Dramatic drop in SoCal cycling deaths; Santa Monica police to focus on bad bicyclists behavior in April

Let’s take the good news first.

Only one bike rider appears to have been killed in the entire seven-county Southern California region last month.

According to my records, the only March cycling fatality was 29-year old Pacific Beach resident David Ortiz. As you may recall, Ortiz was originally blamed for riding against traffic, when it actually turned out that he was riding with traffic on his way to work, and was the apparent victim of a hit-and-run driver.

How police could possibly make that mistake is beyond me.

But that’s it.

One death is still one too many, but a single fatality in a region that averages nearly per month is a remarkable improvement. And it compares very favorably to last year when five riders died on SoCal streets in the month of March.

In fact, if we exclude the intentional murder of Corona cyclist Herman Armando Villalobos, the nine cycling fatalities so far this year are exactly half of the 18 that were recorded in the region in the first three months of last year.

As for the reason for that improvement, your guess is as good as mine.

Maybe after a horrible year in 2011, in which 71 cyclists lost their lives in traffic-related wrecks — and another nine were murdered by gunfire — we’re returning to the levels of recent years, with 55 fatalities in 2008 and 2009, and an official count of 48 in 2010.

Or maybe drivers and bicyclists are finally figuring out how to safely coexist on the asphalt.

My fear is that there may be cycling fatalities that just aren’t making the news; at least two occurred last year that were never reported in the media. Or that Google’s recently revised algorithms may mean some stories just don’t rise to the level necessary to show up in my daily news searches.

Although the readers of this site are very good at ensuring important stories make my radar, for which I am very grateful.

Still, just one death for the entire month of March is good news.

Because one death is very close to none.

And it proves it just may be possible to achieve a bicycling Vision Zero, in which no cyclists die on the streets of Southern California.

And if that isn’t the goal of every elected official, it should be.


Now let’s correct a mistake I made over the weekend.

Pacific Palisades’ George Wolfberg — who somehow manages the remarkable feat of flying beneath the radar of most local cyclists despite being one of the area’s most vital bike advocates — forwarded an email to me from a representative of the Santa Monica police, noting that they will be focusing on law-breaking cyclists in the month of April.

And in my rush to get out the door on Saturday, I promptly tweeted that it was from the LAPD. Only to have that promptly retweeted by a dozen or so people.

So imagine my shame when I got back home and read the email again.

Mea culpa. Maxima mea culpa.

My apologies to George, the SMPD, LAPD, and everyone who read or forwarded that mistaken message. My cheeks have been red ever since, and not just from trying to ride in our recent winds.

So here’s the real story.

Every month, the Santa Monica police department focuses on specific behaviors that’s are primary causes of traffic collisions in the Westside’s city by the bay.

And this month, it’s our turn.

For the month of April, SaMo police will be focused on violations by scofflaw cyclists.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to be targeting cyclists. But it does mean that if they see you break the law, you’re more likely to get stopped — and possibly ticketed — than you might be when they’re more focused on other matters.

So take it as fair warning.

If you’re riding in Santa Monica, make a point of signaling, observing the right-of-way and stopping for stop signs for the next 29 days. And especially red lights — even on those T-intersections like the ones on Ocean Ave, where many riders seem to assume there’s no need to stop.

I’m sure the SMPD would be more than happy to explain otherwise.

And stay off the sidewalk.

It’s illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk in Santa Monica. Even if they don’t post it so riders from out of town might actually know what the local law is.

Which seems sort of like a town creating a speed trap by imposing a low speed limit, then never informing drivers that they need to slow down before writing tickets.

Meanwhile, the CHP is leading a statewide crackdown on distracted drivers this month.

Now if they could keep it up the other 11 months of the year, our streets might actually get a little safer.


One other bit of interesting news in the email George Wolfberg forwarded to me.

In the first three months of this year, Santa Monica police have investigated 37 traffic collisions involving cyclists. And found that drivers have been responsible for the overwhelming majority of those collisions.

Shocking, I know.

Or at least it would be to a lot of bike hating drivers out there, who seem to blame scofflaw cyclists for every collision involving a bike.

In fact, through the first part of March, SaMo police found cyclists at fault in just 31% of the cases — a far cry from last year, when then Chief Jackman blamed riders for being at fault in over three-quarter of bike collisions.

Either we’re riding a lot better, or the SMPD has gotten a better understanding of bike law and how to investigate bike-involved collisions over the past year.


Finally, proof that it’s not just average cyclists who have to worry about getting run down by cars.

Top American cyclist Levi Leipheimer was forced to withdraw from this week’s Tour of the Basque Country after he was hit from behind while training in Spain on Sunday.

Fortunately, he does not seem to be seriously injured.

Leipheimer reportedly didn’t see or hear the car coming before it hit him, describing the collision as “super scary” and saying he feels lucky to be alive. He’s returning to the U.S. today for further examination.

Thanks to David Huntsman for the heads-up.


  1. Jim Lyle says:

    I hope one of the groups in rotation for special attention from the SMPD is pedestrians, including the scofflaws who insist on using the bike path.

    • Joe B says:

      I hope that one of the groups in rotation for special attention from the SMPD is motorists. They should solve the big problems (rampant speeding, unsafe passing, failure to yield to peds) before they go on to the minor ones.

      • Evan says:

        I find it kind of annoying that they have a special drive to look at cyclists, but shared responsibility, be the change you want to see in the world, and all that.

  2. Mark Elliot says:

    Riding along in Beverly Hills on a beautiful Sunday morning, my mind wandered as made my way west to coffee. And then I realized that I’d traveled several blocks on Charleville, which has a stop sign at every corner. I had fully braked at all of them without even a bit of cross-traffic to remind me. Riding safely means making it a practice so that you’re still riding mindfully even when your mind has left the scene momentarily, dreaming of a croissant.

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