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 board@venicenc.org if you want to comment and can't make the meeting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Would the City of Santa Monica consider an educational campaign (or at least signage in the area) encouraging parkers to open their driver side doors with their right hand, which forces them to look for bikers coming. I think that's standard education in Holland. It would be inexpensive and probably effective.