Some mornings I like to stretch my legs with a tea run from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica for a bit of sea air & sunshine. I’m fortunate that my ride’s first mile or so takes me through relatively quiet streets heading west. Then an on-boulevard bike lane allows me to legitimately (in the eyes of motorists) claim my space through Century City and West Los Angeles. Then it’s the West LA Gantlet (Sepulveda, the 405, then the scrum of boulevard traffic to Bundy).
Once beyond the 405 I can finally breathe a bit easier. For one thing, the terrain is all downhill to the ocean. For another, City of Santa Monica offers a Class II lane from about Berkeley to Downtown.
That’s if I choose a more leisurely ride. Some days I want to make time, so I’ll brave the Santa Monica Boulevard scramble between 26th and 20th streets. Now, I’d call myself a vehicular cyclist. I believe that cyclists should have access to all public streets and find safe accommodation there. While I’m not as strident as some, I’m perhaps more firm than most about our right to access. When I want to make time, I’ll take the most direct route. My ride west was without incident. In case you’re wondering, my tea was fine.
When It Turned Bad
My ride back was marred by dangerous conditions and impediments at seemingly every turn. Things that literally block the road to a fun ride. Avoiding the West LA gantlet heading east on Wilshire Boulevard, for example, it was frying pan into fire. This part of Wilshire might be the single-most dangerous passage for east-west two-wheel travelers on the Westside.
UCLA-bound cyclists know this interchange as a mix-master of merging buses and cars merging from the VA, or taking the freeway on ramp, or coming off the freeway exit. What a mess! (I’ve diagrammed below the traffic patterns on the west side of the 405, left, with the cyclists travel – no lanes – in green.)
Having made it though, I ducked south on Westwood to avoid one of the most dangerous corridors: Wilshire between Comstock and Whittier.
Santa Monica Boulevard’s bike lanes are only marginally more safe. High traffic volumes and a bike lane design that allows for too much cross-traffic makes for safety issues. The critical flaw is the many potential points of conflict (below) between cyclists and motorists.
What’s more, we’re sometimes challenged to claim our space. Today, two downed trees and a downed sign pole completely blocked the bike lane on this busy corridor. That forced me into traffic. At one point in West LA, Staples delivery truck fully blocked the bike lane and half of the travel lane. Not least, a Metro work trailer also completely blocked the lane in Century City, with full a half-block of bike lane coned off. And that’s where lanes exist!
My reward after negotiating these obstacles is another scrum where the lanes disappear. It’s another traffic mix-master as cars cross our path at Century East & West and Avenue of the Stars (at right).
Then having cleared the scramble when the bike lane ends, I know I’m about to hit Beverly Hills when I skitter over the wheel-eating sewer grate in my path at Moreno Drive (at our city’s western edge).
Need it be so difficult? Cyclists in Long Beach, Portland, New York, and San Francisco (below) enjoy green bike lanes. If clear pavement markings function to reduce the ambiguity and uncertainty for both motorists and cyclists, the green lane (and its cousin the green bike box) are unmistakable demarcations of our space. We don’t have to fight so hard for it.
Daily we navigate lane blocks, insufficiently controlled cross-traffic, and yes ambiguity and uncertainty because we’re still waiting for those protections here.
My ride today was yet another reminder of how half-measures are a real impediment to safe cycling, and how riding for fun often means overcoming serial hurdles both designed-in and incidental.
Maybe it’s time we started cataloging photos of obstructions like parked FeDex trucks and cars in bike lanes and the like?