MyFigueroa! Plan for LA’s First Protected Bike Lanes Clears Environmental Review

The future Figeuroa Street?

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning released the Final Environmental Impact Report for the South Figueroa Streetscape Project (MyFigueroa!). The $20 million MyFigueroa! Project will bring Los Angeles its first protected bike lanes and a transit-only lane while removing some street parking and mixed-use travel lanes.

“As the first such protected bicycle facility in the City, the Figueroa Streetscape Project is a great opportunity to realize a truly multi-modal vision for our City streets, and will serve to attract a broader range of Angelenos into the emerging bicycle network,” writes David Somers with City Planning.

MyFigueroa! is a plan to create Los Angeles’ first Complete Street or Living Street. The project area includes four miles of streets that stretch from downtown L.A.  to South Los Angeles: Figueroa Street from 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles to 41st Street, just south of Exposition Park; 11th Street from Figueroa Street east to Broadway in the South Park neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles; and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Figueroa Street west to Vermont Avenue, on the south edge of Exposition Park. 

Different parts of the project will see different road improvements. For more details, visit the MyFigueroa! website.

Community groups, traffic safety organizations, and residents have voiced overwhelming support for the plan both through written public comment and at community forums. However, the plan has proven controversial with businesses along the corridor, including car dealerships, and the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA).

As you might expect, the businesses are concerned that by balancing the needs of all road users, it will be less convenient for car drivers to get to their businesses. By design, many of the people doing business at a car dealership will be driving to it. So why South Figueroa? Somers explains that the importance of the corridor as a connector between Downtown Los Angeles and South Los Angeles makes it the perfect location.

“The location is appropriate as a first of its type, in that the project connects USC and Downtown, two areas with great potential to support low-cost beneficial travel options, as well as greater local economic activity,” he continues.

Original MyFigueroa! project plans included even bolder changes to the streetscape, including increased space for pedestrians and outdoor seating areas for businesses. However, after initial public comment in 2010 and 2011, these plans were dropped for the current plans.

As we’ve seen with other attempts to mollify critics of progressive transportation, compromise doesn’t satisfy them. Despite the compromise changes, the Shammas Group, which owns automobile retailers along the corridor threatens to not go forward with a $20 million expansion project if the project goes forward. The Shammas Group’s comments can be read on pages 40-42 of this document.

While the release of the Final Environmental Impact Report is a good sign that the project is moving forward, it faces one opponent larger than AAA and car dealerships: time. The project is funded through funds from State Proposition 1C, and funding is default if the project has not completed construction by the end of December, 2014. LADOT and the project team are confident it remains on track to completion, but any significant delay could prove fatal.

Both former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Council Member Jan Perry, who represent the corridor, were vocally supportive of the project. Their successors, Eric Garcetti and Curren Price, have not formally weighed in either in support or opposition.

  • Bob Sutterfield

    It’s vitally important for cyclists that this facility not be mislabeled (as depicted here) with Bike Lane stencils and signage. It’s not a Bike Lane since it’s separated from the adjacent travel lane by an uncrossable barrier, preventing cyclists from entering or leaving at midblock. Instead, it’s a sidepath of a particularly hazardous design that AASHTO and CalTrans standards warn against.

    If it’s promoted (as here) as a Bike Lane, and if it’s built with stencils and signage indicating it’s a Bike Lane, users will be confused. Cyclists will be misled to believe it’s a safe place for them to operate, so they’ll be lured into using it without the knowledge and constant vigilance required to avoid the problems such a sidepath creates.

    Even worse, since Bike Lanes are mandatory for cyclists to use in California, other roadway users and law enforcement will harass cyclists who choose to enjoy the safety and convenience of using the regular travel lanes. Cyclists who prefer to operate according to the ordinary rules of the road for drivers of vehicles will be presumed guilty if they’re not using the sidepath, and they’ll be forced to explain and justify their presence off the reservation.

    Yes, this sort of facility is popular with non-cyclists, and with cyclists who prefer the comfort (perceived safety but not actual safety) of segregation. But it is actively hostile to cyclists who prefer the safety and convenience of integration with the rest of traffic. Why build a divisive facility to alienate and disenfranchise a portion of the cycling population?

    For the sake of all cyclists, please don’t promote and designate this facility as if it were a standard Bike Lane. Instead, recognize its non-standard nature and call it a “segregated bikeway”.

  • Dan Gutierrez

    I would also urge the City of LA to sign and mark the facility as a path, following the lead of Long Beach, that signed their cycletracks on 3rd and Broadway as paths:

  • Dennis Hindman

    Its utter nonsense that a cycletrack is less safe compared to riding in the street with the much larger mass and speeds of motor vehicles. Your whole argument seems to be based on the premise that motorists do not make mistakes when you are riding among them. Isn’t it amazing how car manufacturers are required to install automatic seatbelts, airbags, safety glass, crush zones and safety cells to project occupants and yet you claim that bicyclists are safer riding in mixed traffic with these vehicles that are traveling at much higher speeds compared to having a barrier to separate them.

    You are six times more likely to be killed while riding a bicycle in the U.S. compared to the Netherlands and about five times more likely to be killed while riding a bicycle in the U.S. compared to Germany or Denmark. The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany all have reduced the fatality rate for bicycling by 60-80% since 1970 while increasing the bicycling modal share with the extensive use of cycletracks. The U.S. has reduced the fatality rate for bicycling since 1970 by about 10%

    Starting from the 1950’s the Dutch had a increasing use of cars, a falling bicycling rate and sharp rise in fatalities for bicycling due to collisions with motor vehicles. There were 400 children under the age of 14 killed in traffic collisions in the Netherlands in 1971. The Dutch instituted a new transportation policy which included cycletracks along major streets in the cities. As a result of this and other safety improvements there were 14 children under the age of 14 killed in traffic accidents in 2010. This was accomplished with a rising rate of modal share for bicycling.

    Page 19 of this pdf from the LA Thinkbike workshop clearly shows the dramatic difference in safety improvements that were made for bicycling in the Netherlands starting in the mid 1970’s, and this continued when cycletracks were built throughout the country starting in the 1980’s:

  • Erik Griswold

    Ah, the Cult of the Johns have made their appearance. Looking forward to the video of them riding along Fig, not using the Cycletrack, because they can. VroomVroom!

  • MikeOnBike

    Dennis, the dangers of cycletracks can be summed up in one word: intersections

  • DJ
  • MikeOnBike

    Data proves collisions don’t happen where cycletracks intersect roads?

  • Kenny Easwaran

    The document states that there have been some substantial modifications to the plan since earlier drafts. In particular, one extra southbound mixed-use traffic lane is proposed. The document doesn’t talk about any modifications to pedestrian areas. I’m worried that this means that sidewalks and bus stations won’t be upgraded as originally suggested (and suggested by the visuals included here from earlier drafts). I’d be grateful if anyone can confirm one way or another what’s going on here – it would be a shame if they have to completely redo the project in a couple years because they failed to make any pedestrian improvements in the first go-round.

  • Anonymous

    You’ve gotta be kidding .This thing is barely wide enough for one bicycle. So, everyone gets to ride at the speed of the slowest, or topple over the curb trying to pass. Yes, my name is John And so what?

  • Bob Sutterfield

    Users who enjoy sidepaths are, as always, welcome to continue using them. I’m not suggesting any such restrictions.

    Why are sidepath enthusiasts so eager to require all cyclists to use only sidepaths? All I want is the freedom (if I choose) to continue driving my bicycle in the travel lane according to the ordinary rules of the road for drivers of vehicles. If the sidepath is mistakenly signed and stenciled as if it were a standard bike lane, I’ll suffer harassment from other motorists and persecution from police for not staying “in my place.” No, this is not hypothetical, it actually happens.

    Again, why build a divisive facility to alienate and disenfranchise a portion of the cycling population?

  • MikeOnBike

    The drawing can’t possibly be to scale. How did the cyclist in the green jersey pass the two pedestrians without knocking them down?

  • Dennis Hindman

    You seem to be implying that bicycling on a street between curbs should be limited to only those willing to tolerate the stress and increased risk of riding in mixed traffic with the much greater mass motor vehicles that are traveling several times their speed.

    I never stated that the less than 1% of potential bicyclists that have strong enough nerves to take this much greater risk should be restricted from doing so.

    If you are taking the lane bicycling on a street that has motor vehicles moving 2-3 times faster than you and you do not have motorists telling you to get the f*ck off the road, get on the sidewalk or have never had a policeman tell you to move to the side of the road, then you are riding on busy streets that are much more like a perfect world than I am.

  • Bob Sutterfield

    People driving their bicycles on the roadway (“between curbs”) find it’s easier and less stressful than maintaining the extreme vigilance required to operate safely on the acutely hazardous sidepaths depicted in this article. But different people have different preferences, and the facilities built should accommodate any lawful behavior.

    Yes, by advocating for painting Bike Lane stencils and posting Bike Lane signs on a facility in California, you are requiring all cyclists to use those facilities, both by law (CVC 21208) and by cultural custom (harassment). Why impose your preferences on all cyclists?

    Motor vehicles ahead of me in my lane travel whatever speed their drivers want, and they’re welcome to that.
    Motor vehicles in adjacent lanes travel whatever speed their drivers want, and they’re welcome to that.
    Motor vehicles behind me in my lane travel the same speed I travel. How
    could they possibly be moving 2-3 times faster than I am, when they’re
    behind me? If motorists behind me want to travel faster than me, they
    change lanes and pass me.

    Yes, I have had motorists and law enforcement telling me to get in the bike lane or off the road, though I have been traveling safely and lawfully and cooperatively and courteously. That’s a result of the culture’s entitlement attitude with speed, and mistaken thinking about Far-To-the-Right laws. I find I am the target of increased harassment when there’s an adjacent facility (Bike Lane or sidepath) the motorist thought I should be using, and the perpetrators aren’t interested in hearing any discussion about why I chose not to use that facility.

  • MikeOnBike

    To borrow a quote, “Cyclists are hidden from turning motorists until the moment of impact.”

    This is easy enough to demonstrate. Just try riding on a sidewalk and see how many close calls you have at intersections and driveways.

  • Syzlak

    Rendering I saw says the cycle track will be 8ft wide with 3ft buffer. Too narrow?

  • Dennis Hindman

    Creating a bicycle way that is separate and protected from cars and buses creates a less disrupted route for the cyclist by not having to deal with buses moving to and from the curb. This also reduces the number of potential conflicts with motorists moving in and out of lanes, hence creating a safer situation for the cyclist.

    The Dutch were forced to be vehicular cyclists in the 1960’s and earlier in their cities by virtue of not having very much cycling specific infrastructure. This led to increased fatalities as the car use increased while decreasing the desire of people to bicycle. The Dutch held massive protests against this auto centered transportation policy that was endangering their children’s lives and this is how they ended up creating thousands of kilometers of bike paths throughout the country. This is played a big part in reducing the fatalities and injuries for bicycling.

    Here’s a video that goes over this history:

    Here’s another video that briefly goes over some of the same key points and then proceeds to show how much more comfortable and less stressful cycling has become since cycle tracks were put in:

    Here’s another video that in contrast illustrates how much more stressful it usually is to cycle in mixed traffic in large U.S. cities compared to the Netherlands:

  • Bob Sutterfield

    Yes, we’ve all seen the propaganda. Lots of people are pretty excited about them.

    You can build them if you want, and you can use them if you like. I’m just asking you to leave off the Bike Lane stencils and signs, and stop calling them Bike Lanes, because they aren’t Bike Lanes. Calling them Bike Lanes has adverse effects on cyclists who prefer not to use them.

    Why make them mandatory so I have to use them too?

  • Dennis Hindman

    Sidewalks are not cycle tracks. This is not bicycle specific infrastructure.

    I have ridden hundreds of times on the Orange Line mixed use path that has both the pedestrians and bicyclists cross the streets on by way of crosswalks. At no time have I had a close call in one of these crosswalks except when I went across when the motorists were given a green light to turn left/right towards me under a don’t walk signal.

    Installing these left/right turn specific signals have reduced the potential conflicts substantially for pedestrians, cyclists, buses and cars. Pedestrians and cyclists are hidden from motorists until they are in the crosswalk at several of these intersections, yet I have found far less conflicts with motorists compared to riding in the street to and from this mixed use path.

  • Dennis Hindman

    You don’t seem to have an explanation to the dilemma of its so dangerous to ride on cycle tracks, then why are so many people riding on them in the Netherlands? Or why are virtually all of these bicyclists not wearing helmets? And why on earth is it common for parents there to take their babies with them while bicycling and they aren’t wearing any protection either?

  • MikeOnBike

    I didn’t say they’re the same, I said they have the same turning conflicts.

    You seem to be saying that sidewalks are worse than streets (otherwise you’d ride the sidewalks to the path). But cycletracks are better than the street. What specific features of cycletracks do you think makes them far superior to sidewalks?

  • MikeOnBike

    Thanks, that’s a good list of differences.

    I think there’s still the fundamental problem that a cycle track makes intersections more complex. One option, as in NYC, is to have turning traffic merge into the cycle track, but that ruins the continuity of the cycle track.

    Another option is separate signal phases (and no right turn on red), but that slows everybody down, and some cyclists aren’t going to wait for their own green phase.

    I hope we can all agree on two things:

    1. Design matters. Some cycle track designs are going to work better than others. If there are going to be cycle tracks, they need to be good ones.

    2. Cyclists don’t all want the same thing. Some will love cycle tracks. Some will want to avoid them at all costs. Let’s make sure use of the cycle tracks is optional.

    I don’t think either of those points should be controversial, but some of the comments here suggest they might be.

  • DJ

    Data proves that properly designed cycle tracks are the safest tool we have available. They reduce risk for all collisions by 90% relative to no bicycle infrastructure, while bike lanes reduce collision risk by 45%.

  • MikeOnBike

    Since most car-bike collisions are at intersections, your data seem to show that cycle tracks practically eliminate intersection collisions. How do they do that? What is it about cycle tracks, compared to bike lanes, sidewalks, or ordinary streets, that practically eliminate intersection collisions?

  • Erik Griswold

    Well, actually I was referring to Johns Forester and Franklin:
    but you do get an honorable mention John Allen, especially for your wonderful video in which you ride through the Fresh Pond Rotary in Cambridge, Mass. something I would not dare do even in an M-1 tank, and then go on to deliver this beautiful critique of Cambridge’s first non-MIT-colocated cycletrack:

    P.S. I’ll always fight for your right to ride with Trucks and Buses in traffic, all I ask is that you stop blocking the allowing of Cycletracks in the USA. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Folks, have a look at the video Erik also linked to,

    The cycle track puts bicyclists directly in conflict with passengers stepping off buses, and it crosses more than 30 streets and driveways into an industrial area in 3000 feet. Also please note that I advocate a two-way path on the other side of the street, which has only a single signalized intersection over the same length. So, I’m supposed to be opposed to barrier-separated bikeways in the street corridor, and somehow also I prevent them from being built all around the USA? I oppose horrible, unsafe design, of which Concord Avenue is a prime example. Erik, do you mean sarcasm when you say “beautiful”? Please explain.

    As to my riding through the Fresh Pond rotary, I’m not asking you to do that — that’s why I advocated the two-way path. Tens of thousands of people drive through it every day, including motorcyclists who are just as vulnerable as bicyclists — and a few bicyclists too. They don’t need M-1 tanks and if you really think that you do, more’s the pity. I find that riding to be visible and predictable, and making my intentions clear, opens up a world of places I can get from, through and to on my bicycle. The skills are early learned, so why wait for an M-1 tank or a cycle track?

  • Anonymous

    8 feet between curbs is barely wide enough for one-way travel with one line of bicyclists overtaking another. If cargo trikes, backfiets and pedicabs enter the picture, any of them will block other traffic from overtaking. AASHTO recommends 10 or 12 feet, with rideable shoulders.

  • Anonymous

    Vroom, vroom, huh? What kind of Superman do you think I am? Where’s the motor? My average level-ground speed is about 15 mph when I’m feeling good. As to whether i’ll not use the cycletrack, I’dl probably avoid the street altogether if it looks anything like the drawing at the top of thsi page. I don’t like the choice of 8 mph stuck behind the slowest bicyclists, or being harassed by motorists because I’m not staying in the space which has so thoughtfully been set aside for me.

  • Anonymous

    You appear to be citing the most extreme conclusion of the notorious Vancouver/Toronto study, which is way out of line with anything else every published on the topic. The large and careful 2007 Copenhagen study showed that the crash rate went up when cycle tracks were installed. Yes, Denmark has a low bicycle crash rate, but the cycle tracks are still less safe!

  • Dennis Hindman

    S.U. Jensen–one of the authors of the 2007 Copenhagen study you cite–stated that there are several reasons for the increase in accidents and injuries for cycle tracks. The most dominate is that construction of cycle tracks often leads to a parking ban on these streets. This in-turn leads to more cars turning to park on the side street. If parking is not banned on the main road, then most often the change does not increase the accident rate.

    In the above link, Dr. Lon D. Roberts also points out that the risk of a collision decreases as the cycling rate goes up. How do you get more people to bicycle? Install bike lanes and cycle tracks.

  • Syzlak

    Idk, 8ft is a huge improvement over what Figueroa looks like today. Why don’t you lobby for 10ft wide cycle tracks then rather than fighting all forms of infrastructure?

    Here’s how I see bike infra developing in LA– incrementally. I have no doubt our streets will be as safe and pleasant for cycling as they are in Denmark if we encourage these kinds of projects, even if they fall 2 feet short of the AASHTO recommendation for a single direction cycle track (ps. I didn’t know they had any recommendations for cycle tracks!)

  • Anonymous

    More than 8-feet? That’s a laughably high bar seemingly presented with the intention of reducing the amount of bicycle safety improvements that can be made by increasing the size requirement. Bakfiets would not block someone from passing on a 8-foot wide bikeway that does not have parked car doors to contend with.

    Bike lanes must be a minimum 4.1-feet for a bike lane and 6.56-feet for a single direction cycle track in the Netherlands as you can see in this video:

  • Anonymous

    Cycle tracks are extensively used throughout Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. These countries have a much higher modal share for cycling and a much lower fatality or injury rate than the UK or the U.S. where cycle tracks are uncommon.

    Cycle tracks were put throughout the Netherlands to increase the comfort and safety for bicycling. Your implying that they wasted their money and could have gotten a high rate of cycling and an even lower injury or fatality rate by not using cycle tracks. Which is contrary to what was happening in the Netherlands with a increase in automobile use during the 50′,60’s and early 70’s.

  • Anonymous

    Cycle tracks tend to be wider than sidewalks and are meant to not only separate the bicycle from motor vehicles but also from pedestrians. A wider path than a typical sidewalk enables a faster average speed for a bicyclist.

    Its startling and uncomfortable for most pedestrians to have a cyclist swiftly go past them on a sidewalk. Having this sense of stress also happens for most people on a bicycle when a motor vehicle goes past them at more than 10 miles an hour greater speed than they are riding at.

    Riding on the street next to the Orange Line mixed use path is faster than on this off-street path. That’s due to making the crosswalk design for pedestrians and not bicyclists. There are pedestrian push buttons out of arms reach from the ramp to the street and most intersections its required to hit this button to activate the walk signal. That slows down travel, but it does not decrease safety. There many times more people riding on this path than on the parallel street due to being away from the noise and stress of motor vehicle traffic.

    The Orange Line mixed use path should have followed the guidelines using in the Netherlands with bicycle activated loop detectors, little–if any–steepness or narrowness to access the street and bicycle specific signals.

  • Julio

    Bike lanes only take up lanes and more traffic. For one or two ppl who use bikes not worth it

  • Look. Nothing is perfect but, this is a start towards more bike lanes in downtown L.A. that are at least more visible. I think we should support this effort as a means for further infrastructure development in other parts of the city.


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