Archive for May 7, 2009

This WTF moment, courtesy of Santa Monica and the League of American Bicyclists

Don’t get me wrong.

I like riding in Santa Monica. It’s a genuine pleasure to ride in a city that has actual cycling infrastructure, let alone where bike routes actually connect with something and you can plot out a route to just about anywhere you want to go.

Coming from traffic-heavy Los Angeles, it’s a breath of fresh air. Literally.

Still, I was surprised when the League of American Bicyclists named SaMo a bicycle-friendly city. Even if it was just a bronze.

I know the state of cycling pretty well sucks in this country. But either they didn’t consult local riders before they made their award, or the bar is set so low we’ll have to be careful not to trip on it.

Because it takes more than just infrastructure and good intentions to truly be bicycle friendly. Even for a city of less than 90,000 people that offers 16 miles of bike lanes, 19 miles of bike routes and a 3 mile beachfront bikeway.

It takes a genuine commitment to work with cyclists to encourage riding. Not government officials who refuse to meet with them to work out a compromise that would allow Critical Mass to take place without a heavy-handed police crackdown, complete with bogus — and possibly illegal — tickets.

It takes a city where infrastructure doesn’t just exist, but was smartly planned to protect the safety of riders while preserving traffic flow. It also means a commitment to enforcing restrictions on that infrastructure — or to put it another way, keeping cars the hell out of the bike lane.

In fact, Santa Monica could balance their entire city budget by placing a couple of officers on northbound Ocean Avenue. Then just ticket the drivers who blithely cruise down the bike lane for nearly a full city block between Arizona and Wilshire. I usually see at least couple such idiots every time I ride through there — even though I’m the only one using it for its intended purpose.

And don’t get me started on the way the city allows movie crews to place cones blocking the bike lanes, for no other purpose than to keep cyclists from coming within three feet of their precious trucks.

Yeah, that’s worth risking a life for.

Then there’s the city’s crown jewel, which was mentioned prominently in their press release touting the LAB award — three miles of beach-front bikeway, part of the larger Marvin Braude Bike Path.

As the Times’ Steve Lopez pointed out recently, it’s nearly impossible to ride at times due to the sheer number of pedestrians, dogs, skaters and other assorted non-two-wheeled flotsam. A bikeway on which people are often surprised to encounter cyclists, despite the “Bikes Only” and “No Pedestrians” markings every few feet. And despite the presence of a parallel pedestrian walkway mere feet — or in some cases, inches — away.

Because just like with drivers on the street, if the city won’t enforce bikeway restrictions — let alone state laws that prohibit the blocking of any Class 1 bikeway — other users will take it over and claim it as their own.

Of course, it’s not just a problem in Santa Monica. L.A.’s segment of the bikeway along Venice Beach isn’t any better. And evidently, Long Beach — another recent bronze winner — has issues of its own.

Maybe the LAB thinks things like that are acceptable for a bike-friendly city. Or maybe they’re trying to encourage cities that have made a modest start to keep improving until bike-friendliness permeates the entire city culture.

Or maybe they just didn’t ask those of us who know those city streets best.

I’ll leave the last word to Gary Se7en, in a comment he made on LAist:

I live and work in Santa Monica, live car free and ride a bike every day. It’s not that bad here. It’s not that great either, although it beats most anywhere else in Los Angeles. Maybe SM should get a copper rating instead of bronze. Also bike routes should not count for anything. Lincoln Blvd. is a bike route, Lincoln is also one of the worst streets to ride a bike on in L.A. county.


LAist covers today’s press conference about AB 766, the Safe Streets Bill. The Orange Line Bike Path finally gets a much-needed makeover, while talk of sharrows surfaces yet again in L.A.; the LACBC asks you to beg our mayor to move forward. C.I.C.L.E. promotes Bike Week in Pasadena. Connecticut considers a bill that would set aside 1% of all state and federal transportation funds to improve bike and pedestrian access. A bike-hating deputy sheriff from hell assaults two cyclists in Ohio, and a bike riding cop from Florida explains why you should stop anyway. A writer in western Colorado asks why drivers can’t give cyclists as much space as they would a horse or cow. Finally, from across the pond, a new campaign says there’s safety in numbers, while the leader of the Conservatives in Parliament has his bike stolen. Again.

L.A. Council District 5 — Paul Koretz

As I noted on here a few weeks ago, I was recently approached by representatives for both of the candidates in the race for L.A.’s 5th Council District. They each offered to have their respective candidates address bicycling and transportation issues here, so I sent each campaign a list of five questions. Former state Assembly Member and West Hollywood City Council Member Paul Koretz is the first to respond. I’ll repost this on the CD5/SD26 page above and keep it there through the election on May 19th, and will post David Vahedi’s responses as soon as I receive them.

Paul Koretz

pk-headshot-smallbicyclist was killed by an intoxicated hit-and-run driver in Echo Park recently, the latest in a string of hit-and run incidents. What can be done on the city level to reduce the rate of both drunk driving and hit-and-runs? And what can be done to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians?

First, we need to educate people about drinking in moderation by promoting alcohol abuse awareness programs and making the public more conscious of the serious consequences of drinking and driving.  Second, I think one of the largest contributing factors to drunk driving in Los Angeles is the lack of an accessible and effective regional public transportation system. We simply do not have a system in place for people to safely travel between local bars and restaurants and their home. Expanding our existing public transportation system would be the first big step. I also believe that penalties for hit-and-run drivers need to be substantially increased and enforced. It’s a serious crime and the penalties need to be much stiffer for offenders.  I strongly believe that our current system lets drunk drivers off the hook too easily.

I have met with neighborhood groups throughout the district who are deeply concerned with the recent increases in alcohol-related accidents that have caused serious bodily harm and in some cases, unfortunately, death. We need to increase traffic police activity near major intersections and thoroughfares throughout the district to deter speeders and red light runners. Cross walk sting operations (near Robertson and Pico) have been able to temporarily increase awareness among morning and evening commuters. In addition, we should also increase traffic lights and reflectors near intersections to alert drivers at crossing areas. Finally,  I am also in favor of increasing penalties for violations of these regulations.

One step we could take immediately to help make our streets safer would be to support Assistant Majority Leader Paul Krekorian in helping pass AB 766, the Safe Streets Bill. This important legislation would address the problem of rising speed limits in our neighborhoods and empower give local cities and neighborhoods to regulate their own speed limits, while still being able to enforce them.  The Safe Streets Bill will equip local governments with the tools to keep the speeds traveled on local roads at a rational level and make the streets in our community safer for bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians alike.  

The Los Angeles City Council recently gave approval to the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights. Are you familiar with this document, and if so, do you support these rights as written? Are there any you disagree with, and why? And what would you consider the next steps to transform those rights from mere words into tangible action?  

I am well-versed with the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights and I support it.  It goes without saying that Cyclists should be entitled to the same protections under the law as everyone else. I believe the first step is to transform these rights into tangible action by increasing the role that cyclists play in urban and roadway planning. I strongly encourage input from the cycling community on how to improve our public transportation and specifically how we can increase access to and use of mass transit. We all need to work together to create conditions that will ensure safety for all parties – pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit passengers.  

There is often a high level of tension between cyclists and drivers in Los Angeles as they compete for limited road space, as illustrated by last year’s incident in Mandeville Canyon. What can the city do to help reduce that tension, and encourage both sides to safely and courteously share the road?  

It’s not easy to get motorists in Los Angeles, who are so dependent on their cars, to realize that bicyclists have the same rights as someone in a car. That being said, I think the driver in the Mandeville Canyon incident went far beyond extreme – deadly. I am pleased that Councilmember Rosendahl (who has endorsed my campaign) agreed to introduce the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, which I whole-heartedly support and I think is a step in the right direction to addressing the tension.  

What role, if any, do you see bicycles playing in city transportation policy and improving traffic flow within the city?

When I was the Mayor of West Hollywood, I requested input from the bicycle community on how to implement bike lanes on part of Santa Monica Boulevard. I think Los Angeles needs to adopt a regional public transportation approach that not only addresses improving traffic flow, and mass transit, but also how we can improve options and the quality of life for bicyclists.

In general, we need to focus on the creation of an effective bicycle infrastructure. Los Angeles, with over 330 sunny days a year, should be the world leader in bicycle commuting. We need to start the work of building many more miles of safe bikeways and adequate secure parking for commuters. These two steps will be a good beginning in our efforts to alleviate congestion and improve traffic flow.

Are there any other issues you want to address, or any additional comments you’d like to make to the bicycling community?

I am very proud to say that I rode a bicycle all the way from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the AIDS Lifecycle. It was one of the most rewarding experiences because I got to see California from a unique perspective while supporting a great cause.

AB 766 — An open letter to the California State Assembly

As you may recall, I recently wrote about the need to pass the Safe Streets Bill AB 766.

As part of that, I encouraged everyone — and yes, that includes you — write a letter in support of the bill, and email it to SafeStreets@BikeWritersCollective.com for presentation at a committee hearing next week.

Here is my letter, which I have just emailed to the Bike Writers Collective — the group behind the recently passed Cyclists’ Bill of Rights. Feel free to copy any portion of this to use as the basis for your letter, or write your own in your own words.

But please, write something.

Dear Assembly Member,

The highest responsibility of state government is the protection of its citizens, as well as the countless neighborhoods that make up our state.

Sadly, California is failing in that duty.

Currently, state law allows local governments to use radar to control speed limits; however, in exchange for that privilege, they are required conduct a study of average traffic speeds every seven years. If most drivers exceed the speed limit, which most drivers in California do, they have no choice but to raise the speed limit — whether or not that’s a good idea, and regardless of the harm it may cause to the local community.

The result is that the lives of local residents are needlessly placed at risk, as pedestrians and bicyclists must contend with traffic moving at ever higher speeds, while collisions between vehicles are likely to be far more dangerous and destructive. At the same time, higher speeds encourage through-traffic, as opposed to local destination traffic, contributing to the declines suffered by business districts and residential neighborhoods along the way.

AB 766, the Safe Streets Bill, would rectify that situation by giving the local community a voice in deciding whether or not to raise the limits, without requiring that they give up a valuable enforcement tool in exchange.

I urge you to support this vital measure, and cast your vote to return control of our streets to the people who know them best, and will be most impacted by any increase in speed limits — and allow the people of this state to protect their own lives and communities.

Sincerely,

Ted Rogers, BikingInLA.com

Enci Box discusses her upcoming trip in support of AB 766 in her own compelling way, while Damien Newton notes a wave of support for the legislation. And on a related subject, L.A. Council President Eric Garcetti wants to know how you want to spend the city’s stimulus funds. Can you say, bicycling infrastructure? Sure you can.

 

A great video showing British MPs learning about cycling from the Dutch, courtesy of my favorite Welsh slow-biking blogger — now if we could only get the Metro board to take the same tour. Also from across the pond, proof that bad cycling signage isn’t just an American problem. Meanwhile, LAist discusses what L.A. could learn from Tokyo Bike Culture, as does the Time’s Steve Lopez. Yes, that Tokyo. Bicycle Fixation observes the increase in fixie-riding bike commuters. Central Illinois cyclists prepare to participate in an international cycling memorial ride later this month. And finally, The Denver Post says cyclists need to know the rules of the road, too; don’t miss the comments, which capture the full range of the cyclists vs. drivers conflict — and evidently, someone out there takes safety tips from yours truly.  Glad I could help.

AB 766 — Slowing our streets for everyone’s safety

How many people have to die because of a bad law?

As cyclists, we often have no choice but to share the road with drivers. It’s risky enough on streets where there’s just a small disparity in speed — where drivers pass by at 30 mph, for instance, while you ride along at your own speed, whether that’s 12 mph or 20 mph.

But that risk increases dramatically as speeds rise, and the disparity between your speed and that of the cars rushing up from behind grows. Drivers have less time to see you, and less time to react.

And you have a lot less time to get the hell out of their way if anything goes wrong.

The potential for serious injury goes up, as well, with every mile per hour in speed differential. Because the faster a vehicle is traveling, the more damage it can do if it hits anything. Or anyone.

Which brings us to California AB 766.

You see, current California law allows the police to use radar to enforce speed limits on the streets. While that might seem like a problem if you’re behind the wheel, trying to push the speed limit by 5 or 10 mph to get to your destination a few seconds faster, it’s actually a good thing — enforcing the speed limits makes the roads safer for everyone.

The problem is the Faustian bargain that cities have had to accept in order to use that radar.

One of the conditions the state requires in order to use radar guns is that cities have to conduct a study every seven years to evaluate speeds and traffic conditions.

If that study shows that most drivers go over the speed limit on a given roadway — which most drivers do — they can be forced to raise the speed limit, whether or not that’s a good idea. And regardless of what effect that might have on local neighborhoods, as previously placid surface streets are slowly turned into speedways.

Or how many lives may be shattered along the way.

Sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Paul Krekorian, AB 766, also known as the Safe Streets Bill, would give cities more power to control their own speed limits, while still being able to enforce them.

It’s not a big change. But it’s one that could do wonders to preserve our neighborhoods, and the lives of people just like you.

And me.

Bike Safety Advocates Stephen and Enci Box, along with other members of the Bike Writers Collective — the group behind the recently passed Cyclists’ Bill of Rights — are working to help pass this important bill.

As part of that, they’re asking everyone to write letters in support of it, which they will deliver to the Assembly in person at an upcoming hearing in Sacramento. Fellow blogger Ron Kaye, former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, has already written his — as well as providing a link to a fact sheet about the bill — and I’ll be writing one in the next few days myself.

And I hope you will, too.

You can email your letter to SafeStreets@BikeWritersCollective.com. And I’m sure Ron wouldn’t mind if you wanted to use his as an example. Or if you asked all your friends to write one, as well.

Because your safety, and mine, could depend on it.

You can read more about this bill, and the Box’s upcoming lobbying trip in support of it, at Stephen Box’s blog, as well as at the blog Brayj Against the Machine — both of which you really should be reading, if you don’t already. And learn more about the problem at City Watch.

Officer Krupke, you’ve done it again — Pedal power to the people

I don’t think they knew what hit them.

When Council President Eric Garcetti opened today’s meeting, L.A.’s city council members probably expected to speak to a mostly empty room at yet another typically dull city council meeting. What they got was something entirely different.

1-council-meeting-smallInstead of empty chairs, they faced a room full of angry bicyclists. Most of whom demanded the right to speak in protest of last week’s Hummer incident, as well as dangerous and illegal police tactics and general lack of support from the LAPD.

Once the floor was opened for comments, a near continuous stream of riders approached the microphone — including Andres, who was injured by the Hummer, and Krista, who spoke of having her bike ripped from her hands as the driver fled the scene. Among the others commenting were Alex Thompson, who helped lead the response to this incident, along with Enci and Stephen Box, and the Ridazz’ Roadblock and Chicken Leather.

I’d like to tell you exactly who commented and what they said. But to be honest, I kind of got wrapped up in the moment and forgot to take notes.

Or more precisely, I preferred to participate, rather than observe.

Overall, though, many riders pointed out the dangers that they face on a daily basis from angry and aggressive motorists, and how that problem is only exacerbated by the anti-bike bias demonstrated by some officers. Not to mention the poor conditions of the roadways and a general lack of infrastructure that contributes to confrontations by forcing cyclists into the traffic.

And both Alex and Stephen reminded the council of their repeated failures to follow through on previous bike-related motions and programs that had passed the council, only to die somewhere in city’s vast bureaucracy.

When I spoke, I briefly mentioned my own experience with a road-raging driver, and how the failure to ticket or charge the

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights

 driver gave her permission to do it again to someone else. And how the failure to cite the Good Doctor the first time he ran cyclists off the road — at least, the first time we know of — only encouraged him to do it again, as evidenced by his great surprise when the police actually arrested him following last year’s Mandeville Canyon incident.

Then I added that the failure to charge the Hummer driver was tacit permission from the LAPD to go out and do it again, thus further endangering cyclists.

I concluded by pointing out that the recently passed Massachusetts Bike Safety Bill requires all new police officers to receive training in bike laws and safety while at the academy, and asked why Los Angeles couldn’t establish a program like that. And reminded the council members that the riders gathered behind me were voters, as well as a bicyclists.

Evidently, we were heard.

Before the meeting, departing District 5 city council member, and current candidate for city attorney, Jack Weiss met us on the steps of city hall to say that as a weekend cyclist himself — because he considers it too dangerous to ride on weekdays — he fully supports cyclists.

Afterwards, Bill Rosendahl noted that Mandeville Canyon is in his district, and that he had responded by introducing the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights. And that while we had been speaking, he, Janice Hahn, Ed Reyes and Tom LaBonge had signed the following motion:

Numerous incidents have been reported relative to bicycle and vehicle collisions and aggressive motorists attitudes to law-abiding people riding bicycles. Complaints have also been raised regarding the treatment of bicyclists by the Los Angeles Police Department. It is critical that the City respond to these situations and respond appropriately. 

I THEREFORE MOVE that the City Council direct the Los Angeles Police Department to report on recent bicycle incidents and conflicts between bicyclists and motorists, as well as efforts to increase police officer training related to bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

Reyes, Hahn, Wendy Greuel, and Tony Cardenas also rose to speak in support of cyclists, while Garcetti thanked us for coming and promised that action will be taken. And LaBonge followed us outside to address the gathered cyclists and express his support.

Tom LaBonge addressing cyclists after the council meeting

Tom LaBonge addressing cyclists after the council meeting

 

Enci and Stephen Box have both posted recaps of the meetings — including Enci’s powerful comments. And if you were there and remember what you said, feel free to add it to the comment section below.

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