Through the looking glass — L.A.-area communities suddenly become bike friendlier

I was wrong.

It was only a couple years ago that Santa Monica was named a Bike Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists.

And even though it was just a Bronze level designation, I felt, like a number of other local riders, that the award was premature at best.

From frequently blocked bike lanes to a heavy-handed response to Critical Mass, and a Class III bike route on Lincoln Blvd that could only be considered an attempt to thin the herd, it seemed clear to everyone other than LAB that the day was long off when the city could be considered even remotely friendly to cyclists.

Remarkably, that day is here.

Just over two years later, Santa Monica is leading the way to becoming one of the state’s most bike-friendly cities, setting an example for every other town in the county, with the single exception of Long Beach.

Bike lanes and sharrows are appearing at a rapidly increasing rate. The city’s first bike corral has recently opened at 5th and Arizona. A new Bike Action Plan, which has been widely praised by cyclists, nears final approval by the City Council next week.

Even life-threatening Lincoln Blvd may soon see changes, as Santa Monica prepares to assume authority for the street from Caltrans, which seems more than willing to accept a few fatalities in exchange for an emphasis on vehicular traffic flow — even though it barely moves much of the day.

The police department has a new commitment to working with — and protecting the rights of — cyclists, with SMPD Sgt. Thomas McLaughlin serving as an effective counterpoint to the LAPD’s Sgt. David Krumer.

And on Friday, the city gets its first Bike Center, one of two in the downtown area that will provide riders with secure parking and showers.

More importantly, there seems to be a shared commitment throughout the city administration to make cyclists feel welcome — and safe — on the streets of Santa Monica.

Funny thing is, it’s not just SaMo.

Cities throughout L.A. County are suddenly stepping up to the bike-friendly plate.

Earlier this week, Burbank opened a new Bike Stop at their Downtown Metrolink Station — which is where you can find those cool new Metrolink Bike Cars that have everyone so excited.  Nearby Glendale recently adopted a Safe and Healthy Streets Plan, including a draft bike plan.

West Hollywood is working on a plan of their own, including a proposal to put bike lanes on busy Fountain Avenue, while L.A. is soon to open it’s first green bike lane, as well as a new separated bike lane on Downtown’s Spring Street.

The seven cities of the South Bay are just one away from unanimous approval of the Bicycle Master Plan. Even tiny South Pasadena approved a new bike plan that will add 24 miles of bike lanes to the city’s streets.

And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Of course, there are still problem areas.

Like the Expo Bike Path, which is in danger of being derailed by a NIMBY lawsuit, while the planned bike facilities at the Culver City Expo Station face a misguided budget axe. And the supposedly final L.A. County Bicycle Master Plan, which still leaves a lot to be desired.

But even the biking black hole of Beverly Hills is making progress, limited though it may be.

And most shocking of all, the bayside ‘burb of Malibu, where cyclists have traditionally been regarded as some form of vermin, has inexplicably decided to explore achieving Bike Friendly status itself.

Like Beverly Hills, they have a long way to go.

Then again, so did Santa Monica just a few short years ago.

……..

Barricades at the pier force cyclists to detour

Speaking of Santa Monica, cyclists who ride the beachfront Marvin Braude bike path — now that most of the tourists have gone home and it is actually rideable again — have been stymied by construction barriers at the pier. Along with nearly universally ignored signs asking riders to walk around the detour zone.

The path was closed to allow a storm drain improvement project, supposedly from September 12th to October 21st.

But nearly a month later, it’s still closed.

So rather than go off half-cocked — as I have admittedly been known to do — I picked up the phone and called the number posted on the sign.

After my call was passed through a series of very friendly and helpful people, I eventually ended up with the engineer in charge of the project, who told me that the delay had been caused by the need to work around some unanticipated utility lines. And that they expect to reopen the bike path next Tuesday, just in time for the Thanksgiving weekend.

And that may just be the most important change as the city moves to greater bike friendliness.

When you can not only get the engineer in charge on the phone, but actually get a genuine response and answers to your questions, something very positive is going on.

Are you listening, LADOT?

……..

One last note.

I ran across this frightening item from the Orange County Register — at least, it should be frightening for anyone who rides behind the Orange Curtain.

Q. Sundays in Lake Forest are the worst: You have a pack of 50 to 75 cyclists riding up El Toro Road. My understanding of the bicycle law is that a bicycle must remain in the bike lane, and in the absence of a bike lane, the riders must stay as far to the right as safely possible. Instead, this pack rides four, five, six across.

– Mark Hermanson, Lake Forest

A. Perhaps Honk’s favorite county road that doesn’t include an ocean view is Live Oak Canyon Road, that windy, country ribbon of asphalt into Trabuco Canyon beneath a leafy canopy. And likely where those bikers go. And a road where cyclists have been known to at times dangerously, and selfishly, ride abreast of one another.

Yes, under state law, on a public road, riders are to be in the bike lane when they exist; so you and your pal can ride side-by-side if enough room exists. In the absence of a bike lane, in most circumstances, cyclists must stay as far right as possible, which would mean going it single file, or they face citations, Deputy Paul Villeneuve of the Sheriff’s Department’s Traffic Division kindly explained.

I don’t even know where to start.

As most cyclists should be aware, CVC 21202 requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as practicable — not possible — while offering a long list a exceptions allowing them to move to the left whenever appropriate.

While cyclists are required to ride in a bike lane where present, we enjoy a similarly long list of exceptions that allow the rider to exit the lane when necessary.

And there’s nothing in the California Vehicle Code that prohibits cyclists from riding two or more abreast. In fact, it’s not even mentioned anywhere in the code.

Which means that cyclists can legally ride abreast as long as they don’t impede traffic — which is defined as five or more vehicles following behind a slow moving vehicle and unable to pass; if they can pass, they’re not being impeded.

In fact, it’s often safer to ride two or more abreast when the lane is too narrow to share, in order to increase visibility and control the lane to prevent unsafe passing.

You’d think someone in law enforcement would know that.

And it’s scary as hell when they don’t.

12 comments

  1. Ted, I just wrote a piece for bikeNewportBeach.org about CVC 21202. It is scheduled for publishing tomorrow morning. I’ll shoot it to you then. David

  2. 1blue1 says:

    I took the liberty of forwarding this to OCSO and asked that they educate their deputies as to the content of CVC 21202. P ing and M ing to each other doe no good. Take it up with those who have the capability to solve the problem. Also, a little courtesy on our part would not do much harm either. How do those in the front know that the group is impeding traffic? Five abreast is unreasonable and we all know it.

  3. jericho1ne says:

    Great news about Fountain. There is no way the traffic flow on that street ever respects the speed limit. It deserves a road diet, and I’m assuming that the bike lane addition will cut the traffic lanes down to one each way.

  4. Lancaster has also developed a draft bike plan that goes to the Architecture and Design Commission, then the Planning Commission, and eventually the full City Council. There’s a 30-day review period between October 31st and November 30th.

    http://www.cityoflancasterca.org/index.aspx?page=920

  5. Matt says:

    Why would anyone would get torqued about cyclists on El Toro Rd? It’s four to six lanes wide, with at least one and often two passing lanes in each direction. Just go around!

  6. Mark Elliot says:

    Re: Beverly Hills, we at Better Bike are afraid our optimism was misplaced. Here’s a recap of the recent meeting with city officials, with an editorial perspective soon to follow:
    http://betterbike.org/2011/11/ad-hoc-bike-plan-committee-recap/

  7. Joe B says:

    It seems that a reasonable person could argue that if there is somebody riding to your right, then you are not riding as far to the right as is practicable, as you could slow a bit and then pull in behind them.

    So, while there’s nothing in the code that specifically prohibits riding two abreast using those exact words, it seems like riding two abreast would violate the “as far to the right as practicable” clause (except, of course, when one of the exceptions applies).

    Could somebody please explain?

    • bikinginla says:

      Unfortunately, that is exactly the argument made by the CHP and some other law enforcement agencies. However, that’s a circuitous way of banning something that isn’t addressed by state law, and is therefore legal; under the law, anything that is not explicitly prohibited is permitted.

      The LAPD and City Attorney’s office considered that same argument, and rejected it in preparing the department’s training video on the rights and regulations regarding bikes. They instruct their officers that riders may legally ride two abreast anytime a lane is too narrow to safely share with another vehicle — which is most of the time in an urban environment.

      • Joe B says:

        Thanks for the reply; it sounds like mostly an issue of semantics, and I think I understand where you’re coming from now.

        Semantics aside, I do think you’re wrong in your fourth-from-the-last paragraph: to my understanding, the law requires us to ride as far to the right as practicable even when we’re not impeding traffic (again, outside of that laundry list of exceptions, and also excepting cases where the rightmost rider is having a “cyclocross experience” that the leftmost does not choose to undertake).

        If there were room for a car to pass, though, I would probably ride side-by-side anyways.

        • bikinginla says:

          Joe, I’d suggest watching the LAPD Bicycle Awareness Video. This is the same instruction video the department used to train all 8,000 officers on bike law, and the rights and responsibilities of cyclists. Along with many other topics, it addresses exactly that topic, and reflects the official position of the department, as well as the L.A. City Attorney’s office.

          Of course, no other jurisdiction is required to follow their interpretation of the law; however, any other law enforcement agency would have a hard time supporting an alternative interpretation in light of the LAPD’s position.

    • Joe, yes, a plain reading of the statute would suggest the outer of a pair of cyclists is not riding as far to the right as is practicable. But, not necessarily, because even if there was an objective determination of what is ‘practicable’, a cyclist might choose to ride farther to the right – taking the chance of flat tires and crashes – and leaving his buddy on the left riding where it is ‘practicable. In other words, just because I ride way to the right, jumping drainage grates, sliding around on gravel and leaves and basically having a cyclocross experience, it does not follow that the rider to my left is violating 21202. The rider to my left is riding as far to the right as is ‘practicable'; I am riding where it is not ‘practicable’. But, from the perspective of the speeding motorist on a canyon road who is probably crossing the center divider of left-hand sweepers and drifting onto the shoulder on right-hand sweepers, the two of us are “side-by-side” and we are “in his way” because both of us are riding on road (and shoulder) he could be using to maintain his high rate of speed.

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