Sunday, November 20, 2011

Santa Monica Bike Action Plan Up For City Council Vote Tuesday

The Santa Monica Bike action plan is up for council approval on Tuesday. It is item 8-B on the agenda and will come up at some point into the 6:30pm session of the council. I know it's been a long process getting to this point, but it would be great if we could get a nice turn out to support the plan and make any final comments. If you're going to come out, be sure to show up before the item comes up so you can get your chit card in to speak. There is usually a person that can help you get your comment request in, on the second floor by the cards at a desk on the left when you come up the stairs.

I'll compose some more thoughts on this whole thing before the council meeting, but I wanted to get up the reminder about the time right away. 2.5 million dollars of city funding allocation, leveraged with many more millions in other grants, has the potential to really make a lot happen very quickly. Let's get this thing passed and start making the awesome happen!

Tuesday November 22nd
City Hall Council Chamber
Item 8-B: Review and approval of Final Bike Action Plan – recommendation to review Draft Final Bicycle Action Plan; adopt a resolution adopting the Negative Declaration for the Bike Action Plan; adopt a resolution adopting the Bike Action Plan for the City of Santa Monica; and approve the proposed budget changes.

To write to the whole council, use this e-mail:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Santa Monica Bike Action Plan Goes To Planning Commission Tomorrow, One Of The Last Chances For Input

Santa Monica City Council MeetingThe Santa Monica Bicycle Action Plan makes it's way back to the planning commission tomorrow night (Wed Nov 9th) with a few modifications from the last time around. A few concerns of mine in the previous draft have been addressed, boosting the priority and language for bike share and a Ciclovia style event, 2 big ticket items that previously seemed weakly suggested in the 20 year vision and not the 5 year part of the plan.

This will be one of the last opportunities to give input and shape the plan before it goes to a council vote on Nov 22nd. Unfortunately I've been slammed with a mandatory overtime situation with work and will be unable to attend. I will be composing some further thoughts for the commissioners via e-mail.

If you cannot attend in person, I encourage you to write the commissioners, either to give general support for show enthusiasm to advance bicycling, or give specific feed back or concerns about things you'd like to see addressed in the plan. The agenda includes links to the staff report, which summarizes things and describes some of the changes in the plan, and also includes a link to the latest full draft of the plan.

As I mentioned to Planning Commision Chair Jim Ries, at this point my general impression is that we have a solid plan and vision for building a real viable bike network, one that will be the envy of many communities, but the devil will be in the details of implementation. The plan is more big picture, and does not necessarily define the fine grain details of particular striping on individual resets. To avoid situations like the recent bike lane on 2nd that was panned by myself and some others because of it's obvious conflicts, I suggested more involvement with local cyclists at the engineering stage. At least until such time it seemed apparent the engineers "get it", and I don't think we aren't quite there yet, but getting closer.

We're almost there, it's the final stretch, and I cannot wait for the plan to be ratified so we can move onto next steps of making the awesome happen.

Contact info for planning commission

WEDNESDAY, November 9, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Bike Facilities Sprouting In Downtown Santa Monica, The Good, The Not So Good, & The Ugly

New Bike Facilities Broadway Ave.
(Finally sharrows clarifying that bicyclists can use the bus lane on Broadway Ave.)
This Saturday I was tipped off that new bicycling developments have sprung up around Downtown Santa Monica, first noted on twitter. by bicycling transportation consultant Niall Huffman who was was riding through town.  I had to go check out what was going for myself, so I hopped on over and started snapping some pictures.

There is some great new stuff, including sharrows in the bus lane on Broadway Ave., finally clarifying that the bus lane can be used by bicyclists as well (although I noted the bus lane on Santa Monica Blvd. does not yet have this). The bus lane sharrows are a long time request by Santa Monica Spoke, a concern raised at one of the group's earliest meetings with the city. 4th St, Colorado and 2nd. St. all got some sharrows in a few places as well, and 2nd. St. and Colorado have some stretches with a bike lane now.

New Bike Facilities Broadway Ave.

However like many efforts at traffic engineering to accommodate bicycling in America, with these new developments there is a mixed bag of some stuff that works well, and some things that are disappointing and should probably go back to the drawing board. On the whole I think the latest round of paint to hit the streets is a welcome improvement if for no other reason than highlighting bikes belong downtown, but there are also a few places that are so problematic that the design really needs to be reconsidered. The city appears to have taken a shotgun approach to introducing bike facilities into downtown quickly, but we really need finer instruments.

New Bike Facilities Broadway Ave.One of the positive things to take note of with these recent developments is that Santa Monica is showing a willingness to think beyond the rather limiting CA MTUCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) recommendations. For example in California sharrows are recommended as tools to direct cyclists out of the door zone when adjacent to parked cars. Santa Monica is now introducing sharrows on some blocks without on-street parking, and are also placing sharrows in multiple lanes, such as instances where there are left turn lanes that a cyclist making a vehicular left may be riding in. This should help clarify and reinforce the rights of bicyclists to change lanes if they wish for making turns at intersections.

However as we'll see later in this post, experimenting with bike treatments can be a bad thing as well when the designs are not well thought out...

As of my riding about on Saturday Oct 22., the new facilities include sharrows east and westbound between 5th and Ocean Ave. This includes westbound sharrows in the bus lane, clarifying that bicyclists can in fact use the bus lane for through way travel. 2nd St. between Colorado and Broadway has bike lanes southbound and most of the block northbound, except for sharrows at the very beginning of the block northbound. Colorado now includes sharrows from 4th to Main. St., with a new strip of bike lane and dashed striping up the Main St. bridge clarifying the transition there from turning off of Colorado. From Main St. to Ocean Ave., Colorado now also includes bike lanes in both directions.

New Bike Facilities Broadway Ave.

Another improvement found along all of these stretches of new bike facility development is the introduction of many more bike detection markings. I have not had a chance to test their effectiveness at each location yet, but I am hoping this is being done in conjunction with new calibrated camera based systems for traffic control. I'm also glad to see that in all but one location, the bike detection symbols are in each lane that a bicyclist may be in given the turns at an intersection.

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.
(Colorado Ave. At Ocean, Westbound, Bike Detection In Right Turn, Through Way & Left Turn)
The one place I saw where this is not the case is 2nd St. going northbound at Broadway Ave. There is a bike detection marking in the dashed bike lane to the right, one in the left turn lane, but not one in the through lane. Which brings me to..

Northbound Troubles On 2nd St:

New Bike Facilities 2nd Street
(At this intersection, if I was going through to the next block, I would position at center of center lane, not marking to the right, to ensure I was already merged into traffic flow on block ahead with parked cars and no bike lane.)
Given the layout of the intersection, and the parked cars ahead on the next block, in order to be clear of right turning cars, and be well positioned continuing northbound, a bicyclist going through should not be in the position indicated by paint unless they were making a right turn, and instead should be in a central position of the next multi-use vehicle lane. I would consider an intersection like this a great candidate for a bike box so that cars are held back a little, and if any cyclists comes up at the right, they can filter up into the bike box and position for traveling through if they are not turning.

When bicyclists travel through from a bike lane to a block without one continuing at the beginning of the next block, the cyclist is placed in a vulnerable position of having to merge into faster traffic. Since our legal system places the greater responsibility on the vehicle merging, a crash in such a situation, will usually find the cyclist at fault.

 New Bike Facilities 2nd Street

As I watched this particular intersection, many through way bicyclists did position at the dashed bike lane to the right, creating conflicts with the right turning drivers that are all violating  California Vehicle Code 21717, which requires drivers to safely merge into bike lanes before turning, rather than turning across the bike lane, which is illegal. Incidentally the first and only time I was struck by a car, the driver was violating CVC 21717 as they right hooked me in a bike lane on 17th St,  as they were entering a driveway. I would guess 98.9% drivers (perhaps I am being too generous) have no clue such a law exists. So unless this will actually be educated to drivers, designers of bike lanes should not assume drivers will be in compliance, and be mindful of mitigating this common user error with design if possible.

Unfortunately the problems with this new 2nd St. bike lane are not limited to the intersection at Broadway. As I expected, the great mouth of parking capacity at the mall parking garage has created conflicts in trying to bring a bike route safely through the start of this block. This first effort at a solution has some serious flaws. The block begins at Colorado northbound with a sharrow, with a bike lane picking up at and beyond the parking garage entrance.

The problem is that at busy times, cars are backed up all the way to the beginning of the block, completely obstructing the lane with sharrows. Since cyclists are able to slip through traffic without being stuck, they typically will, rather than wait for all the cars to slowly process their way into the garage. I generally approach this area by taking the far outside lane and moving back over beyond the line of idling cars. Some folks however take the inside, which is discouraged by the new diagonal lines at the block start, but this is somewhat muddled by having the mid block bike lane start aligned to that area. As you can see below, this presents serious right hook potential for cyclists trying to get through on the inside.

New Bike Facilities 2nd Street

Taking the far outside is not without it's own risks as vehicles exiting may not expect a cyclist that will be trying to merge back over from the outside lane, and the vision of both driver and cyclist will be obscured by the line of cars in the middle waiting to enter the garage. As you can see below, the woman on the bike and the driver in the red car exiting the garage have reduced visibility of each other because of the Mercedes in the middle. Since the bike lane begins here to the right, an odd and somewhat inhospitable place for it to begin, the driver may not expect a cyclist to be coming from the far outside lane. But that is the best place to ride at busy times if you want to sail past all this parking mess.

New Bike Facilities 2nd Street
(A woman taking the outside far left lane to get around the parking mess back up)
2nd St. Northbound At Santa Monica Place Parking Garage
(Here's a diagram I put together illustrating the problems of existing design and one solution of how I might approach it differently, using Portland style high visibility green zone marking for where cars may merge across bike lane)
I think one potentially better solution would have been to create a right turn only pocket into the garage in anticipation of the fact that so much of the traffic coming onto that block northbound are drivers trying to enter the garage, and it takes time to filter into it, causing frequent back ups. A bike lane could have been placed to the left of a right turn pocket, creating a clear place for cyclists to ride while bypassing the parking garage, and exiting drivers would have a better idea of where to expect passing bike traffic.

This would narrow the street to only one through lane for cars for the first part of the block, but since many drivers are going to the parking garage, I think having a right turn pocket for that entrance would clarify and improve traffic flow for everyone including through way drivers bypassing the garage. The intensity and type of use for a street is warped severely by high capacity parking garage entrances, and bringing a bike route through such an environment successfully requires special attention in getting around queuing cars, something this new treatment appears to be lacking.

New Bike Facilities 2nd Street
(Lexus making unprotected left into garage across oncoming traffic, is forced to stop for crossing peds and blocks all northbound lanes.)
This parking garage entrance also becomes especially ridiculous when drivers coming southbound on 2nd St. attempt to make a left into the garage without a protected left lane, often rushing to zoom in across 2 lanes of oncoming northbound traffic. Of course such drivers, like the dark Lexus with license plate 6GXM295 pictured above, typically fail to acknowledge crossing pedestrians, are then forced to stop suddenly. Leaving their car stuck perpendicular and blocking all northbound travel lanes.

Keep in mind this discussion about 2nd St. is thus far all on one direction of one block, but there is still more wrong with it. Once you get past the parking garage mess, just north of it you are greeted with the parking valet mess. There is a mid block pull out pocket for mall valet parking, and the bike lane is striped right next to it. If you watch this scene for any length of time, it's apparent what a bad idea this is.

No one pulls all the way up to curb, and unlike a street parking space, where drivers often only partially open a door, for valet, doors are opened all the way and attendants stand even further left of the door. So while this turn out pocket is wider than many street parking spaces, the door zone problems are even worse than most conventional parking adjacent bike lanes. The animated graphic below illustrates this problem, and I've also captured a number of images of this problem in the attached thumbnails. This valet issue appears to be a constant problem since new people are coming and going out all the time, making an already sub-par bike lane even more compromised.

New Bike Facilities 2nd Street New Bike Facilities 2nd Street New Bike Facilities 2nd Street New Bike Facilities 2nd Street New Bike Facilities 2nd Street

New Bike Facilities 2nd Street Southbound
2nd St. Southbound From Broadway Ave.
Unfortunately I was so wrapped in capturing the cluster f*ck going northbound, I didn't get many good shots of southbound, but on the whole it appeared to work a lot better and be more straight forward. I'm sure this is in no small part due to the absence of a massive parking structure operating as a vehicle vacuum sucking turning traffic into itself. However I heard discussion within the Santa Monica Spoke mailing list that pointed out idling buses sometimes sit partly into the bike lane in this direction. In the distance in one of the photos I did get (at left) you can see a Big Blue Bus parked intruding into the bike lane a little. It's easier to see in the larger version of the image.

At least the intersection has a clear separation of turning lanes from the bike lane to reduce intersection conflict.

New Bike Facilities 2nd Street

Approaching The Pier On Colorado:

Directing cyclists to 2nd St. and to the iconic pier bridge, is some new paint on Colorado Ave. This includes sharrows from 4th St. to Main St., including sharrows both for the right lane and far left lane that turns up onto Main. From Main St. onward westbound there are new bike lanes up to Ocean Ave. and eastbound to Main, where a sharrow goes up the turn ramp and a bike lane goes straight across, followed by sharrows after crossing Main.

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.

This intersection at Colorado and 2nd is handled pretty nicely, but I would have preferred the right lane pushed right and the bike lane widened slightly to give some breathing room in a space where cars may be on both sides. Although I know this whole corridor is getting pedestrian improvements coming with the expo line, so I wonder if they are making space for future sidewalk expansion.

Going further though, things start to get a little convoluted...

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.  

Once you cross 2nd on the approach to Ocean Ave., you are directed onto a gutter pan bike lane. Gutter pan bike lanes are problematic especially in places where asphault seperation is pronounced, because it makes it unsafe to track the wheel at the center lane position because of balancing issues on road tires. Such bike lanes are discouraged in the pending Santa Monica bike plan. But the real problem here is cyclists are mandated by the presence of the bike lane to ride within it due to California law, except under certain conditions such as turning.

In this instance the amount of space given between the bike lane and the opening for turn lanes, is much too short, and creates a hazardous last minute swerve for through way or left turning cyclists. Riding here, I would ignore the bike lane at the beginning of the block so I could position myself to the bike lane at the end of the block well ahead of time, knowing that the driveway and the intersection are the hot spots for conflict. Even if I was making a right turn, I would not ride that far right, I would position myself be merged with right turning cars to ensure I wasn't cut off.

Sure enough, no sooner then I got over here to look at this, the problems are presented in action..

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.

You can tell by change in angle and stance of the rider, the cyclist is now evading to avoid the car barreling at him as he tries to make his way to the broken continuation of the bike lane about 6 or 7 ft. to the left.

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.

Right after this moment, another cyclist rolls up, and rides the gutter all the way to the end, which has it's own risks as one approaches the alley way and intersection.

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.

At least once you get to the intersection, it's laid out with different turning options presented for cycling, and each lane except for the far left only lane has markings for bike detection for the traffic signal.

New Bike Facilities Colorado Ave.

The post office christens the new bike lane eastbound by ensuring it remains blocked with a parked vehicle (#2211096 at the Holiday Inn, 5:02 pm 10-22-11) for extended periods of time while making deliveries.

Final points of interest and concluding thoughts:

New Bike Facilities 4th St.
4th St. northbound from Broadway Ave.
 New Bike Facilities 4th St.

4th St. gets some sharrows between Santa Monica Blvd. and Colorado. I noticed in the approach to Colorado, diagonal hash marks are used to narrow the lane, which should discourage excessive speeding. When drivers are presented with narrower lanes, it tends to reduce traveling speed as compared to wider lanes. I'm sure there will still be speeding here, but hopefully toned down a notch.

New Bike Facilities 4th St.

Also accompanying all these new sharrow treatments are new share the road signs. The language of these signs are the subject of much debate in the cycling community because of their ambiguity and the tendency for drivers to interpret sharing as meaning cyclists should get out of the way of drivers. For this reason most cyclists and bike advocates I talk to much prefer the bikes may use full lane signage found in Hermosa Beach to accompany sharrows. However as far share the road signs go, you can't get much more visually dramatic than the one pictured above, near the award winning public art installation suspended off the side of parking garage #7.

Cyclists in the community are always clamoring for paint to start hitting the street, and seeing so much go down so quickly should be cause for excitement. But seeing this mixed bag of results, I worry that the city is responding to pressure to act, and not necessarily to think things through. The fact that at least one sharrow was put down incorrectly and marked hastily with black spray paint to be removed further suggests this was a rush job.

New Bike Facilities 4th St.
Apart from the one error I caught, the sharrows appeared to be well placed and installed to reinforce the existing rights of cyclists, and add visibility and recognition to bicycling downtown. One of the great things about sharrows is that when done right, they are only a net benefit. They add visibility and reinforce the rights of bike riders, and encourage safe defensive lane positioning. But do not reconfigure space, so they are low political risk since there is nothing to be upset about unless you hate pictures of bicycles. This is also their weakness however, because they do not really upset the status quo, they are unlikely to attract very many more riders than those already confident mixing it up with car traffic, which excludes many kinds of potential riders. From my observation sharrows seem to work best at attracting a wider range of riders where traffic speed is slow, or traffic volume is low, but ideally both.

New Bike Facilities 2nd Street

Bike lanes on the other hand reconfigure and transform space just for bicycle travel. They also carry with them certain legal obligations outlined in CVC 21208. When done well, bike lanes can become inviting spaces that can attract high ridership even on streets busy with car traffic, and can do so relatively safely. When done poorly though, bike lanes can sometimes be worse than doing nothing, if they set up conflicts zones and compel bike riders to make poor positioning choices.

I would not want to discourage the city from adopting more mileage of bike lanes, they are absolutely critical tools toward normalizing urban bicycling and building vibrant ridership and a healthier community. However with the decision to lay down bike lanes comes greater responsibility than stenciling sharrows. When bike lanes are striped they change the set of rules operating on the road, and carry the weight of the law in telling cyclists where to ride or not ride, and the reverse for drivers. Where bike lanes interact with parking and intersections, drivers may still pass through them as well, and managing these points of potential conflict is critical to both the comfort and safety of those on bike.

The effectiveness of bike lanes as relatively seamless routes of comfortable travel for bike riders is also severely compromised when they are obstructed, forcing cyclists to leave the bike lane. Which is very frequently the case with many bike lanes throughout the city, but the new bike lane on 2nd St. appears to take bike lane obstruction to new heights.

Santa Monica has now demonstrated it gets how to do sharrows, and is willing to use them in a variety of different types of street configurations. I'm happy to see progress made on that front, and appreciate the acknowledgment of multiple lane positions at intersections with turning only lanes. With bike lanes on the other hand, it appears Santa Monica still has a lot to learn in doing them successfully. Only a little over 2 blocks of bike lane were just added from what I saw, and almost all of it is pretty terrible. The bike lane going northbound on 2nd St. is almost a cruel joke.

I hope city planning and engineering staff come out to ride the new bike lanes themselves at different times of the day, including peak hours. With a notebook in hand, because they really need to come back to the table with ideas that are more than half baked. Bicyclists are vulnerable out there, and they deserve careful attention for their planned facilities. That includes bike lanes that hold up in the real world, instead of just being lines that seemed like a good idea on drafting paper.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

#FlightVsBike Team To Be Honored By L.A. City Council

The Wolfpack A racers, organizers (myself included), and volunteers, that helped make the race against Jet Blue a success during the Carmegeddon 405 shut down, will be honored by the Los Angeles City Council this Friday at City Hall. We will be honored for demonstrating the viability of bicycling and transportation alternatives in L.A., capturing the imagination of our social media following, and garnering tremendous positive press with local, national and even international news outlets.

Joe Anthony of Bike Commute News, and fellow organizer of the race, has more details about the honors at City Hall this Friday on his site, and the complete list of everyone involved. Event details and RSVP are also on Facebook.

October 14th at 9:30 AM, 200 N. Spring Street, in the Council Chambers

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Update About The Main St. Bike Lanes Approved In Venice

New Redondo Beach Esplanade Bike Lane With Door Zone Buffer
Bike lanes without door prizes are possible (Redondo Beach)
As I've mentioned before, my contributing to Santa Monica Patch has shifted some of the energy out of this blog, but I wanted to quickly follow up, rather late after the fact, on my last post concerning the Main St. bike lanes. The LADOT slightly modified the proposal based on feed back, to make the bike lanes a minimum 5' & 5" rather than 5'. The bike lane will also be expanded to 6' where space permits. This change was accomplished by narrowing the center turn lane. The Venice neighborhood council approved moving forward with the proposed road diet with bike lanes, and we should see the re-striping in the near future.

It's not quite what I was hoping for, or as good as what Santa Monica is proposing for the next iteration of it's own stretch of Main St. (with green lanes and a small space separating between parked cars proposed), but it is better than allowing the state minimum bike lane width to be good enough when adjacent to parked cars. Every inch matters as far as I am concerned, and I think people will feel the difference even half a foot can make. So my thoughts on this passing is that it is a step in the right direction, but not what I would consider good enough to make for comfortable cycling for all kinds of people.

To me the take away from this experience is that it is worth pushing for more, because this could have just as easily been the bare minimum standard sort of job. I don't know how influential my own letter and blog post on the topic were in the decision making process, but it seems doubtful that the penciling in a few more inches would have been added if it were not for pressure from Bikeside, people like myself, and others, who weren't satisfied with the original proposal as is.

We also really need to start looking at what our peers are doing in other big cities, and stop thinking that things in L.A. always need to lag behind. New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and others are all trying green lane markings, bike lanes buffered from door zones, bike lanes separated from traffic flow, and other measures that go beyond the typical bike lane treatment. I don't think traditional bike lanes will ever be comfortable enough for most people with the rampant speeding we allow on our streets, the double parking, the swinging doors, and other things which diminish safety and comfort.

A perfect example of a wasted opportunity, completed before I was really involved in this stuff, was the redevelopment of Santa Monica Blvd. through Century City. The right of way of existed to make an amazing cycle track, which could have been installed for little additional cost since the whole street was ripped up anyways. The medians separating local car travel, parking, and drive ways, meant the biggest hurdle to cycle tracks in America, our constant driveways, could have been entirely avoided. Instead a typical minimum standard bike lane was tacked on with no separation other than a painted line from 3 lanes in each direction of car traffic moving more like a freeway than a boulevard. Sure it's better than nothing, but it's also very under utilized considering the density in the area, and I don't blame people for wanting to avoid such an environment, bike lane or not.

Given that bike ridership in areas like Santa Monica and Venice are already much higher than many parts of L.A., I think if we are going to go to the next level of making cycling accessible to a broader demographic, we have to start thinking bigger and better than the state minimum requirements.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Venice NH Council To Discuss Main Street Road Diet & Bike Lanes Proposed By LADOT: My Latest Thoughts

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday Sep. 20th) the Venice Neighborhood Council will be voting on the LADOT proposal for a road diet with bike lanes on Main St. through Venice, connecting to the existing road diet and bike lanes in Santa Monica. Streetsblog Los Angeles takes a look at the proposal and the debate around it.

I had criticized this project before, because I did not want to see just another "door zone" minimum standard bike lane of 5 ft. next to parked cars. An issue that would not be such a great concern if drivers could be trusted to be responsible with opening their car doors, or if we had a justice system that appropriately disciplined drivers. Since the driver education and justice systems are broken, and I don't see that changing anytime soon, the least we can do is give cyclists some more breathing room when we engineer the roads.

I was reminded of the importance of this concern this morning by a co-worker that thankfully was only bruised, who came to me for legal advice about his damaged bike after he got doored over the weekend riding on Broadway Ave. which has minimum standard bike lanes adjacent parked cars. When he called the police they said they don't need to take a report if there is no ambulance response, which of course is not true, and I encouraged him to insist in any incident police do their job and take a report, both to cover legal bases in any dispute that arises over claims, but also because it is the only data collection we have generally on what is going on out there.

As one alternative I had proposed sharrows and traffic calming treatments more akin to what Hermosa Beach had done on Hermosa Ave. My own experience riding through Hermosa was that the sharrows worked as intended in allowing cyclists to ride well outside of the door zone without harassment from drivers. However part of what makes it work there is that although there are 2 through lanes each way, there is parking on both sides of the street with a center median planter. Parallel parking has a traffic calming effect, and because of this, combined with frequent stop signs, unlike most streets with 4 travel lanes, the speeds are low enough to not be so intimidating to the bike rider.

Since Main St. through Venice is insufficiently wide enough to accommodate center parking, and other traffic calming measures would add a lot more cost per mile that is likely out of the cards, I have moved on from thinking sharrows are a better way to go for this project. Though Streetsblog LA quoted me as favoring sharrows based on comments from 9 months ago. I want to see bicycling become more accessible to more people, and I think sharrows are not enough to accomplish this unless a street also has low traffic volume, low traffic speeds, or ideally both.

As my own views on this have evolved, I've concluded I would much prefer a bike lane and reducing other vehicle lanes over a sharrows treatment. Part of the appeal to this treatment versus keeping 2 lanes of through car traffic each way is the reduction in crashes and safety improvements for all street users, including pedestrians. The impacts to drivers trip times where it has been done in Santa Monica has also been negligible because it keeps a space for turning at intersections where most bottle necks occur. However I still take issue with road diet treatments which tack the absolute minimum standard bike lanes at the periphery. Such treatments may be an overall safety improvement over the existing conditions, but they are far from being the safest, or most comfortable configuration for most people riding a bike. The 5ft bike lanes are particularly uncomfortable on corridors with high traffic, of both cars and other bikes, and high car parking turn over, such as Main St. has at peak times.

New Redondo Beach Esplanade Bike Lane With Door Zone Buffer
New bike lanes in Redondo Beach with wide buffer.

In Santa Monica's pending Bike Action Plan, buffered bike lanes are called for to replace existing striping eventually, along with a green paint job for visibility. This buffering would reduce a small amount of width out of the travel lanes, center lane and parking lane, to create a small buffer of space between the parked cars and where the bike lanes begin, and striping on both sides. Pictured is such a bike lane in Redondo Beach, with a buffer that is perhaps even wider than really necessary. It is a huge improvement over the minimum standard lane that existed before this recent change. Such a change on Main St., even with a more modest buffer, would both be greatly appreciated by current cyclists, as well as being more likely to entice more people to ride.

I have heard the concern raised that reducing the vehicle lanes on a route with bus and truck traffic, would result in large vehicles veering into the bike lane. In the case of these road diets however, center turn lanes are created that spend most of their time as unoccupied space. In my experience riding daily on Broadway Ave. in Santa Monica, which had it's own similar road diet, drivers of larger vehicles typically use the space of the center turn lane to give more passing room.

I tend to ride at the left side of the minimum standard bike lane to avoid doors and improve visibility at driveways and intersections. I do this because I know being doored or hit broadside at driveways and intersections is more common and more dangerous than being hit from the rear in urban cycling settings and driving speeds. A consequence of this riding position is drivers of larger vehicles often need to use the center turn space to give adequate passing distance, but I have had no issue because of this from passing driver who seem to want to pass with a wide berth.  However I have been saved from many careless door swings by riding further left.

There is constant bike traffic within Santa Monica on Main St. at busy times, and very often cyclists are dodging doors and other hazards. Cyclists traveling at different speeds often try to pass each other as well and there is little room to work with. Every additional inch makes a difference in the safety and ride feel. Former SMPD Deputy Chief, and current Pasadena Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez was once doored riding on Main St. in Santa Monica as he confessed to me in a roundtable meeting last year. He did not file a police report either. Clearly there is missing data about how frequently Santa Monica cyclists are knocked to the pavement by careless scofflaw drivers (C.V.C. Section 22517 Opening and Closing Doors).

Since this project through Venice is a brand new thing, it could learn from the short comings of the Santa Monica road diet, and do something closer to what Santa Monica will be doing next. Or it could just do more of the same. Doing more of the same old bike lane may be an improvement from what we have now, but I would consider it a missed opportunity to do better. With the high bicycle ridership in Venice and Santa Monica, much higher than most areas in the L.A. region, and overflowing bike racks at businesses in the corridor, there is self evident community support to justify better than minimum bike facilities. Even if it's just another 5 inches for each bike lane, every bit helps, and anything greater than the current striping in Santa Monica is a step in the right direction.

I do want to see the road diet and bike lane project move forward, and bridge the gap in on-street bike routes between Santa Monica and Venice, but while we do it, I can see no convincing reason not to do things a little better than they have been done before. This is also a rare opportunity for the City of L.A. to easily one up Santa Monica by just breaking out the ruler. If we get the same old road treatment in Venice, and the next repaving and striping in Santa Monica moves on to a better design soon after, the reputation of L.A. always being the laggard when it comes to bikes will remain intact.

The Details:
Venice Neighborhood Council Board of Directors monthly meeting:
Tuesday, Sept. 20th, 2011, 7:00PM
Westminster Elementary, 1010 Abbot Kinney (just south of Main), Venice.
E-mail if you want to comment and can't make the meeting.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Vegan Dining & Discussing The Economics Of The Bicycle

(Bikenomics in action, comparing a bike corral I photographed in PDX with a metered car space)

Next Saturday September 10th, Santa Monica Spoke will be playing host to a awesome dinner & bikes touring event put together by Portland based blogger and columnist Elly Blue, Joe Biel, founder of Microcosm Publishing in Portland, & Joshua Ploeg, a traveling vegan chef. They are making their way all over the place booking dates in cities and small towns mostly along the pacific coast, but a few places further out in the Midwest as well.

For those not familiar with Elly Blue, she recently wrote a popular series for Grist on Bikenomics, exploring the cross section of bicycling and economics. It's a great series, and a timely topic, one which I think needs a lot more attention and I think is an important angle to explore in bicycle advocacy. She will be talking about the bicycle economy accompanied by photography.

Joe Biel will be showing short film clips on bicycle culture and advocacy, which will include excerpts from Aftermass, his upcoming documentary about bicycle activism in Portland post critical mass.

I'm not exactly sure what the menu for evening will be, but it promises to be delicious and vegan, and Cynthia Rose of Spoke will be contributing a batch of her delicious vegan cupcakes into the mix. Best of all the event will be free courtesy of funding generously provided by Lucy Dyke, the Transportation Planning Manager for the city of Santa Monica who has overseen development of the Bike Action Plan and other bicycling programs in the city, as well as contributions from the steering committee of Santa Monica Spoke (which includes myself).

You can RSVP to the event via the Facebook invite page, or e-mail your name to and include Dinner & Bikes in the subject.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Santa Monica Draft Bike Action Plans Goes to Council For Input Tommorow Evening

As you may have read if you follow my column for Santa Monica Patch, or my Twitter feed, the Santa Monica Bike Action plan is in the home stretch and a complete draft (warning: large pdf file) is now available. The council will be giving input tomorrow, and if all goes well, this will kick off the final round of the plan going around to commissions before a final vote adopting the plan. For more reaction on the how the bike plan is shaping up, Mihai Peteu has his enthusiastic take on the plan over at Bikeside.

The public portion of the meeting begins at City Hall Tuesday August 23rd 6:30pm, and Item 4A is the bike plan discussion.

Another notable item of interest on tomorrow night's agenda includes authorizing the City Manager to move forward with relinquishment of Lincoln Boulevard, a long awaited change that would hand over responsibility of the entirety of Lincoln Blvd. within Santa Monica, to the City of Santa Monica. Much of which is currently operated by Caltrans. This will allow for repaving, re-striping (The LUCE calls for a peak hour bus lane), possible sidewalk improvements among other things. Major changes are probably a long ways off, and there will be a public input process for what the community wants out of a new Lincoln Blvd. The first step in taming Lincoln into a more humanized landscape is getting it out of the hands of Caltrans, an agency which seems only capable of making things ugly and automobile oriented, with their signature mounds of misshapen asphalt, frequent curb cuts, blank slabs of concrete and chain link fence decor.

Also up is the return of the Hines Development seeking to redevelop the currently inactive property on Olympic Blvd. directly across from the future Expo station stop at the Bergamot Art Center. This development will be a big test of how we move forward with transit oriented development in the city, and with it's close proximity to what will be a future rail and bike corridor, it's critical we get this right. Santa Monica Spoke has been involved in recommending changes, particularly in their plans for bike parking accommodations, which we felt were very lacking in the previous iteration. The staff report indicates the street through access may not be wide enough to accommodate bike lanes along with side street parking and calls for a wider width, so that is something that will have to be looked at more closely. Things overall certainly are looking better than the last time I saw the project, and many of the biggest points of contentions have been  addressed, such as the two building in the center which were too similar in form and corporate block style and the open space in the project is more engaging.

The project is still in the "float up" stages, and Santa Monica's signature lengthy staff report of urban form critique, calls for further changes, but hopefully a great project design can eventually be agreed to and put in motion in time to coincide with the Expo-line opening. The building currently occupying the site is one giant run down looking mega length building, with no sidewalks on Olympic, and non-ADA compliant sidewalks on 26th.

For the full agenda check out the city website here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Santa Monica Museum Of Art, Cause for Creativity: Tour da Arts, vol. 3, This Sunday

SMMOA Tour Da Arts

This weekend the Santa Monica Museum Of Art will once again be hosting what has become one of my favorite Santa Monica events, the Tour da Arts. Combining the art world and bike world is something the museum has become quite adept at. The event starts at the museum in the Bergamot Station Arts Center and tours around the city hitting live performance events at different sites. It's the kind of experience that can really only happen on bikes, moving hundreds of people and hopping around quickly and easily from site to site with a small parking footprint.

For a taste of what it's like check out this video from last year's event:

SMMoA's Cause for Creativity: Tour da Arts, vol. 2 (2010) from Santa Monica Museum of Art on Vimeo.

For more info, and preregistration (ride is free, $5 for spoke card making workshop), check out the SMMOA website here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

#FlightVsBike #FlightVsMetro #BikeVsMetro #SkateVsMetro, A Huge Success!

For those who were not following the live #FlightVsBike hashtag updates yesterday, our little race of bikes against a JetBlue aircraft blew up in a way that far exceeded any of my initial expectations. It was an idea borne out of the Twittersphere, and carried into reality thanks to help from the infamous Roadblock and the racers of Wolfpack, Joe Anthony of Bike Commute News, and a supporting cast of volunteers from L.A.'s bike culture. It drew attention from a lot of blogs and internet news as I had expected, but it also attracted a lot more mainstream media attention than I had anticipated. Thanks in part to the behind the scenes work of my wife Meghan Kavanagh working media contacts and sending out press releases.

The idea from the very beginning was to demonstrate the viability of bikes as a real mode of transportation, poke a little fun at the delay of going through airports, and the unnecessary fear of being told to stay home as though life could not go on without cars with the 405 was shut down. At the last moment I decided to throw in a twist as well. I took a combination of bike and public transit to get to the race start at Chandler Blvd and Cahuenga Blvd, and it got me thinking that we could make it 3 way race and commuter challenge by having a public transit user in the race. L.A.'s public transit system may be behind some of the other mega cities of the world, with needed improvements on the way, but it often does not get enough credit for what it is already able to do. As well as how many people already ride it.

I thought it would be a great opportunity to really highlight all the transportation alternatives with this event, and Metro is offering free fare on many lines for this Carmageddon weekend. The route of North Hollywood and Burbank to Long Beach is ideally suited to both bicycling and transit. There is train service, with heavy rail subway, and light-rail above ground, all the way to Downtown Long Beach. There is also the often overlooked L.A. River, which reaches down into Long Beach and features a bike path with miles and miles of smooth riding and no traffic signals.

(I took the Red Line subway from the NoHo station and transferred to the Blue Line to Long Beach at the DTLA 7th St. Station)
So I set off on foot, with no bike, like most transit commuters. Since Wolfpack made a pledge of a clean by the book race of no rule breaking or running lights, I pledged no jay walking or funny business on my part as well. I loved Roadblock's humorous insistence in interviews that the jet not break any rules either, no rolling stops or cutting off other aircraft on the runway. For the sake of the drama for our live internet followers, I was really glad I decided to jump in with the transit angle, because it became clear there was no contest between Wolfpack and the air travelers Joe Anthony and Ezra Horne. Wolfpack Team A was halfway across Los Angeles while the plane was still sitting on the runway. The #FlightVsBike was becoming more of a #BikeVsMetro race.

(Once I was above ground again I started catching up with Twitter updates and plotting walking route)
Once I was off the Blue Line train and on foot, getting to the final destination of the Long Beach light house near the aquarium, the bikes had a clear advantage. In the end, I got the call that Wolfpack had won just as I was approaching the waterfront.  However at that time the Jet Blue flight had not even touched down, and so even on foot and transit, it was clear I was going to have a decisive second place. The unofficial times from live Twitter updates placed Wolfpack at arriving in 1 hour 34 minutes, me on foot in 1:44. Then there was a surprise arrival, shortly before the plane travelers arrived, a woman on inline skates, Jenni Armstrong (of , who I saw at the start, and had followed the riders. She clocked in at the finish in 2:40. Finally in 2:55, Joe and Ezra arrived, apparently delayed briefly in the final stretch by a taxi driver who misunderstood where they were trying to go, just as might occur in any real transportation scenario.

Wolfpack victory toast after the race.
I see this as a huge win/win for everybody involved, including Jet Blue which was obviously looking for attention with this flight anyways, and it pushed the discussion on transportation in Los Angeles. Like CicLAvia, it is one of the few events I can think of that has garnered almost unanimous positive press for bicycling in LA. Local advocacy blogs like L.A. Streetsblog, that covered the race, ballooned in web traffic beyond anything experienced before. In a surprise morning announcement, the Santa Monica Airlines skateboard company, announced $100 to the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition for every minute the cyclists beat the plane by. Smart money was on Wolfpack for the win, but I don't think they or anyone else, anticipated just how much of an ass kicking it was to become, but hopefully some kind of deal can be worked out.

I''ll be posting more on this later, my experience as the transit racer, and going through some of my photos and video, as I'm sure many others involved will be doing. Joe over at Bike Commute News is hard at work putting together more info, and Ted Rogers of BikingInLA, always a master of linking things, has a compilation of links of some of the media coverage (P.S. the event was also hyped on the Rachel Maddow show as well). Bicycle culture magic maker and photographer Richie Thomassen assembled a team of cinematographers and gear to capture footage of the Wolfpack racers, and I can't wait to see the final cut of what comes out of this, but that may take some time.

So while the political figures of Los Angeles urged staying in our homes, we went out and had a blast traveling all across this great sprawling Metropolis on an absolutely gorgeous day. For us and many others in L.A., the dreaded Carmageddon became a holiday, one that never produced the feared traffic jams, and something I wish we could do again sometime. As the comedian Thomas Lennon put it on Twitter,  "Apparently the 405 operating normally was the thing that was ruining LA. #nicestdayoftheyear". A sentiment that seem shared by a lot of folks, since it was retweeted and commented upon by many. Here's to hoping as we move forward in L.A., we can move past freeway expansion projects like the one expanding the 405 right now (a billion dollars for a few miles of carpool lane), and start having a rational discussion of transportation choices beyond cars.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy Carmageddon this weekend! Who will win, bikes or planes?

Bikes are an obvious alternative to sitting in what ever traffic mess ensues this weekend, and L.A.'s growing transit system is rising to the occasion as well with running additional trains and buses and free fares on some lines. Amtrak is also offering reduced fare ($3, $1.50 for kids) to Bob Hope Airport from L.A. Union Station.

For those local, the City of Santa Monica has a number of events and special things going on to encourage staying local. Bike valets will be available at additional locations this weekend, and there will be some local bike tours organized by the Santa Monica Buy Local campaign.

Airplane Window
Then there was this. Making a bit of a mockery of sustainable transportation alternatives this weekend, Jet Blue offered $4 flights from Long Beach to Burbank to get over the hill. Well yesterday morning, Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book Traffic, pondered on Twitter if someone on a bike could make the trip in the same time or faster than someone taking the flight. Knowing the route, which is long, but ideal for cycling with miles and miles of bike path along the L.A. River, I said maybe. Then I thought of the Wolfpack Hustle guys, and the speed of paceline riding, and thought hey this could be a real race.

Wolfpack Team "A" Sails To Victory In First Place
(Justin of Wolfpack Team "A" that took the win at the Wolfpack All City Race)

I looped in Roadblock of Midnight Ridazz and Wolfpack fame, and off this thing started going. It's now a real event, Joe Anthony of Bike Commute News got in touch with Jet Blue and they gave him a ticket to be on the plane side of the race. My wife Meghan Kavanagh, who does a lot of behind the scenes help in the bike scene writing press releases and making media contacts, has helped get this story out to mainstream media outlets. News stories are popping up all over, and I saw USA Today has picked up the story and many more are following.

Over on Bike Commute News, Joe Anthony has written up a great little post with snippets off of the social media sites. It's a great illustration of the power of the internet and social media to facilitate ideas and spontaneous organizing to make things happen. Major props to Roadblock who really took the idea and carried it, insistent this could be a real thing, and Joe for getting Jet Blue on board. I did not anticipate when I opened my proverbial mouth on Twitter that this idea was going to blow up in the way it has.

So who will win this Carmegeddon, bikes or planes? We will find out this Saturday afternoon!

A few more details on the flight times from the press release:
The race will begin at 10:50 am at a home in Burbank, California.
JetBlue has provided a plane ticket for local bicycle blogger Joe
Anthony. Anthony will take the 12:20 pm JetBlue flight from Burbank to
Long Beach. The flight arrives in Long Beach at 1:05 pm. Both the
cyclists and Anthony are expected to arrive at the finish line at the
Long Beach Aquarium approximately 15 to 20 minutes after the plane

Additional details as they emerge, this is all flying by the seat of your pants organizing, will be added over at Bike Commute News