Doing bike counts is one of the most fascinating things you can do to truly see how our city is used.
No matter how many miles you put on a bike, sitting there for a dedicated two hours recording who uses the road and how gives you a detailed perspective on how our streets function.
Managing the LA Bike + Ped Counts is part of my job, but the fun part is doing the field work no matter what location because everyone is different.
Is there a bike lane? Am I near transit? How many traffic lanes are in the road?
With each count you start to single out features unique to your location.
Last week, I was set up at Wilshire just west of Western covering the southern side of the street (I had a partner covering the more active north side).
I was situated kitty corner from the Purple Line terminus, so there was a fair amount of street life.
There wasn’t a high volume of cyclists on my side of the street, but there were a fair amount more on the other side since it was closer to the station.
Most of the cyclists rode on the sidewalk despite the fact that the nearest lane is supposed to be only for buses and cyclists with the exception for other vehicles turning right during rush hour.
So why so few cyclists even though there’s a spot for them?
From my point of view, there are a number of factors.
Of the number of cyclists that chose the roadway, almost all had bikes where you could comfortably put up good speeds and most of them had helmets.
Comfortable vs. Uncomfortable Wilshire.
In other words, even though you have a lane you can share with buses (who we think as having more interest in not hitting us since that’s their job), cyclists don’t feel safe riding there with heavy machinery breathing down their neck.
As traffic went by, I also kept an unofficial running count of bikes placed on the front of the bus racks which easily had a higher number than cyclists.
In other words, people were using their bikes, but not riding this portion was a palatable option whether it was due to safety or distance challenges.
Another factor that discourages cycling is the terrible condition of Wilshire.
Riding from Koreatown to MacArthur Park is not fun even when I decide to ride my fat, knobby tires.
This is nothing new to cyclists and with really no other good options to travel east-west nearby, you have to bite the bullet and hope for the best.
Even for me, I have to swing across the lane like Luke Skywalker flying in the Death Star’s trenches avoiding potholes and asphalt build up.
This doesn’t make you as predictable to drivers as much as you like and your focus on the surroundings are somewhat compromised.
When you’re conducting the count, there are secondary characteristics you can check off for cyclists and pedestrians, like people biking with helmets or walking with special needs.
There is also an “other” column where you can add an unofficial attribute of your own typically of some trend that you notice, like e-bikes or children.
For me, it was easy to pick out people illegally being dropped off / picked up just along the stretch in front of me, so I started keeping track.
Sadly, the number was pretty high, with theses occurrences happening on average every 4 – 5 minutes.
Judging from the body language, people referencing their phone and those damn stickers, about three-quarters of the drivers were from Uber or Lyft.
We all know the mentality.
“I’m just one person stopping. That doesn’t make much of a difference.”
“I’ll be a few minutes. I won’t get a ticket.”
Pest control being a pest.
There were a number of times that Rapid buses filled with 80+ people missed a light because they were waiting behind a car unloading just one person.
Imagine if because of that interruption that you miss you next bus or subway connection.
That could be another 10 – 20 minutes gone.
And from riding the stretch of lanes along Wilshire to and from my counts, there were several other spots where the same thing happened.
Add this up, you have a BRT that is suffers in efficiency due to these hold ups.
Another related observation was the lack of enforcement during my counts.
Previously, when the Sheriff’s Department was contracted by Metro, Wilshire seemed like the most heavily traffic enforced street in Los Angeles.
In fact, maybe even a little too much so in that you felt as a cyclist more time often than not that deputies were pressuring you to move along and not impede buses (even when you’re riding lawfully).
Michael MacDonald’s video illustrates that disconnect:
Now, we’re on the opposite side of the spectrum when during my four hours I saw no presence whatsoever.
Since these lanes are mainly vacant instead of buses, it would be pretty easy to spot offenders, but not one ticket was given.
As a matter of pure irony, one Uber was honking at another to move out of the way when a lineup of three ride share drivers formed all picking up people.
Blurry, but accurate view of three Ubers in a row!
The most interesting observation didn’t present itself until the last 30 minutes of the day.
A man started carrying a tall “Jesus Saves” sign about as enthusiastically as possible continually crossing the street.
To some, it was a distraction, but some honked and were angered by some of his illegal tactics as he would meander into traffic at times.
Like I said earlier though, when you study a spot for an extended period of time, you start to recognize patterns and this man was actually pro BRT in his movements whether it was intentional or not.
Maybe you can pick out what I mean:
Jesus Saves Car Lanes?
Stepping into that traffic lane is a no-no, but he only did it when he crossed east – west; meaning the direction of the BRT.
Remember, the sign said “Right Turn Only” for non-buses, so in order for anyone to hit him, they’d be disobeying the law.
And yes, he did move out of the way when buses did come by.
If you haven’t taken part in the LA Bike + Ped Counts, I suggest you sign up and help this week.
It’s a excellent opportunity to see how our streets work and in many cases, how they do not.