What Is the Backbone Bikeway Network and Why Is It So Important?

2_8_10_backbone.jpgOriginally posted on 2/1 at Westside Bikeside

2_9_10_sfv.jpgOriginally posted on 2/3 at JeremyGrant.com

2_9_10_harbor.jpgOriginally posted on 2/8 at Soap Box LA

Last week, the LA Bike Working Group began to release parts of "L.A.’s Best Bike Plan" in the form of the Backbone Bikeway Network maps and started a new conversation about the state of bike planning in Los Angeles.  The maps, first published on three members of the steering committee’s blogs, moved to LAist and then on to the mainstream media.

It’s nearly impossible not to compare the maps of the Backbone Bikeway Network (Backbone) to those of the Draft Bike Plan offered by various city departments and put together by Alta Planning.  It’s also impossible not to notice a key difference in philosophy.  While the Draft Bike Plan is all about providing safe alternatives to biking on main thoroughfares, the Backbone is all about making it safer for cyclists to ride on these same major thoroughfares that LADOT is trying to take cyclists off of.

In the post announcing the Backbone at Westside Bikeside, Dr. Alex Thompson explains:

The Backbone Bikeway Network will get you from Downtown to West LA,
Crenshaw to Valley Village, and LAX to Hollywood.  The Backbone doesn’t
have neighborhood level detail, because that’s not what a citywide
system is for – this system gets you 5 and 10 and 20 miles across
town.  It goes on major streets – arterials – unlike the proposed Bike
Plan, and it gets you within striking distance of major destinations
like Dodger Stadium and City Hall.

There’s a lot to discuss about the Backbone: what is it, the philosophy behind it, the process that created it, and where we go from here.  We’ll discuss all of that after the jump.

What is the Bikeways Backbone Network:

Simply put, the Backbone is just a statement that these are the major routes cyclists can take to efficiently get from one place to another.  If the city recognized this Network as the glue that holds all of the local improvements together, and made certain to treat this network as the most important part of its bikeways system; then everything else would fall into place.  Does the Backbone require that all of these routes get bike lanes, Sharrows, separated bike paths, or other bicycle improvements?  No.  It’s simply a statement that this is where cyclists belong, and the city should prioritize their street cleaning, road maintenance, enforcement and planning efforts to make these roads safer for everyone.

Enci Box explains:

We’re claiming our right and freedom to be free and safe on our roads…When your ride off the Backbone or on bike trails, you’re segregated.  There’s nowhere you can be both safe and visible.  If you’re a woman, you can be attacked by a single person, but even if you’re a man you can be attacked by a group of people.  And nobody sees you.  If you’re on the Backbone, you can be visible.  And, you become part of the community as you pass through.

Not everyone needs to feel that they have to ride these streets, but they should feel that they can.

Enci makes an excellent point.  Too many people don’t bike in Los Angeles, or other places, because they are intimidated by the amount of cars on the roads near their houses and the large streets that get from one place to another.  In other words, the little streets don’t connect anywhere and the big streets are scary.  We saw yesterday that this can have a dangerous effect for our children.  I can personally testify to this, as the first trip I took on a bike in this city, from Hel-Mel to the Fairfax District had me biking on a road with no shoulder at places, broken lights, and terrible road conditions.  I can’t imagine anyone biking for the first time repeating the adventure if their first trip involved any part of Beverly Boulevard.  Yet, both Oakwood to the north and 1st Street to the south cut off at various places forcing cyclists on to the horribly maintained Beverly Boulevard.

Talking with Jeremy Grant, he explained how one of the reasons he became involved with advocacy was because he thought it ridiculous that he could drive from his home to his office in fourteen miles, but it would take eighteen miles to do it by bike.  In short, a lot of us see the same problems with the way the city treats its main thoroughfares, the same ones that Metro runs it express service on, that make them unbikeable for many.

But there’s also been a lot of discussion about what the Backbone is that misses the point.  Last Monday, Alex Thompson explained how the Backbone is not about limiting planning options, but expanding what communities will be able to do while providing the overall vision of connectivity between the cities.

We left out the neighborhood network because we wanted a clear,
communicable vision of what city connectivity could be, and should be. 
However, we’ve got a secret tool box of innovative approaches we hope
to deploy in neighborhoods.  I’ll give you some clues – they involve
neighborhood level democracy, cut through traffic, and mini-humans.

The Backbone doesn’t lack vision, but it demands political will.

The Philosophy:

Listening to the members of the Bike Working Group Steering Committee, there are two major points to their philosophy as it relates to the Backbone.  The first is that bikes belong on streets as much and are just like the other user groups.  The second is that their plan, entirely based of community input and shared with politicians, the LAPD and the Bureau of Street Services, is a much more inclusive plan than that offered by the Draft Bike Plan.  As Peteu explains,

We have a backbone.  We’re not afraid to ask for the sky and aren’t afraid of the car lobby.

A couple of weeks back, Council Transportation Committee Chair
thundered at City Hall that "The Culture of the Car is going to end
now!" However, this plan is more about equality of users than a car-culture war.  If bikes are as important as every other user group, than the Backbone Network has to make sense for every user group.  Stephen Box explains:

The Backbone offers a solution to our transportation crisis that is good for everybody.  It’s not just about cyclists.  If you clean the major streets, repair the potholes on major streets, and focus your enforcement on these major streets, the system will be more efficient.  Everybody wins.

Of course a large part of the philospohy is also that the LADOT has failed, and is failing, to make the streets efficient and safe.  Jeremy Grant compares the Backbone to the first part of a triage plan that is the feasibility of cycling in the city.  Enci Box states:

Everything they’re doing gets you almost "there" or close to "there."  This is a plan that gets you there.

To a person, they all noted that the Draft Bike Plan doesn’t connect places, instead it comes close to connecting places; while the Backbone can take cyclists from one end of the city to another.  While that vision works for the cityas a whole, it would then be up to empowered communities to create the ability to move about safely within that community.  By contrast, the Draft Bike plan, with it’s hundreds of miles of colored lines, is telling people where they can and cannot do bike planning.

The Process:

To a person, all five members of the steering committee to which I spoke brought up that this plan was created based on the input from over a half dozen meeting and hundreds of cyclists.  The routes that were selected for the Backbone were suggested by people at last fall’s meetings sponsored by the Bike Working Group and voted on by the people at the meeting.  The steering group may have selected the meeting locations and agendas, but the content of the Backbone was created by the people that attended.

Peteu excitedly describes the effort:

This is a grassroots effort, and it shows what people are capable of doing on our own.

Stephen Box argues that the Draft Bike Plan can never be as complete as the Backbone because the work of the volunteers and meeting attendees has actually branched out to more places than the city’s Bikeways Department at DOT and Planning Department did for the Bike Plan.  Box points to meetings with the Bureau of Street Services, various high level members of the LAPD, including Commander David Doan and Deputy Commissioner Earl Paysinger.  The group has also met with some of the surrounding cities, and has pledged to continue to do so, so that everyone can get on board with the premise that bikes belong on these major streets.

Where do We Go, From Here:

The hope is that the city will embrace the Backbone as the key to best moving people from place to place; cyclists, transit users and drivers.  The process wouldn’t need involved the City Council, or any major political lifting; just a memorandum to city departments and the LAPD to prioritize the streets on the Backbone for cleaning, maintenance, improvements and enforcement.  Stephen Box points out that major streets in the city aren’t cleaned, and don’t seem to be receiving their share of funds for repaving.  This seems backwards to how funds should be spent if the goal is to move people as efficiently as possible on the major streets.

In a more literal sense, the Bike Working Group will next be meeting on Saturday, March 6th.  The final location hasn’t been set yet, but we’ll announce it here once it’s finalized.

  • Hey I love anyone trying to crash the gate, but I come back to the basic problem of capacity. One of the reasons I like bike boulevards is because it makes use of the streets in our current transportation grid that have under-utilized capacity.

    Absent an extensive mass transit system that is fast (i.e. rail that is primarily grade separated) the overwhelming majority of people in our region will HAVE TO DRIVE TO WORK. How is worsening a huge percentage of commutes good for air quality and commuter travel times?

  • DanaPointer

    Goodmon, sharrows in no way reduce capacity, from what I understand that’s all the backbone network really is; sharrows on every right lane on every major arterial. Increased feeling of safety will then result in more riders, including commuters, which might reduce congestion.

    Although I don’t think reducing car based congestion in LA is really possible, or even necessary, but making biking safer is, which is what this plans seems to address better than anything I seen before.

  • I don’t think we have any choice but to reduce capacity for cars. Too many L.A. streets are already clogged with too many cars, and our ability to increase capacity without further damaging the fabric of the city ended years ago. The only way forward from here is to reduce capacity in order to provide viable alternatives and encourage people to get out of their cars and use them.

    That means more trains, more buses, more walkable streets and yes, more bikes. Rosendahl was right — whether the people of L.A. like it or not, the era of automotive supremacy in this city is over.

  • Joseph E

    Damien, I think an exclusive bike lane would have 4 times the capacity of a car lane, and a bus / bike lane would be almost as high- capacity as light rail.
    A shared bike / car lane should also be as high capacity as a car only lane, but with a slower speed of traffic
    The issue for drivers would be slower max speeds and somewhat longer total trip time. This would make a switch to transit or bike easier.
    So where is the problem?

  • Damian Goodmon,

    You bring up a good point, however, on most of the arterial streets mapped out above the street is designated a Major Highway Class 1 or Class 2. The former designated as carrying 50,000+ Average Daily Trips and the latter carrying 30,000 to 50,000 ADT.

    What is happening on a lot of these streets is that the above numbers aren’t even being hit. That is, the minimum carrying capacity of the road isn’t being hit on large stretches of these arterial highways. In other words, when you move away from freeway on- and off-ramps, there is a massive OVERSUPPLY of road and not enough cars to fill it.

    We supply too much space for cars on our arterial roads. The most congested portions lie adjacent to or intersect a freeway.

    If we were to re-dedicate that Right of Way to other modes (in this case bicycles) you would see NO MEASURABLE IMPACT on Level of Service for vast stretches of highway as we measure them now. So, your point about “How is worsening a huge percentage of commutes good for air quality and commuter travel times?” is not a question that strikes at the matter properly.

    Further, the “everyman drives” argument has been sufficiently eroded in various other forums on the internet and in meat-space that I don’t want to get into it here. Needless to say, the 20th Century version of the ‘Merican Dream ™ is bankrupt, and if all we’re concerned with is providing for unsustainable methods of transportation then perhaps you’re on the wrong forum.

  • Brayj, the forum is welcome for discussion for everyone, and Damien brings up a legitimate point in a civil manner. Therefore, I for one don’t think he’s on the wrong forum.

    Back on topic, the above bike plan could easily double or triple bicycle traffic for the cost of paint, which appeals to my inner conservative. If publicized, it could divert car traffic to streets like Western, 6th, and Florence. The primary concern on streets like Wilshire and Crenshaw is integration of the transit service with bicycling. Although some choices are questionable (PCH, for one, is a state highway), I agree with the premise that you need a critical mass of bicyclists, and the best way to get that is to be on streets where other bicyclists are, and where there are business and housing of interest to bicyclists – not “bike freeways” down flood control channels without lighting and home to slow moving critters and mentally unstable ex-felons.

  • If LABWG ever comes up with some sort of budget, Umberto Brayj will be its first official hire.

  • calwatch, you’re right. His point is entirely valid and retract that last bit of invective.

    Mihai, if the pay is anything like what I’m making now (-$15,000k net worth) then I’m in!

  • “Does the Backbone require that all of these routes get bike lanes, Sharrows, separated bike paths, or other bicycle improvements? No. It’s simply a statement that this is where cyclists belong, and the city should prioritize their street cleaning, road maintenance, enforcement and planning efforts to make these roads safer for everyone.”

    That’s so little to ask for, it’s a shame it isn’t already in place. Maybe it’s too timid not to at least demand sharrows on all of these streets as well (as an interim step towards bike lanes in some/all? cases). You could even offer to raise the money for that yourself to sweeten the deal, although that shouldn’t be necessary.

    Having something in the street that says bikes belong is a big psychological help to those of us who are intimidated by the arterials.

  • Also, without some visible sign (not a “bike route” sign!) that this plan is in place, I doubt many people will end up knowing about it.

  • I don’t think we have any choice but to reduce capacity for cars.

    That’s one argument. And you follow that up by saying that reduced capacity for cars will create more capacity for cycling. But your argument rest on an assumption that existing vehicular demands, which is QUANTIFIABLE, can instead be fulfilled by cycling.

    What is your basis/support for such a claim.

    I’m sorry, but everyone should understand that I begin this whole “reduce vehicular capacity” discussion with the basis of reality. The reality that most people in this region – at least where I live – NEED cars. You need only go on Craigslist, look for jobs and find out that they’re all located in the same area “NOT WHERE I LIVE.” The people I know have to drive (or get on a bus) to Downtown, Culver City, Century City, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Glendale, or LAX/El Segundo if they want to afford to raise a family.

    Worsening these people’s commute is bad for them and air quality is it not? Or should we not care?

    In other words, when you move away from freeway on- and off-ramps, there is a massive OVERSUPPLY of road and not enough cars to fill it.

    Which roads? Major arterials? Care to name one major arterial that has an oversupply of road in urban L.A.?

    The only streets I see in our region with additional capacity are local and collector streets. Streets that should be neighborhood-oriented and I think local residents would welcome the traffic calming measures that come with bike boulevards. Couple it with landscaping and you have a winner: happy locals, additional capacity and safe biking.

    A shared bike / car lane should also be as high capacity as a car only lane, but with a slower speed of traffic
    The issue for drivers would be slower max speeds and somewhat longer total trip time. This would make a switch to transit or bike easier.
    So where is the problem?

    You just said it: longer trip time. That has an environmental impact and yes it impacts quality of life.

    Again, understand I am not of the mindset of worsening everything down to a level where X-form of transportation is feasible is a winning strategy. If this were a business model it would fail. The objective should be to compete with what is the existing and projected travel times as best as possible. Transit can do that. But it requires creating new capacity and high speeds between stations.

    Consider capacity a box. If you want to reduce capacity some place you first or simultaneously need to make the box bigger. Making the box smaller just makes things worse.

  • More bicycles on the streets will increase capacity, not reduce it.

    Obviously, as our city is structured now, there are long commutes that people can only make by car. However, there are also many people making short trips by car that could easily be made by bicycle. If our streets were more accommodating to cyclists, we could have more commuters in the same road space, no costly “expanding of the box” required.

    The problem is the debate gets framed as “bike space” vs. “car space”, when what we are talking about is moving people.

  • Teque5

    As an avid member of both car culture and bike culture, the communities are not orthagonal. Both really should be able to co-exist.

    And an avid cyclist I support adding bike lanes, but it needs to be done in a way that shouldn’t disrupt the flow of vehicles citywide. For example: sepulveda likely should not be on this list because it is just too central to high-speed westside traffic. On the other hand, Venice should be 100% bike lane b/c it’s already more than 80% there.

  • Yuri

    Although I don’t agree with Damien on the requirement for grade separation for LRT, I do agree with him mostly here. I lived in a city that actually had a network of bike boulevards (Berkeley) and they took me everywhere I needed to go without having to get on the major streets very much like Shattuck Ave and University Ave which didn’t have bike lanes. By analogy a network of bike boulevards in LA would be a huge improvement for neighborhoods and cyclists. I still think sharrows on the major arterials are a good idea because there will be those who want use the quickest route and are comfortable with traffic. And eventually you will end up on an arterial to get where you need to go. But there should be a good option for those who don’t want to deal with the stress of traffic for 80% of their trip and don’t mind spending a few minutes more on their commute to arrive relaxed and in one piece. Thanks to the Draft plan I discovered Coliseum St and 39th St as “bike friendly” routes and was pleasantly surprised by their quality. The current problem is that these “bike friendly” routes vary alot in quality, are not integrated with each other, don’t incorporate the traffic calming measures and don’t have bike friendly signaling at intersections with the arterials. I agree that separate and enclosed bikepaths like the one on Ballona Creek are not the solution unless they are patrolled and maintained regularly (which they aren’t). Neighborhood streets are better lighted, patrolled, and maintained.

  • Using the box analogy, my suggestion is to reduce the size of the box to make room for another, much smaller box.

    Or just throw the damn box out and make room for everyone.

  • MU

    Consider capacity a box.

    DG – Shifting travel lanes from cars to bike INCREASES capacity because a bike lane can handle denser traffic than a car lane. Now, just because capacity exists does not mean it is used or used efficiently. There are many arterials in LA that see traffic well below their designed capacity. I can’t speak for everything laid out in the plan, but I’ve seen the DOT data for Figueroa that shows this. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t choke points and other issues. But just because you hit traffic on your commute does not mean that all arterials are well designed to use their capacity efficiently. Similarly, the current existing bike lanes operate no where near capacity. But this is to be expected on a piecemeal system with nearly zero connectivity.

    Another of your arguments is that transit is a better option because it adds additional, high speed capacity. This is true, but it relies on the assumption that a high quality, wide spread grade separated transit system is going to exist at some point in the near future. The city is pumping as much money as they can into creating good transit and even the projections out to 2050 will be for a good, but skeletal system that just won’t serve the majority of residents. In the meantime, road congestion will continue to get worse and worse even with improved transit. We don’t have to redesign the roads to punish drivers to chase them out of cars. They’re going to continue to get punished more and more regardless due to increasing demand and higher gas prices, the question is what to do about it.

    It is absolutely true that few people will commute by bike from Santa Monica to downtown every day. But the majority of trips (even in LA) are under two miles. Remove a portion of those trips from the car lanes and you will improve travel times for those who must or choose to drive. Also, while few will ride a bike 20 miles, many will ride to the nearest train station and then park the bike or take it with them to do the same thing at the destination. Good bike access improves rail transit because it resolves the last mile issue which will plague any transit system that does not have stations within easy walking distance of huge numbers of users for every trip.

    Your general arguments make sense, but I think they’re based on some false assumptions (our current system is well designed and efficiently used, nobody will really shift mode, things are NOT getting worse despite huge investments in increased car capacity, etc.) That said, thank you for making rational, reasoned arguments rather than the typical invective that often passes for debate on these issues.

  • Damian,

    The only streets you “see that have excess capacity” is not a valid argument.

    I found the LADOT’s traffic surveys for the last decade. Looking at their traffic counts, most of the Major Highways Class I and Class II don’t even come close the the 30,000 ADT, only scraping that mark at intersections near freeway onramps and offramps.

    Acceptable peak hour delays at signalized intersections are LOS D, which is 30 to 55 seconds – which are only occurring at a minority of congested intersections (when compared to the vast stretches of road that are not near freeways and geographic choke points).

    This is all to make the point, again, that there is in fact excess capacity despite what newspaper reporters and your own personal observations indicate. Further, cars are expensive (even though they are also heavily subsidized), and in a neighborhood with no jobs, making the minimum cost of employment include the cost of owning and maintaining a car is a bit insane. If there are no viable options, then what does that mean? Continue to offer a menu of car-only options? It tells me that we need to expand options for people, that they are trapped in an auto-only environment. If you can comfortably travel 10 to 20 miles on a protected, or partially protected, cycle track or bike lane to work, school, shopping, etc. that is a big chunk of your budget that can go towards raising your quality of life. The tired “quality of life equals faster commute times” does not correlate to reality – where humans are more than automatons going from work to home to shopping but instead need a place to recreate, participate in the lives of their neighbors, and enjoy life in the city. Along with being cheaper, bicycling infrastructure, insofar as it reduces auto volumes and maximum speeds on a thouroughfare, also induces a better environment for the most basic, and enjoyable, aspects of city life.

  • Damien Goodmon (and others)

    The problem with the non-arterial bike boulevards/paths/etc. is that (in my opinion and experience) while perhaps having a smaller number of vehicles on them, motorists tend to speed through them because they think they can get away with it. They are more likely to run stop signs (or roll very fast through stop signs) make illegal and unsafe passes, and less-polite motorists are more likely to let their road rage get the better of them and confront you. They also are more likely to right-hook me, because there are so many stop signs and the traffic lane markings are non-existent. In neighborhood bike routes, like 4th street, I’m constantly having to slam on my brakes to avoid being right-hooked by speeding motorists, whereas on the 5 block stretch I take on Wilshire every morning, while there are more cars, I am more able to control the lane, and cars are more aware of me and react more responsibly, possibly because there are so many other vehicles they have to be aware of too.

    I love the BBN. When I talk to my motorist friends about it, I say, “wouldn’t it be great if there were no potholes on Wilshire and less cars?” They all love that idea and when I tell them how we could do it, it sinks in that the BBN really makes a lot of good, economical sense.

  • Yuri

    @danceralamode: I haven’t ridden on 4th St but to my knowledge there isn’t a bonafide bike boulevard in the city incorporating the traffic calming measures like traffic circles, speed bumps, and limits on the ways cars can get in, out, and continue on the boulevard. This should reduce the speeding, but considering the LA driver, probably won’t eliminate it. The idea is to make it a hassle for drivers to take the boulevard for long stretches. This in itself is a radical idea for a city that gives supreme priority to its cars. With time, the drivers will learn to avoid it.

  • Yuri,

    True, you’re right. 4th isn’t a bonafide boulevard the way the bike plan would define it, with those traffic calming measures you mentioned. I would be very happy to see those measures taken, but I’m wary about their effect, since, as you say, consider the LA driver. But hopefully, in time, we would see a response.

    I guess my point is that even those current dedicated “routes” (which 4th is) aren’t safe without some kind of traffic calming (speed calming) put into use. I would still rather have the BBN developed first, with neighborhoods simultaneously looking at their own veins and capillaries to connect to it, rather than focusing mainly on bike boulevards as the main through way for cyclists.

  • Another of your arguments is that transit is a better option because it adds additional, high speed capacity.

    In this thread I didn’t say it was a better option. I said grade separated transit adds necessary capacity to our transportation system that perhaps allows the vehicular capacity to be reduced without drastically worsening commute times.

    Understand, unlike most activists that frequent these forums I’m a transportation advocate. Yes, I’m pro lots of grade separated rail in the urban core, but that support is not (unlike some) because I have a train fetish, but rather because if done right a grade separated urban rail system can meet the objectives of improving our city and economy. (Note the qualifier “If done right.” Most of the lines we’re building are not being “done right.”)

    There are many arterials in LA that see traffic well below their designed capacity.

    Not anywhere near where I live (Leimert Park). And those stretches of some streets that see traffic below their designed capacity today aren’t expected to stay that way much longer. One of my talking points in arguing for a tunnel under Crenshaw Blvd for the Crenshaw Line was the projected LOS E and F map for 2030. It was the whole length of the boulevard and every major intersection. I understand Crenshaw, like Wilshire, Santa Monica and others are the spine of our arterial network, but I see a lot of these boulevards on this very map.

    It is absolutely true that few people will commute by bike from Santa Monica to downtown every day. But the majority of trips (even in LA) are under two miles. Remove a portion of those trips from the car lanes and you will improve travel times for those who must or choose to drive.

    Now someone is beginning to answer my question, which again was: your argument rest on an assumption that existing vehicular demands, which is QUANTIFIABLE, can instead be fulfilled by cycling. What is your basis/support for such a claim[?]

    But is that 2 miles a general throughout the day stat? I don’t think we care about daily averages, at least I don’t. It’s the peak hour conditions that our roadway/transportation system is and must be designed to handle. At least where I live, it is very hard for me to believe that anywhere near the majority of drivers on the road are only going 2 miles in the PM peak hour.

    This is either your strongest pillar or your Achilles’ heel. Bashing cars, complaining about people who drive is not persuasive to me nor a lot of other people. If you’re going to argue for reduced vehicular capacity (dropping vehicular lanes) better be able to argue that at the worst it will be a neutral move with respect to travel time.

  • “Bashing cars, complaining about people who drive is not persuasive to me nor a lot of other people.”

    I can’t accept this. Cars need to be bashed. They kill almost 40,000 people per year in this country, they create pollution that is disproportionately experienced by the poor and people of color, not just in the U.S. (e.g. Hispanic families near oil refineries in Wilmington), but globally (e.g. Bangladesh and climate change), and they are a contributing factor to America’s sedentary lifestyle and obesity epidemic.

    I say all this as a person who owns a car and has held jobs in LA County that I wouldn’t have been able to get to without driving. I know what the deal is. But somebody has to stand up to this system. The fact is, regular people can and should do more to drive less in greater LA. As long as PM peak hour driving speed is our only transportation policy priority, we’ll keep having a deadly, unjust, and unsustainable transportation system.

  • Damien,

    Average Daily Tris in Liemert Park along Exposition Blvd range between 1,000 and 13,000 (with the majority ranging in the 10,000 ADT range). Martin Luther King Blvd. is doing around 30,000+ ADT at it’s major intersections, but is half that at non-signalized intersections.

    I’m not sure about Expo’s designation, but it isn’t carrying the minimim for a Major Highway Class II, and isn’t carrying enough cars for a Secondary Highway either.

    MLK is a Major Highway Class I – 50,000+ ADT is it’s designed capacity.

    I’m sorry I didn’t analyze the other arterials, but their numbers look similar.

    So, let’s move on to the idea that bicycle facilities will worsen “congestion” (reduced LOS for cars?). I cannot think of any evidence to bring to bear on this, but I am sure that someone out there in Streetsblog land can point to a study done that shows that building a connected bikeways network increases the mode split of people using bikes to get around vs. cars and maintains LOS at the expense of maximum speeds on a street. Anyone?

  • Couldn’t that unused ROW in Beverly Hills along Santa Monica Blvd. be converted into a transit way that runs buses, potentially a streetcar someday, and a bike lane?

  • MU

    It’s the peak hour conditions that our roadway/transportation system is and must be designed to handle.

    True, although you seem to be saying that the only measure of Level of Service (LOS) to judge this on is cars travelling long distances. Why is that the mode that absolutely cannot be impinged on even if other options are made available? And ultimately, our current system does not handle the current peak well anyway. Rush hour congestion is demonstrably bad, worse than almost all other cities in the US, and getting worse. So show me the plan that is going to even be able to maintain the current horrible LOS. Even if you could expand freeways sufficiently, it doesn’t address the issue of choke points, street level traffic, etc.

    it is very hard for me to believe that anywhere near the majority of drivers on the road are only going 2 miles in the PM peak hour.

    You’re probably right. But you don’t need to remove the ‘majority’ of cars from the road to have a huge impact on congestion, polution, and other externalities. Traffic congestion is highly sensitive to “tipping points” in demand. So even a small reduction in the number of cars can have large impacts on the overall LOS. (see: http://www.ceosforcities.org/blog/entry/2169)

    Bashing cars, complaining about people who drive is not persuasive.
    Fair enough, and I think too many people get sucked into the us vs. them, car hating position. But bashing a transportation system that essentially forces people into cars even though they have huge negative impacts is reasonable and persuasive. I don’t believe that Angelinos drive everywhere because they are “lazy” or because of our “car culture”. People drive because they perceive that they have no choice. Some like to act like our current transport system grew up organically and naturally and we have to fight human nature to change it. Not true, very specific decisions were made that gave us what we have now.

    If you’re going to argue for reduced vehicular capacity (dropping vehicular lanes) better be able to argue that at the worst it will be a neutral move with respect to travel time.
    Removing a car lane is going to inconvenience someone, somewhere. You can’t design a transport system if the rule is that existing capacity for each mode, at each individual square foot of the entire system cannot be reduced, only expanded. Sometimes you have to reduce capacity for one mode in certain areas in order to improve the overall system. Does it suck if it’s “your road” that gets “degraded”? Sure. But tough luck, we’re all in this together and there are bigger issues than any one individual’s current driving route. And that’s even before you talk about externalities. Increased auto capacity takes away my right to live, breathe, walk, afford other necessities, etc. etc. Maybe that isn’t as simple a public policy argument to make as “if we expand the freeway, your commute time drops.” But if we’re going to base policy on only simplistic (and often untrue) soundbites, I think we’re in for trouble.

  • http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/03/02/valencia-signals-re-timed-to-improve-traffic-flow-and-safety/

    One measure for some stretches of these streets might be to retime light signalization for bicyclist speeds (15mph), which actually improves car traffic flow in addition to making it safer for bicyclists.

    The induced slower speeds, when drivers are educated to the fact that the lights are timed to those slower speeds (signage helps), actually creates time and space for drivers to react to each other without as much heavy braking behavior followed by speeding–creating more smoothly flowing traffic. Tom Vanderbilt’s book “Traffic” has good some descriptions of this type of phenomena.

  • There are physical (density, mixing land uses, bike friendly streets), cultural, and policy (carbon/VMT tax, charging market prices for parking) changes that could get people to drive less.

    I think there is a cultural element to this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard planners swear up and down that people won’t walk more than a quarter mile. Seriously. A five minute walk. If people in New York City had that attitude they wouldn’t go anywhere.

    I can remember the first time I walked to Downtown LA from my apartment on a day off (three miles). Most people would say “that’s impossible” or “you’re crazy”. What I noticed was that it was good exercise, relaxing, and gave me a sense of accomplishment . . . and required zero fossil fuels.

    I guess when you grow up here, and get athsma, like I did, you loose a little patience with excuse making. The urban form in LA generally sucks, it encourages people to drive. But you know what, people can resist that if they choose to. Once you build a critical mass of people resisting, you can start to change the urban form so we can finally have what we need and deserve: a city that makes it convenient to do the right thing!

  • Yuri

    I agree with Chewie and MU. The city planners literally buried the 1940s interurban and streetcar electrified rail infrastructure and put all their eggs in the car and diesel bus infrastructure basket. Decades later and probably sooner than they planned, they realized that it’s not scalable or sustainable. I trust that they had no clue how bad the congestion and smog would get by the 1970s. I’m not a transportation engineer so I don’t know the details of calculating LOS, etc but as a systems and software engineer I am familiar with the concept of designing scalable systems and design tradeoffs in a world of limited resources. The city planning mindset has to get out of the 1950s and deem as acceptable and desirable to reduce car space and priority on the streets for other modes that scale better (bike lanes, bus-only lanes, light rail). For example, imagine a street like Vermont Ave as one way for cars and with dual bus-only and bike lanes. It’s doable and relatively cheap. Also, express buses and light rails should always get signal priority over cars.

  • Chewie, another note on people walking…One day when I had taken the bus to work, at the end of the day I was listening to some groovy music as I walked to the bus stop and decided I didn’t want to end my groovin and walking, so I decided to walk to the next bus stop…then the next bus stop…then the next bus stop…before I knew it I had walked the 4.5 miles home in approximately 1 hour. (Yes, I was walking fast).

    I definitely think if people perceived the streets as walkable; they would be much more likely to walk. And that quarter mile estimate is BS, in my opinion.

  • Damien is wrapped up in how many people per hour can pass on a road as a measure of that road’s success. I don’t see the an urban street in that way, and so it’s ability to perform as a people-moving shitpipe is not primary in my mind when requesting bicycles facilities. However, it has been demonstrated in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen that you can move just as many people on a big roadway using bikes, buses, and private cars as you do just moving private cars.

  • Not only does Umberto Brayj nail it again, but this time he also coined yet another beautifully descriptive phrase:

    urban street = “people-moving shitpipe” That’s rich.

    I challenge anyone reading this to prove him wrong. In case you take up the challenge, your submission will be judged against those livable streets and boulevards of 100-odd years ago that seem to show several types of transportation modes co-existing–as well as people just living on/around the streets. True, there was horseshit on those streets, but they certainly weren’t solely “people-moving shitpipes” deviod of any semblance of life other than petroleum-fueled metal boxes speeding through them as they desperately try to get to some far off destination paying no attention to the streets and neighborhoods through which they pass.

  • “People-moving shitpipe” is particularly accurate if you’ve ever ridden a major artery in the morning and smelled the fumes of buses and vehicles against the morning fog. YUCK! It’s enough to cause an ecoli infection on the spot! Ha!

  • Damien is wrapped up in how many people per hour can pass on a road as a measure of that road’s success.

    Actually Umberto I’m wrapped up in peak hour commute times – from point A to point B. And those points in Los Angeles are due to a history of decisions, from those as abhorrent as redlining to as stupid as lack of affordable housing and prohibitions on mixed-use are much longer in L.A. than they are in any other city in America. I don’t venture to say the world, because I don’t know the make up for Copenhagen or Amsterdam, as I’ve never been. But I doubt their urban areas stretch 40 miles (the distance from Van Nuys to Long Beach). Heck 25 miles out of Times Square and you’ll begin to approach the Connecticut border. Yet 25 miles is just the distance between Santa Monica and Pasadena!

    Different cities, different challenges, different solutions.

    And incidentally, Chewie I just don’t see myself ever blaming the people who have to live in this horribly planned megapolis with its inadequate infrastructure for adapting to it so that they can live as comfortable as possible within it. The automobile is the logical mode of transportation and especially for the majority of people it is a work necessity. There’s a huge disconnect between those who rely on transit in L.A. and those who don’t. Those who rely on it – the people who have been late to work numerous times, and been stuck in the cold at 9 p.m. on a dark corner in South LA with grocery bags waiting for a 210 that’s 45 mins late have a completely different approach to Metro – that really outside of the Bus Bench is not heard anywhere on the net or in these forums. My point simply is that there’s a major disconnect between reality in these discussions.

    But I digress…the primary point I was making is that LA has a lot of medium density everywhere – it is really spread out. And though many of the kill the car, raise the parking rates to $50/day, congestion pricing zone zealots fail to realize it, the absence of a rapid transit system that connect city centers has been shown to push commercial growth AWAY from the urban core (think Woodland Hills and Torrance). That only contributes to sprawl.

    And you need only read anything SCAG has put out in the past 10 year or any Metro EIR that assess where regional trips derive to determine that the vast majority of peak hour trips are long-distance.

    And ultimately, our current system does not handle the current peak well anyway.

    Based on what metric? If this were a different city perhaps one could say it is not handling the current peak hour. But given the L.A. we live in (our geographic layout, home values/rental costs, disparate public school system, multiple economic centers most of which lack quality affordable housing/communities near them, etc.) isn’t it basically performing as expected?

    I am sure that someone out there in Streetsblog land can point to a study done that shows that building a connected bikeways network increases the mode split of people using bikes to get around vs. cars and maintains LOS at the expense of maximum speeds on a street.

    You’re presenting a strawman argument. I never said that building a connected bikeway network would not improve traffic or increase cycling and other less polluting forms of transportation (walking and transit use). Quite the reverse. I do think it would. I’m challenging HOW that network is built. We disagree on a fundamental point, which I address in response to another poster right below…

    Removing a car lane is going to inconvenience someone, somewhere.

    I guess my point is this overarching argument that ANY car lane can/should be removed is well false. Many car lanes can probably be removed. Someone mentioned Rodeo Rd; that’s a good example of a street that could probably be reconfigured to maintain current capacity and/or drop a lane at all but one intersection. Adams Blvd. is another. And yes there are SOME PORTIONS of King Blvd that TODAY have excess capacity (King is an uncharacteristically very wide street in some sections and could fit bike lanes in some portions while maintaining the number of lanes). But most of the streets on this map do not have the excess capacity for a lane drop.

    It’s not just “someone, somewhere.” We have a very complex transportation grid. (Ever read the memos/articles on the impact of the Rapid bus signal prioritization system on the grid?) Just as you rightfully mention that often a small percentage reduction in vehicular trips can disproportionately improve traffic, so too can a small percentage increase in delay disproportionately worsen congestion.

  • MU

    This is my over simplified summary of Damien Goodmon’s last post.
    Increasing options for different transport modes is good, we just need to do it in a well thought out and itelligently designed manner.

    I think I’m on board with that. The only thing I’ll add is that sometimes “well designed” can be counter intuitive and requires a little risk.

    In the Times Sq, NY removed road capacity without doing anything at all to provide alternative transit modes in that specific area. And regardless of any other benefit that may have come from that, A to B travel times improved measurably. I know that this is not the same as removing a travel lane on a cross town arterial. But my point is that these systems are complex and we have to move beyond simple capacity=good argument.

  • Yeah, I’m cool with that too – but I also know that I am in favor of making car driving less convenient in the city, and I don’t care about people driving 40 miles across the county every morning. That comes at the expense of so much that makes city life pleasant and safe that I don’t see it as such a high priority. This comes down to a political decision to restructure the rules of who wins and loses when it comes to urban transportation – and I think that the winds of politics are blowing in favor of things like the Backbone Network.

    A city that accommodates toxic automobile traffic at the expense of civil life, health, local economic production, and the basic liberties people have always flocked to cities to enjoy is not one I want to live in anymore. The BBN, and the bike movement, is a counter-balance to the desire to move humans on a street in automobiles above all else.

  • Umberto –

    I understand your objections to automobile usage. What I don’t understand is why you fail to see it as an element to an overall urban ecological system known as L.A. It’s as though the anti-car crowd fail to want to recognize that there are several factors that have led to the automobile being so dominant in this city, and that there are reasons people drive 40 miles (or more every day). Simply calling it a “convenience” is reflective of this mindset. It implies that spending 2 extra hours commuting daily on public transit (vs. auto travel) or being late to work 20% of the time is simply an “inconvenience.”

    I’m trying to figure out the world you guys live in. Because in the L.A. I live in, people move to Moreno Valley because when they put $2000 a month down for household expenditures they want it to be going towards a mortgage. They move to Torrance because they want their kids to be able to safely walk to a decent public school. And they schlep across town from Willowbrook to Century City, because they inherited their grandparents home and they can’t find a job that pays a decent wage anywhere near them.

    You can’t blame the roadway system for the failure to enact any serious housing affordability policies, the vast swaths of land that are devoid of decent paying job and instead have high crime rates and low-quality retail stores, and the crappy inner-city public school system.

    Sorry dude, but before I go punishing drivers for responding to this screwed up system (which is far more complex than simple roadway geometry), I’d first begin to handle these issues AND put in place a reasonable transportation alternative for their long-distance commutes.

  • Yuri

    Damien Goodwin,

    It struck me when you wrote this:

    “The people I know have to drive (or get on a bus) to Downtown, Culver City, Century City, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Glendale, or LAX/El Segundo if they want to afford to raise a family.”

    that all those locations will have gotten or are planned to get rail or BRT in the next ten years. That’s what I see Measure R as doing, resurrecting the rest of the PE interurban system as a hybrid BRT/LRT/HRT system. Nobody should be forced to bear the cost of a car to get to their job. ( Just the insurance cost alone is about the cost of a Metro pass and then you have to add gas, maintenance, parking, etc.) If so, then city planning and the public transit system has failed them. Because if the transit system can’t get them there in a reasonable time, then either the transit is underdeveloped or the planning dept hasn’t provided the tax incentives and regulations to colocate jobs in the regional job centers where the transit goes.

    But there are limits to how far transit can go and still be economical. So, what if someone decides to live in a suburb far away from transit? Should those who live in the “inner city” bear the congestion cost and accommodate their automobile commute? That’s what you’re doing when people in the city can’t get around the streets by bike/bus/LRT because cars are blocking their way. That doesn’t seem like good urban policy to me. And the trend is pointing against that thinking, with congestion pricing looming for what were once were “freeways”. This is a good trend because it begins to externalize the costs. The freeways were never really “free”. Besides the billions (trillions?) spent to construct and maintain them (a de facto subsidy for the auto industry) there are health and environmental costs that have never been accounted for.

    I’m saying this not as someone who is “anti-car”. I own a car but made the decision to go “car lite” because it made sense on a number of levels. And I realized that once I started using the transit system, I began to care about it and push it to improve. This is the positive feedback loop you want to initiate: get more people to use the system, they start making more demands of it, and resources get redirected to it. To amplify this process you can build out your system (this started in the 1980s and has accelerated) and externalize costs by reducing space on the streets for automobiles (hasn’t happened yet).

    I have no illusions about the LA car culture changing overnight. It is pretty strong and alot of it is propaganda that benefits the auto/oil/tire industries. But as we know from history, it wasn’t inevitable. It was only a few generations ago when transit use reached an all-time high when WWII drove up the automobile costs, something conveniently forgotten in the car-centric LA mythology. People aren’t as married to their cars as some would have you think. When costs go up, you begin to see shifts in behavior to use transit like was seen in the gas spike of 2008. Imagine what would happen if the congestion costs begin to be externalized.

    I can totally understand why a family would want a backyard in Torrance. But the family who lives downtown and uses transit to get to their job shouldn’t bear the cost of their automobile commute, the Torrance family should bear it. If they don’t want to pay, they can always move somewhere like Orange County which is still stuck in the 1950s, shrinking their transit system and touting their freeway widening projects.

  • Yuri

    Sorry, that was a typo, I meant “Goodmon” not “Goodwin”.

  • The decision to move out of LA in order to have a federally subsidized home in the ‘burbs is increasingly one that people are NOT making. Have you visited Downtown LA, Silverlake, Los Feliz, Mid-City (by the Grove) and other urban population centers drawing young, middle- and upper-class, families to them like flies to honey?

    Moving to the suburbs sucks – and an entire generation realizes that. The exurban world you are describing will apply to two groups in the future: the mega-rich (who can well afford to live in far-flung corners of the earth) and the super poor (these people are already being economically booted out of the inner city in droves).

    As each of these moneyed, educated, families move to the city it will make less and less sense to drop so much coin maintaining the boulevard and avenues, schools, etc. in the far flung recesses of the soon-to-be outback of L.A.

    The inner city is coming alive again – I don’t believe that dumping the last bits of our wealth into an early- to mid-20th century real-estate-scheme-style transportation network is worth the cost.

  • Sam Alcorn

    Please excuse the rambling nature of the following:

    It seems to me that all of the arguments represented here boil down to one basic choice. Either infrastructure should be designed to cater to the existing habits of people, or infrastructure should drive those habits. I am reminded of a comment I saw somewhere else on this blog that recommended one solution to these problems was to replace traffic engineers with landscape architects. (I think he must have meant urban designers, but the point is very well taken)

    Talking simply about people’s existing transportation habits seems to ignore the the role that the existence of the infrastructure they use to get around had on there being where they are in the first place. To say that people have no choice but to drive 2 hours to work leaves out the fact that the very roads they drive on to get there are what enabled them to see living/working where they do as a viable option. If we had no cars, some people might complain about having to walk or bike 2 hours to work. The problem is not that it’s difficult to get from one place to another. The problem is that people have to travel that far because the roads/freeways/whatever were built in the first place and encouraged everything to be so spread out. Not to mention the asinine zoning laws legally enforcing this separation among uses. I mean, seriously, in whose interest was it to ensure that people lived far away from where they worked and shopped?

    It seems to me that government planning (with some notable exceptions) has generally tended toward serving perceived existing needs (LOS, traffic counts, etc), while private development involved the building of infrastructure in order to increase land value for the investors (eg streetcar suburbs). Of course, this dichotomy often becomes perverted, and the government uses its budget and power of eminent domain to serve the private development interests.

    All this said, the LA that I live in (Palms/Venice/Santa Monica) is very walkable/bikeable. I have a Ralph’s and two small independent groceries within very easy walking distance. Though I have a small pick-up truck, I’ve put many times as many miles on my bike as on my truck in the last few years. The insurance company for my truck didn’t have a mileage category low enough to cover my actual use. I think their lowest mileage category STARTED in the thousands of miles per year, rather than say, 0-3000 or something.

    I was excited to move into an apartment right on Venice Blvd because of the bike lane, but the condition of the road surface scares me MUCH more than the drivers whizzing by to the left.


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