What You Can Do to Make Our Streets Safer

Frederick Frazier and the accident scene where he lost his life.

On Tuesday of this week, 22 year old Frederick Frazier was riding his bike with a group of friends in the middle of the day. He was struck and killed by a motorist who left the scene and has yet to be apprehended. The next day Frazier’s friends held a vigil at the site of the accident. While they stood in the intersection an angry motorist deliberately drove into the group hitting and injuring one of Frazier’s friends. This motorist also drove off without stopping.

I’ve been hit by cars twice while cycling and Kelly was hit by a car while walking. Thankfully, neither of us suffered serious injuries. Many of our fellow Angelinos, like Frazier, were not so lucky. Two hundred and forty-four people died in traffic crashes in the city of Los Angeles in 2017. Unfortunately, our elected officials here in Los Angeles don’t take this public health crisis seriously enough. Rather than make our streets safer they spend their time pondering presidential runs and virtue signaling on issues they have no legislative authority over. When my own councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s hypocrisy was pointed out to him (he halted a road diet on Temple street where 5 people have died and 34 have been seriously injured between 2009 and 2017), he responded with this terse and arrogant Tweet:

Between Frazier’s death and my own councilman’s intemperate tweeting, I’ve been too angry to write or work on the podcast this week. The week’s bad news (an acquaintance of mine also broke 11 ribs in a bike vs. car crash) brought up bad memories of the bike and pedestrian advocacy that I was a part of years ago. I especially remember two frustrating situations, when a group of us unsuccessfully attempted to stop Hollywood lobbyists from taking way bike lanes as well as the time we dared to suggest that speed limits should be lowered. In both cases we were treated condescendingly and, in the case of the Hollywood bike lane incident, not even allowed to speak.

I’m reluctant to bring up these issues on Root Simple because I strive to keep the blog positive and practical. But I can think of at least two simple things you can do to begin the process of making our cities more livable and safe, especially for our children and elders.

Burn Your AAA Card
The Automobile Club likes to hide behind the cheery road trip facade epitomized by their magazines and free travel advice. But behind the scenes they are a lobbying group as powerful and nefarious as the tobacco industry. They’ve never seen a road they don’t like and have spent the past hundred years making our cities into dangerous traffic sewers (see this article). Their lobbyists have a seat on municipal traffic commissions and they have the ear of our politicians. Thankfully there’s an alternative. If you want roadside assistance you can sign up for the Better World Club or just use the towing service offered by your insurance company. The tow trucks all come from the same source so you don’t need AAA.

Find Out Your Neighborhood’s Crash Hot Spots
If you live in California you have free access to a powerful map-based database, the Transportation Injury Mapping System. Once you sign up for a free account you can search your neighborhood by type of accident or go to their map which shows pedestrian and cycling crash “hot spots.” Armed with this information you can ask your elected officials for help by, at least, writing a letter. Or, if you’re a parent, look up the intersections around their school and share this information with your PTA and elected officials.

A better world is possible. In Walter Benjamin’s thinking the Messiah returns and just makes a bunch of small changes. We don’t need grand schemes like Elon Musk’s car tubes or Uber’s flying drone cars. We human beings, before the age of the automobile, used to make human-scaled cities. Those cities can still be visited and learned from (treat yourself to a vacation in Sienna or Venice). The changes we need to make are simple, inexpensive and don’t rely on any new technology.

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  1. I’m sorry to hear about your acquaintance and of Frederick Frazier. What a travesty. 🙁 Your mention of working with local reps reminds me of what my friend Renee has been going through in North Carolina with a street widening project: http://www.renee-garner.com/blog/2017/12/12/adultbullying

    It seems that when one major elected person takes to social media to spout off that it signals to the rest that it is an acceptable way to perform as an elected official. Which is unfortunate.

    I live in what would have been considered semi-rural just a few years ago but is quickly becoming more suburbs of Houston. it’s three miles to my house and my work and I’d love to ride my bike on the two-lane roads. Unfortunately the area has become so congested with traffic because of this exurban development that it just isn’t safe to ride a bike, though people do. There’s no shoulder and the speed limit is 35, plenty go 50 and pass with abandon in double yellows.

    It’s frustrating and I wish we collectively had a better answer. It almost seems moot to teach kids to ride a bike when they won’t even be riding one as an adult because of no safe space to ride them.

  2. Here in Santa Clarita, there are separate bike paths that criss cross the valley— a totally separate network of bike/jogging/hiking paths from the roads, though also paralleling roads at various portions.

    I’m not a bicyclist , so am unable to say how good bicycling is over here , but I’m sure bicycling in the city is way worst. Though at some portions of the bike trails many a robberies and violent assaults have taken place here too, against bikers and joggers by mentally ill homeless and/or hoodlums.

    I don’t hear so much bicycle vs. vehicles accidents, but there are plenty of pedestrians vs. vehicles accidents here. So i guess that’s evidence of sort of our bicycle paths here being successful, that you seldom hear of bike vs. vehicle accidents.

    But i’m very excited to read the AAA alternative. Do you use or a member of Better World Club? Can you do a blog on BWC, your experience, others, good or bad and how it fairs against triple AAA. We’ve been AAA members for 5 years now and it is rather expensive.

    We’ve used roadside assistance and been very happy, but my favorite part of AAA are the maps and their Campbooks/Tourbooks listings of places to stay and/or of interest.

    • I had BWC for years and it works fine–just as well as AAA. Right now I have State Farm insurance and they provide roadside assistance. What people don’t understand is that the roadside assistance all comes from the same fleet of tow trucks no matter what service you have.

    • Thanks. I’ll have to look into this, since I always thought those guys were AAA specific since they wore AAA cover-alls and/or AAA logo on their service vehicles.

      But this AAA = NRA line of thinking is new to me. Though I know my biggest threat living in Santa Clarita is being hit by a car. I don’t bicycle, but I do feel the threat of cars barreling down a residential road at 80 miles an hour all because said road is 4 lanes, giving it an air of highwayness.

      Wide roads elicit speed, accidents happen due to speed , then they send a fleet of motorcycle Sheriffs officers to ensure motorist slow down,

      a bit of circular thinking, I know, why not just narrow the streets to begin with??? hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

  3. I totally agree with your views that we need to make cities more human-scaled and cease the worship of the almighty automobile. However, I think that the related issue of vehicular pollution long preceded the age of the automobile. A big problem in 19th Century cities was horse manure. This article…


    …deals with the problem in London, but the problem also existed in New York and most other major cities. At the time, the automobile was seen as the savior of cities and the answer to the manure problem.

    What I found most upsetting in this article was that the average working life of a horse in London was three years. If a horse dropped dead in the street, its body was often left there until it decayed. This feels very different from scrapping a worn-out delivery truck.

    • Agreed–the car was originally seen by many as reform, which is why I don’t buy the Who Framed Roger Rabbit conspiracy theory. That said, there was also a considerable and forgotten early anti-car movement and considerable urban soil fertility because of all that manure. What would have been better than what we have now, perhaps, is a world in which we have delivery trucks and tractors but not pervasive individual car ownership. As to the fate of horses, I always think of Friedrich Nietzsche’s breakdown in the streets of Turin over seeing a horse being beaten.

  4. OK,”anonymous”, this is so not the place to present your bias against fixed gear bikes. It is irrelevant to the greater issues presented here.

    I am a 60 year old woman who is lucky enough to be able to still do majority of my travelling around my local area by bike. I’m also lucky that most of the drivers around here are pretty courteous and safe towards bicyclists. I ride defensively and obey traffic laws, ie, wherever it is possible, I ride my bike the same way I drive a car. But even so, I am regularly shocked by the vitriol that is spewed out by a few motorists against bicyclists. It’s as if they’ve taken some sort of stand against non-drivers and by god they will exercise their right to express it, by yelling and honking at whatever perceived error that a bicyclist makes. This is why I’m so incensed at the report of the car that drove into the crowd of grieving bike friends as described. I wish that all car drivers would be forced to get out onto a bicycle and navigate traffic as part of their driver’s education program; and also make a section of the driver’s license testing reflect how to drive safely around bikes. Do I think all bicyclists ride safely? No, of course not. But out on a bike, a rider sees up close and personal how unsafely many car drivers operate their vehicles. and who always loses in the car-bike or car-pedestrian crash? not the car, that’s for sure. So sorry to hear of this man’s death.

    • Thank you!

      I’ve spent a couple of days on the highway recently and the short-sighted selfishness of many drivers cannot be overstated. They are careless of their own safety and lives and that of other drivers. Cyclists and pedestrians seem to not exist except as barriers to acceleration.

      Either we need to stop permitting personal vehicles on public roads or conduct a widespread review of driving fitness – with real consequences of those who drive on suspended or revoked licenses. Business as usual means condoning this endless mayhem.

  5. This is so incredibly sad and terrifying and angering.
    I do also want to comment on what you say Erik about being reluctant to bring this up because of your wish to keep the blog positive and practical. I admire that, but I also think that there is a place (and necessity) for acknowledging the BS and violence in the world — because after all that’s why many of us seek out alternative ways of being and doing. And at any rate, I would very definitely say that this post was practical in that you’ve given us concrete ways to become better informed on this problem. I don’t live in the US but I do live in a pretty un-bike-friendly area, with a lot of aggressive drivers (I know plenty of people who’ve been hit by cars around here due to aggressive or distracted drivers, myself included). The resources you’ve listed don’t apply to where I live but I will certainly look into whether we have comparable resources here!

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