A simple proposal to make next week’s LACBC bike count count more

It’s bike count season.

From Nashville to Portland, and various points over, under, around and through. And next week L.A. will have its first count, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

Counting bike riders may not seem like a big deal, but it will provide a baseline number of how many people ride bikes in a normal week – when students are back in school and people are back at work, so it accurately reflects typical riding patterns.

Then next year, we can count again.

That will provide an idea if ridership is going up or down. Which could indicate what effect street conditions are having, whether infrastructure changes are needed and how local laws and policies should be adjusted. In other words, the documentation we need to make things better for cyclists around here.

Unfortunately, I won’t be one of the counters, though I do hope to be among the counted. And I will somehow resist the temptation to ride through the same intersections repeatedly in order to boost the count. After all, a high count might look good now, but it could hurt us down the road.

I do have a suggestion for the LACBC, though.

One of the most common complaints that drivers have about cyclists is that we all run red lights and stop signs.

It’s not true, of course. I stop. And I’m clearly not the only one, since I frequently find other riders waiting right there next to me.

A recent London study found the same thing. Despite similar complaints from UK drivers, researchers for the Road Network & Research Team found that the overwhelming majority of cyclists — 84% — observe stop lights.

Another recent study was cited by a New York organization that calls itself the Coalition Against Rogue Riding — notice the acronym, if you want a little perspective on their perspective.

Their goal is to reign in the “epidemic of scofflaw cycling” and “sense of anarchy” plaguing the city’s streets and sidewalks. Yet the study doesn’t exactly support that:

In May the results a rigorous study conducted in April by the departments of sociology and urban affairs of Hunter College was issued. “Biking Behavior in Midtown” observed 5,275 cyclists at 45 intersections between 14th St. and 59th Sts. and First and Tenth Aves. It was found that nearly 38 percent of observed cyclists did not stop at red lights. Nearly a third did not use a designated bike lane. More than 17 percent were either riding the wrong way, or at various times both with and against traffic.

Sound damning, doesn’t it?

But look at it from another perspective. Nearly 62% did stop for red lights. Over 2/3 used a designated bike lane — and considering the frequent problems riders cite with cars and trucks blocking the bike lanes, it’s amazing that so many were able to ride within the lines. And 83% of riders did ride the right way; impressive in a city with so many one-way streets.

Unfortunately, L.A. cyclists don’t have any similar figures to rebut biased arguments from anti-bike fanatics. But LACBC can do something about that.

Long term, we need to work with a local university to design an effective, in-depth study of riding patterns in the city. But in the meantime, they could easily incorporate a simple study of whether cyclists stop for traffic signals into next week’s bike count.

At any location with a traffic signal or stop sign, in addition to counting bikes, just count how many stop when they should.

All it takes is adding two simple columns to the form. Or pencil in a couple headers in the margin indicating “stopped” and “didn’t stop.” And for each rider you count, just mark down whether they did. Or didn’t.

It might not be a scientific survey. But like the bike count itself, it would be a starting point. And it would tell us that L.A. riders are safer than many people think, or that we have a lot of work to do.

Either way, we’d know more than we do now.


Dr. Alex asks if you’ve considered the consequences before giving that bike thief a beat down. GT shares the story and photos of his recent Eastern Sierra Century. Mavic introduces new magnetic pedals, which may eliminate the need for cleats for some riders. Evidently, Sen. McCain hates transit, while Sen. Coburn merely hates bikes. Instead of getting hit by cars, bike couriers are getting hit by the internet. Illinois considers penalizing drivers who recklessly endanger the health and safety of vulnerable road users, like bicyclists. Bob Mionske questions Ottawa’s recent crackdown on cyclists in response to violent hit-and-run driver. Finally, the State Assembly honors my good friend at Altadenablog for his efforts during the recent fire; couldn’t be more deserved.


  1. Erik says:

    Ironically, I broke more codes trying to get counted as many times as possible in Glendale’s count this morning then I would in over a year of riding. That’s what I get for being late.

  2. Ben says:

    I’m counting bikes for the bike count in Northeast LA where I live. I also got a ticket on my ride to work Tuesday morning for running a stop sign. It sucks, but I did break the law, now I must pay.

  3. ramonchu says:

    Oh god, not more “cyclists must obey all rules of the road,” effective-cycling bull shit PLEASE! When will we realize that the the entire traffic system was built for cars, not for bikes, and is in fact malicious to anyone not surrounded by 2000 pounds of metal. Look, I don’t have to stop at stop signs because I’m only going 5 mph as I enter an intersection, and I can see what’s going on the entire time. I will stop for my own safety when I have to, when a car is approaching or has the right away, but when it’s safe, I go, and you should too. And stop lights! quite possibly the epitome of car culture’s inefficient moronic infrastructure. Man do I love cruising through an intersection when it’s perfectly safe to do so, smiling, because my 3 foot wide, easily maneuverable vehicle can do what no F-150 could ever dream about. And that’s why people always throw around that “cyclists dont obey the rules” crap, ’cause their pissed off at car culture–and especially at the people who so willingly subvert it–and don’t know how to place it in their lives. That or their blood pressure is through the roof or their bodies are slowly rotting from McDiabetes. Iowa stop law now! Sure, I’m down to see what the numbers are, so we can finally shut people up, but the larger goal should be reforming a system that denies sensible use of the roads.

    • bikinginla says:

      I think you misread this post. Nowhere did I criticize cyclists who run red lights or say that all cyclists most obey all rules of the road. I assume that anyone visiting this site is mature enough to make their own decisions, and don’t need me to tell them how to ride. And I’m a firm believer, as I’ve often written on here, that a cyclist’s highest responsibility is to ride safely — which sometimes means obeying the law and sometimes means breaking it.

      On the other hand, maybe you should consider how your riding habits effect other cyclists because riders who routinely break traffic laws reinforce the opinions so many drivers already have about us. And that only encourages more bad behavior on their part.

  4. Jack Brown says:

    As the quoted spokesman for CARR I can express gratitude for Prof.Peter Tuckel et al of Hunter College in NYC for conducting a two part study “Biking in Mid Town”. That is hard data. However the chaos is actually worse that the data presents.There was a death on May 1,2009 by a rogue delivery cyclist.Without brakes.Without helmet.Without bell or horn.Against traffic.No criminal charges.Rider gone with the wind.Over the years the hits and misses add up.Add stress.Good luck LA.New York will be worth watching for how to a good thing gone awry truly good and green.Stay tuned west coast.I am a former bike shop owner-and an active though disgruntled rider.The Apple will shine here.Thanks-Jack Brown

  5. Jack Brown says:

    See comment above-This is the blogspot that will be useful for a how to as to the path NYC is taking to safer and saner streets and sidewalks.

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