Bike lanes also tend to abut parking spaces, which can turn the bike lane into a door zone where an opening car door can intrude without warning into a cyclist's path, Forester says. Such "dooring" incidents have killed cyclists in cities across the U.S.

"American bicyclists have been taught to stay to the right or get squashed, but it's actually much safer to ride a bike as you would a car, following all the rules of the road," Forester says.

Claiming the lane


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Beverly Hills resident Ron Durgin, who calls himself a "bicycle lifestylist" and has not owned a car for the last 14 years, says when he first began riding, he "was of the mind set to ride in the gutter -- stay as far to the right of traffic as possible." When Durgin rode in that manner, he found that cars came uncomfortably close as they squeezed past.

Then Durgin took a workshop on how to ride a bike in traffic and changed his entire approach. "I drive my bike as if I were driving a car, and I have very few problems now," he says.

He says cyclists can reduce their risk of being hit from the side or run off the road if they obey all traffic laws and claim their space in the road, skills he impresses in bike safety courses he now teaches for the League of American Bicyclists.

Mutual respect is the key to safely coexisting in traffic, Blumenthal says. His group's new slogan, "Bikes are on your side -- we're closer than you think," is intended to create a common identity between motorists and cyclists.

"People on bikes aren't out to get you or slow you down," he says. "We also drive -- and, in fact, we are you."

The city of Los Angeles is currently taking public comments on the newly released draft of the city bicycle plan -- which updates the city's strategy for promoting bicycling in the city via policies, programs and infrastructure improvements.

Among the recommendations in the draft are plans for nearly 400 miles of so-called Bicycle Friendly Streets, which would have signage or traffic-calming measures designed to make them better suited to bikes.

The plan also includes plans for more bike lanes, safety education and bike parking.

Senior project coordinator Michelle Mowery with the city department of transportation calls the draft a big step, but bike advocates criticize the plan for lacking the continuous north-south and east-west bikeways that bicyclists need to navigate the city.

"This plan continues the current mishmash of bike routes," says Aurisha Smolarski, campaign director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. "Sunset Boulevard has a bike lane, but it doesn't connect to Hollywood. . . . Venice Boulevard has a major gap that's missing a bike lane."

Find out more -- or voice your comments -- at the last of five public workshops on the plan this from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Ramona Hall, 4580 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. View the plan at www.labikeplan.org, or e-mail public comments to jordann.turner @lacity.org.

And read our accompanying stories for tips on what cyclists -- and motorists -- can do to make city streets safer for the people who ride on two wheels instead of four.

health@latimes.com