Bike Report Card for FY11-12: Overall A-

Posted on 07/11/2012

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During Fiscal Year 2011-2012 – that’s July 2011 to June 2012 – the city of Los Angeles achieved unprecedented accomplishments in implementing new bicycle facilities. The city added ~62.5 new miles of bikeways, including 50.26 new miles of bike lane!! Woooot! Woooooooot!

One FY11-12 highlight: the Main Street (Venice) road diet bike lanes

Bikas decided to do a report card grading the city’s FY2011-2012 highlighting the city’s accomplishments, and hinting at some areas that could still be improved in the future. Note that most of this is a fairly subjective grading system, swayed by my personal biases. Also, it’s focused on on-the-ground infrastructure, so it doesn’t include some other worthwhile bike stuff (for example two excellent CicLAvia events.)

Here’s the overall report card, with long-winded explanations after the jump

Overall Grade: A-
Quantity: A+
Equity: B
Distribution: A-
Innovation: B+
Breadth: B
Transparency: C+
Greatest Achievements: See below

Overall Grade: A-

Overall the city of Los Angeles did primarily what I would call a “low hanging fruit” strategy. Bikas has pushed for this sort of approach for a long time, and the city has, to their credit, generally been successful with this strategy, but with much less mileage than the current year.

With some notable exceptions (the awesome 7th Street bike lanes, Main Street in Venice, Spring/Main downtown, and a few others), most of the city’s mileage added new bike lanes to streets that were already plenty wide, so bike lanes could be added without removing anything else. While this strategy may not be a portrait in courage, or even perfect-world best planning, it did result in a huge number of bike lane mileage, with almost no backlash.

I’d love for the city to turn into a car-free paradise overnight… but I acknowledge that it’s unrealistic to expect too much too soon… so I think that the city has made pretty much the biggest possible steps toward that, given where they started on July 1st 2011, and the resources (both fiscal and political will) that were available.

Quantity: A+

Graph of L.A. City bike lane mileage implementation over time. New bike lane mileage has increased dramatically in 2011 and 2012 – click to enlarge

From 1996-2009, the city of Los Angeles averaged about 5 miles of new bike lane each year. During FY2011-2o12 it added 50.2 miles – ten times more than the past average.

I admit that I was skeptical that this would ever happen. When the city’s 5-Year Implementation Strategy showed rough 40 miles per year, then Mayor promised at least 40 new bikeway miles… I truly expected the LADOT not to meet the pledged mileage. (I remember some discussions with bike activists around 2009 – when we were pushing for some targets and accountability to be part of the city’s new bike plan. We were trying to come up with a demand that we’d push the city to commit to. At that time we were thinking 25 miles/year – and I remember thinking that sounded just too high to demand.)

Early in the fiscal year, some of my worst fears appeared to be confirmed when the city initially appeared to ignore its plan and instead sharrow existing bike routes. At the time, city reps publicly stated that the wimpy new sharrow mileage would count toward the 40-miles pledged. At that point, Bikas sounded the alarm; Biking in L.A., LACBC, Bikeside, L.A. Streetsblog and others reiterated the charge. Amazingly (at least for me, one bike advocate who’s gotten used to lowering his expectations) fortunately, the mayor and the DOT got the message. In early calendar year 2012 the city stepped up its game, implementing facilities that only a couple months earlier hadn’t been on their FY11-12 lists. LADOT hustled, worked weekends and overtime, and greatly stepped up bike lane implementation.

All in all, the city implemented ~62.5 miles of new bikeway facilities: 50.26 miles of new bike lane, ~4.2 miles of new bike paths, and ~8 miles of new bike routes with sharrows. (That’s 80% bike lanes, 13% routes, 7% bike paths.) This quantity of new mileage is unprecedented. The mayor, city council, and especially the LADOT deserve praise for greatly exceeding their pledged mileage. For overall quantity, I’m likin’ it.

Equity: B

For equity, I am guestimating how the city’s bike facilities serve underserved neighborhoods: generally population-dense communities of color. Historically, as a broad-brush generalization, L.A. has implemented relatively few bike facilities and implemented them more in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside than in the central parts of the city. There are exceptions. There are reasons for this that don’t depend directly on race or income (suburban Valley streets are wider, hence easier to add bike lanes without removing anything.)

Other than a few miles by USC, at the beginning of FY2011-2012 there were no bike lanes in the core of Los Angeles. This year the city implemented its first real (ie: non-bike-route) bikeways in many core urban areas including Koreatown, MacArthur Park, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, and Downtown Los Angeles. 8.2 new miles of bike lane were added in South Los Angeles, including Main Street, 120th Street, Figueroa, and three projects on Vermont Avenue. Some very good San Fernando Valley bike lane projects benefitted the more-population-dense more-heavily-Latino neighborhoods in Sun Valley and Sylmar.

So… why just a B?  It’s probably more the limits of a low-hanging fruit strategy, but, very-generally (with lots of exceptions) my sense is that, because wide streets make things easier, a somewhat disproportionate amount of the new bikeway mileage still went into more affluent places, for example: Porter Ranch and San Pedro. Though progress has been as good as can be expected, generally most denser lower-income parts of Los Angeles still generally lack safe places to bike.

Distribution: A-

Overall FY11-12 bike projects are spread throughout the city well, much better than in recent memory. Some areas (including downtown, southern portions of South L.A., Sun Valley, and North Hollywood) ended up received somewhat greater concentrations of facilities – and this is actually good, because we see networks emerging in those locales. A few areas still broadly lack bike facilities, including Pico Union, mid-city, Hollywood, and northern portions of South Los Angeles.

Breadth: B

I think that the city’s focus on bike lanes (80% of its new bikeways) is generally good. Bike lanes are a known-quantity bike facility that LADOT is comfortable with. Studies have proven that bike lanes result in safer positioning of bikes and cars. In addition to greater safety, I think that bike lanes are a visible reminder  to drivers that bicyclists exist and are legitimate. Lastly, lanes are cheap. It costs very little to stripe, so it makes good sense for the city to focus primarily on bike lane mileage to spread bike-ability throughout the entire city.

Having said all that… bike lanes have their limits. Conventional bike lanes do, generally, favor the more intrepid cyclist, and, especially on busier arterials, don’t quite create a sufficiently safe and comfortable place for less experienced, less confident cyclists.

It’s great that the city greatly exceeded its pledge to deliver lots of bike lanes… but… over time, it’s going to make sense to pick up other parts of the planned bike networks – especially bicycle boulevards (traffic-calmed neighborhood streets prioritized for safe walking and biking – what the city is calling bike-friendly-streets) which can attract and serve less-confident riders. In addition, some innovative facilities (at least in the U.S.), such as protected bike lanes, more traffic calming, car-free streets, etc.

I think it will still make sense to do a lot of bike lanes – but also, over time, to add more of the quieter facilities that should better serve less-intrepid cyclists.

Innovation: B+

FY 2011-2012 saw the city of Los Angeles do a lot of new types of facilities that were either never done here before, or rare.

  • Green Lanes: Use of green paint on the First Street and Spring Street bike lanes. Yes, significant portions of the pilot paint has worn off, but, when a city tries new things, some fail somewhat and some lessons are learned.
  • Buffered bike lanes: Buffered bike lanes, including nearly all of Spring Street, and portions of Los Angeles Street, First Street, 7th Street, and others.
  • Parking Removal: Some removal of on-street parking to create bike lanes, including on Reseda Boulevard (some parking removal also in Lincoln Heights and along Expo was less well executed.)
  • Lane / Sharrow Combo: Limited use of sharrows to close fairly short gaps in bike lane facilities, including on Burbank Boulevard and Laurel Canyon Blvd
  • Lane Reductions, including Road Diets: Though the majority of new bike lane mileage did not remove travel lanes, a significant minority (my guess ~25-40%) did. While the city has done some of these lane reductions in the past, the recent volume is commendable. FY2011-2012 bike lane projects included road diets on 7th, Main (Venice), Main (South L.A.), Main (downtown). Also elimination of a car lane on the Spring/Main one-way couplet, on Los Angeles Street, and I think maybe some others.
  • First One-Way Bike Lanes: L.A. hasn’t done one-way couplets in the past, so Spring/Main and Avenue 18/19 were without a local precedent.
  • Interjurisdictional Cooperation: L.A. connected bike lanes with the adjacent cities of Culver City and Santa Monica… can L.A. County and Alhambra be far behind? What’s great about this is that L.A. has now become a regional leader, building bike lanes up to the edges of other municipalities – in effect, challenging them to step up to the plate!

With all that innovation, why only the B+? Well… though L.A. is doing a lot and a lot of stuff that’s new here, we still lack some of the cool new things that many bike-friendly cities are implementing: protected bike lanes, parking-protected bike lanes, bike boulevards, etc.

Transparency: C+

The city hasn’t been completely awful at sharing information (it’s not an F) but I remain somewhat disappointed with its level of overall openness and transparency. There’s quite a bit of information at the LADOT websites. There’s even more information shared at various meetings, including the Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Bike Plan Implementation Team meetings. But if you miss a meeting it can be difficult to get the information… and I’ve had to repeatedly request that public presentations (ie: slide shows given at public meetings) be posted on-line. (I might give up on this Venice Boulevard slide show that I’ve asked for over and over.)

The LADOT website has made unsubstantiated and false claims. Some lists change with no advance notice or explanation (sometimes for the better.)

For the past 4-5 months, I think that LADOT bike folks have been pretty busy, so I can begrudgingly forgive some lack of transparency… especially if they can keep up such prodigious output (I’d rather have 50+miles of new bike lanes with limited transparency gaps – compared to, say, 10 miles of new bike lanes with total transparency.) But… in the long run, I think that failures of openness makes for a lack of public trust in the LADOT.

I will say that, generally, I agree with most of the bikeway decisions that LADOT has made for the last year. It’s just that a past record of LADOT lying, and prioritizing cars uber alles, has undermined my ability to trust their decisions. I think that they’re more-or-less on the right track, but I still feel that we need to watchdog them… and better openness would build trust.

I think that we’ll see safer, better, more livable Los Angeles streets when LADOT demonstrates the openness that treats businesses, residents, cyclists, Bikas, etc. as allies, not as foes or peons.

I think that this need for trust is especially true as LADOT Bikeways staff embarks on a series of projects that will include car-lane removal and/or parking removal.  Neighborhoods, elected officials, bicyclists, etc. are going to need to be able to trust the LADOT.

Some of Bikas’ favorite bike facility achievements of FY 2011-2012:

7th Street bike lanes

7th Street bike lanes: This facility is excellent! It’s a 2.2-mile road diet on the right street. Cyclists already used 7th to avoid hills and freeway on/off ramps. It connects L.A.’s most population dense neighborhoods with its downtown. It’s frequented by many kinds of cyclists from messengers to working class immigrants to businessfolks to you name it. It’s a route I personally use daily; I think that the 7th Street bike lanes are probably the city’s very best transportation accomplishment for improving my personal quality of life… not that that’s their mission, but… hey, I do love the 7th Street bike lanes!

Spring Street bike lane

Spring and Main One-Way Couplet: In the heart of downtown, alongside L.A. City Hall, the city removed travel lanes and created an innovative and very useful bike lane couplet.

Road diets on Main Street (Venice), Main Street (South L.A.), and Main Street (Downtown Fashion District.) I think a lot of the bike-ability progress that we’ll see in the near future will be road diets: converting 4-lane streets into 3-lane streets. These three distinct Main Street road diet projects are all excellent in their own ways, and (along with 7th) they demonstrate that road diets are great for bikes and make places safer for all road users. More road diets please!

A few more excellent Honorable Mentions accomplishments:

  • Vineland Avenue (Sun Valley) – excellent opportunist new lanes in a low-income Latino neighborhood with high levels of walking and biking.
  • Vermont Avenue (South L.A.) – two long sections (nearly 5 miles) implemented that had been stalled for years due to city/county being unable to work together. These get the foot in the door for a critical backbone facility on one of L.A.’s most prominent north-south streets.

Again kudos to Mayor Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation for unprecedented progress toward making the city of Los Angeles truly bike-friendly.

Posted in: bike lane