North Figueroa Bike Lanes: Public Safety Reps Against Public Safety Project

Los Angeles Police Department Captain Jeff Bert testifies against North Figueroa bicycle lanes at Councilmember Cedillo's Bike Lane Community Meeting on May 8, 2014
Los Angeles Police Department Captain Jeff Bert testifies against North Figueroa bicycle lanes at Councilmember Cedillo’s Bike Lane Community Meeting on May 8, 2014. Photo via Fig For All Flickr

At last week’s North Figueroa Street bike lane meeting there was a contentious debate. Cyclists are urging installation of road diet bike lanes to improve safety for all. Bike lanes were approved in the city’s 2010 Bike Plan; L.A.’s Transportation Department (LADOT) studied the lanes extensively, and appeared to be on the verge of installing them. Then a new L.A. City Councilmember was elected.

Though Councilmember Gil Cedillo expressed verbal support for the lanes during his election campaign, he subsequently stepped away from that commitment and is nixing the bike lanes and instead proposing to install sharrows on a circuitous bike route that roughly parallels some portions of North Figueroa.  

Councilmember Cedillo summarized the meeting in his email newsletter, stating:

On Thursday over 350 residents attended a spirited community meeting hosted by Councilmember Cedillo at Nightingale Middle School in Cypress Park to hear input on LADOT’s proposed bike lanes for North Figueroa Street (from Avenue 22 to Avenue 52, in Cypress Park, Sycamore Grove and a portion of Highland Park). The proposal would remove one of two southbound traffic lanes (“a road diet”) on North Figueroa Street.

Councilmember Cedillo heard thoughtful input from stakeholders. Testimony was also provided by Captain Ed Elguea, LA Fire Department Fire Station 44, Captain Jeff Bert, LAPD Northeast Station, Sergeant Luciano Meza, LADOT Traffic and R. Scott Page, LA Metro Operations Planning Manager, Service Planning. These Los Angeles City Department representatives expressed concerns of increased traffic congestion if the southbound traffic lane is removed as proposed by LADOT.

While it’s common for bicycle, and other transportation, facilities to be subject to political pressures, cyclists were disturbed that representatives from the city’s police (LAPD) and fire departments (LAFD) expressed opposition to the bike lane project. 

Here’s an example of the public safety testimony, which has been posted on YouTube: LAFD, LAPD. Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Elguea stated:

From a professional opinion, this [North Figueroa bike lane project] will slow down our response time.

City public safety officers spoke in opposition to a public safety project.

What’s the evidence? Do bike lanes actually pose a threat to public safety? Do road diets threaten public safety?

Thanks to L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee chair Jeff Jacobberger for tracking down relevant city documents. See the full text of Jacobberger’s communication to Cedillo posted here

LADOT studied the North Figueroa bike lanes extensively, and concluded that they “would not impede emergency access.” As part of its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) documentation, LADOT studied the project and stated:

The implementation of the proposed projects would not impede emergency access. Bicyclists would follow the same protocol as vehicles in surrendering the right of way to emergency vehicles. The design of all bikeway facilities will be governed by the Technical Design Handbook and applicable federal, state and local guidelines. The proposed projects would comply with all City of Los Angeles fire department requirements. Less than significant impacts to emergency access are anticipated.” (Initial Study [PDF], page 25.) [emphasis added by Jacobberger]

LADOT spent time and money analyzing how North Figueroa bike lanes could impact emergency response. During that process, LAPD and LAFD were notified, and neither LAPD nor LAFD expressed any official concerns. The final approved LADOT study documents concluded that there weren’t any significant adverse impacts.

There are numerous examples from elsewhere, too. 

LADOT has done several road diet bike lane projects, including 7th Street, Spring Street, Main Street, Rownena Avenue in central Los Angeles. Road diets have been implemented on Colorado Blvd and York Blvd in North East Los Angeles. Many of these projects have been done on streets that are home to LAPD and LAFD stations. Neither LAPD nor LAFD have raised response time concerns with any of these on-the-ground improvements.

NYC bikeway opponents predicted an emergency response crisis, but response times there improved.

In the discussions over implementing road diet bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard, Walk Eagle Rock posted a very apt analysis of the emergency response time issue. Below is an excerpt:

Bike Lane Concern #5: “Reducing the number of lanes available to motorists to create bike lanes will hurt emergency response times!” and “We need to maintain the number of lanes available to motorists so that we don’t delay emergence responders!”

  • Naturally nobody wants to delay emergence responders and potentially risk losing lives because people can’t get medical attention quickly enough. It is very understandable and commendable to have safety be a prime consideration. However, perhaps this concern is a little overstated, let’s explore why. Firstly, the local Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Station on York Boulevard has not raised concerns to the LADOT about being able to respond to emergencies. In Downtown LA, at the request of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the LADOT will remove a bike lane on 1st street. If there were a significant impact on the ability for emergency responders to reach their destinations because of bike lanes on York Boulevard, the LADOT would remove the bike lanes immediately.

  • Also, as noted by Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do and What It Says About Us, generally speaking any time saved by emergency responders by not implementing a traffic calming measure is negligible. In fact, Vanderbilt notes the status quo is likely more dangerous– as he succinctly puts it “speeding cars have surely claimed more lives than speeding responders have saved.” If we turn to York Boulevard again, we see what bike lanes may mean for Colorado Boulevard. The number of crashes on York Boulevard went down following the implementation of a “road diet” that reduced the number of travel lanes available to motorists. Part of York Boulevard went on a “road diet” in 2006 and utilizing traffic collision data available through UC Berkeley’s Traffic Injury Mapping System one will note that from 2002 to 2005, there were 92 crashes on the section of York Boulevard that would eventually go on a “road diet.” From 2006 to 2009 that same stretch of York Boulevard saw only 61 crashes. Comparing pre- and post- “road diet” data on York Boulevard show additional safety benefits.  The number of misdemeanor and felony hit-and-runs are on a decline and as are the collective number of visible, severe, and fatal injuries. Collision data from York Boulevard suggests there is reason to believe that reducing the number of lanes available to motorists will make Colorado Boulevard safer and reduce the need for emergency responders to go to the scene of preventable crashes.

Lastly, the Federal Highway Administration has studied road diets and found that they are a “proven safety countermeasure.” While bicyclists generally focus on the inclusion of bike lanes as a proven safety feature, the FHWA study shows that road diets make streets safer for all road users. Pedestrians get fewer traffic lanes to cross. Road diets’ biggest safety gains are from eliminating blind spots for drivers turning across two lanes of oncoming car traffic.

There may well be legitimate reasons to oppose road diet bike lanes on North Figueroa Street.

These reasons may be political. These reasons may have to do with throughput for cars. These reasons may have to do with comfort with the existing status quo.

The evidence is clear that public safety is not a legitimate reason.

(Earlier this week, Streetsblog Los Angeles contacted the LAPD and LAFD for clarification on official departmental policies regarding emergency response times, and clarification on whether departmental representatives were speaking personally or on behalf on their departments. To date, no response was received. Updated 18 May 2014: SBLA received this response from LAFD shortly after the article was published.)

  • patrick

    Interesting since just two months ago Captain Bert couldn’t explain what sparrows meant when asked at the Los Feliz Improvement Association’s bike themed meeting.

  • NELA Driver

    It actually seems like emergency response could be quicker with bike lanes. The amount of pavement will not change when bike lanes are added. A fire truck has to part 4 lanes of cars now and only 3 lanes of cars when the bike lanes are implemented. Why wouldn’t this be quicker for emergency responders?

  • LAifer

    I continue to be frustrated that people don’t understand that (a) this doesn’t impact response time and, more significantly, (b) the need for emergency response in the first place will decline as a result of improved street safety with the road diet. When we only think about our roads as intended to serve cars at a maximum throughput, we forget that the roads themselves are actually a cause of many of the problems we are trying to fix by making them wider and faster for cars.

  • the margins

    As bike lane opponents will tell you, no one uses the bike lanes. Forget parting cars; emergency responders will practically have a lane dedicated for their use.

  • Bryan

    Thank you for taking the time to pull together real sources to refute that feeble and unsupported argument they made. Individual public safety officers, unable to fathom supporting a street redesign whose main purpose is to save lives. Cedillo’s comment card asked meeting attendees “Do you support removing a southbound lane on N. Figueroa to install bike lanes?” I think the real question to ask Cedillo and the small but agitated group of opposers is “Do you want to reduce the collisions and fatalities on N. Figueroa?” “Do you want to increase the safety of the road?” I just came from the block Cedillo’s office is on, and saw a guy biking home, squeezed between speeding cars and parked cars. BIKE LANES SAVE LIVES. That should be our motto. …or “PRAY FOR ME, I’M BIKING IN L.A.”

  • Bryan

    P.S. That letter to Cedillo is awesome (link in article above). Now that’s a letter they have to respond to. [L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee chair Jeff Jacobberger communication to Councilman Cedillo.]

  • The Real

    police and fire are part of the same unionized white privilege class pulling paychecks that afford car travel at luxury. these people cant understand the idea of what they see as a poor person’s transportation mode. they dont have the ability to identify and therefore they reject our of reflex.

  • publicus

    While I support the bike lanes that is a racist statement with no basis in fact…see the sprge report…LAPD and LAFD are neither white nor privileged…they might be biased as individuals but to lump them as some nazi poor folks hating entity is just wrong…and unions are the way for the poor person to gain equality against the forces that car travel at luxury…

  • nocklebeast

    The main reason to oppose “protected bike lanes” is that they are unsafe and inconvenient for cyclists.

  • Dylan

    I think The Real is getting at something here which I agree with. The problem is not particular white people but the pervasive white, middle-class values which modern institutions (unions included) are certainly not challenging. So when we hear a class of people disregard the importance of bicycling as an affordable transportation option for the poor–which we do in LA every day–this is much worse that individual “bias.” It is outright class war.

  • james

    Public employees should have to take off their uniforms before offering a personal opinion at a public forum.

  • ubrayj02

    I would love to see your data and opinion polling to back this up.

  • MaxUtil

    What is proposed in this case is “buffered” bike lanes, not “protected”. If you’re arguing that the current road design is safer and more convenient for cyclists, let’s hear it…

  • nocklebeast

    how is the current road difficult?

  • nocklebeast

    look at the proposed design. Cyclists are routed through a too narrow lane into people getting on and off buses.

    It will be safer and more convenient to use the road instead of passing buses on the right in that design.

  • nocklebeast

    A similar design was unpopular in Portland and removed.

    “Also worth remembering is that even when it did officially exist, the
    bike lane between 13th and 12th (where Kay’s incident occurred) was
    widely unpopular because it routed people up onto the sidewalk directly
    through a streetcar stop. ”

  • Northeast L.A. Bikes

    The video you linked to is SOUTH Figueroa. We are discussing NORTH Figueroa. Not the same project. How is the current road difficult? No parent would let their child ride there. Most people would/will never ride there. But again, that’s SOUTH Figueroa. Please leave relevant comments regarding NORTH Figueroa

  • Dennis_Hindman

    I can’t help but see similarities between this and the video about the P45:

    Although it is legal to use a bicycle in the middle of a lane with fast moving motor vehicles, the vast majority of the general public’s viewpoint on doing this is probably similar to reactions of the presenter on the P45 at 4:00 to 5:00 of the video.

    Its amazing that the car manufacturers are required to waste immense amounts of money on useless items such as airbags, seatbelts, crush zones and safety glass. Afterall, its perfectly safe and faultless to be traveling down the middle of a busy roadway on a bicycle–which doesn’t have any safety features–in front of vehicles that have a large speed and mass differential.

    Separating people from danger is a fundamental principle of industrial safety, however, with bicycles that is obviously much different because we all know that people never make mistakes when they drive.

    Your presenting an idea that has as much potential to get people to buy as the P45.

  • nocklebeast

    The title to the video below says NORTHBOUND. Is the title wrong?

  • nocklebeast

    I’m not sure what your point is. Would you drive the world’s smallest car contrary to the rules of the road?

    For cyclists, it’s safer and more convenient to obey the rules of the road for drivers than to not obey them.

  • nocklebeast

    Similar designs proved to be unpopular with cyclists in Portland and were removed.

    “Also worth remembering is that even when it did officially exist, the
    bike lane between 13th and 12th (where Kay’s incident occurred) was
    widely unpopular because it routed people up onto the sidewalk directly
    through a streetcar stop. ”

  • nocklebeast

    Controlling the lane isn’t has hard as you think it is. Anyone can learn how to do it.

    ” The first thing that struck me about that ride was how much faster it
    was than being on the sidewalk, since I didn’t have to slow down or stop
    at every cross street or negotiate space on the skinny sidewalk with
    pedestrians, dogs, squirrels, and oncoming cyclists”

  • nocklebeast

    is there more than one Northbound Figueroa in LA?

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The author of the video is trying to indicate that he is traveling northbound on Figueroa St. from Exposition Blvd to 7th St. However, that is South Figueroa St, which is south of downtown LA, North Figueroa St is north of downtown LA.

  • davistrain

    Yes–unless the Captain is speaking to give an official point of view agreed upon by LAPD, perhaps he shouldn’t be there in full “battle rattle”. One would guess that he was not taking a break from patrol duty.

  • nocklebeast

    Thank you for that clarification.

  • nocklebeast

    Motorcycles are also not equipped with useless things such as airbags and seat belts, but I’ve never heard any motorcyclists advocate that motorcyclists should not ride in such a way as to control the lane.

  • BothOfYouAreWrong

    That’s a street in PORTLAND.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Motorcycle riders have a far greater fatality rate per mile ridden than car drivers.

    Motorcycles can also keep up with the flow of traffic on every road, bicycles cannot. This lack of ability of bicyclists to keep up with motor vehicles can produce a great deal of annoyance from drivers towards bicyclists that are in their way.

  • Northeast L.A. Bikes

    Um, the video we are discussing is of South Figueroa in Los Angeles but whatever.

  • nocklebeast

    Annoyance can be produced by any perceived inconvenience such as traffic jams without any bicycles in sight. The fact that motorists might be annoyed with cyclists isn’t a reason for cyclists to ride contrary to the rules of the road.

    As far as motorcyclists go, do you believe they should ride to the edge as well as cyclists? Should there be separated motorcycle tracks?

  • Northeast L.A. Bikes

    Figueroa Street is one of the longest streets in the entire city and technically speaking one could argue there are two Figueroas because the street is bisected by the Arroyo Seco Parkway (part of which is called “Figueroa Tunnels” because it used to connect North and South Figueroa) . If you want to see where buffered bike lanes are proposed, go to google maps and search the intersection Figueroa and Avenue 28. Then search directions to Figueroa and Avenue 52. This is the segment where it is proposed one southbound lane is removed to make buffered bike lanes in both directions.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The point is to show how ridiculous it is to think that bicyclists would be much better off in the middle of a lane where vehicles are passing them at several times their speed than they would be separated from them.

    Routinely riding in the middle of a lane that has fast moving motor vehicles makes perfect sense to you, but it will never be logical to the vast majority of the public anymore than it is for the P45 to move in the middle of a busy road or high speed motorway in that video. Not only does it feel very dangerous, but it would likely piss off a lot of drivers who would get annoyed that you are slowing them down by getting in their way.

    People are voting with their pedals where they will bicycle. When bike lanes or protected bikeways are installed, more people ride and the rate of bicycling fatalities go down.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The Portland design that you provide a link to is not at all similar to what will be installed on Figueroa St. The bicycles in Portland were routed behind the transit stop onto a sidewalk and there are rail tracks to contend with. South Figueroa St will have a cycle track that is on the street level between the bus platform and the existing curb. It will also have bicycle specific traffic signals that when activated will trigger the no right-turn signals for motor vehicles.

    The Figueroa St cycle track is almost certain to be extremely popular due to ready supply of USC that will likely use it almost immediate after it opens. That will no doubt be extremely disappointing to you.

  • nocklebeast

    Are the proposed buffered bike lanes have their buffers to the right or to the left of the bike lane?

    One is safer than the other if there are parked cars on Figueroa. It appears that there is on-street parking in google-maps “streetview.”

    My guess is if Figueroa is not overly congested in it’s current configuration, then the “safety” concerns of the LAPD are overblown.

  • nocklebeast

    Your video is of someone screaming their head of as they ride a clown car.

    you should check out the link to cycling saavy above.

  • nocklebeast

    There are differences and their are singularities. They both route cyclists into pedestrian traffic boarding public transit. That aspect proved unpopular in Portland.

  • nocklebeast

    Sorry, I was confused about which Figueroa the article was talking about. Norheast LA Bikes and Dennis Hindman clarified the situation.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The biggest safety problem with motorcycles is other motor vehicles colliding with them when they are riding in the middle of lanes, which is what you contend would rarely–if ever–happen to bicycles that are moving at a much slower speed than motorcycles.

    Few bicyclists are hit when riding in the middle of a high speed motor vehicle lane because there are so few people who ride a bicycle in that manner. That does not mean that it safer to ride there anymore than it is to conclude that there is a low risk of injury to ride a bicycle on a freeway due to the few collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles that have occurred on freeways.

  • nocklebeast

    It is safer for motorcyclists to control the lane than to not control the lane, just as it is safer for cyclists to control the lane than to not control the lane.

    It’s safer for the cyclist to encourage the overtaking motorist to change lanes to pass (just as they would for a slower moving motor vehicle) than to allow the motorist to share the lane in a close pass. This is true no matter what the speed of the cyclist is.

    It appears that you may be disagreeing with something that I am not saying.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    If the extensive network of protected cycle tracks in the Netherlands are so unsafe and inconvenient, why do so many people use them?

    How do you overcome the evidence of the massive European experiment, in which, for decades, millions of cyclists have ridden daily on cycle tracks, with crash rates far lower then in the United States and a far greater appeal to vulnerable populations such as children and seniors?

  • nocklebeast

    Do you expect American drivers of motor vehicles will stop everytime they approach a cycle path that directs cyclists to pass right turning motorists on the right?

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Your belief is that it safer for bicyclists to control a lane, than not to control the lane. However, studies that analyzed collision rates in Australia, USA and in Canada have shown that there is about a 30% lower rate of collisions for bicyclists with motor vehicles in a bike lane than there is riding in mixed traffic.

  • nocklebeast

    I haven’t heard of these studies.

    In fact I doubt there have been any studies that analyze driver behavior cyclists, since as you said earlier, these sort of cyclists are so rare. Do you have any citations?

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The risk of serious injury in a collision with a motor vehicle goes up for a bicyclist as the mass and speed differential is greater and also as the number of motor vehicles increases. Right turns are done at a much slower speed than left turns or moving straight. You also would encounter much more motor vehicles traveling in the middle of the lane than you would in a cycle track.

    Motor vehicle drivers never do anything every time. They get distracted, sometimes are intoxicated, are not paying attention, travel at a very high rate of speed, etc.

    Do you believe that a motor vehicle driver would be just as likely to see a bicycle moving in front of them at night that has a small taillight compared to a car that has two large taillights? Or that a bicycle–which does not have stop lights–would be no less likely to be rear-ended by a motor vehicle? If you the risk is equal, then the requirement of tail lights that brighten when coming to a stop in motor vehicles is really not a feature that improves safety at all.

  • nocklebeast

    A cyclist is in the middle of the lane is more visible than a cyclist on the edge of the the lane. During the day. At night. Sober or drunk. Distracted or not distracted. With or without tail lights.

    How could it be any other way?

    If you believe that drivers should not drive drunk. And they should not be distracted. That requirements for bicycle lighting is currently inadequate. You are correct. We have no disagreement there.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The same would hold true for the ability of drivers to see cars moving in the lane compared to cars parked to the side of the curb. Where are the vast majority of the collisions taking place, with drivers hitting other cars that are moving, or hitting parked cars next to the curb?

    The idea that you are more likely to hit by a motor vehicle when you ride a bicycle next to them rather than in front of them is ludicrous and runs counter to the evidence of where most collisions occur.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    What statistical evidence do you have with your statements of what is safer? You have so far just given your opinions of what will occur.

    Where people will actually ride a bicycle has to be brought into consideration. Few people would ever ride a bicycle on a busy street in front of fast moving motor vehicles.

  • nocklebeast

    There are different sorts of cyclist behavior… Edge cyclists and driver cyclists. This distinction does not exist with driver of motor vehicles. No one expects motorists to pay attention to parked cars just as they don’t expect to motorists to drive within the door zone of parked cars.

    Most car-cyclist collisions occur at intersections and cyclists can help avoid those collisions by controlling the lane than by riding at the edge.

    Feel free to cite the evidence.

  • nocklebeast

    “Where people will actually ride a bicycle has to be brought into consideration.”

    yes, we agree already!

    “Few people would ever ride a bicycle on a busy street in front of fast moving motor vehicles.”

    All the motorist has to do is change lanes to pass. Try it some time.


L.A. Council Approves Call for Projects List with Cedillo Snub Intact

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved the list of projects [PDF] that the city plans to submit for Metro Call for Projects funding. Overall, the Call list includes a lot of great projects that reflect that many L.A. City elected officials and the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT) are truly pursuing greater livability and safety. Unfortunately, the […]

Fight for Figueroa Bike Lanes Heats Up at Community Meeting

If there’s one thing that was made clear from yesterday’s community meeting for the proposed bike lanes on North Figueroa, it’s that Councilman Gil Cedillo is going to continue dragging his feet on whether or not the Highland Park community is going to get bike lanes. Last night’s meeting at Nightingale Middle School, which was […]