Confusion Surrounding Bike Lanes in Northridge Exemplifies LADOT's Need for Better Public Outreach
Up in the Northwest Valley, 1.2 miles of a city street are slated to get a bicycle lane in each direction. For cyclists and some residents, it's welcome news, for others it's not. But for either side of the issue, the problem was that no one knew, even cyclists who closely monitor the progress of bicycle infrastructure, about it until pre-striping markings were painted on the street earlier this month. And that brand of sudden change can freak people out, setting them on an opposition war path.
"Nobody, not the Bicycle Advisory Committee, not the neighborhood council, or anyone else that I've spoken had any advance knowledge of any of this," said Glenn Bailey, the committee's president and who is in support of the lanes, but not for the lack of communication from the L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT).
The L.A. Bureau of Street Services last month resurfaced Wilbur Avenue between Nordhoff and Lassen near the campus of Cal State Northridge. When it came time for LADOT they took a new approach to the street instead of using the old striping pattern. Before it was basically two lanes in each direction with selective left turn pockets throughout. Now the plan is to have one lane in each direction, a bicycle lane one each side and a mix of a two-way turn lanes and left turn pockets.
Although some residents had been complaining about cut through drivers speeding through the neighborhood, others voiced concerns to Councilmember Greig Smith that the loss of vehicle lanes would cause congestion. Smith, who was also not aware of the lanes until recently, wanted to find balance and asked LADOT to hold off on the project so he can meet with them.
A spokesperson for Smith points to both the city's 1996 Bicycle Master Plan and the current master plan that is in draft form. The original one shows only a portion of Wilbur getting bike lanes and the draft one has it as a bicycle route.
Just a half mile away on Reseda Boulevard, the city completed a two-mile stretch of bicycle lane installation. Of the 10.8 miles approved in the 1996 bicycle plan, the new lanes up the project to 8.2 miles, leaving a 2.4 cap in the middle (some of it has new sharrows).
Joe Linton, who also sits on the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee, said projects like sharrows and bike lanes are a chance to engage the community. "When you do those projects and not talk to them, it's sort of a missed opportunity," he said. "We think it's a worthwhile improvement, but it's gone about in a not so transparent way."
Some have theorized that LADOT went ahead with the project without community outreach purposefully, approaching it as a "shoot first, ask permission" later scenario in order to get as many bike lanes done as possible. Some have even gone so far as pointing to a determined and recent bicycle advocate Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as providing the "just get it done" direction in as part of his effort to make Los Angeles the greenest city in the country.
Tim Conger, a bikeways transportation engineer at LADOT, explained why the Wilbur bike lanes came without notice. "Resurfacing projects happen very quickly. Typically we have 30 days notice," he said, noting that the department has to make decisions with speed, but also keeping in mind the overall community, traffic volume and safety.
LADOT spokesman Bruce Gillman added that "you want to mark out the road and see the reaction and get the feedback."
Some of that feedback happens today when Smith meets with LADOT planners and leadership. And over the weekend, Bailey collected signatures from "30 of the closest Wilbur Avenue neighbors" who support the project.
Everyone wants what's best for the street as they see it, but LADOT's lack of communication has certainly caused confusion among both sides of the issue. Even at one point, LADOT's Senior Bicycle Coordinator claimed the project was not theirs. It seems, once again, LADOT does not have their ducks in a row. Bailey called it "a process failure."