Bi­cy­cle-chal­lenged L.A.

Los Angeles Times - - Opinion - By Will Camp­bell

To ex­pe­ri­ence the full dys­func­tion of Los An­ge­les cy­cling, there’s no bet­ter place than the Los An­ge­les River Bike­way. Its north­ern­most four miles, from Grif­fith Park to At­wa­ter Vil­lage, are a ped­al­ing par­adise: smooth pave­ment, light­ing, a ded­i­cated bridge over Los Feliz Boule­vard. But cross Fletcher Av­enue and the rid­ing gets rough. The aged as­phalt is in var­i­ous stages of dis­re­pair, and cy­clists are forced to ne­go­ti­ate a num­ber of rough drainage ditches. At the bike path’s south­ern end, rid­ers are un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously dumped back onto River­side Drive in the shad­ows of the Golden State and Pasadena free­ways miles from down­town, Dodger Sta­dium or any other des­ti­na­tion.

The Fletcher Di­vide, which has aged dis­grace­fully over five years dur­ing three may­oral ad­min­is­tra­tions, il­lus­trates how glacially Los An­ge­les is in­te­grat­ing cy­cling into its trans­porta­tion grid. L.A., which av­er­ages 329 sunny, bike-friendly days a year, should be one of the most for­ward-think­ing cities on the sub­ject. In­stead, greater Los An­ge­les re­mains a vast patch­work of bike­ways, bike lanes and bike routes that haven’t co­a­lesced — as any­one who took part in Bike to Work Day this week surely no­ticed.

That’s not to say noth­ing is hap­pen­ing. The city has an 11-year-old Bi­cy­cle Plan, and city and county of­fi­cials cite the pro­lif­er­a­tion of on-street bike lanes as an ex­am­ple of the great strides be­ing made. Yet the num­bers leave a lot to be de­sired. Of Los An­ge­les County’s 6,400 miles of sur­face streets, only 481 miles have bike lanes (320 inside the city lim­its — five fewer miles than much smaller Tuc­son). In milk car­ton terms, if L.A.’s to­tal street mileage equaled half a gal­lon, bike lanes would con­sti­tute a sip of about 4 ounces.

Whether one sees that glass as half full or half empty, I per­son­ally wish the city would just stop fill­ing it. Quit while it’s be­hind and not stripe an­other inch of bike lane. And yes, this is com­ing from an avid recre­ational and com­muter cy­clist who has ped­aled thou­sands of miles over 20 years.

Here’s why: By law, my bi­cy­cle is con­sid­ered a ve­hi­cle with the same right to the road as your car or truck. Bike lanes pro­vide an ar­guable buf­fer zone of safety (as well as a great place for peo­ple to put their garbage con­tain­ers on trash day), but they marginal­ize cy­clists and re­in­force their sta­tus as sec­ond-class com­muters who shouldn’t be on the road.

Some bike lanes even put cy­clists at greater risk, such as the new­est lanes along Santa Mon­ica Boule­vard be­tween Cen­tury City and the San Diego Free­way. Cars have to make quick cuts across the bike lane to get to side streets, shop­ping cen­ters and park­ing spa­ces. The east­bound bike lane lit­er­ally van­ishes mid­block, as if the De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion ran out of paint be­fore reach­ing Av­enue of the Stars.

L.A. De­part­ment of Trans­porta- tion of­fi­cials quote chap­ter and verse how the city’s new­est bike lanes safely con­form to state reg­u­la­tions — and not count­ing the dis­ap­pear­ing act I men­tioned, I’m sure that’s true. But it’s not enough.

What will be enough? I’ll never be sat­is­fied un­til Sil­ver­a­dos and Sch­winns can peace­fully co­ex­ist on all sur­face streets. But an up­date of the city Bi­cy­cle Plan — some­thing the plan stip­u­lated should have been done last year — is a good place to start. Our city and county trans­porta­tion agen­cies should be try­ing out fresher bike-tran­sit con­cepts, such as shared-use ar­rows, known as shar­rows, and bi­cy­cle-pri­or­ity streets, also called bike boule­vards.

Al­ready suc­cess­ful in San Fran­cisco, shar­rows have a bike icon topped by two chevrons painted di­rectly on the road. In­stead of cre­at­ing sep­a­ra­tion, they pro­mote aware­ness that the right lane is to be shared by mo­torists and cy­clists — and they’re eas­ier and less cost- ly to im­ple­ment than bike lanes.

A net­work of seven bike boule­vards has been used to great ef­fect in Berke­ley. All types of ve­hi­cles are al­lowed, but th­ese des­ig­nated road­ways have been en­hanced with traf­fic sig­nals, sig­nage and traf­fic con­trol for bike safety and con­ve­nience. Here in Los An­ge­les, 4th Street is prac­ti­cally bike-boule­vard ready from Ver­mont Boule­vard to La Brea Av­enue. An­other could be Foun­tain Av­enue be­tween Sil­ver Lake and West Hol­ly­wood.

A city­wide grid of shar­rows that com­ple­ment and con­nect bike boule­vards and off-street bike­ways would go a long way to­ward fos­ter­ing a civic cul­ture that em­braces cy­cling rather than treat­ing bikes as a trans­porta­tion af­ter­thought. Will Camp­bell is more than 900 miles to­ward his goal of bi­cy­cling 2,007 miles around Los An­ge­les this year. He writes at Wild­bell.com and Blog­ging.la.

Ran­dall Enos For The Times

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