Thursday, May 28, 2009

Metro vs. Cyclists

This past Monday, Enci and I were riding south on Vermont, a couple of hundred yards north of Prospect.

We were riding southbound on Vermont in lane #2 alongside parked cars at approximately 3:25 pm in light traffic. I was in the lead, Enci was in second position and the bus was in third. I heard Enci scream, I looked back and saw a bus behind me but not Enci. I pulled over and the bus passed me, pulling to the curb just yards further on. Then I saw my wife riding down Vermont.

Bus Operator #25119 had just "asserted" himself into the #2 lane at the expense of my wife's position and in doing so, forced my wife to choose between the side of the bus, the parked cars or simply braking to avoid getting hit by the bus as it came from behind alongside her and then simply merged right toward her.

Tough choices!

This incident drew a Metro Supervisor, two Sheriff's Deputies, an LASD Supervisor, LAPD officers from both Hollywood (4) and NorthEast (2) and an LAPD Supervisor. Quite a significant show of force!

The Bus Operator was long gone when the first LAPD officers responded to my call. As we stood on Hollywood Blvd. talking to the officers, Operator #25119 came back on his return route, graciously slowing down and waving, apparently enjoying the spectacle. Imagine his shock when Officer Lee WALKED off in pursuit and pulled the bus over.

Through it all, we experienced a cloud of jurisdictional confusion over who takes the report and law enforcement confusion over whether or not it's a crime to run a cyclist off the road.

I went to the Metro Board on Thursday to address 1) this incident 2) the issue of training and oversight of bus operators on safe interaction with cyclists on the road 3) the jurisdictional confusion 4) feedback opportunities for the metro on weekends and holidays.

It was a crazy session, public comment was scheduled for the end of the meeting and then moved to the beginning. It was a full house with overflow in the cafeteria. They moved public comment from the end of the meeting to the beginning and all of a sudden I heard them call my name. I was prepared for a two minute speech but they cut us down to 60 seconds and so I gave it my best.

I went over my time and kept going, committed to hitting the 4 points and I thought County Supervisor Knabe was trying to cut me off, then I realized he was calling over Jack Gabig, the Division Manager, who motioned for me to follow him out a side door. For a moment I flashed on that scene from Casino and imagined a bunch of Metro Operators waiting "backstage" but with RoadBlock and Courage flanking me, I figured I was in a good position.

Mr. Gabig spent half an hour taking my complaint and I'd like to think we're on our way to starting a relationship between cyclists and bus operators, one that puts our safety before their schedule or convenience.

Attached is an email I sent as a recap of that meeting.

Mr. Gabig,

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me at the Metro Board Meeting and for discussing the details of my complaint.

I wanted to recap the specific elements so that you can address them or direct me to the appropriate person.

1) Metro vs. Cyclist incident from this past Monday. My wife was riding her bike south on Vermont, in contol of the #2 lane, when she was run off the road by Operator #25119.

From our first encounter with a Metro supervisor to those we speak with along the journey, it is made clear that this is a personnel issue and that we have no right of access to the Metro file or process.

I contend that Metro passengers and those on the streets and sidewalks also have rights and that the Metro can surely balance the personnel limitations with appropriate resolution and communication of this complaint.

Further to the potential claim that this is a personnel issue, I would contend that this is, first and foremost, a criminal complaint.

2) Metro Training and Oversight: This incident, along with similar incidents, indicates a need to address the training and oversight of the Metro's Operators. From honking unnecessarily to passing unsafely, CVC violations must not be tolerated, especially when they endanger the lives of cyclists.

The Metro's manual calls for 3 to 4 and a half feet of passing room for cyclists but some operators still "assert" themselves and squeeze cyclists.

The Metro's manual refers to "cyclists and other road hazards" indicating a culture of primacy that results in unsafe and illegal behavior.

3) Jurisdictional confusion must be resolved: Once again, we experienced jurisdictional confusion as my call to LAPD resulted in 1 Metro Supervisor, 2 Sheriffs, 1 LASD Supervisor, 2 NE LAPD Officers, 1 NE LAPD Supervisor, 4 Hollywood LAPD Officers.

One shouldn't have to watch law enforcement officers debate jurisdiction in order to report a crime. One shouldn't have to know the system in order to get the full support of the system.

If there is a memorandum of understanding between the LASD and the LAPD with regards to jurisdiction on the streets, the rail lines, the busway and the bike paths, please consider this a formal request for that MOU.

4) Metro Customer Service is cumbersome and ill-equipped to handle simple complaints, as evidenced by the deluge of tweets, messages, emails, texts and verbal stories I received over the last 3 days that conclude with "I tried to contact the Metro but I gave up!"

One would think that from a simple loss prevention position, the Metro would want a customer service system that yields good accurate data on safety and performance.

And yet...the current system doesn't allow someone to call in during the evening, on weekends and holidays. There's not even an answering machine in place!

Most important is the need for significant improvement in acknowledging complaints and reinforcing the process by communicating resolution, even if in general terms. But there must be some confirmation that the process works.

I thank you for your help in addressing this specific situation and the larger opportunity of the relationship between the Metro and cyclists.

As I mentioned today, cyclists and bus operators move at the same speed across town and share the curb lane so it's imperative that we develop a relationship based on equality and respect.

I look forward to working with you.


Angie M said...

This exact same thing has happened to me (twice) biking south on Hoover near USC. Both times, after passing the busses and physically communicating my lack of appreciation for their truly frightening and dangerous behavior, the drivers seemed baffled (obviously it was the first time they were noticing me). I wonder how often these incidents are consciously brought about by the bus drivers and how often it's a result of negligence towards bikers. The second time I got the bus number, and went to the Metro website looking for some way to lodge a complaint, but of course, it was naive of me to think such a thing would exist.

Please update with any response you get from Metro, and way to go following through on all of this!

HillsJury said...

You can give someone all the training in the world and they can demonstrate that they comprehend what is expected of them and turn right around and disregard every last bit of information. It's not lack of training; that has been done and redone. It comes down to making personal choices and in this case it is obvious a bad one was made. I do not appreciate your blanket statement "training and oversight of bus operators on safe interaction with cyclists on the road". Pardon the pun, but this is a 2-way street; there is a high number of your fellow cyclist that do NOT practice safe cycling and are a hazard to every vehicle on the road. There have been several meetings within a years time between Metro management, Metro Operators and cycling group leaders to address similar issues. So, do not imply that nothing is being done because it is obvious that you do not know that to be a fact. This topic is very close and familiar to me. My son and cousin are avid cyclist in the heart of L.A. One of them is a Metro Operator and I am a Metro Supervisor /Instructor, so I know what I speak of.

HillsJury said...

A comment for Angie M: The majority of cyclist in and around the USC area are notorious for being a huge hazard to all motorists and many a time their total disregard of the laws and rules of the road cause motorists near misses. I am very familiar with the area and I have seen many more violations commited by the USC student cyclists than the Metro Operators that have to navigate through that lawless section of the city.

SoapBoxLA said...


Great to meet you and thanks for your comments.

As long as the manual refers to "cyclists and other road hazards" the training system needs an overhaul.

As long as Supervisors hand out "Claim Instruction Cards" to victims of a crime and offer no opportunity for follow up or access to the report, the oversight system needs an overhaul.

As for the two "Bus/Bike Safety Summits" I was at both of them. There was no followup. I've heard nothing. Again, it's not working if it doesn't make it to the streets.

It should be clear that it is not I who tarnishing the image of the Metro Operators, it is those who, in increasingly larger numbers, endanger the lives of those on the streets.

I'm calling it, I'm getting responses from others of similar experiences on the street and with the sytem.

Really, it needs a significant overhaul and those within the Metro who are performing great work such as yourself and your family should partner with us to make the streets safer for everybody!

I look forward to working with you.

SoapBoxLA said...

Attached is the text of a letter I wrote to the metro 2 months ago, similar circumstances, similar request, no response until after Enci's incident.


On Mar 30, 2009, at 2:01 PM, Stephen Box wrote:

Mr. Middleton,

On Sunday, March 29, 2009, just before noon, Metro Operator #75138 was headed east on sunset on the #4 line in bus #9474 (WSC-10) a few blocks before Maltman.

As he approached a cyclist traveling in the same direction in the Sunset Boulevard bike lane, Metro Operator #75138 honked twice and then passed the cyclist, pulling over to the curb to stop at a bus stop. This action forced the cyclist to the curb, squeezing the cyclist.

There are two problems here, both of them illegal, both of them dangerous to the cyclist, both of them common and both of them completely unnecessary.

1) The Metro policy instructing Bus Operators to honk at "cyclists and other road hazards" is at odds with CVC 27001

CVC 27001(a) which states "The driver of a motor vehicle when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation shall give audible warning with his horn."

Passing a cyclist is not cause to honk, in fact it distracts the cyclist at the worst possible moment, in this case as the operator is about to take the lane from the cyclists illegally and unsafely.

2) Bus Operators who pull in front of cyclists, only to veer to the curb and then stop, not only break the law but they endanger the lives of the cyclist.

21750. 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, subject to the limitations and exceptions hereinafter stated.

On Sunday, Bus Operator #75138 was at the wheel of a large articulating bus, one so large that when it comes in at the bus stops, it often stops with the back half still angled out into the traffic, especially in tight areas such as Sunset Blvd. which has 7' parking lanes, not the traditional and common 8' parking lanes.

I boarded the bus at Maltman and Bus Operator #75138 greeted me with an unsolicited monologue about the cyclist's "death wish" and proceeded to give me an explanation of what was wrong with the cyclist and how cyclists who ride in the "bus zone" must want to get run over by buses.

Bus Operator #75138 explained that the bike lane existed when there was a solid painted line indicating bike lane. On the approach to intersections, when the solid line turned into a broken line, that was now a bus zone and cyclists are required to stop so that buses can proceed toward the bus stop.

Bus Operator #75138 ranged from agitated and angry, accusing the cyclist of "having a screw loose" and railing against cyclists who don't get out of the way, to calm and collected as he shrugged and said "I'm not worried, they've got it all on tape."

As for the cyclist, I believe that his life was endangered by an Operator who stubbornly insists that honking at cyclists and then squeezing them to the curb is appropriate behavior.

As for me, I find the unsolicited diatribe offensive for many reasons, not the least of which is that it demonstrates the very behavior that we discussed last year at the Bike/Bus Safety Summit.

I believe that it is time for the Metro to:

1) investigate this incident and respond accordingly.

2) clarify Metro policy on honking and on passing in order to stop at a bus stop, forcing cyclists to stop or curb their bikes.

3) come up with a simple procedure for accepting customer feedback on a Weekend.

Thanks for your help.

Stephen Box
323-962-6540 office
323-864-7586 cell

Anonymous said...


In Europe, streets that are busy with peds and cyclists, or streets that are notorious for having children playing, the speed limit gets lowered and there are signs that alert drivers to slow down.

People come first, they are not called lawless, they are called people and they are being protected.

Here in LA, you call people lawless because they use the streets. Here in LA, we don't lower the speed, we take out crossings. Here in LA, we speed up traffic to discourage humans using our streets.

Something is wrong with this picture!

Lawless are those who hurt, damage and destroy and those who don't respect the "ranking of the week".

Cyclists and peds using our streets are not lawless. They are people, using our streets. And they need to be protected from those who are speeding, texting, drinking, talking on the phone, etc. while lawlessly driving heavy and fast machinery on our streets. Those are the lawless people!