Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Letter To Venice Neighborhood Council, Concerning Road Diet Proposal With Bike Lanes On Main St. West Of Santa Monica

Dear Venice Neighborhood Council,

I am very much in support of the spirit of continuing the bike route of Main St. in Santa Monica through into Venice. It makes sense since many cyclists already use the entirety of Main St. to ride between destinations in Venice and Santa Monica. However I have some reservations about the proposal. As it appears in the diagrams I have seen, it looks to apply very much the same treatment in Santa Monica onward.

Currently in Santa Monica, the Main St. bike lane is one of the more stressful and collision prone bike routes in this city, and I believe that the primary reason for this is that the bike lane is very narrow, and the turn over of parked cars is very high. This means that cyclists frequently have to avoid opening car doors and cars pulling into and out of the bike lane. Due to the very narrow width of the bike lane, have little room to do so without swerving into oncoming traffic in the standard vehicle lane. This design of narrow bike lanes centered in the path of opening car doors contradicts the best practices for riding as taught by the League of American Bicyclists in their traffic safety classes for cyclists.

Santa Monica planners have acknowledged the problem of “door zone” bike lanes, and are exploring design configurations which may mitigate this issue for their pending bike plan update. I think that this Venice Main St. redesign represents not just an opportunity to extend the bike route, but to perhaps improve upon it or try something different.

I would prefer to see a configuration which widened the bike lane over what exists in Santa Monica, or would create a small buffer between the bike lane and the parked car doors, as some cities have done. This could be accomplished by narrowing the vehicle lanes, and recent studies indicate that on lower speed local roads, there is little difference in safety between 9, 10 and 11 ft. lanes.

Another possibility is using a sharrow treatment while keeping the road 2 lanes in each direction, but making it clear that cyclists may ride in the right lane and outside of the door zone. This along with other traffic calming measures has been successful in Hermosa Beach on Hermosa Ave, one of the first streets in Southern California to have sharrows. I find from my riding experience sharrows work best on 2 lane each way roads because they allow an easy lane for drivers to go around who do not wish to wait behind a cyclist, and that they reduce hostility compared to when sharrows are not present.

As a Santa Monica resident, I welcome the extension of bike routes into neighboring Venice, but I hope that this opportunity is taken to explore design possibilities beyond simply doing what has already been done in Santa Monica. I support the idea of bike lanes, but when their width is narrow and directly adjacent car parking, I find that their safety is compromised. If a bicycle lane as part of a road diet is the desired treatment, I would recommend exploring lane width alternatives that ensure the bike lane is a truly safe place to ride.

Gary Kavanagh
Santa Monica Resident


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback, Gary. Getting insightful comments like yours was what the presentation at the Venice Neighborhood Council was all about.

Joe Linton said...

Huh??? Two traffic lanes each direction with sharrows??? Really?
That configuration exists on Adams, on Reseda Blvd... and it's crap... bike-unfriendly - with all but the most intrepid cyclists riding on the sidewalk.

A counter example would be 2nd Street in Long Beach - a federally approved non-standard pilot [the kind of project that LADOT could drag out until your future children are in high school], that works well - 2 lanes with a serious green ribbon with sharrows... leading to that facility are bike lanes, adjacent to parking.

I don't bike there more than a handful of times each year, but when I ride it, Main Steet in Santa Monica vs. Main Street in L.A. feels to me like night and day. SM being bike-welcoming (hence novices feeling comrtable enough to bike there) and LA being bike-inhospitable, cars moving faster, and less safe for everyone.

The Federal Highways study shows that road diets reduce crashes and make roads safer for all - see

Please don't give LADOT an excuse they'd love to do nothing here...

Gary said...

Two lanes each way is not the same every where. I am not familiar with Adams or Reseda, but Hermosa Ave., which is one of the only places I have ridden where sharrows actually felt like they were truly successful, is 2 lanes each way, very slow traffic speeds, and the free lane to pass means groups of cyclists riding together can control right lane and drivers have room to pass without getting aggravated and road ragey. I mention as well that in Hermosa, there is more than just the sharrows for traffic calming. I would not recommend this unless other things were done in conjunction to keep speeds lower.

It was really transformative to me having ridden through very frequently before and immediately after sharrows on rides I used to do through Hermosa out to PV every weekend. Drivers stopped honking and tail gating when I rode out of the door zone, and the supporting signage makes it clear this is okay. I saw a lot more cyclists out as well, and not just the usual roadies.

Yes novices come out to ride on Main St., and then they recall to Meghan who works at REI selling bike stuff to newbies, stories of being hit by doors and of course not reporting these incidents to police, so we have no clear data how often this is happening. Our own former Deputy Cheif of Police, now Chief in Pasedena, was doored on Main St., and also did not file a police report.

I'm not opposed to a road diet and bike lanes, what I find troubling is the false sense of security and hazard represented by minimum standard facilities. I think we can do better.

On Broadway in Santa Monica, same road diet door zone configuration, I used to commute very frequently along that route. It is insanity at rush hour where cars all shoved into 1 lane form a solid wall of traffic on your left, while high turn over of parked cars to your right makes you a human ping pong ball with inches of room to spare on either side. One especially heavy traffic block of Broadway I took to calling the gauntlet.

Traffic speeds are a lower during the day On Broadway than adjacent streets, but trying to ride home at night drivers go right back to speeding, and with a straight line and a wide cushion presented by center lane, they blast off, and since you have to hug left of the bike lane to avoid doors you get passed at high speed uncomfortably close. Many cyclists still ride on the sidewalk on bike lane streets in Santa Monica, just not so much on Main St. because people actually walk there.

When Spoke did a park[ing] day space on Broadway, we had a bike count going for a while, and we had a pretty high number of sidewalk riders (which is illegal in SM) even though a bike lane was there, but sadly a very claustrophobic one.

Gary said...

Another thing about Hermosa sharrows that sets them apart, is they are painted with higher frequency, much higher than ones I have seen in L.A. and Santa Monica so far, spaced not very far apart from each other, and every couple blocks includes the supporting signage that bikes may use the full lane.

I really need to get out and try more of the sharrows around, I have not seen all of the L.A. ones, or the crazy Long Beach one, but of the sharrows I have ridden I never felt they fully got the intended effect except for those in Hermosa Beach.

I would prefer bike lanes, I don't like interacting with cars any more than I have to, but only if the bike lanes are designed as such that you can safely ride the center lane position.

If well designed bike lanes which exceed minimum standards are out of the cards, I would prefer sharrows over being legally obligated to put my self in the path of car doors.

Joe Linton said...

Thanks for clarifying. I will have to check out the Hermosa sharrows. I am curious what the other cues are there that make for the more manageable speeds. (As I said the LB sharrows work - but it occurs to me that there are landscaped median islands... and, I think, relatively few mid-block driveways - and the supportive signage you mention)

I agree, too, that sidewalk riding is fairly common on many local streets with bike lanes... so there are other design cues that foster or discourage riding in the street... we have a long way to go.

While you point out that the bike lane experience isn't perfect (such as in your "gauntlet") - I wonder what that street would be like without the lane. My guess is that it would be worse.

I think our streets/infrastructure give drivers the message that they're the only legitimate users... and that adding bike lanes, while it doesn't solve everything, is very cheap and moves us in the right direction.

Gary said...

Hermosa Beach situation they have not only landscaped median, but parking in the center of the road as well as curb side. I think the having parked cars left and right is a big part of slower speeds, along with stop signs. I'm not a big fan of frequent stop signs, I think there are other intersection treatments that can bring down speed to manageable level without full stop, which can be annoying on bike, but the stop signs undeniably contribute to calmed pace.

BC said...

Is Main Street really 4 lanes? Looking at Google Earth, Main Street in Santa Mo is about a 1.3 mile long, about 60 ft wide, with 2 lanes plus a turn lane and parking, with shorter blocks, lots of peds, lots to look at, and lots of stopping and street parking; the LA stretch is about the same, but less than a mile long.

Reseda Blvd is an 11 mile long alternating raceway and traffic jam, mostly 80 ft wide with 4 lanes plus a turn lane and parking, with the average block probably twice as long as Main St, and except for the Old Towns of Reseda and Northridge, fronted by large apartment bldgs and businesses with off street parking.

It looks like Adams is 60 ft wide up to Crenshaw, 70 ft after, but 4 lanes the whole way.

anty said...

I have a love/hate relationship with the Sunset Blvd bike lanes in Silver Lake/Echo Park for this reason. There are certain sections (the areas near Intelligentsia and Dusty's) where I'm extra aware of parked cars and make a point to stay out of the door zone (and consequently on the very edge of the lane). Tuesday night I had to slam on the brakes to miss a car pulling out of a driveway in front of me. A half hour later I was incredibly thankful I had decided to ride on the edge when I narrowly avoided getting doored during rush hour as I coasted down the hill near Silver Lake Blvd at a fast speed.

The sharrows on Fountain are an improvement, but some drivers are still pretty cranky about my desire to ride safely out of the door zone. I wish the speed limit were lower and enforced (damn those stupid speed trap laws!) so that people didn't view it as their fast alternative to Sunset. You point about the frequency of the sharrow markings is also good.