Cyclists and Pedestrians Looking for a Champion

6_1_09_daily_news.jpgPhoto of bicycle after its rider was killed by an LADWP truck via the Daily News.

As we approach the summer season, a time when streets are more filled with people NOT in a car, and the number of crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians continues to grow; now would be the perfect time for some city or county leader to take a stand and make this the start of a new commitment to making the streets safe for cyclists and pedestrians.

For the brave politician who takes the charge, there’s a lot of work to do with an entrenched bureaucracy that views moving cars above keeping non-car users safe.  Need some proof?  Consider the case of Gwendolyn Coleman and the crash that killed her nearly half a year ago.  At the time, advocates lamented that it took a fatal collision, one where the victim was clearly not at fault, for the city to take action.  Unfortunately, the joke was on us.  Since the crash there have been no changes even proposed for the deadly Downtown intersection of Fifth and Flower.

This is not an islotated incident.  In just the past forty-eight hours, an LADWP truck crashed into and killed a cyclist crossing the street, a group of bus riders were basically attacked by a wild car driver while waiting for the bus, and earlier today another woman was killed while crossing the street.

There have been some cases where following a crash, change has come.  The LADOT agreed to use signage to try and traffic calm Hoover Avenue after the family of a victim was killed in a horrific crash where her companion was carried by the offending vehicle before the driver got out and removed the victim from his windshield before driving off.  Also, after two prominent cyclists were harassed in May of 2008, Metro went through a process of bringing together cyclists and bus drivers to try and bring about a better understanding of sharing the road.

In both cases, change didn’t come because of the glaring need to fix a dangerous road, but because the victims, their families and their friends knew how to pull the levers of power and bring about change.  While that’s great an all, justice and the rights to safe streets are something that everyone deserve.  Not just people with connections or the attention of the television cameras.

Of course, even in cases where a crash gets continued attention, the issues that caused the crash don’t just go away.  Last year, following the harassment of Enci Box and Eric Richardson on the day after Bike to Work Day by a pair of Metro buses, Metro put together a panel of cyclists and bus drivers to try and address the issues.  A year later both the large issues, that cyclists have the right to safely cycle in bike lanes, and small ones, that it is both illegal and dangerous to honk at cyclists to "say hi," remain unresolved.

Stephen Box tells the story of how his wife was forced off the road by a Metro Bus last week:

We were riding southbound on Vermont in lane #2 alongside parked cars
at approximately 3:25 pm in light traffic. I was in the lead, Enci was
in second position and the bus was in third. I heard Enci scream, I
looked back and saw a bus behind me but not Enci. I pulled over and the
bus passed me, pulling to the curb just yards further on. Then I saw my
wife riding down Vermont.

Bus Operator #25119 had just
"asserted" himself into the #2 lane at the expense of my wife’s
position and in doing so, forced my wife to choose between the side of
the bus, the parked cars or simply braking to avoid getting hit by the
bus as it came from behind alongside her and then simply merged right
toward her.

This story is eerily similar to the one he told almost a year ago:

She looked over her left shoulder at the approaching traffic and saw an 18 Wheeler in the #1 lane and a Metro Rapid Bus (750) in the #2 lane. They were side-by-side and traveling at the same speed.

Enci
had parked cars to her right and no room to spare. She held her line,
with only inches between her and the parked cars. There were only a few
parked cars remaining before the Boulevard opened up and the #2 lane
widened.

The Bus Operator did not slow down and had no room to
move to the left. He passed Enci with inches to spare. Enci had no
wiggle room at all.

So where does this leave us?  What do we need from the yet to be crowned champion mentioned in the first paragraph?

While no government agency can control everything that happens on the street, the place to start is with government owned vehicles, government owned properties and government owned streets.

For government owned vehicles, a higher standard needs to be established for people driving city vehicles.  How can we expect the city, or county, or Metro to have the moral authority to other drivers how to drive safely.  If agencies don’t feel up to doing this training themselves, groups such as the League of American Cyclists have prepared materials that are widely available for them.

We’ll talk more about what the government agencies can do on the streets and their owner properties on Thursday.  In the meantime, any elected official that wants to step up and lead us to teh promised land of safe streets, there’s an army of constituents ready to back you.

  • I strongly urge anyone who’s willing to blog or file complaints about bike “accidents” to also make sure that the incidents get geotagged and mapped here: http://bikewise.org

    And you don’t have to be the person who got hit to enter the accident into the DB. I put the fatal LADWP accident from Van Nuys in after I saw it on LAist, and wrote to the editor there in the hopes that any future such news stories would also be accompanied by an entry in the map.

    Narrative accounts like this are great, but they don’t accumulate in the same way that a database can.

  • M

    I know this is slightly off topic, but does anyone know if there is an equivalent database for pedestrians?

  • It’s a sad state of affairs. After years of encountering frequent aggression from Metro bus drivers as the driver of a car, now that I’m on a bike I just stay out of their way. It seems obvious that this city could benefit from improved training for bus drivers.

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