Essay: I Bike In LA And Fear For My Safety All The Time

(Courtesy Washington D.C. Department of Transportation/ Flickr)

Last week, Bicycling Magazine declared L.A. the worst city for bikes.

Now — this is strictly my opinion — but, yes, biking in Los Angeles IS the worst. I say that as someone who has used my bike as my main mode of transportation since I moved to L.A. six years ago.

Your own mileage on a bike, and opinion, may be different. My perspective? Year after year, I've heard city officials say they're committed to projects that make the streets safer. And they aren't. Pedestrian deaths were up in 2017. Despite that, supporting changes to roads in neighborhoods can be politically risky.

Bottom line: I definitely don't feel safer. Here's why I think it might even be a little worse than when I first moved here.

A SPRING BACKWARDS

Let's take one of the newest one of the road projects meant to fix part of my commute home every day: the Main and Spring Forward initiative in downtown L.A.

I bike down Spring Street, which is a one-way. When I first started biking this street, here's who was supposed to be where:

CURB | PARKING | TRAFFIC LANE | TRAFFIC LANE | BIKE LANE | PARKING | CURB

Originally, green lanes were painted on Spring Street in an effort to increase ridership, but film productions found the color distracting and asked the city to change it. (KPCC file photo by Maya Sugarman)

It wasn't great. On certain days I definitely thought, "I may be testing out my health insurance today."

I was almost hit a number of times by vehicles trying to turn right (they didn't check their blind spots like they should have). And it was pretty common for big buses to cut me off as they do pick-ups/drop-offs, too.

All that's intimidating for me — an experienced cyclist. So I believe it when people who are newer to cycling tell me they're afraid.

That's where this Main and Spring Forward project comes in. The first phase was completed last month, and officials "remixed" those lanes on Spring Street between 3rd and 9th streets.

Now, it runs like this:

CURB | BIKE LANE | PARKING | TRAFFIC LANE | TRAFFIC LANE | PARKING | CURB

Remember it was like this:

CURB | PARKING | TRAFFIC LANE | TRAFFIC LANE | BIKE LANE | PARKING | CURB

A rendering of the Main and Spring Forward project, where the lanes will be reconfigured for better pedestrian and bicyclist safety. (Courtesy LADOT)

The idea seemed solid. Bikes are protected from other lanes of traffic by that line of parked cars. But...

These new bike lanes are about as wide as a car. That means drivers find their way into the bike lanes. A lot.

Cars at night on Spring Street in downtown LA. The cars on the right are parked legally. The cars on the left are blocking the new bike lane. (Leo Duran/LAist)

I've seen them loading/unloading. Others are driving down it like they discovered a "secret" lane of traffic. I have also witnessed a lot of cars parked next to the curb in the bike lane.

I don't think it's 100 percent drivers' faults. The signage doesn't do a very good job of indicating what is and is not allowed. It would probably help A LOT if the lanes were painted green to show they are meant for bikes and not cars. But they are not. The reason seems particularly L.A.: A deal was struck between the city and the film industry after Hollywood folks argued it was too difficult to take the green lanes out of the frame in post-production.

Then there's the other problem. I hate crossing all lanes of traffic to switch sides for just 6 blocks.

Yeah, that's it.

On Spring at 2nd, the bike lanes are still on the right-side of the road. At 3rd Street, bikes have to cross diagonally through the intersection to get to the other side. They are protected with their own personal stop light, but just last week I was almost hit by a white van. The van's driver jumped the gun by running a red light when I had the green.

And then when I get to 9th Street I'm forced to cross all lanes yet again to be back on the right side of traffic, where the bike lane continues.

(Leo Duran/LAist)

So I think this attempt to make the street safer has just traded one set of problems for another. Perhaps it might lower accidents in the long run, but it doesn't make me — a commuting bicyclist — too happy. To be clear, I feel for drivers who are just as confused as I am.

IT'S RARELY BETTER OUTSIDE OF DOWNTOWN

I haven't biked every mile of the city (so feel free to agree/disagree/share your own story to me on Twitter)

But here are a few more things that I've seen around that I think make biking in L.A. terrible.

A protester holds a sign outside the NACTO conference in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, as demonstrators call for the city to do more to reduce cyclist and pedestrian fatalities in the city. (Caleigh Wells/LAist)

1. Rubbled roads. I took the bike path between downtown L.A. and LACMA last week and it was like mountain biking. I was completely wiped because I exerted myself so much just trying to keep stable.

This is a notorious problem - last year, the city of Los Angeles paid out more than $19 million to cyclists and their families because of injuries or death. And the L.A. Times did an analysis which found that almost a fifth of the city's bike lanes and routes are on streets graded D or F.

2. The lack of good signage. This is not unique to biking, it's an all-of-L.A. problem. I've seen many cars do a last-minute scramble to their exit on the Four Level — that interchange where the 10-110-101-5 freeways meet.

But it's frustrating not knowing where to go when biking. When I did reporting on the opening of the Expo Line, for example, I biked around to find places to highlight. But the bike path disappeared right in the middle around Cheviot Hills. There were few well-marked signs showing me where to go instead. I ended up meandering through a neighborhood, lost for about 20 minutes.

3. Few parking options. Need a place to park your bike? Good luck! It's a crapshoot knowing whether there might be a lot of racks nearby. (Oh, and did you know it's technically illegal to lock a bike to a parking meter - one of the few options out there?)

BUT NO AMOUNT OF INFRASTRUCTURE CAN FIX...

Our attitudes. Every one of us on the road.

Perhaps you disagree, but look inside yourself and ask, do you really trust other Angelenos on the road? Do you think people never take their anger about congestion out on each other?

I say no.

I'm a cynic. I see a lot of frustrated drivers doing reckless things because someone cut them off, because they were rushing or had a bad day.

If I'm hit while biking, I'll be hurt way more than if I was in a car.

So until Angelenos become more chill on city roads, L.A. will never be that great for bikes.

Editor's note: Listen to the radio version of this story here on KPCC's Take Two.


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