Thoughts While Riding the Expo Bike Lane
Last week, I had a chance to ride on the recently-installed bike lane that runs parallel to the Expo Light Rail Line in South Los Angeles from USC to La Cienega Boulevard. At first, the lanes run on Exposition Boulevard until La Brea where they shoot up to Jefferson Boulevard.
There has already been some controversy about the lanes. Residents living along Jefferson Boulevard woke up one morning to bike lanes and complained they received no notice that the on-street parking to which they were accustomed were going to be removed. There are a cluster of apartment buildings at La Cienega and Jefferson and residents are reportedly readying a campaign to reverse the lanes.
For its part, The Expo Construction Authority held public meetings on the entire Expo project including the bikeway routing. In addition, the environmental documents identified the loss of 52 on-street parking spaces on the north side of Jefferson Blvd. between La Cienega and Carmona “due to roadway reconfiguration with implementation of bicycle lanes.”
The mitigation for this loss is “off-street parking at La Cienega Station and additional 75 spaces to be provided on southeast corner to absorb loss.” (P. 3.3-5, Table 3.3-3). Those spaces are not yet open to the public and of course your average resident isn’t aware of public meetings held by transit agencies. Maybe the city/Metro can look in to the door knockers that CicLAvia uses to warn people of temporary on-street car parking removal.
But last week, the birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and I was riding on new bike lanes for the first time. I found riding them to be a large improvement from lanes on highly trafficked Venice Boulevard a mile or so away, but the lanes themselves left a lot to be desired.
But before we get into the bike lanes themselves, let’s take a moment to note that the delays caused by political and legal controversies have cost the Expo Line. For much of the ride, there was no way one could tell that the line wasn’t open as the stations were completed, the landscaping was completed and the rail lines themselves looked ready to go. The exceptions were the Culver City Aerial Station (at top) and the Farmdale Station (immediately above) adjacent to Dorsey High School. But each of these two stations need a lot of work. The construction crews were working at Dorsey and its hard to tell what’s happening at Culver City with the fences keeping people from getting an up-close view. But if it weren’t for the delays at this stations, it’s conceivable that the Expo Line could already be up and running.
Now for the bike lanes. For the most part, the lanes were five feet wide and ran “against the curb” with only a few sections where the lanes ran adjacent to car parking. Of course, “against the curb” is another way of saying “partially in the gutter,” which is an apt description of a lot of the route.
Some of the worst features of “gutter bike lanes” were on display during the ride. The first is that the road itself is usually in its worst condition in areas where a portion of the bike lanes is in the gutter. In the case of the picture above, the gutter portion is actually the smoothest portion of the road and was where I chose to position my bicycle. For many reasons, this is a less than ideal way to ride a bicycle and I even found myself wishing the lane didn’t exist so that I could just take the lane in the mixed use travel lane.
Another issue with this lane configuration is that much of the lane can be taken up by trash bins or other road debris. As you can see, a five foot bike lane could use 40% of its width on trash day and the surrounding days.
One of the promises of the Expo project was a safe way for cyclists to get from Santa Monica all the way to Downtown Los Angeles. Having just pedaled the route down Venice Boulevartd a couple of days earlier my personal view is that the Expo route is going to be a far superior one to the rough ride on Venice with plenty of traffic “Jerry Browning” you everytime you try the route to Downtown. But the lanes aren’t good enough that everyone is going to make that choice. Given the promises made to cyclists, that’s a shame.