The Ship Is Turning

New Bike Lanes on 7th Street
New Road Diet on LA’s 7th Street
When I interviewed Michelle Mowery last year, she said, referring to the much-maligned LADOT where she is Senior Bicycle Projects Coordinatoor, that “…We are a very big animal, we are the Queen Mary, and we’ve just begun the turn.”

I’ve heard others in the department use the same metaphor, and I don’t think it’s just PR. I’ve seen and heard things that let me hope it’s true–my favorite being a blatant, public commitment to Multi-Modal Level of Service analyses for streets, which would calculate throughput of people by all modes of transport before and after a proposed change in street configuration–that is, whether they move by cars, buses, Metro rail, on foot, or using bikes.

Right now the department counts only cars. But they are moving toward a more realistic as well as fair analytical framework.

The Bike Plan Implementation Team meetings are another. Contentious though they are, the city has stuck with them (though it is true that they are run by the Planning Department, not LADOT–but Planning has had its issues too, in the not-so-distant past). There’s nothing I’ve heard of of like them in any other US city: meetings with senior administrative and political staff where anyone can walk in and have an influence on policy decisions.

There’s the enthusiasm about celebrating the “generational change” nearly every staffer I’ve interviewed has mentioned–the retirement of old-school traffic engineers and their 1950s mindsets, freeing the staff to broaden the city’s outlook on traffic and see streets as something more than just sluiceways for cars. (It was LADOT’s Kang Hu who published the numbers, in support of the coming rush hour bus/bike lanes on Wilshire, showing that Metro’s Rapids already carry more passengers up and down the corridor than all the private cars clogging it do put together.)

And now, wonder of wonders, a road diet on a major street–yes, that photo up there shows Seventh Street between Downtown and Mid-city, four car lanes reduced to three with a two way left turn channel, and a pair of nice fat bike lanes, mostly out of the door zone.

And the work was started a month ahead of schedule. The first segment will run from Catalina to Figueroa, and is almost finished. I ride Seventh all the time, and it is a much more comfortable ride now–and there doesn’t appear to be any more car congestion than before. In fact, there seems to be a little less. (Which often happens with road diets–drivers move a little more slowly but they don’t stop nearly as often behind left turners, so they get from A to B more quickly as well as more safely.)

Will the city keep this up? I hope so, and I even dare to think so. It looks as though the ship is turning after all.

It’s about damn time. Let’s keep an eye on the compass, of course. But let’s enjoy the ride as well.

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