Will Burbank Cheat on Its Diet?

The new Verdugo.  Photo: ##http://lacbc.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/verdugoafter2.jpg##LACBC Blog##

The new Verdugo. Photo: LACBC Blog

Last March, the City of Burbank repaved Verdugo Avenue and repainted the street to remove a car travel lane and add a bike lane.  While the plan had been on the books since the passage of the city’s bike plan in 2003, the Burbank City Council only approved the road diet for a six month trial period.  To make certain policy, not funding issues, would decide whether or not the diet stays; the Council passed approved enough funds for the diet and, if necessary, funds to remove the diet all at once last year.

Verdugo was chosen because it was a four lane road without a significant amount of automobile traffic.  After the diet, one of the lanes has been converted to a bike lane, and a turn lane was added at many intersections.  One planner in the City of Burbank Community Development Department referred to the new road design as a “thing of beauty.”

Next week, the Road Diet goes on trial.  The City Council will hear this item at the regularly scheduled meeting at 6:00 pm on Tuesday November 2nd 2010 in the City Council Chambers 275 East Olive Avenue Burbank, CA 91502.

As we’ve seen elsewhere, people who value the ability to drive quickly on local streets are rallying to get the diet removed.  A petition has been circulating amongst commuters asking the Council to re-stripe the street back to its former four lanes of glory.  However, the bike lane and road diet are also receiving supportive calls and emails, often from cyclists or people that live along the avenue.

But putting aside the politics, the real question that the City should consider is whether or not the road is functioning better after the diet was installed last March.  Unlike the diet on Wilbur Avenue in the Valley, the goal of this diet is to increase the number of cyclists using the road.  Based on traffic studies taken before and after the diet, here’s what we know.

Traffic moving the length of Verdugo Avenue are not seeing more delay than they were before the diet.  The average time difference for a car traveling from one end of Burbank to the other on Verdugo is a full one second slower than it was before the diet.  In other words, the difference is negligible.  The distance between cars is reduced, but the drive time is pretty much the same.

However, there have been some difficulties for drivers as a result of the diet.  Motorists turning left on to Verdugo are having a tough time as those reduced distances are making left hand turns more difficult.  Not all is lost for those left-turning drivers.  There are plenty of traffic lights on Verdugo, but there has been a slight uptick in traffic on local streets.

The next question is whether or not the bike lanes are helping.  Burbank completed bicycle traffic counts along Verdugo last Spring and this fall and found nearly 200 bikes on one count and 220 on another between 6:00 A.M. and 11:00 P.M.  While this might not sound like a lot, it is roughly 2% of the total traffic on Verdugo, well above the city average.  Since the goal was to improve the number of cyclists using the road, it would appear that the diet, and new bike lane, are a success.