Thursday, April 22, 2010

Does the Inquirer News Page Strike Of Irony? Or Just a Windshield View of Life?

Some Bicycle Coalition members spotted these adjacent articles on Page B3 of Today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

A Philadelphia Police Officer was repeatedly reprimanded for dyeing her hair the wrong color while a Lower Merion Police was not pulled off patrol duty for running over a bicyclist. The victims injuries were severe enough to require a helicopter evacuation to Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

The article reports that the Police Officer was pulling out of a parking space in front of the Toyota Dealership and hit a westbound cyclist. However another article in the Main Line Times explains that the bicyclist was crossing the street. Photos show the bike under the front bumper.

A notable quote in the Inquirer story from Sgt. Gene Pasternak of the Lower Merion Police Traffic Safety Unit. "We wouldn't take an officer off the street unless it was something really serious,"

While I wait and hope for Sgt. Pasternak to retract his gaffe, it's unlikely that any resolution will come out of the investigation. If this incident happened in Amsterdam or Stockholm or maybe even Portland law enforcement would be obligated take a hard look at exactly what happened and look at ways to fix the causes. Pennsylvania traffic law lacks protections specifically geared toward vulnerable road users, this results in most car-bicycle crashes being treated as"accidents". Not very serious at all.

View Larger Map

Lancaster Ave in front of the Toyota Dealership is far from bike friendly. The travel lanes are so far to the right that it tempts nervous westbound cyclists to bike the wrong way while the angle parking makes bicycling dangerous for the eastbound riders as well.


Dan said...


Did you contact the Lower Merion Police about whether they were conducting an investigation? It doesn't sound like you have. If you look at the photos in the Main Line Times article you will see an armed man, presumably a police officer, next to the police car involved in the accident taking photos of the accident scene. This behavior indicates to me that an accident investigation was being conducted.

Why assume the officer is at fault here. Perhaps he is at fault but the two newspaper accounts contradict each other. One says the cyclist was crossing the street and the other says he was heading westbound. Did you contact the Lower Merion police to find out what the accident report said? From your post, it doesn't sound like you have. Newspaper accounts of accidents rarely contain enough details to even figure out what happened, never mind who was at fault. If you are going to write about this, don't be content with two incomplete accounts, find out what really happened.

I'm not sure what good a vulnerable users law would done. People make mistakes. A law won't prevent people from making mistakes. Most car-bike collisions are treated as accidents for the same reason as most car-car collisions are treated as accidents. There have to be circumstances showing either intent to injure, reduced capacity, or reckless disregard for safety for a collision to be treated as other than an accident. Once you criminalize mistakes while driving a motor vehicle, where do you stop. Are all mistakes criminal or just those mistakes that involve injured cyclists. What if the bike shop mechanic makes a mistake adjusting your brakes and you crash as a result. Should the mechanic go to jail?

John Boyle said...

Looking at the post again, I agree with you and I have retracted the statement about the officer under investigation.

I disagree with you on the second point though, in Northern Europe the proof of burden is on the drivers. As a result they drive with heightened level of awareness for bikes and peds, the result is that the risk per mile traveled for bicyclists is a fraction of the rate in the US.

Pete LaVerghetta said...

They both involve police, but Lower Merion and Philly could not be more different, despite their proximity. Another article I saw said it was an employee of the Toyota dealership heading to work, for additional irony. I wouldn't ride on Lancaster ave to win a bet, btw.