Reinventing the Wheel

One of the problems Los Angeles has, especially in regards to bicycle infrastructure, is its insistence on reinventing the wheel–or rather what the wheel rolls on. It seems that every little facility, no matter how simple, requires a “pilot program,” and the development of independent functionalities. A case in point was our sharrows program: while LADOT is booming ahead with sharrows now, the bike community had to wait for two years while the department “tested” them.

I basically agree with testing, and even with this testing–it showed that sharrows were worth spending limited funds on–but, let’s face it, sharrows have been around for years, and they had already been accepted into the California “Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices” (MUTCD) before our “pilot” program started.

Furthermore, despite the whining of NIMBYs whose programming seems stuck in an “auto-oppose” loop, sharrows only reiterate state laws that have been in effect for nearly a century. They are necessary only because arrogant scofflaw drivers routinely try to hog roads they don’t even pay for.

Likewise with our brand-new Spring Street green bike lane, pictured below:

Doesn’t look too brand-new, does it?

Rumor has it that the city wanted the green down and ready for a grand opening, so the crews laid down paint in spite of an impending rainstorm.

Rain and wet paint…well, you know!

So it went to hell, and the city announced they would paint it again, with (so I read in a press release) a more durable paint that uses a primer. However, according to my contact at LACBC, only the 4th to 9th street segment was redone.

I took the photo yesterday at 9th street. It doesn’t look very durable to me….

My question is: Why didn’t we just call up San Francisco and ask them what paint they used on the Market Street green lane? There’s more motor traffic and more bike traffic on Market than on Spring, and it rains all the time up there. I rode the Market Street lane in October, and it looked pretty good for having put up with with two years of car and bike tires.

Plenty of other cities, from Tokyo to Portland to NYC to most of Northern Europe, have had painted bike lanes for years.

Why did we need to experiment? Innovation is often a very good thing, but we’re not talking rocket science here, we’re talking pavement paint.

It doesn’t need to be so special. It only needs to work.

Paint aside, though, the Spring Street lanes do work quite well; motorists behaved more civilly than usual as I rode down them, and the paint didn’t seem slippery. Can’t wait for the 7th Street lanes to connect with Spring’s! Then we can celebrate the barest beginning of a real bike network in LA.

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Gosh, you really do have to wonder why we’re so imagination-constrained that we often can’t think outside the box or simply borrow a model that works. I suppose an answer to this question lies deep in the scholarly literature on service delivery and administrative responsiveness. Perhaps it’s the unfortunate consequence of a bureaucratic culture that generally regards a head that sticks up to be one to lop off.

    The academic literature is also concerned with measuring local government performance. The theory being, if we measure it, we’ll see that it’s not measuring up.

    We’re long past time that we need bring in a bit of the Japanese ‘Kaizen’ to the local government enterprise. Continuous improvement as a philosophy could supplant our own nation’s favored approach – ‘satisficing’ or ‘muddling through.’ Where’s our innovative edge anymore? And that goes double for DOTs. And double-double for DOT in LA!

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