On the way into work this morning, I spotted (along with, no doubt, several indignant drivers nearby) a cyclist traveling down the wrong way of a street to bypass the traffic choking the two downtown L.A.-bound lanes of Glendale Boulevard. I also noticed countless cars roll through stop signs, change lanes without their blinkers and speed down residential streets with impunity, but let's ignore that for the moment because, hey, drivers will be drivers.
Whether this particular cyclist's maneuvering posed a grave danger to himself is arguable, as the lane he unlawfully occupied was conveniently car-free. But there's no debate about whether his cycling flouted the law, and to many drivers, that cyclist's legal carelessness makes him -- and, really, any other cyclist who may or may not demonstrate more fealty to the law -- a rightful target for a hit-and-run.
In response to The Times' report last weekend by Armand Emamdjomeh, Laura J. Nelson and Joseph Serna on the disturbingly high increase since 2002 of hit-and-runs involving cyclists, almost all the readers who sent us letters expressed some empathy -- for the drivers who sent these bike riders tumbling to the pavement and left them there with potentially grave injuries. Cyclists are often seen breaking the law, the letter writers said, making these hit-and-runs somewhat understandable.
Never mind that a hit-and-run is a particularly immoral crime, irrespective of who was at fault for the collision in the first place; I'd say this is even more so for collisions involving cyclists who don't have the protection of crumple zones and air bags. It's one thing for a motorist to strike a cyclist weaving unpredictably in and out traffic; it's another thing for that driver to then speed away without stopping to help. As my colleague Rob Greene noted in a previous Opinion L.A. post: "Leaving the scene of an accident in which someone was killed or seriously injured is a felony that carries a possible sentence of up to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Misdemeanor hit-and-runs are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine."
Perhaps awareness of the legal consequences might get some motorists to change their tune, because respect for the lives of cyclists evidently isn't enough. Here is what those readers said.
Manhattan Beach resident Neil Snow encourages cyclists to start caring about their own safety:
Cyclists can lower the toll of run-ins with cars themselves by stopping at stop signs. I have yet to see any cyclists stop at a stop sign. They do it so often, I wonder if they know they too have to stop at stop signs.
I have seen parents with their children riding with them not stop at stop signs. What kind of example is that for their children. I have seen cyclists take up a full traffic lane.
If cyclists are so concerned about their safety, they should follow the rules as well.
Ron Shinkman of Sherman Oaks makes a similar point:
I sympathize with the pain that many of these bicyclists have suffered as the result of hit-and-run accidents, but I see many flout the law every day.
They run through stop signs and ride on the sidewalk even when there is an approved bicycle lane. And few, if any, appear to follow the Department of Motor Vehicles' guidelines for bicyclists, which include, "Be visible, alert and communicate your intentions ... watch for vehicles that have just passed you and may turn right."
Banning resident Jack Buss also criticizes lawless cyclists:
I would suggest the reason for the increase in hit-and-runs involving autos and cyclists may be that some cyclists don't necessarily concern themselves with rules of the road.
It is not unusual to see cyclists individually or even a group of four or five run stop signs or signals while motorists are stopped for a stop sign or waiting for a signal to change. I would guess not playing by the rules of the road may upset the motorists, and their emotions lead to some hit-and-run situations.
Would it help if cyclists were required to take bicycle riding tests?
Sally Bryant of Marina del Rey laments cyclists' aggressiveness:
I'm not surprised that hit-and-runs involving cyclists have increased 42%. I see very aggressive cyclists (especially in Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu) not stopping for stop signs, riding several abreast and not being in the bike lanes.
It saddens and puzzles me.