Review: The Expo Phase II Bike Path Is Going to Be Great…

Having a bike path is pretty great, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few things we could do to make a good bike path a great one.
Having a bike path is pretty great, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things we could do to make a good bike path a great one. All images of the path: Damien Newton

…if they ever finish it.

Advocates for a bicycle path to run parallel to the recently-opened Phase II of the Expo Light Rail Line have long contended that the Exposition Construction Authority viewed the fully-funded separated bike path as an afterthought.

Maybe they were right. The bike path, which officially opened with the rail line on May 20, is a huge step forward for bicycle mobility. However, there are still some portions of the path that don’t seem, well, don’t seem done yet.

Let’s be clear: the bicycle path is a significant upgrade, and Streetsblog and Next have both received many emails praising the path. That being said, there’s still work to be done. And with the Expo Construction Authority closing shop, it’s going to be up to the City of Los Angeles and the City of Santa Monica to finish the job.

After the jump are 11 suggestions with pictures and video illustrating what needs to be fixed before the bike path can really be considered complete. This list only includes the path between its two termini: Overland Avenue in Los Angeles on the east and 17th Street in Santa Monica on the west.

One reader suggested this sign for the entrances...but I'm more concerned about signs for cyclists exiting the path. Photo: Jason Islas
One reader suggested this type of sign for Expo bike path entrances, but I am more concerned about signs for cyclists exiting the path. Photo: Jason Islas

There is no signage at either end of the bike path – And when I say “no signage,” I mean literally not one sign that says the bike path ends. There also aren’t any signs directing bicyclists toward a safe route to continue their ride. If, while riding west, you look back over your shoulder at the Santa Monica terminus, you can see a sign that says “bike path begins.” That’s not enough.

At the path’s Overland Avenue terminus, the problem is worse. There, the only directional arrow points riders south on Overland, but that arrow is not for riders heading off the path; it is supposed to direct people coming from Cheviot Hills toward the path.

On the Santa Monica side, some basic signage is sorely needed. There are good bikeway connections in the area, but people unfamiliar with the vicinity would be well served by directions to the beach, the Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway (MANGo), Santa Monica College, and other destinations. Hopefully this is high on the checklist for GoSaMo, the city’s new educational initiative designed to get people to consider their transportation options before defaulting to driving everywhere.

One reader suggested that there should be some attractive gates marking the start/end of the path in the style of the Santa Monica Pier sign to give a sense of destination and local flair to the path. I like this idea, but I want the other 10 things on this list addressed first.

Expo 2

Many intersections lack street signs – There aren’t a lot of connecting streets with bicycle lanes on them — more on this later — so there will be bicyclists entering and exiting the path at many different intersections. The fact that not every crossing has a road sign indicating the name of the cross street is going to lead to confusion for many new trail users who are trying to get from one place to another, unless their destination is on one of the major cross streets.

Speaking of signage, there are confusing intersections that could use some help directing people where to cross – The Pico/Gateway/Exposition intersection requires people to cross the street three separate times in three different crosswalks in order to continue on the bike path. Bicycling east, there is one sign directing bicyclists to turn right, even though there are two ways to turn right next to the sign. Some basic signage with a diagram would be tremendously helpful for the intersection.

The crossing at Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica requires bicycling onto an island before continuing on the trail. I am guessing it is too much to ask for the signals to be timed so that cyclists can just go straight across, although it really shouldn’t be. Assuming that, another diagram making the crossing clear would be helpful and safe.

Expo 4

Expo 4 part 2
Expo Bike Path End. True, it does end. But not at this intersection.

Signage posted is sometimes confusing or wrong – There are signs directing pedestrians to the sidewalk in areas where the path is not wide enough to be a mixed-use path. Unfortunately, sometimes people think the sign is just directing them to the left of the bike path. Near the intersection with Olympic Boulevard going east, I found a sign noting that the bike path has ended. At this intersection, it has not. Going west, there is a sign showing bikes with a left arrow. It is meant for bikes to stay left after going straight into the narrow alley, so pedestrians can keep to the right.  However, I’ve witnessed more than one bicyclist turn left onto Olympic Boulevard.

How about some signage for cars? Or Metro buses?

How about some signage for cars – Throughout my three trips on the Expo Bike Path for this story, I did not see one sign at an intersection reminding cars that they are crossing a bike path. I did see a handful of signs reminding bicyclists to share the path with pedestrians, which is fine. However, the danger of bicyclists crashing into and killing or seriously harming a pedestrian is much lower than the danger of bicyclists or pedestrians being hit and killed by cars.

Behold! The Stewart Ave. Bike Lanes

Connectivity to the bike path is questionable, especially in Los Angeles – There are no bike lanes connecting to the bike path east of Stewart Street in Santa Monica. There are no bike lanes connecting to the bike path in Los Angeles. This is not the Expo Construction Authority’s fault, but it is a major failure by the City of Los Angeles, in large part because of the anti-safety obstructionism of Councilmember Paul Koretz.

The Santa Monica City Council recently signed off on about $10 million for street safety improvements, including a separated cycle track on 17th Street. Once it’s finished, cyclists reaching the western terminus of the Expo bike path will have a visible and safe route north and south from the bike path, but, as noted above, signage is essential to make sure people know how to get where they are going.

Expo 7

Some intersections do not seem designed for bicyclists – Throughout the Los Angeles part of the bike path, there are no bicycle sensors to trigger lights at crossings. Instead, bicyclists are expected to push the beg button and wait for a signal. While it is great that the intersections have ADA-compliant ramps heading into the intersections, having a one-cut angular curb-cut forces bicyclists to ride out at an angle that may expose them to traffic before aligning again with the bike path. Second, the bumpy texture of the yellow area marking the curb cut is not exactly a friendly surface to bike over.

In some locations, sensors do not work – I sat with my bike on the bike marking at Olympic Boulevard heading west for 150 seconds before someone hit the beg button across the street. Emails have shown similar complaints from bicyclists at other intersections, including the bike sensors going east at the same intersection.

Expo 9

No bike path markings at stations – When bicyclists approach any of the stations, the bike path markings disappear. My notes from the Expo Bicycle Advisory Committee remind me that this was done because the designers were worried that the path markings would encourage bicyclists to cross through the station area at high speeds, endangering pedestrians. My notes also show that the committee managed to beat back a proposal to make every station a mandatory dismount zone.

However, without the markings there is going to be some confusion as to what bicyclists are supposed to do. In Santa Monica, it is illegal for a bicyclist to ride on the sidewalk, so without path markings it is technically illegal to ride a bicycle parallel to any of the three stations in Santa Monica where the markings disappear.

It might seem nitpicky, I mean who would possibly ticket a bicyclist for riding in the area between two well-marked extensions of a bike path? Maybe the same people that gave this guy a ticket for riding without front facing lights?

Signals should allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross when the train is running parallel next to them – When the gates are down, the parallel walk/bike sign should automatically be “on.” This should be a basic and an easy fix.

Expo 11

Sensors sometime force bicyclists to completely block the sidewalk – Yes, my cargo bike is larger than an average bicycle, but the scene above would be even worse with a family of bicyclists using the trail. And, since the sensors seem to be hit or miss, bicyclists might be waiting for a while, obstructing pedestrian cross traffic for much longer than necessary.

(Note: Damien Newton was a member of the Expo Construction Authority Bicycle Advisory Committee.)

  • swervo

    There are actually some sensors along the Los Angeles part of the path, there are induction loops before pretty much every major intersection. It seems like they actually even work at Westwood & Military – if you do about 8-9mph after rolling over them, the light will generally turn green by the time you get there, at least on the weekends. The ones at Sepulveda and Sawtelle might work, but the light cycles there are so long I haven’t been willing to wait and see if it’ll ever change without hitting the beg button.

    If the intention is that rolling over the induction loops will trigger the light to change without needing to hit the walk signal, some signage to that effect would be extremely helpful.

    Also, for some reason, the lights seem to be programmed to change less often on the weekends/non-peak hours. I find that I wait far less time at Bundy during rush hour than I do on the weekend. That’s lead to a very high amount of people sitting there for a while, looking around, realizing there’s no cross traffic in sight, and giving up and running the light.

    Finally, not sure if the protected lane thing on 17th will fix this, but trying to join the path from southbound 17th is really awkward. The entrance is just south of the southeastern corner at the intersection. It should be either a bit back from the intersection to make a left turn after clearing the intersection easier, or at the corner so you can just make the left at Colorado and climb up onto the path. Right now, it’s in this weird middle area where you’re not quite sure what’s going to work. And try riding to it from the station across 17th – you basically have to go past the line of waiting cars and then ride the wrong direction in the bike lane for a short distance to get to the ramp for it.

    Again, very happy to have this path, it’s made my trips to Santa Monica significantly more pleasant than they used to be, and now my wife feels safer riding there, including in the evenings after the sun has gone down. But definitely agree, there are some seemingly easy changes that could really improve things.

  • Fred Zimmerman

    It also should be wider. For much of the path, two bicycles cannot ride abreast in one direction without invading the opposite direction or the pedestrian zone. That’s ok for now—though not ideal—but won’t work if we get to higher usage. Why design something that works only as long as no one uses it?

  • Joe Commuter

    Fix typo in first sentence please.

  • Cyclebrarian

    Agree wholeheartedly. Rode the path the weekend it opened and the wayfinding is sorely lacking. It’s great to have a path, but people shouldn’t have to hunt to figure out how to stay on it.

  • Ari Wilson

    Thanks for this article, it’s great and summarize my experience with the Expo Line bike path well.

  • cablack

    Wow, thank you for covering this. I (possibly stupidly) tried this path out with my seven year-old and one year old on Sunday to return from the Coast event to Westwood on Sunday. There were some really great moments of freedom on the dedicated path, but a lot of iffy moments where we were concerned about finding the path at the stations, struggled to cross Pico, and found ourselves sharing a narrow of way with cars (especially at the beginning in Santa Monica– did we miss the path or was that it??) Overall, the experience is pretty awesome– but it will be much more accessible and safe for all users with the tweaks you mention.

  • effron

    Thank you for covering this Damien.

    So, in other words, the bike path is about as functional and well designed as the train line is?

  • User_1

    You got to remember Damien, this bike path was not designed and constructed by people that use a bike or walk. Maybe next time you use your car to get around?

    I gave a shot to see how well I could get from downtown SM to Culver City station when they still had the new stations closed. Bout 2 wks before opening the new stations. Let me tell you, it was hail! No signage where the bike route stopped and I wasn’t sure I turned the right direction to get back on. I managed, but it’s not like I had confidence I was going the right direction.

    Like the idea on marking the beginning and end of the route. Hopefully they step up and get this thing right. Would be rather embarrassing to put something now yeah?

  • jovertone

    There is no path from downtown to 17th St – they ran out of right of way when the alignment got to Colorado. Where the path ends, I’d recommend the Broadway bike lanes (one block north) for downtown Santa Monica or Michigan Ave (2 blocks south) if you are headed south of the 10

  • Eric W

    Yep! Thanks for bringing some of the bike path shortcomings up. This is the budget period for some fixes to glaring glitches with EXPO, right?

    I believe the idea fixated in the minds of the planners was to bring cyclists the last 1/2 mile to the stations. Not to create a cross city route. Now it’s clear it’s going to be a long distance bike path, some minor improvement would really help make it less of a safety disaster.

    The intersection sensors/lights/magic didn’t work at all when I tested the path after the opening. These should actually work at the start of the project, or Metro is being ripped off. What happened?

    The amazing lack of any bike route signage anywhere in the LA area always startles me. I think there are six signs on, or near, the LA river path – see if you can find ’em :) The non-signage makes me hunt around for a possible route connection the first time I go to a new spot in LA. I usually end up riding on the street. So will most using the EXPO path without a few directional signs.

    Speaking of on the street: it’s an another major shame that the bike path ends at 17th street. And without a word to any connection towards the beach. At the eastern end, it just stops as you get to USC. That drops you into a fast four lane road with no shoulders. Exciting. That ending should be criminal, but is really a big bad surprise if you’re cycling though when there’s car traffic. At least put up a warning sign and show an alternate route.

    Your milage may vary – I hope some sub-contractor is just slow with the signs, and they will appear.

    Maybe this should become a DIY project, since no government agency wants it. The AAA did signs for motorists in the 1920’s, so here’s a good mission for LACBC. Lets put up some signs!

  • matteos80

    So is it actually do-able in reasonable safety to cycle from Culver city to Santa Monica now? Or do these gaps and other issues make the whole thing pointless?

  • THEmeanMRmustard

    Great points! Thanks for hitting on a lot of what needs to be fixed.

    One of the most dangerous intersections, in my opinion, is at Sawtelle and Exposition.

    Going East cyclists are forced to curve out into traffic because of the direction the ramp faces at this corner.

    Once you ride through the ramp one must then deal with the freeway column which creates a blind turn.

    The maneuver required to make it across these obstacles creates a right curve onto traffic, then a left turn up the ramp and finally an immediate right to continue heading east on the sidewalk. This is a bit difficult to orchestrate in the very tight space.

    I realize that column is a structural necessity (supporting the freeway). The corner could still be improved with a simple extension of the ramp (so it’s accessible just north of the corner too). This would create a straight path for cyclists which would fix most visibility issues as well as create better movement for cyclists and pedestrians crossing.

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