All Aboard L.A.'s Bike Commuter Train

This train is not steel wheels on steel rail - it is multiple two-wheeled rubber tires, commuting together, providing support and safety to novice cyclists, but sometimes it backfires. Interviewed is a frustrated motorist who intimidated them.

December 7, 2013, 1:00 PM PST

By Irvin Dawid

"One of the largest obstacles in getting people to bike to work is their fear of getting hit by a car. A new grass-roots project in Los Angeles is helping folks navigate the ins and outs of traffic," writes (and narrates in the audio) reporter, Alex Schmidt.

Enter L.A. Bike Trains — an organization that arranges commutes by bike in groups. Each Bike Train route has an experienced conductor who serves as a guide. Barbara Insua [a bike-train rider interviewed by Schmidt who rides to her job at NASA'S Jet Propulsion Lab] especially likes that these volunteer conductors offer new riders door-to-door service from their homes to the train.

While it has been documented that there is "safety in numbers" for cycling, the trains can have unintended consequences for some impatient motorists.

"It's like they enjoy taking up the lanes," says Jackie Burke, who has lived in Los Angeles her whole life. She says bicyclists drive her crazy when she's in a car and has to slow down for them.

"It's very frustrating, to the point where I just want to run them off the road," Burke says. "I've actually done one of those drive-really-close-to-them kind of things to kind of scare them, to try to intimidate them to get out of my way."

The interview is disturbing because these intimidating tactics are clearly illegal and explain why Los Angeles became the first city in the nation to pass a "Cyclist Anti-harassment Law," as explained by Ross Hirsch Esq. for LA.Streetsblog on September 27, 2011.

The new law allows cyclists to sue drivers in civil court and, if successful, obtain remedies that previously would have been very difficult if not impossible to obtain—even if a cyclist could find a lawyer willing to take what are often smaller dollar-value cases.

Cyclists throughout the state got more protection last September when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the 'safe passing bill'. As of September 16, 2014, AB 1371 might make Burke's intimidating tactics an infraction and punishable by a $35 fine, or a $220 fine "if a collision occurs between a motor vehicle and a bicyclist causing bodily harm to the bicyclist."

Perhaps L.A. will follow in S.F.'s footsteps, or pedals, and synchronize traffic lights to enable "green waves". It should be noted that San Francisco adopted the project from Copenhagen.

Correspondent's note: This report is not part of the NPR special series, "U.S. Commutes: The Way We Get To Work."

Friday, December 6, 2013 in NPR

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