Editorial: It Ain’t Easy Bein’ L.A.’s Green Bike Lane

Photo: Joe Linton

The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial earlier this week entitled L.A.’s bike lane blooper. While the Times was generally supportive of L.A. City bike plan implementation, it did come out against green bike lanes in downtown Los Angeles stating that “the green lane spoiled the shots that made Spring the perfect stand-in for Anytown, USA.”

It’s not the main point of this editorial, but, in case the Times and the film industry didn’t get the memo: “Anytown, USA” now has bikes and bike lanes. Spring Street commonly stands in for New York City, which now has plenty of green bike lanes on its streets. Chicago is stepping up with an unprecedented batch of new protected bike lanes. Bike facilities already show up in plenty of movies. I am not a huge film-goer, but can recall spotting on-screen bike lanes in Inception and Mickmacs. If L.A.’s streets do not accomodate bikes, they become frozen in a car-centric outlook that’s fading from Anytown, or at least from Anycity.

Ultimately, though, does film-readiness trump everyday safety and livability? No.

The Spring Street green bike lane is one half of a one-way couplet that flows south on Spring and north on Main Street. Should the Main Street side of the couplet also be green, as has been floated by the city’s Transportation Department – LADOT? The film industry is apparently responding “no” and livability proponents are saying “yes.” I’m going to break ranks here and say that my opinion is that the Main Street lanes don’t need to be green.

Here’s why:

The green markings on Spring are a pilot project. It’s great that the city is experimenting with new tools, but it’s also not quite entirely successful, as a lot of the paint has worn off much sooner than expected. This is ok, the first time out of the gate, everything isn’t expected to work perfectly. The city is experimenting with different materials and different configurations. Kudos to LADOT for this. The right processes and products will be identified, and green paint will take its place in the city street toolbox.

But ultimately more paint means more costs, both up-front now and maintenance in the future. Higher costs mean less mileage completed. I personally favor judicial use of green. Some cities, including Portland, Oregon, have used pavement marking to draw attention to conflict zones: for example, stretches where drivers turn right onto a freeway onramp, but bicyclists continue straight. Using green only in conflict zones keeps costs down, while drawing driver and cyclist attention where it’s most needed.

Rather than delay and debate on whether the lane next phase on downtown L.A.’s Main Street will be green or not, I urge LADOT to implement the bike plan by getting the lane on the ground now. Green can be added in the future, when the city has figured out the best materials to use, and when the film industry has realized that bikes are here to stay in Anytown, USA.

  • Sorry, just a usage note: “judicial use” in second-to-last paragraph should probably be “judicious use.”  

  • One of the most absurd things about that LAT editorial is the assertion that only a certain green can be chroma-keyed in post production.

    Give any visual effects artist or compositor in L.A. a series of shots with that bike lane and the green will be gone before the next coffee break if they don’t want it in the shot. I’m not even a compositor, I’m doing 3D characters for video games, but I could take care of that green no problem in post. The assertion that a different shade of green would have been more “Hollywood friendly” is silly. Now if it was a painted any kind of flesh tone, that could have presented some modest challenges in post if they wanted to knock out the color. The writer is drumming up controversy over nothing at all.

    But really I consider this episode a milestone for the bike movement. The merits of the bike lane itself were not disputed at all, the criticism has been reduced to color choice quibbles that aren’t even legitimate.

  • Michele’s correct! Gary’s right-on too (definitely before the coffee break!)

    and everyone should read BikeSnob NYC’s take on the lanes – he said what I wanted to say in fewer words, more clever and funnier: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2012/02/whirled-premiere-cine-meh-tic.html

  • Davistrain

    A bit off topic, but related to having LA stand in for other cities, and sharp-eyed viewers catching on: In an episode of “The Untouchables” TV series, set in Chicago around 1930, a night street scene shows streetcar tracks with three rails–a dead giveaway that it’s downtown LA, where narrow gauge Yellow Cars shared some routes with standard gauge Pacific Electric Red Cars.  Also, in the distance was a PCC “streamliner” trolley, which didn’t appear in LA until 1937.

  • Jamesbiffin

    Perhaps it was written by an intern who had to edit the green out and is really pissed off he had to work friday night.  

  • James Biffin

    On second thought I’ve come to the conclusion that the op-ed was written by someone who is attempted to arouse opposition to bike lanes, colored or not.  This person probably doesn’t work in the industry or does and is counting on the general public’s ignorance of digital editing to make their argument seem reasonable.  It is clever strategy.  Turn this into a jobs vs cyclists debate that mirrors the real working american vs. elite subway riders rhetoric we’ve seen at a national level. 
    Notice how the arguments have been picked up elsewhere and repeated without much thought. On KCET even.

  • Josef Bray-Ali

    That LA Times article is pure op-ed. The guy looks at film permits and makes the unverified assumption that the color green has immediately affected the entertainment business.

    The sad thing is not that this reporter is such a lame ass that he’d try and provoke a response about this bike lane that is negative.

    The sad thing is that we believe him! The LADOT has pulled green from its other lanes now, based on nothing than an ephemeral article written for pageviews and ad sales – not in the public interest.

    Green, or any defining color, in a bike lane like this is about a cultural and symbolic marker that the right of way is not the exclusive domain of the most reckless – bike riders, and other people not in cars, belong here.

    Don’t be a sucker. Every major American city is doing something similar right now with their streets – NY, Chicago, and others. LA will be a stand-in for “Anytown, USA” as long as there is a movie business here. Bike lanes have nothing to do with it.

  • Dennis Hindman

    LADOT bikeways stated that after they found the paint did not adhere to the concrete sections on 7th street, they checked with New York City’s DOT experience and the reply was that thre was no green painted bike lane treatment on concrete. Well, New York City did have experience with brown paint colorization  for bus lanes. On page 10 of this 2010 NYC bus lane report, it states that the paint did not adhere well to concrete.


    A LADOT bikeways staff member also said that thermoplastic also was not adhering well to concrete in LA. Well, the federal DOT/FAA released a report in 2008 that extensively evaluated thermoplastic materials on contrete and asphalt at Newark airport. On page 13 of this report it shows how thermoplastic looks compared to a paint treatment after 6 months. On page 28 the report concludes that thermoplastic bonded acceptably only when a adhesive was applied.


    LADOT bikeways was testing the viability of tennis court paint treatment by applying it on city owned property for possible application on Spring St. Well, it turns out that Portland had already done this testing and they found that in some areas the paint wore off in 2-3 months, as it states on page 10 of this Fehrs & Peers transportation consultants report:  


    An upcoming test treatment on Spring St. is for Behr concrete stain. On Behr’s website it states that it takes 72 hours of drying to keep the stain from sticking to car tires. It also may require a reapplication in 2-3 hours for uniform coverage and the final result may be slippery when wet.

    A product that is not scheduled to be tested on Spring St. is called Cyclegrip made by EnnisTraffic. It uses a two-part epoxy for the base layer and a crushed glass top layer is then applied. Glass is a harder substance than paint and so this may have more durability. Glass has good reflectivity and so it also may have increased visibility at night or when it rains.


    Colorized bike lanes also create a psychologtical traffic calming effect as is illustrated on page 54 of this Oregon state report on the Pedestrian and Cyclist plan for transportation:


    The above link to a research report by Fehr & Peer states on pages 3-4 that colored bike lanes have been used for decades in Europe for traffic calming by narrowing the feel of the street for drivers.

    A before and after video view of the narrowing of the street after repaving using colorized bike lanes from A View From The Cyclepath blog:


    I counted 36 times when speed increases for different streets in the San Fernando Valley were on the agenda for the LA city council transportation committee since January of 2008. Applying colorization to bike lanes in the SFV could decrease the need for much more costly police enforcement. Lower average speeds would also decrease the severity of injuries to pedestrians and cyclists and make it more attractive to walk or bicycle. 

  • Dennis Hindman

    According to Paul Audley of Film LA, in this LA Weekly 4:10 PM updated article, it’s having to deal with the space taken up by the bike lanes thats the problem and not the green color.


  • Clarence Eckerson

    Funny, look at all the detective and other shows on tv shot in NYC.  You see bike lanes, sharrows, whatever, all over the place.

    Some even feature physically protected lanes and ped plazas.  See the recent film with Matt Damon “The Adjustment Boro”.  What a strange thing for the film industry to be against. 

  • Dennis Hindman

    Here’s the link to the Oregon state report on the pedestrian and bicycling plan for transportation that I missed on my previous post:


  • We need to get L.A. to do plazas so it can stand in for NYC! Keep up the great work, Clarence.

  • The LAT piece was nonsensical, but it wasn’t written by a reporter, and we shouldn’t hold it to the standards of an objective news article — it was written by the Times’ editorial board, labeled as an editorial, and published in the “Opinion” section.

  • The LAT piece was nonsensical, but it wasn’t written by a reporter, and we shouldn’t hold it to the standards of an objective news article — it was written by the Times’ editorial board, labeled as an editorial, and published in the “Opinion” section.

  • Shash_alchishe

    Not surprised with the Times in the least bit. The Times has, in the recent past, attacked other things that are pro-bike and pro-pedestrian, such as red-light cameras and other traffic calming mechanisms.