LAPD: Nearly a Quarter of All Bike Crashes Are Hit and Runs. Help Us Cut Down on Crashes

Screen_shot_2010_02_04_at_8.07.54_PM.pngImage: LAPD via Westside Bikeside

A new presentation on the causes and severity of bicycle crashes, available here after being hand-scanned by Enci Box, has been made available and analyzed at Westside Bikeside by Dr Alex Thompson. Amongst the results is the above chart showing that nearly one quarter of the reported bicycle crashes in the City of Los Angeles in 2008 were also "hit and runs." While this number is high, the news gets worse; these are just the ones that are reported and recorded. We’ve already seen that sometimes hit and run crashes involving cyclists aren’t taken seriously, and other times the police report is just poorly done. However, as Thomspon notes, just getting our hands on these statistics is a step forward in the relationship between cyclists and the LAPD.

While having this data is a step forward, it can be somewhat confusing
in its current form.  For example, while it breaks down that roughly
ten percent of collisions were caused by someone running a red light or
ignoring a stop sign, it doesn’t differentiate between crashes caused
by aggressive cyclists or aggressive motorists.  Hopefully that
information is made more clear in an update promised in a couple of

Looking at the presentation, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition noted in an email that 25% of bicycle related collisions are due to wrong way riding. Considering that their own bike counts showed that fewer than ten percent of all riders are going in the wrong direction, this act is a major safety concern. While the LAPD claims to be working to better educate cyclists about this, which is surely music to Councilman Tom LaBonge’s ears, the LACBC wants those outreach materials to be in English and Spanish to build off the success of the City of Lights Program. A sound idea.

It seems that since last December, when the Coalition was surprised to find out at a City Council hearing that it was working with the LAPD on their bicycle related educational materials to officers, that relations between the Department and the Coalition have improved.  In a post at the Coalition’s blog, Aurisha Smolarski reports on their collaborative efforts with the LAPD to crack down on bike thefts and improve the training of police when it comes to cycling.  Currently, the Bike Coalition is working with the LAPD to help identify the most dangerous intersections in Los Angeles.  You can help the LACBC help the LAPD through a variety of online tools: via Twitter @lacbc, Facebook, or through an interactive Google Map the LACBC has set up.  In its first day online, the map got 600 views and thirty intersections tagged, so the Bike Coalition is now asking that people narrow their suggestions to places where there were actual collisions, not just places where it seems dangerous to drive.

I’ve already tweeted them that, "The intersection of Third and Fairfax, where the Farmer’s Market is located, is a death trap waiting to happen."  If for some reason it’s easier for you to leave your nightmare intersection in the comments section, I’ll make sure to forward your thoughts and experiences on to the LACBC.

  • Damien, great coverage on this issue. It’s really getting insane out there. Yesterday alone I spoke with two people who were involved in incidents that, if we bicyclists hadn’t begun compiling hot spots, the LAPD would never have heard about; one was doored on Sunset in Silver Lake (which led to hospitalization) and the other was recklessly cut-off in Westwood by a driver who refused to even look at the female bicyclist when she caught up to him and asked why he has no regard for human life.

    And it should be noted that the term “unreported” is confusing as well: even if a bicyclist calls 911 to report an incident such as those above, unless an LAPD officer witnessed something or there was substantial bodily injury, no report will be taken by the LAPD and the incident will never make it into the above statistics. In the case of severe injury, an LAPD investigation into criminal charges is extremely difficult to inspire, and even then, a successful investigation rarely gets prosecuted (and, as we have seen, even in cases of felony hit-and-run!)

    There is a broken system of public safety in this city and it’s up to bicyclists to fill in the gaps. Everyone out there, keep reporting your issues, stay safe and watch out for each other, and above all, keep riding—there’s nothing worse than seeing a bicyclist give up something as importantly incredible as riding in the everyday, especially at the hands of a careless driver.

  • The release of this data, and the connection with its point of origin, is critical to the fight to make our politicians wake the hell up and start making our streets safer.

    The Bike Writer’s Collective and Bike Working Group members responsible for this have done us all an immense favor.

    Will the geo-coded Google Map of this data be far behind? Add this data to Walkscore and real estate appraisals!

  • UrbanReason

    I read a lot of hostility from fellow cyclists towards motorists and I’d like to interject that while many situations mentioned as examples may be the result of wrecklessness or destructive intent – I don’t believe the real problem has much to do with drivers, but rather with deplorable leadership in making streets safe.

    I bike to work every day – in the street, in the right direction, with lights. But as a driver, while I pay very close attention to the road, I’m always very nervous about pedestrians and cyclists. I’ve had several close calls where someone just appears out of nowhere, even when I’m being careful. Cross-walks aren’t well lit, bike lanes are poorly designed -too narrow or too close to the doorzone, and in general LA streets are completely inhospitable for the union of cars and bikes.

    While I’m angered by motorists who think cyclists have no right to the road and take that anger out on mostly defenseless cyclists – I’m may be criticized for this – but I think motorists can be just as much a victim as cyclists in honest accidents. Hit-and-runs are terrible, but I’m sure most of you would be overcome by terror if you actually hit someone – especially if you’re as short on finances as most people in this economy. You don’t know what you’d do until you were in that situation. So what I’m saying is – these can’t all be chalked up to negligence or wrecklessness, and motorists aren’t the bad guys. I’d also be willing to guess that a lot of anger from motorists has to do more with the fear of hitting us and not with us taking up their precious road space.

    I think what this tells us is that we absolutely need to invest more in infrastructure and education in making streets safer with everyone in mind – motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians – but especially for the most physically vulnerable of the three. While I’d prefer to get around by bike everywhere, when I am in the drivers seat I’m wishing just as much for good bike infrastructure as when I’m on the bike.

    I really think that cyclists and motorists can work together to make streets better for everyone, so let’s not discount motorists when rallying to make streets safer for everyone – they could be just as valuable a voice in the battle.

  • I think that “motorists” will have almost nothing to do with making the streets safer – but neighbors and citizens will. The analysis of the roads based on “motorists” is a flawed one, as these people are so insulated from the effects of their transportation choices as to become almost non-entities in public life, and exist almost as a natural phenomenon on our streets rather than living breathing humans getting from A to B.

    This data will engage a different part of the mind, that of concerned neighbor and friend, rather than the contemptible “I Got Mine F U” mindset of the 20th century motorist.

  • UrbanReason

    I think you’re taking a lot of liberty when you define a “motorist” – especially in LA where it’s currently not all that easy for many people, even hardened New Yorkers, to do anything other than drive a car. Most of my good friends are “motorists” at least some of the time.

    I think it’s “flawed” to fail to distinguish between anyone operating a motorized vehicle and those who are volatile and disconnected from their surroundings. It’s “flawed” to assume that anyone operating a vehicle doesn’t also care about our safety. I’d be willing to wager that a lot of these people would be willing to travel by bike if safety WASN’T a concern.

    Certainly there are a vocal group of suburbanites who hate anyone slowing them down – but I don’t think these people are in the majority and as long as you keep labeling everyone operating a car as the enemy, you’re going to generate hostility and not empathy and support.

  • It’s funny how often the New York thing comes up, I use that line all the time in describing how hard it is for people to think about alternative transportation in LA! Here’s my academic perspective: automobility enables a certain detachment from the urban environment that leads to a breakdown in public life. Driving is a fundamentally antisocial activity, especially when it’s done with the windows up, fingers texting, and copious amounts of adrenaline, as is often the case here. There are better and worse drivers, but the sooner we can move beyond automobility as the baseline for this city, the better for all of us.

  • DanaPointer

    It’s hard for me to understand the perspective of UrbanReason from comments above that car is somehow a necessity in LA, I do drive at times, but at times also go weeks without getting into a car of any kind. I have been to NY and real nature was further there than here so car imo is more needed even than here.

    I suppose if I made bulky deliveries in a semi, or lived in the rural mountains of LA it may be difficult to not ever drive, but this describes a very small percentage of angelinos.

    I live in south Orange County that is more sparsale built than most of urban LA and even here grocery/bank/hardware-store is never more than few miles away. Metrolink gets me from one end of county to another with my bike free of charge.

    Safer bike infra not only makes total transportation costs go way down, but also makes it unnecessary to have “cardio” gyms or whatever. You can always do pushups on the beach if you need more muscle.

    Trouble is with marketing these cycling ideas to typical Southern Californian who is getting bombarded by sexy car and “fitness” adds. Maybe the fixie hipsterdom will brush off on this marketing driven common man, but seems like we gotta think something more too, to sell the obvious(to us cyclists) benefits of riding around town to them.

  • UrbanReason,

    You missed my point, which was to state that engaging people as “motorists” is not the way shape the debate. Engaging them as fellow neighbors, partners in improvement, and friends is what works best.

    I have read many comment sections of blogs and newspaper articles that end with the old tired song of “Bicyclists and motorists mutual respect blah blah blah”. Motorists are people isolated by their devices from the immediate impact it has on the places it moves through, and engaging people as motorists only brings out hostile and xenophobic attitudes about people not of the car driving tribe.

    Moving beyond the trope of the “motorist” and into the realm concerned neighbor, citizen in the republic, business district revitalizer, etc. is much more effective a tool to use.

    I don’t want common ground with car drivers, I want respect from my fellow citizen in this republic – and that means good bike lanes, but also pleasant wide sidewalks and lots of other niceties of civilized life.

  • asphalt_jesus

    A *whole* quarter?! Waay back in the 90’s it was closer to 80% than 25%.

    Cops wouldn’t respond for a hit and run on a bike. They’d send ‘community officers’ hours later.

  • UrbanReason


    I didn’t comment here to cause trouble, so please don’t take it that way. I do get what you’re saying, and I completely agree with you – but maybe just not on the language.

    I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life feeling frustrated by sprawl, by the very existence of the highway system and the money we continue to poor into subsidizing it, and the pervasive culture of the automobile.

    I couldn’t agree more with both you and Adonia that the nature of the automobile is very conducive to a sense of detachment and further exacerbates the isolation brought on by suburban sprawl and our single family homes with three car garages and the meaningless front-yards that accompany them.

    However, I’ve come to believe that the people behind the wheel are not the real problem. It’s the entire system, our leaders, and the 60+ years of over-subsidation of a system that favors only one industry and one mode of transportation. In many cases the people behind the wheel are just as much a victim of this system as anyone else.

    Having spoken with a lot of people who drive about this very topic, I’ve found that a good number of them – especially in our generation (GenX-GenY), would prefer to get out from behind the wheel. But because of the pervasive nature of the automobile, and the lack of a safe or easily accessible alternative in many cities, most people are stuck there and too involved with other priorities in their life to be activists for alternative transportation.

    I do believe that biking as transportation would be appealing to a lot of people who do not currently ride if they could do it safely and efficiently. So in the end… I guess we’re saying almost the exact same thing. We need to engage people who must occasionally sit behind the wheel as friends, family, citizens and neighbors – and not write them off as mere mindless evil motorists.

    My apologies to the editor – I think we’re way off subject by now.

  • Erik G.

    Not really on-topic I suppose, but could I ask my fellow bicyclists to PLEASE get BOTH front and rear lights and use ’em?

    When I am regrettably transformed into a “motorist” I am looking out for you all, but I see so many people riding with no rear lighting; I shudder to think what might happen to you if the more typical American Auto-addict were to come across you.

    Also, if you are a pedestrian in the un-lit areas away from dense urbanized L.A., do please wear something light and better yet reflective, and consider carrying a flashlight to shine at me when you are crossing!

  • DanaPointer

    Erik G., altough a bit oftopic, I must point out this “lightup” comment is unfortunately another byproduct of autopia thinking; we obviously hear this alot. Going down your line of recommendations is how we ended up with most people driving to go anyplace in soCal. Same problem as with the helmet laws in some places.

    You are basically saying, if you do walk/bike, please do it only in urban areas if there, elsewhere you really are safest to drive so that you carrying 10000 lumen lamp with you anywhere you go and a protective steel cage to boot.

    Concern for safety should lay with the person with the vehicle to kill, not with the pedestrian/biker to not get killed. This is why we need communities to provide safe environment with low car speed limits, laws with “strict liability”(fault with heavier) and good pedestrian/bike facilities to all. Hoping pedestrians wear neon jackets and protective armor will not take us to a better world.

    Bottom line, I’ll carry a light on my bike, but I hope none of you others do, because if we all do, we are actually more UNSAFE on the streets than if none of us had “lit-up”.

  • Erik G.


    Have to disagree with you. The places that we strive to be like when it comes to bicycling, Holland and Denmark, strongly enforce the whole lights and reflector thing. Clothing and bags come with reflectors there.

    But then that’s perhaps they are in an area where winter is more severe and shortens the day dramatically.

  • DanaPointer

    Erik, maybe Damien will make a new posting out of bike lights if we keep this going… first of all, I have lived in Scandinavia and most clothes and bags don’t have reflectors/lights, OK many bikes have lights, but I wouln’t say it’s all that strongly enforced, at any given time motorists must be on lookout for un-lit people on foot or on bike.

    So again I am not against you or me wearing reflectors or whatever, what I am against any kind of campaign that in any way makes biking more of a chore that it already is in US(with special clothes and helmets etc), more work or in any way gives the motorists an idea that most object they shouldn’t hit are well lighted.

    Motorist should operate with assumption(which they do in Amsterdam etc) and even reality(if we don’t ask people to wear neon) that most squishy object in the roads are not well lit.

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