More Bike Lanes for Los Angeles? One Cyclist Says, “No Thanks.”

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In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Will Campbell writes that bike lanes in Los Angeles are useless and dangerous. Campbell is an avid recreational and commuter cyclist who set a goal of riding 2,007 miles in L.A. this year.

L.A., which averages 329 sunny, bike-friendly days a year, should be one of the most forward-thinking cities on the subject. Instead, greater Los Angeles remains a vast patchwork of bikeways, bike lanes and bike routes that haven’t coalesced.

That’s not to say nothing is happening. The city has an 11-year-old Bicycle Plan, and city and county officials cite the proliferation of on-street bike lanes as an example of the great strides being made. Yet the numbers leave a lot to be desired. Of Los Angeles County’s 6,400 miles of surface streets, only 481 miles have bike lanes (320 inside the city limits – five fewer miles than much smaller Tucson).

Whether one sees that glass as half full or half empty, I personally wish the city would just stop filling it. Quit while it’s behind and not stripe another inch of bike lane.


Here’s why: By law, my bicycle is considered a vehicle with the same right to the road as your car or truck. Bike lanes provide an arguable buffer zone of safety (as well as a great place for people to put their garbage containers on trash day), but they marginalize cyclists and reinforce their status as second-class commuters who shouldn’t be on the road.

Some bike lanes even put cyclists at greater risk, such as the newest lanes along Santa Monica Boulevard between Century City and the San Diego Freeway. Cars have to make quick cuts across the bike lane to get to side streets, shopping centers and parking spaces. The eastbound bike lane literally vanishes midblock, as if the Department of Transportation ran out of paint before reaching Avenue of the Stars.

L.A. Department of Transportation officials quote chapter and verse how the city’s newest bike lanes safely conform to state regulations – and not counting the disappearing act I mentioned, I’m sure that’s true. But it’s not enough.

What will be enough? I’ll never be satisfied until Silverados and Schwinns can peacefully coexist on all surface streets. But an update of the city Bicycle Plan – something the plan stipulated should have been done last year – is a good place to start. Our city and county transportation agencies should be trying out fresher bike-transit concepts, such as shared-use arrows, known as sharrows, and bicycle-priority streets, also called bike boulevards.

Photo: jamaldona/Flickr

  • Anonymous mean critic

    My long lost brother!

  • mike

    wow, 2007 miles?
    lets see – 2007 divided by ‘L.A., which averages 329 sunny, bike-friendly days a year’ = 6.1 miles per day.

    bike lanes have their problems, for sure – mainly limited by poor design and implementation – but from my experience they do raise driver awareness that there are other folks out there with legal rights to the public right of way. until drivers are put through a rigorous ‘road users’ section of their basic training – and pay the price when they do not treat other users as equals – bike lanes, psa’s, awareness campaigns, critical mass, and bike to work week are good places to start making a difference.

  • Is it just coincidence that most bike-lane opponents, like Mr. Campbell, are A (advanced) riders, not B (basic) or C (children) riders?

    As a bike commuter, I can take bike lanes or leave them.

    As a biking advocate, I don’t see how pretending there’s no difference between a multi-ton car and a kid on a bike is going to promote greater bike use.

  • TG

    I agree, Sean.

    As a former lifelong bike commuter (I’ve stopped since moving to NYC because only the subway is feasible for my particular commute) I must say that I tend to feel the same way as Will Campbell. Bike lanes ghettoize bicyclists into a segment of the roadway that is not always the safest place for them to be. Bicyclists need to the freedom to “take a lane” as necessary to avoid obstructions and swinging car doors, and bike lanes tend to assure drivers that bicyclists will remain right of the white line.

    At the same time, bike lanes are completely necessary to getting more bicyclists on the street, which is essential for improving bicycle safety more generally.

    This is an old debate, but on balance I think our policies should skew toward attracting more cyclists.

  • ben

    Well first by law I need to ride in them even if I am an advacned. Two most drivers will conduct road rage if I am not on a shoulder.

    Fact
    We wouldn’t need seperation if we had good drivers.
    Bike lanes only sperate traffic so the auto can go faster. They do litte for my safety in terms of design, maintenance, road hazzards, or seperation.
    A standard bike lane is 5 feet. A traffic lane is 7 feet. Yet they allow substandard bike lanes.
    Thye very rarely design a road with a bike lane. The bike lanes are simply added onto the road.
    Bike lanes are put on streets already with traffic calming and 25 mph speed limits.
    In a bike lane you will be passed closer and faster.
    No thanks keep your stinking bike lane.

  • bev_rd

    I think bike lanes give people a sense of security they should not have, and sense of entitlement that only .005% of the population would agreee with.

  • There has always been a conflict over bike lanes.

    Macho bicyclists, who are accustomed to riding in traffic at 20 miles per hour or more, don’t want to be “marginalized” by bike lanes.

    Most people are not willing even to try bicycling in traffic. Bike lanes and paths are essential to promoting a mode shift among these people. The very safe European-style bike lanes that Alan Durning described in a recent article will, of course, promote the biggest mode shift.

    Unfortunately, the machos don’t seem to care about promoting a mode shift.

    This article says: “A network of seven bike boulevards has been used to great effect in Berkeley.” As one of the activists who helped plan this bike boulevard network and push it through city government, I can assure everyone that, in the denser parts of the city (eg, Channing south of campus), the bike boulevards do have striped bike lanes.

    The best model for shared space is the short section of a bicycle boulevard that is a “slow street,” with speed humps to slow traffic to 15 mph, slow enough to make novice bicyclists feel safe. But when we were getting this through city government, some of the loudest objections came from a couple of macho bicyclists who typically bicycled at 20 mph and did not want to slow down to 15 mph.

  • pedestrian

    @bev_rd: They already suffer an undue sense of entitlement to the road. But where are you getting the idea that only .005% of people are drivers? 😛

    Non-bicyclist here, btw. Streetsblog isn’t just for bikers.

  • Charlie D.

    I think bike lanes do way more good than harm. Those bicyclists who travel the speed of traffic should be allowed to use the general travel lanes should they choose to do so. Here in MA bicyclists are not required to use bike lanes when provided as they are in NY. The goal SHOULD be mode shift, and bike lanes help this. Many daily bike commuters such as myself, who travel at more moderate speeds of 10-12 mph, prefer bike lanes because they allow you to not have to contend with faster motorized traffic. (And a properly designed bike lane should keep you out of the door zone as well.)

  • ben said, "Well first by law I need to ride in them even if I am an advacned."

    Not true in NYC:

    http://www.bicycledefensefund.org/bikelaw.html

    Bike Lanes
    You are NOT required to ride in the bike lane.

    —34 RCNY 4-12(p)(1) states that bicyclists should ride in usable bike lanes, unless they are preparing to turn, or are avoiding unsafe conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards).

    Q: Isn’t this an overstatement of the law? It seems to me that the law says that bikes have to stay in bike lanes.
    A: No. If you look at the full text of the statute it clearly grants cyclists the discretion to ride in the bike lane or not, according to whether the cyclist deems it safe. As safe, usable bike lanes are extremely rare in New York City, cyclists are not required to endanger themselves by riding in unsafe bike lanes.

    Q: But- but- aren’t you saying that cyclists can ride wherever they want whenever they want? That’s crazy!
    A: No. Cyclists are still required to follow all other applicable traffic laws, such as riding the right way on one-way streets (VTL 1127(a)), and exercising due care (VTL § 1146). They are not, however, required to ride in the bike lane if there is any reason not to.

  • Steve

    NYC offers the possbility of having it both ways–plenty of Class II bike lanes to beinstalled overthe next few years, but the traffic laws don’t require bicyclists to use them except in extraordinary circumstances. My impression is that folks in other jurisidictions face a different regime as far as bike lane use is concerned.

  • ben

    Sorry Tempe Arizona.

    Here the sidewalk is where most of the cyclists are, even when a bike lanes is right there. It is legal.
    I assume this is because the bike lanes are as I stated that bad in Tempe.

    Just last night, I am in a bike lane that ends for a Right only turn lane for the intersection. A huge truck wants to turn right. I merge out of the bike lane across the front of the truck (truck doesn’t overtake) and sit on the left side of the travel lane. All so a truck can turn right. Of course after I get through the intersection I head back over to the bike lane. The part where I need most protection and they tell me to use the road.

  • Clarence

    I think that saying we don’t need any bicycle amenities of any kind is a selfish attitude. I can barrel on down 2nd Avenue with the best of them – I don’t need bike lanes to get around – buffered/separated/painted/whatever, but I am not the average rider and I don’t expect the young/old/novice to get to my level. Without bike lanes we aren’t going to add substansially to the bike riding public which is the ultimate goal.

    Besides some of the painted buffered bike lanes work pretty well most of the time. I ride in those whenever I can.

  • anonymous

    By the way, the real problem that bike lanes need to address is not streets per se, but intersections. On a straight road, any old white line that cars stay to one side of and bikes to the other works well enough. Heck, in some parts of California, bikes are allowed on freeways, when there is no other road. The real problem is at intersections though, where there are many potential conflicts, and from what I’ve seen of suburban bike lanes, they tend to end right before intersections, leaving cyclists to fend for themselves amongst the turning and merging cars. That’s the kind of bike lane that might actually be dangerous, if it dumps the cyclist into a dangerous situation. The solution? Paint bike lanes up to, and across intersections, paint them blue to make them visible, and reinforce the lesson that bikes have the right of way. That would give a feeling of security, as well as an actual safety improvement from having an unambiguous safe path for bikes.

  • James

    What a bunch of purer-than-thou nonsense. Yes, let’s refuse any “arguable buffer zones” until the Millennium comes and people miraculously realizes that cars should treat bikes as equals. This is on a par with the argument the other day that helmets are a capitulation to the idea that bicyclists, not society, need to ensure their own safety. A fine point in theory, but I can’t use it to argue my brain back into my skull once it’s spilled onto the pavement.

  • Bike lanes would serve a purpose even if NO bikers used them. They narrow the roadway. This is the main contribution of on-street parking and even double-parking.

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