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According to non-profit news organization Crosstown, Sep. marked a record for bike safety in Los Angeles. As more cyclists have hit the roads, the month had the fewest bicycle-vehicle collisions since the city began releasing data in 2012.
As soon as the stay-at-home orders were put in place, bringing the closing of many businesses, Los Angeles’ roadways emptied out. Bicyclists took this opportunity to take advantage of this, and this study reports how the city has changed ever since in terms of traffic violence.
Per data from the Los Angeles Police Department, there were 18 bike-vehicle collisions recorded in the city that month, down from 185 during the same period in 2019 — making it the lowest number ever recorded. Consequently, the number of cycling trips in the city logged by Strava Metro, which tracks data on bike usage in urban areas, rose by 52%, to 191,010.
California at large, and Los Angeles in particular, are infamous for being bike-unfriendly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California was the second state with the most pedalcyclist deaths in the country in 2018. The year prior, the city of Los Angeles experienced a total of 1,918 bicycle accidents that resulted in 17 fatalities, according to the California Highway Patrol’s Annual Report.
The September milestone is part of a trend that began as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began. With less people out on the roads because of quarantine, through Nov. 2020, the total number of bike collisions has fallen by 70% to 496. That’s down from 1,655 during the same period in 2019.
Traffic has returned since the stay-at-home orders from Mar., though it is still below its pre-pandemic levels. However, with more cyclists on the road and fewer of them getting into collisions, as Crosstown points out, Los Angeles now has an opportunity to reexamine how it could turn itself into a more bike-friendly city — and it has already taken some small, but significant steps in that direction.
Back in May, the city launched a “slow streets” initiative, which tries to create more space for cyclists and pedestrians by limiting many streets to local traffic. Having launched a similar initiative in her city, Culver City councilmember and avid cyclist Meghan Sahli-Wells said she was encouraged by the reduced number of bike collisions and cars on the road since the start of the pandemic to launch the initiative, but is concerned that drivers have become more erratic.
Community engagement manager at the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition Brenda Yancor has similar concerns about COVID-19 driver behavior. “Every 10 miles per hour [increase] in speed really reduces the chances of survival for someone who’s hit by a car going at that speed,” she said.
And in order to keep collisions down and reduce the number of severe and fatal incidents, Capt. Jonathan Pinto of LAPD’s South Traffic Division said that law enforcement focuses on two things: traffic-stop education and increasing the visibility of officers at high-risk intersections.