Been busy lately. I got repetitive motion injuries in both arms from work so I go to occupational therapy twice a week. After spending a whole 8 hours in front of the computer at work, I hardy want to get on the computer after I get home. Thank goodness the handlebars on my Flying Pigeon are ergonomically safe. They don't stress my arms one bit. :)
But I've been thinking a lot about this blog lately and how neglected it has been, so I am remedying the situation right now. Something happened to me while I was biking to work on March 12, 2008. It was very upsetting but now I am at the point where I feel like I have to blog about it. Especially since the Hummer incident in Downtown Los Angeles on April 24th and the death of bicyclist Jesus Castillo in East LA just a week before that. I can no longer keep silent about my own experience with drivers who treat cyclists badly.
On the morning on March 12, I woke up a little late and decided to take the more direct route to work as I didn't want to spend the time to take the safer (longer) way to work. I was riding north on Saticoy, in the right lane, as close to the right that was safe yet out of the door zone. Most cars gave me enough room to feel safe as they passed me. I didn't really have any problems until a white industrial van passed me. The van did not have any company logos and the windows were tinted. I could not see much through them, what I did see was a wire gate, separating the driver's area from the back of the van. This van came VERY close to me, just a few inches from my bike and leaned against his horn. I tried my best to ride in a straight line but I was shaken up, he was too close to me. I figured he was just an asshole and I was happy to be rid of him when he sped off and made a right at the corner.
A block later another white industrial van speeds past me, coming inches from my bike while leaning on his horn. I swerve out of his way, nearly crashing into the parked cars to my right, my heart racing. I look and find it is THE SAME FUCKING VAN. I try to read his license plate but he speeds off and makes a right at the end of the block. At this point I am beyond livid and terrified but I keep riding, I figure if I see him again I will try to be as calm as I can and concentrate on catching his license plate number.
I didn't have to wait long for him to come back for a third go. The white van did the same thing, coming within inches of me while honking his horn. It was the same van and I read and instantly memorized his license plate number. I got my phone out and keyed the number into my phone to store it and immediately called my buddy, Sargent Arshambault, in the LAPD Valley Traffic Division. At this point, I was still shaken up and trying not to cry. I had no idea whether or not this guy was going to come around again. I made a right turn onto Topanga Canyon and hoped he didn't follow me. I talked to the Sargent and he took the description of the van, the license plate number and the details of the incident and tried his best to calm me down.
The next morning, I get a call back from the Sarg. He traced the license info to a company located in the Valley, not far from where I was stalked the day before. He invites me to go to the police department in Van Nuys to file a report. When I get there, the Sarg takes me into the office of the Chief of Police. They tell me they've been wanting to meet me in person for quite a while now. The Chief tells me how he heard about me (from the Wall St Journal article) and they both explain how the LAPD Valley division has been trying to make the streets a little safer for pedestrians and cyclists, such as the conducting crosswalk stings at deadly intersections as well as their plans to have plain clothed bicycle officers hit the streets. I've got to say, I was really excited and honored that they brought me into their office and made me feel welcome.
After the meeting, I go to a young officer in the front lobby and give him my report. I wanted him to put either "stalking" or "vehicular harrassment/intimidation" but he ended up filing the report under "disturbing the peace".
I guess he would have put a harsher description of the incident had I been really hurt. I was more than a little disappointed, but I decided to let it go. I was informed that they would transfer the report to the Devonshire police department since the incident happened in their jurisdiction. They would have a detective go to the company that owns this vehicle (and employs the driver) and inform the person in charge.
I don't hear back until last Thursday, 4/30/09. I get a call from an officer early in the morning. I didn't catch his name but he told me that he was on his way to speak to two men at the company that owned the van. He wanted to know if I was willing to take them to court over the incident. I thought about it for a second and said yes. I explained that even though I wasn't hurt, I needed all the parties involved to understand the seriousness of the situation. I don't know what the driver was thinking when he was stalking me. He may have just been trying to be cute. But these people have to understand that if you pit a car (truck, van, etc.) against a bicycle, the bicycle will NEVER win. I could have gotten seriously hurt, or even killed.
Just thinking about it is so upsetting. I'm crying as I type this. I wasn't hurt, but what about next time? Bicyclists being hit by autos happens way too often. It's time for the law to favor people, not cars.