Tag Archive for bicycle fatalities

Traffic deaths up nationwide in 2012, while US bike deaths increase 6.5%; plus lots of fresh bike links

The news is out, and it’s not good.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic fatalities are up for the first time in the last seven years, with 33,561 deaths in 2012, compared to 32,479 the year before.

That total includes 726 bike riders who lost their lives in 2012 — a 6.5% increase — and 49,000 injured. Pedestrians and cyclists represented 17% of traffic deaths, compared to just 13% in 2003.

Of course, it’s possible, even likely, that the increase in cycling deaths and injuries is a result of an increase in ridership, though we have no idea whether the increase is proportionate to the rise in cycling rates.

However, the increase may call into question the much-cited safety in numbers effect.


Just Ride LA has scheduled a bike race to benefit the Philippines on the 21st. Time is running out to save the Riverside-Figueroa bridge. Gary Kavanagh discusses mainstreaming bicycle lessons learned from bike-friendly Davis CA. Manhattan Beach approves sharrows, but not on Pacific. Women on Bikes’ Pedal Love project is raising funds to inspire women and girls to ride as part of their daily lives. Calabasas gets a new bike and pedestrian plan. While bike haters claim we don’t pay our fair share for the roads, Rick Risemberg points out it’s drivers who need to dig a little deeper.

The case of fallen Newport Beach cyclist Debra Deem has been referred to the Orange County DA’s office. A Corona del Mar cyclist is slightly injured in a collision on the Coast Highway, while another rider is injured in San Clemente. A San Diego driver parks his car in a bike lane, and the press blames a cyclist for running into it. Santa Barbara bike rider is injured in a train collision when he doesn’t bother to look before crossing the tracks; thanks to Danny Gamboa for the link. A road raging San Francisco driver is under arrest for intentionally running down a bike rider. San Francisco 49er players build bikes to give to kids. Chico paper says two recent fallen cyclists did everything right — then tells cyclists to obey the letter of the law to improve safety.

In a shocking display of bipartisanship, Congress members from both parties introduce the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act to set separate safety targets for motorized and non-motorized transportation. Stoplights made for cars leave cyclists stuck on red. Portland infographic clearly shows bikes aren’t getting a free ride. A Utah cyclist is injured because a teenage driver couldn’t take her eyes off the pretty foliage. Driver ticketed for a fatal left cross in my hometown. The Boulder CO driver whose carelessness left ‘70s cycling legend Dale Stetina with life-threatening injuries faces charges, as well; Stetina could be out of the hospital next month. Eighty-five year old Iowa doctor still rides 100 miles a week, on skinny tires, no less. Getting it wrong: Time Magazine says Boston has finally solved bike sharing’s bike safety problem, which oddly hasn’t been a problem anywhere else. Glenn Beck, among others, urges New York’s new mayor to lose the bike lanes; better yet, let’s lose Glenn Beck and make the world a better place. Going to war over bike lanes and parking spaces in Alexandria VA.

A rash of fatalities strikes British cycling, with six dead in the last nine days — five in London alone. London’s mayor Boris is urged to take action, but shamefully chooses to blame the victims instead. How to stay safe on UK streets. Londonist considers how it would sound if we talked about all road users the way some people talk about cyclists, while a rider says, despite comments to the contrary, respect does not have to be earned. The Evening Standard says London can be a cycling city to rival any in Europe with a different approach. Authorities conclude that a bike-riding British spy died after somehow locking himself into a sports bag; yeah, that’s credible. Bike riding is up in Edinburgh as driving rates drop. Copenhagen design firm creates Lego-like snap-together tiles that can be assembled to create temporary cycle tracks; I like it. A UAE editorial calls for better protection for Emirates riders. Egyptian women are riding bikes in a fight for equality. Cyclists are dying at a faster rate on Australian roads. Thankfully, an Aussie cyclist suffers a massive heart attack while riding, but lives to ride another day. The husband of a fallen New Zealand cyclist calls for an attitude change on the country’s streets. Road raging Kiwi driver faces charges for pushing a rider off his bike, resulting in serious injuries.

Finally, Ireland gets tough on hit-and-run as a proposed law would increase penalties to up to 10 years, which sounds about right to me. And Bikeyface says your lights don’t work if no one can see them.

My deepest sympathy and prayers for bike friendly CA Assemblymember Mike Gatto, whose father was murdered in a home invasion robbery Thursday morning.

Because every child has a right to grow up

This is so not what I want to write about.

I’ve been working on another post, taking on so-called futurist Syd Mead, who somehow can’t seem to envision a future with bikes in it.

And typically, complains about empty unused bike lanes. Yet in the next breath, worries about cars unable to turn right because of all the bikes blocking their path.

Sometimes they just make it too easy.

But frankly, my heart’s just not in it.

Not tonight.

Because tonight my heart is weighed down by Skittles and tea, bumpers and guns; badly broken by a world where too many children lose their lives before they can get back home.

Yes, I’m talking about Trayvon Martin.

But I’m also talking about Horacio Pineda.

And Alex Romero.

And Danny Marin.

And Shantrel Williams.

And Jonathon Fernandez.

And Jeremy Perez.

And Joseph Parra.

And Roger Lewis.

And David Granados.

And Jonathon Hernandez.

All were 18-years old or younger when the life was crushed out of them by the bumper of a car. Or under a bus or truck.

In some cases, the driver was at fault. In some, the rider.

And in some, we’ll never know.

And those are just the one from Los Angeles County in the last three years. And only those who died in collisions.

The numbers would jump considerably if we added those who died from falls or trains or solo collisions. Or other SoCal counties outside LA.

Or gun violence while riding their bikes.

Like Martin, they had no idea when they left home they’d never return again. Or that the next time their parents and loved ones would say goodbye, it would be forever.

In his case, he went out for some Skittles and an iced tea.

The others were out with friends or running errands. Or just, you know, riding their bikes.

Like many others, I’m troubled by the Zimmerman verdict. Just as I am all the drivers who get off after killing a bike rider, or get just a slap on the wrist while their victims get the death penalty.

Or never face charges at all. If they’re ever found, for that matter.

I can’t say if he deserved to be convicted. I wasn’t in the courtroom; the only evidence I saw was what was presented on TV.

If you really want my opinion — and God knows, I don’t know why you would  in this case — he’s responsible for everything that happened once he ignored police instructions to stay out of it.

But I wasn’t there.

And unless your name is Zimmerman, neither were you.

What I do know is that far too many children are dying on our streets, victims of guns and gangs and cars and predators. And if we are ever to succeed as a civil society, it has to stop.


The Netherlands were once as car centric a nation as we are.

But the Stop de Kindermoord (stop the child murder) movement led to dramatic changes in transportation and society that gave a higher priority to the lives and safety of children and other assorted human beings.

Because it’s not just children who are dying out there.

It just seems more heartbreaking when it’s a future full of possibilities that’s snuffed out.

We need something like that, right here and right now. Something that goes beyond just traffic to address all the reason parents have to rightfully fear for their children whenever they leave the relative safety of home.

And to keep those children safe from the countless boogeymen and women behind the wheel.

Or behind the trigger.

Because the most fundamental right of all should be the right of every child to grow up.

January was a good month, hero San Diego cyclist, Colorado bans bike ban and BMUFL comes to DTLA

Just a few quick notes to start the week.


There’s good news on the safety front, as January saw just two bike riders killed in the Southern California region.

While even one fatality is one too many, this is notable because January has been one of the worst months for cyclists over the past few years, with seven cyclists killed in 2012 and nine in 2011.

Maybe it was the unusually cold and wet weather that kept all but the most committed bike riders off the road for much of the month. Or maybe motorists are finally getting used to looking for riders sharing the road with them.

Or perhaps it’s just a fluke. Although it seems to have continued into the first weekend of February, when we were blessed with near perfect riding weather.

And that’s not to say that riders aren’t being injured; I’ve seen multiple reports of riders seriously hurt, both in collisions with vehicles and solo falls throughout the region.

But whatever the reason, let’s hope it continues. After the carnage of the last few years, with over 70 riders losing their lives in the seven county region each year — including unacceptably high fatality rates in Orange and San Diego Counties — we could definitely us a break.

Hopefully a permanent one.

Thanks to Eric Griswold and Ralph Durham for the heads-up.


A San Diego cyclist is being hailed as a hero for rescuing a 14-month old toddler from the collision that killed his nanny.

The anonymous rider was one of the first people on the scene following the fatal collision, and noticed the child dangling from the straps of his stroller underneath the vehicle. So she freed him from the straps and pulled him away from the SUV, where he could get treatment for injuries including multiple fractures and a ruptured spleen.

Of course, it raises questions why police have not taken action yet when they say the driver ran a red light — in fact, she allegedly hit the nanny and child while they were walking with the light in the near crosswalk, pushing them across the intersection to the opposite crosswalk.

And initial reports indicated the driver said she looked up at the last moment and saw them in her path, which is about as close to a confession to distracted driving as you’re likely to see.

The SDPD has a reputation for blaming cyclists for collisions while ignoring violations by drivers. Let’s hope that doesn’t extend to pedestrians in this case.

Yes, there’s reason to show sympathy to the driver, who reportedly had just given birth herself in the previous 24 hours.

But maybe that’s why she shouldn’t have been on the road to begin with.


Good news from Colorado, where courts have ruled that bikes cannot be banned by local governments.

The historic mining town of Black Hawk, which has sold its soul to legalized gambling in recent years, banned bikes from the only street connecting local highways. Effectively preventing riders from passing through the city, and blocking a long-popular riding route that I’ve taken myself many times before gambling was legalized in the area.

The reason the tiny, 100-resident town gave sounded almost reasonable, as they cited the high number of oversized tour buses on the narrow mining-era streets, saying it was in the riders’ best interest to avoid the area.

Even if they had to be forced to do so.

Of course, what that really translates to is that bikes slow down tour buses and make drivers actually pay attention, so let’s get them out of the way so gamblers can lose their money and fill city coffers that much quicker. And don’t even consider limiting the size of buses so they don’t pose as great a risk to humans who happen to be in the vicinity.

Fortunately, rational minds ruled on the state level, as the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that bicycles are a matter of state concern, and that local governments can’t ban bikes from any roadway unless there’s an alternate path available within 450 feet.


Finally, hidden in the middle of that fisheye helmet cam grab blow is a blurry sign reading (Bikes) May Use Full Lane.

No big deal, really. Especially since it’s lost in the construction site at 7th and Figueroa in Downtown LA, where it’s unlikely to be seen by virtually anyone at the intersection.

But it’s the first one I’ve seen in the City of Los Angeles.

And hopefully, far from the last.

Bike May Use Full Lane Sign

Miraculous ending to near-fatal collision, Spanish pro killed and Riverside takes burgers over bikes

This is the kind of story I love.

Last January, I mentioned a San Diego-area collision that looked about as bad as they get, as a confused 75-year old driver rear-ended a cyclist, running him over and leaving him pinned beneath the car.

While paramedics were able to get him out alive, the news was not good, as I wrote at the time:

According to the paper, doctors say he will be a paraplegic if he survives.

Eleven months later, Grant Fisher not only survived, he walked — yes, walked — into his office to go back to work.


It wasn’t a good weekend for pro cyclists as Spanish Olympian and professional mountain biker Iñaki Lejarreta was killed in a collision with a car while training in Spain. And American pro rider Andy Jacques-Maynes suffers a fractured scapula and possible fractured collarbone when he becomes the victim of a hit-and-run.

On the other hand, Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins says getting knocked off his bike was a blessing in disguise.


Evidently, bike shops are dropping like flies, despite the boom in biking.

A forty year old Riverside bike shop — one of just two in the city — is evicted to make way for a McDonald’s; so much for fighting the obesity epidemic. And the Newhall Bicycle Company is shutting its doors at the end of this month after 8-1/2 years.

But the news isn’t all bad, as Oceanside’s Pacific Coast Cycles wins the Adventure Cycling Association’s award for bike shop of the year.


Maybe USC isn’t so bike-unfriendly after all, as they offer a free shower for bike commuters. Good piece from KCET on why L.A. suffers from city and soul destroying sprawl. The first phase of the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk opens. A Burbank councilman clearly doesn’t get it, saying you don’t want to put bike lanes in where they will conflict with traffic. The Pasadena Star-Tribune looks at Monrovia’s Stan’s Bike Shop and new owner Carlos Morales.

California had more traffic fatalities than any state other than Texas in 2011. Turns out that Newport Beach mall shooter was taken down by bike cops, who can usually beat motorized units to the scene if they’re nearby. A San Diego cyclist suffers a fractured spine and — thankfully — non-life-threatening head injuries after reportedly running a red light and getting hit by a car. A La Quinta cyclist is badly injured in a hit-and-run. One hundred Imperial Valley kids will be getting new bikes this Christmas; so will 250 Simi Valley children. New bike lanes aren’t really why traffic is backing up in San Jose. San Francisco plans to boost bike parking requirements. San Anselmo improves safety for cyclists and pedestrians at a key intersection.

What to do when you see another rider crash. The latest Bikeyface cartoon illustrates bike laws nationwide. Introducing a new combo bike light and horn; I had something like that decades ago on my brother’s hand-me-down Schwinn. Turns out an Idaho Congressman never attended USC — and he was never a pro cyclist, either. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel dedicates a new protected bike lane, while a political writer says separating the city’s cyclists and drivers is an admirable goal, but he’s not sure it’s possible. A Massachusetts doctor makes house calls by bike; I know what you’re thinking — what’s a house call? Lance Armstrong’s co-writer says she’s not mad at him, despite the lies, while former world-beater Alexi Grewal says don’t just Lance too harshly because everybody doped in those days, he just did it better. South Carolina is getting the nation’s first bicycle city; no really, when can we move?

Turns out that cardboard bike helmet is actually stronger than standard bike helmets; thanks to George Wolfberg for the heads-up. No charges for a Canadian driver who right hooked a ninja cyclist. It doesn’t happen often, but yes, it does happen, as an 80-year old British man is killed in a collision with a bike rider; no word on how the collision occurred. More must be done to keep London cyclists safe. A UK rider says regardless of comments to the contrary, cyclists remain at great risk. The fatal dooring of a cyclist reveals a gap in British law. Bicycling tops government-funded sports in the UK. A Dubai driver faces charges after running down a South African triathlete; the victim is still just semi-conscious over two months later. A new Saudi movie says riding a bike can be an act of rebellion.

Finally, the nastiest car versus bike videos of the year. This dog rides better than some people I’ve seen — including me some days. And ex-framebuilder Dave Moulton wisely observes that giving the finger to a fellow traveler can cause a ripple effect, but so can a smile.

I think we all need to remember that one right now.

It ain’t necessarily so — new study proclaims L.A. one of the nation’s most dangerous places to walk or ride

This morning, the L.A. Times discovered the unacceptably high rate of bike and pedestrians deaths in this city. Quickly followed by a number of other news outlets.

Only problem is, they got the story wrong.

The study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute looks at bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in New York and Los Angeles, compared to other large cities in the U.S.

They concluded that while bicyclists represent 1.7% in other cities nationwide, they make up 2.8% of traffic fatalities here in Los Angeles. And pedestrians fare even worse, with nearly three times as many deaths on L.A. streets, as a percentage of total traffic fatalities, as in the rest of the nation.

Needless to say, New Yorkers fared even worse, with cyclists making up 6.1% percent of all traffic fatalities, and pedestrians nearly half.

And the media took that limited and misleading information and ran with it, proclaiming — loudly and falsely — that L.A. and New York are exceptionally dangerous places to walk and bike.

The problem is, as stated above, this study only considered these deaths as a percentage of overall traffic fatalities. Which means that if motor vehicle fatalities in those cities — which make up the overwhelming majority of traffic fatalities nationwide — were lower than the national average, it would skew the results and make bike and pedestrian deaths look disproportionately high.

And guess what?

Driver and passenger deaths in New York accounted for just 43.6% of traffic fatalities and 63.6% in Los Angeles, compared to a whopping 86.3% nationwide.

In other words, because fewer people are getting killed in motor vehicles in New York and L.A., it incorrectly suggests that more people who bike or walk are getting killed.

What’s missing from the study is an appendix with hard numbers of how many bicyclists and pedestrians were killed in each city, rather than just a percentage. As well as individual stats for each city that was included in the study, rather than a national aggregate.

Because the one statistic that would allow us to compare apples to apples is the number of deaths per capita for each city.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to access stats for individual cities from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s FARS database today, which would allow us to figure that out. And let us determine whether Los Angeles is really a more dangerous place to ride a bike than Dallas or Des Moines. Or any other city of any size in the U.S.

What I can tell you is that in 2011, Los Angeles County had the lowest per capita bike fatality rate of any county from Santa Barbara to San Bernardino and south to the Mexican border, with the single exception of sparsely populated — and even more sparsely biked — Imperial County.

And the City of Los Angeles had just one bicycling fatality for every 763,940 people who call L.A. home. That’s one for every three-quarter of a million people in this city.

Which sounds like pretty damn good odds to me.

In fact, that compares with one cycling death for every 189,454 people in San Diego. One for every 116,394 in Long Beach. And one for every 69,050 residents of Pasadena.

Don’t get me wrong.

One death is too many. Let alone the four the city has already suffered this year. And nothing in this study, or the press reports that followed, considers the city’s rate of serious cycling injuries, as opposed to fatalities.

But one of that nation’s most dangerous places to ride a bike?

Far from it. At least as far as your risk of dying is concerned.

And study’s authors — and the media who ran with it — would have known that if they’d just dug a little deeper.

Thanks to Harris M. Miller II and Where to Bike Los Angeles co-author Jon Riddle for the heads-up.

Update: Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who had a WTF response to this study and the hype that followed. The Native Angeleno had a similar reaction, as did our friends at Los Angeles Walks, who offer suggestions on how to improve safety for our fellow bipedalists. And L.A. Streetsblog meister Damien Newton looks at the over-the-top — and highly repetitive — media response.


On a related note, Pasadena public radio station KPCC responds to the study by asking for your help to map the area’s most dangerous intersections. It’s a great idea.

Although checking out the map Bikeside LA already put together would have been a nice place to start.


OC Bike lawyer David Huntsman forwards word of a road raging Dr. Thompson wannabe.

The Press-Enterprise reports that 38-year old Carl Albert Robbins of Temecula “accidently” hit a rider after intentionally swerving at four cyclists riding on Rainbow Canyon Road near Temecula around 8 am Monday. Robbins reportedly drove his car at the riders in the back, then swerved again at the lead rider, hitting the rider’s hand with the car’s mirror.

According to a Riverside Sheriff’s spokesperson, Robbins claimed the riders didn’t belong on the road, but he didn’t intend to actually hit one.

So let me get this straight.

If I try to fire a warning shot past your head, but miss and blow your ear off, it’s just an accident, right?

Evidently the authorities disagreed with Robbins, as well as the paper, booking him on $25,000 bond.


A full-time — and apparently very sarcastic — parking lieutenant for LADOT, among his many other jobs, is running for president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council. Walk Eagle Rock sends word that he doesn’t seem to be exactly bike friendly; you’d think an LADOT parking enforcement official would know not to put a business sign in a bike lane.

And sarcastic or not, suggesting someone light up a joint seems a tad inappropriate for a city official. Let alone a potential NC president.

But maybe that’s just me.


My good friends at Altadenablog send word that Cher, the original singularly named recording and Hollywood star, apparently hates PCH cyclists.

Or maybe just cyclists in general.

But she swears, cross her heart, that she would never text from behind the wheel. Honest.

We can only encourage her to Cher the road.

Thanks to Century City cyclist and attorney Stanley E. Goldich for the heads-up, as well.


It’s been a busy few days in my inbox.

George Wolfberg forwards a link to this New York Times story of a lovely journey by bike through the French countryside.

And he send us another NY Times story from over the weekend saying cities need to lose the helmets to promote bicycling.

Or at least bike share programs.

But lets stop for a moment to consider the claim that Dutch cyclists don’t wear helmets.

Dutch cyclists enjoy some of the world’s best biking infrastructure, and ride relatively heavy, slow bikes that are easy to step off of in the event of a fall.

Most American’s don’t

American bikes tend to be faster, lighter machines that usually take the rider down with them when they go down. And American roads don’t begin to compare with Dutch bikeways, in either quality or separation from vehicular traffic.

Whether or not you wear a helmet is your choice.

Personally, I never ride without mine, bearing in mind that they’re not magic hats that prevent all harm to the wearer; you’re far better off avoiding a collision than counting on your helmet to save you from it.

But let’s stop using the Amsterdam experience to argue against helmet use here. Because it just doesn’t translate from the Dutch.


Cyclist Jim Lyle send news that Hermosa Beach has rejected a plan to put bike lanes on Aviation Blvd.

HB City council members claimed the 2 – 3 person Public Works Department had more pressing issues, and couldn’t afford the 10 to 20 hours a month it would take to save cyclists’ lives plan the bikeway.

“Once we pave our streets, let’s talk about bikes,” Mayor Pro Tem Kit Bobko said.

Although you’d think with such a small staff, they might know how many people actually work for them.


Finally, my adventure cycling, Iditarod dog sled racing brother Eric offers a heads-up about the 100-year old former French bike racer who set a new 100 kilometer age group speed record.

I plan to race him myself when I turn 100; my brother, not the Frenchman.

Of course, I may have an unfair advantage, since he’ll be 109.

Forget what I said — San Diego salmon cyclist wasn’t, killer driver who supposedly stopped actually didn’t

First he was wrong.

Then he was right.

Sort of like me in trying to cover this story.

Either way, San Diego cyclist David Ortiz is still dead, victim of the three cars that took his life a week ago today.

In one of the most amazing turnarounds of a collision narrative that I’ve ever seen, the 29-year old Ortiz was originally blamed for riding against traffic when he was hit by a Ford Expedition, followed in quick succession by two other vehicles. He was pronounced dead at the scene, his body trapped beneath the final car that hit him.

Now it turns out that the driver of that Expedition fled the scene — something that was not only completely left out of the initial reports, but actually contradicted by statements from police.

The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted a police spokesman as saying the first driver stopped at the scene, and clearly implied that she may not have been at fault.

It appears that he was first hit by a black Ford Expedition whose driver had the rising sun in her eyes as she drove up a slight incline on east Balboa, police Sgt. Jim Reschke said.

“The gal in the SUV – she never saw him,” Reschke said. “She felt the collision and pulled over.”

Yet it now turns out that she didn’t stop. Or if she did, she evidently left without providing her identification, as NBC San Diego reports that the driver fled the scene.

According to Bike San Diego, San Diego police officials have also issued a retraction to their earlier statements that Ortiz had been riding against traffic. Comments on the initial report here indicate that Ortiz was actually riding eastbound — with traffic — on his way to work when he was killed, rather than westbound as police had said.

The NBC report also indicates that his body came to stop in the area where he should have been riding, although they note that doesn’t necessarily mean that was where he was when the SUV initially hit him.

And as it turned out, despite initial reports, he was wearing a helmet after all. Not that it would have made a damn bit of difference under the circumstances.

In other words, aside from the actual location of the collision and the number of vehicles involved, virtually every important detail in the initial reports from the SDPD was wrong.

Yet they seem to have been tripping all over themselves to blame the victim, from incorrectly claiming he was riding in the wrong direction to offering statements — that originated God only knows where — to exonerate a killer hit-and-run driver.

Not that they haven’t done that before.


The San Diego police have a lot of explaining to do on this one.

California traffic deaths continue to drop, but OC bike fatality stats just don’t add up

Evidently, 2010 was a very good year for Orange County cyclists.

Or maybe not.

According to official statistics released recently by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only three cyclists were killed in the county in 2010.

This in a county that averages one bicycling fatality a month. And one that suffered 21 bike deaths just five years ago, in 2006.

Judging by the stats, the county has shown a remarkable — or perhaps miraculous — improvement in bicycle safety.

Then again, things aren’t always what they seem.

Overall, the state of California showed continued improvements in roadway safety, with the total traffic fatalities in the state dropping from 4,240 in 2006 to 2,715 in 2010 — a decrease of over 1,500 in just five years.

Then again, one death is one too many.

And 2,715, while much better than previous years, still reflects the ongoing carnage on streets, as far too many people leave their homes or jobs, and never return again.

I’ll leave it to others to speculate why we’ve seen such a dramatic drop in motorist deaths.

But just imagine how much that figure could be improved if we could just get people to stay the hell away from their cars when they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Or leave their damn cell phones and other distractions behind once they slide behind the wheel.

Although fighting distracted driving looks like a losing battle as manufacturers seem intent on building distraction into their dashboards in order to bring that death rate right back up.

You have to scroll down to the middle of the NHTSA’s page for California before information on bicycling fatalities finally appears.

Surprisingly, even that shows significant improvement over the last five years, with a drop from 141 cyclists killed on California streets in 2006 to 99 in 2010. That matches the total for 2009, although the percentage of the total traffic fatalities represent by cyclists rose from 3% to 4% as other traffic fatalities dropped even more.

Then again, that number may not be entirely accurate. Because a breakdown of the totals on a countywide basis shows one highly questionable total.

And yes, I’m looking at you, OC.

To put those figures in perspective, we can add in last year’s unofficial totals from my own records, along with an average for the six-year period.

As you can see, the totals for 2010 pretty much fall in line with the six-year average, even though several counties showed a dramatic increase for last year.

With one glaring exception.

Remarkably, Orange County experienced, by far, the greatest improvement in the state, dropping to the lowest rate per capita (pdf) of any county in the California reporting even a single death, with just 0.10 cycling fatalities per 100,000 population.

By comparison, OC reported .37 bike deaths per 100,000 population in 2009, while L.A. showed .22 for both 2009 and 2010.

Maybe it’s a fluke.

Maybe the county did have an exceptionally good year. Maybe far fewer cyclists really did die on OC streets than might otherwise have been expected.

The problem is, at least two cyclists died after being hit by cars on Orange County streets that weren’t included in that total. Published news reports indicated that at least five cyclists died as a result of traffic collisions in the county that year.

In order to clarify the situation, I downloaded the entire list of 1318 bicycling collisions in Orange County from the CHP’s SWITRS database — every bike-involved collision that was reported to police in the county in 2010.

And like the FARS data, it showed just three fatalities within the county.

  • 4/20/10, Beach Blvd & LaHabra Blvd, La Habra, 49F
  • 7/15/10, Spyglass Hill CT, Newport Beach, 35M
  • 12/22/10, Brookhurst & Villa Pacific Dr, Huntington Beach, 69M

Those dates, locations and ages correspond to the tragic deaths of Annette Ferrin-Rogers, Michael Nine and Jurgen Ankenbrand.

The list also showed 59 other collisions in which a cyclist was severely injured.

Of those, two corresponded to fatal collisions that had been reported in the press:

  • 8/3/10, Newport Coast and RT 73, Newport Beach, 65M
  • 11/17/10, Walnut and Browning Avenues, Tustin, 22M

The first matches up with Dan Crain, who died 12 days after he was hit by a car, and Marco Acuapan, who lingered in a coma until April of last year following the hit-and-run collision that eventually took his life.

Maybe the problem is that they initially survived the collision, only to die days or months after the initial impact.

It could be argued that Dan Crain died as a result of the surgeries he was subjected to following his collision; however, those surgeries were performed to treat injuries he received in collision and would not have been necessary otherwise. Meanwhile, Acuapan’s death was a direct, if somewhat delayed, result of the collision that put him in a coma until the day he died.

Maybe Orange County authorities are splitting hairs by excluding their deaths.

But that appears exactly the argument Orange County is making by excluding their deaths from the county’s reported fatalities. Even though it’s hard to argue that Crain and Acuapan might not still be here if they hadn’t both been hit by cars.

Which makes me wonder if there were other deaths that year that we don’t know about. In the absence of any other news reports — and trust me, I’ve looked — we can only hope that no other deaths are hidden among the other 57 severely injured cyclists included in the SWITRS data that never made the news.

After all, it’s only in the last year or so that the press has started taking cycling collisions seriously as bicycling gains in popularity and riders press for more accurate reporting; in years past, it wasn’t unusual for cycling deaths to go virtually unnoticed by the mainstream press.

But even if you count all five fatalities, instead of just the three that were officially reported, 2010 would seem to be an exceptionally good year for Orange County cyclists. And by far, the county’s safest year on recent record.

Sadly, though, it’s not one local authorities can much take credit for; it appears to be a fluke, as cycling fatalities bounced right back with at least 13 deaths the following year.

And just three months into this year, Orange County has already seen three cyclists killed in traffic collisions — as well as a fourth who may have died of a heart attack as a result of a fall while riding, or perhaps the other way around.

Clearly, the county has a lot of work to do to make their streets safe for all users.

Regardless of what may or may not have occurred two years ago.

*Based on primarily on published news stories, as well as CHP reports.

Two killer drivers — one stays at the scene and gets four years, one flees and gets no jail time

So let me get this straight.

A woman with 16 previous tickets runs down a cyclist while texting and drunk, and gets off with just four years.

Evidently, Danae Marie Miller got an early birthday gift. Although I’m sure she doesn’t think so.

Miller plead guilty on Tuesday to a single count of felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated. She had been facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison; she accepted a plea deal for less than half of that.

Her victim, Amine Britel, a world-class triathlete as well as a popular local businessman, was riding in the bike lane on San Joaquin Road just east of Spyglass Hill Road in Newport Beach last February 21st when he was run down from behind by Miller’s car — just one year and one week from the day of her sentencing.

Why she was even on the road that night is question our lenient traffic courts will have to answer. Or would, if anyone was paying enough attention to ask the right questions.

In the six years between 2005 and 2011, Miller received six tickets for speeding or driving too fast for conditions, as well as tickets for driving the wrong way on a one-way street, failure to stop at the stop sign and two tickets for talking on a cell phone while driving.

A record like that should have been more than enough to get her off the road. If the courts had actually taken her obvious refusal to obey basic traffic laws seriously, a gifted athlete might still be alive today.

Instead, she was allowed to keep driving until she killed someone. Now her license has finally been revoked for three years as part of her sentence.

Just a tad too late, I’d say.

Despite initially claiming that she hadn’t been drinking, Miller had a BAC of over .10 nearly two hours after the collision after getting off work at the Zinc Café in Corona del Mar. And despite claiming that she never texts while driving, records showed that she had been texting just moments before killing Britel — though not, apparently, when she actually hit him.

Evidently, you’re not considered legally distracted unless you text WTF! at the exact moment you kill someone.

According to an anonymous source who attended the sentencing, the real surprise was that the two families seemed to be supportive of one another at the conclusion of the case, despite earlier anger.

The surprise in the Miller case is that the families, Miller’s and Britel’s, were amicable after the sentencing, talking with each other in the courthouse hallway. After the daggers I saw fly at Miller from the two members of the Britel’s family who had shown up at the prelim last December, I certainly would never have expected this, especially after the oral impact statements provided to the judge before sentencing. Miller’s family, however, had been very supportive of her, showing up at all her court appearances, so maybe this support will give her a shot at redemption, a chance to be a useful, productive, harmless member of society in the future; even Britel’s family seems to be hoping for this.

We can hope.

Danae Miller is just 23 years old, and spent Tuesday night in the Orange County Jail pending transfer to state prison. With good behavior, she could be back on the streets in a few years.

Whether she will have learned her lesson by then remains to be seen.

Her birthday is in a few weeks; she’ll celebrate it behind bars. Hopefully, she’ll appreciate the early gift she got in court on Tuesday.

Thanks to Jeffrey Fylling and David Huntsman for the heads-up.

Update: I neglected to mention that two civil suits have been filed against Miller for the death of Amine Britel; they were recently consolidated into a single case.


In yet another example of our courts coddling killer drivers, the same anonymous source tells me that Renato Demartino entered a surprise guilty plea on Tuesday for the hit-and-run death of 22-year old Marco Acuapan.

Acuapan was also riding in a marked bike lane, on Walnut Avenue near Browning Avenue, on November 17, 2010 when he was rear-ended by red 2010 Mustang. The driver, later identified as Demartino, fled the scene, leaving his victim lying in the street with severe head injuries.

Acuapan was taken to a hospital in critical condition, where he remained in a coma until his death last April.

According to my source, Demartino was sentenced to just two years in state prison. And even that was stayed, meaning he is unlikely to spend a single night in jail.

Thankfully, his license was revoked for three years, since the court saw fit to let him out.

Seriously, he killed a man and fled the scene. And didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for heartlessly leaving another human being to die in the streets.

May I politely ask what the f*** is wrong with our legal system?


One brief bit of good news.

The County of Los Angeles now has a shiny new bike plan, as the Board of Supervisors passes it on a vote of four to zero; Supervisor Mike Antonovich abstained because of questions about funding the plan.

And a planned Altadena bike boulevard was given teeth when the Supervisors voted to require traffic calming measures, rather than merely allowing as called for in the plan.

Are we failing our young bike riders?

I recently received a link to an online story in which a driver threatened to kill cyclists.

Or more precisely, he was afraid that he might.

The link came from David Huntsman, a lawyer and fellow bike advocate from Newport Beach, who was naturally outraged at the writer’s auto-centric windshield perspective.

My name is Nick Scholz, and I’m going to kill you.

Now, I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with you guys. Heaven knows there are few groups more organized or zealous than outdoor bicyclists. Believe me when I tell you that I don’t wish to kill you. I’m not going to narrow my eyes and rev my engine menacingly at you. I don’t count the cyclists I crash into with notches on a special stencil on the side of my car.

Rest assured: if I kill you, it will be by accident.

His argument is that cyclists need to choose.

We can ride on the streets and be treated like other road users. Or we can ride on the sidewalks and be treated like pedestrians.

To the casual observer, it would appear that most of you are positively suicidal. It looks like you have chosen my car to be the Chariot of Fire that whisks you away to the Hereafter. Sadly, that moniker will probably become truer than you could know as your carbon-fiber bicycle gets stuck in my engine chassis at 50 miles per hour.

But, even sadder is the fact that this is not a suicide. Nor a murder. This is merely a tragedy that can  be avoided if only the cyclists will decide whether they are pedestrians or riding a vehicle.

Problem is, he has a point.

Our roads, and the laws that govern them, operate on the principle of predictability of movement. In other words, road users need to know whether other road users are going stop or proceed through the intersection, turn or go straight, and who has the right of way.

That’s why we have stop signs and red lights, are expected to signal, and yield to other road users when they have the right of way and we don’t.

It’s not perfect system.

It doesn’t take into account that cyclists are neither motorists or pedestrians. Or that it doesn’t always make sense for us to stop at stop signs when there is no conflicting traffic or pedestrians.

But it’s the system we have right now. And drivers need to know what we’re going to do in order to avoid a collision, which they don’t want any more than we do.

Even if they don’t always obey the law themselves.

And the consequences can be devastating.

Just this week, two SoCal cyclists were killed after reportedly riding through red lights.

In one case, the rider may have been trying to beat the light, and could have fallen victim to a short yellow on a wide intersection, which didn’t give him a fighting chance to get all the way across the cross street before cross traffic started.

In the other, a young rider on a fixie, apparently with no brakes, rode into a busy intersection without stopping and was hit by two cars in rapid succession.

Let’s be honest.

It’s one thing to roll through a stop sign, just like virtually every driver does. Slow down, look in every direction, and if — and only if — the way is clear, you can usually proceed without posing any unnecessary risk to yourself or anyone else.

Bearing in mind, of course, that you’re still breaking the law.

But red lights are another matter.

I’ve been roundly criticized in the past for criticizing riders for running red lights. But the fact is, there is no rational excuse for failing to stop when required at a signalized intersection.

It’s the law. It makes all of us look bad when one us of doesn’t, as far too many drivers lump everyone on two wheels together and seem to lack sufficient discernment to make the mental calculation that just because one cyclist — or a hundred cyclists — break the law, that doesn’t mean we all do.

Let alone that most of them routinely break the law themselves, even as they swear at us for doing it.

And don’t give me the excuse that it’s safer than waiting at the intersection. I’ve been stopping for red lights for over three decades, and I’m still here.

It’s just a matter of knowing how to do it.

And as this week’s deaths make painfully clear, failing to stop is dangerous as hell.

Not to mention that if you do get hit after going through a stop sign or red light, you lose all liability protection — regardless of what the driver who hit you may or may not have been doing.

Go through a stop, you’re at fault.

Case dismissed.

It may not be fair. The driver could have been drunk or distracted, speeding or breaking the law in some other way. But none of that will matter to a jury.

As far as they’re concerned, you broke the law, it’s your fault. Period.

Some would even go so far as to consider a cyclist who ran a red in traffic suicidal.

And it certainly seems that way at first blush. Even riders who routinely go through reds usually know enough to stop, or at least slow down, when cars are coming.

But what if they don’t?

What if an inexperienced rider gets in over his or her head, trying to make it across a busy intersection he should have stopped at. Or finding himself riding too fast to stop, on a bike with no brakes, when the light changes with too little warning.

Even experienced riders make mistakes. It’s easy to get in over your head, make the wrong decisions in rapidly changing traffic conditions or overestimate your own skills.

It’s even easier for in experienced riders.

It took me years, if not decades, to master the Tao of riding on busy roads. And even then, I still make mistakes; fortunately, I’ve had the skills to get myself out of it.

So far, at least.

Beginning riders don’t.

Unlike when I grew up, there’s no training in bike laws and riding skills in our schools. There’s no official training programs for beginning cyclists, or any other established method of reaching out to young riders to say do this, not that.

Like don’t push the limits and get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of. And maybe it’s not smart to ride with no brakes, even if that is the trendy thing to do these days.

Instead, they learn by emulating their friends, who may have been riding longer, but have no more knowledge of even the most basic traffic laws than they do.

We assume that everyone is familiar with traffic laws because they’ve taken their test and gotten a driver’s license.

But many young riders — and even some older ones — don’t have a license, whether by choice or some other reason. And so they may have no working knowledge of the laws that govern our streets.

I’ve spoken with some who didn’t have a clue that their right to the road is governed by the same laws that restrict motor vehicles.

They actually don’t know that bikes are required to stop for stop signs and red lights, just like cars. That they have to signal their turns, even though many other cyclists and most drivers don’t. Or even that they’re required to use lights at night or to ride with traffic, instead of making their way up the wrong side like salmon on their way to spawn.

And we all know what happens to salmon once they spawn, right?

Because no one ever told them.

They haven’t been taught the laws that govern cycling because no one bothered to do it. And in that, we, as a society and a cycling community, have failed them.

Many motorists think the solution is to license and register cyclists, just like drivers are. I won’t waste your time explaining why that’s not the answer; others have made the same points before, anyway.

Maybe there should be some sort of state or school-sponsored bicycle certification training. Maybe riders should get a discount on car insurance or bike parts if they complete one or more of the League of American Bicyclist’s training classes.

Maybe it’s up to our local cycling groups to step into the breach and offer rider education; the LACBC recently voted to reestablish its Education Committee in an attempt to address this problem.

Or maybe its up to you and me to offer advice, even unsolicited, when we see a rider doing something dangerous. Even though experience says the response will be made with just one finger, or its vocal equivalent.

I don’t have the answer. I just know that we need to find it.

Because right now, too many beginning riders are forced to figure it out for themselves.

And failing.