Sunday, January 10, 2010

Make Lanes and Change People? How About Just Do Your Job!

Most of us cyclists who regularly take to the streets have been following the case in Los Angeles whereby Dr. Christopher Thompson allegedly slammed on his car brakes after passing and pulling in front of two riders. One cyclist, Ron Peterson, was flung face-first into the rear window of Thompson's red Infiniti, breaking his front teeth and nose and cutting his face. The other cyclist, Christian Stoehr, slammed into the sidewalk and suffered a separated shoulder.

Thompson was convicted of mayhem and assault with a deadly weapon. He was also found guilty of reckless driving in an earlier incident in which prosecutors said he tried to hurt two other cyclists. Saturday, Dr. Thompson was sentenced to five years in prison.

In reporting the sentencing, the Los Angeles Times quoted the sentencing judge, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Millington, regarding his views that the victims were particularly vulnerable because they were on bicycles. The judge called on cyclists and drivers to respect each other, adding that local government should add more lanes specifically assigned to cyclists to improve their safety.

Thanks, judge. We do appreciate you getting this putz off the road for a few years, and hope that it will make other drivers think twice about screwing with a cyclist. Maybe your heart is in the right place with the speech, but I think it's more likely that you're using the bully pulpit to get re-elected. While I agree with the message, I'd rather that you and the cops just do your job and crack the whip every time the current laws protecting cyclists get broken.

On the day of the crash, the cyclists said Dr. Thompson honked loudly from behind and passed by dangerously close as they moved to ride single file. Here in Tennessee, the doctor would have broken two laws right there, but I doubt that he would have been cited for either. It's only when the driver actually does injury to someone that the authorities seem willing to step in ... if then.

We would all love to have more bike lanes ... at least, those of us that ride bicycles ... but they cost a lot of money and -- like most capital improvements -- are slow to put in. Supposedly, the widened section of Concord Road, not to far from Stately Rando Manor, will have a bike lane. Using this, I'll be able to ride Concord from Edmondson Pike to Sunset Road without taking my life in my hands. I heard about this project when we first moved here in the summer of 2005, which means that it has taken at least five years to get about two miles of bike lane put in ... a bike lane that is really just an afterthought, since they needed to widen this road regardless.

I won't wait the 200 years that it will take for the Powers That Be to pass and implement road improvement projects that will string together enough bike lanes for me to get where I want to go. Maybe by then "cars" will all be flying DeLoreans with built-in flux capacitors and Mr. Fusions, and the roads will be solely for cycles anyway.

People could follow the admonition of Judge Millington and "try and get along." But, just in case people the world over don't suddenly grow consciences and become empathetic to those of us who aren't in two-ton SUVs, I would just appreciate it if Judge Millington -- and all of the other judges and members of our court systems and law enforcement -- would quit ignoring and start enforcing the laws that we have on the books designed to protect cyclists.

We're dying for a little justice out here.

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