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July’s Bike Plan Implementation Team meeting was packed!

At our most recent Bicycle Plan Implementation Team meeting, Bikeways Engineer Tim Fremaux briefly noted that the LADOT implemented a number of road diets in the past fiscal year. Although it was only mentioned in passing, after looking at the exact mileage, it turns out this is actually a big accomplishment. Of the 100 miles of bike lanes installed over the last fiscal year, 20.1 miles came in the form of road diets. This comes as particularly promising news from a traffic safety perspective in light of the great safety improvements recently observed on a section of York Boulevard that received a road diet in 2006. So let’s take a page from the SFMTA, and be proud of our road diets, and see exactly where these road diets are:

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As a cyclist, there are few things that slow your roll more than stop signs and traffic lights. Getting back up to speed after stopping can take a lot of energy. Stopping at every light and stop sign can add minutes to your trip, and the extra exertion can leave you sweaty and tired when you get to your destination.

So, what do many cyclists do? Stop signs become yield signs, and often, traffic lights become stop signs. So called “California stops,” or rolling stops, are a common practice for both cyclists and motorists in Los Angeles, and across the country. The practice, while a boon to cyclist momentum, is unfortunately illegal. While states like Idaho, and more recently Virginia, allow cyclists to treat traffic control signals differently than cars do, California does not. In our state, bicycles are vehicles, and vehicles are bound by CVC 21462 and CVC 22450. While the first violation comes with a fine of less than $100 before administrative fees, additional violations increase the monetary cost of the infraction.

Setting aside the valuable, and very real point that bicycles are different than cars, and that bicycles are being made to adhere to a vehicle code that doesn’t totally apply to them, until statutes are changed, bicyclists should follow all traffic laws. They should do so for a number of reasons: Doing so will make cycling safer. It sets a good example for motorists, and it is the law. You might argue that treating a traffic control signal like a yield doesn’t harm anyone, and thus isn’t morally wrong, but this behavior can harm future plans for bicycle infrastructure, the lack of which can lead to real physical injury.

Running traffic lights works counter to the cause of those who want improved bicycle infrastructure because it creates community opposition to cyclists.  Tom Stafford writes that what really annoys drivers about cyclists is this rulebreaking behavior, even if no one is actually hurt by it, because it upsets the “moral order” of the road. Drivers get angry when they see a cyclist doing something they can’t do, whether that’s weaving between cars to move to the front of the queue or treating a stop light as a yield. There is almost a collective “Why do they get to go if I can’t?” uttered whenever a cyclist breezes through an empty intersection. To drivers, the rules of the road are the rules of the road.

As long as bicycles and cars are governed by the same sections of the Vehicle Code, drivers will think cyclists are “getting away with something” when they run red lights. This annoyance with rule breaking cyclists wouldn’t be as big of an issue for bicycle politics in Los Angeles or around the world if it was limited to the rule breakers themselves, but this isn’t the case.

Though what is known as the “affect heuristic“, a driver’s emotional response to perceived cyclist misdeeds becomes generalized to the entire cycling population. “That no-good, rude rule breaking cyclist!” becomes “Those no-good, rude rule breaking cyclists!” or worse yet, “All cyclists are no-good, rude and rule breaking!”

Politically, you can see why this would be an issue. In order for the 2010 Bicycle Plan to be fully implemented, LADOT and cyclists across the city need to rely on local community support. If community members, having seen some cyclists treating a stop light as a yield, see this needed infrastructure as a giveaway to rulebreakers, it’s going to be an even tougher sell.

So please, I know it makes a lot of sense to safely glide though red lights and stop signs. I don’t like slowing my momentum putting my foot down for a full stop as much as the next cyclist, but fairly or unfairly, it hurts the cause of improving LA’s bicycle infrastructure every time you do. As long as bikes and cars have to follow the same rules, running red lights on two wheels just perpetuates incorrect generalizations that can make roads unsafe for cyclists in the short term, and make growing our bikeway network more difficult in the long term.

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123 miles is about the distance from Los Angeles City Hall to downtown San Diego. Mayor Villaraigosa announced February 21st that it is also the number of bikeways installed by LADOT since the beginning of Bicycle Plan implementation in March 2011. The rate of 61 miles every 12 months is almost eight times as fast as in the last 40 years.

A list of the mileage completed so far this fiscal year can be found here:

As the year moves forward, LADOT will be focusing on adding additional bicycle lanes, more bicycle parking, several bicycle path construction projects, sharrowing more than 22 miles of roads, and installing Bicycle-Friendly Street infrastructure on 4th Street.

We’d like to thank the leadership of Mayor Villaraigosa and the City Council, as well as the city’s many bicycle advocates, for helping to make Los Angeles a more Bicycle Friendly Community.

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April 2011 CicLAvia by http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltarrrrr/

April 2011 CicLAvia by waltarrrrr

The LADOT Bike Blog is constantly on the lookout for great bicycle photography to include in our posts. We can’t be everywhere snapping pictures of every spoke or bicycle lane though. That’s where you come in. If you contribute your Los Angeles bicycle-related photography to our Flickr pool, we can use it in upcoming posts, putting your work in front of thousands of people (properly attributed, of course!).

If you’re interested in contributing to the pool, join or login to Flickr. Then, join our Flickr pool and click “Add Photos” on the pool homepage. From there, you can send us as many photos as you like, provided they relate to bicycling in Los Angeles.

Our goal to create a thriving community of Los Angeles bicycle-related photography, and we hope you join us!

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