Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Class III Bike Routes, A Perfect Example Of Government Patting It Self On The Back For Acomplishing Nothing

Routing is everything when it comes to having a good bike ride, whether that be for leisure, to test the limits of your body, or just trying to get to work in one piece. However, when you start looking for routing information for cycling in L.A., you run into this idea of bicycle route classification. Class I bike routes are things like the Beach Path, or Ballona Creek, completely segregated from automobile use. Class II routes are roads which feature bike lanes (although unfortunately almost always in the door zone). Class III routes are where things get really gray and mushy despite their inviting green color on the Metro and Santa Monica bike maps.

Class III bicycle routes are essentially a road which meets one or more of a few conditions, and has periodically a posted "Share The Road" sign. Usually these routes are through way roads that cut through low traffic residential areas. A road like that makes sense to ride on, a more chill low key pace (usually), and traffic should be light enough drivers can go around safely even if the road is fairly narrow. One such road I ride frequently is 17th north of Wilshire, where it goes from being a class II route with a bike lane to a class III bike route with no bike lane, but though mild paced residential. However, some major boulevards get the distinction of being a bicycle route if they feature lanes which are wide and or a wide shoulder, and of course the little "Share The Road" signs no one notices. The problem here is that several of these major boulevards which are Class III bike routes, are some of the worst roads to ride a bicycle on in all of Los Angeles.

A street with which I have an unfortunately long history of riding, due to it's proximity to where I went to College, is Lincoln Boulevard, a class III bike route. Talk to anyone about riding a bike on Lincoln, and you won't find a single one who enjoys the experience. The drivers are aggro, the wide lanes which in theory make sharing space easier, entice drivers to speed, making close calls a lot more scary, the shoulders are tore the F up, and there are frequent buses. When traffic is backed up, as it often is, the lanes are wide enough to split lanes easily, but you constantly have to watch for unsignaled lane changes and people scooting up along the shoulder to cut around when parked cars are not present. As of this writing, one particular pot hole on the northbound right lane in Marina Del Rey is so wide it takes up more then half the right lane, and is certainly deep enough to wreck some carnage on road bike tires. Sprinkle some broken glass and miscellaneous garbage that settles in the cracked surfaces for good measure.

That is Lincoln Blvd. in a nutshell, I could go on, but you get the idea, and if you've spent much time riding lengths of it you know what I am talking about. One of the problems with accepting this is that are some class III routes which are pleasant to ride, but they all get that same seemingly friendly green line on the bike map as a monstrosity like Lincoln. When the standards for what a class III bike route is varies from chill ride to death traps of every hazard imaginable, the standard is rendered meaningless. A map of bike routes in a city should be something anyone can pick up, from the experienced local, to the clueless tourist, and figure out a decent way to get around.

Another problem with accepting the status of Class III bike routes as they are now, is that it gives city government a number they can point to and ensure everyone, yup they are doing a good job. The city can say we have X number of bike routes and Y numbers bike route miles, and smile and make everything sound swell. The truth is these numbers are padded beyond belief with junk miles, of roads no cyclist would choose to ride unless there were no alternative, or they are hardened by years of road riding and used to abusive conditions. Lincoln Boulevard, Sepulveda, and Olympic, are all epic long roads which are class III bike routes for much of their length, and they all suck terribly for bike riding.

The City of Santa Monica was recently awarded a bronze rating for bicycle friendliness by the League of American Bicyclists. While I view Santa Monica as more cycling friendly then just about any other city in LA county, when you look at it from a national level, and especially international level, Santa Monica is hardly up to snuff despite it's "green" image. I give Santa Monica a copper rating for bicycle friendlessness, and the City of L.A. an unrefined piece of rock rating. So how does the League Of American Bicyclists come up with their ratings? Well one of the significant factors is mileage of bicycle routes, and guess what, Lincoln Blvd., which cuts through Santa Monica, pads this number. Lincoln Blvd. should not be allowed to count toward the friendliness of anything, let alone "bicycle friendliness" until such time that it goes through a complete overhaul of road engineering and urban planning.

So maybe before anyone gets too excited by this bronze award, and all the supposed routes for cycling in Santa Monica and LA County, we should take a step back and realize that some bike routes as they exist today are less than worthless when it comes to accommodating cycling. This loose idea of what a cycling route is, also detracts from the bike routes which actually are pleasant to ride, because one cannot always trust the lines on the map. Perhaps if city officials actually rode bikes along some of these streets they might have thought twice about drawing so many green lines.


LisaNewton said...

Lincoln Blvd. and the recent award received by Santa Monica were both topics in Tuesday night's meeting of the new Santa Monica Spoke.

Safety was the highest priority mentioned.

BTW, the only criteria I've seen for the recent award was for "encouragement."

Gary said...

There are several different criteria the league looks at, legislation, policies and programs,
infrastructure, education and encouragement, evaluation and planning, and enforcement. Infrastructure I believe is based on miles of bike routes relative to surface area. What I don't think is factored is whether the infrastructure is any good, for example the bike lane on Ocean where it goes straight into parked cars, not just the door zone. Several of these criteria I feel Santa Monica is lacking in. For example in enforcement, the SMPD seems to love giving out bogus tickets to cyclists, but I don't see much enforcement of say drivers violating bike lane space or ticketing speeding along bike routes.

Anonymous said...

Great writing Gary — I couldn't agree with you more. Sometimes it seems like they just designate some of these roads as Class IIIs to trick us into riding them in an attempt to thin the herd.

What I want to know is, doesn't the LAB even talk to anyone in the local community? Things that look great on paper can look a lot different on the ground.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gary,

I just received this from a friend and thought you might be interested in reading it as well.


e.n said...

i was attacked by a parking enforcement officer on pico for riding in the lane. the crazy shit actually passed me on the right and then slowed down trying to force me into the left lane. i yelled at him and pointed to the "bike route" sign, but he told me that that didn't mean anything.

i guess it didnt.

Lee said...

Ahh yes, I've been fooled by the dreaded Class III bike path as well. Decided to ride to a friend's house in downtown from Culver City one Friday afternoon. Oh look, there's a bike "route" all the way down Venice! Big mistake, after Crenshaw it's just murderous.