Thoughts on bicycling — taking L.A. biking to the next level
I currently work just off the “green lane,” the bright green bike lane that goes down Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. I am a lawyer for the California Department of Justice in the Ronald Reagan State Building. I live in nearby Echo Park, a great neighborhood that is becoming more and more bike friendly. With my office so close, I frequently get the chance to commute by bike. When living in an area where you aren’t bound to your car, it changes your entire perspective on living and working.
Studies have shown that walking and bicycling create better communities, increase our quality of life, reduce traffic pollution, and stimulate the local economy in ways driving precludes. I believe that, but it’s the freedom and quality of my life as a cyclist that I really love.
The sunny, mild weather here in LA has always been perfectly suited for commuting on foot or cycle, and I am excited to see what has been happening in this regard over the past few years. Between 2000-2010, the number of Angelinos commuting on bicycle increased to 98,000, a 56% gain in ridership. Most telling, the population at large only increased by 3%. Still, Los Angeles currently has a 1% rate of bike commuting. If we can get that up to just 10%, Angelenos will see a real difference in traffic congestion, as well as air quality and overall health rates.
As I read in a recent L.A. Times article, our city streets and boulevards are no longer mere corridors to move cars, they are where “L.A. is trying on a fully post-suburban identity for the first time, building denser residential neighborhoods and adding new amenities for cyclists and pedestrians.”
This is a very exciting time in L.A., and I don’t want our city government to miss the opportunity to capitalize on this change. One of our core goals will be to make it as easy and safe as possible for everyone to commute by bike, not just during an event like CicLAvia, but as a way of life. To accomplish this, we should focus on two areas: Infrastructure and Police Training.
A concerted focus on infrastructure is necessary to encourage bicycle commuting. People want to ride their bikes and with our increasing access to rail, it’s an achievable goal. But, just as we invested in our highways and rail systems, we must invest in a user-friendly bicycle network. To address our current infrastructure deficits, we should:
- Identify and implement strategic road diets to increase bicycle/pedestrian safety and make room for permanent barriers for high traffic bike lanes.
- Increase the speed of building actual bike lane mileage throughout Los Angeles. Currently, the bike plan has LADOT completing planned lanes in 2046. We need to cut that in half.
- Replace 1-5% of street-level car parking spaces with bike corrals at strategic commercial centers. It will increase local business traffic because cyclists are more likely to shop at smaller, non-big box businesses due to the lack of carrying capacity.
- Ensure rider security along certain bike routes by installing lighted paths and increase bicycle lane signage to increase motorists’ awareness of bicycles.
- Collaborate with high schools, colleges, and universities to identify and promote Safe Routes to School.
We need to build a stronger sense of mutual respect between cyclists and our police force. Of course, this runs both ways and we cyclists need to maintain strict adherence to the laws of the road. But, we also need a police force that understands the perspective of commuting by bike and values that mode of transportation as highly as they value serving the motorist. To accomplish this, we should begin with:
- Better training for LAPD in dealing with bicyclists, beginning with a concerted effort to ensure that every officer has mastered the basics of bicycle law as covered in their bicycle training video.
- Increase LAPD bike unit patrol presence from an average of 250 per day to 300 in a community-policing effort. We have more cyclists on the road, so it would be a logical necessity to increase the number of officers on bicycles. It will aid LAPD in understanding our perspective and will also humanize LAPD for cyclists.
- Prioritize all hit and runs involving a cyclist. Current protocol prioritizes only incidents where the cyclist dies, but I believe that this is a tacit statement by LAPD that hit and runs between cars and bikes only matter when someone is killed. This is reckless and does not encourage mindfulness on the part of the motorist.
- Forbid the use of LAPD vehicles and Tasers to stop a moving cyclist unless it is to prevent harm to the officer or the public. It must be understood that Tasering a moving cyclist is tantamount to deadly force due to the vulnerability of the cyclist.
- Stop the current practice of handcuffing cyclists for routine traffic stops. Currently, LAPD is allowed to use their “best judgment” in determining whether a cyclist is a flight threat. I believe that the commitment to cycling is a lifestyle choice that is not done capriciously. Cyclists are upstanding citizens and should be treated with the same respect as a motorist.
Bicycling is a vital component to our transportation network and our ability to walk and bike is directly proportionate to the quality of our lives here in Los Angeles. Communities that bike together are more peaceful. Cycling has a major economic impact on the health and well being of our economies and ourselves. Cyclists are healthier and therefore less inclined to miss work and lower productivity. They also make more frequent stops in their communities, building the local economy.
There are a thousand reasons to promote cycling and these are just a few ideas our city could support in the cycling revolution ahead of us. I strongly believe that these changes are critical and I am supportive of this movement, but recognize that they are not the entire solution.
We also need to engage our neighborhood councils and regional bicycle groups in a collaborative effort to identify and implement these and other changes in city policy that affect cyclists. Working closely together, we can build consensus and create policies that serve our communities so that anyone from 8 to 80 can feel safe riding on our streets.
Finally, Los Angeles should support a Vision Zero for Los Angeles; that is, no bicycle or pedestrian deaths within the city by 2025. I believe these goals are definitely possible with more government/cyclist cooperation and collaboration.