Looks like there’s a Westside battle brewing over proposed City of LA-proposed bicycle lanes for Bundy between San Vicente and the Culver City line. Opponents from multifamily neighborhoods want to pressure the Council office to put on the brakes. New state legislation releasing cites from the full CEQA process promise to speed installation of facilities like bicycle lanes. But some constituencies threaten to push back in the political arena. Bundy could be shaping up to be that kind of battle. Can Los Angeles succeed in making our streets safe for those who ride in the face of communities long frustration by car congestion?
The proposal is straightforward: under the City of LA’s 2010 bicycle plan, Bundy, like several other key corridors, is slated for a redesign that will in some cases eliminate travel lanes while providing for the first time Class II on-street bicycle lanes. According to the draft EIR project description [big pdf]:
From San Vicente Boulevard to Wilshire Boulevard, parking would be eliminated on one side of the street. From Wilshire Boulevard to Olympic Boulevard, one lane in each direction would be eliminated (full-time northbound lane between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard, peak-period lanes elsewhere) and full-time parking would be introduced on both sides. From Olympic Boulevard to Washington Place, one northbound lane would be eliminated. The proposed project would result in the elimination of one southbound lane throughout the segment of Sepulveda Boulevard. The center turn lane would remain discontinuous. Parking conditions would not be affected. It may be determined as design of this segment progresses-that a single southbound lane without channelized left-turns is not operationally feasible. Therefore, locations without existing channelization will need left-turn pockets and resultant loss of parking in these areas (up to 100 spaces).
Under the proposal, some curbside parking will be retained but some lost. It’s a mixed bag. (The draft EIR also identifies alternatives that would affect fewer parking spaces.) The project is part of a package of year-one projects [chart] slated for implementation for which public presentations have just concluded.
If congestion is public enemy #1 in West Los Angeles, could public enemy #2 be those who choose to bike?
In recent years, Valley residents, claiming the city followed an insufficient noticing process, politically pressured the city to restripe an installed (and much-needed if poorly-implemented) bicycle lane on Wilbur. And last year, Hancock Park homeowners succeeded in stopping new bike signals slated for a major boulevard there.
Likewise, the Bundy bicycle lanes proposal is now contentious too. And it might get more contentious because the city now has the ability to push through projects like this bicycle lane without getting sidelined by the state’s CEQA review process. AB 2245 relieves transportation planners of the expensive and time-consuming burden of demonstrating harm and mitigation under the CEQA environmental impact process. Instead, the city need only inform the public and then move ahead. As the LA Bike Blog explains:
Though the state law exempts these projects from CEQA, it requires that the City provide traffic and safety assessments of these bike lanes and conduct public hearings prior to seeking the exemption. Additionally, the Department of City Planning initiated the Draft EIR prior to the adoption of AB 2245, and seeks to make the analysis available for public review prior to the public hearings.
With the project draft EIR out and the presentations concluded, the project’s fate is in the hands of the LA City Council and the political arena. Westside have been known to gin up enough political moxie to put a stop to a project.
To Whom do Streets Belong?
To whom do our streets belong, anyway? From behind a windshield they seem to be created for the motorist. And indeed our broad boulevards and even secondary streets have been engineered to move motor traffic… often to the exclusion of other concerns. Indeed state law essentially allows the motorists to set the speed limits!
Departments of transportation have long focused almost exclusively on moving motor cars. Pedestrians and riders find themselves to be decidedly-second class road users today (or indeed persona non-grata when tacit policing policies and pro-motorist biases are considered).
But things are changing on the ground. Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles today boasts a brightly-colored bicycle lane (left). It’s the product of a hard-won campaign by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and local advocates. Why the shift?
Jeff Mapes recounted how a proto-revolutionary pro-bike movement coalesced over the past few decades in his excellent Cycling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities). Cycling had suffered a considerable mid-century lull. Back then, advocates working on behalf of active transportation were once primarily located either in pockets in the Pacific Northwest (where alternative transportation was never off the agenda) or in left-leaning neighborhoods in American cities. (Rural areas, though, embraced auto transportation to the exclusion of both active and mass transportation and still do.)
Mapes found a “built-in constituency” for bike-friendly infrastructure as a key element in that shift. Since everyone has learned to ride a bike at some point and enjoyed it, he said, why wouldn’t they warm to safer riding conditions as adults and for their own kids?
Members of that pro-bike constituency is now actively working with public health and transportation professionals, with academics and philanthropic foundations, and with the US DOT to create the conditions that make cycling safe and fun. And that make it a viable transportation alternative too. The US DOT (under Ray LaHood) has reformulated policy guidelines to tilt the balance away from the vested interests in DC just as local departments of transportation and state legislators have begun to challenge the vested interests.
Of course, that’s not making everyone happy. Because we’re not reflexively widening roads any longer and our current supply of blacktop is limited, any concession is viewed by vested interests as zero-sum tradeoff: every bike-friendly improvement comes at the expense of the motorist. (Notwithstanding that measures to calm traffic can also facilitate traffic where congestion is high.)
The Bundy Canary?
Will the Bundy lanes battle be the canary in the coal mine that suggests an uphill climb for bike facilities even with a greased post-AB2245 process? Maybe Bundy will be an early test of the city’s commitment to balancing road safety needs with political sentiment in the neighborhoods. Whichever, make no mistake: this battle isn’t about bicycle lanes, or bike-friendly streets, or even about the planning process (much as opponents want us to think).
Opponents’ concerns reflect the cumulative quality-of-life erosion wrought by too much vehicular congestion. That negative impact gets projected onto riders and the officials trying to address the road safety issue. We saw it in Beverly Hills when residents turned out to bemoan proposed sharrows and bicycle lanes. Despite their gripes about car traffic, they were quick to complain about more bicycles. The traffic is already too loud to add bicycles into the mix, some said. And of course they redeployed the old canards like, “It will tank my property values!”
Nevertheless, we can see the nascent beginnings of that kind of renaissance here in Beverly Hills too, where there is interest among some parents and members of the school board. Our compact community’s Mayberry romanticism might yet make cycling popular here.
We can do better, we know, and we think that affording riders a safe place to ride can only shift more of us from the mode of travel that generates noise, hogs curb space, and creates much too much carnage in collisions. This all-inclusive mobility movement is about offering non-auto alternatives and moving travelers to other modes precisely because auto traffic and congestion as experienced in West Los Angeles around Bundy are already deleterious. A bicycle lane ain’t gonna make that any worse.