L.A.’s cyclist activists have a history and reputation for DIY (Do It Yourself) projects: painting sharrows and bike lanes, adding safety signage, etc. Drivers also have some history of DIY efforts toward enhancing parking. Today’s story focuses on a San Fernando Valley street where someone has painted DIY gray curbs to increase car parking at the expense of bicyclist safety.
Initially I perceived this as a space allocation issue: bicycles vs. cars. As I looked into it more, I now think that the root of the problem is the city Transportation Department’s (LADOT’s) wrongheaded pursuit of roadway design to encourage drivers to travel at unsafe speeds. This unhealthy zeal for speeds comes at the expense of both parking capacity and bicycling safety.
This DIY parking site is on westbound Chandler Boulevard, in North Hollywood; the address 11473 Chandler Boulevard, L.A. 91073. It’s a couple blocks west of the Metro Red Line North Hollywood Station. In this area, most of westbound Chandler has a dedicated busway, two car lanes, bike lane, on-street parking and sidewalk. Chandler here veers the left-south.
Though the curb-to-curb distance remains the same, I noticed that parked cars were sticking out into the bike lane, forcing bicyclists rightward. Some cyclists rode in the door zone, others in the car travel lane.
On closer inspection, on the north side of the street, the curbs that had been red were painted gray.
Below is another photograph of the DIY gray curb.
When I lifted up some of the plants, the gray paint was even more obvious, as the top of the curb remained red.
Initially I was really irritated with the unknown person (or persons) who’d painted the curb gray, thereby squeezing cycling space, and decreasing the safety of the bike lane facility. I figured it would be a matter of reporting the offence to the proper authorities and having them paint red where the gray had been painted.
Then I looked around and noticed that there’s actually space for bike lanes and parking. Below is a photograph of the painted margin on the other side of the street.
This got me thinking about how space has been allocated on this street. Instead of making cars’ trajectory follow the actual street trajectory, and having cars slow down a bit, LADOT chose to stripe a straighter alignment – so that cars can speed through this block faster.
Here’s the aerial marked up. Red is the curb, and yellow is location of car lanes. Notice that the road width (the distance between the two red lines) is nearly the same throughout; the curbs themselves present no pinch point. Notice the way the yellow line, instead of following the red lines, cuts corners squeezing out the margin that bikes and parked cars occupy.
In providing faster, less safe, space for speeding cars, the city had removed on-street parking, hence favoring pass-through traffic over locals’ needs (perceived needs, I’d say) for convenient on-street parking.
Though I am not generally in favor of free parking, in this case, I think it’s much more worthwhile than straighter, wider lanes for unsafe fast-moving car traffic.
At initial observation the issue appears to be bikes vs. parking, but at a closer look, it’s really more about faster and faster car capacity trumping all other concerns: safety, parking, cycling, walking, noise, etc.
What’s sad (and this is an issue that Don Ward has been very actively critiquing and fighting) is that LADOT engineered this street to increase speeds and then DOT turns around and finds that people are speeding. We’re shocked! Then LADOT, claiming that their (blood-stained) hands are tied by state mandates which they have no control over, urges the Los Angeles City Council to, against the wishes of the community, increase the speed limits.
Also ironic and pathetic, the reconfiguration of Chandler Boulevard was done during the implementation of the Metro Orange Line which includes both a bikeway and a busway. So even when L.A. invests in safe green transportation, it takes steps backward by dedicating excessive space to more and faster car traffic. The LADOT has implemented unsafe practices along various rail lines: widening roads, widening car lanes, removing crosswalks, etc. Sadly these are in transit-rich, mostly-population-dense neighborhoods, many of which already featured a historic scale that made them very walkable.
I urge LADOT not to just re-paint the red curb at 11473 Chandler Blvd, but to re-stripe the roadway, narrowing car lanes, slowing down unsafe fast-moving cars, and making space for both bike lanes and on-street parking. And if LADOT won’t do that, maybe we cyclists need to team up the on-street parking supporters and strip it ourselves.