Addressing Concerns With Implementing Bike Lanes on Colorado Boulevard

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(“Creating bike lanes by reducing the number of lanes available to motorists will hurt businesses,” one of the many arguments presented against bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard. See “Bike Lane Concern #4″ below to find out if bike lanes are really likely to hurt local business)

Bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard, as planned in the Los Angeles Bike Plan, are coming closer to being a reality– a meeting on March 27th hosted by council member Huizar’s office will be held to determine based on community input how to move forward, if at all, with bike lanes on Eagle Rock’s main street.

During on-going opportunities for community input throughout phases of the Bike Plan formation, the Bike Plan’s environmental impact review, and most recently at a public hearing regarding the results of the environmental impact review comments have been mostly positive. However, now concerns about the potential impact bike lanes may are popping up in growing numbers. There is nothing wrong with this, concerns are well warranted for any proposed changes in town and a change to Colorado Boulevard’s public right-of-way will affect daily travel for many.

To gain a clearer perspective of what the current circumstances are and what may possibly change as a result of bike lanes being implemented, it may be beneficial to have the recurring concerns and questions people have regarding bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard actually be addressed. That’s what this blog post will attempt to do– address concerns that have been raised in conversations about bike lanes in the community.

Bike Lane Concern #1: “Shouldn’t we spend money on (insert priority here) instead?

Bike Lane Concern #2: “Reducing the number of lanes available to motorists will cause a traffic nightmare!”

  • It seems intuitive– removing the number of lanes available to motorists will cause traffic to back up, especially during peak-hours, so much so that drivers will move at a near crawl. According to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s (LADOT) own estimates, converting one lane in each direction to create bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard will only impact peak-hour travel (morning and evening rush hour)– adding no more than about 3 minutes to the time it takes to travel the three miles from Eagle Rock’s border with the City of Glendale to Eagle Rock’s border with the City of Pasadena. To put things in perspective, this is the equivalent of listening to one extra song on the radio during one’s commute, and this is under the LADOT’s “worst-case scenario” estimate. The reason for the minimal impact bike lanes are projected to have on Colorado Boulevard is likely because the street carries very little traffic relative to it’s engineered capacity. The street is engineered to carry between 30,000 to 50,000 trips per day yet for traffic counts conducted over the past 15 years seldom has the street carried above 35,000 trips per day. Colorado Boulevard’s relatively low levels of traffic become evident when there are unexpected lane closures during rush hour and traffic manages to move just fine.

Bike Lane Concern #3: “The street is just fine the way it is– no need for bike lanes.” and  “If the street isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

  • This concern with bike lanes is entirely subjective, though because the street carries little traffic relative to it’s engineered capacity and because an average of a crash a week occur on Colorado Boulevard there is reason to believe that the street is not fine and that it is broken, statistically speaking. Year after year the leading causes of crashes along Colorado Boulevard are speeding, failure to yield right-of-way, and running red lights– all these things happen when a street is engineered poorly and encourages dangerous, illegal behavior. Following a horrific crash in 2008 caused by an illegal street race over 600 tickets were issued to people for speeding on Colorado Boulevard. The crash, but especially the 600 speeding tickets issued in the wake of the crash, demonstrate the street is surely broken if so many people are unable to adhere to the current 35mph speed limit.

Bike Lane Concern #4: “Bike lanes will be bad for local business”

  • Nobody wants to hurt local businesses– they make Colorado Boulevard the attractive, interesting street that it is. Without local businesses, Colorado Boulevard would be indistinguishable from any other business corridor lined with big box retailers and chain restaurants. Why bike lanes would hurt local businesses any more than maintaining the status quo of daily unsafe speeding and weekly crashes is unclear, though the logic seems to go something like this: “Bike lanes will slow down traffic on Colorado Boulevard so much so that people will stop patronizing local businesses because it will take too long to make a quick visit to their favorite restaurant or boutique.” There could be merit to this argument though there is not hard evidence to suggest that reducing the number of lanes available to motorists will be bad for business. A case study of the business corridor along York Boulevard in Highland Park, just south of Colorado Boulevard, by UCLA student researcher Cullen McCormick demonstrated that reducing the number of lanes available to motorists to create bike lanes on York Boulevard did not hurt business. Meanwhile, a growing number of studies in other cities show bike lanes are actually proving to be beneficial to local businesses. Perhaps worst for local business is relying on people to drive to there in the face of escalating gas prices and limited amount of convenient parking. Why not make cycling a pleasant, viable option so people don’t have to spend money in gas and parking to patronize their favorite local business?

Bike Lane Concern #5: “Reducing the number of lanes available to motorists to create bike lanes will hurt emergency response times!” and “We need to maintain the number of lanes available to motorists so that we don’t delay emergence responders!”

  • Naturally nobody wants to delay emergence responders and potentially risk losing lives because people can’t get medical attention quickly enough. It is very understandable and commendable to have safety be a prime consideration. However, perhaps this concern is a little overstated, let’s explore why.Firstly, the local Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Station on York Boulevard has not raised concerns to the LADOT about being able to respond to emergencies. In Downtown LA, at the request of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the LADOT will remove a bike lane on 1st street. If there were a significant impact on the ability for emergency responders to reach their destinations because of bike lanes on York Boulevard, the LADOT would remove the bike lanes immediately.
  • Also, as noted by Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do and What It Says About Us, generally speaking any time saved by emergency responders by not implementing a traffic calming measure is negligible. In fact, Vanderbilt notes the status quo is likely more dangerous– as he succinctly puts it “speeding cars have surely claimed more lives than speeding responders have saved.” If we turn to York Boulevard again, we see what bike lanes may mean for Colorado Boulevard. The number of crashes on York Boulevard went down following the implementation of a “road diet” that reduced the number of travel lanes available to motorists. Part of York Boulevard went on a “road diet” in 2006 and utilizing traffic collision data available through UC Berkeley’s Traffic Injury Mapping System one will note that from 2002 to 2005, there were 92 crashes on the section of York Boulevard that would eventually go on a “road diet.” From 2006 to 2009 that same stretch of York Boulevard saw only 61 crashes. Comparing pre- and post- “road diet” data on York Boulevard show additional safety benefits.  The number of misdemeanor and felony hit-and-runs are on a decline and as are the collective number of visible, severe, and fatal injuries. Collision data from York Boulevard suggests there is reason to believe that reducing the number of lanes available to motorists will make Colorado Boulevard safer and reduce the need for emergency responders to go to the scene of preventable crashes.

Bike Lane Concern #6: “Are there enough people cycling to warrant reducing the number of lanes available to motorists?” or, “do bicyclists really deserve bike lanes until they constitute a significant proportion of daily travel on Colorado Boulevard?”

  • There are a number of ways to approach this though the LADOT’s simple response to this concern is that the bike lanes are intended to increase the number of people the choose to cycle for local trips. People sometimes respond to this by saying “Eagle Rock Boulevard has bike lanes but hardly anyone uses them.” This is true, and this is most likely because the bike lane does not provide sufficient subjective safety for the average person to feel comfortable cycling in it. Many people who oppose bike lanes say “I wouldn’t feel safe riding in a mere painted bike lane, drivers can still veer into it.” This is why the proposed bike lane design on Colorado Boulevard is a more substantial, a design called a “buffered bike lane,” that has has demonstrated to have vastly increased the number of journeys made by bicycle on Spring Street in Downtown LA. The Eagle Rock Boulevard bike lane is a good example of what a low quality, minimal bike facility produces– low levels of cycling.  Additionally, the LADOT has frequently stated at public meetings that the more complete a network of bicycle facilities there is, the more people will cycle. Part of the reason why few people use the bike lanes on Eagle Rock Boulevard is that in addition to providing low levels of subjective safety, the Eagle Rock Boulevard bike lanes only connect to the one other bike facility– the bike lanes on York Boulevard (which did not extend beyond Avenue 54 until recently).
  • Though perhaps a better way to address this concern is to compare it with curb cuts on sidewalks. Relatively few people actually benefit from curb cuts, intended to allow people with disabilities to cross the street. More often on Colorado Boulevard one will see a person pushing a stroller than someone in a wheelchair utilizing a curb cut to cross the street.  This concern asking if there are enough bicyclists to warrant bike lanes is ultimately an ethical question, something which is entirely subjective– some say “yes” while others say “no.”  However, because we live in a democracy, and the bike lanes would be installed in public space, it seems that the percent of traffic bicycling constitutes should not be a prime consideration of whether or not to implement bike lanes. While few people currently cycle in Eagle Rock they are just as entitled to safe, pleasant travel as motorists and pedestrians are– aren’t they?

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(An older man doing some utilitarian bicycling approaches Colorado Boulevard from Townsend Avenue)

Bike Lane Concern #7: “Removing lanes available to motorists to create bike lanes only benefits a small minority”

  • Related to Bike Lane Concern #6, this concern is that reducing the number of lanes available to motorists to create bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard will only benefit a small margin of the local population and therefore is unfair or unacceptable. While this concern is again largely subjective, there is some reason to suggest that more than a “small minority” would benefit from bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard. First, the proposed buffered bike lanes are likely to improve safety for all people on Colorado Boulevard– whether they travel by car, foot, or bicycle. As has happened on York Boulevard, safety improvements benefit everyone – not just cyclists – who travels, lives, and patronizes businesses along the street . Fewer emergency responders are sent out to clean up crashes when safety improves. Fewer people get into crashes when a street becomes safer. People are less likely to be delayed by crashes if a street becomes safer. And so on… Also, because buffered bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard are likely to increase the number of people cycling to destinations along the street, people who continue to drive will benefit from reduced competition for scarce parking spaces. Because buffered bike lanes will likely reduce the number of people cycling on the sidewalk, pedestrians will benefit from a not having to negotiate limited sidewalk space with bicyclists. Because bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard will likely slow down motorized traffic to be in better compliance with speed limits, pedestrians will benefit from being able to cross the street easier. Because gas prices continue to rise year after year, anyone unable or unwilling to keep up with the price of gas will benefit from having bicycling become a more viable, safe, and pleasant option for local trips. The reality is that maintaing the status quo on Colorado Boulevard is worse than any perceived negative impacts implementing bike lanes will have. Nobody benefits from the dangerous speeding the current situation encourages. Nobody benefits from feeling compelled to drive a mile to the grocery store because bicycling is seen as unsafe and unpleasant. Nobody benefits from parents chauffeuring their children to school by car during rush hour. Perhaps a better question is– what are the benefits of maintaining the status quo?

Closing Remarks

Proposed bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard seem to be of high contention but there is little reason for this to be so. Let’s recall that the LADOT projects no more than an additional three minutes to travel time if traveling the three mile entirety of Colorado Boulevard during peak-hours. In other words, bike lanes will only have a minimal impact on a small number of trips being made during the rush hour and most of the time bike lanes will have have virtually no negative impact on travel times of motorists. Because there are a lot of potential impacts – both positive and negative – how about we still move forward with buffered bike lanes but do so provisionally for a year to evaluate the impacts of the bike lanes? What is being proposed on Colorado Boulevard is not radical– it’s a simple re-striping of the street, it can easily be reversed or adjusted (with funds from Measure R) if necessary. Long Beach recently installed a pair of physically separated bike lanes (which reduced the number of lanes available to motorists) on a year trial to study the impacts and the findings have been quite positive. See the video below to learn what kind of an impact separated bike lanes had in Long Beach, skeptics may be pleasantly surprised and perhaps be willing to give bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard a chance.

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12 thoughts on “Addressing Concerns With Implementing Bike Lanes on Colorado Boulevard

  1. As someone else noted on Eagle Rock Patch, anything that permanently slows auto traffic on Colorado Boulevard is a good thing, so it dismays me to think that travel times for drivers will NOT be impacted by the addition of bike lanes. In any event, cyclists deserve to travel more safely than they possibly can now, so bring on the bike lanes, and soon.

  2. Excellent post — something I had been thinking about all last week and which you have done a good job of executing. A few other anti-lane arguments that we see and ought to be prepared to address include:

    1.) Wouldn’t it be safer for cyclists to ride on streets with lower traffic, such as Yosemite or Las Flores?

    The response here, I believe, is two-fold. First, as has been noted, installation of bike lanes is expected to improve safety for all road users by calming traffic. Diverting cycle traffic to other roads does not provide those benefits. Second, cyclists want to reach destinations on the main thoroughfares — asking them to take circuitous routes to get there is unfair and won’t encourage more people to ride.

    2.) Related to your number 2 above: The increased travel times resulting from the installation of bike lanes will encourage the diversion of motor vehicle traffic to side streets such as Hill Drive and Yosemite, making these streets more dangerous.

    Clearly nobody wants to see the same people who speed down Colorado to jump on Hill or Yosemite and try to do the same there. According to LADOT traffic engineers who presented the plan to implement the lanes a few weeks back at the LA River Center, previous studies from other such traffic calming measures suggest there is little chance of that sort of unintended diversion from taking place. (Severin, or anyone else, if you have a good citation for this argument, that would be helpful). More likely, they will either accept the reduce speeds and drive appropriately or they will use the 134 if their whole goal was simply to get between G’dale to Pasadena.

    3.) Cyclists are a nuisance on the road. They flaunt traffic laws and providing them better infrastructure just rewards them for their bad behavior.

    Prima facie this is a silly argument. And it is, but I think anyone who does ride knows that this sentiment is out there and it affects some people’s attitude towards cycling in general. To that extent, cycling advocates should have arguments at hand to counter negative perceptions of cyclists. Basically, I would simply turn the tables on anyone who argues this way — How often do car drivers violate traffic laws? Speeding, DUI, texting, etc? Is there any reason to believe that cyclists as a a whole are more likely to violate traffic laws than car drivers? Not really. Moreover, the likelihood of serious injury or death caused by a driver of a car who has violated traffic laws is much greater than that of a cyclist who is not riding safely. We provide roads and other infrastructure for people to get about, pass laws in hopes of making travel safe, educate people on how to get about safely in their chosen mode of transport, and hire police officers to ensure compliance. Denying proper infrastructure to a class of people that chooses one mode of transport over another based on misperceptions is unfair.

    4.) The terrain in NELA is too hilly for many people to adopt cycling as a mode of transport.

    Obviously there will be some people with physical limitations that prevent them from using a bike as mode transport. Implementing bike lanes is not about removing their alternatives to getting around, but rather offering alternatives to those who can bike. And as for this latter category of people, not being a paragon of physical fitness myself, I’m certain that most people underestimate what they are capable of and overestimate the challenges. How many of the same people are content to plop down monthly fees at a fitness club to ride a stationary bike!? Invest in an electric-assist bicycle if you want to ride, but think the terrain is prohibitive.

    With regard to points 6 & 7 above on the question of usage, as you point out, it’s a chicken and egg problem. Good infrastructure needs to be in place for people to feel safe about riding — that is why the buffered lanes across the entire stretch of Colorado are so important. Indeed, in TBTB meetings, I argued for separated cycletracks such as those recently implemented. But, I’ll take buffered lanes as a second best alternative. The other point here is that change will not be overnight. We hear constantly that few cyclists are actually using the lanes on York. Changing transportation habits takes time. Nevertheless, we know from other case studies that implementing improved infrastructure results in significant increases in ridership (in places with much less hospitable climates than LA, no less!).

    All of these points are simply rebuttals to arguments against bike lanes, and, obviously, there are many positive arguments for the lanes. Without going over those here, suffice it to say that I want to be able to look into my daughter’s eyes and those of kids everywhere and say, I am trying to do what I can to create a more sustainable world. Does the convenience of 3 minutes of travel time trump your moral obligation to the planet?

      • Isn’t it really: the arguments against protected bike lanes (and buffered bike lanes at a minimum) don’t hold water. But I don’t think you could say the same for most of the basic, unprotected, unbuffered door zone lanes out there.

  3. Sometimes I wonder if the anti-lane faction ever gets out of Eagle Rock to see one of the many examples around the country of neighborhoods that have been transformed by reducing traffic speed. Thanks for this post in advance of the meeting.

  4. I would like some of these business owners on to consider if perhaps their own lack of business management skills are what is really causing the lack of customers, versus the bike lanes being the source of thier lack of revenue… Food for thought.

  5. Pingback: More bicyclists than voters in L.A., and it’s déjà vu all over again as 3-foot law makes a comeback | BikingInLA

  6. The same argument that implementing bike lanes onto a main arterial would be bad for business also arose up in Portland, OR. Now business is booming on many of those arterial roads where bike lanes were installed. One great example is N. Williams Ave. The reason? Better access to a wider range of people who now found cycling a viable option.

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  8. Great post.
    I commute on a daily basis between Eagle Rock and Glendale. I take Hill Drive (west wards) to ride to Glendale since most of it is down hill. However, in the evening I ride east wards on Colorado since the incline is less hilly than Hill Drive (having lived the first 35 years of my life in Holland I don’t like hills).
    After crossing Eagle Rock Blvd, I ride my bike on the narrow section between the most right traffic lane and the parked cars. My biggest nightmare is running into a suddenly opening car door of parked cars. Many of them just open their door without checking their mirror. Also, some drivers park their vehicle 3 feet away from the curb forcing me to swirl onto the traffic lane. With cars passing by at 50 mph, not a great option.
    Therefore, I support a buffered bike lane. Having seen film crews blocking the most right traffic lane, even in rush hour, I have not seen any delays in traffic with only 2 traffic lanes in place.

    I will continue riding my bicycle since it is a great way to unwind after work, see things I would normally not see, get some exercise and (being Dutch :-)) safe some gas money that my Jeep would otherwise guzzle away.

    On a side note. The majority of drivers do respect me as a bicyclist, maybe because I ride my bicycle wearing dress pants and shiny polished leather shoes :-). Of course, occasionally there are drivers cutting me off, yelling at me to ride on the side walk or passing me too closely.
    One thing I do practice is to obey traffic lights. I do stop at red traffic lights even though it may be tempting to continue riding if no traffic from cross streets. However, it is important as a bicyclist to demonstrate that you follow traffic rules. I see many fellow bike riders ignoring red traffic lights and it reflects badly on us who obey traffic rules. People simply tend to generalize.

    No matter the outcome of the bike lanes on Colorado Blvd, I will continue riding my bicycle. I know Los Angeles will never become the bicycle paradise of Amsterdam but adding more dedicated bicycle lanes will hopefully promote a healthier life style with more people taking the bicycle for these short rides in their community.

    Keep up all the great articles in your blog. I enjoy reading every one of them.

    • Thanks for the comment, Flying Dutchman! Glad to know you enjoy my articles! I hope you’ll write an email to the neighborhood council voicing your support for buffered bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard!

      Do you also ride a Dutch bike?

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