After an afternoon spent discussing the Bike Route Pilot Program yesterday, Beverly Hills City Council got an earful from about twenty cyclists about poor safety on city streets. Don (@WolfpackHustle) Ward tapped cyclists from as far away as Panorama City and Bell Gardens to remind councilmembers that our city has an obligation to make roads accessible to all users regardless of mode. Putting a fine point on it were two hit-and-run victims, neither of whom found justice here because police didn’t dig deep enough.
It is every cyclists nightmare: you’re riding lawfully with the traffic and waiting at a traffic light and BOOM! a motorist plows into you from behind. That would be unsettling under any circumstances, but imagine the driver flees while you’re transported to Cedars Sinai for a one-month stay (complete with induced coma and a body full of orthopedic hardware). That’s what happened to Paul Livingston last year right near City Hall. Welcome to Beverly Hills!
Paul recounted the story for our City Council in evening formal session during public comment:
I was a victim of a hit-and-run just outside of this building… When Victoria Tiffany Chin came to turn herself in, she came with a lawyer and refused to give a statement. And she failed to bring in her car [as told]. But she was free to go while I was in a coma in Cedars Sinai Hospital with a titanium plate and screws in my pelvis and my spine….She had confessed but District Attorney Steven Katz has rejected the case, saying ‘We can’t prove she was the driver.’ I’m asking for justice. People need to be held criminally accountable…That someone can do this in Beverly Hills and then leave me for dead in the street….?
What motivated Don Ward to bring folks to Beverly Hills was not only the sorry state of bike safety here in Beverly Hills. That’s a given, though state law says that cyclists have every right to bike our public roads.
It runs counter to the state’s Complete Streets policy guidance which underscores that streets need be made accessible to all road users. And it contravenes the federal government’s FHWHA out front stance on inclusive mobility and road safety.
Don is fed up with the seeming disregard shown by certain responding officers in Beverly Hills to the particular concerns of cyclists. We share our city streets, public space that has been wholly turned over to motorists, yet it seems that we’re supposed to ride at our own risk. That’s not the law and that’s not acceptable. As we heard from tonight’s cyclists during public comment, the responsibility of the police is to ensure public safety and hold accountable those who disregard the safety of others.
Don’s been here before to advocate on behalf of justice for injured cyclists, and indeed helped win Brandon Chau (a cyclist dissed by the police after a hit-and-run) another look at his case. Two years ago, Don organized a Council action to persuade councilmembers to ask the police to reopen that case and reopen it they did. Brandon successfully then took it to court and that motorist, Yelena Krupen, was sentenced to time in the County jail.
Tonight, Cyclist Hal Bergman also suffered our Beverly Hills brand of road justice when a hostile motorist on Wilshire harassed him and a friend before hounding him off his bike and then running it over, totaling the bike and the camera gear in his saddlebags. The motorist then fled. But with the license plate in hand the police stopped the motorist. But she branded Hal as the aggressor – an unsubstantiated assertion that made it into the police report and compromised his case. Hal’s version did not make it into the report, however. (Same thing happened at our own collision when broadsided at the Beverly Hills Art Fair in June.)
Hal has been so far unable to recover damages and has had no luck getting investigators to reopen the report. Despite the damage he’s been branded at fault.
At tonight’s meeting, cyclists arrived on two wheels from all across the region. But it was a pair of locals who upstaged the veteran cyclists with a simple plea: They’d like to ride a bike to go get ice cream in the business district, they said, but it’s too dangerous so they drive instead.
The scene-stealers, Ella and Nina Solomon, came with their mother, Daniela Solomon, who introduced herself as a Beverly Hills resident and UCLA-bound bike commuter. These folks probably advanced the cause for safer streets in Beverly Hills more than any other advocate in room (and it didn’t hurt that they’re neighbors of Mayor Brien). Hear Ella and Nina – Beverly Hills future bike advocates – for yourself. Hear them at minute 4:10 on the audio clip. (Video available at the Council archive.)
Our Two Cents
We cyclists received a respectful hearing from Council (as we always do) but the hard work lies ahead. As was highlighted by Paul, Hal, and Don Ward, it’s a change in culture that’s warranted in Beverly Hills, not only a few sharrows and maybe a bike lane (as important as facilities are). The presumption of motorist non-responsibility rankles. We call avoidable collisions ‘accidents,’ which is a rhetorical slight that overlooks often clear contributing factors and even negligence or aggression (as in Hal’s case). It’s a vestigial holdover from the auto era, when motoring was as accepted as breathing.
But we’re moving past the auto era. We now impose harsh penalties on those who drink and drive, for example. Yet as bike blooger Ted Rogers observes, running down a cyclist is perhaps our last countenanced form of homicide. Too often responding officers or investigators simply attribute fault to the cyclist and that begs a culture change indeed. It is up to our policymakers and police officials to ensure that striking cyclists and leaving them “for dead” (as Paul said) can’t stand. We must hold careless, negligent, and/or homicidal motorists responsible for the actions – and the consequences.