Bicycle-car collisions fall in the coronavirus era in Los Angeles

Because of COVID, now is a safer time to ride your bike


The number of collisions between bicycles and cars in the City of Los Angeles has plunged during the coronavirus era. A Crosstown analysis revealed that over an 11-week period, these types of accidents fell nearly 71%, dropping to 164 from 561 during the same time period last year.


Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered many businesses to close on March 15 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The number of car trips decreased immediately and so did the number of accidents, with the LAPD recording 16 collisions that week, down from 32 the previous year, according to LAPD data.


The difference has been stark every week since, with the most pronounced being a one-week period in April: there were two collisions in that time frame this year, and 43 in 2019. 


11 weeks of bicycle collisions: steep drop during the lockdown

Line graph of bicycle collisions this year v. last year, showing a decline
Graphic by JD LeRoy

Sgt. Sean Karmody of the Los Angeles Police Department Traffic Division said the decrease in accidents is not surprising, because the coronavirus pandemic means there is less traffic everywhere. 


“The unemployment situation, employers authorizing employees to telecommute and schools opting for online lessons can certainly contribute to the decrease in the number of road users,” said Karmody.


Sean Meredith, an avid cyclist and gallery owner who regularly documents his bike trips on Twitter, lauded the declining accident numbers, but noted a side effect that has cyclists on edge.


“It’s generally safer… until it’s not,” said Meredith. “Fewer cars on the road, but the cars out there are going faster and are less attentive.” 


A February Crosstown analysis of bike collisions found the number of accidents had indeed been falling. Incidents involving bicycles and vehicles in the city decreased 5% from 2018 to 2019.


New LA bike projects

Cities around the world are using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to get more people on bikes. In Los Angeles, an estimated 84% of people use cars and motorcycles as their primary form of transportation, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation


In a list of cycling data for 700 cities across the world, Los Angeles ranked 372nd, with roughly 1% of trips on two wheels. A mere 0.7% of Angelenos count biking as their primary mode of transportation, according to the LADOT’s website


“With so many people worried about social distancing on public transit, there are a lot of folks who need to get to jobs and don’t have access to a car,” said Meredith. “With less traffic congestion during the pandemic, now would be a great time to install more bike and pedestrian projects without too much inconvenience to drivers.”


It seems LADOT is paying attention. Despite facing a shortfall of nearly $31 million due to the coronavirus pandemic, the department has expedited multiple bike lanes and safety projects since the “Safer at Home” order was issued on March 19. According to Colin Sweeney, LADOT’s public information director, there have been nearly 28 miles of bike lanes installed or upgraded, and an additional 5.5 lane miles are under construction in the city. 


Those improvements include speeding up the installation of protected bike lanes to the 7th Street Forward project in Downtown, which is the most popular corridor in Los Angeles for scooters and bikes, according to Sweeney. He also said that protected bike lanes have been added to 5th and 6th streets, with an upgrade to a protected lane on Olive St. 


The connections will be enhanced in the future. Sweeney noted that the replacement for the 6th Street Viaduct that is now under construction will have bike lanes in both directions. Additionally, a bike lane on the First Street Bridge is being planned, with funding from Metro in place. 


In addition to Downtown, Sweeney said LADOT also implemented more than 12 miles of new bike lanes to Avalon Boulevard in South Los Angeles since May. 


“In South Los Angeles, the Manchester-Broadway, Our Way project has just begun construction and will add new parking-protected bike lanes from Manchester to Century on Broadway,” he said.


Kevin Shin, senior director of policy and partnerships for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said that projects such as those on 7th St. and Avalon Blvd. are particularly important as more people turn to bike riding. He added he hopes that LADOT will invest in partnerships with community-based organizations to help close the existing disparity in infrastructure between communities at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. 


“Many essential workers, who have not had the luxury of being able to work from home, are better able to reach jobs as we make improvements to infrastructure, especially along busy thoroughfares like Avalon,” said Shin. “We would love to see more infrastructure projects be prioritized to support the needs of essential workers, many of whom live in lower-income communities of color, and to help them navigate the city in a safer way that also helps to increase the resilience of LA as a whole.”


Global improvements

Los Angeles is not the only city making things easier for cyclists.


The United Kingdom recently pledged $2.6 billion for protected bike lanes, to relieve pressure on public transportation. Fears over coronavirus transmission have also prompted Parisians to start pedaling much more, as news reports have noted that there are noticeably more bicycles on the road than cars or buses. Oslo’s city center is nearly car-free.The COVID outbreak also encouraged Berlin’s government to introduce nearly 14 miles of pop-up bike lanes, joining cities such as Bogota, Budapest and Vancouver in a push to encourage more cycling and reimagine what the streets can look like in a post-pandemic world. 


“Investing in transportation infrastructure that reduces traffic, improves quality of life of neighborhoods, and creates better air quality is a task for local, state and national leaders, and we continue to advocate for funding that will allow us to expand these programs,” said Sweeney. 


How we did it: We examined publicly available LAPD data on reported collisions in the City of Los Angeles. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here.


LAPD data only reflects collisions that are reported to the department, not how many actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available.


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