Making Los Angeles more bike friendly

Living on Earth

This story was originally reported by PRI’s Living on Earth. For more, listen to the audio above.

Biking in Los Angeles can be dangerous. Throughout much of the county, there are “no bike lanes, cars opening doors — just swinging them open without looking back, cracked roads, potholes,” Los Angeles resident Louis Moya told Living on Earth. “And, people driving really close to you, they start honking at you. They yell at you, you know, ‘get off the road, get on the sidewalk.'”

Some of the hostility toward bikers comes from ignorance. At a Bike Summit called by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LA resident Brent Butterworth described a recent experience:

I was yelled at twice last night for making legal left hand turns on my bike. And, you know, I survived, but I left two drivers who now hate cyclists even worse. The problem is these people are running around with a set of laws in their head that they basically made up. They have no awareness of what bicycle laws are.

The city is so dangerous that Mayor Villaraigosa recently had a bike accident of his own. He told the crowd at the bike summit:

I was going 16-18 miles an hour, hit headfirst. Then hit my elbow. My elbow was the size of a grapefruit. It’s shattered in eight places and I have a plate from my elbow almost about two-thirds of the way to my wrist. So, imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Some are calling for stricter laws to protect bicyclists, but many of the actions that endanger bikers are already illegal. Threatening and harassing bikers is already a crime, though it’s seldom prosecuted, because it’s hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The city is considering passing an ordinance that would allow bicyclists to sue in civil court. That would mean a lower standard of proof, and something cyclists could pursue on their own. “The city could pass a law that would give someone who is unlawfully harassed the right to sue for that,” city attorney Judith Reel told Living on Earth, “and could also award punitive damages, treble damages and attorneys’ fees.”

The best solution for many bicyclists may be to simply create more bike lanes, an aspect where Los Angeles is severely lacking. The Mayor has promised a fivefold increase in the number of lanes each year, but it’s still not moving fast enough for some people.

Still, the city has seen improvements lately. “I’m convinced we’ve at least tripled the number of people on bicycles in Los Angeles in the last few years,” says Ryan Snyder, a consultant who has been working on bike issues since the 1970s. He told Living on Earth:

This is a global movement. And it’s exciting to be a part of it, especially having been involved when many people just thought the idea of bicycles ever becoming a meaningful part of the mix of transportation modes in the city as a crazy idea.

Hosted by Steve Curwood, “Living on Earth” is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More “Living on Earth.”

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