Op/Ed: Lessons from Minneapolis for Bike Planning in Los Angeles

Minneapolis. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/latinourbanforum/##Latino Urban Forum##

Biking in Minneapolis is a rejuvenating experience because it allows me to think. By integrating the natural environment into the biking experience, the city sets a high standard for developing urban bike infrastructure that allows for stress-free travel around town. Like Los Angeles, Minneapolis has horrible commercial streets for biking. But most of the city’s tree-lined residential streets have little traffic and few parked cars making them calm and a safe alternative.

James Rojas Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/latinourbanforum/##Latino Urban Forum/Flickr##

While most bike advocates in L.A. squabble over the green paint on Spring Street or getting a bike lane on Colorado or Figueroa the real challenge to improve the biking experience – attracting potential older cyclists – is never addressed.  We should not only be discussing the quantity but quality of the bike infrastructure.

A few years back I lived in downtown L.A. and would bike a mile from 7th and Spring to Union Station. It was a horrible experience with cars honking or shooting out from driveways in front of me.  Urban biking scares me because unlike a car where you have a rear view mirror on a bike you do not.  So I must rely on my ears to alert me of dangers behind me.  All the noise in downtown L.A. was exhausting. Besides the beach or river bikeways L.A. lacks comfortable biking routes.

L.A.’s bike infrastructure can and should learn from other successful local projects.

Boyle Height’s Evergreen Cemetery Jogging path is the perfect stress free place to jog because there is only one curb cut for a mile and half and it is in the middle of the community. People from all ages jog on this rubberized sidewalk. This should be our standard for bike infrastructure.

These are a few other lessons learned from biking in Minneapolis:

•   Width: Bike lanes and paths should be wide to handle three to four bikers in tandem. Wider lanes allows people to bike at various speeds.

•   Pacing:  We should minimize how many times we have to stop while biking so people can get their stride on. In Minneapolis I bike for miles with few stops around the lakes or greenways in the middle of the city. 

•   Sight:  What we see should be pleasing. Less is more when biking.  Urban design along bike ways should feather rhythmic and constant patterns, such as a row of trees, and houses. Biking should highlight panoramic views to settle the mind like looking at the sunset over the beach, lakes, or fields.

•   Noise: Whenever possible noises should be pleasant like sound of wind, rushing leaves, chirping birds, running water, and children playing. Somehow these sounds make us feel relaxed.

•   Smell: Local smell of honey suckle and other flowers is important. The smell of salt air makes biking at the beach attractive. The smell of bakeries, BBQs and others can enhance the experience.

•   Size: When developing bike friendly cities size matters because most bike-friendly places work based on how far the human body can bike comfortably. I give biking the 20 to 30 minute rule. If you have to bike beyond that time it’s a chore. People like to bike in their communities. L.A. should develop strong neighborhood bike plans, projects and infrastructure.

•   Location: Biking infrastructure should be integrated with parks and nature. In Minneapolis this integration has led to new housing developments along the Greenway and even created a bike-oriented district.

The real change in biking will occur when we see people over 50 biking in L.A. I know this is a tall order but the city has to develop high standards.

  • Anonymous

    “unlike a car where you have a rear view mirror on a bike you do not.”

    I got one of those mirrors that snaps into the end of your handlebars. It’s fantastic and I recommend it for all bikers. A few weeks ago I borrowed a friend’s bike that didn’t have a mirror and I felt so unsafe. They’re cheap. You can get the ones that attach on to your helmet too but I prefer the bar end ones.

  • brianmojo

    While we’re at it, bike lanes should buy me free lattes from Starbucks & give me a shoulder rub.

    Seriously, though, I understand where this op/ed’s coming from, but it’s an uphill battle just to get bike lanes that go to useful locales in place at all. I feel like worrying about what we’re smelling while we bike is going to have to be a secondary goal. So much of this just depends on cleaning up the city in general and less on where the actual lanes are going in.

  • Anonymous

    James, the major opportunity that we have in Los Angeles to accomplish what you are talking about is what DOT refers to as “bicycle-friendly streets”. In other communities, they are called bike boulevards. The essential idea is to take a neighborhood-level streets (in LA parlance I think the preferred type of street would be what is classified as a local collector street) and make them more friendly for bikes, and less friendly to cars. The simplest thing to do is turn all of stop signs against cross traffic only, and then put barriers every so often along the route to allow bikes but not cars to pass through. Another element going up the scale is to put bike crossing infrastructure (lights) at intersections with major streets, but install curbing diverting cars to right turns. Above that, maybe roundabouts, and on and on.

    The interesting thing as someone who bikes a lot in neighborhoods far from the hustle and bustle of downtown, is that most of the residential neighborhoods in LA are exceedingly pleasant to bike in. They are just as you say, “sound wind, rushing leaves, chirping birds, running water, and children playing, bakeries, BBQ’s, parks, etc.” You can go pretty deep into South Central, way out on the Eastside, or even a block or two from the 405 in Westwood, and that’s still going to be the status quo in most residential areas. The problem is that (1) there isn’t mapping and routes to suggest and enable people to take advantage of neighborhood streets in neighborhoods that are unfamiliar to them; and (2) the neighborhoods can (mostly) only be connected by traversing the busy boulevards between them. But that’s where a bit of investment in refurbishing and/or building new pedestrian/bike bridges, bike-only crossings of major streets, protected bike lanes on busy streets that are needed to connect neighborhood routes, etc. could go a long ways.

    In the interim, I would suggest that if you are going somewhere that might be within a 20-30 minute bike ride, click on to Google Maps satellite view and see if you can chart a course taking mostly neighborhood routes. The other things is that biking on the sidewalk is legal in L.A. as long as you act reasonably, and if it means slowing down a bit and connecting a couple of neighborhood streets with a couple of blocks of sidewalk riding, to me, that’s what you should do. I do it all the time. LA has plenty of sidewalks with very little pedestrian traffic and good visibility for potential threats and harms, and at slow speeds, it’s basically a safe Class I bike path!

  • I was thinking the same thing when I was editing, but I let it go since this was clearly a straight opinion piece. I was hoping someone would bring it up. Maybe we’ll get James one :)

  • Mark R. Brown, AICP

    Cycle Tracks/buffered bike lanes in DTLA and other high demand areas are key, even if it means taking traffic lanes. It’s really the only way to get a critical mass of novice and older riders.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Sidewalks in LA are of course notorious for the poor quality of the paving. In parts of my neighborhood it just isn’t possible to ride a bike for a full block on the sidewalk, because successive blocks of concrete are several inches apart in height.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    It sounds like what you’re suggesting is that our “bicycle-friendly streets” ought to be more like greenways than like streets with traffic calming. If bicycle advocates and water quality advocates team up, then perhaps some streets that are old creek beds could be restored to a more natural state. The LA River is one opportunity we have to create a pleasant naturescape along a major travel corridor, but there are lots of neighborhood streets that cover up what were once creeks and rivers that could be used for the same sort of thing on a smaller scale.

  • Anonymous

    Reason #84 that I fail to understand why everyone is so fixated on narrow tire bicycles. They’re slower than wider tires, contrary to popular belief, but even if you were to lose a few seconds on a 30 minute ride, there isn’t any surface in LA that I can’t ride over with my wide tires. Until you get to lava field, it’s all good!

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