Evil on Trial: So why do we care?

Wednesday morning, I found myself in a recording studio at NPR West.

Accompanied by the esteemed Dr. Alex — aka, the other Dr. Thompson — we were there to offer whatever insights we could on the Mandeville Canyon case, as well as the current state of cyclist-driver relations on the streets of L.A.

It was an interesting conversation.

Alex offered the perspective of a passionate two-wheel activist, as one of the principal authors of the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights and a founding member of the Bike Writers Collective. Meanwhile, I provided the views of a semi-curmudgeonly, long-term roadie, and the newest member of the BWC’s Dirty Dozen.

Needless to say, we disagreed on a few things.

But we agreed on a lot more — like the need for cyclists to always ride safely, because too often, drivers just aren’t looking out for us. And aren’t always willing to share the road even when they do.

Not all drivers, of course. Not even most.

But enough to make riding a far riskier proposition than it needs to be.

Of course, how much of that will make into the final story will be determined in the editing bays of NPR. After all, there’s a reason I’m a writer rather than a speaker.

Besides, they’ve also spoken with a number of other riders, including Roadblock, Stephen Box and our own DJwheels, so they won’t be lacking for cyclists’ point of view.

On the other hand, they’ve had a hard time finding drivers willing to go on the record. So if you spend too much of your time on four wheels cursing cyclists from the hermetically sealed comfort of your gas-guzzling behemoth — and you’re willing to discuss it on the air — let me know.

There may still be time to get you on tape, or silicon, or whatever they’re using in this digital age.

There was one question that I found particularly interesting, though, when she asked us what it was about this case that captured the attention of cyclists around the world.

I mean, it’s not like confrontations with drivers don’t take place on a daily basis in cities around the world — and sometimes with far worse results. Or that many, if not most, riders haven’t experienced some form of road rage in all its vile, life-and-limb threatening glory.

So we could easily put ourselves in Peterson’s and Stoehr’s place.

Then there’s the fact that the Good Doctor actually admitted to the police that his actions were intentional — before backtracking under oath. Which pretty much meant that if we didn’t see a conviction in this case, we probably never would.

But from my perspective, the real key was that the Christopher Thompson had used his car as a weapon. It was no different than if he had pulled out a gun and shot the riders after they’d flipped him off.

Same crime. Same intent. Same result. Different weapon.

Some people still don’t get that.

It wasn’t an accident. It was an assault. And that’s something that is never justified, under any circumstances. No matter how much you hate cyclists — or drivers. How dangerous you think their actions are. Or how rude or offensive they may be.

That’s what the police are for. And why every cyclist should carry a cell phone on every ride.

I was going to conclude with something about how easy it is to get along on the roads if we all just follow the rules and remember that we’re not the only ones trying to get from here to there.

And how in over 30 years as a licensed driver, I have never encountered a cyclist I could not pass, safely, with just a little patience and consideration. Even on narrow, winding mountain roads that make Mandeville Canyon look like the Champs-Élysées.

But last Tuesday, there was an interesting discussion of this case, and the state of cycling on the streets of greater L.A., on KPCC’s excellent AirTalk program (you can hear the podcast on the link above).

The host, Larry Mantle, offered his own take on the situation. And among the comments, I found something from one of my favorite bike writers, which he reposted in more detail on his blog.

So if you’ll allow me, I’ll let JHaygood take it from here:

One problem here is that many car drivers see a bike rider acting dickishly and then make the leap to ‘all bike riders are dicks’. That’s not true, by a mile. Clearly from the Mandeville case we see that poor behavior is not limited to bike riders, and when you get a jerk behind the wheel of a car, it’s no longer an annoyance, it can be deadly. My feeling is that the guy who rides his bike like a jerk is probably a jerk when he gets in a car, too. So it’s not the mode of transport, it’s the jerk.

Cars are awarded the overwhelming majority of infrastructure dollars compared to bikes – it’s not even close. You spend much time out there on a bike and you are quickly made to realize that you are second class. You piss people off if you use the sidewalk, and you piss them off if you use the street. (You piss SOME off – most car drivers are really respectful – in my experience) You are forced to go rogue out there – you’re really left to fend for yourself. So the fact that bike riders improvise, for convenience or for safety, is to be expected. The roads aren’t made for us, the laws aren’t based on our impact or our threat to others. So we improvise. Car drivers may see it as lawlessness, but they should try it sometime, you learn to make do however you can…

It’s a good read. And it’s definitely worth clicking on the link to finish what he has to say. And on a related subject, Freakonomics takes a look at why driving, like the internet, brings out the worst in people.

Speaking of AirTalk, yesterday I accepted an invitation appear on their show next Wednesday, along with LADOT Bikeways Coordinator Michelle Mowery, to talk about bike safety and our right to the roads.

It should be, once again, a very interesting conversation.

………

It’s happened yet again. A Yucca Valley cyclist was killed when his bike was rear-ended by a truck, and an Orange County rider critically injured in a near-fatal hit-and-run. Meanwhile, TV’s Terminator star faces charges for his D.U.I. encounter with a 17 year old cyclist. C.I.C.L.E joins the call for a better bike plan. RIDE-Arc returns this Friday with a bike tour of Santa Monica architecture. The Times reports on efforts to create the city’s first ciclovia — or cicLAvoia, in this case. Also in the Times, the recent articles about cycling evidently touched a nerve. Mr. Bicycle Fixation takes a look at the state of cycling in L.A. and some of the people who are working to make it better. Cycle Chic reports she was beaten to the punch in organizing L.A.’s first Tweed Ride. Huntsville, Alabama cyclists have rights too, and the city is willing to pay to get the word out. London’s bicycling mayor rides to the rescue to stop an assault. Finally, a meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday at Echo Park Cycles to address the rapidly rising rate of bike thefts. And evidently, rapper 50 Cent is still broken up about having his stolen.

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