It’s undeniable: the City of Angels has some serious issues with biker safety. New figures show that the city doled out $19 million to 17 cyclists who were seriously injured on poorly maintained roads in 2017. 2017’s figure doesn’t even come close to LA’s most recent high for biking fatality settlements ($16,500) a decade ago.
This new revelation tarnishes the “biker friendly” image LA lawmakers have promoted in recent years. Biker safety groups hope this news will serve as a wakeup call for lawmakers to invest more in repairing the city’s most dilapidated biking lanes.
While the Bureau of Street Services gave LA’s 4,821 miles of bike lanes an average score of C+, many of the older roads are extremely unsafe. A recent study out of the LA Times found that almost 20 percent of these lanes were given grades of D or F by safety officials.
Instead of repairing these old roads, city officials have been more focused on building new roads. This decision most likely has to do with cost, because it’s far easier to build new roads than to repair broken ones.
Despite numerous complaints and more taxpayer money, biker safety groups claim the Bureau of Street Services hasn’t been doing its job. City attorneys say the government has willfully ignored repeated warnings from the public about various hazards that have resulted in major injuries.
The largest cyclist-related settlement of 2017 ($7.5 million) was given to a man named William Yao. Yao, 62, was riding on a bike lane on Reseda Boulevard when he hit a piece of pavement and ended up breaking his neck. He is now a quadriplegic.
One week before Yao’s serious accident, a utility crew was sent out to Reseda Boulevard. Nobody on this crew reported the substandard condition of the road.
Former employees at the Bureau of Street Services believe the city is having so many tragic issues like Yao’s because it drastically changed its inspection policy five years ago. Instead of sending experts to inspect all roads every year, now the bureau only sends staff to check major highways four times a year. The bureau does not send staff to check residential area streets routinely.
When questioned by the press, members of the bureau claim they always send out employees to assess the damage in areas they get complaints about. They also said they send crews to fix any areas that are deemed to be a hazard.
Attorneys don’t believe the bureau has lived up to its own standards. They point out the case of Patrick Pascal, who was awarded $200,000 last year.
Pascal, who lives in Los Feliz, sent a complaint to the city years ago about Griffith Park Boulevard. Although the City Council said they would send out a crew to repair Griffith Park Boulevard, nobody arrived.
When Pascal took his bike out for breakfast three years ago he hit a huge crack and broke his right wrist. Pascal also suffered a fractured pelvis and now has limited mobility in his right arm.
An outside consultant who reviewed LA’s biking situation said one of the reasons the city is having so many issues with cyclist safety is that it doesn’t have a dedicated office to deal with street-related issues. In addition to creating a street safety department, this consultant recommended LA’s law enforcement take a more proactive role when it comes to fixing roads.
One positive step taken by LA’s Transportation Department to address all these complaints has been to set up safety guidelines crews need to check off before putting up a bike lane in a new area. Members of the Transportation Department have also been involved in the Vision Zero program since 2015.
Vision Zero is a Swedish traffic safety organization that has helped major cities bring their pedestrian fatality rates down to zero. Los Angeles hopes to reduce traffic-related fatalities to zero by 2025.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said that although more needs to be done, he is optimistic about the future of the City of Angels’ biking lanes. In a recent interview, Mayor Garcetti reminded the public that all the streets he chose to put new bike lanes in have B ratings.
Some lawmakers believe B’s aren’t good enough for the safety of LA’s bikers. Councilmembers like Mitch Englander want the city only to spend money on building bike lanes in streets that have a solid A rating. Englander also said the city should totally remove biking lanes from below-A areas to focus on bringing them to A-level status.
Although laudable, many bike safety groups don’t believe Englander’s plan is realistic. In fact, the founders of BikinginLA.com believe his plan would only create more safety risks by removing designated biking areas on popular streets.
To prove their case, biker’s rights advocates use last year’s Peter Godefroy case, which resulted in a $6.5 million settlement. Godefroy was biking in a non-designated biking lane on Valley Vista Boulevard when he hit a pothole and suffered a massive brain injury.
Safety officials were alerted on two occasions that there was a major safety hazard on Valley Vista Boulevard before this crash. Crews only visited the area once to apply a minor asphalt repair.
It isn’t only payouts to cycling victims that has got LA’s City Government worried. In the last year alone the city has handed out at least $200 million in legal settlements. That’s well above the annual average of $36 million ten years ago.
To address this huge issue, the mayor has created a “risk-reduction” group. This team of lawmakers is tasked with finding ways to reduce the city’s legal expenditures.
When asked for a comment on this rise in cyclist-related settlements, City Attorney Mike Feuer said he couldn’t comment. The Street Services General Manager Nazario Sauceda also refused interviews to the press.
Sadly, these and many other actions by the city government have jilted the cyclist community. Many residents feel the city is putting profits before the safety of the city’s bikers.
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