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When Alternative Transportation Competes: the Tension Between Buses vs Bikes

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, March 14, 2008, at 02:29PM
Bicycle at Radio Hill Eric Richardson [Flickr]

My bike, in a photo taken up on

The city's currently engaged in an update of the Bicycle Master Plan, and as we've discussed before, Downtown has some particular issues for bike planning.

Riding back from Hollywood this afternoon I encountered an issue that's citywide, but especially relevant here in Downtown: the tension between bikes and buses.

Heading eastbound on Sunset boulevard I had a several mile long encounter with a bus driver who was trying to intimidate me off the road. To me, that's just something that'll get me mad. To someone less assertive about their rights as a cyclist, that's likely the last time they'll ride in Los Angeles.

I was in Hollywood to pick my bike up from the shop, and decided to ride Sunset back to Downtown. According to the city, Sunset's a great bicycle street, with a bike lane running for most of the length from Sunset Junction east. In reality, that lane is often impeded by RVs and trucks. It also narrowly squeezes up against a parking lane, creating a great environment for a cyclists path to get suddenly blocked by and opening car door.

I'm riding eastbound just a bit past Santa Monica, in the bike lane but hugging the left edge because I have this thing about not wanting to get doored. An articulated Metro Rapid 714 comes up behind me, starts honking, and continues to do so until he's halfway past me. Despite no significant traffic, he's up against the bike lane so tight that the bus is hanging over the line and coming into my already narrow space.

This being LA and bus speeds being what they are, I pass him a couple more times. Each time he gets into the horn while coming back around me. Each time I fight my urge to emulate Will Campbell and give the driver a few choice words, instead just shaking my head at him.

Right before the climb up to Alvarado I move into the traffic lane to pass a bus that had stopped in front of me. The driver of the 714 proceeds to lay on the horn solid for maybe 10 seconds. As we start up the hill I turn and just point and glare at him. He stayed behind me most of the way up, then went around in the left lane and got away by running a super-late yellow at Rosemont.

In the end, I lost this fight by not being alert enough to take down the bus number so that I could file a report against the driver. While to me this is just another part of riding in L.A., I can only imagine how disconcerting it would be to a casual cyclist to have a bus driver use his horn in a clearly intimidating manner and then infringe on the cyclist's own lane.

Bicyclists and buses should be part of the same fight, helping to get drivers out of their cars. Actions like this all too frequently illustrate how seldom that's the case.


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