A Response to Today’s Blame the Victim Op/Ed in the Los Angeles Times

(Note: Read this first. – DN)

Dear Sandy,

Hitting either of these people with a car is not o.k. Photo:##http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/28/tech/mobile/netiquette-eight-phone-habits/##cnn.com##

I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your earlier article about the dangers many people take when they decide to go for a walk to get where they need to go. I take at least two walks a day with my one-year old daughter, and another bike ride with my four year old son. At least five to ten times a day I’m menaced in the crosswalk, the addition of a child to my trip does little to stop cars from parking in the crosswalk, run red lights, or do any number of dangerous things.

I found a number of things troubling about today’s op/ed published in the Los Angeles Times entitled “Taking steps to keep pedestrians safe.”

While I do agree with you that your reader, Kurt Smith, who is a member of the LAPD Valley Traffic Division “ought to know” the reasons for crashes. I do take issue with your blanket agreement that in most crashes involving pedestrians, it is the pedestrians who are at fault.

And I’m not the only one. So do federal government studies that examine the causes of traffic crashes and deaths.

For example, a 2008 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that there are a number of issues that go into a crash, the largest issues being a built environment that encourages speed and does not have enough safe crossings. Time of day is also a major factor, as driver visibility is reduced at night. Yet, many drivers still insist on driving near or over the posted speed limit.

As for the behavior of individuals that cause crashes:

Most drivers committed some type of unsafe action on at least one occasion. Driver actions at the  time of the crash indicate the risks pedestrians encounter on roadways. This indicates that more  attention may need to be paid to law enforcement and driver training.

I can go on, but I don’t want to embarrass you or him.

While I understand the purpose of today’s piece was to “educate” pedestrians that cars can hit and kill them, a statement that isn’t exactly breaking news; the piece reads as though it is victim blaming. I know you decided to print reader letters, and maybe your better sense was overwhelmed by some of what you read, but a column in the Los Angeles Times is a chance to educate.

For example, one reader notes that he has many harrowing experiences behind the wheel with suicide pedestrians jumping off the curb at him. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not the hoards of people walking who are the problem? Reading his quotes, the first thing I thought was, “that man needs to slow down.” He’s driving to fast for the road conditions and he knows it.

Yes, we are responsible for our own actions. But statistics, real statistics not ones created from anecdotal information, show that driver error and negligence is a leading cause of crashes involving pedestrians. Road design and a lack of safe crossings is another major reason for crashes. Yes, pedestrian behavior is as well, but drivers that violate the rights that you think we shouldn’t be focusing on is a major reason for crashes.

If anything, crash data over-reports pedestrian behavior as a cause for a crash. Too often the police, but I’m sure not Sgt. Smith, report the cause of crash as told them by the only survivor. In the case of a crash involving a pedestrian/cyclist and driver, do I even need to mention who that survivor likely is?

All the Best,


PS – You did hear from many, many, pedestrians after your last piece because WE ARE ALL PEDESTRIANS.


  • Roadblock

    Good ole Sandy “Speedway” Banks! Remember her? She was pissed off that the people living on Wilbur Ave. wanted a safer street configuration in front of their homes to which she wrote an op-ed lamenting the loss of her “speedway.”

    It’s pretty simple. Drivers just need to SLOW DOWN to relax and slow down. Just relax. You do NOT need to speed up to that red light. Just relax morons!

  • Marcotico

    Once I drove from Long Beach to Irvine and intentionally drove the speed limit the entire way, on both the freeways and arterial roads. I couldn’t believe how slow everything felt. I was passed by every single car on the roadway. I don’t think people who write letters complaining about “scofflaw bicyclists” and jaywalkers realize how much of their driving time they spend breaking the law.

    One of the comments that came up in the selections when I read the Sandy Banks article, said “Don’t stand so close to the curb, you don’t realize what hazard that is.” What? How can legally standing within your circumscribed realm be a hazard to vehicles!

  • davistrain

    I read Ms. Banks’ column in the Times today, and figured it would get some “feedback” in Streetsblog. Slowing down does indeed promote safety, but American culture is geared to speed. Consider that the first great boost in California population was due to the Gold RUSH. When cars are evaluated by various publications, even usually sensible Consumer Reports will “ding” a car with “poky” acceleration. Short of slipping tranquilizers into the water supply, getting American drivers to relax and slow down is an uphill fight.

  • Anonymous

    She was against bikes until one of her daughters started dating a cyclist. Then she turned around. Hopefully one of these days her daughter will start dating a walker. You know one of those people who can walk. They have them in Europe.

  • Betsy

    Thanks for standing up for pedestrians. I do wish you had gone on — I don’t think a little embarrassing would have hurt either Sandy or our friend Kurt.

  • Don

    Yes. Its an uphill fight. They thought the same of getting cigarette smokers to realize they are killing everyone and themselves.

  • Streetsblog fan

    The force of your rhetoric is undermined by the poor writing- in particular your use of conjunctions. Look at this sentence:

    “At least five to ten times a day I’m menaced in the crosswalk, the addition of a child to my trip does little to stop cars from parking in the crosswalk, run red lights, or do any number of dangerous things.”

    It’s a run-on sentence!

    The following sentence has number of errors, the most glaring of which is a misunderstanding of how to use the word “while” as a conjunction.

    “While I do agree with you that your reader, Kurt Smith, who is a member of the LAPD Valley Traffic Division “ought to know” the reasons for crashes.”

    This one uses a semi-colon improperly, and this error is due to another misuse of “while”:

    “While I understand the purpose of today’s piece was to “educate” pedestrians that cars can hit and kill them, a statement that isn’t exactly breaking news; the piece reads as though it is victim blaming and not educational.”

    There are more sentences with problems in this piece. This stuff may not matter much in other contexts, but when writing back to someone at the LA Times, it detracts from the content of your response. Run it by a copy editor next time.

  • John Montgomery
  • Anonymous

    How long have you been a Streetsblog fan? By now, you should be used to Damien’s poor spelling and not-perfect grammar. Why don’t you volunteer to be proofreader and copy editor?

  • Don

    I LOVE to drive the speed limit now that Ive become a cyclist. Its like suddenly realizing how to relax behind the wheel, time the lights… You will get there. I see crosswalks and intersections and i slow it up in anticipation of the light and 1/8 mile ahead. It drives people behind me batshit insane, but they pass me only to jam the brakes at the next light.

  • Gordon

    Well whoever the cyclist is that is romancing her daughter better throw some charm at sandy or call in an uncle or somethin cuz she needs to get right with the universe.

  • Joe B

    I very much appreciate all the hard work that Damien puts into this site. And I myself am so furious about the Banks piece that I’m having a hard time writing coherently about it too. Plus, nobody is very good at proofreading their own work.

    But Streetsblog Fan is right in this case: the piece is hard to read. I’d be willing to contribute some proofreading, but I may not be able to always get to it in a timely fashion.

  • Hi everyone.

    Thanks for taking the time to read the piece and comment. I’ve been busy with some off-site work this week (look for another big announcement soon) and set the piece to auto-post. An old copy posted instead of a newer one which I just uploaded. It’s a lot cleaner. If nothing else, you should probably believe that the link that’s missing in the top of the post wouldn’t have gotten past my admittedly poor proof-reading eye.

    Not sure why that happened. In the future when I set something to autopost, I’ll make sure to double check that the most recent copy posted so this doesn’t happen again.

    Again, thanks for reading and your comments.


  • I drive like an old person, too (the speed limit). One emotional downside to doing it is that I get incensed by all the speedy, reckless drivers flying all around me. In general I pay so much attention to the other drivers that I end up pissed at everything (like, “hey, you don’t need to suddenly change lanes just because the car in front of you put their turn signal on; you should be able to see that the car in front has a clear turn, and won’t slow you down at all, so just stay in your lane!”)

  • Nathanael

    It’s known how to get (most) drivers to slow down. Make the road *appear* boxed in, narrow, and curvy. (It doesn’t have to actually be boxed in, narrow, and curvy… but it has to *appear* that way to the drivers. This is a psychological trick of sorts.)

    Unfortunately the road designers are 50 years out of date and don’t do this.

  • Nathanael

    Yeah. I find on city streets and country roads in upstate NY it’s tolerable — people behave OK — but if I get on the expressway and drive the speed limit, people are passing illegally and cutting me off dangerously over and over and over again.

    I stopped driving on expressways. Too many reckless drivers.


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