Streetsblog Interview: Andres Tena

5_21_09_Tena.jpgBack on the bike: Tena after the "Bike Not to Work Day" ride last week.
Late one Thursday night, or early on Friday morning depending your point of view, this April an H3 Hummer hit a cyclist, and what followed is a controversy that fuels emotions that rivals last year’s Mandeville Canyon “Road Rage Doctor” Crash.  The LAPD’s ham-fisted handling of the crash report has led to charges of bias and incompetence from various parts of the cycling community.

But whatever happened the cyclist who was thrown from his bike when the H3 ran into him?  What is his take on the controversy and what does he have to say to those people who say it was his fault?

I’ve had the chance to twice ride with Andres Tena since he was assaulted and had a chance to sit down with him to talk about the crash.  The smiling, good-natured Tena provides a contrast to the anarchist vandals that were described by the LAPD spokesperson last week at the City Council.

The full text of my chat with Tena is available after the jump.

Streetsblog: A couple of weeks ago you were involved in a crash with an Hummer H3 and didn’t get the support and protection you would expect from the Los Angeles Police Department.  Can you tell us, in your own words, what exactly happened?

Tena: It was a Thursday night/Friday morning, there was a group of us riding home.  We were promoting a friend’s bike shop downtown called the Bow and Sparrow.  We were going down Los Angeles Street about to make a right on Seventh Street to go to Tacos Mexico.  It was pretty late, but there was a good amount of us.  We were pretty noticeable.

It happened so quick...it happened so fast that I don’t really know everything that happened.  I was riding, and I felt contact.  It was a black hummer.  H1, H2, H3, it doesn’t really matter.  They’re all about 8,000 pounds.  I feel contact.

I’m in the air for about two or three seconds.  The car hit me from behind and on my left side, and I’m in the air and I feel the side of the car as it whizzes by me.  I see the wheel like two or three inches away from my head.  It was kind of scary.

I hit the floor.  My bike drops.  I’m freaking out, I mean what just happened?  I try to get up, but I hit the floor again.  I realize that I can’t feel my foot.  I can’t feel my left ankle.  Pretty much from my ankle down, I can’t feel anything.

That’s pretty much it.  My friend Tom picks me up and asks if I’m allright.  I’m repeating, “I’m allright, but I can’t feel my foot.  I can’t feel my foot.  It might be broken…”

I had a couple scrapes here and there, bruises on my knees and elbows.

The funny thing is, at the time I didn’t know that the driver tried to get away because all I remember was sitting and waiting on the curb for the ambulance to get there.  I heard a sound of metal scraping on pavement, and then all of a sudden the cops showed up and the ambulance showed up.

I know the rest of the story from other people.  Three other bikes were run over while the Hummer was getting away.

And that’s it!  There have been different stories from different people.  But here’s what you need to know.  I was hit.  Three other bikes were totaled.  Now, we’re just waiting to see what happens.

Streetsblog: Just to be clear, how visible were you?   Do you have a rear light?  Was it working?  Were you wearing dark clothes?

Tena:  I have a rear light, a front light and I was wearing bright clothing.  They’re always on.  And I always wear light clothes when I’m biking;.

Streetsblog: How long have you biked in the city?  You know what you’re doing?

Tena: It’s been close to two years of city riding.  I’m not new to this.  I try to stay right ride consistently.  You never expect to get hit from behind by a car, but I was hit by a hummer.  It’s something I can make fun of…I wasn’t hit by a car…I was hit by the biggest vehicle you can.

Streetsblog: You weren’t drunk, were you?

Tena: (Laughing)  No, none of us were drunk.

Streetsblog: So everyone got home safely from there, except for you who went to the hospital until later in the afternoon.  Was that the last you heard about things until we went to the Police Commission?

Tena:   Actually, Officer Cho called me the next day to tell me it wasn’t a crime that the hummer hit me.  But that it was an "accident."  It was because of all the bike riders.  It was a pretty biased opinion.

Streetsblog: Because you were on the road in a group you got hit.  How many of you were there?

Tena:  About a dozen.  It was really strange the way he was saying it.  Really biased.  He was saying it was all our fault.  I could feel that he wanted to say it was because we’re always drunk.  It’s because we’re like a mob activity. 

Streetsblog: One of the weird things about this crash is, you almost never hear of a bike getting hit by behind.  It’s a lot less common than a “right hook,” because you’re right in front of them…to rear-end a cyclist that’s lit up is either negligent or aggressive.  It’s not like he couldn’t see you.

Tena: Well, to Officer Cho, it was an accident.

Streetsblog: Obviously nothing was broken in your foot, because this is the second time I’ve seen you since then and you’re on your bike.

Tena: It’s amazing really.  I’m fine, I’m fine.  The only limp I have is from a left ankle sprain, a contusion, and some bruising on the left side of my hip that turned out to be hematoma.  Now I’m getting some chiropractic work done and I exercise.

Streetsblog:  There’s been more controversy about the police’s reaction and reporting of the crash than just the crash itself.  Yesterday down at City Hall, they described the cyclists in the incident, including you hit from behind wearing brightly lit clothing on a brightly lit bike, as at fault for being struck from behind by a Hummer.  So, how’s that make you feel…

Tena: …I just found out the story today.  It sounds like they labeled me as a vandal.  They pretty much say that I ran it to it.  On purpose.  On a bike, I decided to run into a hummer.

Let’s be clear.  I didn’t, just a little sarcasm here.

Streetsblog: A vandal.  For getting hit in the street.  Say, if I leave a marker here and turn my back, are you going to tag my bike?

Tena: (laughing) No, that’s not. No.

Streetsblog:  I’m just kidding here…Again, I haven’t seen the video yet, but it sounds sort of shocking in its content.

Tena:  Yeah, blaming me for it.

Streetsblog: It hasn’t stopped you from biking.  You’re back on the streets.

Tena: Back on the streets, riding safer than ever.

Streetsblog: And you were back quickly.  I saw you for the first time less than a week later, you biked to and testified at the Police Commission hearing.  Is that your first advocacy ride?

Tena: It was my first day back in the street.  It wasn’t paranoia, but I was watching cars as they went past.  I was definitely traumatized, but I can ride a bike, I will ride a bike and stay on the street.

Streetsblog: Was it easier to do that ride because you were surrounded by the group of friends?

Tena: Actually, I didn’t do the group ride.  I went to public comment and it was 10-15 minutes away.  I live in Highland Park, not that far away, but biking on Figueroa and Broadway was kind of nerve racking.  I felt and heard cars as they rid by.  I was definitely going at a slow pace.

5_21_09_tena_2.jpgTena, with Chicken Leather looking on, testifies at the LAPD Police Commission Hearing for May 2009.

Streetsblog: What was more nerve racking?  The bike ride to the LAPD, or testifying at a Police Commission hearing for the first time?

Tena: It was testifying at the Police commission.  It’s very scary, very nerve wracking,  to get up there and do that.  I was very nervous, my voice was cracking a little…a little squeaky.

Streetsblog: Your testimony was very good.  I wrote at the time that you could tell that you weren’t a professional activist, not as polished as the LACBC or Stephen or the bike lawyer, but your experience and testimony was very powerful and lent heart to what everyone else was saying.

What’s the take home message from this incident for people out there? 

Tena: I just never thought it would happen to me.  You see things on the news, Ghost Bikes and things like that…but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you.

A friend of mine actually just got hit too.  He just had a couple of scrapes and his bottom bracket was broken.  He was going down seventh, and the guy that hit him drove off.  It was just yesterday.  This stuff happens everyday, and now I guess I’m a part of it.

Streetblog:  You going to stay involved as an advocate now, beyond seeing your case through to the end?

Tena: Yeah, sure absolutely.  I want the outcome to be positive.  I’m not the type to get all riled up and make a big deal.  I just want it to be safe for everyone else.  I’m building a bike for my little brother, and I want it to be safe for him.

“Ride safe.”  That’s what I say to everyone now when they’re going somewhere, biking, driving, flying, “ride safe.”

Streetsblog: I say the same thing to people unless its Stephen or Alex.  Than it’s “try not to get arrested.” (we both laugh)

My standard last question to everyone I interview is that if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about transportation in Los Angeles, what would it be?

Tena:  Smaller cars.  Smart cars.  Everyone should drive a smart car.

Streetsblog: Not everybody ride a bike?

Tena: Well, that too.

Streetsblog: Of course you want smaller cars, you're the guy that was HIT BY A HUMMER!

Tena: Ok, let's say smaller cars and more bikes.