Yesterday, Carter Rubin and I were in Northeast L.A. on our way to a meeting at Occidental College and we had a chance to stop in and visit with Josef Bray-Ali st the Flying Pigeon Bike Shop (see ad on the right). I commented that the “D.I.Y. Sharrows” that appeared along some local streets connecting the Gold Line Station with Figueroa street were finally taken up. LADOT had promised to remove the road markings when they were put up, one year and a couple of days ago, but Bray-Ali pointed out I was wrong. “They’re still there, they’re just faded.”
And he’s right. A quick trip down the block showed Sharrows as far as the eye could see. While we could use this opportunity to roll our eyes at LADOT and Bureau of Street Services for not being organized enough to blast these Sharrows off the street, it provides a chance to reflect that our city has made some real strides towards livability.
When these Sharrows were put down, they weren’t just a slap in the face to the city for failing to follow through on their promise to bring Sharrows to Los Angeles, but also a challenge for the city to finally get serious about starting to make the city a safer place to bike. While I wouldn’t say that LADOT or the city has embraced the challenge, a lot has happened since then.
Bike lanes have sprouted in South L.A., the San Fernando Valley and, last week, on York Boulevard just a couple of miles from where the D.I.Y. Sharrows sit. While it’s still eye-rolling that they’re making Cafe de Leche’ pay for it themselves, the city agreed to let them “pilot” a bike corral. Official Sharrows have popped up on six streets. Heck, even the LAPD is starting to treat cyclists like human beings and not like kids playing with toys. Last, while it’s far from perfect, the Give Me 3 campaign has been fun and increased visibility.
I’m not saying Los Angeles doesn’t have a long way to go to join Portland, Minneapolis, Long Beach, New York or San Francisco; but compared to the first two years Streetsblog published; 2010 has proved itself to be a year where some things were finally getting done.
Westholme Blvd. Can you find where the Sharrow used to be?
Through the LADOT Bike Blog, we’ve gotten some answers as to what the heck happened on Westholme Boulevard, where a large portion of Sharrows were covered up last week. Basically, there was a communication breakdown between the Bureau of Street Services, the same government body that physically installed the Sharrows in the first place, and the LADOT. Further compounding the confusion, the Sharrows don’t yet appear on the Street Plan for Westholme because the Sharrows are part of a study. The Bike Blog explains the significance:
The problem on Westholme is that Sharrows aren’t on the street plan yet.And no, Sharrows not being on the street plan is not part of a grand LADOT conspiracy to make sure Sharrows fail.
Sharrows aren’t yet on the street plan because they’re part of a test study. When you get a marking put onto a street plan, it’s pretty serious. Once it’s on the plan, it can take months to get that plan changed. Since the recommended placement of Sharrows may change depending on the results of the test study, it would not make very much sense to put Sharrows on the street plan at 11 feet if LADOT Bikeways ends up recommending they be placed at 12 feet.
Westholme and Le Conte, a formerly Sharrowed intersection.
Last night, UCLA Planner Madeline Brozen tweeted that the Westholme Sharrows, which have been on the street for nearly five weeks, have been partially removed after Westholme Avenue had been repaved. The Sharrows used to stretch from the corner of Westholme and Wilshire Boulevard all the way to the UCLA Campus area, but after a repaving project north of Santa Monica Boulevard, the Sharrows have been covered by a layer of asphalt.
Angered reaction is already coming from the twitterverse and other advocacy groups. While I was out photographing the street, The Transit Coalition wrote about the removal in their newsletter and wondered whether departments talk to each other.
Can you see the Sharrow? My camera's autofocus couldn't.
Ironically, LADOTS Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery was unable to answer my query's about the Sharrow removal as she is currently in the field monitoring drivers and cyclists reaction to the Sharrows pilot program with a group of LACBC volunteers. Naturally, that group of volunteers happens to include Brozen who surely has some questions for the Bike Coordinator.
When we hear back from LADOT on a timeline to put the Sharrows back, well let you know.
Update: Michelle Mowery, the LADOT Senior Bikeway Coordinator responds: "We have confirmed that a section of the Shared Lane Marking (Sharrow) on
Westholme north of Wilshire have been deleted with some sort of
resurfacing project. Westholme does not appear on any of the current
resurfacing lists provided to LADOT from Public Works. Rest assured the
pilot project is continuing; today we are in the field doing the After
test of the sharrow location on Westholme where the markings remain."
The first Sharrows on Fountain in Hollywood...Photo: LACBC/Flickr
Last month, when the City of Los Angeles finally began placing Sharrows on the streets of L.A., there were a chorus of cheers from the biking community. The Los Angeles County Bike Coalition has fought hard, for years, for these Shared Lane Markings to be placed on the streets tweeted the news immediately and cyclists throughout the city celebrated. But almost as quickly, complaints about the program began surfacing. First at the blog Soap Box, written by activist Stephen Box, and then other places. The charge? That by placing the Sharrows a consistent 12 feet from the curb, instead of placing the Sharrows an equi-distance from the center-line, that the Sharrows are mis-placed and perhaps more dangerous than helpful.
As issues with the placement of the Sharrows has become accepted one within the community. Even the LACBC, who has been the chief supporters of the project, have written to the LADOT asking for better care in placing these markings so as not to direct cyclists to drive in an uneven pattern or even to ride within the "door zone."
But this realization has led to a new debate: is criticizing the Sharrows project going to lead to LADOT scrapping the entire endeavor. Remember, these six streets that have been selected for Sharrows are part of a pilot program. In other words, if the LADOT decides the project is a failure, it could mean not only that more Sharrows aren't painted, but that the current ones are removed. In other words, negative feedback from cyclists, even if it's just related to the city's failure to place the Sharrows correctly, could end up being a determining factor in the cancellation of the program. Of course, given that the guerrilla Sharrows in Northeast L.A. are still there, five months after LADOT promised they would be removed; it's unlikely any paint is actually going to be taken off the road anytime soon.
In what has to be a double victory for the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, reports are coming in that Sharrows are appearing on 4th Street in the Mid-Wilshire and Koreatown areas. The LACBC hasn’t just been the leader in pushing for Sharrows on the street, but also in turning 4th Street, a popular bike route, into something resembling the Bike Boulevards of Portland and Berkeley.
Announcing the find on twitter, @danceralamode joked that finding a Sharrow is like a celebrity siting. I’m sure there will be a lot more on the Sharrows arrival as the day and weeks go on. But in the meantime, if you spot a Sharrow while riding in the city, and you’re not on Fountain, 4th Street, NELA or Westwood, drop us a line and send us a picture so we can help spread the word.
City Council President Eric Garcetti and the B.S.S. Crew that painted the Sharrows. Photo via LADOT Bike Blog
(An early version of this post listed the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition as in partnership with the government groups. That relationship has been clarified below. - DN)
It was just after-noon on Friday when the first tweet came in. After literally years of discussion, planning and studying, the city was finally painting Sharrows, officially known as Shared-Lane Markings, on the streets of L.A. The Sharrows appear on a half-mile of Fountain Street in East Hollywood. Eventually, the Sharrows will extend for a full mile between Western Boulevard and Vermont. This marked a major victory for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, who has pushed for Sharrows to be on the street for at least half a decade. While the Coalition celebrated last week, they've made clear that last week's paintings were the start, not the end result, of the Shared Markings on L.A.'s streets.
Billed as the city's first Sharrows, even though some appear on private streets in Westwood and D.I.Y. Sharrows appear in Northeast L.A. by the Gold Line, this "pilot program" is finally coming to fruition after years of advocacy by the LACBC with an assist from Council President Garcetti's office. While it might be a simple task to get Sharrows on the streets in some cities, in L.A. it took five years and the work of three government bodies, the LADOT, Bureau of Street Services and Southern California Association of Governments. In addition, a chunk of funding for the project came from the Bohnet Foundation, with additional funds provided by the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. It's a good thing Metro wasn't involved too, or it might have taken another couple of months before we saw any paint. Just a reminder, it took four weeks for Long Beach to move their award-winning green Sharrowed lanes from Charles Gandy's head to the street.
You can see above what a Sharrow looks like. If you're new to the discussion and wondering how that is supposed to make a street safer; a Sharrow serves two purposes. First, it tells cyclists where to ride to avoid the door zone. Second, it alerts and reminds drivers where cyclists can and should be riding with the support of the law. I would add that third, it reminds the police that cyclists aren't supposed to ride in the gutter, but that's just the cynic in me after too many "ride to the right" commercials. As we'll see later, the placement of the Sharrows is creating a real concern that "L.A.'s first official Sharrows" aren't going to accomplish any of these goals.
The first to report on the new paint was the LADOT Bike Blog who made sure not to undersell the event. The blog opened by declaring, "Friday June 11th marks a new beginning: LADOT is proud to unveil the first official Sharrows within the City of Los Angeles." Jeesh, don't you guys read The Source? A touch of objectivity in style goes a long way in selling your message. The Bike Blog was pretty breathless in its reporting of the installation, and goes into great detail on the process of actually painting the Sharrows, as shown above. While the Bike Blog talks about the markings appearing between Vermont and Western on Fountain, so far the Sharrows only appear in one direction (Eastbound) and only go for half the strip.
Following the Bike Blog, an excited celebratory post appeared on the LACBC Blog, and LAist followed with some pictures and mild praise. While reading the post at the LACBC Blog, I flashed back to an interview I conducted with Smolarski and LACBC Planning Director Dorothy Le. The interview, conducted in May of 2009 touched on the topic of Sharrows and why it was taking so long for the paint to get on the ground. Smolarski basically said she would be thrilled if Sharrows were painted before the New Year. After all that work, it must have been double exciting to see the city finally making good on their years-old promise, after untold hours of advocacy, to paint these road markings.
On the Eco-Village Blog, Joe Linton wrote a piece as detailed as the LADOT Bike Blog's except his outlined the tortured history of the project. If I had to describe his post in one sentence it would be, "It's nice to see Sharrows on the street but it's taken forever." Linton paid special attention to the infamous comment made at a City Council Transportation Committee hearing by Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery that the department was concerned about cyclists slipping on paint and suing the city. I would have focused on Mike Uyeno's concern that the Sharrows would lead to slower car traffic, but to each their own. I guess it's a good thing he chose the "slippery when wet" comment, as Ted Rogers snarked on it several times at Biking in L.A.'s announcement of the Sharrws.
But of course the most important issue is how the Sharrows actually effect how people ride on Fountain and the other five streets that will see them installed in the coming weeks. The early reports are mixed. Some people seem happy that the LADOT and city are doing something. I've even seen some tweets referring to a ride along Fountain as "empowering." However, reports from Stephen Box, who measured the Sharrow placement and found it wanting, should raise some eyebrows.
When I first heard of the signs that popped up all over Los Angeles two nights ago urging drivers to pass cyclists with care, my first thoughts were that L.A.’s D.I.Y. culture has reached a tipping point. Not only have advocates learned that the LADOT and other city departments are unwilling to sacrifice car capacity to cyclist or pedestrian safety, but now they’ve learned that because of the city’s fiscal woes, the city is unable to do anything about other people taking matters into their own hands.
Now we see cyclists, perhaps exhausted by LADOT’s constant stalling on creating a Sharrows program despite both funding and the support of the local neighborhood council being in place for over a year; putting up their own "Sharrow Signs." Signs have been spotted on Santa Monica Boulevard, Park Avenue and the "4th Street Bike Boulevard."
If you’ve seen more of these signs, please let us know in the comments section. Also, even though I’m pretending I don’t know who is putting up these signs, I can tell you he/she/they read Streetsblog so leave your comments for them below too.
The Sharrows Pilot Project has been an ongoing campaign for LACBC, nearly five years running now, as we jumped hurdle after hurdle working to clear the pilot through the LADOT. Last year City Council President Eric Garcetti championed the issue and the idea began to take off. Now in 2010 we will finally see Los Angeles city streets catch up to other surrounding cities and start implementing sharrows to help create safer and more bike- friendly streets.
Yesterday, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed, a contractual agreement between the funders of the pilot project-SCAG (Southern California Association of Government) and the David Bohnett Foundation-and LACBC and LADOT, the two groups doing the work for the pilot. The MOU outlines the scopes of work, the budgets and a timeline to which all parties are held accountable. LADOT was given a notice to proceed to commence work on the pilot beginning yesterday, Monday, March 1st.
Due to LADOT's perception that Los Angeles is a city unlike any other city currently using sharrows, one of the pilot's main purpose is to study which streets in LA are best suited for implementation. As with any other pilot, there is preliminary data that needs to be gathered before the paint hits the ground. But we are happy to announce that we will be seeing sharrows on LA city streets in mid June!
Though we can't publicize the locations of the sharrows until they have been finalized by the end of March, we can expect 5-10 locations. LACBC will be conducting bike counts and on-street surveys of bicyclists before and after sharrows are implemented. We will also be developing and distributing educational fliers and posters to analyze the impact of how "supplemental educational components" affect bicyclists' understanding of sharrows and their correct usage of the roadway.
With all the work to be done, we will be looking for volunteers to help out in ways similar to the great assistance we got with the first ever bike count earlier last year. Please contact Aurisha@la-bike.org if you are interested in being a part of the sharrows pilot project.
Yesterday, I finally had the time to take my wounded Flying Pigeon Bucket Bike back to its nest to get repaired and retrofitted for baby carrying. As you might expect, Josef "ubrayj02" Bray-Ali was fantastic, the bike is great, and baby has already had his first fun, and safe, bike ride. You can view a couple of pictures of us here. But, this is not our story.
Because my bucket bike needed some repairs, I took a less-than-capacity trip on the Gold Line to the Heritage Square station before biking up 37th Avenue to Figueroa Street and then it's just a half a block to the Flying Pigeon Bike Shop. On 37th, I was treated to riding on the only street inside of city limits with Sharrows. True, they're not official, but when you're on the street, they're just as good.
Whoever put these down knew what they were doing. The Sharrows place cyclists outside the door zone, are on a street with street parking, and are on a street with a fair amount of traffic. It's nothing like the traffic on Figueroa, but with the transit station right there, it also sees slightly more than your everyday residential street. It's amazing to me as an activist that these paint markings have been to D.I.Y. project that roared. Councilmen Garcetti and LaBonge have talked about them during City Council hearings. The LADOT has responded to their placement and bike activists have pleaded with the city to not remove them. Given how the "D.I.Y. Bike Lanes" on Fletcher Bridge are still visible even after Streets Services "removed" them, it will be interesting to see how the city deals with these street markings. It will be equally interesting to see if they just "reappear" after they're taken out.
Of course, as we're often reminded, this isn't Long Beach.
Explaining the delay, LADOT Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery stated that just because funding was in place, it didn't mean that the project would automatically move forward. Because some of the money is to be allocated to LADOT, some to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and some to LACBC, there are a variety of bureaucratic issues that need to be worked out. But we'll definately be Sharrows on some L.A. streets sometime. She wouldn't say when, but definately sometime. Maybe even this year.
Despite her somewhat dour presentation, Mowery tried to sound an optimistic tone. The wait would be worth it, that Sharrows would make the streets more safe. When discussing a report by Alta Planning on the impact of Sharrows in Los Angeles, she said:
"...studies show that Sharrows do two things. It moves cyclists out of the door zone. It also, and this addresses Councilman LaBonge's point, has cyclists moving in the right direction."
Mowery was referencing a related story from Councilman Tom LaBonge where he complained about cyclists riding the wrong way in the street. Despite an LACBC cycling counts report that showed that only six percent of cyclists travel in the wrong direction; this story ended up being a focal point of the meeting for much of the rest of the afternoon.
Before the public had its chance to speak, Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl tried to pin down the LADOT on a timeline and required that the department return next month days with an update.
"My problem is with the black hole of history (for this project) in the past. I want an update in thirty days. I'm impatient with this issue."
Next, the public had a chance to speak. LACBC's Aurisha Smolarski testified that she had been in touch with the Bonet Foundation and SCAG, two of the major funders of the project, and that they are getting impatient as well. However, there is a plan to begin the outreach associated with the program next month that would have the Sharrows on the ground in May. This is hardly a lightning fast timeline. Last May, Smolarski told me her dream was to have the Sharrows on the ground by Christmas of 2009, but when dealing with a buerocracy as large as LADOT, just getting them on the ground would be a victory of sorts.