Last year, Los Angeles had to pay out nearly $19 million to cyclists and their families due to injuries or deaths on local streets. The cause is not due to accident collisions per se, but rather the poor conditions of the streets, pavement, and other surfaces around the city due to wear and tear over the years. These are considered solo bicyclist accidents, as no other person or car was involved. An L.A. Times analyst noted that this payout is nearly four times higher than previous years in the past decade.
The worst of these incidents have resulted in tragedy, including loss of life or severe, life-changing injuries. Five major cases for solo cyclist accidents were settled just last year:
- November 2017: $180,000 paid to Denise Gaberman, who incurred injury cycling in East Hollywood. No other details disclosed.
- October 2017: $200,000 paid to Patrick Pascal, who broke his wrist and cracked his pelvis in two places when thrown from his bike because the tire became jammed in a concrete crack on Griffith Park Boulevard.
- October 2017: The City of Los Angeles paid $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit from bicyclist William Yao. Yao was riding his bike on Reseda Boulevard when his front tire hit a patch of pavement lifted 4 inches by a tree root. He was thrown from his bicycle, and despite wearing a helmet, the injury left him a quadriplegic.
- September 2017: Peter Godefroy suffered severe traumatic brain injury and broken bones when he struck a pothole and crashed on Valley Vista Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. The city agreed to pay out $6.5 million.
- May 2017: The city paid out $4.5 million to the family of Edgardo Gabat, who was killed in Eagle Rock after hitting uneven pavement and thrown from his bicycle. He was also wearing a helmet and was an experienced cyclist.
The Real Issue: Los Angeles Desperately Needs Street Repairs
Many of the streets named in the above cases and others have been the subject of previous complaints, but the city struggles to manage its budget between addressing these specific concerns, or preserving other roads that are headed toward disrepair. Residents remain unhappy taxpayers who see little to no improvements in their roads. The city also prioritizes the main, high-traffic roads for repairs, leaving some residential areas by the wayside; one analysis shows that these larger roads saw improvements at five times the rate of residential streets.
Los Angeles contains the largest municipal system in the country, with 28,000 lanes miles of paved roadway. It uses a computerized system to assess the road quality, and ‘grade’ various streets on their conditions. One-third of the streets received a D or F grade, but a member from the Board of Public Works stated that that, with the current budget allotment, it’s more cost effective to maintain roads graded C or higher than to let them fall below that level. A broken concrete street can cost up to 36 times as much as repairing a C-grade street. City workers’ hands are tied without more money to their budget.
Ironically, the city has also made efforts to tout Los Angeles as a bicycle-friendly city, with officials heralding the “historical high of 4,821 lane miles” paved in the past two years, and that the streets have improved, with the average grade of city streets up to a C+.
What’s the Hold-Up?
Previously, roads in the area were inspected annually by supervisors, but about five years ago, things changed. As of October 2016, major streets are inspected four times a year, but residential streets are not. Repair crews are also to fix necessary repairs at or near the addresses of complaints, but attorneys say that in some cases when the price is too high, these complaints don’t get fixed. On Griffith Park Boulevard, some cyclists even refer to particular road hazards as “the cracks of death.”
One consultant also noted that Los Angeles suffers from a lack of coordination among departments and programs concerning their streets. While most major cities have one department coordinating street repairs and management, but Los Angeles does not.
The obvious catch-22 is that without the much-needed repairs, Los Angeles will likely continue to make major payouts (and lose more money) because of the lack of investment in their roads. Despite taking their own safety precautions, as did the victims mentioned above, cyclists can only do so much on their end as preventative measures.
In an effort to reduce the safety hazards, some lawmakers are pushing to reduce the installation of bike lanes on streets with a rating less than an A, and even closing or removing current bike lanes on low-grade streets as well. Councilman Mitch Englander says that keeping or installing bike lanes on broken streets can give a false sense of security.
Despite this proposal, people like Ted Rogers, editor of BikinginLA.com, and others claim this won’t change things and people will ride the streets whether or not there are bike lanes. In fact, four of the six cases mentioned above occurred on streets with no bike facilities. Additionally, there is question of whether removing a bike lane would increase the city’s liability, if a bike accident occurred where a lane once existed but was then removed by the city.
An article published late on February 7th indicated that at a recent City Hall hearing on the grievous conditions of the roads and bike infrastructure, Assistant Director Greg Spotts indicated that the bureau did receive funding in June to do a one-time, comprehensive inspection of bike lanes, routes, and other designated “bikeways.” Then, a few months later, more funding was granted to open six new positions for bikeway maintenance throughout the city. According to Spotts, more than 300 areas were fixed, and an additional 200 locations found where the pavement needed a complete overhaul, which could not be completed with a pothole truck.
Again, bicycle advocates warn that the city should not narrow their focus too much on just bike lanes and paths. They argue that the improvements and repairs should be for the roads in general, citing that many of the tragic accidents (and subsequently large payouts) occurred on a roadway and not a bike lane.
Spotts also indicated that the inspection of residential roads has actually resumed, and that they are now “proactively inspecting the arterials.” He also said that previously, when city staff had requested additional employees for inspecting the bikeway networks, they had been turned down.
We expect more stories to arise of this issue, since the city does need to consider the safety of its citizens, its budget, and their hosting of the 2028 Olympic Games.
We’ll continue to post relevant updates on this ballooning issue as they become available.
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
“L.A. Faces Skyrocketing Costs for Lawsuits Over Bike Crashes.” LA Times. Retrieved 7 February 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-bike-payouts-20180203-htmlstory.html
“L.A. City Council and Media are Getting the Bicyclist Lawsuit Stories All Wrong.” Streets Blog LA. Retrieved 7 February 2018. https://la.streetsblog.org/2018/02/06/l-a-city-council-and-media-are-getting-the-bicyclist-lawsuit-stories-wrong/
“L.A. to Pay Out $7.5 Million to Settle Suit From Bicyclist Who Was Left a Quadriplegic After Crash.” L.A. Times. Retrieved 7 February 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-injured-bicyclist-20170927-story.html
“L.A. OKs $6.5 Million to Settle Lawsuit After Cyclist Hits a Pothole.” L.A. Times. Retrieved 7 February 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-bike-settlement-20170903-story.html
“L.A. Will Pay $4.5 Million to the Family of a Cyclist Killed in An Eagle Rock Crash.” L.A. Times. Retrieved 7 February 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-bicyclist-settlement-20170510-story.html
“Pavement Preservation: L.A. Fixes Mediocre Streets While the Worst Fall into Disrepair.” L.A. Times. Retrieved 7 February 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-street-repairs-20160814-snap-story.html
“How Councilmembers Englander and Krekorian Could Respond to Collision Lawsuits.” Streets Blog L.A. Retrieved 7 February 2018. https://la.streetsblog.org/2017/10/26/how-councilmembers-englander-and-krekorian-could-respond-to-collision-lawsuits/
“Facing Surging Costs for Bike Crashes, L.A. Has Started to Overhaul Some Bikeways.” L.A. Times. Retrieved 8 February 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-bike-payout-reaction-20180207-story.html