To KFI’s John & Ken: Where Are Those Streets With “50%” Space For Bikes?

Are there really streets in downtown L.A. where bicyclists get fifty percent of the roadway? Los Angeles Street this morning. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Are there really streets in downtown L.A. where bicyclists get fifty percent of the roadway? Los Angeles Street this morning. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

This morning, I listened to SBLA editor Damien Newton interviewed yesterday on KFI radio’s John and Ken show . Frankly it made me tense to hear the level of antipathy that John and Ken express toward people who bike. Toward me. Toward my family and our safety.

I heard a few misconceptions stated by the hosts, who repeatedly accused Damien of lying.

The falsehood I want to focus on, the one that John and Ken repeated, over and over, was that there are existing places in Los Angeles where bikes get fifty percent of the roadway. I counted ten mentions of this assertion. The first and clearest was in the hosts’ introduction (at 01:25) when they stated:

They’ve [bicyclists] gotten fifty percent of the roadway on some streets in downtown L.A. and other places.

Readers – is there actually a street anywhere in Los Angeles where fifty percent of the roadway is set aside for bikes?

John and Ken, if you are reading this, maybe you could explain where you got this fifty percent number. What streets are you talking about?

The hosts did go on to explain this a bit, blaming road diets. Road diets generally take one lane away from cars and replace it with two bike lanes. In recent years, the city of L.A. has implemented just over fifty miles of road diets on its 6,500 miles of roads. Some road diets perhaps worsen congestion, some do not, and occasionally, in some places where lots of cars turn, they reduce congestion. I am going to assert that 50+ miles of road diets are not a major cause of the extensive congestion many drivers experience throughout Los Angeles. None of these road diets have ever been done on freeways, which seem pretty congested pretty frequently.

But do any road diets in Los Angeles actually give fifty percent of the roadway to bikes? 

I’m going to dive into the weeds of measuring lane widths here. Car lanes are mostly 10 to 12 feet wide. Bike lanes are mostly 5 to 6 feet wide. The most common road diet is a “4-to-3,” converting four car lanes to three car lanes. One example of this in L.A. is 7th Street from Downtown to Koreatown. The “before” condition is two car lanes in each direction, with no turn lanes. The “after” condition is one car lane in each direction, with a continuous left turn lane and one bike lane in each direction.

If we don’t count that center turn lane (or any street parking), after the road diet, the dieted street will have 2 car lanes – roughly 22 feet of width – and two bike lanes – roughly 10 feet. Bikes get 10 feet out of 32 feet; that’s 31 percent or roughly a third of the roadway. I’ll repeat: that one-third estimate is just the through-traffic area, not counting space allocated for cars turning or cars parking. If we include an 11-foot turn lane and two 7-foot parking lanes, the percentage for bikes goes down to about 20 percent (10 feet out of 57 feet), or roughly a fifth of the roadway.

A lot of L.A. road diets are even bigger. Some corridors, including Los Angeles Street and Colorado Boulevard, went from six car lanes to four car lanes with two bike lanes. Not counting turning or parking, this scenario gives bikes roughly a third to a fifth of the space, too.

I asked around among my Facebook friends if they could think of any streets where bikes were getting fifty percent. SBLA contributor Roger Rudick suggested the Second Street tunnel in downtown Los Angeles. The tunnel used to have four car lanes, and, in 2013, the city implemented a road diet there. Today it has two car lanes and two bike lanes. There’s no parking. The bike lanes are extra-wide buffered bike lanes, which now have candlestick dividers, so a stretch of bike lanes in the tunnel are arguably protected bike lanes.

How about Second Street? Do bicyclists have fifty percent there?

The only way to know is to go and measure. I grabbed my measuring wheel and biked downtown this morning. Inside the tunnel, there are two 11-foot car lanes, two 6-foot bike lanes, and two 4-foot buffers. The roadway is 42 feet wide, with 22 feet of car lanes and 20 feet of bike lanes. Bikes get forty-eight percent of the space.

Close to fifty percent, but not quite.

And that is one tunnel in downtown L.A., not quite, as John and Ken asserted, “some streets in downtown L.A. and other places.”

It is probably futile to try to get John and Ken to change their rhetoric on this, but, today, there are no streets anywhere in L.A. where bicyclists have fifty percent of the roadway. I wish there were.

For more rebuttals to this kind of rhetoric, see Damien’s earlier “How to Win Holiday Arguments” piece here.

  • rakdaddy

    There’s never a point in arguing facts with John and Ken, because they don’t give a tinker’s cuss about facts. They’re not journalists. Their job is to say whatever will get listeners angry enough to keep listening through KFI’s commercials.

    But good on you for doing the work, Joe.

  • calwatch

    First off, it’s mostly John. Ken is passively feeding John’s anger for entertainment purposes and a lot of the time he is being facetious. There are tons of places which went 4 to 3 in the LA area. Effectively, that center turn lane is useless for through traffic, and the perception is that the center left turn lane does nothing (although it improves flow by allowing for left turning vehicles to get out of the road and, if you use it properly, vehicles coming from driveways to turn into the center turn lane rather than waiting for both directions to clear). Trying to be super scientific is not going to work, and arguing that you only got 48% of the road instead of 50% is not the answer. The center turn lane adds a lot of benefits to safety and traffic flow, but engineers and planners have done an atrocious job of selling it. It probably won’t work in 15 minutes on talk radio but I would like to see community meetings stress this more, since center turn lanes can cut rear end accidents caused by people signaling left. And on corridors such as Seventh Street, it does a horrible job to transit, resulting in Metro de-rapidizing the 760 Rapid by adding lots of stops because the 760 buses can no longer pass the 60.

    Look, I know that the Streetsbloggers think John and Ken have retrograde opinions, but the fact is that they have 1.2 million listeners a week, and is the top rated local talk show in the entire United States. While Damien took the right tack, I don’t think Joe necessarily is. Arguing over semantics and technicalities is not the answer.

  • MstrB

    It ends up in apples and oranges. Joe is on space allocated in the roadway cross-section for bikes and cars while John was arguing number of lanes allocated in the cross-section. To the person in the car they have seen the number of lanes available for their use get cut in half, hence the perspective of losing 50% of the road and for many all the measurements in the world isn’t going to change the perspective.

    (Although if we are dividing up the feet of the street ROW allocated shouldn’t we include sidewalk & parkways then?)

  • Joe Linton

    Yah – I don’t know that I am going to change anyone’s mind… but it just stuck in my craw they way they said “50% of the roadway” over and over… so I responded viscerally.

  • Joe Linton

    They were counting the number of times they said Damien was lying… groan.

  • Mike

    listening to the show was absolutely infuriating

  • boboblacksheepohyea

    You can’t counter hate and ignorance with facts.

    They just say things to get people fired up, that is their job but nothing they say is serious.

  • Sirinya Matute

    I was with Marybeth, Damien’s wife, and his two kids while dad was holed up in our board member’s office doing this interview. Damien was cool as a clam. As I posted to social media elsewhere, Marybeth and I were aghast.

  • Roger R.

    The reason John and Ken were repeating the 50% lie over and over again is because that’s how you push public opinion. With media, most people are tuned out either literally or mentally at any given moment. So a political operative focuses on one thing they want to get across and they say it over and over again. Most of their listeners will remember one thing and one thing only: these bike jerks got 50% in downtown and now they want it in my area too! In this case, I don’t think it’s even about political goals: John and Ken are just pushing ratings by tapping into a basic sense of unfairness. I’m sure they know the “50%” is bullshit. That’s not the point. It riles up their audience.

  • Salts

    The buffer is not 100% for bikes. Saying bikes get 50% of the roadway implies they have 50% of the road for operating, but bikes aren’t supposed to ride in the buffer.

  • Chris

    I thought Damien missed an opportunity to really expound on the safety benefits for everyone from road diets. If he wanted to rise to John’s level of emotional appeal, he could have discussed how being against road diets is tantamount to being for dead children or something like that.

  • mpascal

    Just because they have 1.2 million listeners it doesn’t mean they have 1.2 million people agreeing with them. When I was driving for a living I listened to Rush Limbaugh and John & Ken and other idiots because they kept me from falling asleep at the wheel.

  • disqus_2TqpiZfrYN

    They’re out by 50%. We get to legally ride on 100% of the roadway.

  • James

    Years ago I read about a similar exchange between a anti-bike radio host and a bicycle activist in Portland. After the on air exchange the guest invited the radio host to go on a bike ride in traffic and afterwards the radio host changed their tune – at least for a short period of time. If you could stomach it you should challenge these twits to ride with you on, esp. on streets without bike lanes.

  • davistrain

    I rarely, if ever listen to talk-radio stations, but I do tune in KNX for the news when I’m out running errands. A large percentage of their ad revenue comes from car dealers, and much of that from luxury “marques”. Now the likelihood of a Mercedes driver turning into a bicyclist is fairly remote, but it’s easy to see why radio stations tend not to give non-automotive transport much air time. That said, KNX’s business reporter Frank Mottek has been the MC at Gold Line Foothill Extension ceremonies in recent years.

  • mrsman

    I just wanted to chime in that it’s important to realize that bike advocates should tread lightly on these matters. To the extent that drivers are the vast majority of commuters here, the politicians will listen to them. So it is important that we pick the right battles.

    Joe Linton, I believe that you used the term Myra, referring to Myra Ave and similar streets where incorporating bike lanes has no effect on traffic. These are good projects. Bike lane added, road narrowed for cars, no appreciable affect on traffic or parking, everyone is happy.

    Second Street, though, was probably a mistake as the traffic on that street went significantly worse. It is a lot harder to justify to politicians and voters and the like.

    Seventh Street, though, worked OK. Yes, a lane was taken away from cars by going from 4 moving lanes to 2 moving lanes and a left turn lane, but Seventh never had two full lanes of traffic due to left turners blocking the left lane. Plus, there are a lot of alternates for cars in this area.

  • James Gross Jr

    If you want to sell the effectiveness of center turn lanes, just look at what happens without them. PCH in Redondo Beach during rush hour is an absolute nightmare when people make left turns between lights. (In that situation, left turns should be banned during rush hour). That’s my basic example–the parts of PCH in Redondo that have left turn lanes are the most efficient in traffic flow.

  • Don W

    the answer is to not fall into the trap of arguing minutae with people like Jon and ken. 33% 50% its the same thing… instead we will need a way adequately justify the 50%. it can be done.

  • Joe Linton

    good points generally – one clarification on what Ramon Martinez and I call “Myra” after Myra Avenue (which was actually a road diet – 4 to 3) – it was a street that the city did bike lanes on that wasn’t already approved or designated in any bike planning documents.

  • Raider

    If you flip it and look at it this way, it may make sense. In the second street tunnel there used to be 4 through traffic lanes for cars. Now there are two left due to the bike lane installation. That is a reduction to 50% of what it used to be, from a moving cars perspective, not from a lane dimension perspective.

    What do you think?

  • Captain Spalding

    I’m a John and Ken frequent listener and a leisure cyclist. In that interview they were being totally unfair. I understand cutting in on a guest’s long-winded point to keep things moving, but that’s not what was going on here. During Mr. Newton’s interview they wouldn’t let him finish a single sentence. It made John and Ken look pretty bad. Mr. Newton, on the other hand, kept his cool and was patient and courteous the whole time. Well done Mr. Newton.

  • calwatch

    Seventh Street is not working for buses which are being delayed. The Spring and Main Street peak hour bus lanes were eliminated in favor of the green carpet bike lane. Bike advocates wanted to stripe bike lanes on Cesar Chavez between Mission and Figueroa, thus seriously hurting bus throughput out of MTA Division 10 on Mission. LADOT converted this to a transit only lane that allows bicycles, which time will tell to see if this works – I am skeptical of mixing 20 ton buses and bicycles myself but that may be the only option available short of road reconstruction, which no one wants.

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