The Times Looks at the State of Cycling in Los Angeles

11_2_09_times_bike.jpgImage by Ken Kwok/ Los Angeles Times

Over the past two days, the Times has written five articles about bicycling in Los Angeles.  Because these articles appear in L.A.’s paper of record, and this is the largest look the Times has given to cycling in Los Angeles in recent memory, Streetsblog is going to take a look at each of the articles.  We’ll begin with yesterday’s analysis of Dr. Thompson’s trial and end with today’s "list of bike resources."

One thing that sticks out is that the Times completely ignores the alternative bike culture that is thriving here in Los Angeles.  There’s no mention of the Midnight Ridazz, the Bicycle Co-Ops, Critical Mass or the Bike Working Group.  For the most part, the Times also stayed away from controversial issues within the community, such as the legality of riding two abreast or biking on the sidewalk, and stuck with the basics.

Cyclists have a lot riding on L.A. driver’s trial

This piece by Jack Leonard takes an extremely even-handed look at the ongoing trial of Dr. Christopher Thompson, the "Road Rage Doctor" who maimed two cyclists on July 4, 2008 along Mandeville Canyon.  Leonard starts the piece by discussing the emotional involvement cyclists around Los Angeles in this trial.  For many, not only is Thompson on trial, but so is the entire justice system that portends to protect the most vulnerable road users.  After all, if a person can’t get convicted when he basically brags to the L.A.P.D. that he "taught the cyclists a lesson," what chance do the rest of us have if we’re not struck by a driver who acts insane in front of the police.

The other thing that sticks out about this story is that even when reading an even-handed, non-emotional account, of the crash and the trial; Dr. Thompson appears to be very, very, guilty. 

First, Thompson’s account of a similar incident from the Spring of 2008 discusses how he was "scared" by the aggressive actions of the cyclists, so he stopped his car to get their names.  I know that when the actions of a group of people scare me, I don’t stop what I’m doing to get their information so I can pass it on to my homeowner’s group.  But, that’s just me.

Second, assuming that the Times’ account of Thompson’s views are correct, Thompson agrees that he passed closely to Peterson and Stoehr which is a violation of laws requiring a safe passing distance.  Given that Peterson and Stoehr were traveling the speed limit, Thompson is passing them illegally according to speed limits and safe cycling laws.

Of course, the only opinions that really matter aren’t mine but those of the jury.  They are deliberating as we speak.

Bikes and cars: Can we share the road?

This article, by Christine Aschwanden, looks at what can be done to make streets safe for cyclists and gives an overview of the debate between vehicular cyclists and those that want to see more facilities on the streets.  There is a strong contingent of cyclists that argue cities do more harm than good by painting lanes and creating special amenities such as cycle tracks.  instead, cyclists should be educated in cycling as though they were driving and they would earn the respect of the automobile drivers.  Countering that argument is a public health expert from Colorado that blames the city of Denver for a spike in crashes and fatalities by not building a proper bike network.

This article also mentions the city’s efforts to develop a bike network through the hearings surrounding the Draft Bike Plan.  If you read between the lines, you can see the deep discontent about this plan in the bike community.  "Vehicular cyclists" won’t like the city’s efforts to move bikes off arteries on to "bike friendly streets" such as 4th Street.  Meanwhile, the views of those that support the creation of a network of bike facilities’ views can be summed up by the harsh review given the plan by the Bike Coalition’s Aurisha Smolarski.  Apparently the "Plan with No Teeth" doesn’t pass muster with cyclists on its content either.

Bicyclists should stay on the defensive to stay safe

At first I was mildly annoyed at the title of this article, until it was pointed out to me that "driving defensively" is the advice that is often given to drivers during safety lessons.  To its credit, this article goes beyond the typical "wear a helmet" and "ride with a working light" advice that is too often the bedrock of safe cycling advice.  Advice on "taking the lane" and strategies to avoiding crashes with different types of unsafe drivers make up the bulk of the story.

How to minimize accidents between autos and bicycles

This article is basically tips for drivers to avoid crashing into cyclists.  Honestly?  I’m not sure that I have any better advice for drivers other than a reminder to follow all rules of the road at all times, as the Times does earlier to cyclists.

One example of a law I see violated with impunity:  Even if a driver doesn’t have a lot of time to make a left-hand turn at a signalized intersection; it’s not legal to start one after a traffic light turns red.

L.A.-area biking resources

The Times provides links to seven bicycle resources.  While I’m happy they included Streetsblog, they missed both the Midnight Ridazz website and all of the sites in the Bike Writer’s Collective.  Like it or not, the group ride scene is a major part of bike culture and the lives of cyclists in Los Angeles.  Not mentioning Ridazz or the blogs that form the political off-shoot of that movement is a conspicuous exclusion.

  • Richard Rupp

    Good comments. One clarification re the left turn: as long as your front wheels have passed the FIRST limit line, you are considered to be in the intersection and you have the right of way. This means you may turn left, even after the light has changed. What IS illegal is for a driver who was behind the limit line when the light changed to “piggyback” the car in front of him and turn left.

  • Something else I wished they reminded motorists of: when you approach a stop sign, the law requires you to stop at the white line or stop sign, not 20 feet beyond it in the middle of the intersection. That is considered running the stop sign. (I know, back in my cager days I got a ticket for it, which I fought, since I did stop. But I digress.) I see motorists do this everyday, particularly when they approach the bike route from hell of 4th street (badly needs repaving). And I have to fear for my life and slam on my brakes when I have the right of way and they can’t be bothered to stop at a stop sign.

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