County gets a new bike plan at last
February 28, 2012
After 37 years, multiple revisions and a flurry of last-minute additions, Los Angeles County finally has a new bicycle master plan intended to create a more cycling-friendly environment in unincorporated areas over the next two decades.
The Bicycle Master Plan, adopted by the Board of Supervisors on a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich abstaining, represents the first overhaul of county bike policies in place since 1975.
The new bike master plan “will give us a real road map, no pun intended, to take our bicycle planning and implementation to a new level,” Board Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky said.
When fully realized by 2032, the plan will vastly expand the existing 144-mile network, adding 832 miles of new bikeways in unincorporated areas at an estimated cost of $331 million. Significantly, it also formally signals that the county wants to become an innovator in incorporating bikeway facilities into a metropolis known worldwide for its automobile-centric ways.
Work on the plan started in 2008, said Mary Reyes of the Department of Public Works, which developed the biking blueprint along with other county departments including Regional Planning and Public Health. She said it was created against the backdrop of a national movement increasingly championing bicycling as an important and desirable transportation alternative in a society battling problems ranging from high gas prices to chronic diseases driven by physical inactivity.
Los Angeles cycling advocates, initially discouraged by what they saw as a business-as-usual approach in the plan’s early stages, praised the county on Tuesday for making a sharp U-turn toward innovation at the end of the process.
County staffers have “risen to the challenge to make this a really visionary plan,” said Alexis Lantz, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
Another activist, USC cycling team coach Eric Bruins, said the plan could be “a model for the rest of the country.” The Board of Supervisors, acting on a motion by Yaroslavsky, directed county bicycle planners in November to come up with a revised master plan that included forward-looking features such as painted bike lanes and “cycle tracks,” in which a barrier separates bike lanes from car traffic.
On Tuesday, there was more fine-tuning to do. A motion by Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Don Knabe changed the wording of the plan to mandate that one kind of innovative treatment—the “bicycle boulevard,” usually designated on a less-busy local or residential street—include traffic-slowing measures as a matter of course.
The plan calls for creating 22.8 miles of such bike boulevards. Traffic-calming measures, such as speed bumps, have been promoted by cycling advocates, who say they are essential to making riders of all ages and abilities, especially families and children, feel safe and comfortable taking to the boulevards. Specific designs for the boulevards will be developed as the plan rolls out, with individual neighborhoods providing input on how the routes will work in their areas.
In addition to bike boulevards, the new plan features almost 274 miles of bike lanes and nearly 72 miles of dedicated bike paths.
Most of the network, however, is devoted to some 463 miles’ worth of “Class III” bike routes—the lowest class of bikeway, with signage but no dedicated space for cyclists.
Some of those Class III routes could be upgraded to full-fledged bike lanes under the Yaroslavsky-Knabe motion, which allows engineers to make the change with a minimum of red tape in suitable locations.
Another motion, by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, directed county officials to come up with ways to incorporate bike parking at county facilities wherever possible. It also asked for a report on the 10 unincorporated areas with the highest obesity rates, and for implementation and funding plans to get bikeways going in those and other areas. And it directed that a recommended bike route along the Sepulveda Channel in Mar Vista be deleted from the plan. Some in the neighborhood have expressed concerns about the bikeway’s potential for bringing crime into their area.
Antonovich, who abstained from the vote, asked a series of questions about how the bikeways would be funded and said he was concerned about using county road construction funds or Measure R revenue to create the network.
Pat DeChellis, deputy director of Public Works, said road construction funds by law may only be used for small “incidental expenses” such as signs or painting new bike lanes when a road project is being built or repaired. “The vast majority of the expenses, the 300-plus millions of dollars, are going to come from federal, state and regional grant sources,” DeChellis said, with the county providing varying levels of matching funds.
In the bigger scheme of things, the funding required to build the bike network is reasonable, said Lantz, of the bicycle coalition. “This plan is $331 million to complete the entire thing. That’s only a third of the 405 widening project,” she said. “So while it sounds like a lot of money, it’s a lot less than what we’re spending right now to expand our highway system.”