How Can L.A. Sheriffs Support Buses and Bikes Sharing Bus-Only Lanes?

Los Angeles bus-only lane signage. The bottom line states "BIKES OK" Photo: Marc Caswell
Los Angeles bus-only lane signage. The bottom line states “BIKES OK” Photo: Marc Caswell

On bus-only lane signage in Los Angeles, there is a little two-word section at the bottom that reads, “BIKES OK.”

Except when they’re not.

On May 24, bicycle commuter Mike MacDonald was riding in the “BIKES OK” peak-hour Wilshire Boulevard bus lanes. As he often does, MacDonald was recording his ride. He was cautioned by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy who stated, “You gotta let buses get through. This is their lane. You’re not even supposed to be in here right now.” He then instructed MacDonald to “be close to the curb.”

To his credit, the officer did not ticket the cyclist. MacDonald’s encounter is shown on his YouTube video and detailed in his article at Biking in L.A. In 2014, cyclist Marc Caswell had a similiar encounter where he was ticketed by a sheriff on the Sunset bus lane.

MacDonald filed a complaint with Metro, and actually received a response that went all the way to Alex Wiggins, Metro’s new Executive Director of Security, imported from Denver by Metro CEO Phil Washington.

Wiggins met with MacDonald earlier today. In an email to Streetsblog, MacDonald relates the meeting:

Mr. Wiggins wanted to meet on site at the location where I was stopped and scolded by a Sheriff’s Deputy.

On site, Mr. Wiggins explained to me that he supports and instructs Sheriff’s deputies to ticket cyclists who “impede” buses by using the lanes. He refused to discuss or reference any vehicle code basis for his direction to LASD to ticket cyclists using these lanes, saying that, “This is why we have a court system. If you disagree, you can take it up in a court of law.” Mr. Wiggins explained to me that he fully was aware of traffic law with regards to bikes because of his experience as a “bike cop.”

Wiggins followed up with an email to MacDonald that stated:

Thanks for today’s onsite meeting. I’m sorry we could not agree on the discretionary issue with regard to “impeding the flow of traffic,” but it was productive learning for me nonetheless. […]

There is no issue with regard to cyclists sharing the bus lane on Wilshire – cyclists are permitted – I think we agree on that point. That said, Metro cannot override the discretion of the deputy or officer who is conducting traffic enforcement. If the deputy/officer believes that traffic is being impeded in any way, then he or she can exercise their discretion to correct the situation. It is my understanding that the deputy did not issue a citation regarding the incident described below. It is not appropriate for Metro to dictate to LASD or LAPD when they can or cannot initiate contact with a cyclist using the lane.

Readers – what do you think?

Joe’s opinion: I bike and I ride the bus on Wilshire Blvd. I think bicycling there has improved with the advent of Metro’s peak-hour bus-only lanes – due to fewer cars and a much improved road surface. For years after the initial segment of the lanes opened in 2013, law enforcement appeared to be absent (see also SBLA coverage from 2015).

At that time, I inquired of Metro who was supposed to be patrolling the lane. Metro’s then-spokesperson Marc Littman responded that “LAPD is responsible for enforcement.” LAPD, however, did not respond to two email inquiries about the matter. Then, within a few months, L.A. Sheriff’s deputies began, or at least visibly stepped up, bus-only lane enforcement on Wilshire, mostly targeting scofflaw motorists.

All in all, I am glad to see that Metro and LASD are taking the bus lane more seriously – which is great for transit riders and probably also pretty good for cyclists (as we have fewer cars to contend with.) But it sounds like some clarification is still in order for how buses and bikes can share this facility, and how law enforcement should support our ability to do so.

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