How Can L.A. Sheriffs Support Buses and Bikes Sharing Bus-Only Lanes?

Los Angeles bus-only lane signage. The bottom line states "BIKES OK" Photo: Marc Caswell
Los Angeles bus-only lane signage. The bottom line states “BIKES OK” Photo: Marc Caswell

On bus-only lane signage in Los Angeles, there is a little two-word section at the bottom that reads, “BIKES OK.”

Except when they’re not.

On May 24, bicycle commuter Mike MacDonald was riding in the “BIKES OK” peak-hour Wilshire Boulevard bus lanes. As he often does, MacDonald was recording his ride. He was cautioned by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy who stated, “You gotta let buses get through. This is their lane. You’re not even supposed to be in here right now.” He then instructed MacDonald to “be close to the curb.”

To his credit, the officer did not ticket the cyclist. MacDonald’s encounter is shown on his YouTube video and detailed in his article at Biking in L.A. In 2014, cyclist Marc Caswell had a similiar encounter where he was ticketed by a sheriff on the Sunset bus lane.

MacDonald filed a complaint with Metro, and actually received a response that went all the way to Alex Wiggins, Metro’s new Executive Director of Security, imported from Denver by Metro CEO Phil Washington.

Wiggins met with MacDonald earlier today. In an email to Streetsblog, MacDonald relates the meeting:

Mr. Wiggins wanted to meet on site at the location where I was stopped and scolded by a Sheriff’s Deputy.

On site, Mr. Wiggins explained to me that he supports and instructs Sheriff’s deputies to ticket cyclists who “impede” buses by using the lanes. He refused to discuss or reference any vehicle code basis for his direction to LASD to ticket cyclists using these lanes, saying that, “This is why we have a court system. If you disagree, you can take it up in a court of law.” Mr. Wiggins explained to me that he fully was aware of traffic law with regards to bikes because of his experience as a “bike cop.”

Wiggins followed up with an email to MacDonald that stated:

Thanks for today’s onsite meeting. I’m sorry we could not agree on the discretionary issue with regard to “impeding the flow of traffic,” but it was productive learning for me nonetheless. […]

There is no issue with regard to cyclists sharing the bus lane on Wilshire – cyclists are permitted – I think we agree on that point. That said, Metro cannot override the discretion of the deputy or officer who is conducting traffic enforcement. If the deputy/officer believes that traffic is being impeded in any way, then he or she can exercise their discretion to correct the situation. It is my understanding that the deputy did not issue a citation regarding the incident described below. It is not appropriate for Metro to dictate to LASD or LAPD when they can or cannot initiate contact with a cyclist using the lane.

Readers – what do you think?

Joe’s opinion: I bike and I ride the bus on Wilshire Blvd. I think bicycling there has improved with the advent of Metro’s peak-hour bus-only lanes – due to fewer cars and a much improved road surface. For years after the initial segment of the lanes opened in 2013, law enforcement appeared to be absent (see also SBLA coverage from 2015).

At that time, I inquired of Metro who was supposed to be patrolling the lane. Metro’s then-spokesperson Marc Littman responded that “LAPD is responsible for enforcement.” LAPD, however, did not respond to two email inquiries about the matter. Then, within a few months, L.A. Sheriff’s deputies began, or at least visibly stepped up, bus-only lane enforcement on Wilshire, mostly targeting scofflaw motorists.

All in all, I am glad to see that Metro and LASD are taking the bus lane more seriously – which is great for transit riders and probably also pretty good for cyclists (as we have fewer cars to contend with.) But it sounds like some clarification is still in order for how buses and bikes can share this facility, and how law enforcement should support our ability to do so.

  • Brad Stewart

    Police departments in LA should find something better to do. Have you seen the overtime these leeches rake in? People complain about high taxes. Here’s exhibit A.

  • Meanwhile, I cannot ride any train on Mr. Wiggins’ train system without seeing someone lying prone on a train or in a station. And this has noticeably increased under Mr. Wiggins’ tenure. I also ride buses in those Bus Lanes; the bicycles are not the problem, buses can go around them or bikes often do use intersections to pull in or hop on the sidewalk (illegal in unincorporated Los Angeles County) to let the bus pass. Motorists on the other hand?

  • Derek Hofmann

    Which bus was impeded?

  • 720 and 20 use Wilshire mostly.

  • Derek Hofmann

    Those are two bus routes, but which bus specifically was impeded? Who was driving it?

  • James

    Could it be that LASD is doing this because it pits cyclists vs. transit, thus splitting two usually allied interests? If they feel contrained in their ability to harass cyclists for riding in a safe location in a regular lane, even with sharrows, those who disagree with the theoretical right of a cyclist to a safe lane position are going to seek out this one situation where there is a potentialy popular argument against taking the lane or merely riding away from the curb/outside of the gutter – that being that a bus has 40+ riders and carries the vast majority of road users in this lane. I don’t believe there is a problem with the ability of existing cyclists and bus drivers to share these lanes. There are not easy to ride in, don’t seem safe, deter most cyclists and are unusable to the vast majority of potential new riders. These bike ok lanes are probably most popular with experienced bicycle commuters.

    I’m sure a few bus drivers have complained, but I am convinced that this is just the latest way that some officers express their disagreement with the legal and traffic engineering basis for safe lane positioning. I believe that some officers intend to continue doing this untill the law is changed to “ride the curb no matter what.”

    Last year I was told to leave the lane on sunset, just outside of downtown just before rush hour. There were no buses behind me. On another occasion was also told to get ouf the bike lane and pedestrianize myself closer to Echo Park – the officer apparently believed that bicycles have to leave the bike lane at an intersection and press a button. What the fuck, did this guy go to the police academy in OC or LB? This was well north of the rush hour bus lanes. I was in a bike lane, albeit a broken line weakly defined bike lane. I don’t live in LA and yet I’ve twice been harassed whilst riding on Sunset. I imagine there are many unreported cases.

    This was not the first time I’d been told by a cop to leave the bike lane, pedestrianize myself and press a button. I live in Fountain Valley and make almost all my trips by bicycle in FV, Huntinton Beach and Long Beach and this is near universal behavior from what I observe. Even when the bike lane is to the left of the right hand turn lane, every cyclist around here gets out of the bike lane to press a button. This happens regardless of whether there is a loop detector in the bike lane or not – there usually isn’t one, but there is almost always a car to activate a loop detector.

    I feel like I’m the only person around here who knows what a loop detector is. . Some cities like Fountain Valley refuse to use any loop detectors in bike lanes even brand new bike lanes which sit to the left of right hand turn lanes. Of course loop detectors that detect all vehicles are pretty rare around here, even on repaved or redesigned intersections. I can’t go anywhere without being reminded of my third class status in this sun bleached idiocracy. “Get to the curb” seems to be the only thing LB/OC cyclists, engineers and law enforcement think of when they think of riding a bicycle

    The other day I sat outside Recreation coffee in LB, which faces the intersection of LB blvd and one of the protected bike lanes, and about half of the cyclists I observed moved over to the cross walk to press the fucking pedestrian beg button. In LB’s over-rated and over-hyped “protected bike lane”! – you know the one this is cut off from any parallel feeder streets to the south by intersections that are too difficult or confusing for most cyclists and require VC techniques to navigate.

    Last year a Huntington Beach cop rolled up on my right and yelled at me “you have to press the button!” ; while pointing at a pole on the curb with a second cross-walk button apparently located for bicycle riders near the curb. I was sitting in a bike lane to the left of the right hand turn lane waiting for a green light. That particular bike lane is without loop detector but there were cars to my left who shared with me their superior right to cross the intersection. There was no need for me to move over into the right hand turn lane which into contlict with cars rolling through a right hand turn on red. Was he confused about the law or using a misinterpretation of the law to harass me because he was in a bad mood or hates cyclists?

  • Remember when…

  • jamesjamonsta

    Mr. Wiggins gets an excessively large eyeroll.

  • calwatch

    Erik, as you know the recent Ninth Circuit court decision on homeless people and people that appear homeless has put the kibosh on cops doing anything to handle this issue. No one seems to want to drag the necessary mental health professionals that might be needed should one of those people you are trying to wake up act incompetently. We talk about this locally in Pomona where a homeless encampment next to City Hall has kept growing. It’s a systemic problem.

  • calwatch

    Unfortunately, the problem with the “FTP” attitude is that good people WON’T be cops because they don’t want to deal with that shit, which only exacerbates the problem. I’d rather pay good money for good cops that treat their job to serve the public, rather than lower standards and get people like Rafael Perez planting evidence.

  • calwatch

    Bus/bike shared lanes are a recipe for conflict, in my mind. I’ve mentioned in comments numerous times how adding bike lanes and “road diets” on streets like 7th, and eliminating one of the few bus lanes in the area on Spring and Main have slowed down buses dramatically. Transit advocates handwring over the double digit decline in Metro ridership, but I think a lot of the short trips have moved over to bicycling, because it’s a lot more reliable than transit.

    As a courtesy, slower bicyclists should move to the side and let buses through. On Sunset Boulevard during Dodger games on several trips, buses will toot their horn (a short toot preferably, at times a few seconds) to try to clear bicyclists out of the way, especially those in single speed cruisers trying to go up the hill to Elysian Park Avenue. There aren’t many pedestrians on Sunset so bikes can use the sidewalk there.

    Wilshire has many more pedestrians and driveways in use so bicycles are in a no win situation – bike in front of a bus which is trying to make its aggressively written schedule, bike in the sidewalk and risk conflict with cars leaving driveways and pedestrians, or take the entirety of a regular traffic lane. Bike advocates argue that Metro should just lengthen schedules to be on time more, but if you do then many times the bus will sit there waiting for the clock to catch up, which pisses off another subset of transit riders who don’t understand why “high quality transit” needs to run on time. https://twitter.com/jessica_meaney/status/689164526424424448 I suppose you could widen bike/bus lanes to 16 feet to allow a bus to safely pass a bike on the left (11 feet for a bus + 3 feet clearance + 2 feet for the bike) but the bike is now riding on the gutter line, and many bicyclists don’t feel comfortable riding there. It’s a math problem, which many planners and advocates need help understanding.

  • Except this is inside the fare gates which Metro leases from Cubic for over $300,000 per month. No fare check? Then why am I paying to ride?

  • michael macdonald

    A courtesy isn’t a courtesy if it is mandated. It’s only a courtesy if it is the choice of a person to perform it. I don’t think anybody who knows me or has seen me riding would make any complaints at me about a lack of courtesy for other road users.

    I’ve never heard of a driver getting a ticket for pulling up to a red light in the right lane with turning drivers behind them. I’ve also never head of a driver getting a ticket for stopping in front of a driveway that another driver was trying to exit. Law enforcement aren’t on the street to enforce courtesy, they are specifically there to enforce the law.

    If there is an actual concern from Metro or transit riders that people on bikes are impacting bus service in these lanes, they should lobby for safe segregated accommodation for people on bikes. Personally, I ride at about the average speed of a bus in these lanes and don’t find myself in conflict. Protected bike lanes on Wilshire would be another option, but it falls on LADOT and the City for choosing to minimize impact to drivers of single-occupant vehicles in implementing peak-hour BRT with this specific road configuration, not individual bike commuters for the hand they’ve been dealt.

    While we met on site, Mr. Wiggins called Wilshire Blvd in its current configuration a “complete street.” So long as there is no place on the road that people on bikes can occupy without inviting the ire of Metro and law enforcement, this boulevard is far from complete.

  • And he seems to like having LASD go after the low-hanging fruit while ignoring the Elephants in the room.

  • calwatch

    The issue is that bicyclists want to use Wilshire specifically, and not parallel streets. There is a fundamental disconnect in the bike advocacy community and for riders. Some say that they would rather ride on parallel, lower traffic streets, provided that treatments were made for them (i.e., the bike boulevard on 4th is useless because you have stop sign controlled intersections where cross traffic doesn’t stop, but if they did, they would use it) vs. those who want to ride on the same arterials cars use since they are going to destinations on those streets.

    I would agree with you and disagree with Wiggins that Wilshire is not a complete street. However, with the competing demands for bus traffic (40+ buses/hr at peak), bikes, cars, peds, and parking (during middays and weekends), there isn’t enough space to accommodate all of these uses.

  • And he seems to like having LASD go after the low-hanging fruit while ignoring the Elephants in the room.

  • michael macdonald

    Nope, the issue is legal use of the road as configured and Metro-funded LASD enforcement of personal opinion rather than the law.

    My understanding is that — in designating these lanes — LADOT wanted to improve both the commutes of transit riders as well as people on bikes. I’ve not experienced conflict here, but where there is conflict, it is only because LADOT’s compromise was to combine these uses rather than impact the use of the #2 or #3 travel lanes for drivers of single-occupant vehicles. Again, if they want to change that based on some complaint from Metro, it is within their authority to do so, but you can’t remove the right for people on bikes to use Wilshire without converting it to a freeway.

  • calwatch

    I disagree with you. However, transit reliability is dropping dramatically, and while you may be able to do 15-20 in the “bikes ok” lane, I can’t (my average speed tends to be around 10-12 mph in flat terrain). Perhaps we black out “bikes ok” on bus lanes and put sharrows on the second lane of Wilshire Boulevard (which actually is the proper place for bicycles to be when the BRT lane becomes a parking lane, to avoid being in the door zone). I’ve been on enough Dodger Stadium Expresses to know that some bicyclists don’t move out of the way, even when they could, thus causing buses to weave around them in regular traffic.

  • Joe Commuter

    For long distance trips (between westside and DTLA) I average the same time traveling on Wilshire as I do on 4th St-6th-san vicente combo. The reason? While I can reach higher top speeds on Wilshire, it has has traffic signals (and a surprising number of inclines). I travel slower on 4th st but rarely come to a full stop (just have to deal with bumpy ride due to poor surface conditions on 4th).

    Now and then I use Wilshire because it’s more convenient, and the buses never have a problem switching lanes to pass me. If I can anticipate a bus, I might move over slightly to the right so that the bus can straddle the bus lane and the general travel lane rather than fully switching lanes. Anyway, this is all to say that I never have trouble negotiating with the buses. We do leap frog at bus stops but the bus drivers are generally very good and give enough space when passing.

    Officer can exercise discretion, but they can’t make up laws. No law is being broken here. and no bus is being impeded for that matter. Curiously, the sign says bikes can travel in the lane but does not say that motorcycles can use the lane. Would a police cruiser be able to ride in the bus lane even if there is no emergency? Seems like the officer is doing something he isn’t supposed to do, not the bicyclist.

  • CalRobert

    So they’re gonna start ticketing the slow-ass buses when they’re in the way too, right?

  • CalRobert

    File Transfer Protocol?

  • User_1

    Holly crap! I’ve got to take Wilshire today too (Saturday)! F it! I’m arguing that I saw a sign that said BIKES OK. That’s my argument and I’m sticking with it.

    (To this day I don’t have a clue what sign is stating! :-)))

  • LAguttersnipe

    None of this is new you guys, the LASD has always been terrible on the bike law. The conflict is with anyone cycling and the LASD not so much Metro/LADOT. Don’t forget that these Bus Only lanes are permeable for right turns, the 720 will take the middle lane at multiple places to pass cars waiting to turn right. Also the Purple Line construction has cut the lane from Highland to Cloverfield.

    I’ve used Wilshire for the past 3 years everyday, never had any conflict with any Metro buses, before the Bus Only lanes and after they were installed. Go race a 20 or 720 from BH to Western at rush hour, you will leap frog all the way until the bus gets stuck behind some asshole double parked or turning right. Thru the “dead zone” La Brea to Crenshaw the 720 will almost always take the middle lane, not the bus only lane.

    I’ve called LAPD Wilshire about their lack of enforcement when Metro’s blog claimed they were the department in charge of enforcement. The only active enforcement I’ve seen from LAPD is in front of LACMA where the officers are out of their cars on foot casually pulling cars over who use the Bus Only Lane to pass traffic backed @ Fairfax.

    Bottom line is LASD desperately needs the bike training that LAPD gets.

  • michael macdonald

    Sharrows on Wilshire. The solution to make bike commuting safe and accessible that you would only hear suggested in Los Angeles. :D

    Agree to disagree but appreciate the civil dialogue.

  • calwatch

    On Saturdays, it’s a parking lane and single occupancy vehicles can use it. So you would be in the clear regardless.

  • It’s not a Parking Lane in Hancock Park and don’t forget the Wilshire/La Brea Station decking detours.

  • neroden

    The problem is that if good people try to be cops, they get treated like Joe Crystal, Frank Serpico, Adrian Schoolcraft, etc. There’s a criminal gang running many police departments and they will attack any good guys who try to join the department.

    Only way to fix it is to arrest the cop gang leaders and fire all the gang members.

  • marshmallowbudgie

    720 rider for 6/7 years now: the “bus” lanes are still packed with cars struggling to merge left or waiting for the crosswalk to clear so they can turn right
    it only clears up when the other lanes do–and since the NABIs have so much less takeoff than the other vehicles that doesn’t even matter
    it’s the 405 widening all over again

  • Then you are admitting to not coming to full stops at the numerous stop signs on 4th? And you don’t encounter the steeper climbs by Wilton and Hudson? How does one cross parkways like Highland where David Ryu and predecessors have blocked the adding of a crossing signal?

  • The problem with the road engineering profession’s continued assumption that there are these “parallel, lower traffic streets” is that this thing called Waze came along, nearly 5 years ago, and permanently effed up that premise.

    And “provided that treatments were made from them” is the other missing piece of the puzzle. Four-way stops at the bottom of gullies, no means to cross high-volume streets except to get off the bike and aggressively invoke the California pedestrian right of way, concrete streets last laid 90 years ago and traffic signals that do not detect even large steel bicycles are just some of the examples of the long list of hazards the bicycle user must endure.

    Oh, but hey look, a bike route sign and sharrows!

  • scottmercer

    They’re carrying up to 100 people and your car carries one person. They should NEVER be ticketed unless they crash into something.

  • scottmercer

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been passed up by a bus arriving too early (I’ve seen it from a distance…before I reach the stop but too late to catch the bus…and I was five minutes ahead of schedule, as recommended). Buses damn better wait to adhere to the schedule.

  • CalRobert

    I may have been unclear.
    I meant when the bus is in front of me while I’m on my bicycle and going slow as hell. I’d never drive in the bus lane. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    I also agree the bus should not be ticketed, but just trying to call in to question the near-universally held notion that bikes are slowing the bus down, and not the other way around.

  • Joe Commuter

    I’m also admitting to stopping at the red lights on Wilshire, sheesh! I do a California stop, like everybody else on 4th St. Not saying it’s ideal. Cross Highland by either waiting for a gap or asserting myself as a pedestrian until Ryu does something to improve conditions.

  • calwatch

    And that’s the problem. If you add time to the schedule because of volatility caused by bike traffic, then 20-30% of the time when it’s not needed, the bus is sitting at a stop waiting for the clock to catch up, and transit riders like Jessica Meaney complain that it’s not “high quality transit” (not singling her out here specifically, just explaining the perspective of a rider). If you leave schedules the way they are, then buses end up being 30% or more late, as is currently the case on many Metro urban routes, and because they are late they start bunching, which decreases reliability and rider experience further as they are on stuffed buses leapfrogging empty ones.

  • calwatch

    In my mind, transit > bikes, always. Transit is carrying more people, and transit is carrying people who otherwise couldn’t get around, physically or cognitively (i.e., my mom who gets freaked out in a car over traffic, and bikes on the sidewalk at a runner’s speed just to avoid cars). On the hierarchy, pedestrians would be at the top simply because it’s the most basic form of transportation, transit, bikes, and cars.

  • How can the LASD support buses and bikes sharing the “bus-only” lanes? By enforcing the law, not making it up. The law for impeding indicates that there have to be five vehicles being held up, not just one.

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