Late last year I participated in the Crenshaw Crush ride which had riders of ages, from 4 to 64, participating. The route took us from major arterials like Crenshaw Boulevard to little neighborhood side streets, and through the Olympic Village.
At one point, when we were meandering through one of the neighborhoods, two of the teenagers started making jokes about the Bike Route sign that we just passed. "Oh, I’m feeling sooo much safer on this street than on the other parallel street just because of the Bike Route sign. NOT!" "How lame!" the other exclaimed. I thought that was funny to hear it from them because even though I thought that Bike Route designations were useless, I never really discussed it with others and don’t hear or read much about what people think of them.
A Bike Route, for the uninitiated, is a Class III Bikeway designation that results in a small green sign posted along the route that says Bike Route on it. That’s about it. Since all streets are streets that a cyclist can and will ride, the Bike Route designation has little impact or meaning.
Aside that the streets of LA are littered with signs that don’t really reflect the streets condition nor the paint on the street, I really don’t see anything beneficial in these signs or the chosen routes because I think most people ride on a street based on their personal perception of safety.
The first time I rode on the LADOT’s suggested Bike Routes was probably around 5 years ago during Bike Summer, when a couple of girls hosted a Community Garden tour. They were holding the Bike Route map of Los Angeles upside down, sideways and backwards, trying to figure out how to bridge the gaps and get us from one garden to the next.
It was a frustrating ride (the gardens were beautiful though) not just for them but also for me, as we stood oftentimes in the middle of intersections, in the center turning lane or in driveways to figure out the logic of these non-connecting routes. And there really was no logic except that the City’s Bikeway Classification for Bike Routes is that they "should be designated along streets with characteristics that are more favorable to bicycling than surrounding parallel streets. Favorable characteristics include low traffic volumes, signalized intersections at crossings or wide outside lanes."
There is no other qualification to Bike Routes. Should Bike Routes have certain benefits such as bike parking, better maintenance, enhanced signal sensitivity, supporting "Hug a Cyclist" signs? Nothing about it in the book. Should Bike Routes have any specific maintenance standards? I can’t find anything about that either. Do cyclists get any trip accommodations with traffic signals or signs? Nope.
I ride Bike Routes sometimes when they are on my way to somewhere but in general my experiences on them are not very positive and oftentimes very confusing.
The Los Angeles’ current Draft Bike Plan states that the consultants did a public outreach survey, "where 9% of respondents answered that bicycle routes on major arterials were their most preferred facility, versus 12% of respondents who answered that bicycle routes on local streets were most preferred. For type of facility most needed to reach destination, 15% answered bicycle routes on major arterials and 5% answered bicycle routes on local streets."
This survey doesn’t reveal to us who took the survey, how many filled out the survey and who favored what. Did motorists favor cyclists to be on a side street or did cyclists favor to be on the side streets? Was the survey specific to neighborhoods or just general? What do cyclists want on the local streets? What do they not like about the existing local Bike Routes?
Fountain Blvd turns into a Bike Route twice during a 4 mile stretch (which has bike lane signs every few blocks only to confuse the cyclist as s/he rides and looks for the invisible lanes) and this route places cyclists into the door zone, the street has major cracks and holes at some places, some blocks are dark and the traffic light cutouts are not sensitized for a cyclist.
98th Street has a two block long Bike Route as does San Gabriel for two blocks on Serra Ave.
Woodman, another Bike Route, is notorious for accidents because the street is so wide and fast.
Vine/Rossmore taught me how to bunny hop to avoid bending my wheels because of its horrendous road conditions.
Olympic Blvd. is a street that is so wide and fast, that it could be considered a freeway and if Bike Routes are supposed to encourage new cyclists to get on the road, this street will get a new cyclist right back into their car.
The 405 Freeway is probably safer than Sepulveda Blvd.
I’m not very familiar with East or South LA, but I know when I go through those neighborhoods the streets are mini freeways and there is no way you could convince a new cyclist to use the few designated Bike Routes as a safe option to other routes.
A Bike Route has absolutely no meaning to me as a cyclist. The signs don’t mean anything when drivers squeeze or honk at me, or when I can’t trip the traffic lights with my bike. The Routes don’t mean anything to me when I want to ride home late at night and the designated Bike Routes are dark and ill maintained. The signs mean nothing to me, when I see bikey signs littering our streets that don’t match reality.
As of today, I can’t understand why we would spend money posting little green signs that say Bike Route.
Legally, every street and highway is a Bike Route, unless specifically prohibited by a sign. We can legally ride 1000 miles of freeway in California. We can legally ride all the streets, be it a collector, a highway or a neighborhood street. We can legally ride a bike everywhere where motor vehicles have access (unless prohibited) and I can even ride streets and roads where motor vehicles have no access.
I’m also curious about the usefulness of the Bike Routes when the LADOT includes the mileage in their "Bikeways" report. Designating streets as Bike Routes inflates the LADOT’s report on total Bikeways mileage. "LA has 345 miles of Bikeways!" Check the small print and you’ll find that 151 of those miles consist of nothing more than little green signs that say Bike Route. Hardly an improvement that requires the funding and support of a Bikeways Department.
The Department of Transportation claiming that one street is better for me to ride on than another street is just their way to restrict me to move about freely and it only serves them to get me the hell out of the way of the motorized traffic flow. The Department of Transportation needs to look into its books and reevaluate themselves and their mandate, because their job is to move traffic, not cars. And traffic is you and me and everybody on the streets who moves about by their chosen means of transport.
Now I’ve offered my criticism of Bike Paths, Bike Lanes and Bike Routes. I hope you’ll join me next week where I’ll offer my suggestions for a bikeways network that works.