CityWatch, Apr 3, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 27
This past Sunday, the operator of a large, articulating Metro Local bus pulled up behind a cyclist riding in the Sunset Boulevard bike lane, honked his horn twice, and then accelerated, veering to the right into the approaching bus stop, and forcing the cyclist to the curb. The cyclist was infuriated and confronted the bus operator who responded by explaining to the cyclist and then again to his passengers that the solid line indicates a bike lane but that the dashed line on the approach to the corner indicates a “bus zone” and that cyclists must stop and give way to buses.
Based on this incident, it appears that there is a disconnect between the California Vehicle Code (CVC) that governs all other road users and the Metro’s policies and practices for using the same roads.
CVC 27001(a) specifies "The driver of a motor vehicle, when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation, shall give audible warning with his horn." The Metro, on the other hand, instructs its operators to sound the horn for “cyclists and other road hazards.”
Passing a cyclist is no cause to honk, in fact it distracts the cyclist at the worst possible moment, in this case as the operator is about to illegally and unsafely force the cyclist from the road.
Further, characterizing cyclists as “road hazards” only serves to reinforce the “might is right” bias that is so dangerous on our streets.
CVC 21750 specifies that “the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle…”
When a motorist pulls in front of a cyclist, especially in a long articulating bus that comes to rest at an angle with the back end still in the bike lane, the cyclist is forced to suddenly stop and choose the curb, the back of the bus or the traffic lane and none of them are good choices. Getting cut off by a right-turning vehicle is one of the most dangerous of scenarios for a cyclist and is often referred to as the “right-hook.”
As for this incident, a complaint was logged and an email was sent to Metro Customer Service, Metro Management and the Metro Board’s Chair, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
To date, there has been no response.
A similar incident occurred a couple of weeks ago when Will Campbell, an intrepid bike commuter and technophile, was riding in the bike lane on Venice Boulevard, only to end up curbed by the operator of a bus on the 333 line. Campbell always travels with two cameras, one of them mounted on his handlebars, and he posted a video of the incident on his blog.
What a difference a video makes.
Of course, if it’s the Metro’s policies and training that are at odds with safe cycling, there’s nothing to investigate and there are no corrective measures to take.
At the end of the day, cyclists and bus operators should be able to share the road effectively and safely. Both average the same cross-town speeds (14.5 mph) both spend most of their travel time in the curb lane and it’s no challenge to simply avoid each other, rather than squeezing and jockeying for position.
Cyclists who complement their ride with the Metro can navigate the city with speed that is competitive to other modes. Whether it’s jumping on the Orange Line to get across the Valley or riding the Red Line to short-cut the Cahuenga Pass, sometimes the Metro can make all the difference.
Likewise, Metro passengers with bikes are able to travel farther and quicker, closing service gaps and riding to routes with shorter headways.
These are challenging times at the Metro. A new CEO, Art Leahy, is taking the helm and the Board Chairman, Antonio Villaraigosa, has just named LA City Councilman Jose Huizar and Department of Transportation GM Rita Robinson as Board Directors.
While all eyes are focused on the Metro’s billion dollar funding issues and on long term planning, it’s important to remember that our streets are filled with pedestrians, cyclists, mass transit passengers and motorists, and that they are humans and that they are vulnerable and that they need to get home safely.
Our streets are the new “public space” and our ability to share that space is one of our greatest opportunities for revitalizing and redefining our communities. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and a contributor to CityWatch.)