Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Glendale Police Department says "Circle the Wagons!"

The Glendale Police Department got an early start on the annual "Bike to Work" festivities with their pronouncement that a dead cyclist was 50% responsible for getting hit by a stop-sign-running motorist, after all, "He was riding a bike on the sidewalk in violation of California Vehicle Vode."

Cyclists railed that there is no California Vehicle Code prohibiting a cyclist from riding a bike on the sidewalk or on the extending crosswalk, in spite of the common misconception, pointing out that if there were prohibition, it would be based on local municipal code, not CVC. A review of Glendale Municipal Code reveals that there is a prohibition against sidewalk cycling in a business district.

10.64.025 Bicycle riding on sidewalks. No person shall ride or operate a bicycle upon any public sidewalk in any business district within the city except where such sidewalk is officially designated as part of an established bicycle route. Pedestrians shall have the right-of-way on sidewalks. The prohibition in this section shall not apply to peace officers on bicycle patrol. (Ord. 5116 § 1, 1996)

This started a debate over what constitutes a "business district" because the cyclist, Gerardo Ramos, was hit as he rode through the crosswalk at the intersection of North Concord Street and Milford Street. It appears to be a residential neighborhood but that's when things get murkier. The CVC defines a business district and it also defines a crosswalk.

Business District 235.  A "business district" is that portion of a highway and the property contiguous thereto (a) upon one side of which highway, for a distance of 600 feet, 50 percent or more of the contiguous property fronting thereon is occupied by buildings in use for business, or (b) upon both sides of which highway, collectively, for a distance of 300 feet, 50 percent or more of the contiguous property fronting thereon is so occupied. A business district may be longer than the distances specified in this section if the above ratio of buildings in use for business to the length of the highway exists.

Business and Residence Districts: Determination 240.  In determining whether a highway is within a business or residence district, the following limitations shall apply and shall qualify the definitions in Sections 235 and 515: (a) No building shall be regarded unless its entrance faces the highway and the front of the building is within 75 feet of the roadway. (b) Where a highway is physically divided into two or more roadways only those buildings facing each roadway separately shall be regarded for the purpose of determining whether the roadway is within a district. (c) All churches, apartments, hotels, multiple dwelling houses, clubs, and public buildings, other than schools, shall be deemed to be business structures. (d) A highway or portion of a highway shall not be deemed to be within a district regardless of the number of buildings upon the contiguous property if there is no right of access to the highway by vehicles from the contiguous property.

Crosswalk 275.   "Crosswalk" is either: (a) That portion of a roadway included within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of sidewalks at intersection where the intersecting roadways meet at approximately right angles, except the prolongation of such lines from an alley across a street. (b) Any portion of a roadway distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface. Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, there shall not be a crosswalk where local authorities have placed signs indicating no crossing.

I mention the CVC definitions only because that is what the Glendale Police Department talked about during the four phone conversations I had with them, each time trying to find somebody who could speak authoritatively about the Glendale Police Department's reported 50/50 assessment of responsibility in the traffic collission that took the life of Gerardo Ramos. It was an obtuse and cumbersome journey, resulting in my simple request for a formal investigation.

I initially spoke to the reporter who wasn't interested in a retraction or a correction, saying "He's a Detective, I thought I could trust him." She was wrong as was the detective. There is no state law prohibiting cyclists from riding on the sidewalk. It may not be a good idea, in fact it's typically a terrible idea, but it is not a violation of state law. I was at least able to confirm that the reporter stood by her quote of the Glendale Police Detective who said the prosecutors would be filing misdemeanor charges against the motorist. They determined that the cyclist was partially to blame. “They agreed that it’s 50-50,” Mankarios said. “He violated the vehicle code, but in essence had she stopped, he would have gone right through and in front of her.”

I spoke to Officer Metz who was pleasant and helpful, unfortunately also completely misinformed as to the law and its application for cyclists. He referred to a California Vehicle Code ban on cyclists and other "coasting devices" which he repeated a couple of times in during our conversation. I've heard of cyclists and pedestrians being inappropriately grouped but never cyclists and skateboarders. Sure enough, there is a Glendale Muni Code that refers to coasting devices but it's all irrelevant to the incident that resulted in a motorist running a stop sign and hitting a cyclist, causing his death. Officer Metz explained that the crosswalk was an extension of the sidewalk and therefore a cyclist would be prohibited from the crosswalk. He then tired of our conversation and begged off.

I tried again, this time calling for the Chief and when that failed, asking for the Chief's Adjutant. Somehow this sounded like Public Information Officer and I ended up chatting with Sgt. Lorenz who was quite officious and touted the City of Glendale's commitment to safety, requested my query in writing, and aggressively steered the conversation in the general direction of "Move along now! There's nothing here for you to look at!"

I spoke to the Watch Commander, Sgt. Fernandez, who was very helpful and seemed as interested as I in digging through state code and local code and I was encouraged, not by his knowledge of the laws as they apply to cyclists but by his open and enthusiastic approach to my questions. Ultimately, he was a pleasure to talk to but we had a hard time determining if the location was a residential neighborhood or a business district. He gave me his best understanding of the law and the Glendale PD policy but suggested that I should talk to someone else.

I pressed on, this time determining that Sgt. Dennis Smith was in charge of Detective Ashraf Mankarios and I called him to discuss the Glendale Police Department's policy on cyclists on the sidewalks and the 50% determination of fault that Mankarios referred to in the Glendale News Press article. He was slippery!

Smith quickly threw up the first defense saying "We don't litigate in the newspaper and I'm not going to litigate on the phone." I pointed out that we weren't litigating and that repeating this protest three times was a simple straw man argument that completely avoided my simple question. I again asked "Did he stand by the 50-50 responsibility determination that Detective Mankarios referred to in the newspaper?"

This set Sgt. Smith off on a commentary on journalists, interviews, quotes, accuracy, and the fact that it is possible that Detective Mankarios was misquoted or misunderstood. I pointed out that I had confirmed the quote with the journalist but that, nevertheless, my question wasn't regarding his confidence in the article but on his personal and professional opinion on the 50-50 determination. He settled down and said the Glendale Police Department would not make a recommendation such as the 50-50 determination.

Now we were getting somewhere but not for long. He quickly pointed out that we had nothing more to talk about since there the GPD had no 50-50 position on the traffic colission that took the life of Gerardo Ramos. I pointed out that we were just getting started and that the larger issue here was the simple fact that out of five Glendale Police Department officers, four of them had misquoted the law, all stating that to ride a bike on the sidewalk is a violation of state law. It isn't, they are wrong and as to the Traffic Supervisor of the Glendale Police Department it was his responsibility to address the failure of his department to understand the law.

Sgt. Smith was good, he knew the code(s) for business districts, for crosswalks (marked and unmarked) and the muni code for sidewalk cycling. He also knew that I was asking him for an investigation, not just a conversation. He didn't let on immediately but he gave me instructions on how to file a complaint if I thought the Glendale Police Department had failed to perform its duties. His instructions amounted to an obstacle, not a solution. "Come down to the station and file a complaint if you think we should investigate this matter further." I pointed out that since I had him on the phone, he could simply take the complaint telephonically. He then instructed me to "go online, I'll direct you to the proper forms and you can download them, print them out, fill them out, then mail them to the Glendale Police Department." I thanked him for the suggestion but again pointed out that since I had him on the phone and since it was department policy to take complaints and reports telephonically, I would prefer to proceed with my request for an investigation telephonically. He acquiesced, asking if he could finish up with somebody at the counter and then call me back. I agreed, he called me back, and we proceeded with a request that he indicated would go to the supervising Lt. and then the Captain.

We now wait on the Glendale Police Department and their determination on what constitutes a business district and where a cyclist may ride a bike. Personally, I'm not advocating for sidewalk cycling but I understand it. Most importantly, I'm advocating for a police force that not only understands and enforces the law, but that also serves and protects those on the street who are most vulnerable.

This is Bike to Work week around the country. Gerardo Ramos simply wanted to ride his bike to work and his life ended because he crossed the street at the same time as a motorist who failed to stop at that stop sign. All the bike maps and Clif bars and patch kits celebrating Bike to Work week are just salt in the wound if the City of Glendale's Police Department can't clearly and cohesively communicate and defend a cyclists' right to travel safely and free of fear.

It's Bike to Work week and the City of Glendale has a lot of catching up to do!


Anonymous said...

Rock on Box. You might also want to inquire about how many citations Glendale Police made last year for riding in a sidewalk/crosswalk vs how many for not stopping at a stop sign.

DJwheels said...

Way to go Box, keep the pressure on them.

Is an educated and informed police force too much to ask for?

roadblock said...

You rule for taking the lead on this Box. THANK YOU.

E said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you Steven!!

Biron said...

Thank you thank you thank you. You are a veritable saint amongst the cycling community. As a bike commuter I truly appreciate every effort put forth to promote safer roads and raise cyclist awareness.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good fight Mr. Box. All your work is much appreciated in LA. From looking at the satellite view of the intersection and the blocks in all four directions, it looks like this is a business district. At first I thought it would be residence, but the kicker was that multiple dwelling is considered part of the business area.

I don't think this constitutes 50% blame, but I think the biker was where he shouldn't have been. Both legally and rationally.