L.A. Council Public Works Committee Approves Bikeway Maintenance Motions

Responding to lawsuits, L.A. is stepping up bikeway maintence. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Responding to lawsuits, L.A. is stepping up bikeway maintence. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Today, the Los Angeles City Council Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee approved a pair of motions that respond to recent bike crash lawsuit settlements by improving inspection and maintenance of the city’s bike networks. In 2017, the city paid out $18.9 million in lawsuits brought by cyclists who crashed due to poor pavement conditions.

Motion 15-0719-S17 (by Councilmembers Paul Krekorian, Mike Bonin and Mitch Englander) calls for the city to inspect bike paths and lanes and to estimate the cost for fixing pavement deficiencies. Motion 17-1142-S1 (by Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield and José Huizar) calls for the city to inspect, maintain and repair its bicycle network, and to ensure pavement is in good repair before installing new bike lanes. A somewhat similar Englander motion that called for closing or removing bike lanes was not heard at committee.

To some extent, these motions are solving problems that are not causing the current round of lawsuit settlements. It has been over a decade since the city paid for any lawsuits to a cyclist riding on a bike path; bike path liability is a different legal flavor than these crashes on streets. None of the recent lawsuits involve “new bike lanes.” As explained in earlier SBLA coverage, only one of the five lawsuit incidents took place in a bike lane.

In testimony before the committee, Bureau of Street Services Assistant Director Greg Spotts spoke on BSS’s efforts to address issues keeping street pavement in good repair. The city faces a reported $3-4 billion backlog in street maintenance. With some recent street repaving monies from the S.B. 1 gas tax and Measure M, BSS is stepping up its efforts to inspect and maintain streets, and now has dedicated staff working to inspect and repair asphalt on city bike lanes.

Spotts noted that BSS has identified 300 bike network locations that need “large asphalt repair.” BSS crews are currently working their way through these sites, having completed 19 repairs to date.

One somewhat thorny issue that Spotts touched on is the difficulty of maintaining concrete streets. Most L.A. streets are asphalt, though the city has a small subset of concrete streets that are now more than 60 years old and showing their age. Two of the five bike lawsuit crashes (Pascal and Gabat) took place on aging concrete streets. Councilmember David Ryu expressed the need for the city to come up with a comprehensive plan for resurfacing its concrete streets, though this does not appear in the scope of the motions approved today.

It is not a bad thing that the city is stepping up maintenance on its bikeways. While this is unlikely to address the current rash of lawsuits, it could ensure that for the relatively small percentage of streets where the city actually installs bikeways, these facilities will have pavement conditions that are safe for cycling.

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