Identity Crisis

One way to do it (in Emeryville in the East Bay)

“Neighborhood Greenways” have become an important part of cycling networks in cities throughout the US, and are on the books, though not really on the streets yet, for Los Angeles as well. However, here they suffer from a nomenclatural dysfunction that has actually impeded their implementation, and will continue to do so in the future if we don’t address it.

The City Planning Department, as well as the LADOT, have settled on the term “Bicycle-Friendly Street,” with most folks in the advocacy community favoring “Bicycle Boulevard.” While these names are descriptive as far as they go, they are also limiting. The form factors they attempt to describe offer benefits to every category of road user not just bicycle riders—and names implying that they support a new privilege for cyclists have in fact aroused fierce opposition in our city. Opposition that has blocked at least one such project indefinitely.

In fact, both names sound exclusive: this is something just for cyclists, not for you.

That is not the case. The roundabouts, traffic diverters, bulbouts, and even bicycle lanes used in these designs improve the residential streets to which they’re applied for everyone. Speeding cut-through car traffic is discouraged, which makes it much more comfortable for residents and visitors to a street to use it, whether in a car, on a bike, or walking—even just standing in the street to chat. Neighborhood greenways often include landscaping and even watershed improvements such as bioswales as well, making the street visually prettier, better smelling, and emotionally soothing, and helping recharge aquifers—which, although it is an invisible benefit, is no small thing in a chronically drought-stricken city such as ours!

With motor traffic slowed down, residents can spend more time outdoors, walking, visiting, riding bikes—perhaps even pedaling to nearby shops instead of feeling compelled to armor themselves in a car for every journey. Life simply gets better for all…and healthier too, thanks to the freedom one now has to get out of the house on one’s own two legs, a freedom withheld from all by speeding traffic on busy streets. In town after town in the US, where these greenways are built, regardless of the name, property values go up. Because they are better streets, and people want to live on them.

So let’s stop clinging to the word “bicycle” simply because we favor bicycles. We in the advocacy community, no less than the bureaucrats we’ve butted heads with over the bike plan for the last few years, we also can hide ourselves in silos, seeing our issues as if they were disconnected from the larger networks of life. We need to look beyond the labels and take a more comprehensive view of what our city and its neighborhoods can become. And promoting traffic-calmed , convivial streets as “neighborhood greenways” will help us build that more human city we’ve all been hungry for.

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  1. […] of Flying Pigeon, their popular Spoke(n) Art ride takes place this Saturday, and they say we should call them neighborhood greenways, instead. Bicycling is thriving in South LA, even if NPR and the Bike League are just starting to […]

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