Road Rage on the Planet of the Apes

By Alex Thompson

Unless you’ve been under a rock where they don’t have the internet, you know that the Mandeville Canyon road rager, Christopher Thompson, has been sentenced to 5 years in prison.  From a punitive standpoint, he deserves every lick.  For many though, it’s hard to celebrate that; even Ron Peterson, who lost his nose to Thompson’s rage, points out that it’s a lose-lose situation.

Perhaps not.  Here’s one fact that hasn’t truly sunk in for most: Judge Millington revoked Thompson’s driver’s license for life.

What does that mean?  It means that, in two to five years when Thompson gets out, he’s one of us.  If he doesn’t want to ride the bus, if he doesn’t want to walk long distances, and if he loses his shirt in the civil trial, Thompson will be biking.  He’s lucky for that too, and I’ll tell you why.

Christopher Thompson having a rough day in the new, bike-friendly LA

Christopher Thompson having a rough day in the new, bike-friendly LA

Things move fast for cycling.  We feel like we don’t get a lot of respect, that’s probably the only thing cyclists can all agree on.  The reality is, compared to other movements, our progress is rapid; the LA cycling movement has gone from one that could barely get an agenda item at council, to one which the new Chief of Police actively engages us (or, seeks to mitigate), in an insanely short period.  If Thompson’s temper doesn’t fare well in California prison, and he gets out in five years, instead of the predicted two, he could be returning to an unrecognizable city.

He could be returning to a city without Michelle Mowery.  A city with a new city council and a new mayor.  A city that has passed through ruin and emerged leaner and meaner.  Maybe a city that, in hard economic times (I promise, they’re not over), leaned on the bicycle as an affordable and humanizing form of transportation.

In the last 5 years Los Angeles has gone from having one small bike co-op, in a fresh storefront, to four bike co-ops, three with storefronts.  Absurdly projecting, Thompson could be returning to a city with sixteen bike co-ops, nine in storefronts!  There might be two cyclists on every neighborhood council!

It could be an amazing place to ride.  Not because of infrastructure – pavement is pavement – but because if you hopped on a major boulevard, you could always find the riding company of several riders.  Little spontaneous herds of riders heading each direction.  Implausible?  Max Lucas remarked that five years ago he rarely came across riders in the bike lanes on Venice.  Now, in counts on summer afternoons, Venice Blvd consistently averages out 1 BPM (biker per minute) in each direction (as counted by Bikerowave Cooperative Inc!)  Perhaps in five years, it will have five cyclists per minute each way.  And with the constant lobbying of an active cycling community, there might be a supportive police force out there, steadily curtailing dangerous motorist behavior.

When Thompson gets out, LA could be a tremendous place to ride.

That’s why when I heard the verdict, I tweeted this:

Westsidazz: Dr. Thompson is going away for 5 years. While he’s gone lets work real hard and get everyone on bikes, k? 1:16 PM Jan 8th from web

I’m 29 years old, for a few more weeks, and 5 years still feels like a long time to me.  Particularly when the shifts we need to make aren’t so much physical (bike lanes etc) but mental (culture of respect!)  I figure with some damnably hard work, and a never say die attitude, we can transform this town in 5 years.  If we did?  Joe Anthony did the math for Thompson:

Ohaijoe: It’ll be like Planet of the Apes RT @westsidazz Dr. T is going away for 5 years. While he’s gone lets work real hard & get everyone on bikes 1:18 PM Jan 8th from Power Twitter

“Oh my god” I thought,  “Joe’s more right than he might have realized.”  To Thompson it really would look like the Planet of the Apes.  He would have left a city where the car is king and it’s necessity is unquestioned by most.  A city in which many people who decried his violence qualified “those cyclists can be real jerks and besides, they were riding TWO ABREAST!”

He might return to a city which put cyclists and pedestrians, as vulnerable road users, first.  He might return to a city where cycling is fashionable, and cyclist intimidation, in any form, is unfashionable.  He might return to a city where all his dating prospects are hoping he will take them for a ride at sunset on a tandem bicycle.  LA might share the cover of Time, along with President Roboma and Vice President Enci Box, as the most changed city of the decade.

And, he might really lose it:

(Planet of the Apes finale on YouTube)

He might walk out of prison, fall down on the sand, pound it with his angry fists, yelling “you maniacs!  You blew it up!  Goddamn you!  Goddamn you all to hell!”

Just the thought of that is inspiring.  I like the idea of flipping Thompson’s world inside out one more time, and landing him in bike paradise.  So, I’d like to announce Bikeside’s Planet of the Apes meta-project. It’s not really a project – what the hell would a Planet of the Apes project grant application look like?  It’s more of a goal: total, unfathomable, transformation.  Total transformation of LA’s streets; unfathomable transformation of LA’s minds.  Mitigation & incremental improvement – these are criteria by which ball bearing engineers measure improvement.  We the bikers – we should set bold goals.  We should begin our journey not entirely certain of our destination, just intention and resolve to work like hell to get it done.  I say we point to the mountain in the distance and say “that’s where we’re going, screw the map.”  That’s the Planet of the Apes meta-project – a commitment to all out transformation of LA to a lush, livable, fun-able, paradise.

If we do it right, Thompson really will be floored.  Maybe we should meet him at his release with a milkshake, a pink tasseled beach cruiser, and a contract to work at the County Hospital and donate his wages to Bikeside, 501c4.

Westsidazz: Thompson is going away for 5 years. While he’s gone lets work real hard and get everyone on bikes, k? 1:16 PM Jan 8th from web

Ohaijoe: It’ll be like Planet of the Apes RT @westsidazz Dr. T is going away for 5 years. While he’s gone lets work real hard & get everyone on bikes 1:18 PM Jan 8th from Power Twitter

Westsidazz: @ohaijoe Ha ha ha – the Planet of the Apes project. 1:23 PM Jan 8th from web in reply to ohaijoe

Ohaijoe: @westsidazz It could happen! Look at the changes over the past 5 years, amazed at all the bikes on the streets now. 1:25 PM Jan 8th from Power Twitter in reply to westsidazz

Westsidazz: @ohaijoe It WILL happen. 2:09 PM Jan 8th from web in reply to ohaijoe

Ohaijoe: @westsidazz I find that each of us planting a few seeds here and there is all it takes to make a big change. ;) 2:11 PM Jan 8th from Power Twitter in reply to westsidazz

Westsidazz: @ohaijoe OR, alternatively, we could engineer a super intelligent race of biking apes who take over the world . . . 2:19 PM Jan 8th from web in reply to ohaijoe

Ohaijoe: @westsidazz This idea has legs. 2:22 PM Jan 8th from Power Twitter in reply to westsidazz

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10 Responses to “Road Rage on the Planet of the Apes”

  1. Great points! the LA cycling community has the attention of the CC and and the LAPD like never before. As for Dr. Death, well, Thompson sold his house and moved in with his father a while back before his vacation at the gray bar hotel California. It’s likely Los Angeles won’t be his residence when he gets out but we should still meet him with a milkshake on his first day of freedom! Haha

  2. I have to say, the difference in five years is true. Or taking a bit longer view–I graduated from UCLA in 2001 and worked on campus through fall 2002. I came back to work on campus in 2008, and I couldn’t believe the huge explosion in the number of bike riders on campus. It’s impossible to find space on the bike racks in front of Ackerman! It was nothing like that when I was a student. Best of all, there’s a group of dedicated students and staff wanting to expand bike access on campus (it seems that no one off campus has heard of the dismount zone controversy, but it’s a big issue at UCLA).

  3. Great article Alex, I’m inspired to attempt to get SMC Bike club up and running again for Spring 2010.

    p.s. if you know peps that go to smc and would be interested in bike club send them my way.

  4. “[T]he shifts we need to make aren’t so much physical (bike lanes etc) but mental (culture of respect!)”
    —–

    I dunno. I’d say the necessary shifts are more physical than you think. You’re going to be hard pressed to expand bike ridership a lot without more bike lanes, sharrows, and such. I’d argue most people want that physical marker there to catch a driver’s eye, and mark off some exclusive space.

    Bottom line is physical road conditions make cycling intimidating on most roads in LA. Drivers can respect you all they want, but if the road is too narrow, and the speed limit is 35 (or more), things are going to suck.

  5. You could make that argument DJB, but I don’t agree. Everyone is fixated on the model of northern Europe. There are places in the world where cycling is a huge thing, and there is little in the way of physical accommodation. The Netherlands post war for instance. Now you might argue that such things are only possible in a relative state of poverty, but we have seen it. What’s the big difference between us and them, post war, as opposed to now?

    – Culture of respect
    – We have more ridable days

    Culture changes rapidly in LA, and more generally it changes faster than it used to. I think LA is well positioned for rapid change.

  6. interesting article! read a lot about bike lanes and there is only way to go, that is to legislate 5ft bike lanes!
    car drivers who cannot afford the time to slow down and wait patiently behind a cyclist cannot afford the price of a car.
    as i grew up like others speed was King, but as i grew i found that i enjoyed quality of life by driving smart, less tension and nervousness and the reward was less expenses replacing brakes and fuel!
    drive smart ,treat others with respect and thus enjoy a better quality of life

  7. interesting article! read a lot about bike lanes and there is only way to go, that is to legislate 5ft bike lanes!
    car drivers who cannot afford the time to slow down and wait patiently behind a cyclist cannot afford the price of a car.
    as i grew up like others speed was King, but as i grew i found that i enjoyed quality of life by driving smart, less tension and nervousness and the reward was less expenses replacing brakes and fuel!
    drive smart ,treat others with respect and thus enjoy a better quality of life

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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