In case you missed it, check out Los Angeles doctor gets 5 years for injuring cyclists in yesterday’s LA Times.
Cyclists and lovers of transportation justice had something to cheer about yesterday. Of the thousands of motorists guilty of threatening the lives of pedestrians and cyclists every day, sometimes killing and injuring them with their reckless driving, one such driver is getting five years in the slammer.
This particular case of road rage that resulted in serious injuries for a couple cyclists–a driver who doesn’t like bicycles in his neighborhood and who complained about the bikers flipping him off when after he honked thought he’d “teach them a lesson” by suddenly braking in front of them–seems to have gotten the world’s attention in part because the victims were middle-class white men in Brentwood. And in part because the motorist made it abundantly clear to the 911 dispatcher and the attending police officer that he acted in bad faith.But I’ve heard testimonies from many other bicyclists and pedestrians who have been hurt or threatened by reckless drivers who refuse to acknowledge their rights or, apparently, their humanity. One older man I met last year, an immigrant laborer who seemed to go about life feeling grateful that he hadn’t been deported yet, was hit and injured while biking (on the sidewalk) to work by a car that suddenly emerged from a driveway. The car sped off. But although the witnesses got the car’s license plate number, the man refused to do anything about it. He was glad to be alive.
And of course, every pedestrian in this city knows how difficult crossing a street can be when no traffic lights are there to force drivers to stop. Under California law, drivers should yield at every intersection where a pedestrian is waiting to cross unless clearly marked “no pedestrian crossing”—crosswalks are there only as a courteous reminder of this rule but their absence at many intersections does not signify the motorists’ right to ignore pedestrians. The problem is especially acute in Eastside neighborhoods, where the city notoriously invests much less in infrastructure relative to other precincts. (Has anybody ever tried walking under the freeway bridges on Soto between 7th and 8th streets, for example? It must be the most treacherous stretch of street in Boyle Heights, with several freeway entrances/exits under the bridges and hardly visible crosswalks that haven’t been repainted in decades, which Soto Street Elementary kids must transit on a daily basis. At night, either bring your own flashlights or just forget about it—public lighting there has been nonexistent for years and the potholes can be deadly.)
But I digress… As cycling becomes more popular as a viable form of transportation—because it’s cheap, pollution-free, healthy for the cyclist, and poses little or no danger to society compared to cars—motorists must get used to the fact that California law still allows bicycles on every road except freeways. After all, street maintenance is paid for through our taxes, which should lead us to wonder why cars get to use such a disproportionate amount of space in the public right-of-way. So when drivers encounter bicycles on a street lane, as with any other slow-moving vehicle, they should simply slow down or switch to a faster lane rather than honk or yell at or threaten the life of the cyclist.
Perhaps someday in the future we’ll get more bike lanes and paths that separate bikes from car traffic along major streets. Revising traffic rules is also in order so that they can reflect the fundamentally different modes of transport that cars and bicycles represent. Currently, laws are awfully car-centric—designed to regulate driving because cars pose a danger to people—and it’s unfair that bicycles, for example, should have to stop rather than merely slow down at stop signs meant to control car traffic (stop signs are necessary for cars and cost motorists relatively little, but they make cycling infeasible).