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Law Enforcement and Bike Safety: Top Cops Must Innovate, not Prevaricate

12:26 PM PDT on September 2, 2014

LAPD protects the bike lane in front of headquarters from sun and rain elements that could damage the paint job. Police cars parked in the bike lane, First Street between Spring and Main in downtown L.A.
LAPD protects the then-buffered bike lane in front of headquarters from sun and rain elements that could damage the paint job. LAPD cars parked in the bike lane on First Street between Spring and Main in downtown L.A.

If you approach LAPD headquarters from First Street, City Hall is reflected in the windows. This was designed into the building intentionally, to remind cops that they’re not there to serve the police department itself; they’re to serve the people of Los Angeles.

When I first moved to downtown from Los Feliz in 2009, I was thrilled to find a new bike lane on First Street between the Civic Center subway station and my new home in the Arts District. The portion between Spring and Main Street, in front of LAPD, was curbside with a wide buffer on the left to put space between moving cars and cyclists.

But it was always blocked by parked police cars.

It seemed outrageous to me that cops, out of laziness or contempt, could get away with sabotaging the bike lane on a stretch of street that runs between LAPD headquarters and City Hall, right in front of their bosses. So I started taking pictures of the cars. I went to an LAPD bike meeting. I met some sympathetic cops who suggested, among other things, that LADOT should put in bollards to keep all cars, including police cruisers, off the lane. One had warning notes put on the police cars. My photos were bounced up the chain of command. And we started a real, bona fide internal-affairs complaint. And, after many months, it seems I succeeded in embarrassing the police brass.

The result.

Instead of letting officers know that parking on bike lanes would not be tolerated, police leadership worked quietly with then LADOT chief Jaime de la Vega to remove the buffered lane. I knew about this in advance, because a city official leaked it to me with the hope that Streetsblog and other bike-advocacy groups could shame the LAPD.

It didn’t work.

In March of 2013, LADOT unpainted the buffered lane and put in a standard “door-death” lane. It remains a no-stopping zone, which is also ignored by the police. In other words, the police brass responded to my complaints about cops parking on the enhanced bike lane by removing it.

As to the internal affairs complaint, I got two letters, which we've published at the bottom of this article. To summarize, even photos of cops parked on the bike lane in front of headquarters doesn’t prove they do it. And, simultaneously, it's legal for them to do it. Both statements, of course, are false.

LAPD "protects" the entrance to the parking garage. Photo: Roger Rudick
LAPD "protects" the entrance to the parking garage. Photo: Roger Rudick

Through the LA Bike Master Plan and other reforms, Los Angeles is trying to make streets safer for cycling. LAPD brass could have gotten with the spirit, done the right thing, and worked with LADOT to put in physical separations to keep their bike lane clear. Instead, they put bollards in around the corner on Main Street to protect the entrance to their garage [see photo, above]...the same garage they’re apparently too lazy to use.

I once watched an automobile swerve clear across Spring Street, without signaling, cutting me off and nearly hitting me, and then drive in the bike lane to the next intersection. A cop was parked right there; the incident was in plain view. I rode over and asked the officer to give the driver a ticket for illegal lane changes and driving in the bike lane. “Yeah, people don’t know you can’t drive in it,” he said, doing nothing.

That, in my experience, typifies the L.A. cop.

Thank you, officers, for guarding and escorting cycling events. But let's not confuse public relations with doing your jobs. Where are you when we really need you, doing everyday, hum-drum law enforcement, such as keeping bike lanes clear and ticketing cars that harass and cut us off? Instead you do crackdowns on pedestrians! We'll never get cops to change their attitudes without police leaders who, when they see a cruiser parked on a bike lane, chew out the cop who parked there, take away his car, and reassign him--or her--to bicycle or foot patrol.

And maybe, just maybe, if it’s made clear to cops that they are never above the law, we’ll get a better police force overall. Isn’t that consistent with the “broken windows” theory of policing, which basically says that ignoring scofflaws leads to a pervasion of lawlessness that invites serious crimes? If that applies to civilians, surely it applies to the cops themselves. But, sadly, we live in a world of double standards; where law enforcement can get away with almost anything.

Going by her reputation, Seleta Reynolds, the new manager at LADOT, will make our streets safer for all users. Still, her efforts will be futile without the support of the police. Let's hope Charlie Beck will use his re-appointment as LAPD Chief to sincerely embrace change on our streets. Because the letters and the removal of the buffered bike lane on First indicates that LAPD brass doesn’t get the meaning of the reflection in their building; they still think the people they're supposed to “serve and protect” are themselves.

LAPD Beck letter 2 of 2
LAPD Beck letter 1 of 2

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