“It’s becoming a norm… losing people on the bike”
More than 150 mourners poured onto Los Angeles streets Friday night, pedaling to City Hall from Manchester Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, where, in a startling chain of events, one young man was killed and another badly hurt, both by hit-and-run drivers.
Friday night’s ride was one part memorial, one part protest. Cyclists are calling on city leaders to ensure that LA’s streets are safe for people to ride bikes.
“We have to… make the roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians,” Edin Barrientos, who leads a popular Monday night group ride called Chief Lunes, told mourners. “The culture we have in LA, our car culture, it’s not promoting life. It’s not safe for anyone to be on the streets.”
The tight-knight bicycling community is on edge. This week, 22-year-old Frederick Frazier was killed, then his friend was seriously injured during a smaller memorial held at the scene of Frazier’s death.
Frazier was struck and killed Tuesday while riding his bike near Manchester and Normandie. Known as Woon to his friends, Frazier worked security at LAX and aspired to compete at the highest levels of velodrome track racing.
He was hit from behind by the driver of a white Porsche SUV, and was thrown beneath a heavy commercial truck just a few blocks from his home, according to local news reports and witnesses. The driver fled, leaving Frazier’s body in the middle of busy Manchester, witnesses and his family say.
“We all grew up in this bike-world together for a whole six years,” says Quatrell Stallings, who rides bikes and was Frazier’s friend. “Everybody is going to miss him.”
The next day, at the same intersection, the driver of a gold Toyota Avalon plowed into a a crowd of people who had gathered to remember Frazier and to protest hit-and-run crimes.
The car hit Stallings, who was trying to clear people from the intersection during the chaotic scene. The impact was captured by local news channels, and the video went viral. Stallings says his femur, kneecap, and ankle are broken; he has 10 stitches on his forehead, where his head hit the ground.
“I wouldn’t think that we would have to fight to show people that we are people, and that every lane is a bike lane,” he said. “All that stuff hurts me, and then I actually get hurt during this process, too.”
Stallings says his injuries aren’t life-threatening, but the event was so scary and unbelievable that cyclists are feeling especially uneasy on LA’s notoriously bicycle-hostile streets.
“I’ve been doing this eight years, and not any of those years have I felt fear for my life as I do at this moment,” says Barrientos. “It’s becoming a norm, you know, losing people on the bike. We lost a teenager in Woodland Hills less than two weeks ago.”
They’re also angry with how the LAPD handled the situation. On Wednesday, Frazier’s family and friends used a peaceful protest tactic known as a “circle of death,” where they ride in circles, effectively shutting down the streets.
It was a call to hold hit-and-run drivers, including the one who struck Frazier, accountable for their crimes. The LAPD solves only about 20 percent of hit-and-run cases, according to the Los Angeles Times. Of those, less than half ever result in an arrest.
No arrests have been made in Frazier’s and Stallings’ cases, according to the LAPD.
LAPD officers also drove a cop car into the crowd, endangering demonstrators and crushing bicycles laid out on the ground, say several attendees. While the LAPD cruiser circled about in the intersection with lights and sirens, the woman driving the Toyota Avalon aimed her vehicle towards the intersection.
“These things are happening way too often, and people are fearful for their lives,” says Barrientos. “There’s a lot of rage and anger, especially with the young people. And there’s just a lot of sadness, too.”
Stallings says more bike lanes with barriers are needed to keep people on bikes safe.
“We need them on Normandie, we need them on Western, we need them on Gage,” he says. “It needs to be safer for us to ride in Los Angeles, because Los Angeles is the place to be. It’s sunny, we got the beach, we got Downtown, we have beautiful sightseeing. And what other better way to see those beautiful places is to get on a bike and ride. There’s things on a bike that you can see more than when you’re sitting in your car.”
Without dedicated road space, bike riders say they are often left to the mercy of impatient and inattentive drivers.
“When a car comes at you at 40 or 50 mph, and within inches of hitting you, just the fear that runs through you is unlike anything else,” Barrientos says. “If people driving experienced feeling even once, they’d know not to get too close to cyclists and pedestrians.”