Over two years ago, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) first shared conceptual plans for bike lanes on North Figueroa Street between Colorado Boulevard and York Boulevard. The plans proved disappointing as they did nothing to address the excessive speeding the street experiences and hardly did anything to improve conditions for people bicycling. Bike advocate Joe Linton (author of Down By the Los Angeles River) suggested the LADOT consider a reconfiguration commonly known as a “road diet.” This would make the street look more like York Boulevard does between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Avenue 54.
As many likely know by now, Colorado Boulevard will undergo some changes this August to make the street safer and improve conditions for walking and bicycling. Currently, one of the barriers to a pleasant and convenient walk on Colorado is the glaring absence of safe, comfortable crossing opportunities. In August, alongside buffered bike lanes, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) will also add a couple of crosswalks to where our neighborhood’s main street intersects with El Rio Avenue and Glen Iris Avenue. While additional crosswalks are sorely needed, one cannot help but to wonder if two additional crosswalks will be enough to make Colorado Boulevard a pleasant street for pedestrians.
Where Are Crossings Needed?
Upon a quick review of Colorado Boulevard, it appears that the LADOT opted to add crosswalks so that crossing opportunities are spaced more evenly throughout the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor; they will be adding crosswalks to the big gaps in crossing opportunities. While that certainly is one way to approach the need for crosswalks, it can overlook other details of the street, including: how people use the street and where crosswalks would be most useful.
On commercial corridors, crosswalks are most needed where people are found walking. While this may seem obvious, not all portions of commercial corridors are necessarily attracting foot traffic and this is certainly true of Colorado Boulevard. Due to the street’s history and inconsistent development patterns along its commercial portion, certain parts of the street attract more travel by foot than others.
The most walkable part of Colorado Boulevard is 0.7 mile long stretch between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Townsend Avenue. This portion developed as it did largely because it had a streetcar running along it, encouraging pedestrian oriented commercial development during the neighborhood’s earlier years. Thanks to the effort of historic preservationists, a considerable number of pedestrian oriented buildings remain here, and as a result, this part of Colorado Boulevard attracts the most foot travel because it provides the most pleasant and convenient walking experience. It is perhaps no surprise then that this is also where there is the most demand for safe and pleasant crossing opportunities.
Eagle Rock is very proud to be home to the humble and increasingly well-known Occidental College, or Oxy as it is known among the college’s students and locals. The sign that welcomes people at our town’s eastern end, at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Wiota Street, reads “Eagle Rock, Founded 1911. Home of Occidental College”. Every year when Occidental College starts the Fall semester a banner hangs at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard that welcomes Oxy students back to Eagle Rock. These are literally signs of the affection and positive relationship fostered between the College and Eagle Rock.
There is no doubt that Occidental College has had a positive impact on our community, and that Eagle Rock has been good to Oxy. Though perhaps Eagle Rock can be more welcoming to Occidental College, particularly to its students, and equally benefit to the community at large through ways that embody the messages we put on our welcome sign and the banner that hangs over our town’s major intersection.
While Eagle Rock has always been home to a handful of Oxy students, about 60% of the school’s students are not from California, which demonstrates quite clearly many students are seeing Eagle Rock for the first time. Eagle Rock being the lovely and cool neighborhood that it is is definitely worth exploring, but is our community accessible and inviting to the many car-free college students who’ve never been here before? Our residential streets are typically relaxing and nice to walk along, but unfortunately the same cannot be said of our car-centric commercial corridors– which is a shame because that’s where our local businesses are! But things can change, for the better.
So what’s the current situation?
We can perhaps assume that most Oxy students are easily willing to walk to local destinations that are within a 10 minute’s reach. In actual distance this means students are likely able to stray about 0.5 miles from campus at a calm, relaxed walking pace. This also means that most of what is captured in this 0.5 mile radius from campus is our nice residential streets with a few businesses at the periphery of this comfortable walking distance zone along Eagle Rock Boulevard and York Boulevard. The below map shows a visualization of the 0.5 mile radius, a blue circle, around the Oxy campus with some local businesses indicated with red markers.
(Click on the map for a better view)
Almost everything within the blue zone is no more than a 10 minute walk from campus. Reaching any of the above destinations requires minimal walking on our car-centric commercial corridors and makes the local businesses indicated as likely candidates as destinations that Oxy students may visit. As one may notice, the map also includes several destinations just outside the comfortable walking zone along York Boulevard between Avenue 50 and Avenue 52. I included these businesses because that stretch of York Boulevard is enough of a hot spot, with enough commercial activity, that it is likely to warrant the little extra walking required to reach the area. York Boulevard is a relatively pedestrian friendly street that makes it attractive enough to walk to. This is especially true during Northeast LA’s monthly art walks, which liven up York Boulevard considerably.
What’s unfortunate about the comfortable 10 minute walk zone, is that it excludes many of Eagle Rock’s most popular businesses along Colorado Boulevard. This is understood clearly from a typical comment made by an Oxy freshman in a recent Eagle Rock Patch article–
I haven’t been able to venture out in Eagle Rock yet, but I’ve heard there are a lot great eating places. I heard there’s a real great Thai place and a Mexican place, although I’m not sure if they’re within walking distance of Occidental.
In reality businesses along Colorado Boulevard are not far from Oxy. The corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard is only a mile away from campus and businesses such as Organix are less than 2 miles away from campus. Given that it takes about 20 minutes for a typical young, healthy person to walk a mile, reaching businesses along Colorado can seem daunting, especially when one needs to walk on Eagle Rock and Colorado Boulevard– unfriendly, loud streets with zooming car traffic.
What Can Be Done?
So nothing can be done to physically move the Colorado Boulevard business corridor close to Oxy, however, as I suggested earlier, the businesses can be made more accessible. What does this mean? Well currently Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard are car-centric; if you’re not in a car, you’re not prioritized. This is clear through the street design that gives the majority of space to motorists, encourages speeds in excess of 35mph, the obvious lack of crosswalks, and absence of bike infrastructure. All these conditions make our streets unaccommodating to Oxy students, 40% of which are car-free.
There are bike lanes on part of Eagle Rock Boulevard and York Boulevard, however the Eagle Rock Boulevard bike lane disappears at Westdale Avenue (just at the periphery of the comfortable walking distance zone) and the York Boulevard bike lane only makes the already pedestrian friendly portion of York more accessible, and does little to encourage students to travel north to Eagle Rock’s businesses corridor.
But there is a solution. In fact, there are many solutions but the simplest and most cost effective measure that can be implemented to make Colorado Boulevard businesses more accessible, and make our streets more welcoming is to extend the existing bike lanes on Eagle Rock Boulevard north all the way to Colorado Boulevard and to add bike lanes along Colorado itself. Comfortable bike lanes have a well-documented effect of encouraging cycling – particularly among younger people – and the bicycle allows one to cover a greater distance than walking with the same amount of time. One can easily cover a mile in 10 minutes on a bicycle, and if Eagle Rock’s main boulevards were kinder to all modes of travel there is little doubt that more Oxy students would cycle and patronize local businesses. The map below shows some local businesses that are within a comfortable bicycling distance from Oxy
(The outermost circle represents everything within a 1.5 mile radius from Oxy. The middle circle represents everything within a mile from the campus and the innermost circle is the comfortable 0.5 mile walking zone. Click the map for a larger image.)
Will It Work?
While college students are typically thought of as being on tight budgets with little free time, this does not mean that college students do not spend money or have zero free time. It’s not unusual to see Oxy kids visiting the businesses that are within the 10 minute walking distance from campus. In fact, some Oxy students already like to eat out at businesses along Colorado Boulevard as well despite not being within the quick, and comfortable walk zone. A student from the same Eagle Rock Patch mentioned above commented the following about Eagle Rock:
I always eat at Classic Thai. The pad thai there is the best—and I can’t go to any other Thai restaurant. I also love the Eagle Rock Music Festival. People are friendly and the nightlife is very calm and chill.
Classic Thai is about 1.5 miles from the Oxy campus and could be same “great Thai place” the other student was quoted as saying it was not within walking distance. Perhaps this particular student reached Classic Thai by some other means but combining the comments made by the Oxy students does suggest that if businesses are easy to reach, the students are just as likely to enjoy local eateries, cafes and shops as much as the rest of the community. As already mentioned, Oxy students are known to visit many of the businesses that are easy to reach, within a comfortable walking distance. It seems plausible that if we extend the distance that students are comfortable traveling independently, and truly make Eagle Rock a welcoming home to Occidental College, that businesses as well as students will can benefit.
Current Eagle Rock Neighborhoood Council President, Michael Larsen, seems to have confidence in such a vision– of streets that are friendly and inviting to college students. In an Eagle Rock Patch article titled “The Future of Eagle Rock” Larsen had this to say–
“I’d love to see more places where the Oxy kids could hang out. We have an amazing, world-renowned college here and Eagle Rock should really have more of the traditional positive features of a college town… I’d like to lure them [students] back by making walking and bike riding more pleasurable and safe. I’m encouraged by Take Back The Boulevard campaign that just started, which will re-envision Colorado Boulevard to make it pedestrian and bike-friendly. Slow it down, plant more trees, give space to bikes, create safe crosswalks.”
There are plenty of bike racks along Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard. Occidental College is than a mile away from 2 bike shops and the campus even has a bikeshare system, which allows students to borrow bicycles for daily use. Most Eagle Rock businesses are less than 2 miles away from campus. It seems the only thing that’s preventing more Oxy students from taking to two wheels is safe provisions for bicycling. Existing signs are encouraging, we see on York Boulevard that bike and pedestrian friendly measures have increased the number of people walking and cycling along that street. Can Eagle Rock step up and make an environment that is welcoming to Oxy students? As Occidental College’s own website says of Eagle Rock–
“Oxy isn’t just located here; it’s a vital part of the community.”
Let’s make our streets reflect our written commitment– let’s welcome students and have Eagle Rock feel like home.
A view of the veteran memorial. Photo credit: Waltarrrrr
At the intersection of York Boulevard and North Figueroa Street in Highland Park sits a triangular parcel of land known as the Highland Park veteran memorial. Unfortunately, because the memorial is relatively small and flanked speeding traffic on all sides it can be an unpleasant place to spend time.
However, it seems things could perhaps change for the better. The veteran memorial recently became property of the Department of Recreation and Parks and there is talk that the veteran memorial public space may be expanded by possibly converting the adjacent right turning pocket or parking lot into an extension of the memorial space.
The intersection of York Boulevard and North Figueroa Street. The triangular veteran memorial space could be expanded by converting the right turn pocket and/or adjacent parking lot into parks pace. Image credit: Google Maps
Admittedly, converting a small parking lot or a right turn pocket into an extension of the public space may seem like a small gain, or perhaps even insignificant. To put things in perspective I decided to use a Google Map Area Calculator so I could see, in acres, how much the public space could be expanded. I found that the veteran memorial space is currently about 0.2 acres large, so how much bigger could the space get if we expanded it?
If we only converted the adjacent right turning pocket we would double the size of veteran memorial space, adding 0.2 acres of public space to this prominent intersection. If we converted the right turn pocket and half the adjacent parking lot into an extension of the space, we would be adding about 0.7 acres of public space. And if we converted the right turn pocket and almost the entire parking lot we could provide an entire acre to the existing 0.2 acre veteran memorial. Suddenly, it seems there is huge potential to enhancing the existing memorial which often is seen as little more than a traffic island due to its placement with high speed traffic on all sides.
If the veteran memorial were expanded to include the green shape seen in this image, we could have a 1.2 acre large public space where Highland Park’s two most prominent streets cross and have a space that truly honors veterans. Image credit: Google Maps
Expanding the veteran memorial would not only enhance the memorial space but it would also serve to connect that public space with the near by Highland Park Senior Center. In essence, an extension would almost form one large, continuous public pedestrian space well over an acre that is friendly and serves the Highland Park community. Perhaps the city could try the expansion temporarily by blocking off the right turning pocket or reduce the number of parking spaces available in the adjacent parking lot as though it were a construction zone and see how traffic adjusts. Highland Park has a unique opportunity here to beautify and enhance the public sphere, maybe that can prevail over funneling traffic at excess speeds.
The summer is over which means that Walk Eagle Rock is migrating north to Berkeley for an other semester of university. While there’s no place like home, there are occasions on which I feel Eagle Rock can learn from Berkeley, particularly about street design and especially now with Take Back The Boulevard afoot.
Downtown Berkeley’s main street is Shattuck Avenue and it may not resemble Colorado Boulevard much but there are elements from the street that seem they could be happily embraced along Colorado Boulevard. Let’s take a look…
- Seating implemented around street trees. Similar structures can be found in Highland Park around a handful of ficus trees that line North Figueroa Street. Having public seating available is vital if a street is to be friendly for people on foot, and these small wooden benches seem they could be attractive and easily implemented along Colorado. If someone is shopping or couples are walking, such seating can be a nice place to rest and take in the street life before carrying on.
- Hanging flower baskets from street lights. This treatment is a rather common one on main streets throughout the U.S. but it is also quite effective: it literally makes the street more colorful, gives people something to look at, and makes the street more aesthetically pleasing. In the case of Eagle Rock, if these were implemented along Colorado Boulevard perhaps adjacent store owners could agree to regularly water the plants. Like installing benches around street trees, this measure capitalizes on an existing element of the street ( the lighting) and enhances it to make the street more pleasant, attractive, and ultimately more of a destination.
- Identifier. Berkeley, like many other cities, has installed a street clock on its main street; such clocks help identify and define the commercial core of a neighborhood. Now, some might say that street clocks are overdone or cliché– and to some extent Eagle Rock already has a neighborhood clock above the awning at The Coffee Table. A street clock may not be appropriate or desired along Colorado because of this but perhaps Eagle Rock can have a unique identifier or piece of public art along Colorado Boulevard. Identifiers can be iconic, public attractions– the kind of thing that helps make Colorado a street where people might parks their car, dine somewhere, then enjoy a nice stroll along the boulevard to see the other various shops, street life and relax.
These are just simple three ways in which Eagle Rock could perhaps improve the experience of shopping, walking, and dining along Colorado Boulevard and help change the identity of the street from speedway to commercial district.
In discussing Take Back The Boulevard (TBTB), the initiative seeking to improve various elements along Colorado Boulevard to make the street more safe and pleasant, it is not unusual for residents to be divided. Do we make more intersections signalized or add bike lanes to reduce speeding? Do we reduce number of travel lanes or increase amount of parking to make the street more pleasant? The community organizations that have spearheaded TBTB (Collaborative Eagle Rock Beautiful, the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Eagle Rock Community Preservation and Revitalization Corporation, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, Occidental College, The Eagle Rock Association, and the Twentieth Century Women’s’ Club of Eagle Rock) have tried very hard to please all parties and incorporate all needs in pursuing a better Colorado Boulevard that functions for everyone.
However, while the general idea of improving safety through reducing speeding seems to have near unanimous support, there’s one notable conflict that emerges in almost all discussions of TBTB. All to often it seems neighbors break out into a “bike lanes vs car parking” debate, as though these are two ideas that can only work against each other. It appears to some as an either/or proposition: either we provide bike lanes, or we provide more car parking through converting parallel parking to angled parking, by reallocating superfluous travel lanes on Colorado and achieve the goal of reducing speeds.
The two methods of reducing speeds along Colorado, bike lanes or additional parking, are thought of as incompatible to some, perhaps due to an expected tight budget. It seems unlikely that the community will be able to scramble together funds to acquire land to provide a public parking lot along Colorado Boulevard, so Eagle Rock can really only try reconfiguring the public right-of-way on Colorado through low-cost measures to improve safety and hopefully encourage commerce. Also, while building a public parking lot sounds like a worthwhile effort, it seems to fall outside of the main purpose of TBTB and a long-standing community desire to improve safety on Colorado Boulevard. So what do we do?
Re-envisioning Colorado Boulevard to be safe and pleasant for all, the community will need to collectively address the many concerns stakeholders, like: how can we improve safety? how can we improve parking? how can we make our street friendlier? how can we reduce speeding? These are just some concerns that have been raised in conversations, and of course tacked on to all the community’s concerns is “how can we get the money to make any of these changes?”
To residents and businesses alike looking to improve commerce while improving safety I would humbly suggest this– embrace bicycles! Bike lanes are not necessarily an opposition to more parking or better business. Let’s examine why…
On Colorado Boulevard we could convert one travel lane in each direction to bike lanes– and what would this likely accomplish? Well much of what community members have voiced a desire to improve:
- Improve safety: It is well-documented that road diets and car lane removal improve safety for all users. By converting one travel lane in each direction, we would put Colorado Boulevard on a “road diet” and likely see fewer crashes and less risky behavior by motorists.
- Reduce speeding: Road diets have also been shown to reduce speeding without adversely affecting normal traffic flow during peak hours.
- Reduce noise pollution: By reducing speeding and further separating motorized traffic from sidewalks by adding a bike lane between the two, the street would be quieter and more conducive for relaxed strolling, outdoor dining, socializing… Also, since bike lanes are likely to reduce unnecessary speeding, the street will be quieter simply because cars will not be going as fast.
- Improve business visibility: The faster cars go, the less visible things in periphery become to drivers. By reducing speeds and calming traffic through a road diet, motorists will be able to more easily, and safely, glance at the buildings lining Colorado Boulevard. Moving slower means not only will businesses be more visible, but motorists will also not be as pressured to speed through Eagle Rock’s increasingly thriving business corridor. This means motorists can more easily stop and visit a business if they feel so inclined. Also, businesses can look more appealing– people passing by may observe more people dining outdoors since eating outside will likely be more pleasant option from expected reduced noise pollution.
- Improve parking: Having a bike lane, Colorado Boulevard is likely to encourage more people to cycle to local destinations. Bike lanes increase the subjective and physical safety while simultaneously reducing the stress of bicycling. More people biking of course means fewer people driving, and fewer people driving means there are more parking spaces available for those who still choose to drive. Not to mention most destinations along Colorado Boulevard already offer free, convenient bike racks to accommodate customers that arrive by bicycle. Customers that arrive by bicycle need not worry about feeding any parking meters or wondering if they’re blocking a resident’s driveway.
- Choices, opportunities, potential: By providing a bike lane on Colorado Boulevard, residents of Eagle Rock will have bicycling be an increasingly safe and viable option. No longer will residents feel forced to drive to a destination less than 2 miles away when there is an attractive bike facility. Parents may be more willing to let their children cycle to destinations.
- Improve traffic flow: Speeds along Colorado Boulevard can vary greatly– by reducing the number of lanes, a more consistent pace can be established for motorists and actually improve through-put.
Even if a small portion of people switch to bicycle for a handful of trips throughout the week it will benefit local businesses, perhaps more than they realize.
First off, it’s worth repeating that more people bicycling to a local businesses means fewer people driving to that businesses which means there will be more car parking spaces available for those that still choose to drive.
So are you convinced yet? Even today, without any bicycle infrastructure along Colorado Boulevard, people are still bicycling, and businesses are benefiting from having bike parking
A bicycle parked to a bike rack at Four Cafe
Three bikes parked to the single bike rack in front of Four Cafe
Two bicycles parked at a bike rack in front of The Coffee Table
Two bicycles parked using two bike racks at Pete’s Blue Chip Burger
A bike parked at Pilates
Even businesses without bike parking benefit from bicycling customers
Two bicycles parked to a pole between The Best Flowers and Swork
A bicycle leaning against the exterior of One’s Liquor
A bike parked to hand-railing in this Colorado Boulevard strip mall
It may not be obvious as bicycles are small and subtle, but if one looks closely, one will notice that people do indeed already cycle to local businesses. Maybe residents and businesses who desire additional parking along Colorado Boulevard could benefit from embracing bicycling– people who arrive at businesses by bicycle do not use any curbside car parking. But when curbside space is allocated to bicycles, as it is at the intersection of York Boulevard and Avenue 50, more customers can be accommodated than if the space is used to park a single car as demonstrated below and in this post on Flying Pigeon LA
Five bicycles parked using the same amount of space used to accommodate one car
I’m not typically a proponent for adding parking capacity in Eagle Rock however I have recently thought of a situation which could please those who seek more car parking and those looking for a more pleasant pedestrian environment in downtown Eagle Rock– restoring diagonal parking on the block of Eagle Rock Boulevard between Merton Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.
Historic picture of Eagle Rock Boulevard between Colorado Boulevard and Merton Avenue with diagonal parking (and pedestrian oriented street lighting). Image credit: Eagle Rock by Eric Warren
Below’s an overhead view of the same block of Eagle Rock Boulevard today, with largely the same historic buildings seen in the first picture.
This is where Eagle Rock Boulevard is at its widest. Just a few blocks before the street is only 2 lanes with curbside parking and a center turning lane– here the block has 2 left turning lanes, one through lane, and one wide right turning lane and curbside parking.
That’s an awful lot of space dedicated to having cars zoom through the community and miss all the local businesses on the block inhabiting beautiful historic buildings. Additionally, the sidewalk experience is rather unpleasant for a pedestrian. Trying to cross the wide street with fast moving cars or enjoy outdoor seating at Swork – the cafe that anchors the corner of this block where it intersects with Colorado Boulevard – the experience just isn’t all that nice.
It seems that this portion of Eagle Rock Boulevard, in it’s current configuration, is more conducive for funneling cars than attracting potential customers and encouraging people to pop into the local businesses. Given how excessively wide this portion of Eagle Rock Boulevard is (approximately 50 feet northbound with the 2 left turning lanes, and 40 feet along the brief portion when it is three lanes and curbside parking) there’s a lot of room for creative solutions to generating foot traffic, slowing down the street, and attracting potential customers. As suggested at the beginning of this post, one solution could be to restore diagonal parking that once existing along this block but also utilize the ends of the blocks, where parking is currently not allowed, to create sidewalk extensions. This would presumably only require the removal of one northbound lane, leaving 3 lanes in addition to the parking.
Below is a rough interpretation of the idea.
The green shapes at the ends of the block represent sidewalk extensions. Not only would these sidewalk extensions shorten crossing distance for pedestrians, it would make outdoor seating at Swork more pleasant by buffering the outdoor seating from the motor vehicles and allowing for calmer, quieter experience. The blue lines represent delineated diagonal parking spaces, which would increase the number of parking spaces along the block.
It’s uncertain how feasible this solution is from an engineering standpoint though one would assume that with enough funding coupled with political and community will, it could happen. And who knows, maybe it would make the block safer, more vibrant, and enjoyable than it is today while benefitting the adjacent businesses.
(This is a non-Eagle Rock specific post mostly consisting of thoughts on bicycle infrastructure design standards that dictate bikeway design in Los Angeles)
When bicycling on the streets of Los Angeles I am expected to ‘share the road’ with motorists. On quiet residential streets this is rarely an issue, cars seldom go above 20 miles per hour. But even on residential streets there is the occasional pressure to speed up or move aside when a motor vehicle approaches from behind. However, residential streets are pretty manageable and subjectively safe for myself, and the many people I see who simply enjoy to go for a ride around the block. Intersections are not an issue either as residential streets are usually narrow with little traffic.
However, the comfort utilitarian and recreational bicyclists feel on residential streets quickly disappears when traveling on major, commercial streets. One of the biggest hindrances to people choosing the bicycle for travel is how dangerous larger streets with greater amounts of traffic feel.
Now I am an everyday bicyclist and I have no problem negotiating with motor vehicle traffic, or making left turns like a motor vehicle. I expect motorists to needlessly discriminate me by shouting, honking, and telling me to get out of the way. But this is not the reality I want to experience. When traveling by bicycle I’d prefer to be separated from motor vehicles traveling over 20 miles per hour;I do not want to breathe in exhaust, feel cars zoom by, or put up with the noise pollution and increasingly distracted drivers. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. There are many more who cite their number one reason for not bicycling more often being how unsafe and unpleasant conditions are, being forced to mix with motorized traffic to go to the grocery store, a friend’s house, or local restaurant.
So what is being done to address the concerns of the many people who want to get on their bicycles but don’t? Well, here locally in Los Angeles the city has a Bicycle Master Plan which seeks to create a 1,600 mile network of bicycle facilities over the course of the next 30 years. The city hopes that in those 30 years bicycling will eventually make up 5% of the city’s traffic.
Almost half, 700 miles, of the 1,600 miles of bicycle facilities will be on the a backbone network– that is, this backbone of the bicycle network will be on the heavy traffic streets many are currently afraid of. So what will the facilities on these major streets look like? Currently bike facility designs are largely dictated by: The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO); California Highway Design Manual (CHDM); and the California Manual of Unified Traffic Control Devices (CAMUTCD). What these design guides recommend will likely dictate what LA’s backbone network of bicycle facilities on major streets will look like. What do these manuals have to offer?
Facilities offered in AASHTO and CAHDM are:
- Class I Bike Path: Completely separated right-of-way for exclusive use by bicycles and pedestrians
- Class II Bike Lane: Provides a striped line for one-way bicycle travel on a street or highway
- Class III Bike Route: Provides shared use with pedestrians or motor vehicle travel
It is well known that the majority of people will refuse to start bicycling unless safe, separate facilities are provided. Anecdotally, when I ask my non-bicycling friends, my grandfather, my sister and mother– they all answer that they would love to cycle more if they had separated bike paths to use. This can also be observed where people do cycle most– bike paths such as the LA River Bike Path. Admittedly the majority of users on LA’s bike paths are recreational riders, but a few points can perhaps explain why: Current bike paths are largely isolated and are difficult to integrate into any kind of travel other than recreational; current bike paths are often linear, uninterrupted paths, optimizing them for sporty recreational travel; the facilities feel safe enough to use for recreational purposes (unlike any parallel streets).
Naturally, it seems bike paths would be recommended for installation on major streets, right? Let’s see what the CAHDM say about providing bicycle facilities…
“Pavement markings alone will not measurably enhance bicycling.”
The CAHDM admits that mere painted bike lanes are not too effective in enhancing bicycling. While painted bike lanes not physically separated from motorized traffic have been shown to increase bicycling marginally and enhance the experience a little bit, they are unsatisfactory to the majority of people. The existing bike lanes throughout Los Angeles demonstrate this very well.
So perhaps we could provide bike paths adjacent to motorized traffic to enhance the bicycling experience and get more people riding? After all, bike paths are the most desired kinds of infrastructure among non bicyclists and they are the most utilized pieces of bike infrastructure that do exist despite their lack of accessibility to the majority of people. Well, not according to the CAHDM:
“Bike paths immediately adjacent to streets and highways are not recommended. They should not be considered a substitute for the street, because many bicyclists will find it less convenient to ride on these types of facilities as compared with the street, particularly for utility trips”
The reasoning for not providing bike paths adjacent to streets is in complete contradiction to the reality. Many potential bicyclists would find bike paths adjacent to streets more convenient (and safe, and pleasant) than mixing with motorized traffic, given that the facility is designed well. One of the greatest concerns people currently have with cycling is lack of subjective safety from being required to mix with motorized traffic. Adjacent bike paths would reduce moments required to mix with motorized traffic to intersections and driveways.
Alright, so maybe no bike paths adjacent to streets. Perhaps bike lanes can be placed between the curb and parked cars to make facilities that feel safe enough for everyone? I frequently hear this as a solution from people who would like to cycle more or at all but currently don’t. The CAHDM doesn’t think so:
“Bike lanes shall not be placed between the parking area and the curb. Such facilities increase the conflict between bicyclists and opening car doors and reduce visibility at intersections. Also, they prevent bicyclists from leaving the bike lane to turn left and cannot be effectively maintained.”
Again, the reasoning surprises me. Given the average number of people traveling in a car is less than 2, bicyclists are more likely to have conflict with car doors opening from the driver’s side, where bike lanes are currently placed. As for reducing visibility at intersections, parking is seldom allowed close to intersections for this very reason– visibility. Additionally motorists already have to look for pedestrians on their right-hand side. This should not make it difficult for motorists to look for bicyclists at intersections, if parking is not permitted and the potential pedestrians need to be taken into consideration already. Left-turns are certainly not an issue for pedestrians, why would a bike lane between the curb and parked cars be much different? A similar motion can be made by bicyclists. In fact this is the solution often offered in the Netherlands and Denmark where bicycle facilities are placed between the curb and parked cars.
Cyclists are hardly ‘restricted’ when placed between the curb and parked cars if the facilities are engineered properly like in the Netherlands and Denmark, the countries with the highest levels of bike usage in the western world. Additionally, just as there are mid-block crossings for pedestrians, the same could be provided to bicyclists if placed between parked cars and the curb. This could arguably allow greater freedom of movement than when cyclists are forced to use the same lanes as motor vehicle traffic where mid-block U-turns are often not possible or allowed.
One wonders, how are intersections to be handled according to the CAHDM? Here is more, general discussion of intersections:
“Most auto/bicycle accidents occur at intersections. For this reason, bikeway design at intersections should be accomplished in a manner that will minimize confusion by motorists and bicyclists and will permit both to operate in accordance with the normal rules of the road.”
This sounds good in theory, but the reality is that there is ZERO evidence of intersections in Los Angeles and much of California where any thought has been made to minimize confusion by motorists and bicyclists. In fact, the CAHDM at current suggests two ways for bicyclists to make left turns at intersections, with or without bicycle infrastructure.
“A prevalent type of accident involves straight-through bicycle traffic and right-turning motorists. Left turning bicyclists also have problems as the bike lane is on the right side of the street and bicyclists have to cross the path of cars traveling in both directions. Some bicyclists are proficient enough to merge across one or more lanes of traffic to use the inside lane or left-turn lane. However, there are many who do not feel comfortable making this maneuver. They have the option of making a two-legged left turn by riding along a course similar to that followed by pedestrians.”
The above excerpt is interesting for a couple reasons, it admits that there is trouble with through cyclists and right turning motorists as well with cyclists turning left. The first problem, through cyclists conflicting with right turning motorists has already been addressed in the Netherlands and Denmark– both these countries have made efforts to mitigate this type of conflict. If safety is the highest priority, the issue could be dealt with by reducing speeds at intersections by requiring a sharper turn from motorists through design, as is seen in the Netherlands. It could also be dealt with by having separate signal phases for through cyclists and right turning motorists altogether.
The second problem, that of the left turn, the Highway Design Manual admits that most people would rather not have to cross one, two, or some cases three lanes of motor vehicle traffic to make a left turn like a motorist. This is especially true where speeds are between 30mph and 50pm, as they are on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock.
Yet despite knowing the majority of people would prefer to make a two-legged left similar to pedestrian design, seldom have intersections in California been designed to accommodate, encourage, or guide this style of movement. Interestingly, the diagram from the CAHDM showing the two-legged left displays a movement very similar to the diagram showing a left turn for cyclists in Copenhagen and it would only require paint on the ground to mimic this treatment.
Furthermore, by having two different ways for cyclists to navigate an intersection, a cyclist’s movement is more ambiguous and arguably increases the potential for conflict with motor vehicle traffic because there is no consistent way to expect a cyclist to navigate an intersection.
So what can we do when implementing bicycle facilities in LA?
Well, the Danish and the Dutch have addressed the concerns the CAHDM by experimenting with bicycle facility design for well over 30 years. Contrary to what the CAHDM implies are drawbacks of bicycle facilities that physically separate cyclists from motor vehicle traffic, bicyclists in Denmark and the Netherlands are the safest in the world… and they are frequently separated from motorized traffic on major streets, and they have no trouble making left turns.
It is time to raise the bar for bicycle infrastructure design in California. We know what will create more bicyclists, separated facilities. We know how the majority would be comfortable making left turns, it is written in our state Highway Design Manual. There are several places around the world (and increasingly here in the United States) to look for design solutions yet we do zero to accommodate, encourage, or pursue this.
Colorado Boulevard, the commercial center of Eagle Rock, will undergo a transformation if the initiative Take Back The Boulevard can maintain the momentum it is experiencing at the moment. A lot of ideas about how to improve the boulevard are being circulated– everything from angled parking to sidewalk extensions, to increased greenery, to bike lanes, and more! Just the other day Eastsider shared the idea of reversed angle in parking as solution.
While there are many popular ideas, I feel that it is important to reflect on the mission of this worthy effort to reclaim our main street from the dangerous freeway it currently resembles. Take Back The Boulevard seeks to transform Colorado Boulevard into a safe, sustainable, and vibrant street in order to stimulate economic growth, increase public safety and enhance community pride. Given that we cannot accommodate all the possible ideas being discussed due to limited space on the street I would like to share why I believe a solution that includes protected bike lanes, also known as cycle tracks, could fulfill as many of the desires of this initiative and is perhaps the most promising solution available.
Protected bike lanes essentially place a bike lane along the curb and place car parking to the left of the bike lane as a buffer separating motorized traffic and bicycle traffic. To read more about protected bike lanes concept check out the Los Angeles Department of Transportation Bike Blog’s recent post explaining these facilities.
So, installing protected bike lanes along Colorado Boulevard would result in what is known as a ‘road diet’, the removal of one travel lane in each direction. The new found space would be used to accommodate the proposed cycle tracks. Road diets have been proven, nationwide, to increase safety for all users. They have also been known to better the flow of traffic. Read about them here.
However, before I continue, let me share a couple rough drawings I made of what these protected bike lanes just might look like on our boulevard.
This first image is supposed to a rendering of Maywood Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, looking East.
Sketch Including Separated Bike Lane
Now what does separated bike lane do to fulfill the mission of Take Back The Boulevard? Well if one examines my rough sketch there are a few things being accomplished
1) Most obviously a safe space is created to allow travel for cyclists that doesn’t force cyclists to mix with pedestrians or automobiles. This facility will encourage more than just young fearless people to cycle. There is no pressure to ‘keep up’ with motorized traffic and provides an environmental, sustainable means of traveling along the boulevard
2) The bus stop is moved to an island that frees up space on the sidewalk and allows for speedier bus service as buses won’t have pull up to a curb. Bike racks can be placed on this island to again free up space on our precious sidewalks. This bus island also reduces conflict between bicyclists and buses– often bicyclists and buses ‘leap frog’ each other as a bicyclist passes a bus that is stopped then the bus passes the cyclist once in motion again. This removes such conflicts.
3) Crossings for pedestrians is made shorter by allowing them to wait at a refuge alongside the bus stop island.
4) While the moved bus stop frees up sidewalk space, the former bus stop space could also be used to plant trees to provide more greenery.
5) Greater buffer between pedestrians and automobiles, making outdoor dining (where it is available) or mere strolling more pleasant as the increased distances makes the sidewalks less noisy from cars whizzing by.
6) Cars will not be allowed to travel as recklessly as in the past since they will only have two lanes. This will likely result in more civilized speeds and careful, conscious driving. As Tom Vanderbilt notes in his book Traffic, when we make roads forgiving to motorists (like by allowing excess number of lanes), motorists tend to drive sloppier. It’s these kind of excessively wide streets that encourage illegal speeding, and unfortunately result in deaths too.
Here is an other view of the separated bike lane looking West on Maywood Avenue and Colorado Boulevard
Sketch with protected bike lane
1) Again a safe space for people of all ages to cycle is created
2)Pedestrian crossings become shorter by allowing the creation of a small refuge
3) The protective barrier between bicyclists and automobiles allows an opportunity to plant trees and other greenery in what is currently just plain asphalt
I realize it may be difficult to completely understand these drawings, however there are also existing examples of where similar spaces have been created. Take a look below where Colorado Boulevard could look for inspiration
Unlike other proposed solutions to fix Colorado Boulevard, configurations similar to what I share in this post consider all users– pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and motorists.
Pedestrians get more spacious sidewalks by moving bus stops to islands, shorter crossings through the refuges, greater buffer from automobiles through the separated bike lane
Bicyclists get safe travel space away from automobiles and pedestrians
Transit users get loading platforms that will make getting on and off the bus, easier and faster
Motorists get safer streets that make traveling at the speed limit easier to do, they won’t have to change lanes to pass bicyclists. Potentially shorter waiting times at lights as pedestrians will be able to cross faster thanks to the pedestrian refuges.
Everyone gets a safer configuration, everyone will benefit from increased opportunities to plant greenery by some of the pedestrian refuges. This solution allows flexibility in space. Since bus stops will move to islands sidewalk space formerly used to accommodate the bus stop can be now used to plant trees, install benches, or simply allow a wider space for pedestrians. Colorado Boulevard is currently flooded with cars, this solution will make cycling, walking, and taking the bus more attractive than they currently are and reduce the demand for car parking, one of the problems of the way Colorado Boulevard is configured today.
I’d like to compare this solution to the proposed ‘reverse angle in parking’ that the Eastsider shared the other day. The angled parking creates more parking spaces for cars and could potentially create curb extensions at intersections for pedestrians. This solution also claims it could reduce conflict between bicyclists and cars pulling in/out of parking spaces but if cars stop suddenly to start parking bicyclists will have to swerve around– a not so safe action to take.
While it is an attractive solution in some respects it is awfully car centric. This design will do little to encourage more people to cycle or make bicycling safer. It seems to do nothing to make bus travel easier either. It also, while it will create a buffer between pedestrians and moving automobiles, will rather confine the sidewalk space. I have experienced firsthand that cars tend to pull in to angled parking spaces so that part of the car hovers over the sidewalk, making pedestrian space feel cramped. It also seems that by creating more parking spaces this solution will only encourage driving and wouldn’t be very sustainable, nor make the street more vibrant, in complete contrast with the goals of Take Back The Boulevard. On the other hand, encouraging multiple modes of travel as a thoughtfully constructed cycle tracks can do, the street will be less car centric (and more sustainable) and filled with people rather than cars (and be more vibrant). Because we have limited space I support a solution that will accomplish as many of the goals of Take Back The Boulevard, and implementing separated bike lanes seems to be a promising solution.
Further readings about Colorado Boulevard:
A post where I share additional reasons why I support separated bike lanes: “ In making the case for a calmer, more bike friendly Eagle Rock sometimes those who oppose the idea contend car traffic will slow down too much. However, as local resident Jack Burnett-Stuart points out
‘ It is 1.6 miles from the post office to Swork [via Colorado Boulevard]. If the average speed was reduced through a variety of traffic slowing measures (including changing the speed limit, but does anyone pay any attention to that?) from say 40 mph to 20mph, that would add 2 minutes 24 seconds to the time the trip takes ‘ “
Specific facts detailing current traffic levels of Colorado Boulevard: “Colorado Boulevard is a major highway class II, projected to carry between 30,000 and 50,000 cars daily. Traffic counts available from the LADOT website from the past 15 years shows that Colorado Boulevard seldom carries above 35,000.”
Some simple, yet unfortunate facts about the danger of a car centric Colorado Boulevard: “…there has been approximately one reported accident a week over the past five years. More than half of the accidents involve injuries.
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.