New Protected Bike Lanes on Foothill Blvd in Sunland-Tujunga
In early April, LADOT added protected bike lanes to a 0.7-mile stretch of Foothill Boulevard in the Sunland neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles. The protected lanes extend from the Tujunga Wash bridge (just west of Wentworth Street) to Sunland Boulevard. The project closed a gap between existing bike lanes on Sunland Boulevard and on Foothill Boulevard.
Tucked among the San Gabriel and Verdugo foothills at the northern end of the San Fernando Valley, much of the Sunland-Tujunga community is among the most rural parts of the city of Los Angeles. In this area, Foothill Boulevard is a fairly quiet road connecting Sunland to the adjacent Lake View Terrace neighborhood, which is even less population-dense. Zach Rynew, of CiclaValley and the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, suggests that the Foothill bike lanes are “low hanging fruit… because there is virtually no traffic congestion out there.”
LADOT spokesperson Russell Hassan confirmed that the new bikeway was a Vision Zero initiative in response to the 2016 crash that killed Jeff Knopp. On November 1, 2016, Knopp was bicycling up Foothill Boulevard just east of Wentworth, when a truck crashed into him from behind, killing him. According to Hassan, the incident highlighted several safety issues there, including speeding, lack of an adequate shoulder, and a history of collisions in the area – with two other fatalities since 2005. In addition, adjacent portions of Foothill and Sunland Blvds are on the Vision Zero High Injury Network.
Only a month old, Foothill’s protected lanes are no stranger to controversy. According to The Foothill Paper (article posted at the Sunland-Tujunga Safe Streets Facebook group), after the protected bikeway was installed “all hell broke loose” and people let loose on social media “detailing their anger about the local street changes.” The article, written by Alejandro Magallanes, goes on to describe a Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council safe streets forum where Jennifer Knopp, the fallen cyclist’s widow, spoke:
Looking into the eyes of a woman who lost her husband in a traffic collision is a sobering feeling. All of the online bashing dissipates. Reality sets in. I remind all of you reading this that Vision Zero’s goal is to eliminate all citywide traffic deaths by 2025. Zero traffic deaths by 2025. Stay the course. Hold the line. We’ll get there.
Responding to the community concerns, LADOT made changes to the facility, removing some bollards at Wentworth (for turning buses) and along Sunland Park (to allow for on-street parking accessing the park.) In response to concerns raised about emergency response vehicles, LADOT clarified that drivers can pull over along or in the bike lanes when an emergency vehicle needs to pass.
The bikeway controversy reared its head in an April 18 debate between City Council District 7 runoff candidates Karo Torossian and Monica Rodriguez. A question (see video starting at 1:00:40) submitted by the audience read:
The bollards and bike lane enforcement on Foothill and Sunland Boulevard is [sic] a traffic disaster. Will you reverse and remove them?
Though neither candidate promised to remove the bikeway, the candidate responses are instructive.
Karo Torossian was critical of the process, describing the protected bike lanes as “rammed down our throats” with no meeting or fliering. In a windshield-oriented response, the candidate stated:
Any time that our lanes are being taken away for bike lanes, we need to have a public meeting where the people who own those lanes – everyone in this room – can come together and discuss the alternatives.
Candidate Torossian further went on to criticize the protected bike lanes on Van Nuys Boulevard and ones proposed for Lankershim Boulevard. Torossian later posted a Facebook video where he is standing on the San Fernando Road bike path saying that he generally does not support “taking away lanes” for “paint on the ground” bike lanes, but favors taking longer to create “Class A bike lanes [sic – the facility is a Class I bike path] separated from the roadway” that are safe for kids and anyone aged from 8 to 80.
Monica Rodriguez’ debate response focused on the speeding problem on Foothill Boulevard, and the need for Vision Zero. She stated that “at one point we were facing a death every month along Foothill Boulevard” and went on to stress the need for LAPD enforcement against speeding drivers, slowing down traffic, and making sure “everybody is protected and safe.” She thanked the Neighborhood Council for championing street safety.
Foothill’s protected bikeway is the sixth protected bike lane in the city of four million.