fault in 66% of crashes between bikes and pedestrians. However, you may want to note that the results are based on police reports, without independent analysis of their investigations.

He also forwards a report on a study of cycling injuries in Australia that suggests efforts to improve road safety for drivers have done little to improve safety for cyclists, and that cyclists are over-represented in their share of traffic injuries and under-represented in efforts to prevent them.

.………

Still more cicLAvia news, with photos from This Girls’s Bike, a report of Grist and an out of town visitor’s view of our fair city, Metro and a car-free Sunday from Plan Bike. Meanwhile CicLAvia wants your ideas for the next one.

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The Source offers an update on Metro’s bike efforts. New bike racks at the CARECEN day labor center in MacArthur Park. Photo’s from San Diego’s Tour de Fat, which will be hitting L.A. on the 23rd. It’s back to Vegas after all for Interbike. Portland looks beyond cyclists to promote biking as an everyday means of transportation. Cycleliscious updates the Black Hawk bike ban, along with new rules for large rides in lieu of the proposed ban in St. Charles County MO. St. Louis blocks many streets already, so why not let bikes through? Crain’s New York Business asks if the city should give up on Manhattan bike lanes; so far, the vote is running 9 to 1 in favor of keeping them. It’s fall back in the midlands. After killing a cyclist, a London dump truck driver is fined £165 and forced to get new glasses.

Finally, Hermosa Beach officials want your input regarding the sharrows on Hermosa Avenue; if you’ve ridden them, you know how effective they are; if not, they’re the gold standard for what SoCal sharrows can and should be.

Evidently, we should be glad there’s such a low turnout in local elections

Back when I was in college, one of my Political Science professors gave a lecture about low voter turnout in the U.S.

He pointed out that far more people turn out to vote in formerly totalitarian countries, because they understand the true value of the freedom we take for granted.

Then he flipped through a few surveys, highlighting the percentages of people who hate blacks, Jews, gays and other assorted minorities. As well as those who believe the moon landing was fake and the Earth is flat.

His point was that a lot of people don’t vote.

And maybe we’re better off for it.

Case in point, the 91 and counting comments that followed the brief story on the Times website about the proposed bicyclist anti-harassment ordinance. The overwhelming majority of which were of the standard “I’ll respect bikes when they (choose one or more of the following): respect the law, stop for red lights and stop signs, signal, stay on the sidewalk, stay off the sidewalk, get out of the lane, get out of my way, get a life, grow a pair, and/or stop wearing those ugly clothes.”

I read ‘em so you won’t have to. You can thank me later.

Take these two, for example, which pretty much sum up the tone of today’s conversation (and yes, I’ve left the spelling and punctuation exactly the way I found it):

Im a fireman. Experience has shown me that SPANDEX AND HEAVY STEEL DONT BELONG ON THE SAME ROAD!!!!!! Common since. Legislation is not going to change physics! Ride at your own risk!

Posted by: Steve | January 28, 2010 at 11:06 AM

Bicyclists are full of it. There are legally obligated to follow the motor vehicle code. However, I see them run stops signs, run redlights, and make sudden lane changes without signaling all the time.

If bicyclists want respect, they need to follow the rules of the road.

Posted by: Stump Barnes | January 28, 2010 at 11:09 AM

Then there was this one:

Here’s some ideas how to get people to be more vehicle friendly with cyclists;
1.Get cyclists to be more courteous with vehicles & pedestrians
2.Get cyclists to start opeying all driving laws
2. Require all cyclists to install I.D. licence plates on their bike’s so they can be identified when they either break a law, cause an accident, or start somesort of road rage.

Cyclists are known to be rude, obnoxious, law breaking jerks for the most part. They use strong profanity, they spit, they flip you the bird, and they provoke fights, knowing that they can easily get away because they can’t be identified. They seem to have all City Officials on their side, and since they are not wasting gas or polluting the air, they get away with just about anything. What’s it going to take to get Officials to wake up and realize that the root of the problem is the cyclists themselves.

Posted by: Dave Reynolds | January 28, 2010 at 10:12 AM

Dave, have you ever considered that if you’re running into so many rude, obnoxious, swearing, spitting, finger-flipping, fight-provoking, law-breaking jerks, that maybe, just maybe, the cyclists aren’t the problem?

Just a thought.

Anyway, after reading all those comments, I was truly shamed, realizing for the first time what dangerous scofflaws we cyclists must be. And understanding that, yes, these people are right to harass us because we pose such a risk to their two+ tons of glass and steel.

I mean, I might actually dent the bumper and get blood on their shiny paint and stuff.

So when I set out to ride today, I took notice of the drivers around me, hoping to learn from their example how to properly assume my place on the road.

Imagine my surprise.

Three of the first four drivers I saw ran stop signs. Not just a rolling stop, mind you — that’s what the fourth one did — but full blown, not slowing down don’t care if you’re in the way I’m coming through anyway stop sign running.

And for the first 1.83 miles, I didn’t see a single driver use a turn signal — and yes, I did make a note of it, because it was so surprising when someone finally did. And no, he wasn’t the first one to turn or make a lane change.

Far from it.

Then there were these four rocket scientists of the road.

I encountered the first two as I sat waiting at the front of the intersection for a light to change, just to left of the right turn lane. Next to me was a small utility truck, which kept inching forward. So I gestured to the driver, pointing out the “No right turn” sign directly ahead of him. Evidently, though, it doesn’t apply to small utility trucks, because he made his turn anyway.

Then the SUV behind him pulled up to the light. Unlike the previous driver, she waited patiently in the right turn lane until the light changed. Then went straight, nearly forcing me into the car on my left before she cut in front of both of us and sped off down the road.

But not before giving me the finger.

Although, to be fair, that was after I called her a jackass. Which I thought showed remarkable restraint, given the circumstances.

Then there was the driver in the Escalade, who saw me signal to move left into the traffic lane. And responded by speeding up to cut me, forcing me to jam on my brakes to avoid rear-ending the parked car ahead of me. Because there just wasn’t room for a massive Escalade and a bike in the same lane at the same time.

The real winner, though, came when I pulled up behind a car that was stopped at a stop sign, waiting patiently for a woman to cross the road. So the driver behind me crossed the yellow line onto the wrong side of the road, passing us both, then blew through the stop without slowing down — forcing the pedestrian to dodge out of his way.

So yes, I can easily see why all these people think we’re such dangerous, law-flaunting outlaws, undeserving of equal protection from law enforcement, since that right is reserved for real, law-abiding, gas-guzzling Americans.

I take comfort, though, in knowing that most of these self-proclaimed traffic law experts probably won’t be voting in the next election.

Oh, and Dave?

“Licence” is usually spelled with an “s.”

I’ll let you figure out where to put it.

We’re here. We ride. Get used to it.

Let’s go back to those Letters to the Editor we were discussing yesterday, now that the Times finally has them online. (You may have to search for the letters the paper printed on Saturday.)

The first printed letter, signed by Cecelia Grace of Los Angeles, ends with this: Motorists will respect cyclists when cyclists respect the rules of the road.

In other words, drivers don’t need to drive safely around us, because we just don’t deserve it. It’s our fault that, because of our bad behavior, they get mad and run us off the road. Isn’t that the same excuse every spouse batterer used? It’s not my fault, because you made me do it.

Or from the second letter they published on Saturday, from Lillie Reines of L.A., referring to those bad, bad people who ride for recreation: They are the ones who come steaming down the curves and cut off cars pulling out of driveways. They are the ones who encourage road rage.

Yes, she actually wrote that we encourage road rage. And the Times, for reasons that will forever escape me, actually printed it.

So let’s just make this as clear as humanly possible:

No one encourages a road rage incident, any more than they encourage a drive-by shooting.

Yes, there are rude cyclists, as well as riders who seem to feel the law does not apply to them, just as there are drivers — and pedestrians, for that matter — who demonstrate the same dangerous traits.

But no one deserves to be the victim of violence. Not drivers. Not pedestrians. And certainly not cyclists, no matter how egregiously rude or law-flaunting they may or may not be.

The simple fact is, a motor vehicle is not a weapon, nor is it an instrument of justice. It is not a tool of divine retribution or an outlet for even the most righteous anger. It is, simply, a car. A means of transportation. A way of getting from here to there.

And we are not your victims.

Cyclists may or may not deserve your respect, but you are required to give it, nonetheless. That is the agreement you make when you accept a drivers license. We are legally entitled to use the roadway, and you are legally required to let us do so, no more or less than you would any other vehicle.

And there is nothing we can do on or from the seat of a bicycle that would justify anyone using a vehicle as a weapon against any one of us, or any other human being. Nothing we may do gives you the right to kill, maim, injure or threaten us in any way.

Nothing.

So if a cyclist impedes your progress or breaks the law, call the police. It’s their job, let them deal with it.

If a rider is rude or insulting in any way, feel free to be rude in return. Give him the finger. Yell something. Or better yet, be the better man — or woman — and turn the other cheek. Just grit your teeth, go around him and get on with your life. You can tell your friends all about it later, as they nod in agreement and chime in with their own stories about all those rude and aggressive cyclists.

And we can go home to our wives, husbands, children, dogs, cats and/or goldfish.

Because, like it or not, we have a right to ride.

We have a right to the road.

We have a right to live.

And we’re not going anywhere.

 

According to yesterday’s article in the Times, anecdotal evidence suggests that more people are taking up cycling (sorry, drivers), and we need to find a way to live together. If you don’t like sharing the streets with us, it could be worse — according to the Bottleneck Blog’s Steve Hymon, we could be passing you the next time you’re stuck in gridlock on the 405. And LAist points out that those on two feet can be just as annoying as those of us on two wheels.

 

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