We know the stereotype that Los Angeles is a car city, that it’s not safe to bike, and that sometimes those that do bike can find it difficult to do so. It’s why we at the LADOT Bike Program work hard to make our city a friendlier place for people on bicycles and why we’ve always got plans to expand our work. But sometimes there are devastating incidents that remind us of how much more work we have to do, and the many ways that we need to approach bicycle safety. Because bicycling safely in this city doesn’t end with a sharrow or a bike line – it’s also about knowing that if something were to happen to you the law would be on your side.
That’s where Damian Kevitt comes in. Just over a year ago Damian was hit by a car while on his bike on Zoo Drive on the edge of Griffith Park. What could have been a minor accident turned very dangerous when the driver proceeded to flee the scene and entered the 5 freeway with Damian trapped underneath. To this day, the driver’s identity is unknown.
The seriousness of Damian’s accident is surpassed only by the height of his courage; within months Damian was back on a bike again, not only biking but also running and swimming, joining a community of athletes with similar physical challenges. There is no doubt that it takes a ton of resilience to come back from a collision like Damian’s; but it wasn’t enough for Damian to ride again on his own.“Too many people are losing their lives or being injured themselves because someone was unwilling to stop and render care….If I can do something that is going to prevent at least one other person then I can walk away from this feeling in some kind of bizarre way that it was worth it, that at least I accomplished something good out of it” he said. Just days after the incident and hours out of one of many surgeries, Damian promised to finish the ride, but not just for himself. Damian became the catalyst for a movement of people in Los Angeles devoted to making the city is a safer place to bike.
Finish The Ride, a joint effort of Damian, LA County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), and Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), is happening on April 27th at 8AM. All proceeds benefit LACBC’s continuing hit-and-run campaigns and CAF. But as Damian explained, it’s “not that there’s a lack of solutions or even resources [to address hit and runs], there just needs to be enough pressure to make it a priority. Make it enough of an issue that is has to be confronted.” The more people that come out to support the event, the greater the visibility for the cause. If you can’t ride, you can volunteer.
“It’s unfortunate,” Damian said, “that we have to legislate it in order to effect the change, but if that’s the necessary evil in order to prevent people who are unable to make proper moral choices than that is the necessary evil.” You can urge our legislature to increase penalties on hit and run drivers by signing the petition here.
For our part, Councilmember Tom LaBonge has directed LADOT to work on identifying improvements on the Zoo Drive bridge. LADOT engineers are working with Caltrans to make safety improvements at the location and recently Caltrans re-striped the Zoo Drive bridge by placing double yellow stripes. Soon we will be installing delineators on top of the lines on the bridge that lead to the south bound entrance of the 5 Freeway, to further discourage drivers from crossing the double yellow lines and prematurely entering the freeway. Councilmember LaBonge is allocating funds from the CD-4 budget to ensure that the delineators will be installed for Finish the Ride.
Some people probably doubted that Damian would ever recover enough to bike again, just like some people don’t think LA can ever be a biking city. We know otherwise. Join Damian and others on April 27th, to show that Los Angeles really can be a city friendly to bicyclists, and one that is safe and accessible for all. “Being in LA and being outdoors in a very raw way is what bicycling is about wherever you live. The importance is to do that in a way that is safe and fun,” Damian said. “LA has got the fun. We just need to make it safe.”