How to Make LA Safe, Effective and More Enjoyable for Cyclists

I’ve written in the past three weeks My Case Against Bike Paths, my discontent about Bike Lanes and about  Bike Routes.

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.

  • I’d like to add incentives for new businesses (stores, entertainment, cafes, bars) around those End of Trip facilities. You know how life tends to spring up around train stations? We could do the same for bike routes. Then there’d be even more reasons to cycle!

  • Speaking of the 6th E, “Equality”; I wanted you to know I introduced this idea, and with LAB chair Amanda Eichstaedt back in late 2007, wrote an article announcing the idea:

    http://www.bikeleague.org/images/equality_article_nov-dec_07.pdf

    This idea in turn lead to the Equity Statement which was adopted by the LAB board in early 2009:

    http://www.bikeleague.org/images/equity_statement_1-05-09.pdf

    The Equity statement does at the national level what the local Cyclist’s Bill of Rights is attempting to do here in LA County, but with an explicit 6Es approach, which Enci’s article mirrors.

    So while we’re on the subject of “Equality”, sadly the photo used for this blog is incorrect. CVC 21200 is the law gives us equal driver rights, OTOH CVC 21202 takes most of those rights away by forcing us to the edge of the pavement like the road rats many people believe us to be. Associating CVC 21202 with a cyclist’s right to the road is just like associating a Jim Crow law with racial minority’s right to use the bus. So the photo used in this article is mute testament to the general lack of understanding, that even many cyclists lack, of cyclists’ legal rights.

    Thanks again Enci, for discussing these subjects.

  • BIkeHair

    Im not convinced it is the civil servants who fail to deliver. When are mid level bureacrats ever able to create policy priorities? I think your ire is better directed at the Mayor and Council who only give token efforts of support for bikes. At least Daley in Chicago road a bike to work. why did bike infrastructure turn around there? The mayor was committed. Try not to alienate those who should be your allies.

  • BikeHair,
    Interesting you should mention Chicago, because Illinois allows local regualation (CA does not per CVC 21), so Chicago has seen fit to enact the absolute worst discriminatory FTR law that I’ve ever seen (makes bad CA laws like 21202 look great by comparison, and is much worse than the Illinois state laws), which makes any car-bike crash the fault of the bicycist; thus totally nullifying the potential benefit of any vulnerable user or 3′ laws the city has on the books:

    9-52-040 Yielding right-of-way.
    …(c) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right-hand side of the roadway, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction and at all times giving the right-of-way to other moving vehicles.

    Added Coun. J. 7-12-90, p. 18634
    9-52-050 Riding in single file required—Exceptions
    Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride other than single file except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

    Where’s the cyclist friendliness in these laws? A police officer can always choose to cite the cyclist in any crash as not having yieleded the ROW to any other moving vehicle (so much for the 3′ law). Furthermore, cyclists are never allowed to control narrow lanes or ever ride side by side in a narrow lane in Chicago; is this bicyclist friendly? So much for a mayor who rides a bike; the cyclists will always be second or third class road users so long as the laws are so brutally hostile.

    This is just one example of the many states, and states that allow cities to create bicyclist hostile laws that treat bicycle drivers differently than other drivers, and almost invariably worse.

    We have a long way to go in CA before the promise of 21200 is a reality. We should start by chucking the discriminatory laws like 21202 and 21208, and make 22400 only apply to motor vehicle drivers (like the other 45 states that do so) so bicyclists will have the same legal rights, not less, than motorists.

    Every other one of the remaining 5 Es is diminished by these hostile inequitable laws, and as an advocate that regularly participates at the state and local levels with CBAC, Caltrans D7 BAC, the CTCDC, etc., I can tell that many transportation professionals use 21202 and 21208 as convenient excuses to simply ignore, or worse still work agasint the interests of bicyclists when designing and constructing public road infrastructure.

  • HB_BD

    Hi Enci Box,

    Can you fix the link to ‘Cyclists’ Bill of Rights’ ? Or, can someone else post it here?

    Thanks,
    AC

  • That’s my bad, not her’s. The link is fixed and, for the record, you can get there here: http://bikewriterscollective.com/

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