(“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 ( including the environmental impact review, and 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 have 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 is 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?
- With city services getting cut left and right many rightfully feel bike lanes should not be a priority for the city. Some say we should spend the money on something more important, like police officers, keeping libraries open, after school programs, paving streets, etc. Important as these services are, the money that would be spent installing bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard would come from a portion of the 2008, voter-approved, Measure R specifically intended for bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements. Also, re-striping streets to create bike lanes is relatively cheap. Even if the money could go elsewhere there are few services (if any) that it could substantially fund, especially on a long-term basis.
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. The reasoning used to make this argument appears 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 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 bicycle in Eagle Rock they are just as entitled to safe, pleasant travel as motorists and pedestrians are– aren’t they?
(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 bicycling 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 bicycling 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?
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.