Buffered Bike Lanes Coming Soon To Montana Ave. in Santa Monica

Montana Avenue Preliminary Buffered Bike Lane Markings
Montana Avenue preliminary buffered bike lane markings.

Following recent street repaving along Montana Ave., you may notice preliminary markings that are a little different than what was there before.

Montana from 17th St. to 7th St. is being redesigned from standard minimum width bike lanes to include the new buffered bike lane treatment that was first implemented on the short length of Bicknell Street in March. In addition to the bike lane upgrade, Montana from 7th to Ocean Ave., which did not previously have bike lanes, will also get buffered bike lanes continuing to the western terminus of Montana, closing yet another gap in the local bike lane network. While Bicknell introduced this new design to the Santa Monica street lexicon, Montana Avenue is a more significant change since it is a popular mixed use and retail oriented corridor.

I consulted with Santa Monica senior transportation planner Michelle Glickert and transportation engineer Jay Dinkins about the status of this project. Dinkins expects the final paint will be down by Wednesday morning of next week for 7th to 17th, but 7th to Ocean may come later.  The transition across 7th, where the block narrows and present turn pockets create a tighter choke point, before opening up a little again mid-block further West is a special challenge for planners. While the department is working on a plan, the paint isn’t ready to go down.  It’s important to get such a transition right, or it really diminishes the connectivity, especially for those who are more risk adverse.

Bicknell Buffered Bike Lane
What a finished buffered bike lane looks like on Bicknell, the first street to have one implemented.

In order to make this whole design configuration work, a little bit of the extra space is being trimmed out of the standard travel lanes and center turn lane. From 17th to 7th the specs are 7 ft. parking lane, 7 ft. buffered bike lane (3 ft. of which is door zone buffer), 11 ft. vehicle lane, and 10 ft. center left turn lane.

From 7th to Ocean, which is residential in character and does not include a bus route or center turn lane, getting this buffered bike lane to fit will involve 10 ft. travel lanes. A 10 ft. lane configuration is proven to be safe, but is often shunned in many modern street designs that use lanes that are 12 ft. or even wider. It’s great to see Santa Monica is not afraid to stripe 10 ft. travel lanes where it’s appropriate and can benefit other street users.

When I rode up and down the corridor on Thursday morning, people were already largely following the new spray painted guide marks. At one point traveling Westbound I passed 3 ft. vehicles one after another in which a driver was opening their car door. However with the 7 ft. bike lanes, 3 ft. of which are marked as the “buffer”, it was no sweat to ride by. For retail oriented streets with high parking turnover, this is a significant improvement in ride feel. The city’s Bike Action Plan (warning: link is a 50 mb PDF) also calls for Main Street and Broadway Avenue, which are popular bike corridors, to get similar treatments.

For some people, it may well take the full separation of cycle tracks to feel comfortable riding.  Cycle tracks were by far the most popular option on the little sticker boards at prior public meetings concerning possible bikeways. However, these new buffered bike lanes are an easily and cheaply implemented improvement that I expect will increase safety, nudge ridership forward, and offer a little more wiggle room and peace of mind for those already riding.

  • In L.A., our Spring Street buffered bike lane is on the other side of the lane, separating the bikes from car traffic.  Santa Monica calls a buffered bike lane one buffering from traffic.  Any planners out there know which one, if not both, is using the right term?

  • Polychronopolis

    When you say “buffer” you don’t mean an actual closed off lane where a car can’t just slide over the white painted line, right?

  • This is really great news for pedestrians in the area as well. Montana has both a lot of car traffic and lots of pedestrian traffic. Notably, many crossings are made at unsignalized intersections. Hopefully this larger bike lane also has some calming effects that bring down car speed and allow for safer pedestrian crossings. Improvements north of 17th are also needed.

  • I’m using the language outlined in Santa Monica’s Bike Action Plan, in which “buffered” is additional space that is striped, but not physically separated. Cycle tracks that are physically separated by more than paint are also featured as a design type in the plan. 17th St. connecting between SMC and the future Expo Line station at Colorado and 17th, Pearl St. on the other side of SMC, and possibly Stewart St. in the Bergamot district are the corridors I am currently aware of where cycle tracks are being being considered.

  • Here’s what NACTO has to say about “Buffered Bike Lanes”
    While the figures used to demonstrate the treatment are all travel-lane buffers, but the text guidance says the buffer may also be between parked cars and the bike lane.  The Sloat Ave buffered bike lanes in SF (implemented by Caltrans, no less) is a travel lane skip-stripe, while Oakland will soon stripe similar skip-stripe buffered bike lanes on Adeline Street, but buffering the parking lane instead.

    Which is to say, in longwinded fashion, a “buffered bike lane” is a lane with a buffer, irrespective of location.

  • Anonymous

    I live in Downtown LA on Spring Street. We have a buffered green(ish) bike lane. My experience has been that it’s nice to have it buffered only when traffic is sparse. When traffic is heavy, cars can now fit in the buffered bike lane and use it as a bypass lane. This renders the buffered bike lane useless as a bike lane at all when cars feel inconvenienced. Now I’m starting to wonder if a buffered bike lane only makes sense if it’s physically separated with a curb or bollards.

  • As far as I know, there’s no formal definition of “buffered bike lane” with regard to whether the buffer sits next to the travel lane or the parking lane. That being said, the former definition appears to be much more commonly used, as most of the examples that come up on Google show the buffer next to the travel lane, and all of these photos from the NACTO Urban Bikeway guide show the buffer between the bike lane and the adjacent travel lane. http://nacto.org/bufferedbikelane_photos/ There are a few cases where the “buffer” sits in the door zone — sometimes taking the form of an extra-wide parking lane, and sometimes employing hash marks or other markings. This City of Portland document actually hedges and says that buffered lanes can be buffered on both sides when parked cars are present. 

    So while it would appear Santa Monica’s approach is the exception, the issue isn’t yet settled, and both definitions will probably continue to be used for the foreseeable future.

  • Chris beat me to it, and said it in fewer words. A tip of the hat to you, sir.

  • Thanks, @twitter-84007946:disqus 
    The choice to buffer either the travel lane or the parking lane is a matter of what you’re trying to accomplish.  On streets where there are concerns that driver speeds would discourage hesitant bicyclists, a travel lane buffer is probably called for, especially when there’s low parking turnover.  For a street with high parking turnover and a lower speed differential between bikes and cars, a parking buffer can have a significant safety improvement.
    I know a few cities who have done a 4-2 or 4-3 road diet on streets meant for lower traffic volumes where they put in a parking lane buffer because they though it would have a larger traffic calming impact: putting a buffer between the travel lane and the bike lane can sometimes induce higher speeds because of perceived separation.  Putting bicyclists further out into the street on these roads by buffering the parking lane will visually narrow the drivers’ space, theoretically causing slower speeds.

  • It should be noted that the bike lane buffer being used in Santa Monica is I believe a little narrower than Spring St. in LA, and the travel lane width is reduced as wel. So while a compact car might just be able to squeeze in there in the Santa Monica buffer lanes, it would be a very tight uncomfortable fit at a 7 ft. width. 

  • Yes, I didn’t really mention it here but probably should have, but I do expect this to be an enhancement to the pedestrian traffic on Montana Ave. as well. By creating a shorter space to cross with car traffic, and tighter travel lanes that should have a calming effect on max speeds.

  • J

    Good first step. Now all you need to do is swap the bike lane and the parking lane, address the intersections, and you have a cycle track.

  • Doug Perth, Santa Monica

    I agree with everyone, this is great for our area!!!!

  • Dennis Hindman

    That’s not allowed under the Caltrans Highway Design Manual. Some cities in California, such as San Francisco have, done it though.

  • Guest

    Is there any indication that the bike lane will get its own (green) color?    In NYC that really helps differentiate the lane.

  • Ubrayj02

    No EIR for this?!

  • Sam Morrissey

    In Santa Monica we are using the term “buffer” to mean the door zone area between the travelled way of the bike lane and the parked vehicles.  During the design development for Montana Avenue we had lengthy discussions with our designers regarding the use of the term “buffer,” and we recognize that other cities may use the term in a different manner.
    Our parking “T”s will also remain on Montana Avenue, as they provide guidance for vehicle parkers.  The “T”s will extend into the buffer area of the bike lane approximately two feet.
    On behalf of the City staff and consultants who worked on this project, thank you Gary for this great article.  Both Michelle and Jay worked very long and hard to get this design completed in time for the repaving, and our Public Works Department has been very accommodating in getting new bicycle striping implemented.  Our design consultant, IBI, was also instrumental in working with us to develop some innovative treatments and address many of the challenging aspects of the design. 

  • Anonymous

     Thanks to CABO and the cult of Vehicular Cycling, we are, as Dennis points out, not allowed such modernity in California.

  • Alison

    Love the new buffered bike lanes on Montana, Sixth Street and many other SM streets.  They keep cyclists out of the door zone IF they know they should not be hugging the parked cars.  Bike Safety Workshops taught at local middle schools helped students and parents practice using them properly.  We need more chances for young cyclists and parents to practice bike skills with experienced League Cycling Instructors so we take advantage of our improved bike infrastructure.


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