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]
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?

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Please correct the wording in bullet point 3. (Quality). You wrote the sentence. “Though it narrowed car lanes…”. There is no such thing as a “Car Lane”. There are “General Travel Lanes” and “Preferential Use Lanes”. Preferential use lanes are “HOV/Carpool Lanes”, “Bus Lanes” and “Bike Lanes”. “Car Lane” is not preferential use lane. The sentence should read, “Though it narrowed general travel lanes…”

    Streetsblog – It is your responsibility write with proper technical terms. Also, it is your responsibility to remind your readers that they have a right to the public roadway, regardless of mode of transportation. Only the operation of a motor vehicle on the public roadway is a privilege. As a cyclist, unless signed differently (i.e. a freeway), I have a right to the “General Travel Lane”. Motorists only have a privilege to operate their motor vehicles on said travel lane.

  • Meh

    Los Angeles is also larger than New York or San Francisco so even if we use the same metric we should be installing mileage proportional to the massive size of our city. In fact, you could argue that keeping the old metric would make our mileage almost equivalent to the metric used by New York and San Francisco. Los Angeles is almost twice as large as New York so even if we artificially double our number of miles of bike lanes, wouldn’t we need to install twice as many bike lanes to be comparable? Something to think about.

  • Meh

    I would add that what New York or San Francisco do is irrelevant. Los Angeles is so far behind the curve that we need to be doing more than either of those cities and we need to pursue more aggressive benchmarks to get more people biking.

  • Meh

    Spin the numbers any way you want, the reason people aren’t biking in LA isn’t because we’re miscounting the number of miles of bike lanes we install.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The Census Bureau released the 2014 results of their annual household survey this Thursday. One of the questions is what was your main form of transportation to work in the last week. Bicycling gained a tenth of one-tenths of one percent in its share of all workers residing in the city of Los Angeles. That’s on top of a two-tenths of one percent gain for 2013. This may not seem like much, but the number of bicycle commuters has increased by 41% since 2011, compared to 9% for those using either a car, van or truck.

    It’s odd counting bike lane miles for both directions of travel. Does the LADOT anticipate the possibility of having more than two bike lanes per mile as there are for motor vehicles? This just seems like a technique of trying to inflate the numbers to make it seem like they are doing more than other cities. New York City goes as far as classifying shared lane markings as a shared bike lane to increase the bike lane figures. Chicago claims that a buffered bike lane is a buffer protected bike lane to increase their protected bike lane miles. Then when you try and compare the amount of bike lane miles in cities it can get confusing. The city of Irvine, for instance, reported to the League of American Bicyclists in 2009 that they had what was essentially the most amount of bike lanes per capita of 90 of the largest U.S. cities. Yet they had a bicycle commuting mode share that was about the same as the city of Los Angeles. I did some investigation and it turned out that Irvine was counting bike lane miles for each direction of travel, yet almost all the other 89 large cities who answered seemed to be using center-line miles, as requested.

  • ExpoRider

    As a devil’s advocate I’ll note one reason for using the new metric for bike lanes. The City of Santa Monica has a bike treatment known as “sharrows-climbing”. With this treatment the uphill direction has a bike lane (since uphill bike traffic has trouble maintaining the same travel speed as uphill car traffic); and the downhill direction has a sharrows (since aggressive bike riders can keep up with the 25 MPH speed limits on most of these streets). For these streets I assume that Santa Monica would take credit for one bike lane, as compared to two bike lanes on a traditional two-way bike lane treatment.

  • Greg Frost

    This seems like some Judean People’s Front / People’s Front of Judea hair-splitting. Yes, we get that the general travel lanes are not exclusively for cars. People can be forgiven for calling them car lanes, however, as they are typically… full of cars.

  • Meh

    Then just count it as the lowest common denominator, count the mileage as sharrows. Or just count it as bike lanes, surely such facilities don’t represent the majority of infrastructure. No need to reinvent the wheel for a few miles of “sharrows-climbing.”

  • neroden

    As a pedestrian, I also have the legal right to walk in the “General Travel Lane”… but in reality, it’s a Car Lane.


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