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Bicycle Awareness: For Those in Power, Ignorance Is Still Bliss!

Law enforcement officers are fond of quoting the popular standard "ignorance of the law excuses no one" when dealing with the public but when faced with an accusation of scofflaw behavior, suddenly ignorance is a solid defense.

Photo: Barleye

The LAPD officers responsible for the blocked Bike Lane pictured above are going to have a hard time explaining why they were out shopping on Sunset Blvd. instead of protecting and serving, but as for the illegal parking job, it’s not their fault. They merely need to plead ignorance and then point to the DMV.

After all, the DMV’s “Wilco Tango Foxtrot” interpretation of the California Vehicle Code specifies “You may park in a bicycle lane if your vehicle does not block a bicyclist and/or there is not a "No Parking" sign posted.”

From the top down, the State of California and the City of Los Angeles need to get together and embark on an education program directed at those in charge, those responsible for operating this state and this city.

Between the DMV’s car-centric creative interpretation of the law and the CHP’s complete ignorance of the rules of the road as they apply to pedestrians and cyclists, it is apparent that the real opportunity to make our streets safer for everybody is to start with those in power.

Last year, the LAPD developed a Bicycle Awareness training program for its officers that firmly established the rights of cyclists on the streets and replaced “ride to the right” with “ride where it’s right” as the principle for lane positioning.

Bike Activists were given the opportunity to participate in the development of the program and the Cyclist/LAPD Task Force was optimistic that the Bicycle Awareness training would have a significant impact on the streets, turning LAPD officers into partners, not adversaries.

Unfortunately, the mandate to participate in the training program was not as significant as the promises made to the cycling community and it is now easier to find officers who have never heard of the program than it is to find officers who have participated and who understand the concepts.

Just last week, a LAPD Supervisor responsible for special events went into a tirade over “cyclists who impede traffic by taking up the whole lane” and “cyclists who ride side by side.” The street that he was referring to, San Fernando Road, has two lanes in both directions with a left turn pocket in the center. This LAPD Supervisor needs to engage in some Bike Awareness training before he spreads any more mis-information about cyclists and “impeded traffic.”

Photo: Stephen Box
The DASH bus operator pictured above was headed north on Vermont Avenue when he came up behind me and my wife as we rode our bikes in the curb lane. Instead of dropping behind us to pull to the curb, this guy honked from behind, then pulled alongside on our left, “asserted” himself and moved to the curb in the direction of his bus stop.His willful violation of CVC 27001(a) and CVC 21750 clearly demonstrate that this “professional” bus operator is either ignorant of the law or a scofflaw, in either case, unfit for service.

The City of LA’s Department of Transportation is responsible for operating a fleet of 400 buses that provides 30 million trips per year aboard the DASH, the Commuter Express, Cityride, Shuttles and Charter services.

Simply training the operators of those 400 buses on the rights of cyclists would make the streets safer but that Bicycle Awareness program never made it out of the hands of the LAPD.

Passing a cyclist is no cause to honk, in fact it distracts the cyclist at the worst possible moment, in this case as the operator is about to illegally and unsafely force the cyclist from the road in violation of the prohibition against “interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle.”

Complaints to the LADOT typically result in an obtuse explanation of the Byzantine network of contractors who operate the LADOT’s transit system, one that allows the City of LA to avoid responsibility for educating its bus operators on Bicycle Awareness.

photo by victim of Metro Bus Operator
LA County’s Metro is the largest operator of buses in the region and it still has a training manual that instructs its operators to sound the horn for “cyclists and other road hazards.”The Metro’s Chairman of the Board is LA’s Mayor Villaraigosa and LA controls three other seats which are filled by City Councilman José Huizar, Richard Katz, and Mel Wilson. In other words, the City of LA has a tremendous impact on the operation of the Metro and a tremendous responsibility for its performance.

Perhaps its time to share the LAPD’s Bicycle Awareness program with the Metro!

Photo: Daily News
LA’s Department of Water & Power moves a lot of equipment through the streets of Los Angeles, relying on a combination of staff and contractors to operate its fleet of trucks.The incident pictured above is still being debated by LA’s policy makers and City Attorney, resulting in a clear demonstration of the need for greater education and an understanding of the rules of the road. Are crosswalks an extension of the sidewalk? If so, can cyclists ride in the crosswalk? If not, how do we explain the Orange Line Bike Path?

Through it all, once the debate is put aside, the important thing to remember is that the City of LA operates huge pieces of equipment on local neighborhood streets that are surrounded with homes, populated with families, and filled with pedestrians and cyclists who have as much right to the streets as the professional vehicle operators moving the City of LA’s equipment.

Photo: Stephen Box
LA is a company town and our neighborhoods are Hollywood’s backlot. That’s one of the things that makes LA such a magical city.But the people who issue film permits don’t seem to realize that a Bike Lane is a traffic lane, that it is not simply an extension of the parking lane. Most importantly, Trucks that are 8’6” wide don’t fit into a parking lane that is 7’ wide.

The City of LA issues film permits and retired LAPD officers in uniform provide traffic control for the film shoots begging the question, “Who is responsible for their training and education?”

The film shoot pictured above should have lane closure and traffic control so that cyclists riding downhill on Sunset get the same respect that motorists would get if the lane ahead were closed.

Photo: Stephen Box
Some of the greatest threats to a cyclist have nothing to do with the operators of large vehicles and everything to do with those responsible for repairs and maintenance.Detours that appear with no warning, manhole covers that aren’t flush with the surface of the street, cracks between asphalt and cement bus pads, gutter pans that aren’t flush, poorly positioned water mains, divets from special event equipment, and drain grates that run parallel to the curb are all deadly road hazards for cyclists.

For all the promise of Eurotopian Bikeway engineering, the real opportunity to engineer our streets for cyclists is to start by educating those responsible for maintenance and repair of our streets on the needs of cyclists and on the difference between a Hummer and a Huffy.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has embraced cycling as a viable mode of transportation and has committed to supporting cyclists with the full force of his Mayoral authority, directing City of LA department heads to partner with him in making LA a Bike Friendly city.

If he is serious about his commitment, he’ll make Bike Education a priority and he’ll start by educating the City Family on Bicycle Awareness, from the LAPD to the DWP to the LADOT.

Imagine 40,000 City of LA employees going about their business with a new sensitivity to how streets work, to the rights of cyclists, to the repair, and maintenance of streets so that they are safe for everybody.

For all the talk of “40 miles a year” of Bikeways improvement and millions of dollars in Measure R money, the real opportunity to move LA forward immediately is to embrace Bike Education, for cyclists, for motorists, for the LAPD, for the engineers, for the policy makers and the pothole fillers, so that the people who use the streets understand how to integrate cyclists into the traffic mix.

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