State law blocking more L.A. bike lanes changing

Many streets in Los Angeles would be made safer for bicyclists if they had a bike lane. But adding bike lanes is surprisingly difficult in California -- and for a reason few might suspect.

Believe it or not, a law called the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) stymied efforts by L.A. and other cities to expand their bike paths. A provision in CEQA required cities to produce an expensive traffic impact study, to determine what impact the bike lane would have on auto congestion. Obviously, when you replace a car lane with a bike lane, congestion will increase somewhat. Thus, the result of the study could cause the plan to fail.

It is ironic that a law designed to protect the environment is hamstringing efforts to make riding bikes safer and more enjoyable in California. It would seem that when people bike more and drive less, air quality would improve.

State lawmakers have passed several reforms to CEQA in recent years, including changing the rules to make it easier to get a bike lane exempt from the regulations. But a provision in a 2013 law to exempt the new Sacramento Kings arena from CEQA requirements contained perhaps the most important change to bike lane procedure.

Instead of measuring traffic congestion, the new law makes the question, how many more miles will cars travel on nearby roads as a result of the new bike lane? The Los Angeles Times says that since replacing a traffic lane with a bike lane would not increase the number of motor vehicles on the road, most new bike lanes should be able to pass this standard.

Bicycle lanes increase the distance between riders and cars, but they do not eliminate the possibility of getting hit by a negligent driver. Riders who were the victims of a carless motorist should speak to an attorney about getting compensation.

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