Friday, June 05, 2009

LAPD - "Who Teaches the Teachers?"

(LAPD Officers ride the Hollywood/Vine crosswalk until they defer to the primacy of the motor vehicle and ride out into the oncoming traffic)

A couple of months ago, I was observing the LAPD's Valley Traffic Division as they conducted a pedestrian crosswalk sting on Reseda Boulevard. It was an amazing sight to watch. A police officer in street clothes, the "decoy," would step out into the crosswalk and begin to cross the street. Motorcycle officers stood lined up on the side streets, at the ready to ride into the relentless traffic to cite the motorists who failed to yield the crosswalk to the pedestrian. It was like watching cowboys herd cattle with the traffic cops pulling over as many as four motorists at a time and lining them up curbside for their tickets. It was an amazing sight to witness.

At midday, when the sting operation shutdown for lunch, I saw Officer "K" writing tickets for three male cyclists. My curiosity was piqued. After all, this was a crosswalk sting. The LAPD was there to cite motorists who failed to yield to pedestrians. I watched.

The cyclists were riding inexpensive bikes on the sidewalk when they were stopped and they were dressed as if on their way to or from some form of manual labor. They might be referred to as workforce cyclists. They were silent throughout the ticketing process. They avoided eye contact, they took their tickets and they silently rode north on Reseda.

I asked Officer "K" what the cyclists had done to warrant the citations.

He explained that they had crossed the intersection in the crosswalk against the flashing hand.

I commented that the law prohibiting crossing against the flashing hand applied to pedestrians and that the 3 men were clearly cyclists, not pedestrians.

That was when Officer "K" smiled and said "That's why I wrote them up for crossing against the solid circular red!"

I pointed out that the light couldn't have been red because the crosswalk still had the flashing hand.

He said he had to write it that way because there was no California Vehicle Code (CVC) to rely on to enforce that ban against riding in the crosswalk.

I countered by pointing out that it's not illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk and that was why there was no CVC prohibiting it.

He stiffened up a bit here and responded that it was up to a Judge to decide and that even if the ticket got thrown out by the Judge, the process was a learning experience.

I closed my mouth and held my tongue but from my perspective, the process had become the punishment, not the lesson.

I'm not sure when the LAPD mandate went from enforcing the law to teaching the law but it leaves me wondering "Who Teaches the Teachers?"

The City Council asked the same question last month when an incident between the operator of a Hummer and several cyclists sparked the cycling community to ride en masse to the Police Commission and the Inspector General claiming bias based policing.

Cyclists involved in the Hummer vs. Cyclists incident claimed the Hummer driver hit a cyclist and then left the scene, driving over three more bikes in the process and dragging one of them up the street. The LAPD responded, caught the Hummer driver, interviewed those at the scene and then allowed the driver of the unlicensed Hummer to drive away from the incident.

The cyclist community was so enraged by this incident that they scheduled a "Storm the Bastille" ride on May 1st and asked the City Council to join them in fighting for even handed and equitable enforcement of the law. The City Council responded to the complaints of the May 1st "Storm the Bastille" cyclists with the following motion (09-1035):

MOTION Numerous incidents have been reported relative to bicycle and vehicle collisions and aggressive motorists attitudes to law-abiding people riding bicycles. Complaints have also been raised regarding the treatment of bicyclists by the Los Angeles Police Department. It is critical that the City respond to these situations and respond appropriately.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the City Council direct the Los Angeles Police Department to report on recent bicycle incidents and conflicts between bicyclists and motorists, as well as efforts to increase police officer training related to bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

The motion was made by Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Councilman Bill Rosendahl, seconded by Councilmembers Ed Reyes, Tom LaBonge, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel.

Unfortunately, the motion directing the LAPD didn't elicit the response the cyclists sought.

LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese reported to the City Council two weeks later but he failed to address "police training related to bicycling activities and laws," instead regaling the council with his version of the Hummer vs. Cyclists incident. He relied on his memory for the report, having neglected to bring the actual file (a compilation of three reports, initially logged as two reports and finally released as single report with a single report number) and I would contend that he made a few mistakes along the way including referring to the cyclists of Los Angeles as "these people."

Albanese reported that the cyclist hit the Hummer, a statement that is contradicted by reality. The cyclist was hit from behind, the damage was to the rear of the bike and he was thrown forward. Tough to do unless the LAPD is going to claim that the cyclist also broke the laws of physics. Albanese continued by claiming that the statements of all witnesses were taken, again contradicted by reality. I forwarded the contact info of another witness to the incident to the LAPD, one who was not on the ride or in the Hummer but who lived in the area. He had identified himself to the Officers at the scene but was told, "We already know what happened." Albanese then referred to the investigating division as both Central Traffic and South Traffic. A small mistake, but nonetheless, a mistake.

Through it all, the Deputy Chief of the LAPD demonstrated some serious skills. He was initially directed to report on LAPD training but he artfully dodged that instruction and shifted the discussion to an incident but denied the City Council the opportunity to actually review the report which left him free to present his version of the incident unchallenged.

The LADOT Bikeways Coordinator sat next to him and followed suit, turning the conversation into an off-topic discussion of bicycle safety and responsibility training for cyclists as well as the updates of the City's Bicycle Plan and the LADOT website.

The LAPD and the LADOT made no pretense of addressing training for the LAPD on bicycling regulations and laws and that is a complete failure, not only to respond to a City Council directive, but to the community as a whole.

The need to address training for the LAPD on bicycling regulations and laws was made clear this past week.

On Monday, June 1, 2009 at approximately noon, a woman rode her bicycle on the sidewalk of Louise Avenue in the valley. As she approached the intersection of Valerio she rode into the intersection on an unmarked crosswalk. At the same time a large truck approached the intersection on Valerio and proceeded to turn right onto Louise. The cyclist and the truck collided, she fell to the ground and the truck crushed her head as she lay on the street.

The operator of the truck, which was equipped with a crane and was hauling DWP power poles, was unaware of the incident until he was notified via walkie talkie by his "pilot" in the escort vehicle that was behind the truck.

This incident is tragic, a life was lost. In addition, the lives of those involved will forever be scarred by the horrific nature of the scene. The fact that the vehicle was moving through a quiet residential neighborhood is also a concern as is the fact that the truck was operated by an LADWP contractor.

But especially disturbing is the resulting confusion during the investigation of the incident and the confusion over "the rules of the road."

Councilman Smith's office responded to the incident the next day and explained, via email, that "the bicyclist was reportedly riding on the wrong side of the roadway and traveling against the traffic flow; making her the initial "primary cause" of this tragedy." The email went on to detail the law enforcement experience of Councilman Smith, Chief of Staff Mitch Englander and Public Safety Deputy Jim Dellinger.

The LAPD's Public Information Officer confirmed the report that the LAPD considered the cyclist the "primary cause" of the incident because she was riding a bike in a crosswalk which is a violation of CVC 21200 which requires a cyclist to obey the rules of the road. The PIO explained that a cyclist must either dismount at crosswalks or ride on the right side of the road with traffic.

I asked if he had ever ridden the Orange Line Bike Path or the Chandler Bike Path or any of the City's bikeways facilities that actually direct cyclists into the crosswalk at intersections. The PIO paused and then suggested that I speak to the investigating officer.

I called the LAPD's Specialize Collision Investigation Detail (SCID) and spoke to the investigating officer assigned to this case who also explained that cyclists must obey the rules of the road which prohibit riding a bike in the crosswalk. I asked for the actual vehicle code or municipal code that prohibits cyclists from riding in the crosswalk and he simply referred to CVC 21200 and repeated the claim that cyclists must dismount before using a crosswalk.

The cyclist who lost her life at the intersection of Louise and Valerio is not here to explain what happened. She is not here to defend her actions and in a way it doesn't matter because, regardless of who is determined at fault, she is still dead.

But...I believe we have an obligation to be accurate in applying the law to this incident and it is either illegal for a cyclist to ride a bike in a crosswalk or it's not. That is a simple issue that can be settled quickly and if the LAPD's appraisal of this incident is based on that ruling then it is very important that we are accurate in applying the law.

I contend that it is not illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk. It might not wise, it might not be advisable, but it is definitely not illegal. cyclists are not required to dismount at intersections or at crosswalks.

The fact that there is confusion over such a simple issue demonstrates the real need for specific training for the LAPD on bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

On May 1, 2009 the City Council called on the LAPD to report on police officer training related to bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

This tragic incident and the resulting confusion demonstrate the need for the LAPD to review and report on their departmental training of the rules and regulations that govern safe and effective cycling in the City of Los Angeles.

p.s. Attached is a 2006 City Council resolution addressing cyclists in the crosswalks.


Anonymous said...

The car in the picture is not a BMW...its Mercedes-Benz.

SoapBoxLA said...

Thanks! I've changed BMW to motor vehicle to avoid any confusion.

LIsaNewton said...

Back in the day, when I was learning how to drive, I was taught that anyone in the crosswalk, regardless of their mode of transportation; walker, biker, wheelchair user, etc, had the right of way. WTF, is all this crap about walking a bike in the crosswalk. Regardless as to whether she was walking or riding, she had the right of way just by the very fact that she was in the crosswalk, at least in my humble opinion.

Hermana Linda said...

The very sad situation here is that the cyclist was not visible when the truck driver looked, she came quickly down the sidewalk and into the crosswalk without the driver seeing her. She entered the crosswalk while the truck was turning right. She was in his blind spot as it was a large truck and she was very close to it. I'm not sure what the truck driver could have done differently to avoid the accident.

Joe said...

I am shocked that the driver of the truck had no idea he ran somebody over. On such a quiet street. Also, when I visited the site of the accident the next day I noticed a brand new Power pole sitting just 10 feet away from the spot where the woman was killed. Just tragic and eye opening to see what LAPD is thinking.

nathan_h said...

What truck drivers must do differently is drive more slowly to account for the physical shortcomings (which are themselves unacceptable) of the vehicles they're paid to operate safely.

Hermana Linda said...

Well, this particular truck driver was coming out of a complete stop at a stop sign. If he looked, and didn't see her, because she came around the corner while he was looking left and was too close to see by the time he looked right, what could he do?

An eye witness told me that she saw her coming down the street. When she saw the truck, she was so close that she was unable to stop. She tried to stop, the bike went out of control and she slid under the wheel without the driver ever seeing her. Ok, I did not see that, I can only believe what the witnesses have told me. So far, everything has coincided except for some misinformation in the paper like her age and the address and such.

Rick Bernardi said...

[...] One could perhaps write these off as past, isolated incidents, except for the fact that they’re not isolated—they have occurred across the country—and they continue to occur, most recently in Los Angeles. As reported by Stephen Box on SoapBoxLA, on June 1, 2009, a woman who was riding her bike on the sidewalk approached an intersection, and began riding through the intersection in an unmarked crosswalk. As she was riding in the crosswalk [...]