Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “left hook”

Alan Deane

Last September, Alan Deane was riding his bicycle to work in Pasadena when he was struck and killed by a driver who made a left turn into him.  It was Alan’s 61st birthday.

Yesterday Deane’s killer, 30-year-old Sidharth Misra, was sentenced in a Pasadena court after being convicted of reckless driving.  After viewing a surveillance video of the incident, Pasadena Police initially sought a charge of Vehicular Manslaughter, but attorneys plea bargained it down to reckless driving because, as Judge Stephen Monette explained, even though Misra was entirely at fault, there was no evidence that he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  So let me get this straight.  If you’re impaired and you plow into a bicyclist, it’s manslaughter.  If you’re perfectly sober and you plow into a bicyclist because you fail to exercise proper caution, you’re held to a lesser responsibility?  Seems like when you’re sober, you ought to be expected to know better.

In the courtroom, Mr. Misra expressed remorse for his actions, and I do not doubt he is sincere, but I would expect that someone who recklessly takes someone else’s life with a motor vehicle to at least lose the privilege of driving for a while.  This driver has proven he can’t properly handle a motor vehicle.  Mr. Misra’s penalty for killing Deane?  400 hours of community service and 3 years probation.  Alan’s grieving father told the Pasadena Star-News he considered the penalty “a slap on the wrist,” and “completely insignificant.”  I agree.

Among bicyclists, there is an ironic joke that if you want to get away with murder in the United States, just be sure your victim is on a bicycle and you are in a car.  No judge will punish you.  Judge Monette said at the sentencing, “Nothing I do can ultimately change the fact that Mr. Deane is not with us anymore.”  So, if you’re killed by a reckless driver while lawfully riding your bike home, too bad?  The guy who couldn’t be bothered to slow down and watch the road while operating a 2,000-lb motor vehicle can’t be expected to be held fully responsible for taking a human life, can he?  Certainly no reason for suspending his driver’s license for a while, eh judge?  After all, as judge Monette said to the other (motorists) in the courtroom: “All of us could have been in that situation …”  You know how it is.  We all drive recklessly and take a human life from time to time.

In many European countries, there are “vulnerable road user” laws that protect bicyclists and pedestrians.  Penalties are stiff for killing a vulnerable road user and drivers are taught to watch for pedestrians and bicyclists.  Road design in Europe also provides space for bikes and pedestrians and slows traffic speeds.  As a result, their safety records are far better than ours.  Their laws value human life over shaving a minute off someone’s drive home.

Maybe we should too.

The Left Hook and the Right Cross

OK, pardon me, but I need to rant.  Last night, on my commute home from work through the mean streets of Arcadia, I was nearly left-hooked and right-crossed … all within the space of about 3 minutes.  To those unfamiliar with the terms, bicyclists refer to drivers making a left turn directly in your path as a “left hook.”  A “right cross” happens when a driver speeds up and then cuts in front of you to make a right turn in your path.  Ride a bike on the roads in Southern California for any length of time, and you’ll eventually experience both.

Last night, both incidents happened on a stretch of 1st Avenue in Arcadia, reinforcing my belief that Arcadia is arguably the most bike-unfriendly city in the west San Gabriel Valley.  I’ve repeatedly complained to Arcadia city officials about the lack of bike-friendly infrastructure in that city, to no avail.  Last year the Arcadia City Council voted down a proposal to fund a bike plan for the city, citing lack of funds.

Yesterday was my first evening (i.e., after sundown) commute home since school started, and I was prepared to be super-visible.  I have a front and rear Supernova E3 headlight-taillight combo on my Surly Troll commuter bike, both run by a Shimano dyno-hub, both of which are extremely bright.  I also have an additional Planet Bike taillight for good measure.  I wear a hi-vis reflective vest, like the kind worn by Caltrans workers, and to top it off, I have a helmet-mounted Light & Motion Vis 360 headlight-taillight combo that is bright enough to be seizure-inducing and designed to be seen from all angles.  In short, I’m lit up like a friggin’ Christmas tree.  I also make a special effort to ride by the rules of the road, and watch for eye contact with drivers, especially at intersections.

The first incident happened around 8:30 pm at the intersection of Santa Clara and 1st Ave (where the new Arcadia Gold Line station is being built).  I was headed northbound on 1st, waiting at a red light.  An older (mid-1990s) Dodge or Chrysler sedan was southbound on 1st, waiting at the red light.   He had no turn signal on, but something about the way he edged into the intersection made me watch him warily.  It’s a good thing I did, because the driver, a late-middle-aged white male, suddenly made a left turn right in front of me.  I raised my arm in a “WTF?” gesture, and aimed my headlamp right at his face, but he never even looked at me.  As brightly-lit as I was, how could you not see me, you jerk?  How could you not look for opposing traffic when making a left turn?  Were you drunk?

Not three minutes later, still northbound on 1st, I approached the light at Foothill Blvd.  This time, an assho–, uh, motorist—in a macho black pickup truck, roars around me, cuts me off , and makes a right turn in front of me.  Fortunately, he was gone by the time I got to the line, or I’d have blown my top, and it wouldn’t have been constructive.

An otherwise pleasant and healthy ride home was almost ruined by two inconsiderate, dangerous motorists.  I was following the rules of the road in both instances.  If I’m struck by either one of these jerks, (thank God I wasn’t) it is potentially life-threatening.  The next time some motorist complains about scofflaw bicyclists, it is important to remember that scofflaw drivers are just as common, and pose a much greater risk of bodily harm to other road users.

My bike and I have a right to the road, and refuse to be bullied off of it by idiots wrapped in 2,500-lbs of steel and glass.  My bike-commuting is healthy, good for my community (reduces traffic, noise, and the need for expensive infrastructure), and good for the planet.  None of that can be said for the 2,500-lb metal piles of crap rolling around the public roads.  I’m going to be extra careful in Arcadia, though, because apparently the lives of cyclists and pedestrians are cheap to city officials.

OK, if you’re still with me, thanks for letting me vent.  I feel a little better now.

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