Brave New Runaround

Last Sunday i was heading down Venice Boulevard towards Santa Monica when I spotted a teensy little sign indicating that the Expo Line Bike Path ran thataway—diagonally away from Venice along the Expo Line tracks, and pretty much a more direct route to my destination.

Or so it seemed. It started off pretty nice—much of the path indeed looks like the later segment pictured above, with wide lanes, sweeping curves, and usually a walking lane as well.

The trouble is that, as in so much Los Angeles area bicycle infrastructure, the whole thing is rather fragmented. In fact, you might occasionally call it demented. Much of it makes no sense.

For example, the bike path keeps crossing from one side of the Expo Line right of way to the other. You’re pedaling along, happy and free, secure in your brightly-striped domain, when suddenly you come to a cross street, and…the path ends. You glance around, and finally spot a wee white sign with a little arrow pointing left or right. You cross the street and wobble along the sidewalk under the tracks and resume your ride. A mile or so later this happens again. And again. And Again.

Then, at one point, a slightly different sign, with the arrow angled, attempts to inform you that the path has suddenly been dumped onto the adjacent street. It doesn’t do a very good job of it, and so you come upon a barricade of steel pipes beyond which is an inexplicable forty feet of dirt, followed by a sidewalk.

You ride off the curb and into a painted bike lane—no buffer here—and proceed along the tightly-curved side street. The motorists, tempted by the curve into pretending they’re race car drivers, cut deep into the bike lane as they floor it round the turn. There’s no reason to do so; it’s a residential street with a stop sign almost immediately beyond said turn. Quite unpleasant.

Then there’s Cheviot Hills. Oh, the burghers of Cheviot Hills! How they railed against the train itself, and all the eager burglars it would bring! And how much more they hated the bike path—because you know that “those people” love to saddle up a bike when they ks the old lady and head out in the morning to rob, rape, and kill! Also, there were difficulties in fitting a bike path into the deep cut the train would run along. So the bike path detours far out of the way and takes you (if you don’t miss the tiny signs) right through the residential neighborhoods that so feared the influx of bike riders. Brilliant.

But they don’t get too many outside of the spandex set, because the bikeway is routed up and down several quite steep hills.

Part of this may be because, if I may judge from correspondence I’ve viewed, the Exposition Construction Authority didn’t actually want to build a bike path, and had to be badgered into doing so.

At any rate, it’s the same kind of lackadaisical, fragmented bicycle facility we’ve been getting here for decades. Parts of it are truly fine, but as a whole, as a transportation corridor, it doesn’t really work. I hope it does do a little something for local access to the Expo Line, but I gotta tell you, on a bright warm Sunday afternoon, it was nearly deserted.

I deserted it myself, at Gateway, where I picked up the faded old onstreet bike lane that took me into Santa Monica via Ocean Park. That’s when the going got good.

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4 Comments

  1. Brian
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Overall, I agree that the new Expo path is a disjointed mess that needs improvement. However, there’s a few things in the post that seem wrong, and I think could potentially undermine the argument.

    “You’re pedaling along, happy and free, secure in your brightly-striped domain, when suddenly you come to a cross street, and…the path ends. You glance around, and finally spot a wee white sign with a little arrow pointing left or right. You cross the street and wobble along the sidewalk under the tracks and resume your ride. A mile or so later this happens again. And again. And Again.” — While this is true for some of the crossings (namely Sawtelle and Centinela), the Motor crossover is within a bike lane, Overland is over the tracks, and the Olympic crossover is still a dedicated path. There are two crossings that you describe, the “path ends, ride on sidewalk/cross street” that I’m aware of.

    “You ride off the curb and into a painted bike lane—no buffer here—and proceed along the tightly-curved side street. The motorists, tempted by the curve into pretending they’re race car drivers, cut deep into the bike lane as they floor it round the turn. There’s no reason to do so; it’s a residential street with a stop sign almost immediately beyond said turn. Quite unpleasant.” — I’m assuming this is the stretch between Palms & Motor, and the curve in question is that S-bend near Biomechanix. I agree, that curve channels everyone’s inner Fangio, and the biggest offenders I’ve had who have actually passed me while in the bike lane with me have been LASD deputies. So far no responses to complaints about that. That said, there is no stop sign along that stretch. An incoming side street has a stop sign, but there is no stop sign on National there.

    “But they don’t get too many outside of the spandex set, because the bikeway is routed up and down several quite steep hills.” Very true. That hill coming off Motor is tough for me, especially at the end of a trudge into the headwind down Venice, and I consider myself a reasonably experienced cyclist. I’ve seen lots of people walking their bikes up that hill, and I can’t blame them. That said, I’m almost certain that the upcoming plan for that is to cut through past that first nasty hill, then have a bollard-protected cycletrack near the ped crossing to Overland down to the intersection with Overland, which should help. More info at http://bike.lacity.org/closing-northvale-gap-within-expo-bike-path/ – that first segment between Motor and Dunleer is planned to be an off-street dedicated path that presumably would have a less-steep climb.

    “I gotta tell you, on a bright warm Sunday afternoon, it was nearly deserted.” That has absolutely not been my experience. I travel it reasonably regularly, and see lots of people riding – commuters, roadies, families with their kids, elderly couples, etc. I often use it as an example of evidence that there is demand for this sort of infrastructure, no matter what the Westwood Homeowners Assoc. would like people to believe. I’ve watched families riding with their ~5 year old children all the way from West LA to Santa Monica on the path and love every minute of it. It’s a *massive* improvement over what we had here, which has been essentially nothing between Sepulveda and the Santa Monica city border.

    Does it need some tweaking? Absolutely. The crossings at Palms and Bagley are poorly positioned and lead to some pretty nasty conflicts with right-turning drivers. The Northvale hill needs a bypass of some sort (which is in the works, but I have no idea what the timeline is). Signal timing for Sepulveda and Sawtelle needs some serious work, and it’d be nice if they’d clean up the omnipresent broken glass on the path by Billingsley’s. However, speaking from the viewpoint of someone who often rides between West LA and Santa Monica, I’m very grateful for the vast improvement the path has brought to the area. It’s nice that my wife now feels safe riding down there after the sun has gone down to go grab dinner, and I’m happy for that.

  2. F Ron Miller
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I gotta concur with Brian’s assesments here. While you make a lot of smart points about some of what is and isn’t working about the bike path (yes, way too fragmented and don’t get me started on the Pico crossing!) what you’re saying about actual use isn’t so. Plenty of folks use the thing. Especially between Overland and Sawtelle. I single that section out because as a resident of this area –and a member of it’s homeowner association– I’m unaware of locals resistence to the path. Sure, there are always some who complain but by and large it’s made a happy difference for many: young and old, spandexed and non, alike.

    Point of interest, it was the Expo Authority that balked on building that section of the path but the city, they say, will pick up the slack sometime in the year(s) to come. We’ll see about that. Once a generally more accessible, as well as connected path is laid I expect more folks will be using it. I for one, look forward to safer bike acccess to Culver City and the ability to hook-up with the Balonga Creek path in the future. In the meantime it’s a treat to ride dedicated bike lanes to the beach and back if you can stand the occasional sturdy headwinds off the Pacific.

  3. F Ron Miller
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    ^ Ballona Creek ( I’m in obvious need of lunch)

  4. Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I’m very glad to read these criticisms of my post, and I certainly hope that more people are using that path, unintuitive though it be, than I have seen the several times I’ve ridden different part of it. (Always on Fridays or Sundays.)

    As for the locals’ resistance to the path, that was in fact a huge issue for the city’s Bicycle Advisory committee, who worked with the Expo Construction Authority on the bicycle facilities along the LA portions of the Expo Line. It was not a pleasurable task, that! The Authority was pointedly uninterested in building a bicycle facility at all, and many residents expressed the sentiments I reported.

    Thank you, Brian and Ron!

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