Oppose the Expo Line or Wilshire Bus Only Lanes? Then You Probably Want to Fight Bike Lanes Too.

(Note: The Westside Neighborhood Council contacted me to clarify that they have not taken a position on the lanes being debated at this community meeting. I even snarked that they “continued their streak of opposing everything.” Oops. I have struckthrough their name below and offer my apologies. – DN)

From the start, it looked like a bad night for bicycle advocates on the Westside.

Existing bicycle lanes on Westwood. Image: ##https://www.change.org/petitions/we-support-bicycle-lanes-on-westwood-between-santa-monica-and-national##Change.org##

Before the evening began, a post on L.A. Observed by Mark Lacter layed down the stakes for Westside residents at the LADOT and City Planning community meeting on 5 Bike Plan projects on the Westside. It’s normal people versus cycling zealots in a battle over public space. Emails from homeowner’s groups were similarly dire.

Despite the efforts of advocates, especially the Bike Coalition’s (LACBC’s) Eric Bruins to “community activists” about how bike lanes and other traffic calming devices are good for all road users; Lacter and many of those present last night at the “community meeting” can’t seem to see past their windshield.

The city came prepared. A team of planners and members of LADOT Bikeways showed up ready to answer questions about the proposals. During their presentation they pointed out that currently the proposed bike lanes would be the only North-South Bike Lanes in the local network. Also approval of the lanes is part of a longer timeline than just a meeting last night for any project deemed controversial.

While many cyclists did brave the bad weather to attend the meeting, many of the “neighborhood advocates” wanted to, in the words of Lacter, not give up any of “their” space to bicyclists.

The most sensible of the comments came from Colleen Mason-Heller, a longtime opponent of the Expo Line and one of the Chairs of Neighbors for Smart Rail. Heller noted that the bicycle plans for Westwood and the traffic studies for the Expo Line weren’t in sync. The Expo traffic studies assume two lanes of traffic in each direction, while the Bike Plan removes one of the south bound lanes. Streetsblog reported yesterday on an LACBC proposal, that LADOT voiced support for, that would address this concern.

Mason-Heller also asked whether there was any study done on the impact to the local street network adjacent to Westwood. For example, if more car traffic moves from Westwood onto local streets, how will that impact quality of life, the safety of pedestrians in the community and air quality for homes separated from the major street.

The worst commentary came from Sandy Brown of the Holmby-Westwood Homeowners Association, who after clarifying their strong support for cycling in the hypothetical stated their opposition to any bicycling project that impacts her or her car-driving neighbors in anyway whatsoever. Cars are a fact she argued non-sensically before stating that she was opposed to any lanes on Westwood or Sepulveda.

Also speaking in opposition were representatives from the the Westwood Business Council, Westwood Home Owner’s Association, Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowner’s Association, Brentwood Community Council and several other local residential and business groups.

In total, thanks in large part to outreach from the LACBC, Ride Westwood! and the UCLA Bicycle Coalition, the total number of speakers against the proposals was roughly equal to those speaking in favor of the proposals. As one speaker against noted, the vast majority of those speaking against were older while the majority of those speaking for were younger.

Towards the middle of the testimony, Bruins tried to assuage the crowd by pointing out this is the beginning, not the end, of the discussion on these bicycling projects and that the LACBC was happy to reach out to any homeowner’s or community group that had questions or concerns. Noting that half of the trips in the impacted project area are less than three miles, even a small mode shift would more than make up for any travel lanes that were being removed. This did little to assuage the concerns of the opposition, an opposition that earlier heckeled a study that showed no net-loss of parking in the area due to the new lanes with the additional parking being added locally in other areas.

Another difference between the “pro” and “anti” factions last night, joining age and tone, was the content of the debate. Opponents of the lanes focused their complaints about convenience. Increased travel time will make it inconvenient to get home. Loss of some street parking makes it inconvenient to get to a favorite restaurant if you drive there.

By comparison, many cyclists talked about safety. There is no safe way to travel north or south on bicycle in the area around Sepulveda and Westwood between National and Santa Monica Boulevard.  Neighborhood streets don’t provide lights to cross the street. The major thoroughfares require cyclists to share space with vehicle traffic. It’s not safe.

Janette Sadik-Khan, the visionary commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation once commented that supporters of bicycle, pedestrian, or transit projects should always point to safety. These projects are proven to make streets safer, and who can argue against safety?

It’s too bad Sadik-Khan isn’t visiting Los Angeles until next week. She might have been able to meet some people who’s personal convenience always outweighs the safety of others if she were around last night.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether the impacts of bike lanes on large streets such as Sepulveda and Westwood Boulevards are good or bad for the community as a whole. Mason-Heller’s comments in particular raised some good points and some good places for the city to continue its study. However, too often last night’s discussion wasn’t about raising good points, but about fear of any change that would impact one’s drive time.

15 thoughts on Oppose the Expo Line or Wilshire Bus Only Lanes? Then You Probably Want to Fight Bike Lanes Too.

  1. At forums people speak from their personal viewpoint. Which can often be short-sighted and parochial. Fear is a powerful force even when it is based in nothing more than emotion. You can address concerns but the underlying motive is disconnected from the particulars. Often you end up just marshalling the facts and take solace that staff are reality based. The downside is electeds will often pander to whatever the majority opinion is even when it is ill informed. This dynamic is at times the stuff of lawsuits (cf Beverly Hills and its “no subway under the high school” mania)…

  2. It is always the old coots that have time on their hands to attend these meetings who are opposed to everything whether it is trains, busways, bikeways, anything….

    Can’t imagine the fight there will be for the Bundy bike lane.  The Brentwood Community Council will undoubtedly oppose as they do everything.   This is a critical lane that will link Expo to the community, but I am sure the rallying cry will be how can you slow me down when I am going to the freeway.

  3. “bus lanes are a disaster”.

    Could you spare a few examples? BTW, strictly speaking the only exclusive bus lane in L.A. County is the Orange Line. The transitways on the 10 and 110 also allow carpools (and now w/ExpressLanes anyone can pay to use the 110 [and in a week also the 10] even when driving solo via a transponder).

  4. They mow down the blind curves between Montana and Wilshire, in the dark, in the rain, to get to the freeway. It’s crazy.

  5. There is a huge disconnect between the “everyman” perspective of drivers in LA and reality. The reality is that urban, surface streets, in LA rarely allow an average speed above 18 to 20 mph – though the driver experiences that as 0 mph at red light, 45 mph mid-block, 0 mph at red light, etc.

    The majority of delay driver experience is at lights, and not mid-block. If drivers were to chill out on the gas pedal, and cruise their average driving speeds – we’d all be safer and they would psychologically not feel the toll of their actions by sitting, queued up at lights all the time.

    We are right-sizing these roads. People often complain about speeding on their block and then ask the LAPD to help – well, folk, the cops can’t be there 24/7 and tickets don’t stop the next guy who floors it on a street designed with highway-width lanes to get to the corner faster than the next person.

    If a street is designed for 18 to 20 mph cruising speeds (as these bike lanes can assist in doing), then we’re looking a REAL method of lowering speed limits across LA.

    We are also looking at ensuring that when crashes occur they are less likely to be fatal for all types of road user groups.

    Sadly, none of this gets through to the people opposed to bike lanes. What really works is numbers and energy. We need to get together and write letters of support for these projects at parties of some sort. We need to hold more rides to support these lanes. We need more, and more, and more energy – because bitch all they want the political energy is behind these lanes and not the status quo.

    Finally, was Alex Thompson at this meeting? Where is the esteemed Mihai Peteau and Stephen Box? These are three people who I know lobbied hard for a Backbone Bike Network – and got it! We need their intensity at whatever is coming next with these westside lanes.

  6. disastrous bus lanes:
    * downtown San Jose — empty and used for parking most of the time; along with the one-way nature of the streets, kills all street activity, lends to increased violent including violent crime, with corresponding massive tax base losses
    * San Francisco, Geary/O’Farrell street — empty except when ignored by drivers; cyclists harassed if/when they attempt to ride in them; confusing to drivers
    * Bogota, Colombia/Transmilenio — all of them, for the same reasons all bus-only lanes are disasters; force a massive amount of cars into a tiny footprint, unnecessarily driving up congestion; removes any possibility for protected bike lanes; created dangerous walking conditions; creates intense air pollution, poisoning children in particular the city over, with corresponding deaths and health care costs
    * Orange line bus lines socal — this is just a massive freeway, so these ‘bus lanes’ are bad for all the same reasons that massive freeways are bad.

    Bus-only lanes, BRT, whatever label you want to put on it — General Motors loves them all.

  7. Ubrayj02, you bring up an interesting point. Page 24 of the Expo Line EIR shows that the  traffic in the surrounding area had an average speed in 2005 during AM peak hours of 28 MPH. The report anticipates a drop to an average speed of 20 MPH by 2030.

    According to professor Paul Tranter in the book City Cycling, motorists usually underestimate the costs and overestimate the average speed of their journey.

    He also said “The car will save time only if the time saved in traveling is greater than the work time required to earn the money to pay for the machine.” Motorists and government seem to ignore the time spent earning the money to pay for the transportation costs, or the time spent “winding up the spring”, as he puts it. 

    During the PM peak hours, the average speed in 2005 was 26 MPH and this is expected to drop down to 17 MPH.

    http://backup.buildexpo.org/phase2/Phase%202%20FEIR%20Documents/03-02_Transportation-Traffic_FEIR.pdf

  8. Dennis, those numbers aren’t so straightforward as one would think.

    The 16mph you cite is for the “NO BUILD” option, with the Light Rail option(s) allegedly speeding things up 1 mph.

    The “study area” is a bunch of streets around the Expo Line, and not one street in particular – and the stretches of street in the Expo study area are bereft of the street life and design characteristics that typically slow down average car speeds. There isn’t a whole lot of massed housing or high foot traffic retail on some of the streets – which is what, I believe, skews the average miles per hour cited upwards to 26 mph.

    Further, that is the EIR for a train, and not a bike lane.

    It isn’t a problem that we are normalizing urban surface street car speeds with a road diet to around 20 mph. This is a big benefit for every user group on the road except those who want highway travel times in the middle of the city. So long as the experience of motorists is managed (using the now fully integrated ATSAC signal timing system) to keep perceived delay down, I don’t see how this is a big issue. Saving those first and last minutes in a car trip to the freeway is one of the stupidest things a city can concern itself with. The lifeblood of local retail, of residential property values, of livability itself is NOT how fast one can drive only to wait for 45 seconds at a street light.

  9. I was very happy for the few parents that got up to speak that talked about how they don’t feel safe letting their kids on bikes as the roads are currently designed. They talked about wanting to ride with their children places, and that they would use the lanes.

    Another favorite moment was when one gentleman talked about how because he was 65, he could never ride a bike, he’s simply too old. The next guy that got up to speak was 68, and he talked about how he rides his bike every single day.

    The gray-hairs were very very upset that they might lose a travel lane and parking during peak-hours, the very time when they probably won’t be driving. Who drives during rush hour when you’re retired and don’t have anywhere to go? One woman said that losing parking during peak hours would hurt her business, because people want to eat dinner between 5-8. Who the heck eats dinner at 5?! I can only think of one demographic…

  10.  I’m not sure what you mean when you say that the bus lanes on Geary are “empty except when ignored by drivers”.  It looks like most of the day, there’s a bus every 7-10 minutes.  I’m not actually sure how many people are on each bus, or what the travel speed is of the cars or buses, but I suspect that it’s carrying at least half as many people as a car lane would.  If we turned that lane over to mixed traffic, the buses would run much slower, which would mean that the same number of drivers and buses would only run every 12-15 minutes, which would put more of those people into cars.

    I don’t see how this bus lane could qualify as a disaster.

  11. i would hope there’s a bus at least once a minute, if not several a minute, on what might be the busiest travel corridor in all of san francisco, but wow….a single bus every 7-10 minutes? that would be an incredible waste of asphalt if that were the case, but not even i think it’s that bad.

    as for any alleged slowdown of buses, i suspect, as with most bus-only lanes in america, the slowdown is minimal. so, over the entire course of the Geary route, a person riding the entire length/route might save a minute or two — that’s it. 

    it’s a catastrophe when you consider that we’ve favored motorized transport over non-motorized _even more_ than it already was. 

    buses over bikes…phew…gonna kill me.

  12. I rarely drive. My average speed is always around 15mph, and i almost never pay for gas. Why is it I’m the only one who’s ALWAYS on time when everybody else is driving?

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