Vision Zero 101: Bike Lanes Are Not Parking Spaces

Parking enforcement often parks in the bike lane. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
LADOT’s parking enforcement officers often park in the bike lane, forcing cyclists into a busy traffic lane or onto the sidewalk. When asked about this practice on August 15, the parking enforcement officer whose car is pictured above declined to answer. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Tap tap tap.

The parking enforcement officer looked up from his phone.

When he rolled down his window, I smiled and asked politely about his having parked in the bike lane on Los Angeles Street.

There was a long pause.

“And?” he raised his eyebrows.

Having only expected some, not total, disdain, I stuttered my way through my concerns about safety.

The lanes along Los Angeles St. between 1st and Aliso Streets are regularly blocked, usually by official vehicles that sit there all day, I gestured to the line of cars parked ahead of him, including an LAPD cruiser. The presence of the cars in the bike lane, I explained, meant that cyclists were forced to move into what could be a very fast-moving traffic lane on an often busy street.

He offered no response. Just judgmental eyebrows of silence.

I switched tacks and stuttered my way through a suggestion that, perhaps as parking enforcement, he might be able to help mitigate these problems by enforcing the codes. Vulnerable folks needed his help, I pleaded.

More silence. More eyebrows.

Finally, he muttered, “I have police business,” rolled up his window, and went back to his phone. A minute later, he exited the car and leisurely strolled toward the detention center.

Well, I thought. This was one of the less productive exchanges I’ve had in a while.

A parking enforcement vehicle occupies the southbound bike lane on Los Angeles St. in July. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
A parking enforcement vehicle sits alone in the southbound bike lane on Los Angeles St. in July. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

* * *

Unless I witness an incident where someone’s safety has been compromised, I am generally not someone who enjoys claiming “bicycle rights!” Probably because doing so reminds me of that Portlandia clip of Fred Armisen obnoxiously barging his way through town.

But there is something about the parking habits of Los Angeles’ finest and other city agents on this street that is troubling to me.

A police cruiser occupies the southbound bike lane on Los Angeles St. in July. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
A police cruiser occupies the southbound bike lane on Los Angeles St. in July. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As I noted here, when I first wrote about this a few months ago, the blatant disregard of city codes in the very section of downtown where the folks that are tasked with generating, implementing, and enforcing our city’s rules spend much of their day doesn’t bode well for how rules might be enforced and adhered to in other parts of the city.

And the treatment of the bike lanes as non-vital infrastructure by city officials encourages regular folks to do the same elsewhere. I frequently run into drivers who create dangerous conditions on busy streets by being just conscientious enough to pull over to use their cellphone, but not so conscientious that they exit the bike lane to do so. Similarly, valets and their clients often treat the bike lane as the proper place to hand off the car. Conditions at Mohawk Bend, for example (a bar on Sunset Blvd. in Silver Lake), are particularly hazardous for cyclists at night, as the bar is located at a dangerous curve where traffic tends to pick up speed and the drivers darting in and out of the bike lane often do so without warning or fling their doors wide open unexpectedly.

Now, with the passage of the Mobility Plan 2035 (which will guide the implementation of more bike infrastructure, among other things) and the signing of a mayoral directive committing city departments to uphold Vision Zero (the effort to reduce traffic fatalities to zero by the year 2025), the question of how law enforcement, parking enforcement, and even Homeland Security (below) treat bike lanes becomes all the more urgent.

Homeland Security parks in the bike lane just north of Temple on Los Angeles St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Homeland Security parks in the bike lane just north of Temple on Los Angeles St. in May of this year. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

There is not a lot of point in overhauling the city’s mobility network and laying down costly infrastructure if city agents don’t value the safety of those trying to use it.

And people do indeed need to use that infrastructure.

In the communities that I cover — South L.A. and Boyle Heights, two lower-income communities of color — the vast majority of the cyclists I see are riding out of necessity. They do not have the luxury of being able to drive when conditions feel unsafe. They still have to get back and forth to work or school, and they have a right to be able to do so safely. Just like everyone else.

Nope, still not a fluke.
A Google Maps view from March of 2015 captures the parking habits of some of L.A.’s finest, which apparently also include the disregard of parking restrictions around fire hydrants.

Given that the Steering Committee for Vision Zero will be jointly led by the L.A. Department of Transportation and the LAPD — the very departments whose officers are tasked with enforcing parking and traffic codes — now seems like a really good time for the agents of both to show Angelenos they are aware that there is a difference between a bike lane and a parking space, and that they are willing to uphold it.

  • Steven White

    Fantastic article. I’ve never seen that section of bike lane on Los Angeles St. not-blocked. Never, not one time since they put the buffered lane in.

  • Haven’t you learned that these “heros” are above the law?

  • Los Angeles Bikes

    This “I know I’m wrong, and I don’t care” attitude of motorist entitlement is SO frustrating, and you see it in so many contexts on the streets of Los Angeles. It’s definitely frustrating when people, and cops in particular, park in the bike lane, but I think it’s actually an even bigger problem in the context of how motorists react to pedestrians walking in non-signalized crosswalks.

    I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve pointed to a crosswalk sign after being aggressively honked at by a motorist who (gasp!) had to stop for a pedestrian that was legally crossing the street, only for the motorist to indicate to me (again, usually in a threatening way) that they couldn’t care less about the existence of a crosswalk, and that if I didn’t want to get run over I needed to get the F*** out of their way.

  • _okra

    nyc feels your pain ~ http://copsinbikelanes.tumblr.com/

  • Alex Brideau III

    Tow. Tow. Tow.

  • Is a lawsuit not possible in this instance? They’re breaking the law, they have a complainant, you, and refuse to do their jobs. Surely there are grounds for a lawsuit? I don’t think a lawsuit is a great way to get justice, but in some instances, they’re all you get.

  • losangelebicycleattorney.com

    File a govt claim. I’ll help.

  • ChrisLoos

    It would certainly seem like cyclists that sustain injuries after slamming into the back of the cruiser that they didn’t expect to be in the bike lane would have grounds to sue.

  • james

    The presence of the buffer may give them an easy excuse as they can claim that the buffer is the bike lane and a police force totally uninterested in the safety and lives of pedestrians and cyclists probably isn’t much interested in the issues relating to riding in the door zone. Someone needs to convince a local news station to report on this. Is there a local Stannly Roberts? It might take to some public shaming. On the other hand that might result in the LAPD getting Ladot to remove the bike lanes. Oh yeah, the solution is to not live in LA if you care about walking or cycling.

  • Jason King

    I have been frustrated by this for so long. If those who are supposed to enforce the laws are the biggest offenders (not to mention totally indifferent) then things are never going to change. Have you attempted to get an official response from LAPD or LADOT? I have reported this on their Twitters to no avail.

  • User_1

    I am the law and you’re not!

  • danger d

    Sent to the Mayors Office:

    Mayor Garcetti,

    When will something be done about this problem?

    Vision Zero 101: Bike Lanes Are Not Parking Spaces

    This is a persistent problem downtown and has been reported on many times.

    Now that you have announced your Vision Zero plan I think that it is
    time YOU inform the violating parties that this will no longer be
    tolerated in the city of Los Angeles.

    Nobody is above the law. Lame excuses and misuse of exemptions must
    be stopped and agency vehicles need to be towed at the OFFENDING
    OFFICERS expense until they learn not to do this anymore.

    If you will not do something about this then you should stop standing
    in front of cameras and announcing your support for the bicycling
    community.

    Put up or SHUT UP Mr. Mayor.

    Now is the time for action NOT words.

    You can have a press conference about this maybe?

    The people of Los Angeles are watching you.

    Sincerely,

    *My Name*

    Tax Paying Citizen of Los Angeles

  • ubrayj02

    It is important to note that Police-Americans can park wherever they like. It is part of the package of privileges they are entitled to. I don’t know that it is legal, or “fair”, but it is a fight we won’t win by asking them not to do it.

    Trash cans in bike lanes, cops in bike lanes, production trucks in bike lanes, construction closing off bike lanes, merging 45 mph car traffic in bike lanes. Painted bike lanes are a joke.

    Cycle tracks stop this from happening, but those won’t be here until 2035 at the rate we’re going.

  • calwatch

    On the other hand, if the cop car was blocking the car lane, would that be more acceptable? As for Homeland Security, like diplomats they are exempt from parking rules, and if you don’t like you can take it up with Washington. That is their attitude, as anyone who has dealt with the TSA can attest, and there is not much you can do about it.

  • Los Angeles Bikes

    Not more acceptable–exactly the same level of unacceptable. Sadly my bet is that If LAPD commonly parked cruisers in the multi-use lane then you can bet the local news would be all over it. THEN there’d be an up uproar.

    The cops realize, I’m sure, that they too are part of the social contract, and pissing off millions of motorists is a lot riskier for them than pissing off a couple thousand people that ride bicycles.

  • Evan G.

    I feel like a guerrilla installation of some semi-permanent dividers is in order.

  • tjknight

    That section of Los Angeles St. is on my bike commute into work and there are always people parking in the bike lane on the two blocks by the LA Mall and the parking entrance to City Hall East.

  • Steven White

    I’m happy to report that for the FIRST TIME EVER, I saw this particular section of lane without a government vehicle parked in it. Saturday evening around 8:30.

    The bad news, of course, is that there was still a car parked in the lane (off, but with the driver in it), and the cops around didn’t seem to care one bit.

    So I’ve yet to see the Los Angeles St. buffered lanes actually clear.

  • Mike

    I remember seeing a video a while back about a guy riding his bike directly into vehicles if they were parked in the bike line. It would be interesting to see how that plays out with LAPD if it were to happen here.

  • Mike

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzE-IMaegzQ

    Ok so more than just cars, but it’s reflective of how bike lanes are deemed insignificance nationwide.

  • It is corruption and should be treated as such

  • neroden

    In future, people need to (a) get the name and badge number of this criminal, and (b) file a crime report.

    This is criminal behavior by the “parking enforcement officer” and should be treated as such.

    Given the brazen criminal gang activity of the LAPD, I would only recommend doing this if you have a posse, with cameras running. They will be sufficiently intimidated by a posse that they won’t try to kill anyone.

  • neroden

    Homeland Security is not exempt from anything.

  • jennix

    How about we go down there and stage a protest one day? Why don’t we get enough bicycles to “stand” in the bike lanes between Temple and Aliso and just prevent any of these vehicles from parking in the bike lane? A whole day of pissin’ off people who go ’round ignoring the rules would be it’s own reward, but 100 or so of us getting harshed on by people demanding they be allowed to park illegally should be sufficient to draw out the local news crews.

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