The Westside Whirlpool

San Vicente is one of LA’s oddest streets: a diagonal avenue that starts near downtown at Venice Boulevard, slants across Midtown, the eastern edge of Beverly hills, and through West Hollywood to Santa Monica Boulevard, where it more or less stops….

…Only to start up again on the far West Side, just past UCLA and the VA, where it continues at approximately the same angle to connect Wilshire Boulevard with Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

It’s as though an immense but unnoticed earthquake had split the street and left a ten-mile gap between its two segments.

There have long been bike lanes on the westernmost portion of the street, from the edge of Brentwood to the Palisades, and those was recently extended through Brentwood itself as far as Wilshire.

But bicycle facilites have grown rather piecemeal along the Midtown stretch, with West Hollywood painting bike lanes on their bit of it several years ago, and Los Angeles promising to do likewise…eventually.

Well, eventually finally came, at least on the half of San Vicente that is in LA: from Wilshire to West Hollywood, there is in fact a bike lane…for westbound pedalers. Unfortunately, the eastbound lanes belong to Beverly Hills, a city resolutely committed to the ineffective car-only paradigms of the past, though there is a snippet of bike lane on the eastbound side till just past Burton Way, which might be in LA, though I’m not sure.

That means that someone somewhere had to figure out what to do at the massive, messy, and menacing intersection of San Vicente, La Cienega, and Burton Way, the “Westside Whilrpool.” Because all of these streets feed into each other. In particular, westbound San Vicente splits as it approaches Burton Way, with two lanes swerving right to continue as San Vicente, and two swerving left to feed into Burton Way, plus right turns onto La Cienega, with traffic flowing like riptides all over the various channels as drivers try to sort themselves out, while sometimes not being quite sure of where the hell they are anyway.

I am both a photographer and a writer, and I’ll tell you that a picture is rarely worth a thousand words…but in this case it is (though it will take more than one picture). Here’s a package of views showing how LADOT resolved the issue of feeding cyclists through the intersection and accommodating all the choices they might want to make:


Believe it or not, this solution, while not ideal, makes for a far more comfortable intersection than it was before. I go through here often, and it seems that so do many other bicycle riders. I certainly saw a number of fellow pedalers while wandering around taking pictures, and I wasn’t there at anybody’s peak hour, either.

So I’ll throw this into the reading public’s lap: How do you feel about this treatment, given that it would be a budget-buster even to think of reconfiguring the intersection in any extensive way? Have you ridden it? Would you ride it? What would you do differently?

Ladies and gentlemen, start your comments!

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

4 Comments

  1. Jeff Jacobberger
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    The only thing I would perhaps do differently is add a bike box in the number 3 lane on San Vicente immediately east of La Cienega, so that bicyclists proceeding on Burton Way at the “split” can get into a proper position to make that maneuver, and to signal to motorists that bicyclists have a right to be in that lane and aren’t supposed to be in the bike lane.

  2. Brian Nilsen
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I recently started working near San Vicente and Wilshire and commute to West LA. First off, I can’t believe how disappointed I am to find out that the eastbound (southbound?) lanes are owned by Beverly Hills. I hate that part of my commute, especially with all the construction they’ve had going on there.

    It was great to see the new bike lanes pop up going westbound though. The transitions are a little tough through there – if you’re going on San Vicente, you end up in kind of those no-man’s land between the right lane which heads off onto La Cienega and the lane next to it, which I don’t believe is sharrowed or has any sort of indication to drivers to expect cyclists to be there, but it does quickly pick up a bike lane right after crossing La Cienega.

    It’s nice that they sharrowed a lane that heads off to Burton, and again, the bike lanes show up pretty quickly after the intersection. Sometimes the transition into that lane can be a little hair raising, but it really is better than it used to be when I first started working over here, if only because drivers seem to expect cyclists a little more.

    The biggest problem I’m having is that the lanes on both Burton and San Vicente right after crossing La Cienega are absolutely chock full of broken glass and debris. I’ve tried to use them a couple of times only to find chunks of glass stuck in my tires (thank you, Gatorskins, for not actually going flat on me). The bike lanes clear up on both streets once you’ve fully gotten through the entire intersection, but those lanes in the middle appear to have never seen a street sweeper. I contacted Street Services via 311 about it back on May 2nd, but it’s still as treacherous as ever (and for some reason it got transferred to the sanitation department as an illegal dumping thing…) In the meantime, I just control the lane now until I finish the transition. A few drivers have honked, but nothing too bad has happened so far.

  3. Paul Motschall
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I ride that everyday, the changes have improved things some what, although just today I was honked at by a yellow cab as I made my way from the bike lane to the sharrow so that I could turn onto Burton way. The Cab was facing a red light and at least 30 to 40 yards of distance between us, and while I signaled my intention, it seems it still wasn’t good enough for him. As he creeped up on me (damn prius) he still felt it necessary to blast me with his horn. I felt it equally necessary to call him a bald asshole as he came along side, he countered with white scumbag, which is odd since I’ve never seen a more pale cab driver. In anycase he was making a right turn onto La Cienega, so my maneuver at most meant he had to stop accelerating into the red a bit sooner, he wasn’t even going to be stuck behind me once the light turned green. This kind of thing used to happen pre bike lane as well, but that is life as an LA bike commuter I suppose.

    My real complaint, is that the start of the bike lane isn’t at wilshire, but it is lined to seem like it is, there is a portion that gets too narrow to call a bike lane, just north of wilshire, and in fact the bike lane begins sign doesn’t happen until after this point, which makes for some dicey passing as you feel forced into the shoulder after crossing wilshire blvd. I wish they would reconfigure that and either erase the white line until it is safe to put in a proper lane, or modifiy it so that you aren’t squeezed so much.

  4. Posted May 28, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    City of Beverly Hills has been resolutely resistant to improving any of their intersections for bike safety. That includes all of the measures illustrated above: zebra crosswalks, bike lanes, sharrows, and dashed lines. Our junctions have none of them.

    And forget ‘complete streets.’ Our transportation officials, Susan Healey Keene and Aaron Kunz, have never uttered the phrase. But they’ve seen it in action because they live in the nearby cities that are most proactive about street safety: SM & Weho (respectively).

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Taming A Westside Whirlpool – Bike Lanes on San Vicente/Burton Way (Flying Pigeon) […]

  2. […] for Flying Pigeon, Richard Risemberg notes that Los Angeles has added a bike lane along northbound San Vicente, with sharrows directing […]