Homeowners Kill Study of Westwood Blvd Bike Lanes, as Councilmember Koretz Caves in

Westwood Blvd 1
There’s no room for bikes on Westwood Blvd, but many bicyclists are forced to ride there anyway.

Last week, CD5 Councilmember Paul Koretz announced that he was opposed to any efforts to install a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard, despite earlier promises to study the issue.

Westwood resident Calla Weimer has been an insightful and outspoken dissenter to the local Homeowner Association’s opposition to the bike lanes. Today she voices her reaction to Koretz’ backpedalling, as bike lane supporters prepare to storm today’s city council meeting in protest of the decision.

An urban transportation system must function as a network.  What are the implications for that network when the leadership of a neighborhood homeowners group can influence their city councilmember to dictate to LADOT that a six block stretch of roadway should not even be the object of study for bike lanes?  That is exactly what has happened with the segment of Westwood Blvd that runs between Santa Monica and Pico.  In response to pressure from the Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowners’ Association (WSSM HOA), Councilmember Koretz declared in a letter dated November 13, 2013 that he “will not be supporting the exploration of the floating bike lane concept nor other options for bike lanes along this crucial commercial corridor.”  This reverses his previous authorization for LADOT to proceed with study of the floating bike lane design, as announced to the WSSM HOA at its annual meeting in June.

Westwood Blvd 2
Bike riders forced to take the lane at rush hour.

As dangerous as this segment of Westwood Blvd is for cyclists, you would think transportation planners would give serious consideration to any proposal that could improve safety.  In 2011, six cyclists were involved in collisions with motor vehicles along this 0.8 mile stretch.  Westwood Blvd is already a major cycling corridor leading to a terminus at UCLA, and its importance for cycling will soon get a boost with the opening of an Expo Line station right on Westwood Blvd little more than two miles from the university campus.  The station will offer no car parking, so the bicycle connection is fundamental to its purpose.  All the more reason, you would think, that planners should focus on this stretch of roadway now, with an eye to how it integrates into transit upgrades.

In halting the study, Councilmember Koretz gave reasons that echoed concerns voiced by the WSSM HOA leadership.  He worries that the floating bike lane design is “far too confusing”.  The design has in fact already been implemented and judged successful in San Francisco.  I hope we can reject any suggestion that Angelenos are more prone to confusion than our neighbors to the north.  The Councilmember further cited his “realization that even this concept would have substantial negative impacts on the movement of traffic, and would cause significant changes for parking conditions along this corridor.”  The impact on parking is clear enough – the only change is that parking during the evening peak shifts from the west side of the street to the east side.  While east side businesses may appreciate this parking windfall, they have long managed without it, and their west side counterparts should be presumed no less adaptive.  Many businesses on the street close by 5pm anyway.  As for “substantial negative impacts on the movement of traffic”, this is precisely the kind of assessment that should be taken on by the professionals at LADOT, not left to the “realization” of a casual observer eyeballing the street (even if that observer is a councilmember).

The problem here is one of process.  Rightfully, the Councilmember at the outset promised community members a study to be followed by informed discussion.  His deputy for transportation urged members of the WSSM HOA bike committee to refrain from outreach activity until the study was completed.  The Deputy’s e-mail of June 18, 2013 reads as follows:

I am writing to inform you that our office has given a green light to staff for the Departments of Transportation and Planning to begin the process of analyzing the model of floating bike lanes for Westwood Blvd. south of Santa Monica.  This process will likely take at least a few months before we have something evaluate.  At that point we can discuss next steps, including a discussion with your HOA committee.  It would be premature at this time to do any active community outreach, since we don’t yet have an analysis of this option as it may apply to Westwood Blvd.

The Councilmember has not made any commitments at this time regarding the floating bike lane plan and he is waiting as I hope that each of you will to see what the analysis will show. 

Jay Greenstein

Chief Field & Transportation Deputy

Fifth Council District

Large truck just squeezed past cyclist in same lane; that couldn't have felt very comfortable.
Large truck squeezes past cyclist in same lane; that can’t feel very comfortable.

Those in favor of bike lanes waited patiently, as instructed, even as the WSSM HOA leadership put out a stream of bike lane denunciations.  Under pressure from the naysayers, the Councilmember then reneged on his promise of a study and community discussion.

On a citywide scale, LA planners are making strides in expanding transit options beyond the automobile and creating a more liveable streetscape.  Yet our bikeway system, while growing, remains highly fragmented and new rail lines being put in place will leave many riders short of their destinations by that last mile or two.  To see the agenda through will require overarching vision and coordination.  Neighborhood voices must be heard as part of the process.  But the discussion should be well informed, and it is incumbent on our Departments of Planning and Transportation to provide the needed information and for our city councilmembers to respect the job that planning officials are charged with doing.

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