Eyes on the Street: Law Enforcement Takes the Lane

Signs, signs everywhere signs...are ignored. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Signs, signs everywhere signs…are ignored. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Usually when I’m writing about the questionable behavior of law enforcement, I’m looking at how racial profiling and the harassment of people of color — in either its more traditional or more blatant forms — can negatively impact those folks’ mobility.

But sometimes the hampering of mobility comes in more basic forms.

Yesterday, it came in the form of a fleet of vehicles parked in the buffered bike lane on Los Angeles St. in front of the Parker Center Police Dept. building in Downtown L.A.

Police cars parked in the bike lanes for much of the length of Los Angeles Street, just north of 1st. Sahra Sulaiman's terrible cellphone/Streetsblog L.A.
Police cars parked in the bike lanes for much of the length of Los Angeles Street, just north of 1st. Sahra Sulaiman’s terrible cellphone/Streetsblog L.A.

In the event you are wondering if perhaps it was just that the lane was not that well marked, behold the clearly buffered lane as it runs in front of the police buildings in a Google Maps view from March of 2015.

Google Maps screen shot of the buffered bike lane that runs in front of the Parker Center police building.
Google Maps screen shot of the buffered bike lane that runs in front of the Parker Center police building.

And lest you think perhaps there was a major emergency and the vehicles had been parked there in haste, behold the Google Maps shot from a little farther up indicating that, no, this is just common practice.

Nope, not a fluke. Thanks, Google Maps.
Nope, not a fluke. Thanks, Google Maps.

And not only is it not a fluke, some officers apparently give little thought to the protection of the good people of Los Angeles from fires during this terrible drought, as evidenced by the vehicle below, blocking the fire hydrant like a boss.

Nope, still not a fluke.
Nope, still not a fluke. #parklikeaboss

And just because Homeland Security is not one to be outdone, three of their vehicles parked in the bike lane on the same street one block up (just north of Temple).

When I first spotted them at around 11 a.m., Los Angeles St. was kind of quiet and it wasn’t that hard to get around them safely. But the situation was much different and far more problematic at rush hour, as cars couldn’t easily enter the right lane to turn onto the freeway (causing traffic to back up at an angle) and making it more dangerous for both cyclists and drivers looking to continue north on Los Angeles.

Homeland Security parks in the bike lane just north of Temple on Los Angeles St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Homeland Security parks three SUVs deep in the bike lane just north of Temple on Los Angeles St., blocking bikes and making it more dangerous for both cyclists and drivers when cars struggled to maneuver around the SUVs to turn right and get on the freeway. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

And, no, as you might have guessed, this is not the first time they have either parked in the bike lane…

Seriously not a fluke.
Seriously not a fluke.

…or blatantly ignored the red curbs and visible and well-placed “No Stopping at Any Time” signs.

"No Stopping at Any Time"
“No Stopping at Any Time.” Unless you’ve got the head of ISIS stashed in the back and are taking him to trial, DHS, this applies to you, too. (Google Maps screen shot)

If we take a “broken windows” approach to these infractions — “broken windows” being the LAPD’s own approach to enforcing the law on quality-of-life issues (graffiti, actual broken windows, sidewalk loitering, sleeping in parks, street vending, etc.) in order to keep minor lawbreakers from feeling emboldened to commit more serious crimes in a neighborhood — then we can see we have a serious problem on our hands.

A student of that approach could not help but ask, If law enforcement is so nonchalant about regularly parking illegally in marked travel lanes and blocking fire hydrants in the middle of a very busy downtown neighborhood, what is to keep them from committing more serious infractions when they think no one is looking? Like profiling black cyclists as criminals and beating up innocent people or harassing them for participating in Martin Luther King Day festivities? Oh, wait, my bad. They already did that.

We ask an awful lot of law enforcement — we want them to act as protectors, counselors, mediators, problem solvers, and knowledgeable and justice-oriented enforcers of the law  — and we neither give them the support they need to carry out those tasks nor do we reward their performance when they do. Much within the institution and how we, as a society, conceive of and implement policing needs to change.

But starting with the basics can help put everyone on better terms. It is hard for people to feel trust in law enforcement officers who feel completely free to violate city and traffic codes while cracking down on invented infractions, like pedestrians crossing streets within a designated walk period, or cracking heads in lower-income communities of color.

Making it look like the department has at least a modicum of visible respect for the rule of law might be a good first step in that direction.

  • 1976boy

    They simply do not care, never have, never will.

  • j

    This is the same police force that has harassed me for riding a safe distance from parked cars on streets with sharrows, pushed me out of the bus/bike lane and will never ticket a driver for violating a pedestrian’s right of way in a crosswalk. They don’t care about people on foot or on a bicycle. Something bad is going to have to happen before anything is done about this. It will take a cyclist being door, knocked into the next lane and then run over and killed before an elected official or the chief of police gets around to doing soemthing.

  • create a leagacy

    Thank you for bringing attention to this abuse

  • Ennnne

    Still a huge fan, Sahra! Yet another well-written and informative piece on an important subject.

    But I disagree that it is the police who are to blame here. I want them focused on their jobs, not on parking. Maybe that is a bad place for a bike lane. Maybe the street’s not wide enough to spare the space. (Sorry folks, but I am not a bike fanatic like most of you.)

    The problem here is bad implementation and poor planning. (Obviously, no one bothered to ask the police about whether a bike lane there would work.)

    Also, paint lines do not a “buffer” make (if I understand you correctly). Even though I am not a bike fanatic, I still think you-all deserve *real* protected bike lanes. Where there is room. I don’t want anyone getting hurt … even people whose lobbying annoys the bleep out of me.

  • michael macdonald

    I think you are missing Sahra’s point. If LAPD officers feel that this bike lane — provided for the safety of those who commute by bike — and that parking in the nearby LAPD underground parking at 1st & Aiso or the structure across Aiso and walking 100 feet or so provides an excessive burden on officers performing their duties, the way to resolve that is to approach LADOT for a different street configuration rather than just acting as if they are above the law by disregarding it.

    I doubt very much that that is the case. Instead, this appears to be a lack of management, creating a culture where such disregard for the public and vulnerable road users is accepted.

    The bike lanes on Los Angeles provide a critical route for those who commute by bike to get to and through Downtown, as well as to access Union Station. If LAPD officers think that their convenience of car parking trumps the mobility needs of citizens, maybe the solution isn’t — as you suggest — to say that this is “a bad place for a bike lane,” but in getting more officers on bike patrols to provide an opportunity for more empathy and community policing in Downtown.

  • Cicla Valley

    It seemed like the cars were disappearing a few months ago after my video, but I’m not surprised they are back:

  • Sludge

    I hope Sahra’s Streetsblog article gets some attention since Zachary @ CiclaValley also called this out (complete with YouTube video) in February and the perps are still getting away with it. http://ciclavalley.org/case-disappearing-los-angeles-bike-lanes/
    I thought they might be re-interpreting the code along the lines of this piece: http://www.cyclelicio.us/2014/california-legal-block-bike-lane/
    HOWEVER, as you’ve pointed out Sahra, those NO STOPPING ANY TIME signs are not open to interpretation. Where are the tow trucks?

  • Jamonit

    Following the broken windows line of reasoning, you are saying that if a window is broken the real problem is that the location where it was installed is the true underlying issue?

  • sahra

    “Buffer” is the term used to describe those bike lane markings.

    The larger point here was, as Michael noted below, that this is kind of the tip of the iceberg. Whether or not you are a cyclist is really not the issue. The other night, a police car jumped the green light at Cesar Chavez and Figueroa and made a left turn from the right lane (across 5 lanes of traffic) just because the officer felt he could. No lights were on, no sirens were used…no one was given any warning. He could have plowed into the cars that were already starting to move through the intersection. We assume they have somewhere to go and something important to do. But when I see a car that has just committed a violation and endangered drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists sliding into Taco Bell (as I have on occasion), I get a little angry. And if there is a sense of impunity in these smaller incidents, then one can only imagine why they feel entitled to do things like ticket a young black man who had broken his ankle and was only trying to store his bike at his home for not having lights on the bike he was not riding (a story I just heard from that young man an hour ago). I think law enforcement acting within the law is something we can all get behind, regardless of our mode of travel.

  • sahra

    Thanks, I hadn’t seen this! That’s so much worse than the day I was there. But at least they left the fire hydrant open…?? Good to have documentation of both — more proof it is not a fluke!

  • Josef Taylor

    If you need more pictures of cops in bike lanes, my twitter account is chock full.

  • neroden

    It’s time to arrest these brazen criminals. Unfortunately they’re a violent gang who is carrying lots of guns. It might require a SWAT attack on their “hideout”, which they call the “Parker Center Police Department Building”.

    Expect this brazen lawless organized crime gang to resist; they are armed and dangerous. But it’s necessary, even if it requires an armed shootout with these gangbangers. (Who’ll miss a few lawless, murderous gangbangers in blue

    Who will stand up to enforce the law? Maybe the mayor & city council need to organize some sort of civil militia to go after this extremely dangerous gang which calls itself the “LAPD”. We could call this militia the “police” or something…. I hear some cities have actual police, unlike LA.

  • neroden

    This will not be fixed until the Mayor organizes a separate, clean city police department and uses it to arrest the crime gang known as the LAPD.

    This is, historically, the only way that completely corrupt police departments have been cleaned up: by being shut down completely, lock stock and barrel. LAPD needs to be disbanded and disarmed. You need a clean slate to start a real police department.

  • 3BA

    Sahra: Do you think you may be able to get an LAPD public information officer to comment on the issue? I wonder if the official view of the department is that parking in structures/lots poses an undue burden on officers, or whether these officers are just not following correct procedure.

    In either case, I’ve noticed that police parking in this area has led to civilians parking illegally here as well. Still, I’m irked that there is a perfectly good turnout ***just across the street*** that remains unused and blocked off by bollards (http://goo.gl/maps/lXiH9 ; use the satellite view). Seems to me this would be a great place to create an emergency vehicle-only parking area.

    Also, I believe this block was where new bollard types were being field tested. Are they still installed here? I’d say this would be a great place to get tall bollards or curbs permanently installed.

    And thanks to Streetsblog for keeping this issue alive!

  • Steven White

    I ride these bike lanes (and drive this stretch in the car) often and have literally NEVER seen the bike lane without vehicles parked in it. Doesn’t matter the time of day or night. Not once have I seen it completely open.

    It’s not uncommon to see “regular folk” parked there as well, waiting for a friend or family member to come out of the nearby buildings… they take their cues from the cop cars and clearly have no fear that they’ll be cited.

    Even when they installed the bollards, etc. as a test down the block, the cop cars just moved up a little.

    It’s actually scared me away from riding my bike on Los Angeles Street and I now take Main more often (and then have to cut across El Pueblo to get to Union Station), as my wife and I have had too many close calls as we’re forced into the lane where car drivers don’t expect us to be. I’ve tried contacting Jose Huizar, not sure who else to contact (at LAPD or otherwise), but it’s ridiculous.

  • bike_LA
  • Just imagining how sweet it would be to see the fire department break the windows on that police car to run the fire hose to the hydrant.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    key the offenders – works wonders

  • Sine Metu

    Well said Michael. I agree that this looks like a cultural problem.

    Also, I continue to be impressed by both the quality and depth of Sahra’s reporting. Consistent (and eloquent) championing of social equity via mobility and safety seem to really motivate her and I truly believe that the city’s disenfranchised have an important and credible ally in her.

    Middle aged white men (like myself) just can’t pull this off without sounding idealistic, naive and condescending.


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