Cycling in the Los Angeles area: dealing with buses

Photo by waltarrrrr via Flickr

Photo by waltarrrrr via Flickr

For the most part, my experience with bus operators while cycling in Los Angeles has been good and one of mutual respect for each other on the road. Many of the bus operators I’ve encountered here are courteous, patient and professional. They’re able to navigate skillfully in the most stressful of L.A. road situations with a high regard for safety.

But there are sometimes complaints from cyclists about bus operators — and you may have seen some on social media. One common conflict point, and I’ve experienced it: a bus from behind approaches a cyclist and then tries to overtake them in order to reach a bus stop ahead. That forces cyclists to either slam on the brakes or swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid being sideswiped or rear-ending the bus. These incidences are frustrating to say the least.

There is also the fact that Metro for the past year has been pushing a “Every Lane is a Bike Lane” and “Every Day is a Bike Day” campaign to encourage area residents to use bikes as a way of getting around. More importantly, through these campaigns the agency has become one of the many leading voices advocating for cyclist’s safety and rights.

Metro stands by its message.

Metro’s rules and procedures require that the agency’s bus operators share the road safely with cyclists. As part of Metro’s training programs, there are seven strategies that are provided for sharing the road with cyclists and it is constantly reinforced that cyclists have the same rights as motorists and an equal share to the road. Metro’s safety training also includes videos such as the one below titled “Share the Road – Buses & Bicycles” that was produced by Chicago Transit Authority and the city of Chicago. It is required viewing for new Metro bus operators and seasoned veterans.

Metro bus operators are instructed to, among other things:

  • When passing a bicyclist on the road, operators should maintain steady speeds and not accelerate. The operator must allow safe clearance between the bus and the bike at a minimum of three feet.
  • If there isn’t enough room for a bus to pass, operators must slow down, stop and wait their turn.
  • Operators should keep the bicyclist in front of them unless the operator is absolutely certain they can pass the cyclist safely. Operators should not stop shortly after passing.

And here are some key safety tips for cyclists:

  • Cyclists are legally allowed to take control of a traffic lane. Many cyclists do this on streets where there is no bike lane or room to ride on the side of the road. Why do cyclists do this? Positioning yourself in the middle of the lane makes cyclists more visible and requires motorists to switch lanes to pass, thereby giving more space to cyclists in case they need to swerve to avoid a vehicle that encroaches on their lane.
  • When passing a bus, bicyclists should allow at least three feet between their bike and the bus. If there’s about three feet between the bus and the bike, the bike should be visible in the bus operator’s rear-view mirror.
  • Always merge with traffic to pass on the left. Never split lanes to get ahead of a bus. At some point the bus will leave the bus stop and enter traffic. Remain visible and alert.
  • Never pass on the right. Passing on the right can endanger people getting on and off the bus.
  • If a bus passes you, stay alert and watch to see if the bus is going to stop.

If you want to file a complaint to Metro, please note the time, place, date, bus route, identification number of the vehicle and direction of travel and report it to metro.net/comments or via email at CustomerRelations@metro.net with your name and contact information.

Complaints are taken seriously and Metro reviews and takes action if it’s warranted. Let’s continue working together on the same path to make our streets safer for all.

Categories: Bicycle

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22 replies

  1. As a side note to all drivers, including cyclists: When you turn right at an intersection or exiting a parking lot or driveway, please do not only check your left side for oncoming traffic (as I have seen almost all the time), please also look to your right side for approaching pedestrians.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I think all users of the road need to think about these things some time. Knowing what the bus drivers are supposed to do also helps raise some issues in sharing the road for all.

  3. As a commuter cyclist through Downtown and in the most congested parts of LA, my experience with Metro bus drivers is almost uniformly excellent. I can rely on almost all of them to be patient with road conditions, to speed up and move out of a bus stop ahead of me when they see me behind them, and to not cut me off. Their level of training is obvious when compared to the behavior of the DASH drivers, who are less cooperative in sharing the road.

  4. I have also found Metro bus drivers to be very courteous and safety-minded, regarding both bicyclists and pedestrians. It would be a perfect world if all automobile drivers were as good as the Metro bus drivers. Obviously the Metro training program for bus drivers must be at least a part of the reason. I am wondering if parts of this program could be incorporated in automobile driver training programs and part of the DMV manual for general drivers. Yes, the DMV manual has a brief section on bicyclists, but it does not cover everything that the Metro bus driver program obviously does.

  5. Are there rules about bicycles on sidewalks? I know of other cities that don’t allow it at all, keeping them on the streets away from pedestrians, but as a frequent pedestrian throughout DTLA, I’m dodging bikes on the sidewalks ALL the time.

  6. My post got trashed again. I guess Steve still doesn’t want to hear the truth. Bike riders are not always in the right.

    • I’m not going to post comments that I can’t fact check and make allegations about other people that I can’t substantiate. Mike: you post comments on multiple comments the majority of posts on the blog. Most of your comments get published. If you want everything published and to have final say, I suggest starting your own blog.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. Re: pedestrian, bikes are legal on LA sidewalks. They are illegal on the sidewalk in Culver City, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood.

    I will say, though, if bus drivers are really concerned about safety they would stop the practice of blowing their horn as an excuse to fly through red lights. If they realize they’re blowing the light, they ought to stop instead. It’s incredibly dangerous.

  8. These safety rules should also be applied to motorcyclists. I’ve seen several occasions where motorcyclists take some dangerous swerves against a larger vehicle.

    Has Metro ever reached out to raising awareness of the safety of motorcycle drivers? There are a lot more motorcyclists out there these days because of high gas prices. Look at the “watch for motorcycle riders” amber alert signs and ads on the radio about motorcycle insurance.

  9. “Are there rules about bicycles on sidewalks?”

    This post on the LADOT Bike Blog should help: http://ladotbikeblog.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/more-biking-for-newbies/

    Also, I seem to recall hearing (but haven’t yet verified) that the State of California prohibits riding bikes on sidewalks *in the same direction* as an immediately adjacent Class II bike lane. So if I’m biking on 7th St in Westlake (where there Class II bike lanes on both sides of the street) I can only bike eastbound using the eastbound bike lane (or the mixed lane if the situation dictates) or on the north-side sidewalk, but I *cannot* bike eastbound on the south-side sidewalk because it’s immediately adjacent to the eastbound bike lane. And, of course, vice versa for traveling westbound. This explanation is much easier to draw than describe, and I’m not even 100% sure it exists. Can someone confirm?

  10. The pedestrian always has the right-of-way. Bicycle riders should always use extra care on sidewalks and be alert to pedestrians who often instantly change direction, walking right in front of or into bicycles. Although there is a lot of publicity about the most welcome bike lanes and bike paths, they are still in the minority, and travel on unprotected streets is necessary to get to them. Most streets are very dangerous for bicycles, with parked cars forcing bikes into the traffic lanes, where cars often exceed speed limits, and texting drivers are very unattentive inside of their steel cages. When bicycle lanes do exist, automobile drivers often cut into them, to turn into a street, alley, or driveway, right in front of bicycles. Cars and trucks will crowd the curb, often at high speeds, as evidenced by numerous tire marks on the curbs themselves. Sidewalks are often the only non-suicidal alternative.

    Most of the time in many locations, pedestrian traffic is light or non-existent on sidewalks. Nevertheless, it is wise to be alert to the possibility of a pedestrian coming around a corner, or exiting a shop. When pedestrians are on the walk, the courteous bicyclist will dismount and walk the bike until the sidewalk is once again clear.

    • John A Rupkalvis,

      As one who gets around as a pedestrian 90% of the time, I very much agree: pedestrians always have right of way!

      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source

    • Sorry, but that comment is not going to be approved. As I’ve written before, if you want your own personal soapbox, then start your own blog.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  11. Steve Hymon,
    You are not providing an neutral discussion platform when you choose to moderate posts which ask Metro to explain the procedures in place to make sure their drivers adhere to these rules and regulations. The article does not comment on that aspect of the SOP. It only states that these topics are part of training and operational expectations.
    This is not a soapbox.
    This is not personal.
    This is not even argumentative.
    I want to know what actions, if any, Metro staff takes when it is faced with physical evidence that depicts a Metro employee, a bus driver for example, endangering the lives of citizens; pedestrians, cyclists, or motorists are the same in this regard. The “I’m bigger and the rules do not apply to me” logic is a form of road rage, combine that with a disgruntled worker who may not like their job; it should be plain to see why this is a legitimate and real concern. There should be no reason to not approve this comment. I have been polite and raised valid points.

    • Sometimes it is good to put things in perspective. Bus drivers, after all, are human beings, and negative events are certainly not only possible, but likely. What has amazed me, however, is that for a city as large as Los Angeles, how infrequent such tragic events are. I have yet to experience such a situation personally, although I do not doubt for a moment that they occur. It would be interesting to see how infrequent statistically they really are. My guess is that they are less than one percent. Yet, most bus drivers are caring individuals, respectful of the rights of everyone, whether on the bus or not. All of these good people suffer from the humiliating, degrading acts of a very few.

      A lot of good efforts are usually ignored, while the sensationalism of the bad acts of one or a very few is widely publicized, which they should be. Certainly, the bike rider in the story had every right to be outraged at what occurred. Yet, his response was very civil, which in itself is amazing, considering that his very life was threatened. Also, the actions of the police officers in that situation, were very wrong. Yet, this should not indicate that this would have been typical of the response of most police officers, any more than that all bus drivers should be characterized by the wrongful actions of a few.

      Yes, the public has every right to know when negative events occur, to speak out, and let others know that we do not live in a perfect world, and such bad actions are not approved. But, by the same token, they need to know when positive events occur. I have personally witness many wonderful occurrences, when bus drivers have shown their concern and caring for others, offering guidance to people who were unaware of how to reach their destinations, helping the elderly and disabled above and beyond dropping the ramp and securing wheelchairs. Just one example out of many, was the time that a frail and elderly lady on crutches was going to board the bus. The driver said “Please wait a moment” and then extended the ramp. However, he did not stop there. He actually got off the bus himself, went around behind the woman, and guided and helped her up the ramp, so that she would not fall. He made sure that she was securely seated, and carefully placed her crutches underneath the bench seat. If any other passenger was disturbed by this minor delay, they dared not show it, because nearly all of the passengers applauded the bus driver.

  12. Something should be done about motorcyclists and cars using bike lanes for under-taking. In addition being regularly cut off by metro bus drivers on Sunset I’ve been bullied out of the bike lane by drivers and motorcyclists who think the bike lane is an under-taking lane or believe that cyclists should yield to them and get out of their way when they want to make a right hand turn. Where is the LAPD? Right behind me, honking at me because I am stopped in the bike lane at a red light and they believe I don’t have the right to be there.