Metro to Cyclists: How Can We Make the Bus-Bike Relationship Better?

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This Picture Isn’t from LA County, It’s from Our Sister City, Vancouver

In response to some high-profile incidents between cyclists and buses in recent months, Metro has put together a task force to work on improving the relationship between the two road users.  Because Metro is putting forward a good faith effort to make the streets more safe for cyclists, I thought we could help them out by making a comprehensive list of cyclists concerns with buses and bus drivers, and what can be done to make the situation better.  Folks, the comments section is open.

There has been some progress at the first two task force meetings.  Yesterday, Metro staff agreed to revisit their rules about bus drivers using their horn.  First, bus drivers are instructed to use their horn to alert cyclists to their presence as they approach.  However, there was unanimity amongst cyclists that there are few things more distracting and scarier to a cyclist than a bus blaring its horn as it comes up behind you or passes you.  Talk about ‘lost in translation;’ drivers are trying to say "Hello!  Cyclist I am nearing you!" the cyclists hear, "Get off the road" or "Danger! Danger! Danger!"

Another issue addressed was rules regarding bikes on buses during off-peak hours.  Cyclists are routinely told they cannot bring their bike onto a bus at night even if the bus is nearly empty but the bike racks are full.  Actually, it’s at the driver’s discretion whether or not to allow a bike to come inside the bus.  Unfortunately, because Los Angeles isn’t used to the amount of people on bikes that some drivers may not be up to date on all of the rules.  Also, the way Metro counts "accidents" on a driver’s record, there is actually a disincentive to allow a bike to join it’s rider in the passenger area.

So, now it’s your turn…what are your experiences on the road, and what can be done to make it a more safe and better one?

Photo: SillyGwailo/Flickr

  • kg

    I’ve actually been knocked off the street by a rapid bus before (on Wilshire between Santa Monica and Beverly Glen). It seems to me that on major thoroughfares like Wilshire, the metro buses can be especially aggressive and/or clue-less. Also, some bus drivers are extremely impolite and unprofessional toward the cyclists who use their buses. Is there any way to improve this?

  • I suppose my main and continuing gripe with buses is encroachment. I’ve had a far share of incidents recently on Venice where buses have given me a nice space cushion bless ’em, but for some reason some of the bus operators on Sunset haven’t gotten that memo.

  • I agree that Sunset is by far the land of the most aggressive buses I have seen. Even late at night when there is low traffic they often swerve and pass far too close, and on the downhill portions especially they tend to underestimate how fast a cyclist can go. Due to the nature of their having to stop and go, I often end up tangling with the same bus over and over again as they rush to pass me, then cut me off to stop, repeat. This is mostly something I encounter on night rides, since during the day I usually pass them once and never see them again as they get bogged in traffic.

  • Bike Girl did a lot of research into bus and bike interaction as far as cyclists using metro.

    http://bikegirlblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/bike-girl-battles-bus.html

    and

    http://bikegirlblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/bike-girl-battles-bus-redux.html

    Turns out Metro’s best solution to the increase in bike traffic is “Get a foldie”

  • User1

    My experience with the bus system unfortunately is almost exclusively negative. I’ll just list the two worst ones. First one involves riding West on Venice Blvd, right before the 405, on the weekend. I was riding about 2-3 car lengths in front of my friend when a bus rolled up behind me. He was at my side for about 3 to 4 seconds when he starting merging into my bike lane! I had to use my brakes and slow down as I was about in the middle of the side of the bus. Needless to say I was a bit ticked off and let the driver know about when he stopped. I’m not sure what all was said at the bus stop, but I let him know what he pulled back there was dangerous and a traffic infraction. It was like talking to a fence post!

    Second incident was trying to get on the bus in Santa Monica around 6am Sunday morning to catch a ride to downtown LA. There was three of us and we thought we would give it a shot at getting on the bus all together. The bus rolls up with no bikes on the rack and maybe 8 people on the bus. We tried talking our way on with one of the bikes, but the bus driver wasn’t having any of it. He refused to let the third bike on. So we just let our friend take the bus and the two of us rode downtown. I would have been very pissed if our friend, a twenty something female got assaulted or something on the bus. She couldn’t ride with us cause she was too tired.

    Here’s a little advice. Get rid of your bad drivers. They’re going to cost you a hell of alot of money in the end. Train the drivers well that you want to keep. Setup a system that you are doing unannounced performance evaluations on their shift. This gives them an incentive to do well. This would take care of ALOT of your problems. And who knows, you just might get more people riding your buses.

  • All of my scariest encounters with buses in L.A. have been on Sunset.

    While I was riding in the bike lane. Go figure.

    I second the notion that honking is often perceived as aggressive … perhaps they could install gentle and sweet sounding “bike bell horns” onto those buses, politely signally to the rider that “Ahem, excuse me….bus approaching…” – hee. hee.

    For the positive side I will say this –

    A few years back, I was riding home from the beach down Wilshire… my back wheel popped off (the axle had snapped in half!) as the chain tangled up and I fell to the ground. My hands were immediately covered in chain grease as I picked up the pieces of the bike and made my way to the side-walk.

    Lo and behold, a bus driver saw me walking near his stop (the 720 rapid line) and pulled over explicitly to let me on. He then told me that he believed that all stranded cyclists with a mechanical failure should be given a free ride home, which he proceeded to do.

    He even told me that bus drivers were supposed to do this for cyclists, citing his training!

    The bus was PACKED and it was pretty clear that I had just had some bike trouble…at that point people on the bus smiled at me and in a wave passed forward tissue after tissue so that I could clean my greasy hands. It was one of the lovelier moments I’ve had whilst traveling on a bus in L.A.

    As we rode home the driver delighted in telling me stories from his life as a bus driver. As we were approaching my stop, he smiled and pulled over, remembering where I had asked to be dropped off.

    He wished me the best and drove off.

    I wish I had gotten his name, perhaps he could give an inspirational speech to his bus driving colleagues.

  • Alek F

    To my fellow bikers out there,
    I would suggest getting a rear-view mirror for your bike – it’s REALLY helpful, you’ll see what’s going on behind you – at all times! And you’ll feel much safer. I couldn’t imagine riding without a rear-view mirror.

  • One trend I find concerning is the expanding capacity on routes with a move toward double length buses rather then increasing frequency of normal size buses. Double length buses basically have twice the visibility issues of a normal bus, and are fairly intimidating, sort of like riding next to a small train. The other issues with double length buses is it adds tons of space for more passengers, but does nothing for the issue of limited bike rack space. I’m assuming this move is to expand ridership potential with fewer drivers, but I think increased frequency would be better for everyone since often times waiting for the bus is sometimes as nearly as long as the trip it self.

    Folding bikes help the space issue, but they are still a niche market, with not a lot of used stock available for people looking for a deal rather then a new bike. Maybe there can be some kind of incentive for commuters who purchase folding bikes and use transit. I used to use rollerblades a lot when I used bus connections more often, which worked great, but more people suck at skating then riding bikes.

  • Mark Panitz

    Long Beach buses bike racks allow 3 bikes on their racks I wonder if metro could install those type of racks instead of current 2 bike slots a lot of time it’s awkward
    to be one of the bicycles near the bus when another bike in the first slot
    lots of times I have found it awkward to remove my bike when another bike in the 1st slot (sometimes getting caught or bumping the other bike getting my bike off
    Long Beach racks take care of that problem

  • It looks like some agencies were having problems with the triple racks though. Ultimately, you will see more articulated buses because they save operator expense and reduce bus bunching slightly. One solution might be bike boulevards, or minor streets being more geared to bicycle use. You put signals across major streets and traffic calming devices. While cyclists can still ride on the arterials (like any other roadway), it give folks who are less comfortable with major streets an alternative.

    Ultimately, there are many ways to get around that don’t involve walking or driving. Those little Razor scooters are a low tech way of traveling faster while using transit, and might be better than inline skates for folks who aren’t as coordinated. Bicycles, electric bicycles, scooters, etc. are all part of a balanced transportation system and will be essential as we transition to the era of $200 a barrel oil (it’s coming, just not as fast as some of us feared/hoped).

  • Jennifer Gill

    RE: Bikes Inside the Metro Bus (Off Hours)

    I would like to suggest that bicycles could share/occupy the areas that are designated for handcapped riders (if there is noone in that location, of course). The bus seats can be raised and would allow room for two bicycles. This could definitely work in the evenings.

    There was a suggestion of using straps (to attach bicycles) on the Metro Subway, this could also work in the area where the seats can be raised. Straps could be attached to the wall or some convenient spot designed by an engineer, and could be used to hold the bicycles.

    Thanks.

  • Nancy

    My experiences are only as a passenger with a bicycle on the bus. I live out in the East Valley, and on most of my routes (Moorpark, Riverside) I only see one bus an hour anyway.

    It seems most times I get on a bus, the driver is really irked with the delay I cause trying to get my bike mounted on the front of the bus – my bike was cheap, so it’s also pretty heavy. Then there’s the full rack issue…

    I’m pretty fast at inline skating, and am now considering using Rollerblades instead…

  • Ben

    I live in Cleveland and we have an amazing bus system. Usually the drivers are courteous to me, some other people may have different stories. Bicycle racks are so useful! I love taking the bus when its raining or bringing my bicycle on the rapid transit. Cleveland has come a long way and our system is nowhere close to maxing out its bicycle racks yet. The only time I get annoyed at bus drivers is when we juggle positions on the road (he passes me, I pass him, he passes me again etc)

  • Of course doing the reverse bike lanes like in NY (parked cars are on the traffic side and bike lanes are next to the curb) is the best thing I’ve seen to keep busses and bikes at a distance.

    As for bike racks, I’d like to see the 3 rack system implemented on more busses. That is unless there’s a better option.

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