How to Make LA Safe, Effective and More Enjoyable for Cyclists
It was great to see the discussions and the suggestions that came out of it. Some people shared their likes and dislikes and what they perceive as safe. Others advocated for the safety of others. I loved reading about the misunderstanding of some bike signs because it shows that the message is not clear and that the Department of Transportation is not doing much about educating the public, be it motorists or cyclists. In fact the DOT is really not very good at any of the 6 Es that should be included and considered in all their projects. Actually, they are only looking at 5 E's as is written in the Office of Traffic Safety manual: Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation, and Engineering. The 6th E comes from cyclists advocating for the past 2 years for Equality, which is the foundation of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights.
Education is a great weakness of the DOT because there is no respect on the street and cyclists, pedestrians and motorists don't know their rights and responsibilities on the streets. Encouragement might be something that they are working hard at, spending a lot of money on bikeway maps that show the bike paths, routes and lanes that connect to nothing and lead to nowhere, but there is no beautifying elements on our bike facilities. What the DOT is good at is encouraging the cyclists to get the hell out of the way of motorists because they are "slowing down" the motoring public, who has places to be and has important things to do.
Enforcement is hardly a strength, when we see trash cans and double parked cars in bike lanes and when we have cyclists left lying on the street after hit & runs.
Evaluation is where we all know the DOT is about 20 or so years behind, so it's not even worth addressing. We are not counted before or after a street project. The Evaluation is done only to validate the DOT, not to correct or fix problems.
And of course Engineering is a major weakness as well when our paths and lanes are dangerously designed. They are not designed for our safety but to segregate us. We have parking T's painted into the Bike Lanes and cyclists having to use the ped push button to cross a red are just a few flawed engineering elements that jump to my mind.
It doesn't surprise me that Los Angeles doesn't "bring home the bacon" and we don't qualify well for Safe Routes to School grants, and various Federal and State funding. The DOT would screw up the project anyhow or they lose the money, so why give it to them in the first place? What surprises me though is how our LA's bikeways coordinator Michelle Mowery is still sitting behind her desk at DOT and doesn't get her ass fired after "serving" for 15 years and doing nothing except advise the City Council badly and telling cyclists why things don't work.
But I don't want to get off track. There is hope and there is a way to make Los Angeles into a city that is safe and fun to ride, alone or in a group. We can still advocate for things but we need to keep in mind what is safe and effective and look at things from all sides.
In my opinion, the top priority is not bike lanes and signs and routes but establishing the law and equality on the streets. If the law is not established and enforced from the top down, then no dollar, no paint, no wall or fence, no special infrastructure will protect the people on our streets.
America was built on the Constitution and everything is based down from there. If someone tramples on your rights, you bring out the law in your defense. You know the law and every citizen and resident knows their basic rights in America.
But when we, as cyclists, get trampled on, we apologize and we forget that the law is on our side. And the police, who carries the gun and has his hands on the baton argues with us on the street and we give in. The city staff is telling us that "Things are the way they are", "Don't try to fight it", "Don't be so negative", "It's out of our hands" and we walk away defeated. The transportation committee tells us "We'll review it later", "Come back next month/year", "Go and lobby in Sacramento" and they are wearing us out, all while some us go more into debt from doctors bills from our last hit & run incident. And of course some Councilmen like to derail us and change the subject by pointing out how we should wear a helmet, how we are responsible for others who don't should stop at stop signs and how every conversation needs to address our obligations to follow the law, all while our rights are trampled on as residents of this Great City in this Beautiful State in this Country that is known around the world as Land of the Free.
As long as cyclists refer to traffic collisions incidents as accidents because "the police said so", as long as we apologize for being on the street or "in the way", as long as we let others derail us and treat us like children, as long as we are "bribe-able" with a pair of socks or a water bottle, we are not helping make our streets safer for anybody.
If the law is established equally in books, magazines (AAA), educational materials (DMV), the press (certainly a cultural barometer) documents (citation, police reports,...), etc. then people will learn to respect us as equal road users.
Read the laws and the vehicle codes and be educated. Education is your weapon. Don't misinform others because rumors and assumptions travel fast. Lobby hard by riding hard and by riding often and by riding everywhere and by riding safely. Carry with you the Cyclists' Bill of Rights; it's based on Constitution and our laws. Don't take no for an answer!
I definitely want to encourage all ages and all skill levels to get on the road and ride a bike and I know that where I might feel safe, someone else might not, or visa versa. I'm very much in favor of looking at things from all sides and by considering all walks, be it the point of view of a 10 year old who has to lock up his bike behind a bush where he is invisible, or from a young woman's pov who has to bend down to unlock her bike, or from an older persons point-of-view, who can't carry their bike up or down the stairs.
I believe that End of Trip Facilities are of vital importance for a better bikeable LA. If people can't lock up their bikes, they won't ride. It's that simple. Riding to Blockbuster, the movie theater, a quick coffee with a friend, a neighborhood bar or the bookstore, can be discouraging if I have nowhere to lock my bike up safely. It is easier to drive because a driving space is almost always open for me. So most bikes stay in the garage or on the patio or back yard, or are only used for recreation, where one doesn't have an end destination except home after the few hours of exercise.
End of Trip Facilities cost very little, and they are priceless to those who want to get out of the car, be it because of health reasons, or because they don't want to give up their great vehicle parking space, or because they are are bike commuters or because they want to change the world. It doesn't matter why someone ride, they simply need a secure bike parking spot if they want to get off their bike. End of Trip Facilities are something that we as advocates need to look into and find ways to get them out onto every street and in front of every store and into every public building. Claremont is doing this and it is an innovative and exciting program that will go a long way to encouraging cycling in their "bike priority zone." We should be able to do that as well. But before we go out and lobby, we need to know what the effective ways to lock up our bikes are. Visibility, security, design, location, frequency, clearance, etc. are all things we need to consider. And we need to oversee these projects not just let the "experts" do it. Double check! Advise! Don't take no for an answer. Make sure our money is spent bettering our communities.
End of trip facilities also includes showers. But showers are only good if they are safe and according to health standards and we need to speak up if they seem unsafe. Down the hallway in the corner where there is not much foot traffic is not an option to take a shower. Cold water, leaks and cracks, mold or "shared" showers are also a no. If we are to encourage others to bike, we need to always think of the safety of others not just us. And if some facility is not encouraging but discouraging, we are obligated to speak up, not say, "It's fine with me".
After End of Trip Facilities, I would like to add Education because it ties in with the law. If people know how to behave around cyclists, about cyclists' rights, and if cyclists' know how to ride safe and effective, then we are on our way to an evolved society who respects other users. I'm sick and tired of hearing people talk about how cyclists need to be educated about helmets (which are not the law if you are over 18), but not one of these people gets as passionate about educating motorists about hands free cellphone use (law), seat belts (law), or stopping at lights and signs (law). Motorist and non motorist education, the education of Law Enforcement, and education to all city staff is crucial for our safety on our streets. No Bike Path, Lane or Sign educates motorists of our rights on the road.
Road Diet is fourth on my list. Road Diet is not only good for cyclists but also for pedestrians, local businesses, and the community as a whole. By narrowing the travel lanes, drivers become more attentive, traffic throughput becomes more efficient and pedestrians, cyclists and businesses can enjoy a quieter, friendlier street. There are many versions of road diets, with or without Bike Lanes. According to this Project for Public Spaces article, road diets are easily done inexpensively and flexibly while being tested and refined, and when the funds become available, "the right combination of devices can be transformed into permanent improvements and extended over a broader area."
With speed limit increases all over the Valley, it should be easy to find allies from schools, businesses, churches, community groups and neighborhood councils, to get their support and their signatures that grants require to bring the money into the community.
If we were to install any bike lanes or paths, we need to lobby for what is essential for our safety and for the safety of others. I disagree with statements like "It's better than it used to be", "It's not that bad" or "I've been fine riding it for many years" because there is no consideration for the safety of others. If one person feels unsafe with a certain infrastructure, we need to address that, not brush it aside. If one person has had a bad experience, it needs to be taken into consideration. Women, people with children, older people, people who are not the novice riders of our streets would need to be engaged when we plan for bike projects, not just the bureaucrats who won't use the facilities.
We need to always ask, "Would you use it if...", "Do you feel safe here? Day and night?", "How would you make it better?" and "Would you send your 14 year old this way". These are questions that are looking for the negatives to get them fixed, these question don't look for approval. But these questions are important since it's difficult to speak up because we've been trained to always appreciate the things that are given us and to avoid sounding negative. Councilman Tom LaBonge said "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" when we pointed out that the bike parking in the Observatory was bad, referring to cyclists' access to the Observatory as a gift not as our right.
I see DOT staff perk up when someone compliments them but they disregard the complaints. But that is exactly what they need to pay attention to. We spend our time, energy and money to go to meetings where we are ready to discuss the projects that we paid for, and the DOT and the City Council disrespects us by running hours late and by ignoring our comments. Why do we allow this disrespect from them and to ourselves? Why don't we give ourselves more credit for having a vested interest in the outcome of projects to be safe?
We have to stop rubbing shoulders with the staff and politicians for the sake of rubbing shoulders, if our needs are not met. We need to ask of the people who we elected and who spend our money "What have they done for me lately?" If the answer is nothing or very little, then we need to replace them. Not having the funds should never be an excuse because we can see that money is spent on things that are contradicting our safety on the streets. Money is spent on things that are not making our neighborhoods better but dividing them and putting us at risk.
We need to look at the facts and we need to replace the people who don't do their job right. We can still be friends on facebook or meet for coffee but if our needs are not met, why spend thousands of dollars to keep people employed for the sake of employment. We should keep them employed for their effectiveness. We have to stop accepting mediocrity, minority status and disrespect!
If the cycling community and the various organizations would get together and work toward letting everybody know about their rights and the law, we would be much better off and then we could build anything we want and everything we need..
If we never install bike lanes or any more paths, our streets could
still become the safest, if these few ideas are taken into
consideration. The money will come with the right projects. And the
people will ride, just like you and I do.