Pushing for a better, bolder bike plan
November 17, 2011
As Los Angeles County closes in on its first updated bicycle master plan in 36 years, cycling advocates this week urged planners to incorporate more ambitious and innovative approaches to making streets welcoming for bicyclists of all ages and abilities.
The plan as currently drafted would add 816 miles of new bikeways in unincorporated Los Angeles County over the next two decades, at a cost of $327.7 million. But critics say the plan relies too heavily on the lowest category of bike route—just signage, no dedicated lanes—and doesn’t embrace enough forward-thinking solutions for getting new riders to brave Los Angeles County’s streets.
“The plan before you…is basically straight out of the ‘70s,” said Eric Bruins, a USC cycling coach who was among those turning up on Wednesday to address the county’s Regional Planning Commission as it prepared to take up the plan, the county’s first since 1975.
Bruins told the commission to look no further than Long Beach for examples of cutting edge design, such as “cycle tracks” that separate bike lanes from automobile traffic with a row of parked cars.
“We’ve unnecessarily limited our toolbox, and the kinds of facilities that are missing from this toolbox are those that are going to actually increase ridership,” Bruins said.
Bruins also urged bike planners to take a page from another upcoming county initiative, the proposed Healthy Design Ordinance, to make sure that the best possible designs for cyclist and pedestrian safety are written into the plan.
The county’s plan, developed with the Department of Public Works acting as lead agency, requires approval from the Regional Planning Commission before it can move to the Board of Supervisors for final consideration.
Commissioners heard testimony Wednesday, but then voted to delay a decision until Jan. 11, 2012, to allow time for completion of the plan’s final environmental impact report.
The commissioners praised the work that has gone into the bike plan so far—and so did some of the speakers.
Alexis Lantz, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, commended the county for its efforts and acknowledged the complexity of the job. But, she told the commission: “We feel there’s still work to be done to create a visionary bike plan that will truly serve our unincorporated communities for the next 20 years.”
Among other suggestions, she said the plan should give greater priority to improving cycling conditions in low-income communities and in areas with high obesity rates and significant concentrations of bicycle-related accidents.
The plan envisions adding several different kinds of bikeways to the county’s current 144-mile network. It proposes creating 70.6 miles of dedicated, car-free Class 1 bike paths. It also would add 265.9 miles of Class 2 bike lanes on streets with markings to delineate a place for bikes to ride.
And there would be 21.3 miles of “bicycle boulevards”—neighborhood streets with traffic-slowing measures in place to create better venues for cycling and walking.
Most of the new bikeways, however, would be Class 3 bicycle routes—shared roads with signs reminding drivers that cyclists are using the street but without specially designated lanes for bikes. Those would account for 458.6 miles of the 816 total miles proposed.
One speaker, Michele Chavez of the Antelope Valley High Desert Cyclists, told the commission that she was “very pleased” with the plan overall. But she said some of the proposed Class 3 routes are in areas where speeding motorists are common—and hazardous to people on bikes.
“I’m concerned that what will happen is that just a green sign will be put up that says ‘bike route’ and the cyclists will be no safer on these roads,” Chavez said, suggesting that two- to four-foot paved buffers be installed along the routes.
Sam Corbett, an Alta Planning + Design consultant who helped prepared the bike plan for the county, said the Class 3 routes should not be dismissed as unambitious.
“Class 3 facilities aren’t just all signage and stenciling,” he said. He said that 270 miles of the Class 3 routes would require road widening to increase the travel lanes to at least 14 feet in each direction to accommodate cyclists as well as cars.
Overall, Corbett said, the bike plan could help pave the way for a bicycle transformation in Los Angeles County similar to what’s happened during the past 15 years in Portland, Oregon.
“In 10 or 15 years, I think we can be where Portland is now,” Corbett said.
But some speakers, like Alice Strong of the West San Gabriel Valley Bicycle Coalition, said that’s too long to wait.
“I hope we don’t take 15 years to catch up with Portland. I’m sorry, but we should be leading,” Strong said. “We should be the innovators here.”
Strong said she would like to see many of the Class 3 routes upgraded to Class 2 lanes.
“We want to get more women cycling,” she said, “and we just don’t feel safe with just a little sign.”