LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is vowing to make his department more responsive to the rights of cyclists, responding to growing complaints from bikers who say the city isn't doing enough to protect them from careless and aggressive motorists.
Beck made his pledge Wednesday during a City Hall meeting with bicycle advocates, who want the department to do more to crack down on motorists who don't respect cyclists' right to the road.
Beck said bike riders are "our most vulnerable commuters" and that the Los Angeles Police Department needed to do a better job of protecting them.
"We hear you, we know we need to do a better job for you," Beck said.
To some bike activists, Beck's comments marked a major shift for the LAPD top brass, who until now have stayed largely silent on the issue.
Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said Beck was considering new training for LAPD officers as well as producing a document outlining officers' responsibilities in dealing with cyclists on the road. He said it was still unclear what would be in the document but said he hoped to meet with bicycle groups and have it ready within 30 days.
Paysinger also said that in less than 45 days, the department would create a computer-based "e-learning" agenda that would be mandatory for all officers to help them better recognize problems and issues involving cyclists.
Paysinger said that from now on, all accidents involving bicyclists would be handled by each bureau's traffic division.
Beck's statements came during a Transportation Committee meeting. About 20 cycling advocates, including some from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, came to the meeting to address Beck after they completed a bike ride to call for justice for victims of hit-and-run accidents and to protest what they say was the unfair treatment of cyclists.
That bike ride was in honor of Ed Magos, a City Hall employee who was injured Jan. 6 when he was struck from behind while cycling on 2nd Street near Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles.
The LAPD said the incident was being treated as a hit-and-run collision and that there was no evidence to suggest the driver intentionally struck Magos. Beck said the city attorney was going to look at the case again.
But the most recent incident that galvanized much of the cycling community and raised questions about the safety of bikers was when physician Christopher Thompson was convicted of assaulting two cyclists in Brentwood. Thompson was driving in front of the bikers on July, 4, 2008, when he slammed on his brakes and the cyclists struck his car and were injured.
Aurisha Smolarski of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition said she was heartened by the LAPD's comments on Wednesday, but said the department still has some way to go to prove that it was committed to reform.
"There's a lot to be done. Right now it's a lot of talk," Smolarski said. "It's a matter of seeing that these things actually happen."
Smolarski said the coalition was anticipating meeting with the LAPD to discuss what would be in the department's new policy document. She said she wanted officers to know exactly what rights cyclists have, including that cyclists have an equal right to the road, that it is not illegal to ride on a sidewalk in Los Angeles unless it is specifically marked and that bicycle licenses are no longer required.
She said the coalition also wants officers to know how to properly write up collision reports and collect evidence during incidents with bikes, and to make sure that reports from cyclists about collisions are taken seriously by the LAPD.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said it was a "historic first" to have the chief of police listening directly to the experiences of cyclists and promising reform in front of City Council members.
"My hope is that six months from now an officer will know the rights of cyclists as well as the rights of motorists," Rosendahl said. "I think the LAPD, like pretty much the citizenry in general, has had the car culture."
Times staff writer Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.