The Challenge Of Getting The Expo Bikeway Done Right

Expo Bikeway Pico Crossing

After a delay that had left many Expo Line Bicycle Advisory Committee members uncomfortable, given the pace that major elements of bridge construction are, the committee final met again this Tuesday with Expo project representatives. Damien covered some of the concerns going into this meeting in a post last week. Given the significance of this project and the narrowing scope of possibilities with every passing week and month as railway design and construction lock in constraints, it’s important to keep the dialogue going about the Expo bikeway.

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There are a number of specific and detailed issues that have been raised as problematic by myself and other members of the Expo BAC (who are: Aaron Rosenfield, Damien Newton, Jennifer Klausner, Barbara Filet, Jim Shanman, Shannon Burns, and myself), particularly regarding at-grade intersections at major crossings along the route. The most recent meeting was in my opinion a step in the right direction toward being more productive, but we’re still a long ways off from being assured the bikeway will be a first class facility serving the rail corridor.

The top image and the one below, demonstrate the complexity of the current proposal for dealing with the Pico Boulevard intersection. This intersection is a perfect illustration of what we face in attempting to do this bikeway right. As presently proposed, bicyclists heading eastbound must first leave the path, and cross a crosswalk to a tiny triangular island. Then they must cross a second time along a very broad crossing this time, to get to an extended bulb out sidewalk bikeway space. They then make one final crossing at an unsignalized intersection where drivers would be making sweeping turn movements, before finally getting back to a fully separated bikeway. Adding one final insult, the design calls for a narrowed substandard width choke point at a bridge column after the final intersection crossing.

Expo Bikeway Pico CrossingIt was quite telling that well after the meeting adjourned, that I heard an engineer involved in designing the project point out over the large print out of the Pico intersection, how he would design things differently as a human, not as a contractor. What we are doing in our cities is really designing for the machines first, and human concerns are at the periphery.

One suggestion I’ve made to reduce the complexity of these movements at Pico and Exposition is to create a diagonal bike only crossing phase. This type of crossing is a little trick for bridging gaps where a bikeway switches sides, and without adding multiple crossings, that I saw deployed at a few intersections visiting Portland Oregon. This idea was ruled out by LADOT because it would result in other vehicle movements being halted in both directions briefly during the time of the green phase for bike traffic.

Diagonal Bike Crossing To Bridge Bike Path To Bike Lane
A diagonal bike crossing at an intersection with a bike only signal phase that is activated after bike(s) are detected in Portland.

Green time and speed for drivers is a sacred commodity in our system’s hierarchy of considerations. These conveniences are valued above the safety of human lives when you step back and really think about it. So I knew the suggestion was a bit of a long shot. But I’m not willing to drop at least attempting to push for what I think is a good idea just because our system is stacked in favor of driving at every turn.

With a project this big in scope, I could write for pages and pages about the challenges we face along the proposed bikeway, some big like the Pico and some much smaller nuanced. However it’s becoming more clear to me that achieving the final outcomes we want are beyond the scope of this advisory committee, beyond just Metro, or the Expo Authority, the contracted firms, LADOT or Caltrans.

We face a structural systemic problem in the multitudes of regulations, guidelines, and laws that shape the process of our urban development. These root problems produce outcomes that reflect poorly on the values of our culture, such as prioritizing vehicle speed over human health, even on projects that on the surface would appear to be about moving beyond cars. Our institutional overcomplexity, a tendency toward maintaining the status quo, and attempting to sustain the unsustainable, is all completely out of touch with the greatest issues of our time and the dilemmas millennials like myself will face in our lifetimes trying to steer human civilization into balance with ecological and economic limits.

Having committees such as the Expo BAC provides much needed oversight. The project will better for having this input exist. But the committee was formed pretty late in the game and we are boxed in with the deck stacked against emulating what would be best practices in societies that treat bicycling as real transportation.

For example we need reforms to the way California’s CEQA environmental regulations function. I’m sick of watching changes that might benefit public safety and well being compromised or not considered to avoid going back to environmental impact report reviews.  We need to rethink our state guidelines and design manuals. Perhaps most importantly we need push for the political will to make designing bicycle facilities right a real priority, not just a token gesture.

Of course No matter what, the Phase II Expo bikeway will be a huge improvement over nothing in the present condition. However our bar should be set by lofty goals. We have to rise to meet the serious constraints imposed by our diminishing energy reserves, not to mention the crisis of personal health in the United States today among other issues.

Once bicycling is a priority, other changes will start falling into place as the default impediments holding us back are tweaked and reformed by those in a position to do so, and under fire to act. In other words, there is no easy answer or quick fix, we have to tackle this tangled mess from every angle, and at every level.

I’d also like to thank everyone who wrote letters following the LACBC action alert, and to those who made the trek out to the inconvenient meeting time in person. More people demanding better does make a difference, and I felt that was reflected in more responsive answers to questions that had been largely dodged previously. We need all hands on deck on this one if we want a world class facility out of this project.

  • Fester

    The only way around these pre-baked engineering “solutions” is to name and shame the people with the thumbs-up/thumbs-down power. If that is a bureaucrat, get their name and image and make their position quite clear to everyone. Then be rude and mean, and smear them and their department. Work out ways to remove their funding sources and/or have them demoted or fired. It is actually kind of fun to do this sort of thing when you consider the misery they would have in store if their ideas got made real.

  • The Springwater trail in Oregon used to have a crummy, two-phase crossing via 2 crosswalks, to get across a simpler diagonal intersection. It wasn’t as bad as the plans for the Pico crossing above, but it was always frustrating to have that 1 to 2 minute delay when the rest of the route was a fully separated, high-quality bike route. But just this summer the county added a diagonal signal for bikes, and it has made all the difference. The amazing thing is, this wasn’t done by Portland, it was in Clackamas county, which is sort of the equivalent of Riverside County in the LA area. http://bikeportland.org/2011/05/26/bike-only-signal-coming-to-springwater-corridor-in-clackamas-county-53494
    http://bikeportland.org/2012/05/22/springwater-corridor-gets-a-new-bike-only-signal-72143If a suburban, car-oriented area like Clackamas county can do this, then certainly LADOT can give bikes 20 seconds to cross this intersection. 

  • Barbara Filet

    There are a lot of LADOT engineers that really get it and are on our side. Kang Hu said, “We are designing a bike facility for the next 100 years.” The good thing is that this is a dynamic situation and the design of the street can be modified over time as the need becomes more apparent and as values change to support active transportation.

  • jeffwy

    You are a perfect example of just how little your average American understands about how government agencies work.

  • Fester

     @jeffwy:disqus  You are an example of how fearful most people in this country are about getting shit done. Propaganda, hyperbolic personal attacks, emotional ploys – all of these are the tools of effective politics.

    Oh wait, let’s just show up at their office, hat in hand, and ask nice and they will ignore the hundreds strong staff of professional city ruiners with a M.S. degrees to back up their bullshit and the contractors and unions with their campaign bribes already paid.

    How is that working for ya?

  • Anonymous

    The Pico crossing is a tough, tough intersection by any standard. Whenever I consider it, I can’t imagine a solution which would be wholly satisfactory –but I’m no engineer. If the bikeway is used with any frequency –and I believe it will be– then that alone will force any needed improvements. The casual riders who just want to get to the beach, etc. will complain loud and clear until the situation is made better.

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