Wed, Jul

Bike Lanes Will Not Fight Climate Change In Southern California


LA TRANSPO - The August 10, 2022, edition of the Los Angeles Times ran an article on a ballot proposal to require bike and pedestrian lanes in the City of Los Angeles when the city's roads are paved.

On the 2024 city ballot will be a voter initiative which, according to the Times, will add bicycle lanes, build wider sidewalks, plant more trees and create more visible sidewalks. 

The initiatives backer, software entrepreneur Michael Schneider leads the organization "Streets for All." Schneider seems impatient with the the City of Los Angeles' execution of the city's current plans on mobility and bicycles, and City Council President Nury Martinez's own counterproposal for bicycles and pedestrians.  

The Times only mentions bike lanes in the initiative with no mention of bus only lanes. Schneider calls his initiative a "nuclear option." Playing with weapons is never to be taken lightly, particularly nuclear ones, and his initiative will not lead the city, and the region, in the fight to reduce carbon gases needed to mitigate the climate emergency we now live in. The initiative seems more for the bicycle riders for ride for recreation, and does not take into account transportation for getting to work, shopping, eating, entertainment and other activities of urban dwellers. 

I fully support providing more protection to bicycle riders and pedestrians. I did not own a car until I was twenty-two and relied upon my bicycle. But, I have not ridden my bicycle for years because the roads are too dangerous. I was encountering increasing numbers of drivers who don't drive well, are distracted, or just like to harass bicycle riders. 

I have been a regular rider of buses since 1993, and that also makes me a pedestrian and we are experiencing far too many tragic accidents resulting in deaths and injuries.  

If vehicle lanes are to be removed and replaced when the roads are repaved, as in the initiative, the replacements must be bus only lanes, not bicycle lanes, or both.  

As an independent contributor to CityWatch I do not have at my disposal a research team or department, and my time for personal research is limited, so I would like to give my personal accounts and observations, backed by some research, on why bicycle lanes to combat the climate emergency are not practical in Los Angeles and Southern California. 

Why bus only lanes must be given priority over bicycle lanes when roads are reconfigured: 

  • Usage. In the LAX area Sepulveda Boulevard and Manchester Avenue both have bicycle only lanes. They are rarely used. I ride buses on both roads and in one hour just one bus of passengers carries more people than bicycles use their lanes. During commuter hours bus frequencies are usually between 15-20 minutes. In that one hour time frame those three or four buses can carry more people than bicycle riders use the bicycle lanes for the day.  
  • Age. I am now a Medicare approved senior citizen. If I ill ride my bicycle on a city street it is with great trepidation. Typical of aging, my balance is not as good, my reflexes are slower. I am not alone in the aspects of aging. There were too many times when I did ride my bicycle on city streets that I made me a nervous wreck tying to cope with vehicle traffic. I suffer none of that when riding buses and walking streets as a transit rider. 
  • Reasons for riding a bicycle. It would seem riding a bicycle in Los Angeles is mainly recreational. From the United States Census Bureau: "Los Angeles had 1.0 percent of commuters bike to work, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today in a new brief focused on biking and walking to work. Nationally, 0.6 percent of workers commute by bike." LINK

Additional information from the Census Bureau:  

"Transportation Highlights for Los Angeles:

  • Among the 1,745,818 workers in Los Angeles, 11.1 percent took public transportation, 1.0 percent biked, 3.7 percent walked, and 5.5 percent worked at home.
  • Of workers who did not work from home, the average travel time to work was 29.2 minutes.
  • Traveling alone by car, truck or van alone was among the most common commute modes.Transit ridership in Los Angeles"

Transit riders outnumber bicyclists on the order of ten times greater. This bolsters the need for bus only lanes over bicycle lanes because a far greater number of people will be served by bus only lanes. These lanes will reduce travel times because the buses will not be in the knots of gridlocked vehicle lanes but will be able to travel faster in their own lanes. 

Vehicle exhaust is one of greatest sources of carbon gases which have places us in our climate emergency. To entice workers out of their vehicles speed of travel is very important. Making faster speeds in bus only lanes will be a very attractive option to craziness of driving in Los Angeles. 

While riding buses workers can safely read e-mails and text messages, and use the internet. Reports can be read without worry of becoming distracted if driving. Bus riders can relax and before their time to start work prepare for the day, and after the work day relax. I have taken many naps on buses. The is no napping while riding a bicycle. 

  • Mothers and families. It is very common to see mothers and their children on buses. Like any child they can be restless but can be instructed to behave in a safe environment. It would be very difficult for a mother to take her children on a trip by bicycle. If too small to ride on their own they would be in a device over the back wheel or in towed carriage. If they could ride a bicycle, their small profiles and tendency to wander would make them extreme hazards to themselves. Like any bicycle rider for safe passage they would be at the mercy of the drivers on the road. 
  • Senior Citizens. This population is growing, and we are not going to take to the streets in bicycles to navigate the city's roads. It is just too dangerous. Senior Citizens make up a good percentage of bus riders being safely transported around the city. 
  • Los Angeles is not Amsterdam. The Netherlands, and Amsterdam, are famous for their bicycle culture. This is fantastic. But that country and its cities,  and indeed like Europe, are built upon ancient foundations of small streets and density. This makes travel by bicycle possible. The Los Angeles region is not Amsterdam, but a sprawling mega city, too spread out to be conveniently traversed by bicycle. To cover this sprawl, buses, and Metros light rail and subway trains, make travel possible, and bus only lanes will add to the efficiency of bus travel by providing faster travel times. 
  • It's a hot climate. Los Angeles is renowned for its climate. It is very temperate, and of course there is the heat, it is situated in an almost desert area. Climate change is making the city hotter. As a bicycle rider I know how hot and sweaty I get while riding. Going to work while sweat drenched is not pleasant. Then returning home sweat drenched is equally unpleasant. Walking to and from bus destinations can create sweaty moments, they are nothing like bicycle riding.  

As a resident near LAX, about four miles from the beloved Pacific Ocean, the temperatures are not as extreme as in other places in the Los Angeles Basin. Today it is 81º at LAX; 94º in Glendale; 95º in El Monte; and 98º in Northridge. To ride a bicycle in some of these temperatures would not be pleasant, can could dangerous. Buses are air conditioned. 

  • Traveling when dark. The city streets can be a hazard of potholes and debris. While this initiative would take place when roads are repaved, not all paving jobs leave perfectly smooth surfaces, leaving bumps and holes perfect to throwing a rider off balance. Then there is always debris on the streets to impede a bicyclists' way. In the best of circumstance in the day these obstacles are hard to see and come up quickly, creating hazards. When dark, there are very hard to impossible to see, creating dangerous hazards to the bicycle rider. Riders on buses do not face these hazards. 
  • Asthma and bicycle riders. Bicycle riding can be great form of exercise, but when done on roads heavy with vehicles and their exhaust lung problems can happen. Increases in asthma are associated with consistent bicycle riding on vehicle heavy streets.  

In addition to injuries, some very serious, from falls from bicycle riding, there are proven health risks to bicycle riding in urban areas. From Science Daily: "People who cycle through London and other major cities have higher levels of black carbon in their airway cells, experts from the UK have shown.

The research, presented at the European Respiratory Society's Annual Congress in Amsterdam, suggests that cyclists inhale more black carbon than pedestrians, which may cause damage to the lungs.

The combustion of fossil fuels results in the generation of large numbers of inhalable particles of soot (black carbon). There is increasing evidence that inhalation of black carbon particles is associated with a wide range of health effects -- including heart attacks and reduced lung function." LINK 

In the smog laden Los Angeles Basin this does not bode well for bicycle riders.

We are in the global warming climate crisis, and it will only get worse if we do not immediately reduce our carbon footprints by driving less. While bicycle riding is one option to confront this crisis, it is not the best option. That best option is leaving vehicles at home and riding buses, and trains, and riding buses is greatly enhanced when there are bus only lanes. 

This nuclear option with the ballot initiative to place bicycle lanes above bus only lanes in confronting the climate emergency does not help in the fight.


(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and President and Executive Director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.) 

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