What the Center Holds

It’s always hard to think outside the box, even when you believe you’ve made a lifelong practice of it. So it was for me a few weeks ago when I rode through Larchmont, LA’s truly pleasing midtwon shopping street, a place that has a real village feel, shortly after talking with Better Bike‘s Mark Elliot about Beverly Hills’s similar SoBev district.

I grew up around Larchmont and have continued to hang out there for half a century or so, almost always on my bike. In that time, I’ve watched it change from a Mayberry-with-money Main Street vibe to a movie industry hangout to a generally hip-but-not-too-hip almost-a-town-square kind of place, truly engaging and relaxing to be in, and offering lots of “third place” spaces. It is, though, afflicted, like most of LA, with too many cars.

Therein lies the rub, of course: Larchmont suffers from the presumption that car parking spaces mean prosperity–even though most of its customers come from within a three mile radius, and many already walk or bicycle over. There is diagonal parking, there is a surface parking lot, and there is an expensive underground parking structure–and there are around thirty-three bike racks, which are inconspicuous compared to the acreage given to motorists.

Center lane in Larchmont Boulevard
You can’t add more car parking–not without destroying the stores you’re trying to serve–but you can add more bike parking, and at almost no expense. And you can do it without removing a single one of those singularly ineffective car slots (each of which takes up a vast swath of asphalt to bring in, typically, one lonely customer–a bike’s worth, that is!).

Look at the photo again: Larchmont has a full-length two-way left turn lane, interrupted at two places with crosswalks.

Couldn’t we put a bike corral right behind each of those little planters that protect the crosswalk? (Or even between the planter and the crosswalk?) They wouldn’t block anyone turning left, and they would prevent delivery trucks from parking too close to the crosswalks and blocking motorists’ view of pedestrians, which the trucks now do. A few well-placed bollards would protect the bikes from errant drivers, and stepping stones in the planters would give cyclists a clear path to the crosswalk.

You could easily put five inverted U racks on either side of each crosswalk, more than doubling the bike parking on the street–without taking anything away from anyone else!

There must be dozens of streets in the city where this could work.

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