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Showdown or Compromise? All’s Quiet in Advance of Tomorrow’s Hearing on the Spring Street Green Bike Lane

Tom LaBonge leads a ride down the Spring Street Green Buffered Bike Lane as part of last week's Tour LaBonge.

(An earlier version of this story featured a picture we believed showed an image from a film shot in New York that had a green bike lane removed. The location did not include a bike lane, we fell for a twitter joke. Sorry. - DN)

For awhile, it seemed as though everyone had something to say about the Spring Street Green Buffered Bike Lane. The pilot project became a hotly debated item around town after the Film and Television Industry's lobbying group decried the lane's impact on local filming.

But tomorrow, the City Council will decide the fate of the green painted lane. The Council will hear, and vote on, a motion by Council Member Jose Huizar, who represents the area that the lane runs through. And after a year of non-stop chatter, Los Angeles Times editorials calling for compromise, and an ongoing debate that happened in public and private; all of a sudden nobody is talking.

Huizar's office has delayed commenting. Council Member and Mayor-Elect Garcetti, who is partially responsible for the lane not being repainted, has refused to comment. Streetsblog didn't reach out to Council Member Tom LaBonge, who also opposes the lanes, because he is the only person who is commenting...and commenting to anyone who will listen. He still thinks the lane should lose all its color. In fact, he's starting to question this whole bike-lane thing in a more fundamental way.

Even advocacy and community groups are being shy. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition pointed me to their letter to the City Council. Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council President Patti Berman pointed me to an April resolution by the Neighborhood Council stating succinctly,

"NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) re-iterates is support for retaining the Green Bike Lane on Spring Street, and urges the City work with DLANC, FilmLA, and the cycling community to find a solution to any complaints whilst retaining the integrity of the Green Lane program."

One reason for the public silence is that nobody is completely sure where Film L.A. stands anymore. Industry representatives reportedly "walked away" from the most recent "compromise" the same day the Los Angeles Times patted itself on the back for supporting it.

So, with perhaps the final showdown occurring tomorrow morning, here is a primer of what you need to know about the Spring Street Green Buffered Bike Lane controversy.

1) The Spring Street Green Buffered Bike Lane was a pilot project, and ultimately a very successful one. Spring and Main were chosen for a buffered bike lane pilot program because they are streets bustling with multi-modal and pedestrian activity, and perfect candidates for more than just green highlights at designated conflict zones. Ridership alone indicates this was a successful application of this traffic control device. Collision data over time should also prove similar results.

The green bike lane has become part of the cultural fabric of Downtown Los Angeles.

The LACBC letter states:

Since installation, ridership on Spring Street has increased markedly, over 40% on weekdays and 28% on weekends. During peak hours, ridership increased over 57% and 83% on weekdays and weekends respectively. Bicycling has become an essential mode of transportation for those living and working downtown, with few other convenient options serving trips within the central business district.

Berman puts it even more succinctly, "This is not an automobile society we have in the Downtown hisotic core. We walk. We ride bikes. That's not true of all Downtown, but it is in the Historic Core."

Letting the lane fade away, or replacing it with a design that doesn't increase safety is simply putting the convenience of film and television industry site location managers over the safety of people making every day journeys down these streets.

2) There already was a compromise on Spring Street last year.  A second "compromise" would be jus that, a second diluting of the original program. Will there be more compromises until the lane, the Spring Street Parklets, and every other backlot blocker is gone?

The Film L.A. blogsite actually brags that when Spring Street was first painted green, they were able to receive concessions from the city: namely a change in permitting rules allowing Film L.A. to block bike lanes with their vehicles and the promise not to paint Main Street green as was planned at the time. In other words, Film L.A. already got half of the Downtown Green Buffered Bike Lane program killed. Now they're using that "compromise" as the baseline for the new negotiations, and are enabled by the political posturing of LaBonge and possibly Garcetti.

3) A "compromise" that doesn't pass federal rules regarding road markings effectively kills the program. Film L.A.'s favorite "compromise," removing green from the midblock segments and leaving two long strips of green on either side of the white boundary lines is not compliant with FHWA standards for "interim approval for use of green colored pavement."

This is what happens when the design of a traffic control device is decided for aesthetic reasons by those who work outside of the engineering and design professions, people who might not have the safety of all road users at the forefront of their efforts.

Approving this "compromise" could kill the program entirely.

4) Film L.A. lies a lot, or they have no idea what they're talking about. 

Lie #1: Nobody paints bike lanes green except Los Angeles

Lie #2: Green paint is really hard to get out in post-production

These two lies, when they were both disproven and widely mocked, were dropped in favor of a new statement about how the green paint used is reflective and would be disruptive because of the reflections. It causes problems in shoots, when you want it to look, for example, like this:

Of course, this shot was taken in New York without green bike lanes. Or, I should say you can't see the green bike lanes. They were removed in post production.

5) Film L.A. has never once publicly produced a statistic that showed that filming on Spring Street, the Historic Core, Downtown Los Angeles, or Los Angeles as a whole as a result of the lane being painted green. In fact, the only statistics we have access to are city wide, and show an increase in filming since the lane was painted in late 2011. A Film L.A. press release touts the 1.7% increase in filming.

 6) This is a pilot project, so the city needs to declare it a success or failure. If it is a failure, then Los Angeles City Council would be saying that the ridership increases and safety weren't enough to overcome the inconvenience to Film L.A.
Los Angeles would have the distinction of being the first American city to remove a green bike lane.

If the program is a success, then repainting should be completed. Compromises can be made on shade of green (getting rid of the reflection issue), and maybe in some sections it could resemble the 1st Street Bike Lane in Boyle Heights where just the conflict zones are green. But in return for these concessions, there should be something given back, perhaps Main Street? Or maybe Bill Rosendahl, Ed Reyes or another of the bike friendly Council Members could suggest a strip of bike lane in their district that should go green.

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