North Figueroa Bike Lanes: Public Safety Reps Against Public Safety Project

Los Angeles Police Department Captain Jeff Bert testifies against North Figueroa bicycle lanes at Councilmember Cedillo's Bike Lane Community Meeting on May 8, 2014
Los Angeles Police Department Captain Jeff Bert testifies against North Figueroa bicycle lanes at Councilmember Cedillo’s Bike Lane Community Meeting on May 8, 2014. Photo via Fig For All Flickr

At last week’s North Figueroa Street bike lane meeting there was a contentious debate. Cyclists are urging installation of road diet bike lanes to improve safety for all. Bike lanes were approved in the city’s 2010 Bike Plan; L.A.’s Transportation Department (LADOT) studied the lanes extensively, and appeared to be on the verge of installing them. Then a new L.A. City Councilmember was elected.

Though Councilmember Gil Cedillo expressed verbal support for the lanes during his election campaign, he subsequently stepped away from that commitment and is nixing the bike lanes and instead proposing to install sharrows on a circuitous bike route that roughly parallels some portions of North Figueroa.  

Councilmember Cedillo summarized the meeting in his email newsletter, stating:

On Thursday over 350 residents attended a spirited community meeting hosted by Councilmember Cedillo at Nightingale Middle School in Cypress Park to hear input on LADOT’s proposed bike lanes for North Figueroa Street (from Avenue 22 to Avenue 52, in Cypress Park, Sycamore Grove and a portion of Highland Park). The proposal would remove one of two southbound traffic lanes (“a road diet”) on North Figueroa Street.

Councilmember Cedillo heard thoughtful input from stakeholders. Testimony was also provided by Captain Ed Elguea, LA Fire Department Fire Station 44, Captain Jeff Bert, LAPD Northeast Station, Sergeant Luciano Meza, LADOT Traffic and R. Scott Page, LA Metro Operations Planning Manager, Service Planning. These Los Angeles City Department representatives expressed concerns of increased traffic congestion if the southbound traffic lane is removed as proposed by LADOT.

While it’s common for bicycle, and other transportation, facilities to be subject to political pressures, cyclists were disturbed that representatives from the city’s police (LAPD) and fire departments (LAFD) expressed opposition to the bike lane project. 

Here’s an example of the public safety testimony, which has been posted on YouTube: LAFD, LAPD. Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Elguea stated:

From a professional opinion, this [North Figueroa bike lane project] will slow down our response time.

City public safety officers spoke in opposition to a public safety project.

What’s the evidence? Do bike lanes actually pose a threat to public safety? Do road diets threaten public safety?

Thanks to L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee chair Jeff Jacobberger for tracking down relevant city documents. See the full text of Jacobberger’s communication to Cedillo posted here

LADOT studied the North Figueroa bike lanes extensively, and concluded that they “would not impede emergency access.” As part of its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) documentation, LADOT studied the project and stated:

The implementation of the proposed projects would not impede emergency access. Bicyclists would follow the same protocol as vehicles in surrendering the right of way to emergency vehicles. The design of all bikeway facilities will be governed by the Technical Design Handbook and applicable federal, state and local guidelines. The proposed projects would comply with all City of Los Angeles fire department requirements. Less than significant impacts to emergency access are anticipated.” (Initial Study [PDF], page 25.) [emphasis added by Jacobberger]

LADOT spent time and money analyzing how North Figueroa bike lanes could impact emergency response. During that process, LAPD and LAFD were notified, and neither LAPD nor LAFD expressed any official concerns. The final approved LADOT study documents concluded that there weren’t any significant adverse impacts.

There are numerous examples from elsewhere, too. 

LADOT has done several road diet bike lane projects, including 7th Street, Spring Street, Main Street, Rownena Avenue in central Los Angeles. Road diets have been implemented on Colorado Blvd and York Blvd in North East Los Angeles. Many of these projects have been done on streets that are home to LAPD and LAFD stations. Neither LAPD nor LAFD have raised response time concerns with any of these on-the-ground improvements.

NYC bikeway opponents predicted an emergency response crisis, but response times there improved.

In the discussions over implementing road diet bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard, Walk Eagle Rock posted a very apt analysis of the emergency response time issue. Below is an excerpt:

Bike Lane Concern #5: “Reducing the number of lanes available to motorists to create bike lanes will hurt emergency response times!” and “We need to maintain the number of lanes available to motorists so that we don’t delay emergence responders!”

  • Naturally nobody wants to delay emergence responders and potentially risk losing lives because people can’t get medical attention quickly enough. It is very understandable and commendable to have safety be a prime consideration. However, perhaps this concern is a little overstated, let’s explore why. Firstly, the local Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Station on York Boulevard has not raised concerns to the LADOT about being able to respond to emergencies. In Downtown LA, at the request of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the LADOT will remove a bike lane on 1st street. If there were a significant impact on the ability for emergency responders to reach their destinations because of bike lanes on York Boulevard, the LADOT would remove the bike lanes immediately.

  • Also, as noted by Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do and What It Says About Us, generally speaking any time saved by emergency responders by not implementing a traffic calming measure is negligible. In fact, Vanderbilt notes the status quo is likely more dangerous– as he succinctly puts it “speeding cars have surely claimed more lives than speeding responders have saved.” If we turn to York Boulevard again, we see what bike lanes may mean for Colorado Boulevard. The number of crashes on York Boulevard went down following the implementation of a “road diet” that reduced the number of travel lanes available to motorists. Part of York Boulevard went on a “road diet” in 2006 and utilizing traffic collision data available through UC Berkeley’s Traffic Injury Mapping System one will note that from 2002 to 2005, there were 92 crashes on the section of York Boulevard that would eventually go on a “road diet.” From 2006 to 2009 that same stretch of York Boulevard saw only 61 crashes. Comparing pre- and post- “road diet” data on York Boulevard show additional safety benefits.  The number of misdemeanor and felony hit-and-runs are on a decline and as are the collective number of visible, severe, and fatal injuries. Collision data from York Boulevard suggests there is reason to believe that reducing the number of lanes available to motorists will make Colorado Boulevard safer and reduce the need for emergency responders to go to the scene of preventable crashes.

Lastly, the Federal Highway Administration has studied road diets and found that they are a “proven safety countermeasure.” While bicyclists generally focus on the inclusion of bike lanes as a proven safety feature, the FHWA study shows that road diets make streets safer for all road users. Pedestrians get fewer traffic lanes to cross. Road diets’ biggest safety gains are from eliminating blind spots for drivers turning across two lanes of oncoming car traffic.

There may well be legitimate reasons to oppose road diet bike lanes on North Figueroa Street.

These reasons may be political. These reasons may have to do with throughput for cars. These reasons may have to do with comfort with the existing status quo.

The evidence is clear that public safety is not a legitimate reason.

(Earlier this week, Streetsblog Los Angeles contacted the LAPD and LAFD for clarification on official departmental policies regarding emergency response times, and clarification on whether departmental representatives were speaking personally or on behalf on their departments. To date, no response was received. Updated 18 May 2014: SBLA received this response from LAFD shortly after the article was published.)

89 thoughts on North Figueroa Bike Lanes: Public Safety Reps Against Public Safety Project

  1. What was clearly stated in the Portland article is that the cyclists did not like being routed onto a sidewalk which had people standing there waiting for transit. This is not the design of the cycle track on Figueroa St.

  2. That is part of the design on Figueroa. We appear to disagree what the design is.

  3. I have tried taking the lane many times and still do–but only when I feel it is the only way to move on a section of a street.

    Incidentally, I have been hit from behind by drivers while being in the middle of the lane. Once, while moving away after the traffic signal had changed and the car behind me had been waiting at the red light behind me. I have traveled through this intersections dozens of time, this was a rare occasion when I took the lane.

    The other collision occurred when a car was coming off a off-ramp from a freeway–she looked to her left to change lanes and smacked into me when I was directly in front of her in the middle of her lane.

    I ride thousands of miles a year and rarely do I have the slightest problem with motor vehicles when I travel between them and the parked cars. It’s an absolute fallacy that the risks increase riding in bike lanes, cycle tracks or to the side of moving vehicles without a bikeway.

    The Los Angeles Department of Transportation ran a pilot study of sharrows on six streets on different locations throughout the city. I did dozens of before and after sharrows test runs riding at a steady pace of 12 miles an hour in front of moving vehicles–more than any other participant.

    At no time did I, or any of the other participants to my knowledge, feel more comfortable or safer to be riding in front of fast moving motor vehicles on a busy street. We were yelled at, honked at and cars accelerated past us. One of these streets I have traveled on many times before and after the tests and none of these times have drivers been aggressive or expressed anger at me.

  4. Your experience is not the same as my experience…. but I should add that being honked at isn’t the same as being unsafe (I’ve been yelled at for using left turn lanes and otherwise legal behavior too).

  5. Here’s a study done in Canada where they analyzed the data of serious injuries and found 31% less collisions in bike lanes compared to nearby streets:

    http://cyclingincities.spph.ubc.ca/injuries/the-bice-study/

    Here’s a analysis of twenty eight studies that bikeways reduce the risk of injuries:

    http://www.ehjournal.net/content/8/1/47

    From SWOV, the institute for road safety research in the Netherlands: “Research indicates that on distributor roads the road section with adjoining or separate cycle tracks are safer than the road sections without any bicycling facilities.”

    http://www.swov.nl/rapport/Factsheets/UK/FS_Bicycle_facilities.pdf

    Center for transportation research at the University of Texas at Austin: “Compared to wide outside lanes, bike lanes provide higher operational and comfort levels under all conditions, except very low traffic volumes on exclusively residential streets.”

    http://www.utexas.edu/research/ctr/pdf_reports/0_5157_1.pdf

    Bike lanes encourage bicyclists to ride further away from parked cars:

    http://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/CDD/Transportation/Bike/bike_hamp_study.ashx

  6. That is a artist sketch of the concept, and not the engineers layout of the design that will be implemented.

    Your opinion is that it would be safer and more convenient to use the road. However, data and what people chose to use should be the measure of how well this design works and not one individual’s opinion.

  7. “comfort level” is not the same as safety.

    Did these studies compare edge cyclists with cyclists acting as driver?

  8. The reason that most studies do not compare edge cyclists with those riding in the middle of the lane is that there is not enough cyclists who ride in front of motorists to make an analysis based on results of usage and collision data.

    Almost all of the conclusions I have seen from people who state that it is safer to ride in the middle of a motor vehicle lane base that on conjecture and not on any well conducted tests.

  9. So I guess we’re agreeing again? As I said before,

    “In fact I doubt there have been any studies that analyze driver behavior
    cyclists, since as you said earlier, these sort of cyclists are so
    rare. Do you have any citations?”

  10. Your whole belief seems to be based on there not being any studies to disprove it and so therefore it has to be true.

    One of the greatest weakness of your belief is that most people will never want to ride a bicycle in front of motor vehicles on a busy street. It doesn’t how much training or efforts to convince them are made, they will still choose to not ride there. Bicycling is usually an option for most people. If they do not feel comfortable bicycling, then will likely not do so.

    One of the five traffic safety principles of the Netherlands is homogeneity of mass, speed and direction. They try and reduce the number of potential conflicts of bicycles and motor vehicles by separating them by space and time on busy roads whenever possible. When a bicycle goes straight through an intersection on a arterial street the motor vehicles are generally not allowed to turn and there is a physical barrier to separate them in the sections of street between the intersections. That reduces the number of potential conflict points.

  11. Not wanting is different than being safe. Some people choose to do that and are convinced…

    http://cyclingsavvy.org/2012/05/couch-potato-to-savvy-cyclist-in-4-0-months/

    “One of the greatest weakness of your belief is that most people will never want to ride a bicycle in front of motor vehicles on a busy street.”

    I’m not sure if you can grasp the distinction. It’s not comfortable at first to control the lane. It is something that can be easily learned to do. The fact that it isn’t something that is comfortable to do at first, doesn’t make it less safe to do.

  12. Advocating for cyclists to take the lane wherever they ride has been around for decades. Name one city in the world where people ride like this on a large scale.

    Virtually all of the cities, or countries in the world which have large mode shares for bicycling have either an extensive separation of bicyclists from motor vehicles or they ride on the sidewalks and to the side of motor vehicles–an example of that would be Japan.

    Even in Dutch cities post WWII from the 1950’s through the early 1970’s when there were few cycle tracks, lots of cars and at least a 20% mode share for bicycles, few people rode in front of motor vehicles on busy streets. The traffic fatalities dramatically rose and bicycling fell by 6% per year. A new transportation policy put cycle tracks throughout the cities, bicycling rose and fatalities dropped.

    Nature has developed an innate sense of what feels safe in people for their own survival. You are advocating for them to go against that instinct of keeping away from that which could maim or kill them by trying to convince them to ride in front of what most people would consider predators towards their vulnerable bodies–motor vehicles.

  13. The traffic engineer who designed the cycle track on Figueroa St–Tim Fremaux–clearly states that no part of it will be on a sidewalk. Its entirely on the street with the bus stops on a elevated concrete platform far enough away from the curb to allow a cycle track. The cycle track is placed on the street level between the bus platform and the pre-existing curb. What is so difficult for you to understand about that?

  14. I, nor probably any of my fellow participants in a controlled before and after sharrows study conducted by LADOT ever became comfortable with riding in front of traffic on busy streets that have fast moving traffic. I did this dozens of times it never got much easier. Frankly, it produced a lot of cold sweat worrying about whether the drivers were noticing us and how they would react.

  15. “Controlling the lane isn’t has (sic) hard as you think it is”

    Clearly you do not know what I am thinking. Where do you surmise from what I have written that I believe this is difficult to do?

  16. ???

    What you describe is correct.

    How do you supposes buses full of people will get from the sidewalk to the platform and back? They will cross the cycletrack? Or will they magically teleport themselves?

  17. I don’t know. “Frankly,
    it produced a lot of cold sweat worrying about whether the drivers were
    noticing us and how they would react.”

  18. One of the most memorable moments for me was when a driver pulled his car as close to my left as he could–when I was riding my required steady 12 miles an hour–and the passenger yelled loudly at me to get the f*ck off the road!

    Funny thing, nothing like that has ever happened to me in thousands of miles of riding between parked cars and moving vehicles. Could it possibly be and I know this is wild conjecture, but could it be because the driver thought I was being an a**hole for riding in the middle of the lane at 12 mile an hour? Geez, why would that upset drivers that want to go at 35 miles an hour?

    On the same street during the test runs a police car got behind me and an officer told me through the intercom to get in the bike lane. I continued with my steady 12 miles an hour and he again announced for me to get in the bike lane. There was of course no bike lane as the testing was for shared lane markings that would be placed instead of a bike lane. Again, he probably thought I was being a jerk by riding slowly in the middle of a through lane.

    The LADOT video taped the before and after sharrows installation rides and found that drivers moved further away with the sharrows in place.

    What was not tested was how many of the general public would actually ride 12 feet out from the curb where the center of the sharrows were placed. My observations have been that in most circumstances they usually do not ride there, but still choose instead to ride close to the parked cars to try and avoid the moving vehicles.

    Trying to train, lure or force people to ride where they do not feel comfortable is bound to mainly attract just a small group of traffic intolerant people who would follow that. Separating bicyclists from motor vehicles has repeatedly been shown to get much more people to ride a bicycle.

    A much larger volume of bicycling has been shown to reduce the amount of collisions with motor vehicles. Installing sharrows will not get a large increase in the amount of bicycle users on the roadway simply because the vast majority of people who would like to ride will not do so in mixed traffic. That will never change.

  19. “The LADOT video taped the before and after sharrows installation rides and found that drivers moved further away with the sharrows in place.”

    Are you saying that motorists gave cyclists more space? More space when cyclists riding on the edge or more space when cyclists riding more to the left? Motorists giving cyclists more space when over taking is safer right? This sort of data cold be interesting.

    Some motorists are just jerks. But as long as they’re merely jerks it doesn’t have much impact on safety. Even I have had motorist honk and flip me off for stopping at a stop sign.

    I see I found an article on the results of the study.

    http://thesource.metro.net/2011/08/01/yearlong-ladot-study-of-sharrows-finds-safety-benefits/

    The study results seem to back up what I’m saying.

    “Sharrows improved the interactions between drivers and bicyclists in a number of ways: drivers passed bicyclists at greater distances, drivers allowed a greater tailing distance when following behind a bicyclist, tailgated a bicyclist far less often, took fewer aggressive actions, and were less abusive towards bicyclists.”

    Now it’s true that the study didn’t measure some other stuff that isn’t really important in my opinion. Some cyclists will continue to fear getting yelled at for controlling a lane and will ride in the door zone and risk getting doored. But I wonder if that psychology could be changed, particularly when studies such as this show that motorist behavior is improved.

    I also see I’m not the first to point this out to you…so I think I’ll just give up now.

    http://ladotbikeblog.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/ladot-sharrows-report-results-sharrows-are-good/

    ” You mention the possible minimal effects Sharrows may have on encouragement, but the study was to measure safety results, not encouragement results.”

  20. In no way does the LADOT believe that sharrows have a comparable or higher level of safety for bicyclists than separation from motor vehicles by the use of bike lanes, cycle tracks or bike paths. In fact, LADOT bikeways traffic engineer Tim Fremaux has publicly stated that he believes bike lanes are safer in almost all situations compared to riding on a road without any separation from motor vehicles.

    The sharrows pilot study showed a difference in motorist behavior before and after sharrows when a bicycle is ridden in the same position on the road. It did not determine whether riding 12-feet out from the curb was any safer than riding 11-feet out, or for that matter less safe than placing them 13-feet out.

  21. yes, I understand the 12 vs 11 vs 13 feet thing (It’s clear from the website I find). Thank you for further clarifying that. The study was rather limited in that degree

  22. Please do not feed the vehicular cyclist troll, “nocklebeast” below. Engaging with vehicular cyclists, who are a weird niche political cult, should be limited to pointing out the gaping holes in their philosophy, the fact that their ideas over 40 years out of date and are sourced from one charismatic leader.

    They deserve mockery, like flat earthers and climate deniers. To engage with them too much simply gives them an opportunity to talk more, which in turn gives pro-car politicians convenient passages of spurious logic to quote.

  23. Yah – he smelled like troll-breath quickly when it was clear that he didn’t even know what street project he was commenting about. “North Figueroa” and “Figueroa” are basically two very different streets, with different struggles.

  24. The evidence is that in the Netherlands millions of people ride from ages 8-80 all day everyday with no helmets and still have a death rate that blows the doors off any city in the US you dumbfuck.

  25. Please stop trolling this article about a neighborhood you clearly know nothing about with irrelevant comments. If you remain unconvinced about the bicycling utopia that is The Netherlands please go visit the country or do some searching on the internet before asking the commenters to answer your questions and do your research.

  26. I don’t know what Netherlands has to do with LA either.

    I’m not the one talking about Netherlands. I confused North and South Figueroa. That is all.

  27. I’m not the guy that’s trolling about Netherlands on a blog devoted to cycling in LA. Take your own comments there.

  28. LAFD and LAPD make TONNNNNSSSSSS of money and little risk of getting fired. huge job protection for kick ass ‘murrican jobs.

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