The other day, I got an interesting offer from one of my favorite bloggers and one of the city’s leading livable streets advocates.
Severin Martinez, author of the always excellent Walk Eagle Rock, has been a leader in the fight to reshape dangerously high-speed and far too wide Colorado Blvd through the newly vibrant northeastern L.A. neighborhood.
It seems that he had written a detailed examination on how much space a cyclist needs to safely operate a bicycle, as opposed to how little we usually get.
But after writing it, he realized it wasn’t right for his audience. And wondered if my readers would be interested.
Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.
You can thank me later.
Looking through the Technical Design Handbook for the Los Angeles Bicycle Plan, I was reminded of something I’ve been thinking about lately – operable width. What is operable width? In the context of the bike plan it refers to the amount of space a cyclist needs to safely operate a bicycle.
In the first section of the Handbook, “design needs of bicyclists” is discussed. On page 7 it is determined that cyclists need a minimum 4-feet operating space with a preference for 5 feet. Similarly in the section discussing design for bike lanes, a 5-foot minimum is established for the bike lane width.
In Los Angeles our bike lanes typically are 5 feet wide but they do not allow for a minimum of 4 feet operating width. Why? Because most of Los Angeles’ bike lanes are adjacent to car parking. Bicycle safety literature issued by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation explicitly warns about the “door-zone,” space within the bike lane which may suddenly be interrupted by motorists opening their car door to exit their vehicle. The door zone reduces the safe operable width of bike lanes to 2 or 3 feet.
The door zone is acknowledged in this blog post at the LADOT Bike Blog, suggesting that cyclists position themselves at least 11 feet from the curb to avoid conflict with opening car doors. Anyone who has cycled in Los Angeles long enough eventually learns the potential danger posed by cycling too close to parked cars while in the bike lane. It is for this reason why cyclists often only operate in the left half of a bike lane.
Unless parking is prohibited, cyclists never get the minimum operating width recommended by the Technical Design Handbook. What is puzzling is that despite the Department of Transportation’s awareness of the dangers of cycling to close to parked cars, it appears efforts are not consistently made avoid this danger.
Take for example this proposed bike lane on Winnetka Avenue.
A 6-foot bike lane is placed next to a 7-foot parking lane. If taking the LADOT’s recommendation of placing oneself 11 feet from the curb, the effective width of the bike lane becomes 3 feet, one foot below the desired minimum operating width. If the bike lane were 7 feet, then cyclists could have their minimum operating width of 4 feet. But where would this space come from? The California Highway Design Manual seems to offer a solution
The minimum [motor vehicle] lane width standard is 12 feet. There are situations where it may be desirable to reduce the width of the traffic lanes in order to add or widen bicycle lane or shoulders.
The Manual goes on to say
When vehicle parking is permitted adjacent to a bicycle lane or on a shoulder where bicycling is not prohibited, reducing the width of the adjacent traffic lane may allow for wider bicycle lanes or shoulders, to provide greater clearance between bicyclists and the driver-side doors when opened.
If safety was the number one priority, it would seem the Department of Transportation would propose 10 foot wide motor vehicle lanes. This would allow the creation of 8-foot wide bike lanes with 5 feet of operating space outside the door zone (as defined by the LADOT) or a 5-foot bike lane placed entirely outside of the door zone.
A couple other quick notes.
Despite earlier reports that road-raging Santa Monica driver Jeffrey Ray Adams wouldn’t face felony charges for assaulting a cyclist last summer, two felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon were eventually filed.
According to a comment left on one of those earlier stories yesterday, the case has concluded with no jail time for the driver.
Jeffrey Ray Adams pled no contest on May 29th, 2012 to a violation of Penal Code Section 245 (a) (1) Assault with A Deadly Weapon [his car]. He was placed on three years of formal, felony probation and must complete 20 days of labor as well as an anger management program. Restitution was ordered (as required by law) in an amount unknown at this point.
I think we all — or must of us, anyway — would have preferred some jail time. However, we’ve already seen that people sentenced to short terms in county jail usually stay just long enough to change into their prison uniform before they’re back out on the streets.
And undoubtedly, it was the lack of jail time that induced Adams to accept a plea.
It was announced at yesterday’s LAPD Bike Task Force meeting that the shooting death of a 19-year old Koreatown cyclist last weekend was definitely gang related.
That doesn’t make his death any less tragic, or any less of a waste.
But it should reduce fears of murderous road-raging motorists attacking innocent riders. It’s just business as usual on the streets of L.A.
Finally, an arrest warrant has been issued for a San Bernardino County man for attacking a cyclist last July.
According to the Mountain News/Crestline Courier News, 20-year old Steven Wayne Barnett is wanted for allegedly grabbing a cyclist through the passenger window of a passing car, then throwing the rider to the ground. The unidentified victim suffered a broken wrist, as well as scrapes and bruises, and his bike was destroyed.
The rider and a passing motorist were able catch enough of the license plate to identify the car, which belonged to a friend of Barnett’s.
He is wanted on a charge of assault with serious injury, with a $100,000 bond.