Death-defying stunt: walking

Times Staff Writer

Federal officials recently issued a report on pedestrian deaths across the United States between 1997 and 2006.

Here’s a sampling of what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found:

* Pedestrians had only a slightly higher chance of dying in a car crash than people in a vehicle had. For every 100 million miles that people walked, 1.42 pedestrians were killed, whereas for every 100 million miles that people drove, 1.3 vehicle occupants were killed.

* Male pedestrians are more likely to be killed than female pedestrians.


* Twenty percent of pedestrian deaths were the result of hit-and-run crashes.

* About one-third of the pedestrians killed were legally drunk.

* The highest percentage of pedestrian fatalities occurred between 6 and 9 p.m., followed by 9 p.m. to midnight, according to the report. Also, autumn months had the highest number of deaths.

* Generally speaking, both the rate and total number of pedestrian deaths have been dropping over the last decade.

* New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the country’s most populous cities, led the nation in pedestrian deaths. One surprise was Phoenix, which had the fourth-most pedestrian deaths even though fewer people lived there than in Houston, which had the fifth-most deaths.

I was in Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs earlier this year for a story on speed enforcement cameras, and officials said that running red lights has been a problem in the area because of the desert city’s long, flat and wide roads.

Bikes in the fast lane

I had the chance to sit down last week with three members of the Crimanimalz, a group of cyclists who went for a pair of highly illegal rides last spring that included short stretches on the Santa Monica and 405 freeways. During rush hour. Weaving in and out of traffic. In June, another group of cyclists rode the 101 Freeway.

Videos of their misadventures also got good rides on the Internet.

Here are a few highlights of the interview with Alex Cantarero, 28, of Santa Monica; Paul Bringetto, 36, of Santa Monica; and a third rider who would identify himself only as Rich, 23, of Lincoln Heights in Los Angeles:

The goal of the rides, they said, is not to break the law for the sake of breaking the law but to raise awareness of cycling issues.

“We’re not against cars, and we’re not trying to kill car culture,” Rich said. “But if you get some cars off the road” by getting more people on bikes, “there will be more room” for the people who drive.

Another goal is to get more bike lanes, more traffic signals that detect bikes and more designated bike routes that actually have room for both traffic and bikes.

Cantarero said he wanted to see bike lanes built along freeway routes that are separated from traffic (for example, on the embankment above the roadway) and would allow cyclists to get a head of speed and keep it without the starting and stopping that goes with riding in traffic.

I asked about the safety and legal aspects of the freeway rides. It is illegal to ride a bike on most urban freeways in California, and it’s not hard to imagine an unsuspecting motorist hitting a cyclist. That’s a bad outcome for everyone.

Rich said that if someone got hurt, the rides would end. But the cyclists did not say they would stop before that happened. In fact, they suggested that riding on the freeway in slow rush-hour traffic was safer than the conditions they experienced on streets in the area.

They said that they were comfortable with any legal consequences they might suffer to advance their cause -- in other words, they’re comfortable with getting more tickets or being hauled into court.

“If there are a few more fallen soldiers that fall voluntarily, I’m not that concerned,” Cantarero said.

They complained that police didn’t do enough to protect cyclists -- and pointed to the recent incident in Mandeville Canyon. A motorist has been charged with deliberately slamming on his brakes to cause a bike accident.

All three cyclists said that no matter how carefully they rode, they had frequent close calls with motorists. In some cases, they said, motorists seemed intent on trying to intimidate them, a scary prospect they likened to having someone try to kill you.