A Long View of the First Street Bike Lanes

Posted on 06/20/2012

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Los Angeles’ nearly completed First Street bike lanes already in use. L.A. City Hall in the background

I am excited about the new bike lanes on First Street in Downtown Los Angeles!

Bikas reported on the First Street lanes announcement as part of a downtown bikeway network, and twice about their preliminary striping. Today, Bikas covers the somewhat disappointing history of these lanes. The moral of the story is something along the lines of “your bike plan don’t mean nothin’ if you aint got political will.” 

Way back in 1996, before Bikas was born, the city of Los Angeles approved a bike plan that designated bike lanes on First Street in downtown Los Angeles. Here’s the map of the downtown bikeway network as approved in 1996 (full 1996 maps online here):

Downtown Los Angeles bike facilities approved in L.A. City’s 1996 Bicycle Master Plan. red = bike path (L.A. River), dark blue = bike lanes, light blue = commuter bike route, green = study corridors

To date, none of the bike facilities on this map have been completed, though First Street is nearly there!

Around 2007(?) the city took another look at its downtown streets. One of the issues pushing this process was a clear sense that downtown’s streets didn’t need to meet the same wide-ass suburban standards that pertain to the rest of the city (and this is still a big problem in nearly all of L.A. – but that’s another story.) The city hired consultants to wrestle with LADOT come up reasonable street standards. The consulants pushed for bikeways, but John Fisher’s LADOT got the upper hand, so the final street standards, approved 2009, only approved bike lanes on 7th Street, Figueroa and Flower. No bike lanes on First Street. The final Downtown Design Guidelines and Downtown Street Standards are online.

No bike lanes in the cross sections for First Street – from the 2009 Downtown Los Angeles Street Standards. Though this prevented further street widening (good) for bicyclists it’s more-or-less another “book of myths in which our names do not appear”

Also in 2009, the city proposed a draft Bike Plan which mapped the First Street bike lanes as being “infeasible.” Here’s the disheartening proposed map from 2009, never adopted, thank goodness:

The 2009 draft Bike Plan map. First Street is shown in dotted-yellow, a category that was initially called “infeasible” bike lane projects. These maps were multiply irritating as the facilities were inadequate, and that content was obscured due to the street names not being labeled. Sad note on this map: if we take away the infeasible yellow dashed lines and the near-meaningless purple bike routes, there’s almost no bike facilities planned for the heart of Los Angeles

Cyclists organized and fought very hard and many of the worst aspects of that draft plan were elminated or lessened by the time the “2010” Bike Plan was approved in 2011.

Here’s the “2010” bike plan map for facilities in downtown Los Angeles:

Los Angeles 2010 Bike Plan map detail for downtown Los Angeles. red lines are designated bike lanes.

So… after a whole lot of activism… the city brought back those planned First Street bike lanes that had been approved in 1996. Woooot! Wooooooot! and whew. But they were still just lines on a map, with no implementation scheduled (they’re in the city’s 5-Year Implementation Strategy but only east of Central Avenue.)

And, now, with Mayor Villaraigosa’s push for actual bike facility implementation, the  initial (Grand Avenue to San Pedro Street) phase of Downtown’s First Street lanes is nearly completed. To me, it shows that we can spend a lot of time fighting over lines on a map in a plan… but if we don’t have the political will to get the actual lanes on the ground… well… that map will gather dust.

I am looking forward to riding the new First Street bike lanes – expected to be completed this weekend!

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Posted in: bike lane