NPR covers L.A. Bike Trains, gives voice to sociopath

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[Update 12/3: Corrected Herbie’s affiliation. She’s employed by the Institute of Transportation Studies, not the Luskin Center. I have a hard time keeping all the various UCLA Luskin School research centers straight, seeing as they fund all sorts of joint initiatives and are all housed in the same building — oftentimes in the same rooms.]

L.A. Bike Trains is a great concept created by my friends Nona Varnado and Bruce Chan in which people commute by bike together on fixed routes and at fixed times. The idea is to have experienced commuters lead the ride so that beginners can see how it’s done and have someone there to deal with any unforeseen issues — flats, mechanicals, etc.

Even more fantastic: NPR did a segment on L.A. Bike Trains for the weekend edition of All Things Considered! There’s an interview with Nona as well as some of the conductors and commuters. Another friend of mine, Herbie Huff of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation Institute of Transportation Studies, puts a little bit of a damper on the boosterism, arguing that protected bike lanes and bike sharing systems will probably do more to make bicycling accessible to non-enthusiasts. She’s absolutely right, but I still think the Bike Trains idea is useful for helping people who already own bikes get over their fears and see just how far their bikes can take them. When I started riding as an adult about four years ago, for example, one of the ways I got comfortable riding on busier streets was by riding with groups. Before long, I was commuting up and down Westwood Boulevard between my apartment in Palms and the UCLA campus, taking the lane when needed.

Anyway, there was one interview in the story — that of Los Angeles resident Jackie Burke — that really got under my skin, as well as many other people’s, no doubt. Not only does she talk about being annoyed by bicyclists; she admits to having intentionally driven dangerously close to them when she felt like they were getting in her way. This goes beyond the usual troglodyte comments we hear from random anti-cyclists on the internet; this woman is openly admitting to having menaced and assaulted random strangers for daring to cause her a few seconds’ delay.

I sent the editors of ATC a response via NPR’s listener feedback form. You can read it here in its entirety:

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I’ve seen this neighborhood on Google Maps aerials before and always imagined it must not be a very nice place to live or own property. At this point LAWA should probably just condemn the whole neighborhood and figure out a use for the site; the current strategy of piecemeal acquisition and demolition is just undermining the value of the investments the remaining owners have made.

Walking, Biking and Public Health: LACBC/LA Walks Speaker Event Thurs. 11/21

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Planning Committee has been putting together a series of panel discussions aimed at giving active transportation advocates the tools and knowledge they need to get results in their communities. They’re at it again, this time in partnership with Los Angeles Walks. Next month’s event will focus on the connections between active transportation and public health, and how bike and pedestrian advocates can hone their messages, work with allies in the health field and otherwise leverage the recent surge of interest in healthy communities to maximum effect. November 21st at the LACBC office; hope you can make it.

Details:

Let’s Talk About Health: The Public Health Approach to Walking and Biking

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 @ 7pm

634 S Spring St, 1st Floor (Edison Room)

$10 general admission; free for LACBC members and 2013 LA Walks donors

Wrong on so many levels

 

This video, shot by Wes High on his commute along Fountain Avenue through West Hollywood, has been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. The Sheriff’s deputy here is 100% wrong on the law regarding where people on bikes can ride in the street. Here’s why:

a) The requirement to ride to the far-right side of the roadway, contained in Section 21202 of the California Vehicle Code, is very limited in its applicability. There are exceptions for when a cyclist is navigating past hazards (i.e., the drainage grates at the side of the roadway and the parked cars whose occupants might swing their doors open into Wes’ path); when a cyclist is approaching a driveway or intersection and might get ‘right hooked’ by a driver accelerating around him to make a turn and cutting him off; and when the lane is simply too narrow for a car and a bike to travel safely side-by-side within the same lane. All of these exceptions apply at one point or another in the video; all were adopted as part of the Vehicle Code by the state Legislature. They’re there for very good reasons.

b) Similarly, the impeding statute, Vehicle Code Section 21656, which the deputy invokes when he claims Wes is “obstructing traffic,” is also extremely limited. It only applies on roads with one lane in each direction, and requires a line of five or more vehicles be stacked up behind the slow-moving vehicle with no safe way to pass. There’s a perfectly good lane to the left that faster drivers can use to overtake Wes if they please, so there’s no obstruction going on.

Beyond the utter cluelessness of many traffic cops as to the actual law regarding bikes and lane positioning, this video highlights the gross inadequacy of sharrows alone as bicycle “infrastructure.” They’re supposed to communicate the correct lane positioning to both cyclists and drivers, but the deputy’s (100% incorrect) insistence that it’s only a route marking and Wes should still ride in the gutter proves that the message simply isn’t getting across.

We need to build out a network that offers better bicycle mobility options (cycle tracks, low-traffic-volume routes on neighborhood streets, etc.) than this if we’re going to become a bike-friendly city. Hopefully, one day we’ll get to a point where conflicts like this don’t even come up, because streets like Fountain will have either separate bike facilities or viable parallel bike routes one or two blocks over. The bicycle-priority network being discussed as part of the City of LA’s Mobility Element update and whatever bikeway network comes out of the City of West Hollywood’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Mobility Plan update would be good places to start on this high-quality network.

Having said that, in the meantime, it’s unacceptable for this sort of thing to be going on. Officer Teufel is actively working against this rider’s safety by advising him to ride in a location that will invite dangerously close passes, doorings and right hooks. Streets are public utilities, and people on bikes need to be able to use them in a manner consistent with recognized best practices and permitted under the law. Agents of the state are supposed to be protecting the rights and safety of people lawfully traveling on the roadway, not trying to enforce laws that don’t exist or that don’t apply — for valid safety reasons — under the circumstances.

Shared roadways may make poor bike infrastructure, but they’re largely what we have to work with for the time being, and people are going to have to use them for many years to come to bridge the gaps between the high-quality bike facilities and wherever they need to get to. They need to know their rights under the law are going to be respected by those with the power to enforce it. We’re not going to advance the cause of bicycle safety and mobility by harassing law-abiding cyclists off the streets we currently have.

An online post at RollingStone.com about the cover contained more than 1,000 comments, many of them criticizing the decision. On the magazine’s Facebook page, an image of the cover had generated over 10,000 comments, a number of them expressing outrage.

 

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at my fellow Americans’ capacity for reflexive, uninformed hysteria, so I’ll just explain this patiently. Just because they put the guy on the front of the magazine doesn’t mean they’re holding him up as a hero. People who aren’t familiar with RS may not realize this, but they include serious, non-entertainment, current affairs commentary and investigative articles in every issue. Back in the day, they did a big profile on Charles Manson, and lo and behold, his face was on the cover. How is this any different?

 

Of course, I’d be lying if I said I thought the selection of a pic that resembles a glam/rockstar photo wasn’t intentional. That’s kind of the whole point, and that tension — between the guy’s charming, photogenic appearance and the monstrous acts he and his brother carried out — is completely in keeping with Janet Reitman’s accompanying article.

The Hollywood Bowl needs better bike parking

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Using tickets I randomly won in a giveaway last week on Twitter (thanks, KCRW!), I went to a concert on Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl featuring badass Mexican guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela along with DeVotchka and Lord Huron. I decided to try riding my bike there. It was quite fun lane-splitting through gummed-up traffic on Highland and easy enough (for a nimble lad like me, at least) to hoist my bike on my shoulder as I climbed down, then up the stairs to take the tunnel under Highland and onto the Bowl’s property. Once I got there, however, I found the bike parking to be decidedly inadequate. If you’re interested in hearing me go on at length about this, read the following letter I copy/pasted into the Bowl’s ‘Contact Us’ form for all the details of the experience and how they can fix the situation.

UPDATE (7/16/13 5:19 pm): I’m told the Bowl provides a sweet bike rack to its employees and that there’s at least one bike commuter in their marketing department who’s working on improving the bike parking for event patrons, including discussing the possibility of having the LA County Bicycle Coalition coordinate a bike valet. Good to hear things may be getting better!

To whom it may concern:

I strongly encourage the Hollywood Bowl to re-evaluate how it accommodates the parking needs of patrons who choose to arrive by bicycle. I recently rode my bike to an event, and found the designated “bike parking” (i.e., a railing around a tree next to the Main Gate) to be a joke. By the time I arrived 15 minutes before showtime, the entire outside of the railing was occupied by locked bikes, and I had to hoist my bike and clamber over the railing in order to find a space to lock up. Because the height of the railing interfered with my handlebars, it took me several minutes to figure out how to move the frame of my bicycle close enough to the railing to be able to lock it securely. A picture I took of the designated bike parking area — overflowing with locked bikes — may be viewed at http://goo.gl/7cFVA.

I found the whole experience to be undignified and unworthy of the Bowl’s reputation as a world-class live music venue. Beyond this, I am disappointed that the Bowl’s management has yet to see the wisdom of making arriving by bicycle a more convenient experience. Bicycles, after all, take up much less space than automobiles and do not contribute to the pre- and post-event congestion on surrounding streets for which the Bowl has become famous. In a time when the City of Los Angeles is seeking to encourage public transit, bicycling and walking as alternatives to sitting in traffic and making significant investments in improvements for users of these modes, the failure of large destinations like the Bowl to accommodate bicyclists at the end of their trips is holding back the achievement of this worthy policy goal.

This is all very frustrating because it would be remarkably easy for the Bowl to support the proper parking and locking of bicycles. Properly designed bicycle parking can accommodate 8 to 12 bikes in the space it would take to park one car, and standard U-shaped racks accommodating two bikes each can be bought and installed for around $100-200 apiece. Surely there is space somewhere on the Bowl’s property and in its budget for a few dozen of these racks. 

If you require more information about how to provide proper bicycle parking, I recommend consulting the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals’ “Bicycle Parking Guidelines” (available at http://goo.gl/k3KOl), which contains standards for the shape, spacing and siting of bike racks. It would also be a good idea to review the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s guidelines for bike parking (http://goo.gl/vXOBY). It is key that any new bike racks allow for the frame — not just the wheel — of the bicycle to be locked, and that they not require the bicycle to be lifted off the ground.

It is my sincere hope that the management of the Bowl take this problem seriously and work in good faith to address it. I look forward to many more years of riding my bike to events and being treated with the same respect and dignity as any other Bowl patron.