Traveling through Los Angeles on a bike you are bound to hit infrastructure dead zones, where bikeways stop suddenly in the least ideal places where cars assert dominance on the road.
Most often the lanes end before freeway access ramps, as they do on Laurel Canyon in Studio City as you approach the 101 freeway. Or in Northeast L.A., where the bike lanes on York Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard have the potential to link to South Pasadena and Silver Lake -- if only they extended east past the 110 freeway, and to the west onto Fletcher Avenue, past the 2 freeway.
Even the off-street bike paths, such as the Los Angeles River Path, are isolated by broken links, a disparity that could be solved by establishing bikeways on the nearby connector streets, Fletcher among them. Such areas near freeway entrances and exits, and narrowing streets where the sentiment of "no room" often prevails, are the places cyclists need supportive infrastructure the most.
It's easy to perceive bike infrastructure as only "for cyclists," but what really happens when bikeways are developed is that a streetscape becomes more holistic, better able to serve the needs of all users. Traffic is calmed, street crossings become safer for pedestrians, and the rate of collisions and fatalities for all users drops. Which is why the Bicycle Plan, adopted in 2011, plays a key role in transforming Los Angeles into a truly livable city, rather than just a maze of freeways.
The backbone of the bikeway network as outlined in the Bicycle Plan identifies vital arterial streets that cyclists can't avoid in the course of getting where they need to -- work, school, home. These are a critical part of developing complete streets, which paves the way for greater transportation equity, increased safety, stimulated economic growth, greater return on infrastructure investments in project costs, and health benefits. The Great Streets initiative, unveiled by Mayor Eric Garcetti earlier this month, is a step in the right direction, but localized "Main Streets" as mentioned in the plan will fall flat if they aren't outfitted with the kinds of transportation, safety, and sustainability measures that could make them truly great.
Still, the 1,684-mile bikeway network laid out in the Plan makes up less than one percent of the county's non-freeway roads. Furthermore, according to the Plan, more than 28 miles of the bikeways currently in development are still only considered as "conceptual," including key sections of arterial streets such as North Figueroa through Northeast L.A., and four miles of Venice Boulevard, from Main Street westbound to Vermont Avenue. The irony is that these particular "conceptual" routes have been vital to cyclists for years.
While the L.A. Department of Transportation and the Department of City Planning have done everything but lay the paint for bike lanes, it's up to local district councilmembers to pull the trigger on these projects -- or pull the plug.
Recently the North Figueroa bike lane has been stymied by CD1 Councilman Gil Cedillo, despite the recent success of the nearby Colorado bike lane and concrete findings that the York Boulevard Road Diet has been good for businesses and traffic safety; all the while Garcetti named the middle section of the North Figueroa channel, from Avenue 50 to Avenue 60, as District 1's designated Great Street. A public meeting hosted by Councilmember Cedillo, at Franklin High School in Highland Park, 6 p.m. Thursday, June 12, will discuss the issue, with with a strong showing expected for bike lane advocates.
Meanwhile, Westwood constituents, among which are the thousands of students and faculty at UCLA, have been met with similar resistance from CD5 Councilman Paul Koretz, who claims to support bike lanes, but not this particular critical connection along Westwood Boulevard between National and Sepulveda. In a letter to several of the lane's opponents, he assured that there would be no push for the lane as he would not be entertaining concerns on the matter -- despite the fast that the rate of cyclist-involved collisions on this section of Westwood is more than 30 times the per-mile rate for L.A. County roads.
One of the most problematic areas is the central city region, encompassing Hollywood and Koreatown, where east-west routes are confined to the barest bones: a designated bike route on Fountain Avenue where the level of bike-friendliness is minimal on a good day; and a brief segment of Santa Monica Boulevard, which offers a designated safe space that is actually riddled with hazards -- drivers bustling in and out of driveways and doors flinging open unabashedly into the bike lane -- that confine cyclists to perils rather than protect them.
In the years I spent commuting from North Hollywood to Beverly Hills, less than a third of my trip could be traveled on streets with bikeways, lanes, or sharrows. This included the Chandler bike lane to get me to the Metro Red Line, and the segment of Santa Monica Boulevard through West Hollywood. These streets are as essential to bike commuters as they are to drivers, and the heightened level of safety brought on by improving conditions and lowering the number of collisions is a factor that every person passing through the area, by any means of transportation, can benefit from.
The other major streets on my route -- Hollywood, La Brea, Doheny, and Wilshire -- continue to be places where cyclists not only contend for space, but for their lives. The stark white ghost bike installed on La Brea in 2010 is still vivid in my mind, and when my roommate called me one evening in May to say she'd been hit riding home from work, she hadn't even made it two miles down Hollywood before a car ran the light at the Normandie intersection.
Buses and trains can be used to connect the gaps -- busy arterial roads, Cahuenga pass, Sepulveda pass -- but ultimately this strategy limits where and when we can travel by bike. Paths like Cahuenga and Barham have the potential to connect the so-close-but-so-far east valley and Hollywood communities, which currently stand apart by a geographic barrier that exerts more of a challenge than its incline should warrant. Here is a case where it's not the landmass itself, but the street design that has created such a stalwart impediment. Crossing either by bike in their current configurations is a death-defying feat, and the kind even most "hardcore" cyclists wouldn't try twice.
Ultimately, the push for bikeable streets is not just about appeasing cyclists -- it's a chance to make our communities more livable by making them easier to navigate and creating more connectivity and community. Beyond an extra 30 to 60 seconds in the car (it can feel like an eternity, I know), and a little less parking (likely to be offset by commuters who transition to biking), there's little substantial reasoning to oppose bike infrastructure. It certainly hasn't hurt New York, San Francisco, or any other city for that matter.