First Steps in Culver City, Connecting Downtown to the Expo Station

Sharrows on Wesley Street. For more photos of the Downtown Connector, visit our ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/29300710@N08/sets/72157627087432231/with/5988478325/##Flickr Page.##

(This week L.A. Streetsblog will be looking at the projects completed as part of a PLACE Grant awarded to Culver City in 2008. Part of that grant was a “physical project” that would demonstrate the city’s committment to creating a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly atmosphere. Don’t forget to tag any responses with #ccsb.)

As part of every PLACE Grant, each of the five municipalities had to complete a physical project to demonstrate the goals of the grant.  The main goal of Culver City’s grant was to create the Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative, the city’s first serious attempt to do long-term planning for bicycling and pedestrian projects.  However, the city also needed to complete a “Downtown Connector” that would provide safe and comfortable passage for cyclists and pedestrians between the future Expo Line Station and Downtown Culver City. The city just completed the connector project in the last several weeks.

City officials chose to create a bike route from the station to the east and Downtown Culver City.  The route is complete with informational and directional signage and Shared Lane Markings (Sharrows) on the road where appropriate.  The 1.1 mile route begins at the signalized intersection of Wesley Street and National Boulevard and snakes down local roads Wesley Street, Higuera Street, Lucerne Avenue,  and Irving Place before ending at Culver Boulevard in the east end of Culver City’s Downtown.  Going the other direction, the connector starts at the intersection of Culver and Van Buren Blvd. before turning east on Lucerne.  Both Van Buren and Irving are one way streets.

John Rivera, the PLACE Coordinator for Culver City, explains that the project is about more than just connecting two fixed points.  “The physical project is designed specifically to aid movement from the East Culver City Area to the Downtown Culver City Area and the city as a whole.  It is informed by the plans that are being developed as part of the Expo Light Rail/Bikeway project which connects the Ballona Creek Bike Path to the area around the Expo Station.”

For many cyclists, this comes as a welcome addition.  “My biggest complaint as a bicyclist in Culver City is that riding into and through our Downtown is difficult,” says Dino Parks, a member of the city’s Citizen Advisory Committee for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative.

Follow the bike route all the way Downtown. For more photos of the Downtown Connector, visit our ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/29300710@N08/sets/72157627087432231/with/5988478325/##Flickr Page.##

Parks explains that the Connector is about more than just connecting two fixed points.  “By design it connects 2 major destinations, but also has further potential.  At Lucerne and Van Buren, it is 2 blocks from the Duquesne entrance to the Ballona Creek Bike Path.  Also the potential exists to extend the route along Duquesne to Farragut and over to the Culver City Education Complex at Elenda.  Once extended, it would be a bike route to 4 schools.”  The current Connector goes directly past Linwood E. Howe Elementary School near the western terminus of the project.

Before this project was completed, Culver City had just under four and a quarter miles of bike facilities total, including two and a half miles of Ballona Creek Bike Path, one mile of bike lanes in the northern boundary of the city, and .72 miles of bike path along Culver Boulevard.  This Downtown Connector is 1.1 miles long and provides a template for the “Bicycle Friendly Street” concept outlined in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative.

Yet, Parks and some other cycling advocates aren’t completely satisfied with the project.  There was debate between city staff and many of the members of its citizen advisory committee on whether or not the selected route makes the most sense for a bicycle and pedestrian connector.  Advocates want to see a better connection for non-motorized transportation options along Washington Boulevard, the largest street that runs all the way from the east to west boundaries of the city.

“Downtown is my neighborhood,” says Meghan Sahli-Wells, the Chair of the Culver City Downtown Neighborhood Association and another member of the advisory committee. “I like the Downtown Connector, but we need to get serious about Washington Boulevard.”

A route down Washington Boulevard would be significantly shorter than the winding route down local streets. However, to avoid placing novice cyclists who might use the Expo Line for a day trip to Culver City or residents who are just learning or re-learning how to ride, in with regular traffic, bike lanes that would require removing mixed-use lanes would be required.  Consider maps of the two routes:


View Larger Map

View Larger Map

Removing mixed-use lanes is a major political lift, and one that Culver City isn’t ready to make, at least as this point.  None of the projects in the newly-passed Bicycle Master Plan require lane removal, and the plan for the Downtown Connector was created before the outreach plan created an active constituency for bicycling projects.

One of those cycling advocates, Darren Kessner, a former member of the advisory committee and a founding member of the Culver City Bicycle Coalition gives both sides of the argument.  “Most cyclists would probably prefer to ride on Washington Blvd. with a bike lane. But this is a nice and easy way to get into Culver City.”

But Rivera and Culver City planners take issue with the idea that “most cyclists” would prefer bike lanes on Washington Boulevard.  “The idea is to get more people out on bikes that wouldn’t normally try it.  Most of those people aren’t going to be comfortable getting on Washington Boulevard.  We even heard people say they didn’t like walking on Washington Boulevard with the volume of cars going by and the proximity (of the cars) to the right-of-way.”

Rivera continues, “The route that we did services cyclists.  It services pedestrians.  It connects people to their schools in a more direct fashion.  It provides more direct access for people to their schools   It serves the community better than just putting bike lanes on Washington…But, we couldn’t put a bike lane on Washington unless we take right of way.”

So how is the route?

Streetsblog completed two site visits to the physical project and rode it on a bicycle and drove through in a car.  On the east end of the project, the sidewalk bumps in to the street calming car traffic and sending a message even clearer than signs on the roadside or markings on the street that this is a street that is safe for the community and for the people traveling through the area.  Despite the couple of turns, the ride was as safe and easy on the bicycle as it was in the car.  The route seems an excellent one for novice riders, even if it is a seemingly unnecessary detour for those more experienced.

It’s hard to get a perfect read on whether or not the project is “working” at this point because the Expo Station hasn’t opened yet and won’t open until early 2012.

However, one area where the new project falls short is that once cyclists reach Downtown, they are dropped on to Culver Boulevard without great facilities on the street or adequate bike parking.  Rivera even admits that many bike parking facilities in Downtown aren’t well marked and are hard to find but also provides hope that there is a plan to make things better for cyclists looking to park their bikes.

“There are bike racks throughout the Downtown area.  They’re not identified, they’re just scattered throughout.  There’s some near the theatre, those aren’t the best.  As we can change them out, we will.” Rivera continues, “As part of the PLACE initiative, we’ve put together a parking analysis of the city, and we’re finalizing that right now.  The implementation is dependent on funding.  As we finalize that, we’ll apply for grants and hopefully we can switch them out soon.”
But for now, Culver City can be proud of its new Downtown Connector.  For a city that traditionally hasn’t invested in cycling infrastructure, this project marks a good first step in creating a safe and attractive network for cyclists.

Damien Newton wrote this story while participating in The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

  • Interesting. Not being familiar with the area, some more photographs from the street level would have been appreciated. 

    Any idea why the Van Buren was chosen for route to/from Lucerne, and not Irving?

  • Cerwing02

    Great article! For those of us in the area that frequent these streets on bikes, the article gives a perfect summary of road conditions as well as a peek into what the future has in store. Any word on how Culver City plans to complete bike path in the right of way from Ballona Creek to Wesley ??

  • Give us a day or two.  We’ll have a detailed review of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative on Thursday…

  • Irwinc

    I bike to Downtown CC often and I agree the route will be easy for novice bike riders. However, the commuters likely to use Expo line, this route is largely symbolic if borders on useless. CC’s refusal to modify Washington to make it pedestrian and bike friendly is the core issue. Bike usage on Washington is significant not only in the Downtown prescient by all the way out towards Costco. The entire length of Washington in CC and Overland are wide enough to accommodate bike lanesbut CC has steadily refused to add either streets to its bike path plan.

  • Hi Evan – Irving and Van Buren are both one-way streets, one goes toward Downtown CC, the other away from it.

  • Meghan–thanks. I thought that might have been it, but when I looked at the streets close up on the satellite view, I saw cars parked on both sides of the street facing opposite directions, like they were two-way streets.

  • Ken Ruben

    I live in Culver City and I am familiar with all of the streets mentioned.

    I didn’t know about the grant and info submitted by Damien Newton until today.

  • Mark Elliot

    Thanks for the route profile and the look back at a the process that led to the CCBC creation. I think the points made about the merit of the route only suggest that we need not talk about either/or bike facilities, but both/and. 
    Culver City and regional cyclists need a safe through route connecting points east and west , and both Culver and Washington boulevards are of course the logical choices. They define Culver City’s downtown and link key sites. Whether for transportation or for local travel to the heart of town, adding bike-friendly facilities to these corridors must be on the agenda. Cyclists are road users!
    But then there is the benefit of local routes. With a bike plan in hand, the city should have a scheme for linking the center to adjacencies such as schools and parks – the constituent building blocks of neighborhoods. This is where the local routes (like the one profiled come in).
    My experience in Beverly Hills transportation folks suggests that they want to limit choices at the outset to what they believe are the least-resistance inspiring options (i.e., shoot small) and then force a choice from suboptimal options.    
    But I think it’s a hazard for bike advocates to be corralled into choosing if we’re not presented with all of the options – heavy lift and otherwise. After all, we’re talking about transportation planning and improvements, not frilly amenities. We’re talking about road safety, not merely recreation. Commuters not merely newbies.

  • The Sharrows on Lucerne in front of my place are a welcome addition. Already the markings and signs say: “Bikes belong here, too!” and I’ve enjoyed riding the tree-lined streets that I would have otherwise avoided by taking my usual route down Duquesne. 

    I echo the shortcomings already mentioned:
    Sure, the route goes Downtown…then what? Downtown must get MUCH more bike and pedestrian friendly to generate the intended traffic on the Connector.

    Sharrows should have been continued all the way to Ballona Creek, the most-biked route in Culver City. Why not??

  • Steve Herbert

    As someone who rides a bike for groceries from Costco from the tri-school area, it’s true that Washington isn’t configured for bikes and has the room for it.   Still, the bike path down Culver Blvd from Elenda to where it ends at McConnel in LA (MDR outskirts) works quite well and then it’s easy work to snake through the neighborhood up to Glenco & Washington into Costco.  4.4 miles each according to my GPS tracker on today’s trip in fact.   

    CC really does need to expand and extend Washington west of downtown, but there are several good alternatives heading that direction now.

  • michael_ames

    I’m just moving to CC on Monday and eager to see firsthand what the biking situation is like. The tree-lined residential streets will be enjoyable to ride – whether as designated bike lane streets or not – but I am sad that the city isn’t welcoming bikers on Washington. 
    Around Sony it isn’t the best, but certainly the eastern part around the bakery seems ripe for cyclists. It’s (relatively) commercially dense and doesn’t feel as wide or scary due to the median. 

    If the city doesn’t encourage us to bike on Washington, at least they could beef up bike racks at cross streets on either side. Having bike access through CC is important, but being able to stop off at points all along the path – close to stores and restaurants – is even more so. 

  • michael_ames

    I’m just moving to CC on Monday and eager to see firsthand what the biking situation is like. The tree-lined residential streets will be enjoyable to ride – whether as designated bike lane streets or not – but I am sad that the city isn’t welcoming bikers on Washington. 
    Around Sony it isn’t the best, but certainly the eastern part around the bakery seems ripe for cyclists. It’s (relatively) commercially dense and doesn’t feel as wide or scary due to the median. 

    If the city doesn’t encourage us to bike on Washington, at least they could beef up bike racks at cross streets on either side. Having bike access through CC is important, but being able to stop off at points all along the path – close to stores and restaurants – is even more so. 

  • Jason Morris

    i think  when the line ios finished it should be called the Santa Monica Line.

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