The Case Against Bike Paths


(Anyone who was at last December’s Bike Meeting in City Hall witnessed a mini-shouting match between Enci Box and Councilman Tom LaBonge over whether or not there are "bike facilities" in LaBonge’s district.  Enci contends that a bike path is not a real facility, and she elaborates and explains that point here.  – DN)

Cyclists who get into a discussion of safe and effective cycling on the
streets of Los Angeles often encounter the wistful suggestion that "we
need Bike Paths!" and then the conversation is taken over by the world
travelers in the group who tell tales of Bike Paths from around the

As someone who was born in Hungary, grew up in Germany, and has
traveled extensively in Europe, Australia and North America, I’m
familiar with the many variations of "Bike Paths" that can be found
around the world and it’s from this point of view that I find myself
taking the lonely position that "Here in Los Angeles, Bike Paths are
not a ‘safe and effective cycling’ solution and in many cases, they are
a problem."

A Bike Path is a paved
and separate right-of-way path (also referred to as a Class I Bikeways
facility in California) and is, for the most part, intended as a
shared-use path for non-motorized traffic, in spite of the "Bike Path"
name. In other words, Bike Paths are typically open to pedestrians,
joggers, baby strollers, roller-bladers, dog-walkers and other
non-motorized users unless there is a separate path for their use.
(such as the Santa Monica Bike Path). The key element of a Bike Path is
that it is "separated" from street traffic by open space or in most
cases a barrier.

My objections to Bike Paths are based on my desire to ride safely, to
get where I need to go, and to ride on the streets in a city that
incorporates cycling as a transportation solution. I feel that the Bike
Paths designed and built in Los Angeles are unsafe, secluded, isolated,
disconnected from meaningful destinations, and show a municipal desire
to remove cyclists from the traffic mix. To top it off, they squander
the money set aside for Bikeways improvements with little if any
transportation mode-share benefit. If that isn’t enough, cyclists who
ride on Bike Paths ride at their own risk while cyclists on the street
enjoy the protection available to all Californians who are hurt on a
public road, sidewalk or bike lane due to the negligence of a

But my real objections against Bike Paths are based on what I
experience when I ride on the LA River Path, the Orange Line Bike Path,
the Chandler Bike Path, the Ballona Creek Bike Path and the Bike Paths
at the beach.

Here are the reasons for my Objection:

Safety:  In LA, the Bike Paths are often segregated from the
community with walls, fences and shrubbery that create a closed off,
hostile environment. The sound wall on the Orange Line protects the
neighbors from the sound of the Metro buses but it also means that a
cyclist who needs help can’t be heard by the community. The seclusion
is so effective that the Orange Line turned into a homeless encampment.
It was then that the community discovered that both the LAPD and the
Sheriff’s Department both thought the other agency was in charge of law
enforcement for the Orange Line Bike Path.

  • When one falls, gets injured, or has a medical emergency
    they aren’t able to call for help because the walls and fences shield
    their cry for help. 
  • When people are attacked on a Bike Path, there aren’t any witnesses and again, their cries for help aren’t heard. Rape, gang attack, punching, mugging, assault and murder are just a
    few of the incidents that happen on Bike Paths, and these incidents
    happen at any time of the day. Bike Paths that have chain link fencing,
    sound walls and landscaping that offers hiding places are not safe.
    Adding to the risk is the fact that if something happens and a cyclist
    uses a cell phone to call for help, what’s the address? Metro tunnels
    have markers, hiking trails have markers, why not the Bike Paths in LA?
    • Tom Ward, policy director for the International Mountain Bicycling Association, was sent to the hospital when a youth threw a
      bike in Ward’s path, sending him flying and breaking his hip. As Ward
      sprawled on the ground, his hip broken, the assailant hit him with a
      pole and threatened to kill him. The police responded by advising cyclists not to ride alone.
    • David Santor, a Ballona Creek regular, was "ambushed" as he rode the Bike Path in the late afternoon by four young men who
      threw him over the rail and stole his bike, leaving David battered and
      bruised and with broken bones. 
    • Another cyclist on Ballona Creek was riding at 1pm when he was attacked by two men who threw a bike at him and knocked him down, dosed him with pepper
      spray and then stole his back pack. When the cyclist went to the local
      police department, the officer taking the report kept asking "but what
      street were you on?" 
    • The
      incidents on the Ballona Creek Bike Path prompted the City Council’s
      Transportation Committee to get involved and it was there that I argued
      "Closing off access hardly makes it safer and would result in less
      traffic which will contribute to an even more unsafe environment."
      Councilman Bill Rosendahl and the LAPD chose to close the gates and to further
      isolate the cyclists. Closing off access hardly makes it safer and
      would result in less traffic which will contribute to an even more
      unsafe environment. Grrr!
  • If one feels threatened by a group of people, they don’t have enough
    room to turn around quickly or find a nearby exit to escape the route,
    which then can lead to any of the above mentioned incidents.
  • If the path is closed down, people have to figure out how to get to
    their destination on streets that they’re not familiar with.

Liability: In a clear demonstration of the City of LA’s
commitment to safe and effective cycling, the City of Los Angeles
fought all the way to the California State Appellate Court to have Bike
Paths declared "trails" and arguing that cyclists who ride on Bike
Paths "ride at their own risk" just as in other recreational pursuits.
The case involved a cyclist who was riding the Los Angeles Rive Path
and was injured by what he claims was a poorly designed gate. The City
avoided debating the design and maintenance of the Bike Path and
instead simply argued the "ride at your own risk" defense. Sadly, the
City prevailed. This means that the city is not liable for any injuries
that occur on Bike Paths. Maintaining the Bike Path, the lights, the
landscaping, the fences, the walls all become low-priority. (see Caution for the Arroyo Bike Path) Bike paths are
considered recreational paths, not transportation paths. (Now this
explains why they lead to nowhere.) California Government Code Section 831.4.

Maintenance:  Bike paths need special funding to be maintained.
Maintenance on Bike Paths includes illumination, removal of debris
(tree branches, trash, broken glass, etc.), fixing of fallen, bent or
cut fencing that stick out, repaving of broken pavement, removing of
obstruction, like shopping carts, dumped items or car parts that have
been left there (insert photo of LA River when car drove into path),
tree and bush trimmings, etc. If there is no funding, you are left
literally in the dark.
Of course, since the funding for Bike Path maintenance is in short
supply, it makes sense why the LADOT doesn’t want to be liable to
maintain it. I’m starting to make a connection here.

Destination: In LA, the Bike Paths are usually built where there
is right-of-way, not where they belong. This means that cyclists won’t
find Bike Paths that take them to employment centers, schools,
entertainment opportunities, museums, shopping centers, city centers,
or any of the other places that people in cars, on buses, on trains and
on foot go to on a daily basis. Don’t cyclists have places to go to? If
so, why don’t Bike Paths go there?

Design: In LA the Bike Paths are not "integrated" with traffic,
meaning that there are no triggers for traffic lights. One must become
a pedestrian to push the crossing button. Oftentimes, one has to
dismount when leaving the path to become a pedestrian to then mount the
bike again to get back into regular vehicular traffic. (What would
drivers say if they would have to get out of their cars when exiting
the freeway, push the car all the way to the end of the off ramp only
to then get back into the car, start it up and slowly turn into the
urban traffic flow.)

  • The curb cuts are diagonal at
    intersections, so that when one rolls off the path into the crossing,
    the front tire is actually facing into right turning traffic and of
    course pedestrians, people pushing strollers, and wheelchair users are
    competing for the same space in both direction, creating a jam at the
    small curb cut right at the corner of the sidewalk where most accidents
    happen with motor vehicle drivers.
  • Bike Paths such as the Chandler Bike Path sit in the middle of vast
    open space with no restrictions but the problem is that they squeeze
    traffic moving in both directions into a small area, often with tragic
    results. Two League of American Bicyclist (LAB) cycling instructors were riding on the Chandler Bike Path, only to encounter a roller blader coming
    the other direction. The collision left both cyclists with broken arms.
  • The Chandler Bike Path, even though it’s open to the environment, is
    still segregated from the neighborhood by landscaping and gates to the
    south side development. One can’t enter the path from the neighborhood
    without having to carry their bike over the high curb and landscaping
    unless they live at the major intersections.
  • Bike Paths, by design, are popular with families who are encouraging
    small children to ride. This creates a dangerous environment where the
    youngest and most vulnerable are at odds with cyclists who are riding
    fast to get to a destination. In other words, the separated benefits
    are also the liabilities. Of course, the faster cyclists could slow
    down but now it simply makes sense for them to ride on the street.
    Which is my point. Cyclists who want to get somewhere are better off
    riding in the street.

Closures: Secluded Bike Paths are often closed,
usually for reasons that are related to being…secluded. The Arroyo
Seco Bike Path is in the river channel, it gets closed when it rains.
The Ballona Creek Bike Path gets closed because of the crime. The Sepulveda Bike Path is built in a flood zone. Bike Paths will never be transportation solutions if they are closed without warning and without options for those who
use them.   Again, Los Angeles builds Bike Paths where they fit, not
where they are needed.

Cost: The 1.8-mile stretch of the San Fernando Road Bike Path,
from Roxford to Hubbard streets cost $4.2 million compared to bike
lanes that cost approximately $5,000 to $50,000 per mile (depending on
the condition of the pavement, the need to remove and repaint the lane
lines, the need to adjust signalization, and other factors). This means
that $4.2 million could cover between 84 to 840 miles of bike lanes in
Los Angeles. The City of LA’s current Draft Bike Plan proposes Bike
Lanes costing $4,202,687 and Bike Paths costing $152,303,135! Every
dollar spent on a Bike Path is a dollar that the city of Los Angeles
does not have to spend on a Bike Boulevard or a Bike Lane. Every dollar spent on a Bike Path is a dollar not spent on encouragement and education and enforcement.

Studies prove my point: Many studies have been done in Holland,
Germany, Denmark and even in the US, that suggest that segregating
cyclists actually increases accident rates.

A 1990 research found that "crash risk" for crossing the intersection on a set-back path are up to 11.9 times higher than when biking in a bike lane.

Here is an excerpt from Wiki about Bike Paths and accidents:

In Helsinki, research has shown that cyclists are safer cycling on roads with traffic than when using
the city’s 800 kilometres (500 mi) of cycle paths. The Berlin police
and Senate conducted studies which led to a similar conclusion in the 1980s.
In Berlin 10% of the roads have cycle paths, but these produce 75% of
fatalities and serious injuries among cyclists. In the English town of
Milton Keynes it has been shown that cyclists using the off-road Milton
Keynes redway system have on a per-journey basis a significantly higher
rate of fatal car-bicycle collisions (significantly higher rate of
fatal car-bicycle collisions) than cyclists on ordinary roads. Cycle
lanes and bike lanes are less dangerous than cycle paths in urban
situations but even well-implemented examples have been associated with
10% increases in casualty rates.

When I hear some of our leadership talk of Berlin and how great the
European bike facilities work, it makes me angry because our leadership
should do some research before they make any blind statements. Just
because they went on a bike ride during their vacation, it doesn’t mean
they don’t have to do the research before they spend millions of our
dollars on facilities that are unsafe, segregated, lead to nowhere and
end up being closed down. It is easy to do some research online, in any
language, to find out what works and what doesn’t.

I don’t expect the average commuter to do this research but I want them
to know what they are lobbying for and what their risks are. We need to
be able to differentiate between actual and perceived safety. A recent Copenhagen study
found that their newly built bike paths and bike lanes had negative
effects on road safety.

Segregation has never worked! Not in countries (I come from a communist
country, so I know that segregation doesn’t work), not in people
(women, people of color, sex and religion stood up and are still
standing up against being segregated and being treated differently not
equally) and not in our freedom to move about.

it engages in developing recreational pursuits, the City of Los Angeles
needs to commit to supporting all cyclists on the Streets of LA!

  • If we were all Tom LaBonge, we could cork busy motor vehicle intersections (such as Franklin Avenue near Beachwood) and the LAPD would not arrest us:

    Then there would be no need for quarreling about the definition of a bike path and all the lousy ways the city of L.A. (and councilmembers such as Tom) contribute to endangering riders’ welfare and then act as if they are not responsible for such results.

    In any case, I don’t believe I have ever seen Tom camera-hungry mug biking along the L.A. River from Los Feliz toward downtown, so he may not have any idea about what he’s talking.

  • Yellow_Bike

    You convinced me, Enci. I’m a regular rider of bike paths, especially the LA River one, and was prepared not to be persuaded by your argument, but you are right in every detail that I can verify.

  • DJwheels

    I’ve refused to take the L.A. River Bike Path for the last few months since they started the work on the extension from Fletcher Drive through the Elysian Valley. The path was closed off from Glendale Blvd. forcing southbound riders of the path to exit onto a narrow connecter road from Glendale Blvd. under the Hyperion Ave. overpass that is literally right at the onramp for the north I-5. There’s no signage alerting motorists to watch for cyclists at the foot of the onramp.

    Cars are generally speeding up on this road as they prepare to enter the on ramp. Moreover, there’s a huge pillar blocking motorists’ view of the bike path exit at this point. There’s very little space and time available for a cyclist to to exit the path and get up to speed on that connecter road and get out of the way of any oncoming traffic.

    The need for appropriate signage seems like a no-brainer to me.

    Oh well. Thank you, City of L.A. and LADOT, for putting me at danger.

    Google Maps

  • Thanks for the well-researched & thoughtfully written analysis of this issue. My dad has been riding bikes for over 50 years, and his worst accident was on a bike path! I do enjoy the separation from traffic on the Ballona creek bike ‘trail’, though if I was mugged by bandits, I might feel differently.

  • Brent

    The article is really well argued, but I have the sense that the objection is mostly definitional: bicycle “paths” are recreational, bicycle “lanes” are transportational. However, if the city built grade-separated bicycle lanes along major streets — Wilshire, Santa Monica, etc. — I can’t imagine that they would suffer from the same defects as existing paths.

    Too, it’s not clear to me that, in bicycle matters, “segregation has never worked.” Yes, badly done separation is a problem, but the extensive separate facilities found throughout Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan (and a few other places I’ve been) see much higher rates of cycling than we see here in Los Angeles. There has to be something about such facilities that encourages riding.

  • Very good arguments. But perhaps this should have been called “The Case Against Bike Paths as implemented by the LADOT” because in the case of Los Angeles it’s mostly a systemic issue of total lack of effort on the part of the LADOT to do anything about providing quality facilities for bike riders at all… Murder, rape, gangs, and homeless are a problem in the streets and alleys in far greater numbers… does that mean alleys should be done away with too? Really these crimes dont occur because a bike path exists… they occur because of the society we live in that provides next to nothing for education, social stability and so forth. It’s not the bike paths it’s society.

    The Copenhagen report on the study that you link lacks details and muddies up the results by including mopeds and motorized scooters as part of the findings – argue-ably motorized scooters dont belong on bike paths yet somehow they have found a place there. Crashes increased between cyclists/mopeds and cyclists/mopeds BUT the study showed that FEWER accidents occurred between cars and cyclists between the junctions which indicates that additional work needs to be done with junction navigation but was successful in the roads in between… is this something that is impossible to overcome? no.

    The argument also can be made that a new facility is going to confuse users until they are accustomed to it. In other words, how soon after implementation in the Copenhagen study were the new facilities being evaluated? It would be interesting to know. For example, the Orangeline when first implemented saw serious collisions between cars and the bus initially but then incidents died down as people got used to it and additional tweaks to infrastructure were implemented.

    At the end of the day, there are so many factors involved the only real indicator of success is to gauge just who exactly is using the bicycle infrastructure provided…. in the Netherlands their blend of bike paths, bike ways and streets with no segregated infrastructure has resulted in a high percentage of mode share. In the weeks I have spent “vacationing” there I encountered mothers with children in wheel barrow bikes, kids, adults, elderly people, business dressed… all using bicycles regardless of the data that alleges that their system is less safe. Their mode share and fatality rate destroys anything Los Angeles is experiencing AND people out there know and ride in a vehicular fashion because not every single street features a cycle track or bike lane.

    Cycling advocates ask yourself what will really make the streets safer for cyclists? Vehicular cycling will to a degree but it will also take, smaller cars, slower car traffic, more education, and a higher mode share. To encourage a higher mode share you have to increase the feeling of safety. To increase the feeling of safety the streets have to actually be safer and that means giving cyclists a place on the road that wont be crept into in the long run by aggressive car drivers. It’s a generational societal question. So far there is no city or country in the world that can afford car culture that has not been persuaded to drop car culture without providing facilities and education. When it happens I will become a believer.

  • Just to clarify my point about the motorized scooters not belonging on the bike paths – I mean to say that it is not legal here according to CVC yet somehow it has become legal in many areas of northern Europe. I found their presence on the bike paths and lanes to be dangerous and annoying as many of the scooters and mopeds were traveling at a high rate of speed compared to human powered traffic. several times I found myself cursing scooter riders who buzzed me out of the way. I dont know the logic behind allowing them to encroach on the bike lanes but apparently the law allows it in some places. If I were a resident of the Netherlands I would be pushing to exclude them as much as possible.

    Here in Los Angeles, I ride vehicular because it’s all I can do but I find myself being buzzed and pushed out of the way by gas powered traffic more often than not and as we all know, human nature is that if you have the ability to take space then you do. Car drivers have the utmost ability to push cyclists out of the roads and I’m curious what kind of educational dollars would be required to teach all of them to respect cyclist’s rights to the roads especially when the roads are so obviously designed for car traffic. Paint on the streets may not be the best solution, but it is the only solution that has been proven to increase overall safety of cyclists when compared to cities that provide no cycling facilities.

    in an ideal world people would not take advantage of their power… car drivers would yield to cyclists and not try to bully them, cyclists in rich countries would be riding bikes because they want to not because they have to as in many of the poorer countries such as communist china and hungary etc. in an ideal world powerful people would not need their boundaries defined for them they would just have the courtesy not to take advantage of their power. but when has that ever happened without a fight that resulted in boundaries being drawn? never. it has yet to happen in the battle between the powerful – car drivers and the weak – human powered traffic.

    paint on the streets or keep the status quo. The auto industry is pushing for the status quo for good reason.

  • Nicely put, Enci. I’ve actually only ridden on bike paths when I’m riding “recreationally”–to do a long ride or train, etc.–never to get from point A to point B. I also agree with Roadblock’s comment on placing an emphasis on education and mode share over focusing solely on facilities (paraphrasing). However, I had no idea there was so much crime on those bike paths. I always ride them alone, and now I’m a little nervous!

    Keep making us think, Enci!

  • gm

    great piece.

    it sounds like we need this NOW: a way to mark locations on bike “paths” that police will understand.

    it also makes me feel like the choice seems to be riding with traffic (scary, deadly cars) and riding on a hidden-from-view path (scary, deadly attackers). both of these suck.

  • Yellow_Bike

    Good comments. I’d like to second the idea that the argument against bike paths is not against bike paths per se but against isolated, poorly designed bike paths that go nowhere and get little to no maintenance. If Los Angeles has budget X for bike transportation, maybe paint on streets will get more riders on the roads than a new bike path.

  • I’ve noticed the big fear of the vehicular cycling crowd is that they think cyclist’s rights to the road will erode into nothing. This has never been shown to be the case in the Netherlands or in Denmark and other cycling utopias.

    The argument I and many others who advocate for (quality) cycling infrastructure is that evidence shows that cyclists do what they want because they can. by providing infrastructure with paint on the street is – even if it is not the safest option – puts drivers on alert that cyclists are a part of the traffic grid.

    Paint on the streets encourages new cyclists to come out of the woodwork thereby creating a larger constituency of voters who choose to ride by bicycle. That large constituency will not relegate itself to just the larger roads with bike lanes, it will creep and crawl onto all streets just as it exists in northern Europe where people ride everywhere they wish in vehicular fashion regardless. they signal they merge they ride in the correct direction. and The larger the constituency the more empathy drivers will have for those on bikes because it is very likely that they too ride bikes and would want the same courtesy afforded to them.

    you need PAINT to solidify the boundaries for cars not for bicycles. Bicycle riders are the weaker yet far more mobile and versatile individuals on the road. you can never keep them penned in with paint. not the case with cars.

  • I was going to disagree with you based on the title, but reading it all, you’re absolutely right.

    The intersections are the worst, because as you said, the curb cuts are diagonal and small.

    Speaking of said curb cuts, there was a lawsuit at one point against diagonal curb cuts. It was an ADA issue which claimed that the blind had no way of knowing which way to cross when presented with a diagonal curb cut (as not all intersections are standard squares). Instead, intersections should have two curb cuts, each one pointing straight across. I wonder what happened to that suit?

  • Thank you for a very thoughtful essay Enci.

    I think bike paths provide more benefit then harm however I agree that more emphasis should be placed on accommodating bicycles on the roadways through sharrows, bike lanes and improved signage.

    In regards to landscaping adjoining bike paths. I’m all for it. It makes my bike riding experience much infinitely more positive. I’m not fond of the asphalt and concrete bleakness of the Ballona or great portion of the L.A. River bikepath. The psychological and health benefits of green environments are well documented. In this urban environment it’s often difficult to find places to easily green and bikepaths offer great opportunity areas.

    In regards to safety, in places that are secluded perhaps more influence can be placed on things such as proper lighting, proper patrolling, call boxes and of course education on the part of police and planners. In addition where possible stripping or signage that indicates slower traffic should stay to the right or stay off.

    I admit the options are limited given the psychology of people but it beats throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    With warmth and appreciation,


  • Brilliant argument. I’m actually one of those people you mentioned who has travelled extensively, but routinely argues _against_ bike lanes. We can build all the bike lanes we want, but I don’t honestly believe that would encourage much more people to ride.

    Why? Cars move too fast in LA. They have too much room to roam. They scramble through too-big intersections to avoid too-long wait times. Streets are lined by huge buildings with vast “dead spots,” i.e. places where they interface with foot traffic–and there’s almost no foot traffic to interface with, since walking can be so unpleasant + unpractical. Who wants to walk or bike past the quarter-mile-long blank wall of a Target or Best Buy?

    We currently find ourselves with two speeds of traffic:
    1) normal (bikes, peds), and
    2) really freakin fast (cars).

    As long as this discrepancy persists, there will always be fear of danger (and rightly so), and therefore low bicycle ridership. Everything needs to become slower + denser in order to close the speed gap and give would-be cyclists more confidence. Sure, there are more bikes in Paris, but guess what–car traffic moves much slower there.

  • Regarding slowing down a high speed bicyclist in favor of access for a little kid with his or her parents, and older person, etc. – I think you’re being too extreme. I carry a heavy load with my kid in my bucket bike, and I want at-grade bike lanes on arterial roads so I can go 12 to 15 mph. If someone wants to bike faster, they should have the right to move with cars, but don’t exclude the non-fit from cycling facilities to convenience the 1% to 3% of the population out for sport or in shape to haul ass at high speeds on a bike.

    Other than that, I completely agree with the deficiencies of LADOT’s bike paths. That’s why I ride in the streets! It’s safer, faster, and more convenient. Cyclists surveyed countywide in 2002 preferred bike unfriendly roads over bike paths for the same reasons motorist do: because they take them where they need to go!

  • Also, let’s not forget that TRAFFIC CALMING and ROAD DIETS (both of which have been basically removed from the LA Bike Plan on many streets that can support them) are key to making an on-street bike facility work.

  • Excellent essay! Many of the points you make can also be found on “bike paths” in New Jersey.

    The only thing I would have done was put “Costs” first. The costs of bike paths are ridiculous when compared to striping bicycle lanes, even fancy protected ones now found in New York City.

  • Well, you had me until the last section.

    For your traffic safety argument against paths, you cite a 30yo study, a 20yo study and a 10yo study. Yes, old sidepath designs have safety issues but most of them have been or can be remedied. Contemporary, research shows a strong correlation between well designed bicycle specific facilities and bicyclist safety here in the US.

    The one recent study out of Copenhagen showed an increase in crashes after construction of cycle tracks but you forget to mention that there was a proportional increase in bicycle usage. It’s maybe not “Safety in Numbers” but this is not proof of a problem. Plus, there are things about Danish (Dutch and German) bike path/lane design that I don’t like and are rarely replicated with US projects today.

    Finally, you really killed it at the end with the rant against segregation. Yes segregation of people sucks and I oppose it but it has NO PLACE in a traffic planning argument. I personally prefer to keep my train traffic segregated from automobile/bicycle traffic, from pedestrian traffic and I think all would agree on that.

    Junk that last section and you have a great argument.

  • Bonbright

    Well said and written Enci. Too often reason and passion are foes. LaBonge is a seminal pedant.

  • Well… I agree with @roadblock and some others – in that I think, for the most part, you’ve made a compelling case not necessarily against bike paths, but against bike paths that are poorly designed. I think that a diverse network of bike lanes, bike paths, roadways, etc. can come together to serve various types of cyclists.

    In places like Davis and Amsterdam, an extensive system of bike paths can form an important component of the overall transportation system. Corridors including the LA River and Arroyo Seco won’t get us everywhere… but I certainly find them useful for bike transportation now and then.

    A minor correction – though you’ve accurately quoted the draft city bike plan… be careful quoting such a sloppy document! The plan’s cost assumption numbers are wrong (or at least don’t match the stated facilities in the plan.) My review of the cost numbers shows much higher total costs for bike paths and much lower total costs for bike lanes – which makes your point even more forcefully. You state above: “The City of LA’s current Draft Bike Plan proposes Bike Lanes costing $4,202,687 and Bike Paths costing $152,303,135” – these numbers can be found in section 6.1.2 on page 175 of the draft bike plan. That section includes per mile cost estimates for each type of bike facility.

    The draft plan includes 61 new miles of bike path at $2.64M/mile. 61*2.64M = $213.84M ($61M greater than the $152M value stated.) This bike path cost assumption appears to be just for flat miles – with no money for grade crossings… so it’s likely to be much more than $213M to built out the paths in the draft.

    The draft plan includes only 28 miles of proposed new bike lanes at $28K/mile. 28*28,000 = $784,000 ($3.4M less than the $4.2M stated.)

  • thetravelingsuper

    I grew up in the Northeastern US. Years before biking became popular, we had snowmobiles. Paths for snowmobiles became a problem as the sport grew in popularity. Today, you can ride a snowmobile from the Eastern tip of Maine to the Great Lakes in Western New York thanks to efforts of snowmobile riders.
    Like bikers, the snow riders waited around for the government to make trails for them. When it became apparent that the government didn’t really give a hoot, the snowmobilers took matters into their own hands. Through the efforts of many volunteers and snowmobile clubs, you can make the ride I spoke of.
    Perhaps it’s time for bikers to start making their own pathways like the snowmobilers did and making a place just for bikers where all can ride in peace and safety.
    It takes a lot or work and a lot of committment. I think that bicycling has grown to the point that there are people out there willing to put in the work and committment. If not, then stay as the government welfare child that you are and stop complaining.

  • Hank

    our river paths in LA have sooooo much potential if indeed the city had the balls to override Universal Studios and CBS studios for right of way along the river. currently Universal and CBS have a bunch of crap strewn about the public right of way. Imagine being able to ride from canoga park to downtown or perhaps long beach? how about a connector that leads to Ballona creek?

    alas, we have idiots and thieves planning our transportation system.

  • As a new cyclist and mother I get really stressed out when I hear people say that cycle paths are dangerous. LA cycle paths are not useful so I don’t use them often however if there was a path from my home to wherever I need to go I would much prefer that. I would ride more often and so would other mothers I know. Protected bike lanes would work better than the bike lanes that they have here too, but you don’t say that bike lanes are bad just because people can totally get doored because they are in the door zone. I also see lots of people using the strand at the beach all the time during the day and no one is being mugged or attacked there are no fences or walls that isolate it and a person can get from Malibu to Venice really easily and safely because lots of people use it moms and kids and seniors. It may not be a great way to go at night, but not that many people need to go to the beach at night.

    You said “Bike Paths, by design, are popular with families who are encouraging small children to ride. This creates a dangerous environment where the youngest and most vulnerable are at odds with cyclists who are riding fast to get to a destination. In other words, the separated benefits are also the liabilities. Of course, the faster cyclists could slow down but now it simply makes sense for them to ride on the street. Which is my point. Cyclists who want to get somewhere are better off riding in the street.” That to me implies that you don’t think me and my family are trying “to get someplace” just because we aren’t in a hurry. We have places to be and things to do. I personally think it would be better to encourage stressed out moms on to the cycle path with their kids than to have them racing from soccer to dance class to the grocery store in their SUVs. If kids aren’t used to cycling before they are old enough for their driver’s license why would large numbers of them decide to take it up later on.

    I can understand the cost issue, but LA is supposed to be a place where dreams can come true and I don’t like to limit my dreams based on money. Allowing my daughter to ride by herself safely to school alone when she is 12 or 13 is one of my dreams and I don’t think that is something I would be comfortable with with bike lanes and sharrows. I am also not okay with teaching her to ride on the sidewalks until she is fast enough.

    I really appreciate Roadblocks comments and I haven’t read all of the studies and all I know is that people who have cycle paths really seem to use them and like them, but his points are really great and I wish I could have said it as well.

    In imagining the future of cycling for my city I don’t see why there can’t be cycle paths for normal people and have cyclists who are faster choose to ride with cars. I don’t see why the city of LA can’t innovate and improve on ideas. If you know what the issues are with cycle paths why not try to solve them and make them awesome. I think better bike lanes are a good step but I think that they are a low final goal.

  • chris

    for years ive held the opinion that bike paths are a waste of time. people can(and do) commute fine in the street blah blah blah, but the other night i was heading to glendale and for the first time ever i really enjoyed the lack of traffic and stop lights(even on the poorly lit river path). i cant help but think how much quicker(and more pleasant) my 13 mile commute to work would be if it was along a bike path route. maybe some day there will be one? but for now, like other endangered things, we should appreciate what we have and do what we can to keep them(for the next generation of riders, or for the old folks. my 83 year old grandfather thoroughly enjoys the greenbelt near his house, rode his bike to his 60 year high school reunion which was like 15 miles away) but, if they get bulldozed tomorrow and the $$$ gets wisely spent elsewhere id be okay with that too.

    BTW, i ask many noncyclists what one thing would make them ride their bike(assuming they had a bike) to do small errands, and they said a bike path. lord knows we will never have bike paths up the wazoo, and those people i spoke with probably wouldnt ride there were. screw them, who cares about those people, right?

  • chris

    ps- i think a number of your arguments suffer from overly critical tunnel vision. especially this example of your argument is ridiculous. c’mon, seriously? children at risk from speeding cyclists? speeding cyclist go slower and carry less mass than a car traveling at “slow” speed. id rather have my kid hit by a 200lb speeding cyclist than a car going at half the speed.

    Bike Paths, by design, are popular with families who are encouraging small children to ride. This creates a dangerous environment where the youngest and most vulnerable are at odds with cyclists who are riding fast to get to a destination. In other words, the separated benefits are also the liabilities. Of course, the faster cyclists could slow down but now it simply makes sense for them to ride on the street. Which is my point. Cyclists who want to get somewhere are better off riding in the street.

  • advanced bicycle systems morphing to advanced small vehicle transit will do the trick.

    believe in magic!

  • The article is good, however I feel that it is not that bike paths should NOT exist, however you are right in saying that they are not to replace bikes on roads.

    I am not from LA (thank god) but I feel that cycle paths are great greenways that can cut out suburban sprawl between city and country, for transportation and recreation.

    I have also been to and cycled around Europe, and I was amazed at the arterial system of bike paths found for cycle commuters in the Netherlands. To get around the city, bike paths are useless, however to get into and out of the city, they can be greatly beneficial in reducing car travel for those who choose to live out of the city.

  • Segregation has never worked!


    Somebody call Holland — American wants their segregated bicycle facilities.

    some of the arguments make sense, but we’re just talking about priorities, here — it’s not an either/or situation, it’s how much money goes towards each. we need to pick the best solutions that can work into our overall plan for making it easy and safe for people to bike. simple.

    generally, i lean heavily towards on-street facilities, buffered, segregated, bike lanes — as opposed to ‘bike paths through the woods’. but those bike paths are often magnificent, and used heavily for commuting and recreational.

    we should be trying to achieve a non-motorized world. keep our eyes there, and make funding/project decisions based on achieving that goal.

  • Yellow_Bike

    One thing about bike paths is their political advantages. You can put up a plaque and name them after somebody. They photograph well. Adding miles of bike lanes or improving those that exist is not as glamourous. So to sell the idea of spending more of the budget on bike lanes, it would probably help to have a good set of metrics. That way the politician can claim, “I added x miles of y-rated bike lanes, leading to a z percent increase in ridership.” I haven’t heard that Los Angeles has spent a few bucks on having people sit at intersections and count cyclists. Would the LA bike community volunteer to sit at intersections like, say, Beverly and Glendale and count bikes?

  • Nancy

    Considering this argument, perhaps we should integrate pedestrian traffic with car traffic as well. Eliminate the unnecessary sidewalks and pedestrian signals. And as slower traffic, the pedestrians would ambulate at the right of the car and bike traffic. Then they simply navigate left and right by stepping into the appropriate lanes. Lets stop segregating the pedestrians.

  • I have probably made at least two thousand trips either on the Orange line bus in combination with my bike or entirely by bicycle next to the Orange line by pathway/bike lane and I have done this hundreds of times at night from about 11pm until about 12:30am.

    I adamantly disagree that this pathway should be considered dangerous. One of the reasons for my saying this is that when the light is triggered to cross an intersection either by the Orange line bus or by someone hitting the pedestrian button, the vehicle traffic is stopped from turning right or left and are kept far away from the busway or crosswalk. This is done by flashing lights that let drivers know that a bus is approaching and also several intersections have cameras that will flash a powerful light at drivers who encroach. Believe me I am not taking this pathway because I like to go slower than if I would ride in the street. I ride it because it’s more relaxing and safer than riding in the street. That’s right I said safer. I defy anyone to show statistics that would indicate that the Orange line pathway is in anyway less safe than riding in any street in Los Angeles. To the best of my knowledge no one has been killed by a Orange line bus to date either.

    As to the possibility of being helplessly trapped or accosted, I have found the most dangerous part of the route is going through Balboa park at night with a fox and on another occasion a rat startling me by running across the bike path directly in front of me, an owl taking flight several times upon my approach and rabbits (hey, didn’t they read the sign that this is for bicycles only!). This is in a area with no sound walls or fences and it within a few feet of Victory Blvd. Of course you will not likely find this kind of wild life when you stick to just riding the streets. Although I have heard that Volkswagen will start making the Rabbit again and there is that occasional Jaguar to look out for. But I would rather take my chances of falling of my bike or getting bitten from these animals rather getting hit by a three thousand pound metal Rabbit moving at 40 miles an hour.

    I consider the Orange line pathway to be a long recreational area or park with people walking their dog, jogging, roller skating, kids on tricycles and bicyclists who are mainly recreational, with a few commuting bicyclists like me.

    The costs of putting in a bike pathway next to a waterway or mass transit line gets back little in terms of increased bicycle commuting. One of the reasons which was mentioned is that they don’t usually get you where you want to go. There are two community colleges and a high school next to the Orange line bike path, along with Costco. But you can get there quicker if you just took the Orange line bus. I use the Orange line pathway, but from day one I’ve always thought it was a waste of money in terms of transportation. As a recreational path it has merits.

  • The big reason why many of the river bike paths are closed when it rains is that the County Flood Control District, not the City of LA or whatever jurisdiction it’s in, opens and closes the gates during the rain – and often doesn’t ensure that the path is clear before closing them, sometimes stranding bicyclists or at the very least forcing them to ride back to the previous “exit”. Bike travel is much different than car travel. While people take the San Gabriel River Freeway even though it directly serves zero major destinations, people won’t take the San Gabriel River bike trail because they don’t want to ride two or three miles out of the way.

    On the other hand, some of those meandering trails on the side of the road that you see in places like Valencia and Walnut are fine for both commuters and recreational users. In the morning you will see more commuters, in the afternoon and on weekends more recreational users. Since they parallel major streets you do have the option of using the arterial road, which of course has traffic zooming by at 55 mph, but may be safer because they also have wide lanes and no on-street parking. This gives riders a choice based on their comfort level.

  • I use the Orangeline bike path for commuting long distance to Northridge from Silverlake many many times. I usually take the redline to NH then ride to White Oak and cut up to CSUN but sometimes I begin my journey from Los Feliz Blvd. or Fletcher and ride to victory and then patch my way up to the chandler bike path through Burbank. I enjoy the ride and I enjoy the convenience. I’ve ridden mornings mid days, and as late as 2 or 3am. So far so good, but I can see the good reason for fear. It’s also true that a bicycle rider will encounter punks and gangsters harassing them on the regular old streets of Los Angeles. I know I have had to deal with assholes in dooleys rolling up and screaming something stupid like “get a job!” or whatever before they roar off back to Orange County after a night of drinking. I’m glad for the orangeline bike path and I hope the expo line has one too and the goldline and I hope someday the LADOT gets it’s priorities straight and start designing bike infrastructure that supports the rail system.

  • It’s pretty rad to see all the diverse opinions and perspectives on this issues – but Nancy FTW with the hilarious comment. I’m definitely for all types of facilities – including class 1 bike lanes – there are engineering and design challenges that come with them but doesn’t mean we should give up trying to make it work.

  • Yellow_Bike

    Nancy is right–the best solution would be to eliminate gates at railroad crossings and let people walk on the freeway–survival of the fittest will improve the breed. This is what the Ted Nugent listener in the dualie has every right to expect. Less cardio, more ammo–that’s the way to keep America’s gas tanks full.

  • Jason

    “I don’t expect the average commuter to do this research…but a recent Copenhagen study found that their newly built bike paths and bike lanes had negative effects on road safety.”

    I decided to go ahead and do the research, as this was often cited by VC’s as reasons to not build bike infrastructure.That same study showed ridership increased and that the “increase in accidents” was less than that of ridership. In other words, let’s say in April you had 100 people bicycling and 1 accident w/no bike facilities. In May, you have 1,000 people bicycling and 2 accidents w/newly installed facilities. That’s a 100% increase in accidents from the prior month…which is better? You see what I’m getting at?

    The studies conclusion states that the benefits far outweigh the risks, which is why it’s actually been used in Europe to add more cycle tracks, not remove them. We interviewed Soren Jensen, the studies author, to discuss this further. You can read it here:

  • Jason, thanks for putting the numbers in context.

  • “I have probably made at least two thousand trips either on the Orange line bus in combination with my bike or entirely by bicycle next to the Orange line by pathway/bike lane and I have done this hundreds of times at night from about 11pm until about 12:30am.

    I adamantly disagree that this pathway should be considered dangerous.”

    dennis, are you serious? You must be; you have taken the time to lock the caps in announcing yourself.

    The Orange Line racked up 32 (thirty-two) collisions in its first year. The 32nd was done on the very day the Orange Line celebrated it’s one-year anniversary.

    “To the best of my knowledge no one has been killed by a Orange line bus to date either.”

    I suppose being merely maimed is just fine, correct?

    Finally, you are a male, and an obnoxiously ignorant one at that. I too am a guy, and I like to employ my 6’3 scottish/brooklyn/alabama attitude as I see fit. As such, I get pestered by very few people. Even the cops know to not bother me (for the most part; I tend to inadvertently bait the stupid ones), whereas my wife (who is female, natch) rides Metro as well as bikes frequently— and as a result gets pestered a lot.

    Get out of your bubble, boy; there is a world far larger than the blinkered perspective you so whimsically present.

    There needs to be a far better bike plan than the scraps thrown out the window by those who view Los Angeles from their taxpayer-paid SUV fleet.

  • well-reasoned arguments, but i still think that we shouldn’t give up on them. they do need to be designed better though.

  • peteathome

    Correction – if you read the Copenhagen study carefully, you’ll see that while the number of bicyclists did increase on the infrastructures, the number of accidents went up more than the increase, so the “rate” of accidents increased. They mention this several times int he study.

    Regarding the LA paths – I lived in LA in the early 80s and commuted to work from Venice to Culver City on the Santa Monica trail and the Ballona trail. The Ballona trail was just as dangerous then – so dangerous I stopped using it. I can’t believe it is still so bad 25 years later.

    I eventually quite using part of the Santa Monica trail, too. There were a few spots where bicyclists entered onto the trail on ramps around blind corners. Too many near collisions.

    I eventually felt the streets were safer. Still do.

  • peteathome, I’m glad to see that you don’t have any problems at all with conditions the way they are now. i will be sure to tell my daughter about you when she turns 5 and gets her own bike to ride around the neighborhood. My mom will appreciate your success as well. I thought about you today while I was riding my 100+ lbs of cargo and bike to work. What a joy that you don’t have any problems riding on the street! Clearly the problems lie with little kids, older folks, and idiots who try to do work and shopping on their bikes.

  • peteathome

    Well, ubrayj02 – either your reading comprehension is less than your daughter’s or you just spout out without reading. My point is, in 25 years, basic problems on these paths, that were pointed out to all the relevant agencies, have not been touched making them less safe than the nearby neighborhood streets.

    Do you want your 5 year old or your mom to go riding down Ballona path, or even you with 100 lbs of cargo? Give it a try and get back to me.

    Or do you want your daughter or mom to get smacked by a bike going 30 mph down a blind ramp?

  • The law is the law and cyclists have a right to the road. I cannot fathom why since cars and bikes, cyclists and drivers, are as incompatible as it gets. Whether streets are reserved entirely for bikes or cars, I don’t really care.

  • Nathanael

    “Considering this argument, perhaps we should integrate pedestrian traffic with car traffic as well. Eliminate the unnecessary sidewalks and pedestrian signals.”

    Cars are exceptionally good at staying off sidewalks…. but not off of bike lanes… or out of crosswalks.

    I have found that on rural roads without decent sidewalks, the safest way to walk is to walk right down the middle of a lane in the opposite direction to traffic. The cars *never* fail to see you and they get the hell out of the way.

    There are places where the safest way to cross the road is against the light, or in the middle of the block, or diagonally through the intersection. :-P

    I’m not sure what the lesson of this is. Be very careful how you design things, I guess.

  • Bill

    Wouldn’t it be better to provide adequate security on segregated bike paths so that commuters can travel longer distances to travel into cities, and also improve safety on surface streets so that they can get to their destinations once they are there. The surface streets wouldn’t be safe even for motorist with no police to maintain law and order. Shouldn’t cyclist enjoy the same protections on their routes.

  • SG

    Just today at an intersection on the Chandler bike path, I was verbally accosted by a young punk who demanded to know if I was white & then yelled, “F*** you, Blood!!”(maybe because I was wearing a red cycling jersey?).  I guess my dorky cycling kit made me look like a gangster.  I am a pale white female who’s never had a problem on this bike path before, but now, I will probably never ride on it again.  I’d rather deal with cars than gangs.  I rode home on the streets, where I have at least a chance to get away if something happens.

  • Anonymous

    Does the Copenhagen study mention severity? I would rather have 100 tire bumps than one serious accident.

  • James

    The bicyclists themselves are most of the problem. They frequently ride at high speeds and out of control with no regard for the safety of pedestrians and joggers. While you may feel that a pedestrian or jogger should be walking on the right side of the path, or on the shoulder, there are no laws that require that this must be so. Just as drivers on the streets are required to yield to bicyclists and pedestrians, so too are bicyclists required to yield to pedestrians on the bike path. Your cyclist’s opinion on the right side of the road for a pedestrian or jogger is meaningless. Some of us prefer and feel safer on the left side of the road because it allows us to spot dangerous cyclists in advance and if possible step onto the side of the river. You have no business yelling or attempting to assault a jogger with your bicycle. If you attempt it, the clever and experienced ones of us will take your hand off the handle bars with swift blow to the bicep and if you try to hang on to the handle bars and resist you’ll be on the ground.

  • C Monroe

    There is a town in England that did this.

  • Here is the case for separate bicycle paths right here:

    Heavy truck and large bus tires are 12-ply steel cord and have about 100 psi of air pressure in them. If you are within 10 feet of one when it blows just the explosive force will blow you right off your bicycle and those 12-ply gators could take a life-threatening bite out of you too.


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