By Stephen Box
LAPD’s Charlie Beck, barely into his third month as Chief, is off to a great start in his promise to forge a strong working relationship with the cycling community. Shortly after his nomination he was working the neighborhood council circuit, introducing himself to community leaders and promising to make “good policing and civil rights” the foundation of his LAPD legacy. It was at the Citywide Alliance of NCs that he was presented with the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights and a challenge to put his leadership team to work making Los Angeles a great place for cyclists to ride.
Since then, Commander David Doan and his team have formed the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force which met in a marathon session to initiate a comprehensive survey of the cycling conditions from all perspectives, not just from the patrol car.
Representatives from the Bike Writers Collective, illuminateLA, Sustainable Streets, Bikeside, the Bike Working Group, the Voice, and the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee were all present and offered up insight from different perspectives, all united in a desire to see the LAPD embrace cycling as a transportation solution, not simply as interruption in the smooth flow of motor vehicle traffic.
Cmdr. Doan convened the meeting saying “The LAPD is committed to making our roadways safer for all commuters with an emphasis on our most vulnerable commuters, cyclists. We are committed to working with the cycling community to improve police cyclist interactions and to find ways to make our streets safer for everyone.”
As the City of Los Angeles wallows in the midst of a budget crisis of unprecedented proportions, one might wonder why the LAPD would put valuable resources on such a niche constituent group but this is exactly the model for community policing that is essential, not just as a public safety solution but as an example of how community leaders can partner with city leadership to make the most of our valuable resources.
A strong working relationship with the cycling community allows the LAPD to draw on the insight and experience of cyclists who experience the gritty details of the streets of LA up close and personal. Something the LAPD won’t experience from a patrol car that is racing from one high priority call to the next.
As for the cycling community, the issues that were presented included:
1) Education – It is imperative that we work together to educate the LAPD officers who patrol the streets and the City Family as a whole on the rights of cyclists on streets of Los Angeles. Last year a DWP contractor ran over and killed a cyclist in the crosswalk of a quiet residential street in the Valley.
Last year a LADOT contractor ran over and killed a pedestrian in the crosswalk of 5th and Flower. There’s no doubt that our streets are congested and contested, but it is imperative that we move past debates over rights and into a campaign to make our streets safer.
2) Cyclists Count – It is important that the LAPD has good accident data so that the allocation of resources can be most effective yet cyclists are uncounted as a user group, uncounted in accident surveys and uncounted in crime reports.
In spite of the forms that are used on the streets, the databases that collect the information don’t capture the cyclist as a unique travel mode. The result is that simple questions of public safety, conflict hot spots, areas that need additional enforcement and simple reviews of performance are unanswerable because, at present, cyclists don’t count.
3) Crime Scenes – When a motorist “asserts” himself against a cyclist, it is not a simple traffic violation or traffic collision, it is a crime. Crimes against cyclists need to be treated as real crimes, not as simple infractions that are simply part of everyday traffic in Los Angeles. A hit-and-run motorist that leaves a cyclist behind needs to be pursued and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The recent Mandeville Canyon road rage incident that resulted in several felony convictions for Dr. Christopher Thompson wasn’t the first reported incident for the Dr., it was the third, and it wasn’t investigated as a crime until it got political. That must change!
4) Civil Rights – Cyclists riding alone and late at night sometimes find themselves in handcuffs while the LAPD checks their information. LAPD officers report that this “immobilization” is simply for the safety of the officers but critics call it “bias based policing” or “profiling” and that riding a bike should not be a cue for handcuffs.
The cyclists who stand the greater chance of ending up in cuffs are the “workforce” cyclists who ride for economic reasons, may not have lights and who may ride on the sidewalks late at night. The opportunity here would be to have the LAPD pass out blinkies and a copy of the Cyclists’ Rules of the Road rather than to assume that late-night cyclists are “capering.”
5) Bike Safety – Cycling advocates hold that in spite of all the well-intentioned advice for cyclists, real public safety on the streets of Los Angeles starts with a focus on Motor Vehicle Safety.
Motorists will cause approximately 40,000 deaths this year in the United States. It’s no secret that our streets are filled with high-performance vehicles operated by low-performance motorists. The distractions are many and GPS units, cell phones, entertainment equipment, in-car dining, behind-the-wheel grooming, road rage, speeding and simple contempt for others on the road all contribute to an unsafe environment. The place to start is with the operator that is able to do the most damage, the motorist.
6) Road Rage – Cyclists talk of their journeys on the streets of Los Angeles as if they were campaigns in a war-torn third world country. Motorists who race up from behind, lay on the horn and threaten death turn out to be soccer moms. Bus Operators “asserting” themselves across bike lanes, vehicle passengers who throw things, “right-hooks” and “left-hooks” and “doorings” all add up to a simple journey across town.
Through it all is the common thread, simple road rage. Yet reporting these incidents to the LAPD reveals that we don’t have strong investigation or enforcement policies in place. That has to change!
7) Hot Spots – Cyclists are just like anybody else on the road, they expect to make safe and effective progress toward destinations that include homes, places of employment, schools, cultural and social destinations, shops and parks. Cyclists also recognize that route selection is an essential element of safe and effective cycling. There is a real opportunity for the cycling community and the LAPD to work together to identify “hot spots” that could use enhanced LAPD patrols and enforcement, perhaps even LAPD Bike Stings.
8) Bicycle Network – The LA Bike Working Group (BWG) is developing “LA’s Best Bike Plan” and a key element is the Backbone Network, a series of streets that stretch from Downtown to the Westside, from Downtown to the Harbor, from East to West across the Valley and from Downtown to the Eastside. In other words, a Backbone Network that connects the city of Los Angeles and really gets cyclists from one side to the other.
The current LADOT inspired bikeways network consists of bits and pieces of bikeway scattered “where it fits” instead of “where it’s needed.” LA’s Best Bike Plan is the Bike Plan with a Backbone and it doesn’t require millions of dollars in infrastructure funding to put an enforcement and maintenance focus on the streets that are vital to cyclists who simply want to get across town safely and effectively.
9) Speed Limits – Last year the LADOT peppered the Transportation Commission and the Transportation Committee with speed limit increase proposals throughout the city. While surrounding communities such as Glendale and Burbank supported then-Assemblyman (now Councilman) Krekorian’s AB766 “Safe Streets” bill that would allow local communities to have more control over the establishment of speed limits, the LAPD lobbied neighborhood councils, the Commission and the Transportation Committee in support of speed limit increases.
All this was in an effort to maintain speed limit surveys that would allow the LAPD to continue to use radar/laser speed limit violation enforcement. The times are changing and we should work together to change the speed trap law. We should also work together to implement traffic calming techniques such as speed tables, bulb-outs and road diets, all of which slow traffic without requiring the presence of a law enforcement officer.
10) Training – The LAPD has a Traffic Division commitment to providing officers with roll call training on bicycle safety but it is imperative that the training start with an Education Module at the Academy and that it is supported by significant ongoing education that reflects the changes that are taking place on our streets, in the traffic mix, in the legislature and in the courts.
11) Crime Reports – When a motorist has their car stolen, it’s investigated by Traffic Investigators. When a cyclist has their bike stolen, should they walk to the nearest Police Station to give a report that is then investigated as a property crime? Can a cyclist give a “stolen bike” report over the telephone? What are the LAPD policies for crime reporting when it comes to cyclists? Road Rage reports, hit-and-run crimes, jurisdictional confusion, CVC interpretation that varies from the CHP to the Sheriffs to the LAPD, all on the same street in Los Angeles.
Good policing depends on good data which results from good crime reporting which is in need of some significant departmental policy and education, internally and externally. Cyclists contend that many crimes go unreported because the “hassle” factor exceeds the “impact” factor.
12) Bike Plan – The City of Los Angeles is in the process of updating the Bike Plan, which is a component of the Transportation Plan which is an element of the city’s state-mandated General Plan. The LADOT and City Planning have spent two years and $450,000 on the Draft Bike Plan and yet they somehow forgot to involve the LAPD policy makers who might find the Bike Plan to be a useful tool for funding, for synchronizing with the City Family, for addressing priorities, for working with the other departments who have authority over the streets of LA, and most of all for making sure that the streets of Los Angeles are safe for everybody. Somehow this is simply unacceptable and the LAPD must be involved in the bike Plan update process.
13) Cyclists’ Bill of Rights – LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights in his hands and it is up to him and his LAPD leadership team to support the cyclists of Los Angeles by establishing Equality as the foundation upon which we will work together to make Los Angeles a great place to ride.
Commander Doan of the LAPD’s Operations Department is supported on the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force by Lt. Torsney, Sgt. Graham and Sgt. Krumer. They will be at the next meeting of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee on Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 7 pm. The LABAC meets at Parker Center, 150 Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
(Stephen Box is a cycling advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net) -cw