The Incredible Disappearing Bike Lanes

So here’s my biggest complaint about riding in Los Angeles. Aside from inattentive drivers yammering on their now-illegal handheld cell phones and bike paths clogged with pedestrians and bus drivers who don’t use their mirrors and cops who write tickets for things that aren’t against the law, anyway.

Of course, I’m talking about a “system” (cough, cough) of bike lanes that start and stop at random, without actually going anywhere or connecting to anything.

Take the bike lanes on the newly rebuilt Santa Monica Boulevard near my home (yes, that Santa Monica Blvd.). Or as I like to call it, the Incredible Disappearing Bike Lane and the Block of Death.

You see, when I heard they were planning to accommodate bicyclists on the boulevard when they were done, I actually got my hopes up.

I know, I know.

This town will always break your heart.

But still, that hope got me through all those years of construction, when I could barely get home to my own apartment, and couldn’t sleep because of the heavy construction equipment operating in the middle of the night just a few hundred feet from my window. Not to mention all those unreturned calls to the mayor’s office to complain about it. (I hope Mr. Villaraigosa remembers that before he asks for my vote again.)

I had visions of a state-of-the-art bike path actually separated from the roadway — I mean, why not, since they were completely rebuilding the roadway anyway — or maybe separated bike lanes, or at least something elevated above the roadway or set off with a concrete divider.

But no. After enduring years of construction, all we got was a lousy line of paint to separate riders from traffic along one of the busiest thoroughfares in Los Angeles.

The westbound lane starts abruptly a few blocks past the east side of Century City, requiring several blocks of fighting your way through heavy traffic just to get there. Which gives you choice — you can take the lane and risk the wrath of angry drivers and impatient bus jockeys, or you can take to the wide, virtually empty sidewalk for a few blocks before cutting back over once the bike lane starts.

Guess which one I usually choose.

On the west end, it dumps you off without warning at Sepulveda Boulevard. Not too bad, if you know the area, since Sepulveda is a designated bike route, although it really shouldn’t be. Or you can turn off on one of the quiet side streets before Sepulveda, ride a couple blocks north to Ohio, and continue west in relative peace and safety.

Needless to say, there’s no signage there to direct riders, so if you don’t know the area, you’re on your own.

Which means riders are often forced to take the lane on Santa Monica, just before a busy freeway onramp. And fight their way through heavy traffic as the street narrows from four lanes to two, with a degree of difficulty that’s off the charts.

And that’s the good news.

On the other side, heading east, things start off well, with the lane beginning just after Sepulveda. If you’re fool enough to believe the city’s designation and ride that section of Sepulveda, you can easily pick up the bike path at that point — assuming you survive the intersection, which is not a given.

From there, you have a smooth route through West Los Angeles and Century City. Well, most of Century City, anyway.

Because all of the sudden, without warning, the bike lane simply… stops. You’ve just made it past all the cars rushing in and out of the shopping mall, and you’re approaching Avenue of the Stars when you pass a sign hidden between the palm trees, where no rider trying to stay alive on such a busy street is likely to look. And all that sign says, on the off chance you actually happen to see it, is “Bike Lane. End.”

That’s it.

No advice for riders, suggesting that they turn, or take the lane, or ride the sidewalk, or just bend over and kiss their ass goodbye.

Nothing.

Which means that whether you’re an experienced rider who can navigate busy traffic, or a beginning rider without the skills to take a lane, you’re on your on. It’s bad enough in the middle of the day when I usually ride; I can ride fast enough that, in most cases, I can hold the lane without causing too much inconvenience to the drivers, or undue risk to myself.

But God help you if you’re an inexperienced or slow rider, or if you have to negotiate those streets at rush hour when the street is filled with impatient drivers, few of whom will willingly take the extra couple seconds required to pass a cyclist safely.

So why would anyone design bike lanes that actually makes it more dangerous for riders?

A more generous person, one willing to give city traffic planners the benefit of the doubt, might think the intent was to encourage people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods to bike to their jobs in Century City. But that assumes the people who live in there actually work nearby, which is seldom the case in Los Angeles.

And my personal observation indicates that virtually every cyclist who uses the eastbound bike lane continues through to Beverly Hills on Santa Monica Blvd., on a street that wasn’t designed for cycling, in a city with no bike lanes, routes or paths whatsoever.

A cynic like me, though, would say they just penciled those lanes in as an afterthought once they finished the blueprints, and just didn’t give the slightest thought to what riders would do when the lane ended. As usual.

Or just didn’t care.

 

Will Campbell addressed this subject in the Times last year, taking the contrary position that we need fewer bike lanes and more educated drivers. Outdoor Urbanite offers a variation on Bicycling’s suggested Mandeville Canyon route, and wants to know if anyone has ever taken the fire road on skinny tires. Just Williams discusses Britain’s worst drivers; over here, I’d put Santa Monica cab drivers at the top of the list. You’ll find advice for beginning bike commuters here, and C.I.C.L.E. offers a beginners workshop on riding in traffic. A children’s hospital in Ontario, CA (the other one) says their study shows helmets save lives. Evidently, the war between cyclists and drivers has spread throughout the English-speaking world. And finally, a cycling editor wants to save the hour record, once held by the legendary Eddie Merckx.

18 comments

  1. disgruntled says:

    We have those in the UK too. They’re worse than useless.

    Just wait for the trumpeting of ‘x miles of new bike lanes’ added when re-election time comes around.

    City officials should be forced to use their own cycle lanes, in rush hour. That might help…

  2. bikinginla says:

    I like that idea. Maybe when the next election rolls around, we can challenge the mayor to map a route across the city using only official bike lanes and routes — then dare him to actually ride it.

  3. See, to me, those gaps just beg the question – how’s your sprinting form AT? Then I find out how hard and how fast I’ve got legs for. The day I bite the dust will be when I deign to use SM Boulevard when I’m out of shape and fatigued.

    But yeah – it’s a huge problem. Have you ever tried out Charleville? Check that road out to go East/West between SM & Wilshire and Wilshire & La Cienega.

  4. timur says:

    On a similar note, I rode back from UCLA to Koreatown for the first time the other day – I’m still trying to figure out the best way to navigate the bicycle wasteland between Beverly Glen and La Brea.

    In terms of planning the routes, I think a great deal has to do with the question of use: If lanes are planned by people who don’t ride, the whole set of concerns that you raise here is not even on the table. Imagine a freeway planned and designed by people who didn’t actually drive (although I suppose you could make an argument for the Arroyo Seco Freeway, but still) – you’d have people up in arms. Questions of use relate really clearly to questions of visibility as well – I didn’t start noticing other people’s bikes until I started riding one myself; now I make a point to notice what people are writing. I used to sell hiking shoes: Once I started doing that, I noticed every pair of shoes that came into the shop where I worked.

  5. bikinginla says:

    Yeah, I take Charleville whenever I’m going to my bike shop on Robertson. It’s a great route, other than the frequent stop signs, and most drivers there are willing to make room for me. Of course, it helps that I can usually go from stop sign to stop sign as fast, or faster, than they can.

    Timur, that route may may help you, as well. It’s just one block south of Wilshire, and parallels it almost to La Cienega. After that, you’re on your own. And I know what you mean about noticing — I used to write advertising for a brand of hiking boots; to this day, I still check out every pair I see.

  6. Mark Panitz says:

    there is bike lane just north of Sepulveda at Ohio (techinally its on the sidewalk going west)

  7. Dave Lowenstein says:

    Same kind of thing here in Tempe, AZ. There is no real consideration for the cyclist in designing bike lanes, if they even exist. It’s all about money and there’s no money in bikes so we will never have proper facilities to encourage cycling. I’ve been fighting this here for decades with no success. Green is money, not necessarily ecologically sound!

    I lived in L.A. in the early 70’s and at that time, cycling was better and safer there than it was here. Don’t know how it compares now.

  8. dmc says:

    At this point, I’d have to agree with Will Campbell that bike lanes are essentially worse than useless. I’d rather just ride in traffic where I can and on the sidewalk where I have to. I really like the “sharrows” concept. I saw a proposal over the weekend up north that would move the bike lane curbside and have parallel parking in between that lane and traffic. That makes a lot of sense. The bike lane flush against a row of parked cars is about the dumbest idea in history. That’s exactly the worst possible place to riding.

  9. Gary K. says:

    Yeah I hear you on this issue. Coming from the West most cyclists use Broadway in Santa Monica to travel East, but where Broadway becomes Ohio, the bike lane dumps out and merges onto Santa Monica Blvd. where if you want to get to the bike lane there, you have a stretch of high traffic craziness and a freeway on ramp for the 405. You could loop around North or South to avoid that stretch but beginners likely don’t know that, as an experienced rider I typically just take my chances because I’d rather go more direct. Then it dumps with almost no warning into Beverly Hills, where cyclists are hated and fresh meat. It finally picks up again in West Hollywood, but these glaring gaps (looking at you Beverly Hills especially) are really discouraging for anyone who isn’t hardcore.

    All this is especially frustrating after visiting Chicago recently where bike lane signs, gasp, actually tell you where they are going and sometimes connecting routes.

  10. Timur,

    Here is one route I recommend

    SM Blvd, then bear right out of Century City taking little SM Blvd
    Right on Charleville
    Charleville to the end – quick left and right onto Wilshire
    Left from Wilshire onto San Vicente
    Right on 6th St.
    Enjoy.

    North/South options are Robertson, Doheny, Crescent Heights. Do not continue on 6th past La Brea = not enough lights so motorists drive like it’s a highway.

    If it’s a low traffic period be aware that none of the lights on Charleville are responsive to bikes, so you look left, look right, and confirm that Beverly Hills PD is not present, and go. Also, I don’t pay those stop signs on Charleville any nevermind – they’re yields for bikers in some states, and I’m not in a California state of mind.

    As far as the 405 mess with SM Blvd is concerned – get out and own that lane – not the onramp lane but the through lane. If it’s jammed then cut cars one lane over instead of next to the freeway onramp. This works well for me.

  11. Will Campbell says:

    I felt the need to see the beach at least once this summer so I took the long way home from work yesterday and on my way back inland I pedaled the eastbound Santa Monica Boulevard lane to its abrupt terminus just before Avenue of the Stars. I then made the big mistake of merging on to “big Santa Monica” just west of Century Park East (instead of staying on the little side) in hopes of catching a left onto Merv Griffin Way to get over to Whittier Drive and then to Carmelita, a nice quiet alternative that parallels Santa Monica Boulevard’s hellishness between Wilshire and Doheny.

    But no way with the aggressive thick traffic was I offered the opp to get onto Merv’s cut-through so I had to just grin and grit it to Wilshire where I could at least get back on Little SaMo and proceed.

  12. bikinginla says:

    Carmelita is a great alternative route. When I want to head inland, I often try to follow that exact route, which allows you to come back down Palm to Beverly, where you can connect to 3rd or take one of the side streets down to Charleville, or you can connect back to Santa Monica and take the bike lane through West Hollywood. An alternative is to take Beverly Glen to Wilshire, then ride the sidewalk on the right side past the golf course. That used to be a posted bike path, but they took the signs down a few years back.

    Of course, if L.A. and Beverly Hills would work together, they could easily solve that problem by extending the bike lane down Santa Monica Blvd. — there’s certainly room for it — then add a pedestrian crosswalk at Merv Griffin. Then all they’d have to do is add a few signs to funnel bike traffic off Santa Monica and onto Carmelita. But that makes so much sense, I can almost guarantee it will never happen.

  13. Bike Girl says:

    Bike Girl pushes her way on to Big Santa Monica and takes it all the way to where the bike lane resumes in WeHo.

    It’s an unpleasant ride, but Bike Girl thinks it’s worse to have to take Carmelita because of all the stop signs and the hassle of getting over to it.

    Bike Girl thinks it’s funny that Beverly Hills, with all the money it’s reputed to have, would skimp on paving its roads. It’s not so much the lack of a bike lane Bike Girl hates, it’s the horrible road conditions on SaMo Blvd.

  14. bikinginla says:

    BikingInLA thinks Bike Girl has major huevos. Figuratively speaking.

    You’re right, though. I can almost understand the lousy condition of L.A. streets considering the city’s budget issues. But B.H. should be able to pave the streets with gold, let alone asphalt. Perhaps they don’t want to invest in roadways that will be used by the hoi polloi. Or maybe they just blew their budget on those Baccarat chandeliers for Rodeo Drive.

  15. Maddie says:

    Seconds on the crunny conditions of the gutter to which we are relegated on Santa Monica in Beverly Hills. That bike lane to nowhere burns my bunions every time I pass through.

    My all time favorite bike suck/fail is on N’bound Glendale at the entrance to the 2 fwy. I am a NYC-bred traffic warrior and am pretty gutsy, but there is no safe way to ride past the freeway entrance, and the way the lights are timed, you never have a break in traffic. I usually take the crosswalk at the previous intersection, ride on the opposite sidewalk and then cross back at the next crosswalked intersection. It SUCKS.

  16. bikinginla says:

    I know the area you’re talking about, Maddie. I’ve never ridden it, but having driven through on a number of occasions, I can’t imagine riding it, either. Your work around may suck, but at least it keeps you alive, which our city traffic planners don’t seem to be all that interested in.

  17. tattoo ride says:

    wow.. feel the pain here.. i frequently ride from olympic and bundy to melrose north of fairfax.. and santa monica is the best route.. the block of death I know it well.. even late at night its still sketchy. during the day it’s a full extreme sport.. It would be safer to cliff dive into a dry lagoon. thankfully i have over 10 years experience navigating LA streets on a bike. but still the bike lane situation is a total joke and drivers in this city.. dude! how many times has anyone been nearly killed by an SUV just being a douche. and most bike lanes are really just lanes to get a car door.

  18. Sol Findley says:

    Here’s some more incredible cycle lanes fro the UK:
    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pete.meg/wcc/facility-of-the-month/index.htm

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