Bicycling Mag. Writer: Bike Maps Justify DIY Projects

5_30_09_bicycling_magazine.jpgJust a reminder: this is the copy of Bicycling Magazine you’re looking for.

(Editor’s note: Dan Koeppel is the writer of the now famous "The Illegal But Highly Effective D.I.Y. Bike Lane" article that appears in the July issue of Bicycling Magazine.  You can continue to read his writing at his blog at www.bananabook.org.  The following was written as an update to his editor’s at Bicycling Magazine.)

Here’s an update, both from my perspective and from my contacts at the Department of DIY, a week after the story came out…

The DIY lanes piece appeared a week after the Department of Transportation proposed of course – the two-wheeled denizens of Los Angeles were suddenly turned into human shields – but we were released and sent home with a clear message: The City of Los Angeles now owns a guillotine.

The lane painters at the Department of DIY were as dismayed and outraged by funding fiasco as the rest of the cycling community, but they also felt vindicated. As writer/witness/comrade to the lane painters, I also experienced a feeling of somewhat gratuitous serendipity at the timing of the story. If the actions taken on the Fletcher Bridge weren’t’ defensible last July, when they actually occurred, they almost certainly became so now.

This week, even that slight "almost" appears to have vanished. On Friday – again, all of this has occurred within a ten day frame surrounding the story’s publication – an equally significant event in the annals of Los Angeles cycling occurred.  That same Department of Transportation (finally) released its long-awaited draft of a new citywide bike master plan.

Putting aside any comment on whether the budget event and the release of the draft were somehow related to each other – in a bizarre and clumsy attempt to manage expectations and public reaction – I’ll limit my comments on the plan to items specifically related to bridges and our story. I’ll also assume DOT has learned from its track record of non-implementation, and knows that this plan must  happen, though it is certainly not unexpected or unreasonable that many members of our cycling community see no reason to comment on the merits of the plan at all, since they believe the entire system, at this point, is made of applesauce.

On to the bridges.

First: None of the most dangerous bridges – which means the longest, southernmost ones – will see any genuine bike accommodations. Nor will any that lead directly into downtown Los Angeles. The plan marks these bridges with grey dots, which puts them into DOT’s "proposed, but currently infeasible" category, "brought forward" from the old, unimplemented plans, which date back to 1996 or before. (Other proposed, but currently infeasible, ideas floating around in the our cultural ether include time travel, universal health care, and a half-wit governor from Alaska becoming president of the United States. A hundred bucks says at least one of these things happens before the Olympic Boulevard bridge gets a bike lane.)

Second come bridges –  a couple of them –  marked with purple dots. My understanding (and please, if you know better, please correct me) is that this indicates separate-from-cars bike paths underneath and perpendicular to the bridges. These facilities won’t actually traverse the spans. Instead, they will be along the river itself, for recreational use, like the current  (and wonderful) L.A. River bike path.  The exception to this, from my reading, is what appears to be a dedicated bike path running over the North Broadway bridge. If this is the case, it is good news – even though it would mean that the first genuine bike-friendly crossing of the river for cyclists would be the eighth in the south-to-north sequence of twelve bridges, and a full two miles north of downtown.

From a political and implementation standpoint., I’d also note that if there is to be such a Broadway crossing, and if it is going to be part of a great recreational build-out, then it may not represent acknowledgement of what I see – and this is just my personal point of view – as the greater need, which is commuter access from the east side of the river. I’d want to know whether the creation of such a crossing would be viewed with the appropriate level of urgency, and whether it would be built speedily. Given that it would serve a dual purpose, the charge should be pretty simple: BUILD IT FIRST, and BUILD IT FAST. This is something the community must press for.

Third,  and most important, when it comes to the Fletcher Drive project – and I apologize for both myself and on behalf the Department of the DIY if this sounds just a little bit like gloating, but hell, let’s just call it what it is  –  there’s just one other accommodation for bikes that can be seen as even remotely possible in the DOT plan. The most implementable pathways proposed in the new plan are those that fall into the green dot category. They aren’t just  run-of-the-mill, painted bike lanes. They’re super-cheap run-of-the-mill, painted bike-lanes, specifically defined by the DOT as locations "where a new bike lane can be added without widening the roadway or removing travel lanes or parking."

In other words, they are stripes. Just plain stripes.

There is only one Los Angeles River bridge that gets the green dots. Only one bridge that the brand new Los Angeles bicycle master plan says is perfectly suited for bikes with a simple stripe, with no other modifications, where bikes and cars could co-exist, basically as-is – just a bucket of paint away.

I won’t keep you in this phony suspense any longer. It is Fletcher Drive, of course.

What the new plan proposes is exactly what the Department of DIY created – and exactly what the  Department of No Department of Transportation said was impossible.

  • Those dotted purple lines are not proposed bike lanes but “bike routes”. Bike routes are nothing more than green signs posted to light poles and “Share the Road” flyer campaigns. They are an easy way for the city to do NOTHING and still paint a line on a map that says “Bike Something Or Other”. Don’t be fooled.

  • Dan

    @umberto

    You’re right. The purple dots on the Broadway bridge indicate a “bike route,” which is as you describe, and not a dedicated bike path, as I say above. My mistake. The draft map shows proposed “bike paths” as -brown- dots, which – with my crappy, old, washed-out laptop screen – turn out to look just like purple, hence my colorblind misinterpretation.

    So things are even worse. That means there’s NOTHING proposed as a river crossing until Fletcher.

    Thanks for pointing this out.

    – Dan

  • the purple dots are not bike paths, but “bike friendly streets” – it’s either a bike route or a bike boulevard – a shared-with-cars street that’s good for biking.

    The bike plan shows a red line – a bike path running along the river perpendicular to the river – which I think is a good idea for both recreation and transportation. It does show a bike lane on Fletcher which is very feasible and has been in the city’s bike plan since the 1984 olympics, but never officially implemented.

    One odd thing is that purple line (bike friendly street – not bike lane) on North Spring Street… in the city’s Cornfield Arroyo Seco Plan, that street is designated for bike lanes. See http://lacreekfreak.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/great-plans-for-the-cornfield-arroyo-seco-area/ … so the bike plan draft is inconsistent with (and potentially undermining?) other good bike planning the city is doing at a more local level… City Planning Department – if you’re reading this – please change your bike plan maps to agree with the better designations in your specific plan.

  • Dan

    @joelinton:

    Thanks, Joe. Can you comment on what – exactly – is going on at the very south end of the LA-Central-West map, at the Washington Blvd. crossing?

    I’m assuming that we’re looking at an extension of the L.A. River path. What is hard to tell is whether it crosses the bridge or drops down beneath it at some point (if I recall, the Wash Bl. span is a bit odd, with a funky middle segment that’s on land, or something?)

    I agree completely that the L.A. River – and all of our rivers, with paths constructed – would make amazing commuter routes, and I regret that I didn’t put that in bolder, plainer terms in the story. I don’t mean to make it seem as if recreational routes and commuter routes are somehow locked in opposition to each other – especially in our region, where the rivers, as you’ve shown us, are a practically pre-built network of car-free paths. I guess the irony is that, as we struggle to implement the rivers-to-bikes vision, which is trying to sell the sensible to those who seem to absolutely lack any sense at all, we also find it a challenge to sell the idea that it is important not just to get people into our rivers, but over them.

  • jacksmith

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    jacksmith — WORKING CLASS

  • I disagree about the rivers, I think they are totally unsuitable for “commuter” traffic. The MTA did a pretty awesome survey of bicyclists in 2000-2002 that showed that bike riders that commute to work need access to the same heavily traveled arterial streets that cars use. River paths are nice, but they only take you away from employment centers and destinations in Los Angeles. These are icing on the cake, pie in the sky, plans.

    I’d rather the river were not bounded by 8 to 12′ of blacktop with cyclists whizzing by. I think the quiet reflection of the river should be reserved for walkers and a slow-paced recreational cyclist or two.

    And there are no red lines in the map I downloaded! WTF?! There are only bike routes going into downtown (except the “planned” LA River Class 1).

  • Dan – the dotted line below washington is the continuation of the LA River bike path downstream, through Vernon, Maywood, et. and ending up in Long Beach.

    Josef – I think our rivers can accomodate a rich mix of users including walkers, recreational and commuting cyclists and others.

  • Dan

    @Joe Linton

    I agree with Joe on the rivers being able to accommodate commuters. We need road access – and I believe it should be a priority – but the rivers are a huge resource for us here in LA, and an absolutely unique one; they’re also one that could be leveraged fairly quickly and invitingly for those who might otherwise not want to ride in traffic.

    I think it would be very, very cool if – as a matter of policy – ALL of the rivers could be seen as a sort of bicycle freeway system, mapped and managed as transit arteries, with commuter services – parking, maintenance, and security – similar to what motorists get now. Maybe even a financial incentive, like a tax credit, for those who choose to commute on them, as opposed to be car on “real” freeways.

    I always get kind of tired when people point to Amsterdam (or even Portland, or – god forbid – Davis) as the kinds of places L.A. should emulate in terms of bike policy. We’re not them, and we never will be. The rivers are one place that we’ve got that they don’t, and they’re totally unique.

    I know that calling them “bike freeways” is probably a horrifying thought to those who would have peaceful, riparian idylls on the banks. But I’m being kind of symbolic here – after all, we’re talking about bikes, and I don’t think the ideas are incompatible (it doesn’t even have to be because every river has two banks, though it bears pointing out.)

    Anyway, just fantasizing.

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