A Big Blue Bus today almost hit a van, which in turn almost hit a biker – who is at fault?
It sounds like a law school exam from my days attending the University of West Los Angeles. These sort of crazy fact patterns would be thrown at us to unravel, and it is how young minds learn to say that most important phrase, “Well I can see it from that perspective, but then there’s this….”
The hallmark of a smart person is they look at things from more than one perspective before they make a decision or form an opinion, the converse is also true; a stupid person forms an opinion and looks at things from generally only one vantage point.
Back to the bicyclist – I was out with the dog for our mid-morning stroll and I happened to look up and see a young man riding toward us on the sidewalk. He was going eastbound on the north side of Pico, which would be against traffic if he were on the road. We moved out of the way and allowed him to pass. I watched him ride on, and as he was approaching the alleyway he didn’t even slow down, which is dangerous as this alleyway is an extremely high traffic roadway; oftentimes there are people barreling down it to get to Pico Boulevard.
As the bike rider was in the middle of the alley/sidewalk intersection there was a van making a left turn from Pico eastbound, into the alley, and there was a Big Blue Bus coming westbound on Pico. The van’s driver hit his brakes to avoid hitting the biker, which I imagine he didn’t see until he was almost upon him, since the biker was riding in the wrong direction to be easily noticed, and in turn the van was almost hit by the Big Blue Bus because the driver didn’t quickly clear the westbound Pico lanes.
Thankfully no one was hurt, but there are two issues that arose for me, 1) the dangers of riding on the sidewalk, and 2) the potential major accident that was created by no fault of the van or bus driver.
We’ve all done it – been that guy on the bike on the sidewalk. It’s fun, plus it’s safer we tell ourselves, to be on the sidewalk than in the road. Cars are dangerous, drivers open car doors and push us into the stream of traffic where we can get hit – on the sidewalk we just have to navigate pedestrians, and in a crash, we’re going to be fine, versus smashed by a car. But the problem, aside from being illegal, is that not all pedestrians can be as flexible as I am with the dog. Some of those pedestrians are elderly or disabled, and they need additional consideration when they are out and about.
The other problem with riding on the sidewalk is it makes the rider too confident that they are safe when they approach blind alleys and they don’t take precautions. This rider could have been hit by a car exiting the alley, or the van that was turning into it. This is why riding a bike requires a greater awareness of one’s surroundings.
When the van that was turning stopped to allow the rider to cross the alleyway entrance, he was creating a traffic hazard on Pico for the oncoming Big Blue Bus. When he first started to turn, I’m sure it looked like he had more than enough time to make the turn, and luckily he did, but he could just as easily have been delayed another two or three seconds and the bus would have hit him. So if there was an accident who’s at fault here, the van driver? Sure he’s partly liable in that he turned in front of the bus, but he’d have been clear if the biker hadn’t been there. How about the bus driver? Was he going too fast to stop in time? Maybe he’d be liable, probably not.
Is the biker liable? Well he was riding on the sidewalk where he’s not supposed to be, because in Santa Monica, bicycle riding on a sidewalk is illegal. Santa Monica Municipal Code Section 3.12.540 states: “(a) It shall be unlawful to ride a bicycle or to coast in any vehicle upon any public sidewalk, except as provided for in Section 3.12.550.” So yes, he’s liable, but there’s also a concept of comparative negligence that could make the van driver partially liable.
In the end, what’s the solution? Well, the biker needs to obey the law, but also greater awareness by everyone who is using the roads. The van driver needed to look both ways for oncoming sidewalk traffic, the biker should have been more attentive, and the bus driver – well I’m going to let them off the hook, because I think they were doing their job correctly.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.