Another Metro/Caltrans I-405 #FAIL: SM Blvd

I-405 crossings montage
All of the I-405 crossings north of National are hazardous to our health.

Gosh, could these agencies make it any more difficult for a rider to cross the 405? We’ve written about the gantlet that is eastbound & westbound Wilshire. And just highlighted the Sepulveda trench designed to bust a nut. Now this: faded or scraped former turn markings in the #2 lane that create uncertainty for westbound Santa Monica Boulevard riders and motorists alike. Aren’t our construction managers hip to the spirit of Deputy Directive DD-64-R1?People who choose to ride a bicycle for transportation, recreation or pleasure shouldn’t have to navigate hazardous intersections at the I-405. This $1+ billion mega expansion project are supposed to have safety features built into it to during the construction phase that make traversing an intersection like Santa Monica at Sepulveda no particular problem for the rider. It’s a matter of policy: Caltrans “views all transportation improvements as opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers in California and recognizes bicycle, pedestrian, and transit modes as integral elements of the transportation system,” according to Deputy Directive DD-64-R1.

The deputy directive goes on to underscore how safety is not only a desired end but the means too, and that it needs to be a consideration from design through execution:

Addressing the safety and mobility needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in all projects, regardless of funding, is implicit in [Complete Streets] objectives. Bicycle, pedestrian, and transit travel is facilitated by creating “complete streets” beginning early in system planning and continuing through project delivery and maintenance and operations. – DD-64-R1

Moreover the DOT says, it is that agency’s responsibility to “ensure projects are planned, designed, constructed, operated, and maintained consistent with project type and funding program to provide for the safety and mobility needs of all users with legal access to a transportation facility.” And there’s even a point of accountability. The Deputy Director of Maintenance and Operations is to “implement current design standards that meet the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in design, construction and maintenance work zones, encroachment permit work, and in system operations.”

Though Metro oversees work on the I-405 project, Caltrans has a role to play too. DD-64-R1 doesn’t simply get tossed out the window, does it?

Uncertainty for Riders at Santa Monica and Cotner Westbound

There may be little ambiguity in the Caltrans deputy directive about rider safety, but there is certainly not much in evidence at the Santa Monica Boulevard-Cotner intersection to  suggest that even a thought was given to facilitating rider access here. Indeed every westbound rider is prey to the dreaded ‘right-hand hook’ from lane #3.

Here’s what riders and motorists see approaching the juncture of Santa Monica Boulevard and Cotner (at the northbound on-ramp):

Santa Monica-405 scraped markingsAdjacent to the turn lane, lane #3 (at left, above) ostensibly continues straight. But for a long time it was a turn lane too. But we can see that the dual arrow has been scraped away. Not even fully scraped away. The road user could mistake it for the usual (for Caltrans) wear-and-tear. Where the old double-arrow made explicit the choice to either continue on or to turn, without it traffic control is now ambiguous. Are turns from the #3 lane allowed, or are they prohibited? No sign prohibits a right turn from that lane. And the persistence of memory might even encourage it.

Consider the broader context too. From Sepulveda to Cotner there exist several challenges facing riders:

  • No lane marking guides riders  safely though the Sepulveda intersection after existing the class II bicycle lane;
  • Riders enter a hasty merge situation at Pontius with no guidance, no room and no separate facility for protection;
  • The turn lane for Pontius creates an ill-advised and indeed illegal merge opportunity, which forces riders keeping right in the #3 lane between traffic there and illegal mergers entering from the right; and,
  • Approaching Cotner, riders continuing westbound are vulnerable to right-turning drivers from the #3 lane – which no marking allows (so no indication to the rider) but no sign prohibits.

Here’s what the situation between Cotner and Sepulveda looks like from above:

Santa Monica from Cotner to Pontius aerialAnd here’s the Cotner on-ramp turn. Not one but three lanes feed into the on-ramp:

Santa Monica at Cotner on-ramp turn aerialUnlike the situation shown in these Google aerials, this intersection is often gridlocked thankfully. Riders have to serpentine between cars and skitter across the lanes to find a way through to Sawtelle, but at least the traffic is mostly stationary. But not always: when traffic actually moves the danger increases. Sharply. Because motorists hastily speed-up to make the light at Cotner and the ramp turn. And with three lanes feeding the on-ramp, many westbound drivers take advantage of lane #3 to turn because it’s a wider arc; it facilitates more turning vehicles. The problem: riders are surprised by a right-turning driver because no pavement marking alerts us to a possible turn, but no sign prohibits that turn. The explicit indication – that old dual arrow – has been scraped away. We are simply set up for a right-hand-hook.

Why are riders are an afterthought here? Caltrans Deputy Directive DD64-R1 says otherwise. It directs responsibility for our safety to construction managers and the Deputy Director of Maintenance and Operations in particular. They are charted with respecting the needs of all road users. But words on paper do nothing for us in the Santa Monica-Cotner crush.

We’ve put it out to Caltrans, Metro and City of Los Angeles. We’ll update when we hear back.