Film Industry Comprimises Safety of Cyclists

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Photo: LA Streetsblog.

On Tuesday the Los Angeles City Council, under heavy pressure from the film industry, voted to remove most of the green paint from bike lanes on Spring Street. The lanes had been installed two years ago as part of a pilot project to test this type of highly visible bike lane used in other cities such as New York and Chicago. Film industry groups complained from the very beginning, claiming that the lanes screwed up their shots. The lanes, however, were popular with local businesses, the Downtown Neighborhood Council and residents. And a bike count conducted by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition showed an overall 52% increase in bike traffic on Spring Street. There was a 100% increase in women cyclists on weekdays and a 650% increase in women cyclists on the weekend.

I was a part of a group of cycling advocates who attended the City Council meeting. Before the bike lane issue came up on the agenda, we all had to endure a two hour self-congratulatory tribute to an outgoing, term-limited councilman. When the bike lane agenda item finally came up, councilman Huizar announced that the Council and film industry had reached a “compromise” and that there would be no public comment. So much for democracy.

The “compromise” consists of removing most of the green paint. Here’s the before and after:

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Source: LA Times.

As a pilot project, theses lanes were under evaluation by LA Department of Transportation engineers. The council, essentially, interfered with this experiment at the behest of moneyed interests. It would have been nice to see if these lanes increased safety. Now we won’t know.

After the council approved the compromise, without public comment, Councilman Tom LaBonge came up to me and asked me what I thought. I told him that I thought the council was compromising safety. He told me that the film industry is important here. I asked him if he thought a film is worth a human life. He said, “we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

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24 Comments

  1. First, let me make clear that I am in no way defending closing off discussion. If you’re angry, if you feel there’s a point to be made, by all means write to your council person and to whichever council person you feel was the point man on this issue. Public safety is vital and eliminating downtown traffic is important and they’re accountable for that.

    But may I say a word for the film community? I’m not in the industry but I know people who are. …or were. People who have lost their jobs. LA has, despite the importance of the industry to its economy, become VERY unfriendly to filming. They withhold permits, featherbed & gouge on security personnel requirements and generally cave to neighborhoods & objections to street closings all of which make filming difficult and much more expensive than it needs to be at the same time that the “look” of LA becomes more and more homogeneously contemporary. Meanwhile, other states provide things like not over-filmed backgrounds, more visual ambiguity, financial incentives and resources to streamline permits, etc.

    When filming is more difficult here, projects go on location. When they go on location, they take cast and a very few above the line production people along. Crews and smaller parts are hired on location at much lower rates and with fewer union restrictions & costs. Bottom line: LA jobs are lost. In addition, the risk of *permanent* relocation grows since there are fewer and fewer ties to Los Angeles with every year.

    Issues like the bike lane need to be worked out with the mutual interests of the industry and the city and its citizens as the objective. And, of course, public safety has to be paramount. But making the film industry the bad guy or bedeviling them on every other front so that they dig their heels in on an essential one could work against everyone in the end. That’s what the council is recognizing — however ham fistedly.

    Not expecting agreement but the viability of the film industry and LA jobs remains really significant.

  2. If they were smart they would paint it the same shade of green they use for green screen. I heard from some of my friends (we’re animators) that it’s a shade that’s not removable in post. Or how about if they’re going to film, they can foot the bill to cover up the green and replace it when they’re done. To be honest, shooting in L.A. has become so costly that most shooting is done out of state and in other cities now.. so I can see why the council would cave under that kind of pressure.

  3. ~~I asked him if he thought a film is worth a human life. He said, “we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

    So, the answer was “yes, a film is worth a life.” ??? Maybe the film industry can provide the sacrifices, preferably from the person who make the most from the film.

  4. Well, if the metric we’re using is the saving of a single life, it’s high time to outlaw bicycles. How many people die or are injured a year due to bikes? And with the bikes gone, there won’t be a need for bike lanes. And therefore no need for any sort of compromise – like the one that seems to have been made by your council.

    You also speak about democracy – my recommendation is that you be careful what you wish for. If they put your bike lanes up for a simple majority vote after detailing the cost of installation, maintenance, inconvenient closure of other lanes for repairs and the like, I doubt there would be a bike lane anywhere.

    I don’t intend to come across as belligerent, but the self-absorption and self-righteousness of bicycle enthusiasts is one of my pet peeves. I’d hope you come to accept (and maybe even appreciate!) the altered bike lanes that were approved; if you can’t see that this compromise is a happy medium I’d suggest you get off your high horse – preferably in a well-maintained high horse offloading zone adjacent to a clearly marked high horse lane.

    :)

    • My lovely wife Mrs. Homegrown often accuses me of being on a high horse, particularly when it comes to bike issues. Normally, she and you are right. But this particular case is different. The downtown community, both residents and businesses, really like the bike lane. They are also tired of being a Hollywood backlot. I suspect that if it were put to a vote, the lane would still be solid green.

      As to the metrics, that’s a tough one. As a public health issue, more people probably die prematurely from being sedentary than from riding a bike. Make it safer to walk and ride a bike and we’ll see less diabetes and heart disease. I’ve been hit by cars twice here in LA while on a bike and had my car totalled by a texting driver back in March so I’m sensitive to safety issues.

      And downtown Los Angeles has changed a lot since I was a kid. It is now much more bikeable and walkable than it used to be and there are convenient subway connections. The streets are crowded with people and there are nice places to stop and eat–the bike lanes are seen by many as part of that revitalization. Ironically this is why Hollywood likes it–downtown LA can double for places like New York and Chicago. In the 1970s and 80s downtown LA was a scary ghost town. Now it’s actually like New York and Chicago–active and thriving. Downtown LA has become a real city rather than a set.

    • Sorry to add fuel to the fire, but the self righteous and self-absorbed attitude that you seem to come across in bicyclists exists in equal if not greater doses amongst motorists. Granted yes, some bicyclists can come off as abrasive, but some bicyclist actions are also very misunderstood. An example is the common debate of why a bicyclist will ever so selfishly hog up a lane. Many reasons of which I will list the two in which I might find myself doing this. 1) I do not wish to ride too close to parked cars in case someone flings their door open into my path and knocks me into oncoming traffic. Many bicyclists have died from this and it’s even termed getting ‘doored’. The other is if I feel unsafe because the lane has gotten narrow, and I get very nervous about cars ‘squeezing’ pas – this just isn’t safe and is very harrowing, it’s best for cars to switch lanes and drivers manuals even tell you that. Otherwise I try to be a good example of a citizen bicyclist. I don’t block right turning lanes (you’re supposed to wait with the rest of the traffic going straight), I signal my intentions of turning, etc. If we had a more bicycle safe culture, there would be less cars on the road, a healthier population, and less carbon outputting. Isn’t this a win for everyone? Ultimately, a a bicyclist I ride very defensively. People forget how fragile life can be – you can never see when an accident will occur, no matter how many horrible scenarios you play out in your mind in an attempt to prepare yourself. Mr. Homegrown’s mentioning of women cycling numbers is actually extremely important – it’s known that women tend to be more cautious then men and will prefer to choose to not cycle if they feel like it’s unsafe. In face, the number of women bicycling in a given area is a clear reflection of the safety conditions for bicycling. Denmark’s numbers are about 50/50 for the number of women/men bicycling. Here in the U.S. though it’s far less balanced. America has a very car-centric culture, Los Angeles especially – maybe someday we’ll be as progressive as Denmark when it comes to cycling. But until then bicyclists have to stick to their guns in what they believe in and cling to what small scraps of progress we’ve made.

    • I’d like to second Mary L’s comments about “taking the lane.” So few people regularly cycle that they don’t understand how dangerous it is to pass a cyclist closely. Safety comes before convenience, and a cyclist often must occupy the lane in order to prevent those unsafe close passes.

      I’d suggest everyone read the materials at http://iamtraffic.org/ to understand why this is the safe and proper action in many cases.

  5. 1) Wouldn’t it be a GOOD thing to show nice bike lanes? It would raise visibility of bikes everywhere the movie shows.

    2) If the movie doesn’t like the aesthetic or is a period piece, they can shoot on one of the bazillion streets without bike lanes, they can shoot on a backlot in LA (of which there are also a bazillion) or they can pay to paint the street for the shoot and paint it back when they are done (not that unreasonable cost wise for the big budget movies).

    3) Business has already left the LA area for location shoots and a bike lane isn’t going to change that. Film incentives are a race to the bottom and there are states like Louisiana that are actually PAYING the movies to come there. Plus, a lot of the locations in the LA area are “shot out”… they have been used so much they are no longer as interesting. Films choose to shoot in LA because of the equipment and studio infrastructure there, not the bike lanes.

    4) I think it is a class thing. Poor people ride bikes and take the bus, rich and famous people do not. The rich and/or famous do not want the “eyesore” so they come up with bullshit excuses to get rid of it. They also do not want to be confronted with the issue that their “glamorous” city is overcrowded and unlivable when they drive around in their air conditioned BMWs.

    (I used to work in the film industry, mainly outside of the LA area though.)

  6. Yowza folks…..wow some real opinions on both sides….sweet.

    In comparison to the profit that most films make for a very slim few, the cost of repainting these lanes between shoots is minimal. Come on. All you have to do is look to the reasons each side is arguing for. The film industry is saying the “little guy”, the grip, the camera man are the ones hurt by this. What a joke. They don’t care about their union dudes. Shit they’re pissed they have to hire union anyways. The bike people just want a safe lane and the numbers prove that it is well received. Not only that but the businesses like it too! Come on, there’s not one user group that uses that area every day that didn’t like those lanes. The “compromise” is for single use, every now and then activity versus people who use them directly or are impacted by them directly every day. Sooner or later LA is gonna have figure out some long term ideas as to better transportation systems and this was a start in the right direction. The fact that it was received and used so well is amazing and should have been impetus to expand the project, not cut it’s legs out from it.

  7. I live in Melbourne Australia and they have a local government that is committed to making Melbourne a cycling city. Bikes are everywhere here it wasnt always this way but with some careful planning they have diverted most traffic away from the city centre and created infrastructure for cyclists.
    We are a nation that also loves its cars and are heavily addicted to driving as a mode of transport. There is always grumbling when bikes get access to another road but through public education people can see that even if they dont ride a bike themselves that people who do create less traffic on the roads.
    The city council of LA should look at how Melbourne has marked its streets for bike riders. It is similar to the amended design but has the addition of car dooring zones which was one of the main causes of bike rider fatality.
    I really cant imagine living in a place where money is more important than human life but thats capitalism for you.
    Hope it works out for you and the bike riding community of LA.

    If you want to talk money bikeriding has become big money in Melbourne it boosts a lot of other industries too.

    • So many places seem so much more enlightened than this one. I live in the midwest, and when I try to bike the 2 miles into my small town on the highway I get nothing but angry honks and yells.

      As for self absorption and self righteousness in bike enthusiasts, I disagree that it is any different than that of the entire population. But I can see where someone might get that idea. I am not far from the Mississippi river, and on the lovely road at the bottom of the bluffs that line the river, I often encounter groups of cyclists. This road is narrow and twisty. Groups of bikers will often travel in the entire lane, not bothering to move to the side for cars to pass. I still argue that this is a reflection on society in general and not bike people.

    • It is, of course, equally self righteous of a motorist to expect other road users to move aside because that motorist is in a hurry and does not want to wait for an opportunity to make a safe pass by changing lanes.

    • I’ve heard many good things about Melbourne. Sometimes I think issues like this would be solved if more Americans had passports and traveled to cities like yours.

  8. as has been said – WOW to the divergent opinions. Happen to live in an area that is being over run with mountain bikers who believe anyone that tells them to stay on the trail is just plain against people riding their bicycles and only want to keep the trails to themselves (then again, have been directly threatened by said cyclists, as have others in my neighborhood). They’ve destroyed habitat and endangered people and pets. Needless to say, they have definitely colored my opinion of cyclists, and not necessarily for the good. and if anyone cares, cyclists outside the USA do not think too highly of our home grown cyclist’s attitude. That being said, also live in a city where too many decisions have been made by a city council without allowing public comment OR where decisions have been made counter to public opinion. it is a situation that is occurring on the local scale as it is on the national level. per the old expression, Money Talks. Bicycle lanes in LA, GMO’s in our food supply. at least you get SOMETHING in the way of marked lanes. We don’t get anything but boondoggle in the matter of GMO’s in our food supply.

  9. Not taking a side on whether it was right or wrong to remove the lanes or install them in the first place, but just adding to the factors to consider.

    The safety benefit of painting the bike lanes a different color is marginal at best. If a motorist is paying so little attention to the surrounding traffic that he requires a brightly painted lane to notice cyclists, he’s unlikely to notice the painted lane either.

    Most of the benefit of those painted lanes is that it announces the city as “bicycle friendly”

    • Max – when bikers have the ability to move over and ride single file on a road to allow a car to pass, it seems polite and considerate to make that choice. It comes across to me as inconsiderate to NOT do this. We are on this planet together. It seems a good plan to be considerate of each other.

    • It may seem impolite for cyclists to not move over, but motorists are rarely aware of the condition of the road at the right edge. Pavement is often damaged, and usually strewn with gravel and debris swept there by fast moving vehicles. Bicycle tires touch the road with contact patches scarcely larger than a thumbprint, so debris that is meaningless to a motorist is deadly to a cyclist. It is often unsafe to ride as far to the right as a motorist would think is appropriate.
      Moreover, in order to make a safe pass, a car should give at least 3 feet clearance to the bicycle. Even if a bicycle is far to the right, lanes less than 12 feet wide require the motorist to change lanes to pass (again, it is often impossible to safely ride that far to the right). If a motorist must change lanes to pass, cyclists riding 2 abreast allow the motorist to complete the pass and return to the right lane more quickly.

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  11. As someone who doesn’t bike on the streets, (The idea terrifies me.) I LOVE the idea of painted bike lanes. There are far too many people biking that don’t have a clue that the traffic rules apply to them as well. They seem to think they are simply fast moving pedestrians. There are also far too many car drivers that view cyclists as an annoyance/minor obstacle. Having painted bike lanes would get bikes off the sidewalk AND would alert asshat drivers that, Yes bicyclists do in fact have a right to be on the road. As far as the film industry goes, if you can CGI practically an entire movie (Avengers anyone?) it seems ludicrous to say that the painted lanes are a problem. If as some suggest, the color cannot be removed in post, then the comprise the Council should hace made was to use another color NOT remove the lanes.

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