Saturday, May 2, 2009

Been quiet, but must write about an incident...

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.


BenPaddon said...

Take 'em down and show 'em who's boss. I've seen too many drivers treat too many cyclists with disrespect over the years (both here and in the UK, where even pedestrians will yell at cyclists...).

I think I told you about this incident that happened to my about a year ago, but here it is again: I was cycling to work, and I cycled past a Bank of America. Someone was pulling out of the Bank and decided to just hammer the accelerator and pull out, despite the fact I was there. I watched her do it. I could see her, and she would have been able to see me just fine if she was, y'know, looking for something car-sized or larger.

She pulls out, I swerve to avoid her, at which point I am clipped by another car clips my side and knocks me down.

I hit my head pretty hard on the sidewalk. Luckily I was wearing a helmet. I scraped my legs and arms up a fair bit, but other than that I was fine. The first car, the one that pulled out of the Bank of America, stops beside me not to offer aid but instead to shout at me for being in her way. I respond by calmly and carefully telling her exactly what sort of dog she reminded me of.

SoapBoxLA said...

Hell, Yeah! Take them to court. Although I don't know why you'd have to take them to court if they break the law.

I'm disappointed that it was downgraded. When somebody uses a motor vehicle to terrorize somebody, it should be treated as a serious crime.

I'd like to know who'd on the case and I'd like to know the company name.

Professional drivers operating commercial vehicles should be held to a higher standard.

"See you on the Streets!"

Zanna Russell said...

That was a good call, Paula!! Absolutely, take them to court! I am glad that you have made some friends in high places with similar goals (road safety) who can help you when you call.

Do post the company name if it doesn't interfere with your court case.

The Jolly Crank said...

That's like out of some kind of movie--you know with the killer car stalking some innocent person. Effin' scary. I'm glad you're alright, firstly and I'm glad you decided to make a stand.
I hope the company fires that drivers sorry ass. I know there are people out there who are respectful drivers and would be less of a liability to the company and would love to have a job.

She Rides a Bike said...

What a horrible experience and one of the reasons I prefer segregated lanes for bikes. You are correct the cars win in an accident. No matter how curteous you as a cyclist are, if a driver decides he wants to have some fun at the expense of the cyclist the cyclist will be the one to get hurt. Have you thought about writing an editorial in your newspaper? Was there ever any follow up from the van owners? Good luck (to all of us).

Filigree said...

Thank you for your story. These incidents are really frightening, especially when you are inexperienced and trying to convince yourself that cycling is the right thing to do.

This is only my third month on a bicycle after 12 years of not riding, and I have already had a traffic shake-up. I was standing at a crosswalk outside of Vienna that is quite large but has only stop signs, no lights. There were no cars coming, so I prepared to cross. Just at that moment, a sports approached the cross-walk with incredible speed (as if it had no intention to stop at the stop sign), and only at the last second screeched to a halt inches away from my left side. I was slightly shaken, but seeing as the car was letting me go, I put my foot on the pedal again and was about to cross. As soon as I did this, the car revved its engine and began to drive -- expecting, I imagine, that I would clear its path by the time it actually lunged forward.

An experienced cyclist would have just kept going at this point, to quickly clear the car's path. But I got so freaked out, that I froze and lost my balance. The bike tumbled sideways between my legs and it was by sheer luck that I did not fall directly under the car's wheels.

The man inside the car was calmly smoking and listening to music the entire time, looking at me distractedly and not acknowledging any fault on his part what so ever, let alone showing concern or caution. Not encouraging, to say the least.

Christian said...

That was a really alarming incident. I'm glad you're okay. Good for you for pressing charges, to make an example of it. What they were doing was clear-cut harassment and intimidation, whatever they thought of it. And how cool, that the police were kinda-sorta fans of your work.

out riding

out riding
riding my flying pigeon