Law Enforcement and Bike Safety: Top Cops Must Innovate, not Prevaricate

LAPD protects the bike lane in front of headquarters from sun and rain elements that could damage the paint job. Police cars parked in the bike lane, First Street between Spring and Main in downtown L.A.
LAPD protects the then-buffered bike lane in front of headquarters from sun and rain elements that could damage the paint job. LAPD cars parked in the bike lane on First Street between Spring and Main in downtown L.A.

If you approach LAPD headquarters from First Street, City Hall is reflected in the windows. This was designed into the building intentionally, to remind cops that they’re not there to serve the police department itself; they’re to serve the people of Los Angeles.

When I first moved to downtown from Los Feliz in 2009, I was thrilled to find a new bike lane on First Street between the Civic Center subway station and my new home in the Arts District. The portion between Spring and Main Street, in front of LAPD, was curbside with a wide buffer on the left to put space between moving cars and cyclists.

But it was always blocked by parked police cars.

It seemed outrageous to me that cops, out of laziness or contempt, could get away with sabotaging the bike lane on a stretch of street that runs between LAPD headquarters and City Hall, right in front of their bosses. So I started taking pictures of the cars. I went to an LAPD bike meeting. I met some sympathetic cops who suggested, among other things, that LADOT should put in bollards to keep all cars, including police cruisers, off the lane. One had warning notes put on the police cars. My photos were bounced up the chain of command. And we started a real, bona fide internal-affairs complaint. And, after many months, it seems I succeeded in embarrassing the police brass.

The result.

Instead of letting officers know that parking on bike lanes would not be tolerated, police leadership worked quietly with then LADOT chief Jaime de la Vega to remove the buffered lane. I knew about this in advance, because a city official leaked it to me with the hope that Streetsblog and other bike-advocacy groups could shame the LAPD.

It didn’t work.

In March of 2013, LADOT unpainted the buffered lane and put in a standard “door-death” lane. It remains a no-stopping zone, which is also ignored by the police. In other words, the police brass responded to my complaints about cops parking on the enhanced bike lane by removing it.

As to the internal affairs complaint, I got two letters, which we’ve published at the bottom of this article. To summarize, even photos of cops parked on the bike lane in front of headquarters doesn’t prove they do it. And, simultaneously, it’s legal for them to do it. Both statements, of course, are false.

LAPD "protects" the entrance to the parking garage. Photo: Roger Rudick
LAPD “protects” the entrance to the parking garage. Photo: Roger Rudick

Through the LA Bike Master Plan and other reforms, Los Angeles is trying to make streets safer for cycling. LAPD brass could have gotten with the spirit, done the right thing, and worked with LADOT to put in physical separations to keep their bike lane clear. Instead, they put bollards in around the corner on Main Street to protect the entrance to their garage [see photo, above]…the same garage they’re apparently too lazy to use.

I once watched an automobile swerve clear across Spring Street, without signaling, cutting me off and nearly hitting me, and then drive in the bike lane to the next intersection. A cop was parked right there; the incident was in plain view. I rode over and asked the officer to give the driver a ticket for illegal lane changes and driving in the bike lane. “Yeah, people don’t know you can’t drive in it,” he said, doing nothing.

That, in my experience, typifies the L.A. cop.

Thank you, officers, for guarding and escorting cycling events. But let’s not confuse public relations with doing your jobs. Where are you when we really need you, doing everyday, hum-drum law enforcement, such as keeping bike lanes clear and ticketing cars that harass and cut us off? Instead you do crackdowns on pedestrians! We’ll never get cops to change their attitudes without police leaders who, when they see a cruiser parked on a bike lane, chew out the cop who parked there, take away his car, and reassign him–or her–to bicycle or foot patrol.

And maybe, just maybe, if it’s made clear to cops that they are never above the law, we’ll get a better police force overall. Isn’t that consistent with the “broken windows” theory of policing, which basically says that ignoring scofflaws leads to a pervasion of lawlessness that invites serious crimes? If that applies to civilians, surely it applies to the cops themselves. But, sadly, we live in a world of double standards; where law enforcement can get away with almost anything.

Going by her reputation, Seleta Reynolds, the new manager at LADOT, will make our streets safer for all users. Still, her efforts will be futile without the support of the police. Let’s hope Charlie Beck will use his re-appointment as LAPD Chief to sincerely embrace change on our streets. Because the letters and the removal of the buffered bike lane on First indicates that LAPD brass doesn’t get the meaning of the reflection in their building; they still think the people they’re supposed to “serve and protect” are themselves.

LAPD Beck letter 2 of 2 LAPD Beck letter 1 of 2

  • Steven White

    It’s seriously ridiculous the way they had this lane’s buffer removed so they are no longer parking in the lane. At least there’s a clear lane now though…

    Head another block down to Los Angeles Street and you’ll find cruisers regularly parked in the northbound bike lane next to the old HQ. I’ve never, not once, ridden in that lane, and usually have to make a merge into traffic where there are many things going on at once (just past an intersection, at a flashing pedestrian crossing, where the road tightens and gets skinner).

    On Los Angeles Street, the cop cars lead the way by example and many other people follow suit, parking there (or, sitting in their cars waiting at least) with no word or warning.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I’ve used the northbound Los Angeles Street bike lane and found that not only do police cruisers stop/park there, but now private vehicles are doing so as well. It’s true that law enforcement personnel should lead by example and parking inappropriately when there is an access-controlled parking structure onsite sets a very bad example for the citizenry.

    This kind of behavior also harms the Department’s public image to boot. If local law enforcement agencies want to shed the image of appearing to be “above the law”, then following the more “pedestrian” laws and ordinances (in non-emergency situations) is a good place to start.

    And, I’m not sure if anyone has noticed, but there is a closed-off, unused turnout directly across the street from Parker Center. It would make more sense to me to remove the planters and reopen this turnout for the exclusive use of law enforcement vehicles only. Then place the plastic bollards on the northbound side of the street to discourage future parking/stopping.

  • Silke

    I don’t get the impression that the LAPD officers regard bicyclists as legitimate road users, despite public statements made by Beck and a few others. The LAPD think nothing off cutting of cyclists when making turns, they refuse to make legal right hand turns, instead preferring to turn right from the left of a bicycle lane without noticing the cyclist they are cutting of or worse doing so intentionally with the goal of intimidating us. They are seemingly unwilling to cite any motorist who violates the law with regard to cyclists or pedestrians, they don’t know what a crosswalk and I’m not sure they see cyclists and pedestrians as full citizens. We’re just a nuisance they’d rather not have to look at or hear from. They park in the bike lane and then threaten me when I go around them and “get in the way of traffic.”

  • rj

    They also make up their own laws about how cyclists should behave. Just the other day a motorcycle cop pulled up alongside me and yelled “You need to stay ALL the way to the right!” This despite California law clearly stating that I can ride in the center of a substandard width lane, which that lane definitely was (i.e. not nearly enough room for cars to pass me safely).

    Given that LAPD has refused to cite or arrest motorists who’ve harassed, injured, or even killed cyclists and pedestrians, I’m really not sure what it’ll take to change this status quo.

  • ubrayj02

    If only the cops had 1000+ underground parking spaces nearby, like under their new HQ or at their old HQ, or under City Hall, or under CalTrans, or really anywhere but sadly … oh wait, there are more than 2,000 parking spaces when you combine those lots of nearby parking. Heck, just parking the buffer instead of the bike lane. Oh whatever. They are going to do it and we are not going to stop them.

  • Salts

    Why doesn’t the LADOT ticket the police cars parked in the bike lanes? I’ve been in other cities where parking enforcement tickets mail carriers for parking crosswalks and red zones. If nothing else, it would be annoying enough for some of them to stop doing this.

  • Silke

    I just saw a CHP “share the road” commercial that did not include bicyclists as potential road users. Another example of the same mentality that drives the LAPD to threaten me for riding along sharrow markings, just outside of the door zone on LA’s pathetic excuse for “bicycle friendly streets.” These are the same people who always look the other way when a motorist violates a pedestrian’s right or way in a cross walk – which happens just about everytime someone dares cross the street in this city. I don’t think a day goes by that an LAPD vehicle doesn’t cut me off at an intersection or when I ride past a driveway. Are they distracted by their onboard computers or are they trying to put me in my place and remind me that I am a third rate citizen who has no place on the road?

  • Hmmmmm….

    This could be one of those situations where a well-timed local TV news expose could embarrass the department into respecting the lanes. Does anyone have Joel Grover’s contact info?

  • jennix

    Asked for comment, the LAPD said, “Whatever.”

  • Joe Linton

    Ok… it’s kinda conspiracy-theorist… but does anyone else think that maybe LADOT put bike lanes in these locations, because police park there… and that practice messed with DOT’s longstanding goal of getting more and more and more car-throughput? Police have been parking in no-parking zones in front of Parker Center for a long time. Perhaps LADOT car-centric folks threw their hands up and said “well, if police are going to park here anyway, then let’s just stripe bike lanes and let cyclists struggle with these parked cars, because we can’t get a through car lane anyway.”
    Whether this is true or not, I don’t oppose LADOT striping these lanes. I still think that a bike lane that is blocked 80% of the time is 20% better than no bike lane. I am worried that if we cyclists really press hard on this issue, the bike lanes will go away.
    (Also – I observed police in NYC commonly parking in bike lanes and sidewalks.)

  • Alex Brideau III

    Would this StreetsblogLA-recommended procedure be appropriate here?…

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2012/09/11/what-to-do-when-the-lapd-is-parked-in-a-bike-lane/

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