LA's First Two-Way Bike Lane Arrives Downtown
L.A. got its first (official) two-way bike lane on a city street as of Monday, as part of the city's ongoing efforts to make the streets safer and more pedestrian-friendly. The changes are connected to the city's Vision Zero initiative, which aims to lower the number of traffic deaths in Los Angeles until they are eliminated altogether.
The lane runs downtown along Spring Street, between 3rd and 9th-- it was already there, and some bikers have been using it as a two-way lane for a while. But the latest upgrade makes it official.
The changes include bike signals that are triggered by sensors in the pavement, pedestrian crossings, and bicycle turn boxes on 5th and 7th streets.
This is part of Phase 1 of the $2.3 million "Main & Spring Forward" project from the L.A. Department of Transportation and Councilmember Jose Huizar's office. Main Street will also get a two-way protected lane between Cesar Chavez and 9th. Together, the lanes on Spring and Main will create a protected loop for cyclists downtown. The project is slated to be finished by fall 2019, according to Huizar's office.
There are already several two-way bike paths in L.A., including those following the L.A. River, the Expo Line, and the Orange Line. But this is the first two-way lane on an L.A. city street.
Public opinion on the project is mixed. Some Angelenos see it as a waste of taxpayer money.
Others have been supporting the project since its inception and want more protected lanes in L.A.
Many cyclists have said they feel unsafe on L.A's streets, even when using bike lanes. That includes KPCC's own producer Leo Duran, who has been using a bike as his main form of transportation for six years. In an essay for LAist, Duran said he uses the Spring Street bike lane every day, and has had several close calls with vehicles, who frequently drive inside the lane to load and unload passengers. He attributes the problem to bad signage and confusion among drivers, some of whom seem to think they've discovered a "secret" lane.
Blair Smith is another bicycle commuter who works downtown and has been using the Spring Street bike lane for about three years, both before and after it was protected. She said she's a "big fan of the bike lane improvements" -- they make her feel physically safer and she's seen more people biking in the neighborhood.
There are some downsides though, she said. Drivers turning left get priority at intersections, which means cyclists have to wait longer for lights. Smith also said she thinks the bike lane on Figueroa needs some work. "The light timings and motion triggers on Spring Street are worlds better than the ones on Figueroa, where you often have to come to a complete stop before the sensor turns on the bike traffic light, even though the regular traffic is green."
But despite some bumps in the road (see what I did there?), Smith said she sees the recent changes as a step in the right direction.
"It seems LADOT is learning from past bike lane mistakes, as they build new improvements and are willing to have a conversation about how they are working," she said, via email. "The fact that Spring is now dual directional is fantastic! Bicyclists were already sharing the lane in both directions and it's great that now that it's legalized and made safer."
As we know, Angelenos get pretty fired up about bike issues, especially when there's a perception that cyclists are being given priority over drivers. We saw that in the public's reaction to the road diets the city implemented in 2017, when community council meetings in Mar Vista got heated over a protected bike lane on Venice Boulevard. That stretch of road was designated as part of a "High Injury Network" in the Vision Zero plan. Passions also ran high in Silver Lake when two lanes of Rowena Avenue were converted into bike lanes, even though the changes did reduce speeding, collisions and injuries on the roadway.
Vision Zero is itself a subject of some controversy, and if the numbers are any indication, it's gotten off to a pretty rough start. In 2016, the first full year of Mayor Garcetti's plan, traffic deaths actually increased by 43%. In October, cyclists gathered at a National Association of City Transportation (NACTO) meeting to protest Vision Zero, which they said hasn't done enough to protect bikers. And the LA Times reported last week that fatal car crashes have risen 32% as a whole since Vision Zero started -- similar plans to reduce traffic deaths were much more successful in New York City and Europe.
While I'm ranting about gaps in infrastructure and bad intersections, take a look at existing bike facilities in LA. With notable exception of Santa Monica, which is very good, it's what officials might dub a patchwork—a charitable way of explaining why so many cyclists die in LA pic.twitter.com/6J0he9tANl— Peter Flax (@Pflax1) February 17, 2019
According to city data, 71 cyclists died on L.A. streets between 2012 and 2017 (last year, 21 cyclists were killed), and in December, Los Angeles was named America's "Worst Bike City" by Bicycling Magazine.
Huizar has been posting positive PR about the bike lane on his social media feeds. But the councilman isn't getting the best press lately -- he's still under investigation by the FBI for allegations of extortion and bribery connected to his role at City Hall, and he's tangled in lawsuits with former staffers.
When the FBI raided his district offices and home back in November, Huizar was removed from most of his committees, but that hasn't stopped his office from moving forward with his "Main & Spring Forward" plan.