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Tally finds 26 people died while riding bikes last year in Los Angeles

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Bike lanes would make streets safer, advocates say

The number of deaths is dropping, but that may be because fewer people are riding bikes.

Sixty-two people were struck and killed by cars while riding bicycles on Southern California streets in 2017. Of those deaths, 26 were in Los Angeles County.

The numbers were tabulated by Ted Rogers, editor of Biking in LA, who tracks very time a person riding a bicycle in Southern California is struck and killed by a car. Rogers’ tally relies on local news reports and confirmation from coroners’ offices and family members.

He says the number of people killed in 2017 is less than prior years, and he attributes the drop to poor bike infrastructure that has discouraged people from riding bikes.

“The problem is that, after LA’s big bike boom a couple of years ago, a lot of people got onto their bikes and into the streets and started mixing with cars, and they quickly found out how uncomfortable it can be,” he says. “They might have tried it for a couple of years, but ended up saying it’s not worth it.”

Rogers began tracking the deaths a few years ago when he realized that no government agency was doing so in real time.

In 2014, he counted 86 people killed across seven SoCal counties: Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, San Diego, and Imperial. In both 2015 and 2016, Rogers counted 73 deaths.

He says there’s been little to no improvement in the region’s bike infrastructure in recent years.

“Part of the problem is that we have a real disjointed system,” says Zachary Rynew, of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. “We have bike lanes added piecemeal, but they aren’t forming a network that can safely get people to where they need to go.”

The coalition is in still crunching the numbers from its 2017 bicycle and pedestrian count, but previous years have tracked a slight decline in the number of bike riders from the early 2010s.

Bike lane construction has slowed down after punishing years for other safe street improvements.

Los Angeles City Councilmembers killed bicycle lane projects on several streets in Los Angeles in 2017, including Sixth Street and Lankershim Boulevard, after shooting-down lanes on Westwood Boulevard and Central Avenue in 2016.

Safe streets projects that include bike lanes were also laid out, but later rolled back on several streets in Playa del Rey after a ferocious backlash. A road diet and protected bike lane project on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista was met with a similar protest, though it remains on the street.

The city has also slowed its installation of bicycle lanes dramatically over the past couple years, department of transportation reports show. For example, in the 2011-12 fiscal year, Los Angeles laid more than 50 miles of bike lanes. That number dropped to less than 9 miles in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

“As bike lane installation has slowed, new ridership growth has been stalled,” the county bicycle coalition concluded in in 2015.

The city of Los Angeles’s Mobility Plan 2035 outlines the addition of hundreds of miles of bike lanes all around the city. But getting those lanes actually painted onto the city’s streets is proving to be difficult.

The question, looking forward into 2018, is whether LA will continue its slow-downs, or if it will make good on the pledges to make Los Angeles’s roads safer, as they have said they would in past years.

“Adjusting the roads is something that’s relatively new to the city,” says Rynew. “I think obviously the approach that they’ve gone with hasn’t worked. Street changes work, it saves lives, and it is the direction the city should go. I think if there was a better effort with data to show what differences changes can make, people may be more receptive.”