While 33 men were rescued from a Chilean mine, 6500 people died on American streets

October 14, 2010

Like everyone else, I kept an eye on the TV since the rescue of the Chilean miners began late Tuesday night.

My spirits soared when Florencio Avalos reached the surface, the first of 33 miners to be saved. And I’ve said a prayer of thanks for every one who has been brought out safe and alive, and rejoiced when the rescue capsule was raised for the last time and the final rescuer stepped out.

But let’s put this in perspective.

In the 10 weeks since the 33 miners were trapped on August 5, the world watched in rapt attention as an international team of rescuers literally moved the earth to bring them out.

But during the same 10 weeks, over 6,500 people died on American streets, based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the same period, roughly 850 pedestrians and 140 bicyclists were killed in motor vehicle collisions.

By my count, 12 cyclists were killed by motor vehicles here in Southern California alone since August 5 alone; another died as the result of a collision with a pedestrian.

And no one even noticed.

No massive press response. No live coverage.

No 24/7 media watch tracking the safety of every motorist, cyclist, pedestrian and transit user throughout their journey, and breathlessly reporting when each arrived safely at their destination. Or breaking the tragic news to the world when one of the 33,963 people who were killed on our streets last year didn’t make it back again.

Those same statistics tell us that of the millions of people who will leave their homes today, 93 won’t return.

It could be you. Or me. It could be someone you love, or someone you barely know. Someone who once crossed your path, or someone you’ll never meet.

It’s just collateral damage. The price we’ve come to accept for the privilege of getting from here to there. 93 people every day. 651 every week. 2830 every month.

Roughly one person killed on American roads every 15 minutes.

And it touches virtually every life in this country.

So when does it become unacceptable? When do we reach the point when we decide as a society that the price is too high, that the last death was one too many?

And we’re willing to put the same effort into saving the 33,000 that we put into saving the 33.

I’m already there.

I thank God the miners are safe.

And I’ll be just as glad when the rest of us are.


An Orange County mom takes to Facebook to find the Mercedes Benz driver who apologized for hitting her bike-riding son in Lake Forest before driving off. Meanwhile, a repeat drug offender gets four years in prison for killing a cyclist in an Orange County hit-and-run, and police search for an SUV that fled the scene after hitting a rider in last weekend’s Sonoma County GranFondo.


More on CicLAvia from the Occidental Weekly, and the Times publishes letters in support of it, as well as letters on both sides of the Wilbur Ave controversy. (The car is the “most efficient means of transportation ever devised”? Really?)


In an incredibly shortsighted move, the new Brit government cut funding for Cycling England, the successful program that trained over 400,000 children how to ride safely each year, even though it will only save £200,000 — about $330,000; the Bikeability program will continue for now.

Hopefully, they’ll increase funding for the National Health Service to make up for it; just one injured child could cost far more than they’ll save.


For the second year, the Amgen Tour of California will end in Thousand Oaks. Long Beach is getting another Bike Station, offering free secure bike parking, bike shop, rentals and repairs; my goal is to get one at L.A. City Hall to make it easier to ride to city council meetings. The Bus Bench complains about an inconsiderate schmuck with a bike on the Gold Line. Evidently, bike industry insiders just don’t like Anaheim. Riverside’s new Culver Center opens with an exhibit on bike culture in Southern California. Your choice for governor: big bucks Whitman vs bike-lane Brown. Give all the angry people Dutch bikes. Advice on how to ride a bike in a dress. A key rule for bike safety — when car traffic slows down, watch out. Portland cyclists get their own green light. Three members of the Cutters, the Indiana University the 11 time Little 500 champion bike team made famous in Breaking Away, are injured in a head-on collision a week after another team member was hit by a car. What happens when sidewalk cafes swallow bike parking. A beautiful shot of DC bike lanes. A Baltimore cyclist explains to drivers why he sometimes has to take the lane. The World Anti-Doping Agency says they’ve heard Contador’s tainted meat excuse before. If regular bikes are just too boring for you, how about one without a seat? Kiwi police crack down on a bike pub crawl. A Sydney paper is up in arms over lawless cyclists terrorizing the city’s new bike lanes. Buenos Aires aims to be the Amsterdam of South American biking.

Finally, Sir Paul McCartney was hopping mad over a rude cyclist.

Today’s post, in which I direct your attention elsewhere

May 11, 2010

I read a lot about bicycling.

Between keeping up with local bike news and searching the internet for insights into infrastructure, advocacy and safety, I probably scan a few hundred stories each day. And stop to actually read through maybe a quarter to half of those — the best of which I try to share with you on here.

It’s not often, though, that I find something that stops me in my tracks, and causes me to go back and read it again to catch every detail.

Usually when that happens, it’s because I think the writer got it wrong in some way, whether it’s a misguided attempt to say the right things, or yet another motorhead rant demanding that we get off their precious pavement. It’s not often that I find someone who seems to get it just right, and says it so eloquently that I wish I’d written it.

But that’s what I found last night, as Google carried me north of the border to the small city of Guelph, Ontario, where a writer tried to explain why drivers need to give cyclists one meter of space when passing — roughly equivalent to our three-foot passing distance.

And got it exactly, precisely right.

If you were driving and saw your child walking on the road, how close would you go? Four inches?

The cyclist on the road is someone’s child, a fragile human life.

I know. We are in a hurry. We have somewhere to be. The bike is so slow. Won’t the driver behind me get annoyed if I slow down?

He goes on to note that any time he writes about bicycling, he gets mail saying that cyclists would get more respect if they behaved better — in other words, the same sort of comments you’ll see on just about any online article about cycling, as motorists write in to complain about cyclists, neglecting to mention that most drivers speed, fail to signal and roll through stop signs.

Consider these dangerous cyclists. The way they ride risks their lives and scares the rest of us. Would the world be a better place if they drove a car instead? For now, let’s leave them riding a bike, where the greatest risk is to themselves.

When the roads are safer, careful people will ride bikes on the road. The secret about riding a bike is that, aside from the fear of early death, it is fun — and fast. For now, cyclists often retreat to the sidewalk. It is illegal, but they are scared and feel safer there.

And he concludes by gently humanizing the cyclist on the road ahead, reminding impatient drivers that it’s up to them whether another person will get home safely.

I know. We are commuting, traffic is slow already and we are late. We are all working hard to pay the bills, giving a better life to our children, for whom we would do anything to keep them safe.

Now look ahead. See that wobbly cyclist on the road in front of you. Picture him as your child at eight years old. Now decide. Squeeze through or give him space? Slowing down could delay you by 30 seconds. Picture the eight-year-old child. His life is in your hands.

It’s a quick read.

One that won’t take more than a couple minutes out of your day, and definitely worth clicking on the link.

And one that I wish I could tape to the steering wheel of every car in L.A. before their drivers hit the road today.


Alex Thompson shares a moving recount of witnessing the aftermath of a hit-and-run collision, noting that it affects even more drivers than cyclists — in fact, he notes that 38% of all L.A. collisions are hit-and-run. And yes, something needs to be done.



Bike Week Pasadena, or more precisely, Bike Weekend — rolls on May 20. A great look at biking on the (real) Eastside; for a change, the comments are as good as story. Metro offers an all-day symposium Wednesday for those who move on two feet instead of two wheels, along with the follow-up to February’s Metro Bicycle Roundtable. Flying Pigeon offers a midweek Cargo Bike Date Night Ride tonight. LADOT notes that locking your bike to a parking meter is illegal, but rarely enforced; on the other hand, it’s also not smart since a thief can slide your bike and lock over the top of the meter. Dancer a la Mode sings the praises of her LBS. San Francisco cycling goes green. Ten dollars could help make the U.S. Bicycle Route System a reality. Bicyclists have officially infiltrated the White House Press Room. A Columbus writer observes that biking improves his reflexes and awareness. A Massachusetts woman runs down Jesus Christ in a crosswalk, no, really. As an experiment, a cyclist comes to a full, foot down stop every time. A well-reasoned response to last weekend’s article saying cyclists need to earn respect. Headline of the day: Are business folks really swapping Ping for Pinarello?

Finally, maybe it’s time for a mandatory helmet law — for motorists. And the four worst drivers you’re likely to encounter on a daily basis; including the DYPMDB (Don’t You Pass Me Douche Bag) driver.

Unsafe at any speed

May 5, 2010

Just one day after I got back in the saddle, I found myself sitting in an L.A. courthouse, a winner — or loser, depending on your perspective — in the annual jury duty lottery.

It quickly became clear I wouldn’t be serving on the case for which I was called.

It was a simple traffic case, resulting in injury. And I was just a little too knowledgeable about traffic issues, and too open in expressing my opinions, for the comfort of either attorney.

What struck me, though, was when the judge asked if anyone in the jury pool, or a close friend or relative, had ever been involved in a collision resulting in significant injury. Almost every hand shot up; the only one that didn’t belonged to the only person in the room who had never held a drivers license.

What followed was a litany of auto-involved mayhem. A grandfather killed while bicycling, a neighbor who died behind the wheel just last week. Others spoke of undergoing years of physical therapy, while some were still undergoing treatment.

I told about the time my car was rear-ended while waiting at a red light, resulting in recurring back problems that continue two decades later. Yet somehow, I forgot about the injuries from the road rage incident that happened while I was riding.

I purposely left out the childhood case in which my cousin fell, or tried to escape, a car driven by her intoxicated father, landing in directly in front of the rear wheel and resulting in a death no one in her family ever recovered from.

Or another incident my senior year of high school, when a lifelong friend was killed after a drunk driver crossed a 20’ wide highway median to hit his car head on.

As a cyclist, I’ve never been anti-car. The truth is, I love to drive; the only thing that approaches the joy I feel on a good ride is cruising down an open road in the middle of the night with the radio playing and the dark filled with endless possibilities.

Yet yesterday’s experience drove home, once and for all, just how extensive the harm caused by cars truly is, touching virtually everyone in our society.

We’ve spent half a century making safety improvements that increase the survivability of the auto occupants, yet have done virtually nothing to reduce the frequency of collisions or the risk to those outside the vehicle.

The focus always seems to be on making the car safer, even though the overwhelming majority of collisions are caused, as my dad liked to say, by the loose nut behind the wheel.

As a society, we’ve become far too comfortable in our cars, losing the sense that the vehicles we rely on every day are dangerous machines.

We text and talk on cell phones, believing we can still drive safely even while acknowledging that others can’t. And routinely ignore laws designed for everyone’s safety — including our own — to the point that a gas company decides it’s a good marketing position to insist they’re on the drivers’ side by creating an app to get out of tickets.

Yes, it’s a joke.

But the problem is that violating the law is so commonplace that we’re all in on the joke.

And did you notice the disclaimer — in white on a light colored background — that says the best way to avoid a ticket is not to speed? I didn’t until I watched it online several times, despite seeing this same spot on TV countless times each day.

The problem is, as traffic-meister Tom Vanderbilt noted the other day, that a drivers license is too easy to get and too hard to lose.

Yet stiffer penalties that would get bad drivers off the road — or cause most drivers to change their behavior behind the wheel — are unlikely to pass anytime soon because most people don’t see a problem, or any viable alternatives to driving.

And instead of focusing on the harm caused by dangerous drivers, auto organizations have a knee-jerk reaction to any loss of pavement that creates space for other road users.

But we have to do something.

Because we’ve reached the point where 40,000 +/- deaths each year is considered an acceptable cost just to get from here to there.


I’m really starting to like the idea of DIY group rides; after all, you need something to do while you wait for next month’s River Ride. Next up is Will Campbell’s Watts Happening Ride, while L.A. Cycle Chic plans the Moms Ride for May 16.


Writing for CicLAvia, Joe Linton follows Janette Sadik-Khan’s comments by suggesting 12 cheap bike projects L.A. could do right now, and note also that Bikes Belong has written CicLAvia a nice big check — literally. Meanwhile, Joe also takes a spin up Orange County’s Aliso Creek. Enci Box suggests adequate bike parking would make L.A. a more bike friendly city. L.A.’s best guide to hometown tourism reminds us the Amgen Tour of California will be coming to town May 22nd. Courtesy of my friend at Altadenablog comes word that a mountain biker fell 50 feet from a Mt. Lowe trail over the weekend. The Glendale Narrows Riverwalk project is finally going to happen, including a multipurpose walk and bike trail. Bicycling tells you how to avoid five common cycling collisions; that’s just a normal ride in L.A. They take away a lane in Milwaukee, and the world doesn’t come to an end. Evidently, Germans don’t need cycle tracks, and neither do the women of Chester County, PA. A fund has been set up for a woman rider seriously injured during a Critical Mass in South Florida. Navigating New Orleans by bike. Cincinnati plans to double the number of cyclists by 2015, while L.A. has no idea how many cyclists we have now. London cyclists offer an 8-point plan to Beat the Thief.

Finally, it has nothing to do with bicycling — other than being my favorite epithet for rude drivers — but this article from the Yale Law Review, by way of LA Observed, is one of the funniest things I’ve read in years.

Today’s Nuclear Summit ignores a more urgent holocaust

April 13, 2010

When I open the administrative page for this blog, one of the first things I see is a list of the top 10 search terms people have used to find it.

Yesterday, eight of those terms represented people looking for information about Jorge Alvardo, the Bahati team pro cyclist killed by an 18 year old street racer in Highland, CA last week. So far today, nine of the top 10 search terms were about the same subject.

And that same pattern was reflected throughout the past weekend, ever since I wrote about his death on Friday.

Of course, that’s nothing new.

I see the same thing every time I write about a high profile incident, whether it involves someone well known, or a local physician testing his brakes in a Brentwood canyon.

I just wish I saw the same level of interest when I write about ordinary cyclists who lose their lives in less inflammatory incidents.

And that’s the problem.

We’ve reached a point in this country when the death of a cyclist or a pedestrian or even a family killed in a collision with a motor vehicle barely makes the news. We may pause for a moment to consider the tragedy, whisper a small prayer if we’re so inclined, then we go on with our lives, barely aware of the continuing holocaust that takes place on our streets every day.

In 2008, the last year statistics are available, 716 cyclists were killed on America’s roadways. Along with 4,378 pedestrians, 5,290 motorcyclists and 26,689 drivers and passengers. And another 188 people killed on the roads who couldn’t be classified for one reason or another.

Don’t bother doing the math, I’ll do it for you.

That’s 37,261 people killed on the streets and highways of the U.S. alone — let alone the hundreds of thousands killed around the world each and every year.

The real tragedy is that’s good news, because that number represents a drop of almost 10% from the 41,259 people killed in 2007.

Yes, over 37,000 people — not just statistics, but real human beings with hopes and dreams, families and friends — killed by motor vehicles in a single year is an improvement.

And I only hope it turns your stomach as much to read that sentence as it did mine to write it.

Now consider this.

The total number of people killed in nuclear attacks since the end of World War II 65 years ago is zero.

That’s right. Zero.

Which is not to say that the nuclear summit taking place in Washington, DC today isn’t important. Nuclear weapons, whether in the hands of nations or terrorists, have the potential to kill tens of thousands, if not millions, in just seconds. And reducing or eliminating that threat should be one of the highest priorities of every government around the world.

But yesterday, Constance Holden, a 68-year old woman riding her bike, was struck and killed by a 5-ton National Guard truck providing security for one of the summit’s many motorcades just five blocks from the White House.

A conference intended to prevent one holocaust ended up contributing to another. Yet like almost every other death on our streets, it barely made a blip in the news outside Washington.

We’ve gotten used to it. And accept it as part of our daily lives, just another risk we take when we leave our homes every day.


That’s good news. Right?

Thanks to Noah Salamon for the heads-up on the death of Constance Holden in Washington DC yesterday.


Condolences to the men and women of the LAPD, who buried one of their own today, and the family and loved ones of Officer Robert J. Cottle, killed while on duty with his Marine Reserve unit in Afghanistan last month.


The LACBC is looking for volunteers to conduct a survey of pre-sharrow cyclist behavior. Bike corrals come up for a vote at Wednesday’s TranspoComm meeting. Hoover Street goes on a road diet as LADOT celebrates 1.64 miles of new bikes lanes — only 48.36 to go to match what NYC will do this year; on the other hand, L.A. Eco-Village reported it first and better. Big changes could be underway at L.A.’s Department of Planning; how that will affect bike planning is TBD. Long Beach’s bike-friendly mayor — at least judging by results — is up for re-election Tuesday. Photos from last weekend’s San Diego Custom Bicycle Show. The bigger, better newly transplanted U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame opens in Davis later this month. An Arizona driver gets four years for the death of a popular cyclist and soccer coach. An Anchorage woman commits to not driving for a month by freezing her car keys in a bucket of water; I hope she took the alarm remote off first. Most cyclists fit into more than one box. Advice from Chicago for beginning bike commuters. Evidently, biking with a Burley in tow is a rare thing around Beantown. Two South Carolina teenagers face felony assault charges after they push a cyclist off his bike from a passing car; read the comments only if you have a strong stomach and need to feel superior to someone. A Georgia State University cyclist says roads are made for cars, and Critical Mass should get a permit. Last weekend marked the Blessing of the Bicycles in New York and Toronto; ours is coming up next month. A Toronto cyclist dies a week after falling from his bike. Montreal may finally get bike racks on its buses. Photos from Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix classic. Britain has spent £2.4 million to build an online bike route planner, despite the fact there’s already a better one. What Brit cyclists should ask for from their politicians. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like London’s bike scene is thriving, while Dr. Who has nothing on the city’s tweed-clad cyclists. Dublin’s bike share program may be the world’s most successful; only two bikes have been stolen and both were recovered. Adelaide cyclists plan a memorial ride for the third South Australian cyclist killed this year. Turns out low-fat milk is the ideal post-ride recovery drink — and chocolate milk is even better.

Finally, it turns out there’s an equivalent site to all those hot girls on bikes websites for you hot man lovers out there; oddly, my photo isn’t on there.

Go figure.

Why change the law, if no one’s going to obey it anyway?

July 30, 2009

One more thought about this week’s topic before I climb down from my soapbox.

As I noted yesterday, states and towns across the country are reforming their traffic laws to encourage bicycling and help keep riders safer on the roads. But without adequate enforcement, even the most well-reasoned reform is meaningless.

Consider Tucson, where Erik Ryberg — the Tucson Bike Lawyer — reports that not one driver has been cited for violating Arizona’s three-foot passing law in the first six months of this year, and only three all of last year. This despite the fact that several local riders have been struck by cars, which would seem to indicate that the drivers were just a little closer than that.

Or take Tennessee, which has a well-deserved reputation for failing to enforce its own three-foot passing law — even in a recent case where a popular cycling advocate was killed when a truck passed so close that it hooked his saddlebag and threw him under the trucks back wheels. It’s gotten so bad that the governor himself has weighed in on the subject.

Then there’s California’s highly publicized ban on using a hand-held cell phone while driving. Despite the inherent dangers of distracted driving, and the relief felt by cyclists around the state when it finally took effect, the law has been almost universally ignored.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, over 200,000 tickets have been written for violations of the law so far. Yet you don’t have to watch traffic very long to observe a passing driver holding a phone to his or her ear. And virtually every time I have a close call with a motorist, it’s almost a given that the driver will be holding a phone.

Don’t believe me?

Try it yourself. Next time you’re out on the street, watch the passing cars and see how many drivers you can count with their cell phones illegally plastered to their ears — or God forbid, texting. And note how closely those drivers correlate to the ones actively demonstrating a high degree of stupidity behind the wheel.

Then again, there’s no shortage of traffic laws being to be ignored these days.

Once you get tired of counting cell phones, try keeping track of how many moving violations you see. From everyday scofflaw-isms like speeding, failure to signal, illegal lane changes and failure to come to a complete stop, to more exotic moves like making a three-point U-turn while blocking oncoming traffic, or cutting across four lanes of traffic to make a right turn from the left lane — all of which I saw on a brief two-mile trip through Century City this afternoon.

And don’t forget to include yourself in that tally — and yes, Idaho stops count, even if there is valid evidence to back them up.

The unfortunate fact is, many people, both drivers and cyclists, feel they can do whatever they want on the roads these days. Because experience has taught them that they will probably get away with it.

Go back to that little test counting moving violations. All those people on the roads you saw break the law, exactly how many of them were stopped by the police as a result of their actions?

Chances are, the answer is zero. Because there simply aren’t enough police officers on the streets to enforce traffic laws, especially not here in L.A.

And without enforcement, there is no compliance.

And without compliance, even the most well-reasoned Bike Safety Law will be absolutely meaningless.

So yes, we need to change the law. But more than that, we have to find a way to enforce the laws we already have.


Mark your calendar for the Brentwood Grand Prix on Sunday, August 9th. Long Beach cycling photographer Russ Roca and his wife a documenting a cross-country, then international, bike tour. A popular cyclist from my home town is recovering after being critically injured when struck from behind on a group ride. Also from Colorado, the state police now have a dedicated phone line for cyclists to report dangerous and aggressive drivers — yet another idea we might want to copy. Tucson police follow-up if a driver leaves the scene after hitting another car, but hit a cyclist? Not so much. Iowa considers banning bikes from farm-to-market roads. New York’s city council votes to let bikes into the workplace. The Cycling Lawyer, non-Tucson edition, explains how to respond to, and hopefully defuse, road rage. Before and after shots of Ashford, England’s new carnage-free shared road space. Finally, that DIY virtual bike lane that everyone wants just won the International Design Excellence Award.


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