Wednesday, February 10, 2010

LA Times confuses "mishap" with "Violation of State Law"

The LA Times, elbow firmly on the pulse of our community, just reported that "Warren Olney, longtime host of the public-affairs shows "To the Point" and "Which Way, L.A.?" on KCRW-FM (89.9), is off the air this week after suffering injuries in a bicycle mishap Thursday."

Perhaps the writer missed my post entitled "Words Matter" and doesn't realize that terms such as "mishap" become the obstacles that we must overcome in our battle to draw attention to the cavalier behavior of motorists toward cyclists. Soft words neutralize acts that are dangerous, illegal, and a threat to the cyclists who ride in an environment that allows motorists to diminish their responsibility by allowing the "I didn't see the cyclist!" defense in an auto assault.

To be fair, the LA Times is hardly alone.

Enci and I were recently on Washington Blvd, early in the evening, when we came across a scene that always makes our hearts skip a beat; paramedics, police, lights flashing and a bike lying in the middle of the street. We immediately circled the area, looking to see if the cyclist was a friend. Such is life in LA, the land of anonymity sprinkled with moments that personalize the experiences, both good and bad.

It turns out that the cyclist had been doored by a motorist 1) who was apparently unable to park next to the curb and 2) who opened the door into traffic without looking to see if the lane was clear. The Culver City Police were there and the motorist was explaining "But I never saw him!" to two officers and a supervisor who nodded with apparent understanding. They chatted and the motorist left the scene.

As for the cyclist, he was in fair shape and they loaded both him and his bike into the ambulance and transported him to the hospital.

There are three problems here:
  1. The Culver City Police didn't take photos, draw diagrams, pace off the scene or consider the bike as evidence. They just made sure "the debris" was picked up and that the street was clear.
  2. The Culver City Police told me that the City of Culver City didn't have an 18" ordinance requiring motorists to park within 18" of the curb. That may be true, it's just irrelevant. The requirement is a part of the California Vehicle Code, and doesn't require the local authority to bless it, just enforce it.
  3. The Culver City Police also seemed unaware that it is a violation to "door" a cyclist and when I mentioned it to the officer in response to his explanation that the motorist didn't see the cyclist, he asked "Are you a lawyer?" When I said no, he chuckled, patted my shoulder and told me to have a good evening.
Ignorance and condescension, what a combination! The investigating officer didn't know that the motorist's behavior may have been not only contributed to the cyclist's injuries but may have also been a violation of the law.

Washington Blvd. is a brutal street for cyclists with fast traffic and lots of conflict, ie. driveways, sidestreets, turning vehicles, and car doors opening into the traffic lane.

As Culver City engages in its Bike and Ped Master Plan process, it would be great to put some emphasis on the Education of those responsible for Enforcement and to work on supporting cyclists and their right to ride the streets and to get home safely at the end of the day, just like anybody else.

I'm sorry to hear that Warren Olney was doored and I hope he heals quickly and is back on the air soon. I'm also hopeful he can draw attention to the safety threat that "dooring" represents to cyclists and that he can speak up for others, especially the anonymous cyclist who took a door on Washington Blvd. a couple of weeks ago.

Most of all, I want the Culver City Police Department to get familiar with the California Vehicle Code and to make the streets of Culver City safe for cyclists. They have quite a journey ahead.

CVC 22502(a) requires a motorist to park the motor vehicle within 18 inches of the curb;

CVC 22517 prohibits a person from opening the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic.

No comments: