In Spring 2017 BikeSGV was very excited to announce the launch of one of California's first "Traffic Diversion" programs, providing persons cited while riding bicycle or other non-motorized vehicles an alternative to paying the full fine.
Made possible by California Assembly Bill 902, BikeSGV's Traffic Diversion program is the result of a collaboration between public health non-profit Day One, the City of El Monte, and the Honorable Judge Daniel Lopez of the Los Angeles Superior Court in El Monte. Over the course of the past four months (May-Aug 2017), 16 persons of all ages have opted for 'traffic school for bikes' in lieu of paying their fines, with both court and citation fees waived upon successful completion of a 3-hour 'City Cycling" class covering rules of the road as they pertain to people on bikes and safe riding techniques.
The average fine received by participants to date is $323, ranging from a low of $98 (minor riding without a helmet) to $916 (minor riding on a sidewalk without a helmet). The most common citations among participants were issued for either sidewalk cycling -- illegal in the City of El Monte, Los Angeles County unincorporated, and several adjoining communities -- or to minors riding a bicycle without a helmet.
According to the US Census Bureau median household income in the City of El Monte is $38,085. With many working class El Monte families and residents dealing with regional economic stressors such as increasing housing costs, fines of $300 or more can be a significant financial burden, adding to family debt or vying for basic necessities like food.
BikeSGV feels very fortunate to be able to provide an educational alternative to expense citations and court fees. However the active enforcement of and relatively high cost of fines for sidewalk cycling and riding without a helmet gives us pause, especially when compared with the costs associated with more dangerous behaviors such as running traffic lights.
Are citations for behaviors that pose limited threat to public safety an effective use of staff resources? Would the City of El Monte and neighboring communities be more effective at reducing traffic violence by focusing traffic enforcement on the 5 moving violations most likely to result in serious injury or death, as many "Vision Zero" cities across the United States are doing?
The City of El Monte adopted a Bicycle Master Plan and Complete Streets Policy in 2014 and striped its first bicycle lane in 2015 (Tyler Ave). In 2016 the City hosted its first ciclovia with neighboring South El Monte. In February 2017 the El Monte City Council unanimously moved to make the City of Monte one of the first Vision Zero cities in Southern California, setting a goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2027.
While steps in the right direction, this recent progress belies the lack of a cohesive network of comfortable bicycle infrastructure. The continued lack of safe bicycling facilities across the San Gabriel Valley remains a major reason why many locals who ride bikes as a means of affordable transportation prefer the perceived safety of sidewalks over high-speed streets not designed for people on bikes.
BikeSGV is dedicated to teaching the CA Vehicle Code (CVC), which is silent on the legality of sidewalk cycling, an issue left in the hands of local jurisdictions. Which of LA County's 88 cities permit sidewalk cycling is a question only a handful of the region's over 10 million residents, if any, are likely to know. (Don't believe us? Check out LADOT's list of sidewalk cycling policies). Sidewalk cycling laws are a gray area of the law, regularly changing as communities edit their ordinances, often unbeknownst to people who ride bikes.
Would communities across California be better served by a consistent statewide policy on sidewalk cycling? Are low-income communities disproportionately impacted by enforcement of these laws? Do sidewalk cycling bans in cities with limited bicycle infrastructure dissuade parents from allowing their children to ride bikes to/from school? What is the collision track record of SGV cities with bans on sidewalk cycling versus those without? What impact, if any, do such local policies and enforcement play in communities with some of LA County's highest rates of childhood obesity and diabetes?
These are all big questions BikeSGV does not have answers to, but feels are worthy of our time and consideration as they may impact some of our most pressing public health, safety, and environmental problems. If you're a graduate student or researcher interested in examining any of the above topics, we'd love to talk to you. If you'd like more information about BikeSGV's bi-lingual traffic diversion program, including how to sign-up for a 'City Cycling' class, please visit www.bikesgv.org/bicycleeducationcenter.html or contact BikeSGV Education Director Jose Jimenez at (626) 566-8302 or via email.