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A Look at LADOT’s Annual Report and Bike Lane Implementation

LADOT's 2014-2015 Annual Report [PDF]
LADOT's 2014-2015 Annual Report [PDF]
LADOT's 2014-2015 Annual Report [PDF]

The city of Los Angeles Transportation Department (LADOT) released its fiscal year 2014-2015 Annual Report [PDF] last week.

From the LADOT General Manager's message introducing the report:

This year alone, we responded to 18,381 citizen requests, installed 38.2 miles of bikeways, helped Angelenos get to 300 special events, and kept Metro on track to deliver 26 new miles of light rail transit.

Our Strategic Plan calls on us to deliver safe, beautiful, and comfortable streets for all modes of transportation. We depend on community champions and partners to be our eyes and ears on Los Angeles’ 7,500 miles of streets. Please consider this annual report a heartfelt thank you to the hundreds of community organizers, business leaders, academics, and residents who help us achieve the City’s goals.

There is a lot in the report. LADOT's commitment to improving safety, under the Vision Zero framework, leads off prominently. There is information on slurry-to-striping turnaround time (greatly improved) plus CicLAvia, leading pedestrian intervals, parking signage, outstanding employees, coordination with Metro rail construction, complete streets, green taxicabs, and much more.

In their critiques, some cyclists have focused on the fact that LADOT is counting bike lane mileage differently than it had in the past. Commentaries by BikeLA and Biking in L.A. suggest that LADOT's counts appear to be a way of obscuring the lack of bikeway implementation.

In the past, LADOT reported one mile of "center-line" bike lane which actually meant two bike lanes, one mile in each direction. Now LADOT is measuring bike facilities as "lane-miles," so one mile counts as two.

The response from LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds on the new counting method is that "LADOT is now measuring by the same yardstick as other urban bicycling cities like NY and SF. More importantly, it is a more refined and accurate measurement of our bikeway assets and it allows for better planning of our resources." The higher bikeway numbers may be interpreted as more momentum and more to celebrate.

Nonetheless, the pace of bike lane implementation is down somewhat.

And this might be OK. 

From the 1996 through 2009, the city of Los Angeles implemented 4-5 miles of bike lanes each year (center-line miles). Due, in part, to community pressure during the 2010 Bike Plan process leading to a mayoral mandate for 40 new bikeway miles each year, LADOT bike lane mileage implementation increased dramatically. In fiscal year 2010-2011, the LADOT implemented 62 miles of new bike facilities: 50 miles of bike lanes, 8 miles of sharrows, and 4 miles of new bike path.

Since FY2011, LADOT has continued to implement lanes and other bikeways at an increased pace. Though a lot of great bikeways have been implemented, including numerous road diets, sometimes mileage has been just "low-hanging fruit" - more opportunistic than strategic. Some bike facilities, for example the Via Marisol bike lanes, are on out-of-the-way streets with excess width, not particularly useful for cyclists.

LADOT stepped up bikeway quantity admirably (and as mandated) but sometimes at the expense of quality.

Nowhere is this more evident than in LADOT's failure to implement mileage in its "Year One" (2011) and "Year Two" (2014) batches of priority bike lanes. These were supposed to be the strategically-important projects that required expensive environmental studies and serious community engagement processes. The studies were completed, but only eight out of 40 "year one" miles was implemented. None of the 40 miles of "Year Two" facilities have been implemented yet. The fault on these is not entirely LADOT; many of these bikeways, prominently including North Figueroa, were scrapped by city councilmember opposition, after a great deal of LADOT work.

LADOT's bikeway implementation for FY2014-15 is no portrait in courage. The 11 miles (center-lane) of bike lanes include mostly short disconnected segments: Union Avenue (Temple to Beverly), Oxford Street (Beverly to 3rd), 11th Street (Hoover to Alvarado.) Sure, I find myself riding these, but the typical bike lane criticism "they don't go anywhere" applies.

Though LADOT has been claiming that the low-hanging fruit bike lane opportunities were sparse since at least when the last bike plan processes began in 2006, the department was able to find a couple hundred mostly-uncontroversial center-lane miles since... and, though there are still some relatively-easy streets I come across, most of the worthwhile low-hanging fruit has now been implemented already.

In addition to the bike lanes, in FY2014-15, LADOT implemented (using the old center-line counts for now) 3 miles of bike path, 4 miles of sharrows and...

...a half-mile of fantastic new parking-protected bike lanes on Reseda Boulevard. These lanes buck the trend. They are quality: a great design and a great location, and setting a great precedent for more to come.

All this begs the question of where L.A.'s bikeway network implementation goes from here.

I have been a big proponent for more mileage, and I've mostly been happy that the city has delivered a lot of mileage. Drivers see a lot more bike markings on our streets, and this sends the message that bikes legitimately belong on L.A. streets. Though I think it will continue to be important to track overall mileage, at this point, L.A. may have nearly enough in the way of opportunistic mileage implemented (there's still some more, but not huge amounts, great lengths, or great quality), it is probably time to look at additional metrics.

Here are four interconnected factors that (unfortunately along with politics) I think might guide future bike lane implementation:

    1. Safety: LADOT is clearly already making this a top priority, with their commitment to Vision Zero. Using a safety lens would likely mean more road diets, and fewer out-of-the-way disconnected facilities.
    2. Inter-connectivity: Now that a lot of opportunistic bits and pieces have been put in place, it is time to prioritize closing gaps between disconnected bikeways, and between bikeways and destinations.
    3. Quality: Like Reseda Boulevard, upgrading existing conventional bike lanes into protected ones is a huge improvement. Though it narrowed car lanes and removed a bit of on-street parking, financially it was cheap. There are plenty more opportunities for protected bike lanes, plus upgrading bike routes to bicycle boulevards, etc.
    4. Equity: The perception may be that cycling is a luxury for well-off lycra-wearing men, but the on-the-ground truth is that most L.A. cyclists are working-class commuters, largely immigrants, who ride out of necessity, as they can not afford a car. In many lower-income areas, commuters have to use main streets; they feel insecure on the side streets unsafe due to community violence. Unfortunately, the main streets are also unsafe for another reason: car traffic. Allocating space for bikeways on some of these main corridors - including Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Central Avenue -  for the safety of low-income commuters is really critical.

Readers - what do you think? What factors should LADOT be looking at for the future implementation of bikeway facilities? What sorts of bikeway improvements would really serve existing and new riders? How should bikeway progress be quantified? Is mileage still useful? What other metrics would be useful?

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