Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “Phillip O’Neill”

Bearing Witness

Yesterday, Father’s Day, was a day for looking back and looking forward.  I began the day attending commencement at Cal Poly for my students who were graduating.  It is always so uplifting to watch my students achieve a goal they’ve worked so hard to attain, for many, the first in their families to obtain a 4-year college degree.  They’re just starting out, young lives full of promise and hope.  Last evening was also the memorial walk/ride for Phillip O’Neill, a 25-year-old young man whose life was also full of promise and hope, killed by a careless driver one year ago in Pasadena.  I was bearing witness in both cases.  The first fills me with joy, and affirms my hopes as an educator.  The second fills me with deep anger and a fervent desire to change our roads and our laws.

Ready to Roll

Last night’s walk/ride brought together many bicycling advocates from the area, as well as those who just wanted to ride with us in solidarity.  Chris Cunningham of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition led the ride, and there were attendees from as far as South LA’s East Side Riders Bike Club.  We rode from Pasadena’s City Hall, where we must press our case for safer streets, to the ghost bike placed on Del Mar Blvd. where Phillip was killed.  We stopped and had a moment of silence for Phillip, and people placed flowers and candles on the ghost bike.  I contemplated both the fragility of human life and the nearby roadway that has been designed primarily for the convenience of cars.  It’s wide enough for bike lanes, but such redesign might make drivers slow down.  As I so often do, I wondered why we let such things happen.  Why do we design our streets for machines of death that kill an average of 35,000 and maim nearly a quarter of a million Americans every year?  Why aren’t more people standing here with us?  Why aren’t more people outraged?


From there the group then rode or walked to Grant Park, where there was a small ceremony.  Katie, who was riding with Phillip when he was killed, described their beautiful first date that day, and noted that both of them were riding legally in the right lane because of the lack of a bike lane on Del Mar.  Among the other speakers was Phillip’s mother, who spoke about her son’s work as an environmental scientist and his desire to make the world a better place.  As a parent, I deeply felt her unending grief and anguish at the loss of a child.  Worse yet, she noted that her son’s killer has yet to accept responsibility for his actions that day, that he was driving too fast and was illegally passing on the right when he struck Phillip.  I’m saddened and angered by this lack of responsibility, but I’m not surprised by it.  Our car-centric culture has a tendency to absolve drivers of responsibility and blame the victims of car violence.  If you doubt me on this, next time you see an article describing the death of a bicyclist, read the online comments.  The callous victim-blaming will sicken you.

I was heartened to see Terry Tornek, a Pasadena city council member, attend the event and speak on behalf of making the streets of Pasadena safer for all people, not just motorists.  I’m also heartened by the people from the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, formed in response to Phillip’s death last year, who organized this event.  PasCSC continues to grow and is now lobbying for an ambitious new mobility plan for the city of Pasadena.  Indeed, many members of the coalition (as well as the LACBC, CICLE, BikeSGV, Walk/Bike Glendale) were there last night.  I’m also heartened that members of this small but growing advocacy community have neither forgotten Phillip nor lost hope that things can change—must change.  In this way, bearing witness and looking forward go hand-in-hand.

As Danny Gamboa said last night, we must never forget those killed or maimed by cars and we must work for the day when we no longer need ghost bikes because our streets will be safe for people on bikes.  I made a solemn pledge to Phillip’s mother that this is what I would do.

Flowers for Phillip

R.I.P. Phillip O’Neill

It happened again.  Another dead cyclist.  Please forgive the tone of today’s post, ’cause I’m pissed off and not in the mood to be charitable.

Last week, 25 year-old Phillip O’Neill and a female friend were riding on Del Mar Blvd. in Pasadena on their first date.  Phillip was struck from behind by a motorist and died at the scene.  Now, Del Mar has plenty of room on the shoulder for bike lanes, but the powers that be in Pasadena think empty cars make better use of that space, forcing bicyclists to “take the lane” in 40-plus MPH traffic.  The driver apparently struck Phillip from behind, which suggests he was riding in the lane, as he was legally entitled to do.  At this time, little additional information is available, but one thing is certain, Pasadena’s leaders bear some responsibility for this tragedy.  This isn’t the first time a cyclist has been killed on Pasadena’s dangerous streets.  Last year, two cyclists were killed in separate incidents.  It isn’t as if the city hasn’t known its streets aren’t safe.  Caltech Bike Lab has been circulating a petition to the city to address the dangerous lack of bike infrastructure on the city’s major east-west routes like Del Mar for a year.  I and others have criticized the city’s lack of bike infrastructure, and poor maintenance of what little it does have.  I complain to anyone in the city who will listen.  Nothing happens.

Oh, I take that back.  2 months ago, the city installed a bike lane on one block of Rosemead Blvd. between Sierra Madre Villa and N. Halstead.  It includes a dangerous vehicle crossover zone on the westbound side that is an accident waiting to happen (about which I’ve complained to the city’s transportation administrator … but that seems to have disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole).  Second, the bike lane on both ends of the block lead to streets where cyclists are once again forced into traffic because of, yup, you guessed it, parked cars.  There have been a couple other piecemeal efforts here and there, but the city remains a dangerous place to ride a bike.

Pasadena has been “considering” a bike plan for some time now.  I’ve had a look at it and provided my input at public forums, and online.  Now we hear the city council will “take up” the issue at its next meeting in July.  About f***ing time.

Even if it is adopted whole, the Pasadena bike plan is, sad to say, distinctly underwhelming.  It looks great on a map, with lots of lines showing new bikeways throughout much of the central city.  Here’s the problem (which I’ve articulated before): with a few notable exceptions, the city’s bike plan relies on lots of “sharrows” and class III “bike routes,” which look great on a map, but are absolutely meaningless when you actually have to ride on them.  In fact, Del Mar, where Phillip tragically lost his young life, is currently a “bike route.”  Fat lot of good it did him.  Sharrows and “bike routes” that don’t provide separated or protected road space for bicyclists do nothing to protect cyclists from automobile traffic.  Sharrows (such as those recently installed on Glenarm) merely signify what is already the law—namely, that cyclists have a right to the lane.  Pasadena’s city leaders should ask themselves whether they would feel comfortable with their children or grandchildren riding to school or the store on Pasadena’s streets with only sharrows to protect them from speeding 2,000-lb cars and distracted, impatient, hostile drivers.  If the answer is no, then, well I guess we know where their priorities are.  Sharrows do offer politicians cover, however.  I’m sure there will be a lot of back-slapping and glad-handing by Pasadena officials that they’re making the city more “bike-friendly,” by putting sharrows down, but it’ll be for show.  I repeat, sharrows don’t do sh*it.  Tiny road signs that say “bike route” do even less.

The real hard work of making a city bike-friendly comes from providing things like buffered bike lanes and intersection bike boxes. But these things may require road diets or exchanging curbside parking for bike lanes.  Those things take political courage, because there is an adjustment period when drivers are angry and complain.  But drivers eventually adapt and people’s lives are saved.

Until now, Pasadena’s leaders have preferred to sacrifice the lives of cyclists and pedestrians rather than incur the temporary wrath of motorists’ overblown sense of entitlement.  Pasadena leaders, show me where you stand.  When you have the courage to reallocate road space to cyclists, I’ll be impressed.  In the meantime, rest in peace, brother Phillip.  I will continue the fight.

Phillip O'Neill's ghost bike on Del Mar Blvd.  Photo courtesy Elizabeth Williams.

Phillip O’Neill’s ghost bike on Del Mar Blvd. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Williams.

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