Film Crews Regain Right to Park Abut Downtown's Green Bike Lanes [Updated]

Film crew with makeshift sign reading Bike Lane Closed I Photo: waltarrrrr/Flickr/Creative Commons License

This story has been corrected. See below for details.

Those bright green bike lanes meant to increase safety for cyclists are a bright red flag for FilmL.A., the liaison between the city of Los Angeles and the film industry. FilmL.A. is now scrambling to prevent Main Street, one block over, from turning into Spring Street -- less film-friendly and inflexible.

The L.A. Department of Transportation's new bike lanes, with its federally mandated shade of green, has kept the almost two miles of historic blocks from being "Any City, USA" for movies, television and commercials, as first reported in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.

Additionally, the bike lane beget a new rule on Spring: no production parking between the green lane and curb, even though it's a parking lane (whether trucks can fit without encroaching on the bike lane is a different issue). "They've agreed to go back to the way things were prior to painting of the green bike lanes," explained FilmL.A.'s Todd Lindgren of the city's reversal in policy. "It does not close the bike lane; in most circumstances the bike lanes will be kept open." Productions will have to be permitted to close a lane.

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As for new bike lanes on Main, they will still be dedicated to cyclists, but will probably not be completely green.

Since November's announcements about the green bike lanes, phone calls and e-mails whipped between those who work at keeping the film industry from leaving Los Angeles. Green-screen technology seemed to be thought the obvious solution from bike-riding advocates, but was never practical or cost-effective, showing there has been little communication between the city and FilmL.A. when the lanes were planned.

"We did not consult with FilmLA prior to installation. I would find the idea that the bike lane adds 'major production costs' a bit of a stretch, but nevertheless, transportation facilities aren't designed for their integration with filming," wrote Tim Fremaux of LADOT in an early December, 2011 e-mail to KCET. "New York City has many of these green bike lanes and I imagine much filming goes on there and they make it work." Fremaux went on to say that half of Manhattan's Broadway has been converted to a pedestrian plaza and green bike lane, suggesting even that has not halted film production there.

Yet, that is a street in Midtown Manhattan portrayed as a street in Midtown Manhattan while downtown Los Angeles is more like a character actor. It not only steps in as other cities, but has been a long-time time capsule (such as in 1974, when Los Angeles' Main Street stood in for 1929 Chicago during a chase scene in Billy Wilder's "The Front Page").

In Los Angeles, the two busiest streets for filming are Spring, followed by Main, according to Ed Duffy, business agent for Teamsters Local 399 representing film location managers.

Those two streets helped compete with incentives offered by New York, Chicago and other countries, Duffy said in December. "Our best asset to combat loss of business has been [those] sections of downtown that companies have been able to double for any city across the world and keep their productions locally. Those big-city resources are limited in Los Angeles."

Duffy added he did not hear about the lanes until they were painted in. "For the most part, we probably didn't need to have any input at all and it wasn't appropriate for us to," he diplomatically confessed. "We all support the bike lanes and bike safety throughout the city. Companies will continue to try and 'make it work' with the restrictions... for a while, but will grow weary of the limitations and look elsewhere."

According to Paul Audley, President of FilmL.A, that appears to be already happening. "We've seen between 10 and 15 percent drop-off in filming on Spring Street in this particular neighborhood, which is a lot of filming to leave, since it's the most-filmed location," he told NPR over the weekend.

And it's not only changes to streets that could upset the frequency of popular film locations. Next to the bike lane at City Hall, where the Occupy L.A. encampment left the actively-filmed south lawn in need of repair, talks include landscaping it with drought-tolerate plants instead of traditionally manicured grass. If the city and film industry worked together -- other than adjusting permit rules -- the creative and funding resources could have collaborated on the design and function of the small park between the bike lane friendly streets.

Update, Thursday, February 23, 2012: The headline and a paragraph in this story originally indicated that film crews were given the right to park on bike lanes carte blanche, which was incorrect. Both statements have been corrected.

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Bike lanes are travel lanes and the rules for lane closure are the same for all travel lanes.

The LADOT does not have the authority to trump CA State Vehicle code and the rules for lane closure are quite specific, articulated in the CA Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Todd Lindren of FilmLA reports "The article headline is incorrect. The DOT is allowing film vehicles in the parking lane next to the bike lanes. This had been the case until the Spring Street lane went in and the City changed its policy. It has returned back to its original practice of allowing the use of the parking lane for production vehicles."

Parking or blocking a bike lane has always been illegal, in spite of the LADOT's lack of enforcement and the LAPD's deference to the LADOT. Film trucks, just like any over-sized vehicles, that don't fit into LA's 7' and 8' parking lanes must get lane closure permits if they want to park in a bike lane or block a bike lane.

LAne closure comes with specific requirements for barricades, signage and supervision. It is not a simple case of putting out some cones and claiming space.