Crossing the 405 Fwy Puts Your Life on the Line

405 fwy at Ohio signageWe call it walking the plank: merely crossing under the 405 Fwy at Wilshire, Ohio, Santa Monica, Olympic, and Pico boulevards is akin to taking your life into your hands. Or more accurately, it is putting your life into the hands of an under-skilled driver piloting (most likely) a super-sized vehicle. But what choice do you have: with the Caltrans $1 billion 405 fwy expansion, the Westside crosstown cyclist has zero options. Unless of course you walk it on the sidewalk. But pedestrians fare little better.

Santa Monice Blvd. & 405 fwy
It’s a travesty for a major transit project to create – and maintain – conditions at every one of the major crossings that directly put cyclists in harm’s way. We can’t call it an oversight: Caltrans has heard an earful (and then some) from some of our region’s most vocal bike advocates. Throughout this process, they’ve complained about poor planning, hazardous conditions, and a general evident disregard for cyclists. And it’s not like the project managers have no official guidance: Caltrans itself issued their own DD-64-R1 directive to mandate a measure of equity for two-wheeled travelers in work zones like these.

With a small city of engineers and contractors working overtime to give motorists that extra lane to nowhere, why can’t this super-sized state Department of Transportation finally do something about these atrocious situations? We can’t remember a time when these crossings didn’t look so utterly…trashy.

Where death and danger will lurk, Wilshire Boulevard sets the standard. We’ve called it a mixmaster that plunges cyclists into a swirl of speeding motor traffic because the on/off ramps there require only a yield. That discourages motorists from slowing to look for crossing cyclists. After all, Wilshire is not a freeway, right? Yet these ramps are engineered for one, suggesting that cyclists shouldn’t be there at all.

Off-peak hours are the best time to pass through this gantlet, which is low praise indeed considering the velocity of traffic. Because at rush time, Wilshire turns sclerotic – the mobility analog to a human coronary. Traffic seizes up; stress spikes; and motorists seem to grip their chests while looking for any way out, as if making it past the 405 is a life-or-death proposition for them.

And in their haste and carelessness they will take you down. That’s because cyclists have no place to go: there are no bike lanes and the engineering offers no place of refuge when off-freeway traffic pinches us between travel lanes. Indeed the eastbound cyclist must thread the needle between traffic continuing straight and 405-bound traffic that diverges to the right.

Olympic & 405 crossing
Those serious safety issues are baked into the Wilshire design. By contrast, the Santa Monica Boulevard underpass is yet another LA-style boulevard underpass. But construction there manages to chip away that the slight safety margin for cyclists. Olympic is no better: the northerly sidewalk is actually closed, which denies westbound cyclists disinclined to brave the motor traffic any refuge at all.

And it’s not only the closed sidewalk or the lack of a bike lane there that’s problematic. (Those issues Caltrans could certainly remedy if it lifted a finger.) Rather it’s the overall disregard bordering on contempt for the general public that’s in evidence at this site. Mind you, these conditions aren’t there for a weekend, like for Carmageddon, or even a month. It’s been like this forever.

The savvy cyclist heading northwest knows to bend his route a half-mile or so north to cross at Ohio, north of Santa Monica Blvd. Sure it’s inconvenient, but that crossing is no deathtrap. Or is it? Witness this procession of conflicting, chaotic signage and ask yourself why one of the largest departments of transportation in the United States can’t do better by cyclists.

Ohio & 405 crossing montage
Can you make sense of this utterly ridiculous guidance under the $1 billion 405 freeway?

Better yet, join yours truly and other bike advocates for the next meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee on June 22nd at Caltrans HQ in Downtown Los Angeles. There you can ask their community liaison yourself why, with a billion bucks on the line, Caltrans can’t provide safe passage for cyclists.

[Update: The week after we posted, Caltrans removed some of the contradictory signage and on 6/13 took to the field to map improvements to these important crossings.]

2 thoughts on “Crossing the 405 Fwy Puts Your Life on the Line

  • June 8, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    I could not agree more. With everything.

    Ohio is just begging for improvement. Very poor quality street from anyone’s perspective (ped, cyclist, or motorist). I’ve witnessed the aftermath of two vehicle crashes on Ohio, just East of Barrington, all in the span of about 8 days. I bet it was the same scenario each time. Rushed motorist tries to get through a break in cross-traffic and they end up getting T-boned. Tensions are running high with all the gridlock, plus the street is simply not designed to handle that much traffic.

    The signage on Ohio is a joke. Get rid of sidewalk parking and paint in a goddamn bike lane already!

  • June 11, 2012 at 11:18 am

    I couldn’t agree more, Mihai: Ohio is pretty bad news for cyclists yet is the lesser of two bad options for crosstown connectivity (the other being SM Blvd.). Unfortunately, there is no total answer here because the street is already narrow and the surrounding neighborhood is higher-density multifamily and ‘under-parked’ as they say: the street parking is the only parking for many grandfathered units without on-site parking.
    There is a partial answer here, though, and it’s a no-brainer: put some sharrows down and add bike boxes and better crosswalks to these intersections!

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