Infrastructure Envy

Poor Los Angeles, having to put up with people like me whining and nagging about its slow ooze into the Bicycle Millennium.

The problem is that the whining and nagging are so often justified. LA does do some things well—the sidewalk bike rack program was going great guns until recently, when the city ran out of racks, and its sole and only bike rack installer retired. Now, the bike rack request page, which last year said installations would resume in November, updated the page to promise March, which has now been changed to April. I suggested a mason I know with whom I discussed starting a side business installing racks on private property (something DOT is not permitted to do), and they have referred him to the mazes of a General Services Department approval process. So now even sidewalk racks are on hold.

However, the city did sound the trumpets about the recent installation of two bike corrals on Venice Beach’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

While I have my reservations about the particular design LADOT has chosen (and already bought twenty of), LA is still at the sad stage where you take what you can get, and fight for better afterwards. (Though David Hembrow thinks that is a dangerous paradigm.) So I am happy that there are two bike corrals on Abbot Kinney, a street swarming with bikes, and one whose sidewalk racks are not infrequently full-up. Portland-style bike corrals are better, but we’ll take these for now, thank you!

But let’s face it: just around the corner from those new corrals, on Santa Monica’s segment of Main Street, are three bike corrals, which have been there for years, and which see heavy use—especially the one in front of Peet’s and the Ben & Jerry’s.

Meanwhile, the city has often stood in the way of progress towards a bikeable, walkable human-scale streetscape, with such well-known debacles as the initial institutional opposition to bike lanes on the Glendale-Hyperion bridge, the removal of 33 much-used bike racks from Larchmont Boulevard, the continued reluctance to put North Figueroa on a road diet, the abject bending over to a car dealership objecting to the MyFigueroa project joining Downtown to University Park, and the glacial pace of striping lanes on all but the easiest, widest streets. (Though at least the city is standing behind the bike lanes through the second Street tunnel, and finally went ahead with the Colorado Boulevard orad diet—all the above documented on this very blog as well as Streetsblog LA and many other venues.

It’s not just LADOT at fault here—often the agency is being held back by the city council or individual members thereof playing their own little political games. But the result is very slow progress.

In a way, it’s fortunate that LA has Beverly Hills to look down on—a city so backwards that it makes us look good. That town recently voted a decisive “No!” to bike lanes along the soon-to-be-rebuilt portion of Santa Monica Boulevard that creeps through Botox Central. Even though LA and West Hollywood themselves have bike lanes on their segments of Santa Monica leading up to BH on either end.

But being better than the worst shouldn’t be good enough for LA. We’re the county’s biggest burg; wouldn’t it be nice if Santa Monica and Long Beach and Culver City and Temple City could look up to us and wish they had what we have…instead of the other way around?

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  1. Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    It doesn’t seem to be well understood how difficult it is to put bike lanes on arterial streets in most cities in the U.S. The city of Santa Monica has bike lanes on less than 3% of their arterial streets according to their own documentation:

    Los Angeles installed 151 miles of bike lanes in the last two fiscal years. This is the equivalent of 8.5% of the 1,800 miles of arterial streets. If all 348 miles of bike lanes are included, then the percent of arterial with bike lanes is far higher than that in LA. The city of Los Angeles has been far more aggressive in installing bike lanes on arterial streets than the city of Santa Monica.

    Although at 1.54 miles of bike lanes installed per square mile of land, Santa Monica is ahead of LA’s .74 miles of bike lanes per square mile of land.

    However, when Los Angeles current figures are compared to the 2009 numbers for miles of bike lanes installed per square mile for the top five largest U.S. cities in bicycle commuting mode share, LA beats Seattle’s .61 per sq. mile and Washington D.C’s .73 and almost matches Minneapolis’s .75.

    I’d be hard pressed to find another large U.S. city that has been as aggressive in installing bike lanes on streets that are at–or near–maximum capacity for motor vehicles than Los Angeles. New York City installed 200 miles of bike lanes in the last 7 fiscal years, but they made sure that this did not affect the average speed of motor vehicles.

    Its an absolute crap shoot which streets will be approved for bike lanes that need community input before installation. Most council members will go with the overwhelming viewpoint of the community and some of those that are seemingly against are malleable to decide in either direction. Council member LaBonge had a road diet and bike lanes approved for Rowena after a pedestrian was killed and he stated that he wanted a road diet for 6th St when a pedestrian was killed near La Brea. Council member Koretz had a road diet and bikes lanes installed on Motor Ave after stakeholders complained about traffic.

  2. Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    The lanes per square mile figure is enlightening, showing how sparse LA’s network is. Interestingly, Santa Monica has developed contiguous networks reaching out into its neighborhoods, so that people can actually use them to get places. LA has striped lanes on a lot of wide, arterial streets where it was simply easy to do so even if it didn’t serve to connect neighborhoods with destinations –LADOT itself has frequently used the phrase “low-hanging fruit,” and I remember discussions on whether to stripe Roscoe or Sherman Way in the North Valley, with LADOT pushing hard for Roscoe because it was an easy project, though Sherman Way actually was rich with destinations which Roscoe generally lacked. Many of LA’s striped miles are useless.

    LaBonge also opposes biek lanes on Lankershim and hopes to move them to destinastion-poor Vineland, and opposes bike lanes on the vital Glendale-Hyperion bridge connection; he also quashed the 4th Street project (4th is already heavily used by cyclists, as it’s an ideal connector between downtown and Mid-Wilshire). North Figueroa is stalled, Colorado was a bitter battle to win (I fought in that one), My Figueroa is in danger of being pushed over to the west side of the freeway, far from the dense downtown core areas it’s meant to serve, but every low-utility mile “counts” for LA’s bragging rights.

    Even the extension of Santa Monica’s Main Street lanes down the Los Angeles portion of the street took years of effort….

    Meanwhile, Santa Monica is swarming with the “interested but concerned” sixty-percenters on bikes, and LA is not. Whose striping program works?

  3. Posted March 14, 2014 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a little more in-depth and hopefully enlightening information:

    In the city of Santa Monica, 5.4% of the 155 centerline miles of streets have bike lanes according to that city document from 2007 that I posted above. In contrast, 5.3% of the 6,500 centerline miles of streets in the city of Los Angeles now have bike lanes according to the latest figures. That’s not a big difference between the two cities.

    Perhaps then the bicycling mode share difference between these two cities has more to do with the closer proximity of jobs, businesses and residences.

    A better comparison might be the beach communities of Venice and next door city of Santa Monica.

    According to the latest five-year average estimate from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of people working from home and walking to work:

    Santa Monica__16.1%
    Los Angeles____9.2%
    Venice_______19.6% (zip code 90291)

    ACS 5-year average data for bicycling to work:

    Santa Monica__3.1%
    Los Angeles____1.%

    ACS 5-year average estimate for walking to work:

    Santa Monica__5.5%
    Los Angeles___3.7%

    Judging from this information, I’d have to conclude that the much greater volume of bicycling per square mile that you see in the city of Santa Monica compared to Los Angeles overall is greatly influenced by other factors other than bicycling infrastructure. Comparing the rate of bicycling of the beach community of Venice in Los Angeles to the next door city of Santa Monica gives a strong indication that there is a higher bicycling rate in both of those communities compared to Los Angeles overall in-spite of the amount of bicycling infrastructure and not because of it.

    There is also a very high rate of bicycling in the immediate area of USC even though there is very little bicycling specific infrastructure. That’s due to the large number of students and how comfortable it is to use a bicycle in close proximity to the university.

    In a BPIT meeting concerning the first 40-miles of priority streets that would require a EIR, I was the only one opposed to choosing either Roscoe Blvd or Sherman Way as a next priority. My reason for that is that the traffic counts and looking at a map its obvious that those two streets would have a much higher number of motor vehicles per lane during peak hours due to the entrance/exit ramps to the 405 freeway. Instead, I suggested parallel streets such as Vanowen, Saticoy or Parthenia that do not have 405 freeway entrance/exit ramps. It turns out that there is so many vehicles at peak hours on Roscoe Blvd that a LADOT traffic engineer for that area told me that they are trying to widen the street in some sections to accommodate the large volume of traffic. The bikeways DOT section wisely realized this and chose Parthenia as substitute for Roscoe in the next round of 40 miles of priority streets for bike lanes. I’d say the odds of putting in bike lanes on wide and mostly residential Parthenia is much greater than it would be for Roscoe.

    The 2010 bike plan has about 1,600 miles of streets for bikeways. Sticking to only those streets that are on the plan limits the installations to something much less than 1,600 miles by not getting approval for every street. Looking at where the bikeways can be placed using all 6,500 miles of streets greatly increases the likelihood that 1,600 miles of bikeways can be installed within the time frame goals of the bike plan.

    At this point in time the focus should be in getting as much space for bicycles as fast as it can be obtained. Whether that’s parking, bike lanes, cycle tracks or paths. Nitpicking about the quality or where it has to be placed can slow the amount of space that is obtained in a given amount of time. Most of that available space that is now turned down for bicycle infrastructure is not going away, it will still be there at a later time when a greater amount of people are bicycling, successes have created more interest for these installations by communities and different politicians appear. If the LADOT can keep installing at the goal of 40-miles of bikeways per year for several more years then several of those streets that were turned down initially will be more likely to be installed at a later date.

  4. Posted March 15, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Sounds almost as though you’re arguing against the need for bike infrastructure at all!

    First, bicycling is almost always high around universities, so that’s hardly a worthwhile indicator. Second, bicycling to work is a very limited metric; all trips is more valuable. I visit both Venice an dSanta Monica generally a couple of times a week, often on weekdays. I watched the bicycle traffic for shopping and dining etc grow in Venice as bike rack availability grew, sharrows went in, and the LA segment of the Main Street road diet was finally put it. I also watched it grow as adjacent Santa Monica put in more infrastructure. Santa Monica built its network methodically, making careful efforts to ensure connectivity between neighborhoods and destinations, rather than lay down disconnected mileage. (In my own neighborhood, the Miracle Mile, we have a beautiful bike lane that just went in on Hauser through Park La Brea–it is all of two blocks long, put in where the street was overly wide, and connecting to two busy, harrowing streets, 6th and 3rd, with narrow lanes, and no other bike infra in sight for miles. There’s another one on Crescent Heights that simply clocks up mileage in a residential neighborhood, leading form a dead end to where the road narrows a bit a few blocks short of Pico) SaMo has bikeways reaching from deep in residential neighborhoods to arterial roads rich with destinations, sharrows in left turn pockets, extensive signage, and these networks have been growing steadily for years, of course serving people who live in nearby Venice as well as SaMo, and spurring its numbers.

    You are right that human-scale neighborhoods entice people to use bikes regardless of infrastructure, but SaMo realized that to increase bike use it had to calm traffic (something LA is officially reluctant to do) and provide safe spaces for cyclists that affirm the bike rider’s place on the streets. Few of LA’s installations connect (though this is changing, especially Downtown and in NELA), and road diets are still rare. LA remains dedicated to the “low hanging fruit,” as I know you’re heard them confess in meeting we both attended. But it’s past time to start building access networks for bicycle users, not just isolated bikeways to nowhere to tally up for bragging rights.

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