Cars vs. Bikes and the Punishment

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I’ve been thinking a lot about encounters I’ve personally had with automobiles since my friend was hit and killed by a truck last Sunday.  Luckily to say, I’ve been pretty fortunate in how rarely I’ve had an issue.

I’ve been intentionally hit once, when I was young, accidentally hit in Santa Cruz once, and other than that, I’ve been able to avoid the situation.

But, the encounters are going to continue.  And escalate I assume.  That has to be the case because of the growing numbers of both automobiles and cyclists.

There was a case in LA where a guy intentionally hit is brakes and a couple of cyclists fell and got hurt.  The judge sentenced the guy, a doctor, to 5 years in prison.  I’m not sure about that.

I lived in Boulder for a couple years back in the 90’s.  The situation there was getting pretty intense.  It was nearly impossible to ride up or down a canyon to get to the Peak to Peak without a few people in automobiles going agro.  I realized that they felt frustration.

They were frustrated by not being able to get to where they needed to be on time, because they didn’t allow enough time to drive because of the environment, ie. cyclists.  And the cyclist’s anger kept escalating because of constantly being harassed by drivers of cars.  And it just kept escalating.  The drivers thought it was the same cyclists each day and the cyclists would think it was the same cars, but that wasn’t the case.  It was all cyclists and many different drivers.

I decided just to move.  It wasn’t going to get better.  On the perimeter of the Open Space around Boulder, the small towns were expanding like crazy.  Too many cars and not enough space to ride.

We all tend to have less patience nowadays.  I’m not sure if it is a society issue or what, but people are definitely less tolerate of things.  In general, our society has become pretty unreasonable on many topics.  There is a pretty big line in the sand about whether cyclists should be on the road or not.

Back to the charge to the doctor in LA.  This is not going to be popular with a lot of cyclists, but I think the sentence was incorrect.  The man was an emergency room physician and 60 years old.  5 years in prison could be 25% of his expected life expectancy.  But that isn’t my rational for not agreeing with the sentence.

My thoughts are that there are way, way too many people in jail in our country.  We, as a society, seem to think that jail is the ultimate punishment.  5 years in jail for a 60 year old doctor is a very harsh sentence.  I’m not saying assaulting two bicyclists with an automobile isn’t a serious crime, but there could be other punishments that would serve our society, and the offender better.

Why not sentence the man to 5 years community service in a clinic in Los Angeles?   How about in Chesterfield Square, one of the most dangerous areas of LA?  I’m sure that they could use another emergency room physician there.  And I’m sure that Dr. Christopher Thompson, the guy that slammed his brakes on in front of the two riders, would pretty much hate being there.

It would be a win/win situation.  Punishment for the convicted, but it adds to the society.  It cost somewhere around $50000 per year to keep this guy in jail.  So, if he served his complete sentence, that would be a quarter of a million dollars.   I bet he’d pay 250K to stay out of jail, plus work at the free clinic for 5 years.  That is really a win/win deal.

We need to come up with more solutions than just throwing our citizens in jail.  We, the United States are only 5% of the population, but have 25% of all the people in jail.   We put so, so many people in jail for “crimes” that other countries classify as civil.   We need to become more tolerate and reasonable.

Anyway, I was all over the place here.  Just be careful out there riding.  It ain’t gonna get any safer with cell phones, computers on our dashboards and all the other built in distractions we seem to crave.   Eventually we should put as much effort into addressing these things than just tossing people into jail and throwing away the keys.






38 thoughts on “Cars vs. Bikes and the Punishment

  1. flicksta

    Riding in the UK is getting ridiculous, and is not going to change for 20-30 years. Perfectly rational friends of mine describe ‘cyclists’ as ‘a menace’, even though they know I am one of them. All because they misintepret occasionally having to wait behind a cyclist with the reason why driving a car takes time. Somebody I know, in response to a closed-roads sportive once a year, seriously suggested there should be a day when ‘no bikes are allowed’. ‘And you think that will reduce congestion?

  2. Bill K

    Not sure I agree. 1) The Doctor was trying to severely injure the riders. 2) The Doctor’s prison time could be an object lesson to other drivers, and 3) That’ll learn ’em.

  3. Richard Wharton

    As bad as it is, anecdotally, we have to look at the big picture. Statistically, cycling is experiencing about 1.4 incidents per 100,000 hours of activity. Walking is about 1.6. So cycling actually is safe, really safe. But here’s the bad news….

    The National Sporting Goods Association used to track cycling in surveys, and the starting minimum was something like 12 hours PER YEAR. Now, they’ve lowered the threshold to just SIX hours per year. And the numbers keep dropping.

    Advocates want segregated pathways and bike lanes. However, those are expensive to install, are a burden on all road users, and create a degree of atherosclerosis of the road, which leads to more frustration, more traffic, and more pollution, and less ‘economy’. And as much as we might not want to admit it, cycling is not going to cure the Air Quality Index in ANY city, at ANY time this century. The only cure for that is to reduce coal and gas emissions completely, and the only solution for that is Nuclear Energy, specifically, Thorium… but that’s another discussion.

    Steve – you’re the absolute most qualified cyclist in the world to speak about the motorist/cyclist interaction legacy. May I beg that you look at and and think about ways to EDUCATE cyclists about being “Cycling Savvy”? Someone like you on board would mean the world, and it’s the skinny-tired cyclists that need the attention.

  4. mathguy

    ” This is not going to be popular with a lot of cyclists, but I think the sentence is incorrect. ”

    You’re right. A problem with your suggestion is that this guy was a serial psycho on the road, and that he set out to injure the cyclists. You don’t get 5 years (which will end up as 18 months, at best) for a brief moment of road rage. He was the equivalent of the guy that’s been busted 8 times for DUI. Also, I don’t think that I would want someone with that kind of mean streak as my doctor.

    A second problem is the “message”: until people see that this is taken seriously, you won’t deter the behavior. The question of the overuse of prison time is an entirely separate issue that has more to do with race and the drug “wars”, than sending a nut like this doctor to jail. I think the sentence is exactly what he deserved.

  5. Bill

    I agree that, as a society, we want to get to our destinations quicker, and drivers are less apt to slow down for cyclists. On the other hand, I can understand their frustration: Left Hand Canyon Drive (just north of Boulder) clearly states cyclists are ride single file. I don’t know how many times I’ve ridden up Left Hand Canyon and saw cyclists riding 2, sometimes 3 abreast, with no regard for motor vehicle traffic. I usually say something to them. It’s quite interesting the hostility I get from fellow cyclists for doing so.

    1. ChrisC

      That’s why I usually ride the canyons out of Golden and Morrison. There just seems to be a bit more courtesy from both drivers and cyclists than in the Boulder area. YMMV.

    2. Linda

      Bill, I agree. What are we to do about the assholes and adolescents among our own tribe? We flagrantly break the law, flout the social contract that compels people to behave right even when no cops are around, and bottom line, we are just plain mean
      . Eff You to other road users. And if roadies in Boulder, CO–home to two national bike industry-funded advocacy organizations, for pete’s sake–don’t get it, what does that say about “us” as cyclists? How is it that we feel entitled to lawlessness? People riding three abreast on a road specifically posted for single file are endangering other people. They are criminals, basically. And our tribe as a whole has no problem with that, do we?

      1. old and slow

        Glad I waited to chime in here but the roads in North Boulder County and Larimer have gotten exponentially worse since Steve checked out.

        Partially because Weld County (who remembers the Front Range Century?) has so much oilfield traffic now, every group ride and triathlon organizer targets this place and now there is something going on every other weekend all summer long. Courage Classic, Divas Ride, Buffalo Classic (the only way I’ll ever ride up Boulder Canyon again,) plus real races and on and on. When Pettyjohn had his Gran Fondo a few years back he made a deal with the State Patrol first and then came to the municipalities after, because it probably never would have happened in the opposite direction.

        Ever since 2003 or so I’ve noticed that the rednecks are really ornery on the weekdays right after one of these events. I had the best back roads bike commute that you could imagine and on Monday or Tuesdays I could still expect some grief. Getting harassed the same day when you are fifteen miles removed from the course and had nothing to do with the event is not uncommon as well.

        Finally they took away that flying right hand turn into Hygiene where the party really started on the Wednesday training ride. And running that stop sign in town can cost $125 if you chose the wrong time to do it too.

      2. gehry

        I thought that in CO, when you have several cyclists together in a group, you all “get the lane” (assuming there is a passing lane for the cars). Is this not true?

        Even if it is true, I’d imagine drivers are (perhaps rightfully) resentful.

      3. old and slow

        There are still “riders stay single file in the presence of traffic” signs here and there?

        The second last development along these lines was the Colorado “pass by three foot” law which is a bit of a mixed blessing in my opinion. Some drivers, (maybe those with points on their license,) take it really seriously and then the motorists stuck behind them will get riled up.

        The last development was when all the goobers finally found out about cell phone video……

        Now that the bridges are back in place I avoid this particular section of County Line Road myself; except for Sundays in the fall when the Broncos are on TV.

        I knew one of these assclowns who had a yellow “Share the Road, Share the Taxes” bumper sticker on his $800 $nitbox truck living down the hill from me for years. (Retired guy in his 70s just like the bad actor in the video and he paid less than a Dollar in Taxes every year himself to register that thing up until 2013 too.)

        I always kept my mouth shut. You just never know who they might be related to around here? Then he lost the house to the bank (which really takes some effort when the property values have been going up like they have been in these parts,) and I mad sure that I got all his firewood for free. Cut and split.

        The foreclosure just may have been deliberate anyway, through 2009 it was easier to get a huge loan and walk away from it than it was to actually fix up your house, pay a realtor for the listing and sell it. Maybe he had just hung on four years longer than the others? In a few cases the people ended up in rural Kansas where they could buy the same house for one sixth as much. Usually there was a family connection involved at the destination site too.

    3. RadRenner

      Well maybe you should STFU and just keep on truckin’ instead of adding to the harassment.

  6. jpete

    I think part of the problem also is that the belief that roads are only for automobiles is increasingly pervasive. A lot of comments about cyclists, “on our roads” are frequent in comment sections when someone gets hit. Education about this- maybe like they did with the dangers of smoking- over a long enough period may help increase awareness and re-educate the populace. There are many kinds of slow moving vehicles sharing the roadway, not just bicycles, and we all have a right to them. Cars require licenses because they are more dangerous and the operator needs to demonstrate the ability to use them safely.

    1. Donnie Miller

      > A lot of comments about cyclists, “on our roads” are frequent in comment sections <

      Since I teach/consult bicycle safety for a living, I always ask people to Google "The Good Roads Movement" of the late 1870's…

      Then the conversation changes to the "Scofflaw" behavior of cyclists. We do need a shift in cyclist education on a minimum! Us roadies are out there more than any other cycling group/genre…we really need to start following the law to help quell the hate towards us! Stopping a stop signs and signalized intersections just helps us improve our race starts and power! Also, we need to start punishing motorists who show that hate towards us, and punish those drivers that kill cyclists! A small fine and a slap on the wrist does nothing to stop this bad behavior! Both sides need work! I agree with Richard in that we need more cyclists working in advocacy and education to help change these issues. And we REALLY need high profile, professional cyclists to spend more time on these issues, and get VOCAL!!

  7. vt guy

    Thought provoking post. I live in a rural and basically bike friendly area, but my concern is less about sociopaths like the doctor mentioned by Steve and more about device addicted distracted drivers. Accordingly most of my rides are on gravel or trails.

  8. JB

    Looking at the “doctor in jail” situation in a vacuum (I don’t have time now to look into the history of the driver or the injuries to the cyclists), I agree with Steve.

  9. gehry

    Steve, I think you’re wrong in this case.

    First, simply because he is a doctor, the situation itself is worse. He took an oath to “first, do no harm” in his personal and professional life, and in contrast, he went out of his way to intentionally use his vehicle to do physical harm to those in his community. And why? Because their presence required him to slow his vehicle (in a residential neighborhood).

    Just like cops and teachers are held to a higher standard (or are supposed to be) in their everyday conduct with those they serve, so are physicians in terms of not being allowed to intentionally do bodily harm. And in this case, he used a massively deadly weapon as the tool of his rage. And he used it to full effect.

    And of course, it was made worse by his defense. He blamed the victims all the way. Not one drop of humility until he was being sentenced. He could have pled this one down, but his hubris (as he is an esteemed doctor) prevented him from seeing how he is no different than the rest of us.

    I agree that the situation is tragic. I’m sad to see a medical career with such money, time and investment thrown away like that. But I’m also sad for the facial lacerations, lost teeth, broken nose and separated shoulders of the victims.

  10. Touriste-Routier

    There was a case in LA… The incident Steve is referring to was in July of 2008, and the sentencing was in January of 2010; the linked article is from January 8, 2010.

  11. Todd

    Living in LA, I do have to say you’re way off base with your thoughts about Dr. Christopher Thompson. The incident happened on the 4th of July several years ago and if memory serves, he was quietly released from prison in January 2014 after completing his full sentence. Rumor has it he is living an under-the-radar life in Oklahoma.

    Dr. Thompson lived at the top of Mandeville Canyon and had a documented (with the LAPD) history of harassing cyclists. As you probably know, Mandy is a popular riding spot in LA.

    As proven by their Garmins, the cyclists were going a couple miles over the speed limit when Dr. Thompson passed them and then slammed on his brakes causing both riders to fly through the rear window of his car, leaving them with permanent injuries and many many months of rehab. From what I remember from one story, the victim with the most severe injures had enough money left over after legal and medical bills to build a brick pizza oven in his backyard, which his hardly fair compensation.

  12. Michael

    “fell and got hurt”? Really?
    Please go back and look at the facts of that case as that is a pretty lame description of the injuries sustained.
    I think your sentiment is a good one, though…

  13. Rich

    Looking at the doctor in the car, could be a variety of variables……..from a financial standpoint this guy could get sued by the victims so he may loose big money on top of the prison. As far as the prison goes i imagine this is not without parole? With parole 5 years can turn into like 1 year I believe.

    There’s also been cases of for example, a guy who hates gays and lesbians punching a random gay guy on the street, he falls over on the sidewalk, hits his head and dies. Then the gay basher gets, 5-10 years, gets out and its done. The legal system is rather complex and “open” to a variety of arguments and most importantly the judge has discretion on sentencing and actual laws have to be passed to force a judge into a specific sentence.

    If you passed a law, for example that anyone who hits a cyclist gets less than attempted murder, this could allow people who attempt to murder to do it, and get off with nothing or very little. The US legal system sometimes is a bit like those mosquitoes that fly around on the surface of a pond every which way.

  14. Ear

    The LA doctor case is an older one. As previously stated in the comments. But unless I missed someone pointing it out. The reason that doctor got such a harsh sentence was because he had gotten busted for endangering cyclists in the past. He was reported on those occasions and so they had thorough evidence to throw the book at him in this instance. The handing down of five years may seem harsh. But like a previous commenter stated, he’ll see 18 months tops. And for a person with serial road rage and regard for human life when he’s using a weapon (a car) I think he absolutely got what he deserved.

  15. John

    Well stated Steve. I’ve had two unwanted encounters. Each could have been avoided. The two cost me 1.5 years of my life in total. Keep writing and riding!

  16. gehry

    If you live in L.A. moving to Mandeville Canyon Road and hating cyclists is like moving to a beach house and hating surfers. The cyclists and the surfers were always there. The anger and hatred were brought afterward, and are the exclusive property of the doc.

    1. Jay

      People who are rich or lucky enough to live in urban areas of CA where it looks like it would be nice or challenging to ride a bike should expect to see bikes! It might be inconvenient sometimes but it’s something they have to live with as bicyclists aren’t just going to “go away”. That said riders shouldn’t act like louts when they are on these roads.

      My understanding of the incident is that doctor had at least one prior complaint made against him by bicyclists but had not been arrested. Preceding the assault he had apparently admonished the cyclists through a rolled down window to ride single file or something similar (and probably not in a very diplomatic way). Unfortunately the cyclists took the bait and made the in my view unwise response of firing back (possible one fingered salute?).

      Obviously I’m not saying that they deserved to be potentially killed for that, but it isn’t wise to further provoke a possibly enraged or unstable individual when he’s basically holding all the cards if he decides to “attack”–as he did it this horrific case.

      Lastly my understanding the doctor was a CEO of a medical parts company and may not have been a practicing ER physician. Perhaps more of a businessman at that point.

      1. Todd

        Hey Jay-

        Dr Thompson had a medical device company but was still a practicing ER physician. He was actually on his way to work a shift at the hospital when he assaulted the cyclists.

  17. timm

    Steve, I could get behind the community service idea, if the doctor were sentenced to ride a bicycle to community service in LA … and house arrest.

  18. Robert E

    He will for sure lose his medical license over that. It will be revoked if it hasn’t been already. To keep a medical license you have to pay your taxes and stay on the right side of the law. So continued work in an indigent clinic won’t be an option. That’s a career ending offense.

  19. Juan Wiserider

    The LA road rage case with the doctor is many years old and it was a very big deal. The fact that he was an emergency room doctor is merely an aside to the larger issue of him actively trying, and succeeding, to harm the cyclists. Relatively speaking, the area in question is heavily used by cyclists because it’s a great training road. It’s been that way for a long time. It’s a well known place in the LA area and like most places, it has likely had some incidents over the years. But nothing earth shaking.

    Until the doctor entered the picture.

    The doctor clearly was trying to do as much damage as he could. He was the definition of road rage. He brake-checked the two riders into the back of his car. Anyone with a brain understands that the riders could have easily been killed. They were in fact very seriously injured and the man who willfully caused it was a doctor who had gone to 8+ years of medical school and taken an oath to help others through his medical care. He was a man seriously out of control and nearly killed two people because of his own illogical rage. He admitted that he was trying to harm the cyclists. The doctor was vilified by the press, the public and by cyclists everywhere. And rightly so.

    The riders survived, but have lasting physical and surely psychological effects. I hope they still ride their bikes.

    The doctor knew exactly what he was doing. He should still be in prison.

  20. H Luce

    Prison should be primarily for people who commit crimes of violence against others, and the reason for the confinement should be to remove the offender from society where he could do harm to others. In the case of the doc, from what has been said about his past history, a sentence of five years minimum in an institution for the criminally insane would be in order; release after that point would be discretionary, based on the judgment of the docs there. He should of course lose his medical license, and his driving license should be revoked for life, having used his car as a weapon in a crime of violence.

  21. Darkcloud

    Remember this one?

    Alleged hit-and-run driver may not face felony |
    Nov 4, 2010 – EAGLE, Colorado – A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardize his job, prosecutors said Thursday. … allegedly hit bicyclist Dr. Steven Milo from behind then sped away, … Milo, 34, is a physician living in New York City with his wife and two …

      1. Darkcloud

        Old and Slow,
        Yes, I recall that. Thanks for the follow up.
        One level of justice for all. I don’t give a damn what career field someone is employed in. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.
        Despicable that someone attempts to use their career to mitigate wrongs that they have committed against society.
        Live by the sword. Die by the sword, F’er!
        Peace out!

  22. Anne

    I don’t know you, Steve, but I appreciate all of the thoughts and comments you’ve shared that I’ve read over the past week. I knew Glenda from her other life – the ceramic side, not the cycling part. I don’t know exactly how long I’ve known her, but it has to be 2+ decades. Since I’m not of the cycling world, I hadn’t even heard your name until I read your post on Sunday. Since then, I’ve read several of your blog posts and seen your name over and over in online newspapers, FB, your blog, articles about you or written by you, etc.

    From an outside-the-cycling-world perspective, I think fitting punishments for vehicle drivers who injure cyclists (intentionally or unintentionally) would be forcing them to become part of the cycling world. Take away their car keys and make them buy a bicycle and learn to share the road with motor vehicles. I’m pretty sure it would change their perspective quickly. I’d also like to see more projects like the New York High Line (that just opened yesterday, I think). Maintenance of bike paths and/or building new ones like the High Line could also be a fitting punishment, too.

    I sincerely hope you never have to write another blog post like the one you wrote about Glenda, or about Cal Melick last year, but I don’t think that will happen and my heart aches for you.

  23. Pingback: Weekend Links: Another OC sentencing delay, Hyperion at rush hour, and Dr. Thompson makes a comeback |

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