Tag Archive for Sandy Banks

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.

Catching up on CicLAvia, Magas on driver/cyclist tension, a nice gesture from Swarzman family

A few random thoughts on Sunday’s second CicLAvia, in no particular order.

• Let’s start with the size queens at KCBS-2, who somehow pegged the number of participants at 130,000 — with no explanation of where they got their figures. From my perspective, the turnout was at least two to three times larger than last October’s, which was estimated at around 100,000.

Let’s put it this way. Last year, it took no more than two light cycles to cross Vermont on 4th; this year, I barely made it through after five. The Alliance for Biking and Walking puts the figure at a far more credible 200,000 to 500,000, but since KCBS said it first, their figure is the one everyone is — mistakenly — quoting.

• Speaking of that backup at Vermont, I finally experienced my first ever bike traffic jam. And for the first time, gridlock brought a smile to my lips.

• As I arrived, I just happened to fall in with a group of riders that included a number of bike cops on my way to the Bicycle District. When I looked up to my left, I just happened to see I was riding next to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; for someone famous for falling off his bike, he seems to have gotten a handle on it. No sign of that Lance guy, though.

Photo courtesy of George Wolfberg

• There were far too many paramedic calls. I passed at least five riders injured seriously enough to require emergency medical attention, along with at least three other paramedic units speeding by under lights and sirens that may or may not have been carrying or rushing to CicLAvia participants.

• At least part of the problem stemmed from the large mass of riders of all abilities; several times I found myself dodging riders who swerved into my path with no warning, or stopped at random. Going forward, there should be a better effort to educate participants on how to ride in large groups — including efforts to slow down the riders who cut through the crowd at dangerously high speeds.

• Note to cyclists: Just because you can ride fast doesn’t mean you should. I cut my usual 18 – 20 mph cruising speed down to 12 mph; not just because it was safer in the massive crowd, but because it allowed me to better enjoy the sights and experiences of the day.

• Another problem was the seemingly unnecessary choke points at streets that remained open for cross traffic, where people were forced into a single lane or two to wait out the red lights. Too often, it resulted in riders struggling to work their way into the suddenly narrowed space where there wasn’t enough room to accommodate the suddenly congested bike traffic. I don’t know what the reasoning was for narrowing the road crossing points, but whatever it was, it didn’t work.

• For an event that was supposed to open up city streets for whatever people wanted to do, there was far too much emphasis on bicycle throughput — just like there’s too much emphasis on moving cars the rest of the time.

Last year’s event saw people sitting in the middle of downtown streets eating lunch or making ornate chalk drawings on the street; this year I found myself following a motorcycle cop who ordered standing people out of the street, and instructed riders to keep right in order to keep people moving — exactly the opposite of what CicLAvia is supposed to be.

Josef Bray-Ali nails it when he complains about the bike bias evident in this year’s first edition of CycLAvia; while I disagree about the need for more choke points from a safety standpoint, I couldn’t agree more with every other word he writes. If this is going to be a bike-only event, let’s move it to the L.A. River bike path and call it River Ride. Update: Damien Newton says we need to make it safe for everyone to come out and play.

• As I rode back from the Bicycle District, I once again found myself riding next to the Mayor. So this time I introduced myself, and thanked him for his recent support of both CicLAvia and bicycling in the City of Angeles. And I soon found myself having a surprisingly candid conversation, which I won’t repeat here. But I will say is, for the first time I got a feeling for who he is as man, rather than as the mayor. And that this is a guy I’d love to have a beer with sometime.

And that’s one of the great things about CicLAvia. It brings the entire city together, and makes us all equal on the streets. There’s no class strata, none of the usual L.A. self-segregation between us and them. Just people joining together to enjoy the city, where you were just as likely to find yourself meeting a high-powered lawyer as a recent immigrant. Or a mayor, or some guy named Lance.

• After awhile, it started to seem like the Mayor was stalking me; every time I thought I’d left him far behind, I’d stop to talk to someone or get something to eat, then turn around and there he’d be in the crowd behind me, or gathered by the water dispenser at the other terminus in Hollenbeck Park. On the other hand, he seemed to enjoy it as well.

• I loved the incredible variety of people and bikes, from beach cruisers that had clearly been removed from the garage for the first time in ages, to children on tricycles, teenagers on bright colored fixies, and spandex-clad riders on high-end racing bikes. Not to mention tall bikes, road skimming recumbents and fabulous foldies, and just about anything and everything in between. And every variety of person onboard.

Photo courtesy of George Wolfberg

• For me, the highlight of the day was witnessing the Biking Circle of Life, when I saw a Spanish-speaking family with a little boy riding on training wheels, his father on a road bike and grandma on an adult three-wheeler. And realized that’s exactly what local activists and advocates are working for.

• However, the highlight of the day came long after I got home, and read the column by the Times’ Sandy Banks talk about riding CicLAvia. And loving it.

I may have criticized her just a little — okay, maybe a lot — after she wrote about her opposition to the Wilbur Avenue road diet. But her new column revealed the open mind I’d long to expect from her. And if she wants to experience the streets of L.A when cars are allowed, I’ll ride with her anytime.

Now we just need to work on that Krikorian guy down in Long Beach.


Nice obituary for Jim Swartzman in yesterday’s L.A. Times. A memorial will be held today at noon at Forest Lawn, and the family asks requests that a donation be sent to the LACBC in lieu of flowers — a very kind and moving gesture to help other riders in their time of grief.

Maybe you’ll join me in observing a moment of silence at noon to remember someone most of us may not have known, and now we’ll never get the chance. And from everything I’ve heard, that sounds like our loss.


Ohio Bike Lawyer Steve Magas — you’ll find him over there on the right — offers an insightful look at the tensions between cyclists and drivers; seriously, this one is definitely worth the click.


Jumping back into the great helmet debate, an Aussie professor of Public Health says mandatory helmet laws are counterproductive and should be repealed. Meanwhile, a NZ study shows helmets reduce the risk of head injury by just 43%, and may increase the risk of neck injury. A Canadian paper says wise cyclists will work to make helmet use unnecessary, but wear one just in case. And like me, leading bike writer Carlton Reid says he’s pro helmet and anti-compulsion — and tired of the media blaming the victim.


Just discovered this great page of best ever cycling quotes.

“People love cycling but hate cyclists.”
Peter Zanzottera, senior consultant at transport consultancy Steer Davies Gleave, to Scottish Parliament’s Transport Committee, November 24th 2009

Ned Flanders: “You were bicycling two abreast?”
Homer Simpson: “I wish. We were bicycling to a lake.”
The Simpsons, ‘Dangerous Curves’ (Episode 2005), first broadcast, November 10th 2008


Metro is finally ready to drop restrictions on peak hour cyclists. LACBC announces One Tree Hill’s Austin Nichols — aka @Aus10Nichols — as Grand Marshall for June’s 11th Annual River Ride; meanwhile, river riders are invited to help clean it up. People for Bikes visits Los Angeles to film a PSA. Santa Monica Spoke looks back fondly on CicLAvia, while Orange 20 Bikes notes that some businesses showed a big boost in their Sunday business. Will Campbell offers proof that the world does not collapse when timelapse videographers collide. Bicycle Fixation will lead a Miracle Mile Art Ride on Saturday the 16th. The South Bay Bicycle Coalition hosts an Earth Day fun ride this Saturday. A report on Sunday’s San Diego Gran Fondo. Head north this Sunday for a Full Moon Ride with Bike Bakersfield. Better bike access is coming to downtown Sacramento. Just Another Cyclist says if you’ve got to fall and break a bone, it’s not a bad one to break even if it is kind of cliché; heal fast, my friend. Frank Peters of cdm Cyclist visits biking’s platinum paradise of Boulder, CO.

The web is buzzing with news that Frontier Airlines is dropping their fee for checking a bike. Trek’s CEO argues for continued bike transportation funding. A radical new frame design promises 10 times the vertical flex and 60 times the shock absorption of traditional frames, while retaining the same lateral stiffness and pedaling efficiency. A new bike parking design takes a Ferris Wheel approach. A writer explains why he doesn’t consider himself a cyclist anymore; you may already know my take on that. A Portland man is charged in a dooring hit-and-run. Biking in Heels manages the rare feat of a civil conversation with the driver who just buzzed her, while a writer in the Baltimore Sun says some cyclists and drivers deserve each other.  New York’s embattled Prospect Part West bike lanes get a big boost as over 700 riders turn out for a family ride to show their support. Another planned Brooklyn bike lane bites the dust. A cranky New York cyclist compares riding in Amsterdam to the former New Amsterdam. Competitive Cyclist looks at Lebowskis in wetsuits and competitive pro rankings.

Bike Lane Wars: P.J. O’Rourke and the myth of the pinko cyclist. In 2009, no UK pedestrians were killed by cyclists, while 426 were killed by motorists — so guess which one Parliament considers cracking down on? The Guardian says it won’t help, while the Beeb asks if dangerous cycling is really a problem; nearly 1500 comments later, it appears they struck a chord. Plan Bike offers a nice look at small town European bike infrastructure, and finds it heavenly. Garmin-Cervelo rider Johan Van Summeren takes a surprise victory in the Paris-Roubaix classic, while Fabian Cancelara closes a near two minute gap to take second. Hidden cameras show only 6.9% Melbourne cyclists run red lights, which is inexplicably called “an alarming rate.”  Seven thousand Queensland cyclists were ticketed last year — but 6400 of those were for violating the mandatory helmet law; 96 used there cell phones while riding.

Finally, it’s evidently been a problem for a long time — a Dutch writer complains about pedestrians and parked vehicles blocking the bikeway. In 1906.

And don’t forget tonight’s Bike Night at Westwood’s Hammer Museum, starting at 7 pm at 10899 Wilshire Blvd in Westwood. Free admission, free food, drinks and screenings of the 1986 BMX classic Rad.

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.


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.

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