Bike Lanes and Controversy

A number of months ago, the City of Los Angeles repaved a secondary arterial street near our house*. When they did, they converted this street from being two lanes in each direction, plus parking, into a street with one lane, a bike lane, and parking. Needless to say, this change in the traffic pattern has gotten a number of people upset. Partially, this is because the street was intentionally put on a “road diet”: reduced to one lane in the hopes of creating traffic improvements elsewhere. I bring this up now because Sandy Banks’ column in the LA Times today discusses the issue, believing it is due to the mayor of LA being hit while riding his bike. She complains she never sees bikes on the street, and that complaint is echoed by the City Councilman:

“Wilbur is the wrong street for this kind of improvement,” said Smith, his sarcasm clear. His district office is on Wilbur, at the bike lane’s southern terminus. “I’ve driven that street for 30 years, and I have probably seen a total of 30 bicycles on Wilbur in all that time.”

As someone who lives in the neighborhood affected (I live two blocks from Wilbur Ave, and drive it every day), as well as someone who is biking reguarly for fun and fitness, I think I’m entitled to speak to this controversy.

As a driver, I’ve noticed the increased backups and have been frustrated by them. I miss the ability to go around the moss-backed old farts and folks that don’t know how to drive right :-). But as a biker, I’ve seen the dangers on the streets in the valley. When you attempt to ride across the valley via Lassen St., Nordhoff St., Tampa Ave, or other streets without bike lanes or sharrows, you take your life in your hands. Between the parked cars on the side of the street, the incredibly poor roadbed, and the drivers who like to come up close and blast their horns, it is quite dangerous. Having safe streets for riding, such as Wilbur, makes riding a joy again (although I’m still worried for folks who see the bike lanes as auxilliary lanes and speed through them, without regard for cyclists). As for use, just the other day I saw a large pack of around 50 cyclists using the lanes, and as the news of their existance spreads, I expect to see more use. Of course, no bike lane sees the vehicular traffic of a road.

So, what’s the solution. How do we reach a compromise between the two goals. In this case, I think the answer may be to restrict parking. In that area, there are few houses that actually face out to Wilbur. Restrict street parking in the area, and you can shift the lanes closer to the curb, creating space for an extra lane. What about the residents that need the parking for guests? I think some shared use is possible: perhaps permitting evening and overnight parking; those being the hours that cyclists are less likely to be using the lanes.

That said, the sun is up, and it looks to be a lovely day. I think I should go out and use the lanes 🙂

* For those unfamiliar with the streets in the San Fernando Valley, they are organized in a relatively regular grid. Major streets are about every mile apart (e.g., Balboa, White Oak, Reseda, Tampa, Winnetka), Secondary arterials are between them (e.g., Lindley, Wilbur, Corbin, Mason), and tertiary arterials (e.g., Vanalden) are between those.