I joined the regular meeting of the Bicycle Plan Implementation Team just yesterday, downtown in the scuffed and dreary fluorescent-lit City Hall East building, and sat through three hours of quite intelligent yet ultimately discouraging palaver over the future for human-centric transportation in LA.
The plan itself is quite well-thought-out (though that is in great part the result of the city’s current bicycle community rising up against the perfunctory and inadequate first iteration of the 2010 Bicycle Master Plan). It comprises overlapping webs of long-distance routes along watercourses, striped lanes in arterial connector streets, a “Neighborhood Network” of low-stress side streets, and even some intended cycletracks.
However, as the meeting developed, it began to seem that this was really a wish list, not a project timetable by any means. We were warned that City Planning has no real power beyond advising the Council of what it considers to be worth doing, and that any individual council member can push through or entirely blockade any project.
Those of you who have been following any of the various bicycle and neighborhood blogs around town are all too aware of this: how council members have successfully stalled projects on Fourth Street, North Figueroa street, Westwood Boulevard, and Lankershim Boulevard, were stopped forme bike lanes from plans for the Glendale-Hyperion bridge refurb by a huge public outcry, removed most of the green from the busy Spring Street lane, and have threatened the future of the entire (already-budgeted!) MyFigueroa project.
Los Angeles doesn’t even have any real bikeway networks yet, except in part of Downtown and a corner of Venice Beach; we have dribs and drabs of bikeways scattered about like threads on a sewing-room floor, stuck in where the road was wide and the planning easy, but rarely tied together. (Though to be fair, this is scheduled to happen in East Hollywood around Virgil/Hillhurst soon.)
Meanwhile, European cities with far narrower roads have found room for bikeways weaving their neighborhoods together—and found health, happiness, and prosperity as well. And it’s not just Eurozone economic powerhouses such as Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands: our little neighbor Santa Monica is reaping the benefits of bikeways as well, and stepping up its program.
Look back at the photo that heads this column: while LA is still taking trembling first steps into the Bicycle Millennium, Santa Monica is refining the already-excellent network that knits its neighborhoods to its business districts: the long-established and hugely-popular bike lanes on Main Street now have green paint at intersections and other conflict zones, and sharrows are being placed in yet more left-turn pockets, to remind dunderheaded drivers that cyclists have full rights to the road.
Meanwhile, streets such as Fourteenth north of Wilshire have seen painted buffers added to their own facilities, and the little city is adding door-zone markers to many of its standard bike lanes.
SaMo is well into the second phase of its bikeway network, while its much richer neighbor LA is still scribbling sharrows onto forgotten backstreets to rack up miles for bragging rights.
It’s time for LA to concentrate on building usable, connected networks in parts of town that have dense neighborhoods surrounding retail districts and employment centers—which are everywhere in LA. No more tattered rags of bikeways dropped in lost corners of town when no one’s looking. A little network elegance will pay off big time, if we dare to do it.