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:
Here are my posts about it:

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.


  1. Anj says:

    I can in someways relate to what Sgt. Smith mentions about pedestrians. During most of this past year I have spent many cycling hours riding in the evenings at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, at least 3 times a week and weekends. Of course the time I ride is around 6pm, which is the time hundreds of people are there of all ages. Runners, walkers, cyclists, golfer’s you name it and it’s there. But out of all those health minded people there. Walkers and some newbie runners seem to be the ones that walk right out in front of me, like I can stop on a dime traveling an average of 15mph on the up stretch and 20mph down hill “club house” area (I don’t ride fast around there, to dangerous). I will point out the worst time of year is in early Spring. Plenty of sunlight so I know I can be seen with my bright colored top, but not really, most walkers don’t even turn to look for traffic, they just step right out in front of me. I spent 80.00 on a super bright light and found out even if walkers turn and look right at me, they step out in front of me. On the average I get about 3 to 4 close calls like that a week there. Weekends are not as bad, less people. Later in the year it doesn’t happen as often but you can’t let your guard down for a second. I think someone should do a nation wide survey as to injuries and deaths of pedestrians, runners, and cyclists to see what is causing an increase on these types of accidents. The worst incident I witnessed at the Rose Bowl was when a runner wearing ear buds ran out into the training group of riders there on a Tuesday evening and sent a few cyclists to the hospital. The runner was found to be at adult by the police.
    Lets do some research on this matter and see what we can find on the cause of these incidents. Than we can help find a solution and try to keep people from getting hurt. Thank you! Sorry for such a long posting.

  2. The C-Blog says:

    […] Point­ing the fin­ger where it belongs — LA cyclists don’t die because of their own care­less…. […]

  3. boyonabike says:

    Thank you for this much-needed rebuttal to Banks’s poorly-thought out blame-the-victim column. And, I’d just add that we all (drivers AND cyclists) have an obligation to slow the f*#k down when we’re around pedestrians–even if it’s on your recreational ride.

    • Anj says:

      Tell that to the 75 plus riders in the group ride there on Tuesday & Thursday nights starting again in Aprill after the time changes. They do 40mph plus on the down stretch of the Rose Bowl. Try and get them to slow down. You will get some pretty flamboyant words hurdled at you. I personally respect everyone there, and of course I slow down and stop for pedestrians when given the opportunity. But there will be no way I can stop for the ones that decide to walk out in front of me without looking and do it when I’m almost on top of them. So far I have been able to avoid hitting anyone mainly because I do watch my speed and I keep a close eye out. Pedestrians have an obligation to watch where they are going and not blindlessly step off curbs in front of bikers and moving vehicles.

  4. Craig says:

    Perhaps another way to look at Sandy Banks article and this topic in general is that trying to claim all accidents involving bikes/peds and autos are the sole fault of the auto distorts reality and can lead to a dangerous thought process. That process being bikes/peds can be oblivious to what is going on around them, and have no personal responsibility for their actions nor are they responsible for any secondary effects on others. For example, hearing stories about police ticketing drivers for *not stopping* for jay walkers, I now regularly stop my car (even in the middle of the road) if I see a pedestrian trying to cross. On a number of occasions, I’ve noticed that has led to a dangerous situation where cars behind me are honking madly, and scrambling to pass in spite of on coming traffic in the other lanes. This is now a dangerous situation for everyone; the pedestrian (they now have a stopped car in one lane, and aggressive/speeding traffic in the adjacent lane), myself (I could get hit from behind, not to mention being essentially trapped, unable to move until the stalemate of the jay walking ped and the speeding cars is resolved), the cars in both lanes behind me (what I like to call a “pebble in a river” effect of cars massing/mergring some at dangerous speeds). Similar analogies could be drawn for bike riders in traffic.

    Another problematic aspect of this thought process is that the way to improve road conditions in any particular is to limit the access to the autos. That seems to be a black and white way to look at a problem which upon further inspection, is likely far more nuanced.

    The point isn’t to say people shouldn’t cross the street, or bike riders shouldn’t use the road. The point is, think about what you are doing in the context of everything which is happening around you. Put yourself in the shoes of that bike rider as you are driving behind them, or in that car as you start walking toward them in the middle of the street, or in all the people on that congested road which you are choosing to ride your bike down. Can you slow down or give that bike rider a bit more room? Could you go down to the cross walk (best at a light)? Is there another road, with less cars on it, you can use? I think its reasonable to propose that if everyone (car drivers, pedestrians, bike riders) would consider how their actions affect those around them, we would all be better off.

  5. Fred says:

    I loved this story. When people make claims, they should be asked to back up these claims with some numbers. If you say most, this means to me that:

    1. You counted all the incidents

    2. You can clearly determine the cause

    As someone who is interested in these stats, I can say that it’s pretty tough to get #1. As someone who wasn’t there in most cases, #2 is harder for most of us.

    Again, I’m shocked that someone takes someone’s claims at face value: Argument From Authority Fallacy.

  6. grrlyrida says:

    Great post Ted. They should let you all do the rebuttals–you, Jen and Damien.

    Did you see this on this afternoon’s broadcast or did you post it already? It’s about that sleazy Gardena cop and his pathetic daughter.


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