Following recent street repaving along Montana Ave., you may notice preliminary markings that are a little different than what was there before.
Montana from 17th St. to 7th St. is being redesigned from standard minimum width bike lanes to include the new buffered bike lane treatment that was first implemented on the short length of Bicknell Street in March . In addition to the bike lane upgrade, Montana from 7th to Ocean Ave., which did not previously have bike lanes, will also get buffered bike lanes continuing to the western terminus of Montana, closing yet another gap in the local bike lane network. While Bicknell introduced this new design to the Santa Monica street lexicon, Montana Avenue is a more significant change since it is a popular mixed use and retail oriented corridor.
I consulted with Santa Monica senior transportation planner Michelle Glickert and transportation engineer Jay Dinkins about the status of this project. Dinkins expects the final paint will be down by Wednesday morning of next week for 7th to 17th, but 7th to Ocean may come later. The transition across 7th, where the block narrows and present turn pockets create a tighter choke point, before opening up a little again mid-block further West is a special challenge for planners. While the department is working on a plan, the paint isn’t ready to go down. It’s important to get such a transition right, or it really diminishes the connectivity, especially for those who are more risk adverse.
In order to make this whole design configuration work, a little bit of the extra space is being trimmed out of the standard travel lanes and center turn lane. From 17th to 7th the specs are 7 ft. parking lane, 7 ft. buffered bike lane (3 ft. of which is door zone buffer), 11 ft. vehicle lane, and 10 ft. center left turn lane.
From 7th to Ocean, which is residential in character and does not include a bus route or center turn lane, getting this buffered bike lane to fit will involve 10 ft. travel lanes. A 10 ft. lane configuration is proven to be safe , but is often shunned in many modern street designs that use lanes that are 12 ft. or even wider. It’s great to see Santa Monica is not afraid to stripe 10 ft. travel lanes where it’s appropriate and can benefit other street users.
When I rode up and down the corridor on Thursday morning, people were already largely following the new spray painted guide marks. At one point traveling Westbound I passed 3 ft. vehicles one after another in which a driver was opening their car door. However with the 7 ft. bike lanes, 3 ft. of which are marked as the “buffer”, it was no sweat to ride by. For retail oriented streets with high parking turnover, this is a significant improvement in ride feel. The city’s Bike Action Plan  (warning: link is a 50 mb PDF) also calls for Main Street and Broadway Avenue, which are popular bike corridors, to get similar treatments.
For some people, it may well take the full separation of cycle tracks to feel comfortable riding. Cycle tracks were by far the most popular option on the little sticker boards at prior public meetings concerning possible bikeways. However, these new buffered bike lanes are an easily and cheaply implemented improvement that I expect will increase safety, nudge ridership forward, and offer a little more wiggle room and peace of mind for those already riding.