On Tuesday I attended a meeting held at City Hall where discussion was to be had about coming projects for the LA Bike Plan. This was the “Bike Plan Implementation Team” or BPIT meeting, which are held monthly. These meetings are opportunities for residents to help shape what their community gets from the LA BIke Plan. More can be learned about the BPIT meetings here.
One of my primary motivators for attending the meeting was that North Figueroa was going to be discussed. At the meeting the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT) presented two ways to reconfigure the street to accommodate bicycling.
On the street the changes would look like this
Unfortunately both options are disappointing.
North Figueroa is vital link in the community of Northeast LA. The design of North Figueroa in this community will reflect LA’s ambition to connect the entire city and make bicycling a real, viable form of transportation. I would like to share my thoughts on the portion of North Figueroa I am most familiar (between Colorado and York) and explain why LADOT’s plans aren’t doing enough to produce meaningful benefits
Speeds of motorists along North Figueroa between Colorado Boulevard and York Boulevard are noticeably faster than other parts of the street as this is where commercial attractions become less frequent, reducing desire to go slow and observe surroundings. This also reduces desire to park, in fact parking along this stretch is very limited and thus mentally widens the street and may cause motorists to subconsciously speed. The reasons why these situations induce speeding are described in the book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt.
Between Colorado Boulevard and York Boulevard is also where cars either are still speeding from exiting the 134 freeway or speed in anticipation of getting on the freeway. The speeding is undeniable as this portion of the street features a speed indicator beside the road to bring the dangerous speeds motorists are going to their conscious. By my observation, this portion of North Figueroa seems to have some of the lights are synchronized so to reduce speeding. However, persistent speeders simply go faster to avoid getting stopped at signals intended to slow those reckless motorists down. Just the other day I saw a car approach 50mph on this portion of N Figueroa– traffic lights alone are not working too effectively in reducing speeds.
Along this portion of the street between Colorado Boulevard and York Boulevard there are 5 schools directly adjacent and other schools are not far from the street either on Yosemite Drive. This means the street is used by children or parents taking their children to school. There are also nearby parks like Garvanza Park, Lanark-Shelby Park and Eagle Rock Park. Perhaps the many schools and parks close-by are indicators that substantial infrastructure is needed so that the street is safe enough to be used by children. At the very least these factors indicate that car speeds should be reduced on North Figueroa.
Also, along this stretch there is a lot of residential housing, particularly between Colorado Boulevard and Meridian. This means that every Tuesday trash cans are placed at the curb of N Figueroa for collection. If bike lanes are installed along the curb not only will cyclists have to contend with motorists who can easily speed because there is no parking along the corridor (thus not having to worry about other cars parking or leaving parking spot) but they will also have a bike lane rendered useless every Monday evening and much of Tuesday. As can be observed at just about ANY bike lane in LA, bike lanes become completely useless for a considerable about of time between Monday and Tuesday.
If bike lanes are installed at the expense of parking this portion of N Figueroa is set up for dangerous conditions, cars will speed even faster than they do today. A stripped bike lane along the curb will do nothing to increase safety and comfort for cyclists.
Also, this stretch of Figueroa where cyclists would be placed along the curb presents yet one more danger. The sides of the road are so cracked one needs the entire right-hand lane so to avoid most of the cracks on the road. If bike lanes are installed at the expense of parking and along the curb, the space will have to be repaved for even the most remote feeling of safety which will also raise the cost for LADOT’s options which already present many flaws and dangers.
An option that was suggested by LA bike advocat Joe Linton, (who helped bring 7 miles of park like space to LA during CicLAvia) was to bring parking to both sides of the street (currently the street alternates between accommodating parking on the two sides), remove one lane in each direction, and install bike lanes. This means that this portion of Figueroa would undergo what is called a ‘road diet‘ and resemble York Boulevard’s configuration between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Avenue 54.
If Mr. Linton’s suggestion of a traditional road diet is implemented cyclists will still have to contend with trash-bins on a weekly basis though the street will likely have fewer speeders and residents will get to maintain their parking, in some cases gain parking and perhaps the city can get away with no repaving since the space for cyclists will be further from the cracked curbs.
However, if bike lanes are installed at all they will not only be disrespected by trash-bins or produce other dangers mentioned above, the city must be aware the bike lane will be used by motorists to double-park on occasions too, causing yet one more danger which will not encourage any mass cycling in the neighborhood. While the road diet option suggested by Joe Linton would increase the amount of parking, the most arrogant of drivers will still double-park in the bike lane for convenience and most certainly will people park in the bike lane if all parking is removed as LADOT presents in their ‘option 1′.
Simply put, there are many problems with the proposals for N Figueroa. The road diet option that in some way benefits motorists, cyclists and pedestrians is not even an official option from LADOT.
With the many flaws of bike lanes this is why I encourage the installing of protected bike lanes (also known as ‘cycle tracks’) for N Figueroa– at least for portion between Colorado and York – so that trashbins, double parking, speeding, poor pavement surface can all be partially or completely eliminated conflicts for cyclists. The cycle tracks would place bicyclists away from motor traffic with a physical buffer between or where parking is permitted, by parked cars. Since the edges of the street of so cracked, when implementing cycle tracks the city would need to repave the space for bicyclists. However, by installing cycle tracks the only places of potential conflict are driveways and intersections. These issues however can be further reduced or avoided altogether through proper design. The benefits of cycle tracks also easily extend to pedestrians as they will have greater distance from dangerous automobile traffic, car noise will be physically further, and through design crossings can be made shorter for pedestrians at intersections.
To further bolster the case for cycle tracks, at least for this portion of the street, there is absolutely no ‘Bicycle Friendly Street’ or BFS alternative for cyclists. A ‘Bicycle Friendly Street’ is LA’s name for what is more commonly referred to as a Bike Boulevard. In essence a Bike Boulevard is a low traffic street that runs parallel to a major street. Low traffic streets are popular with cyclists as they increase the feeling of safety and still can help one reach destinations.
This means that cyclists of all skill level, whether they like it or not, will have to brave the street as there is no close by, quiet parallel street to use. If cyclists are too scared to ride on Colorado Boulevard they can cycle on Las Flores or Hill Drive. If bicyclists don’t want to ride on Eagle Rock Boulevard they can choose Ellenwood, a relatively quiet residential street, instead. North Figueroa however presents no inviting alternative! North Figueroa needs to be able to accommodate ALL, especially because there is no viable alternative for beginner cyclists and because there are so many schools along this corridor. It is LADOT’s responsibility to make the street safe.
Cars are given superfluous amount of space and narrow bike lanes will not be enough especially with the many issues we see that arise with having bike lanes not physically protected. Also, intersections along N Figueroa, as seen between Colorado and York (and all the way to San Fernando) can be tricky to non-experienced cyclists. Bike boxes, dedicated bike signals, installing traffic circles/roundabouts can add a degree of comfort for cyclists and make them aware of how to behave at intersections– an element completely absent from LADOT’s plans for North Figueroa.
Some might say that if the city acknowledges cycling is to be encouraged that the city needs to accommodate cyclists like they are important. More than this though, bicycle infrastructure is an issue of equality. Give people who choose to cycle the safety they deserve. A person’s safety or importance should not be disregarded or put second to the safety and importance of a person who chooses to drive a car.
The plans the LADOT put forward are setting up a crucial part of NELA’s bike network for failure. It would be great to see LADOT implement experimental designs like colored bike lanes or protected bike lanes which have been shown elsewhere to benefit cyclists more than mere bike lanes. The least the city should do is to implement the road diet suggested by Joe Linton as it is more promising than LADOT’s own plans: it would bring the benefit of added parking for motorists, bike lanes on acceptable road surface for cyclists, greater buffer from moving cars for pedestrians and slow traffic to civilized speeds for the safety of all users.