It is — or rather, should be — the crown jewel of the L.A. area bikeway network.
Like the section though Manhattan Beach where cyclists are expected to dismount and walk their bikes when the beach area is busy, or a similar restriction in Redondo Beach that’s enforced 24/7. Or the stretch through Hermosa Beach where bikes are expected to observe an 8 mph speed limit as they wind their way through assorted joggers, skaters and pedestrians.
And don’t get me started on the near impassibility of the bike path at prime times through sections of Venice and Santa Monica due to the total lack of enforcement of the bike-only restrictions — despite the promises made over a year ago to the Time’s Steve Lopez.
In fact, while it’s popular with casual cyclists, many more experienced riders — myself included — largely avoid it on weekends and summer afternoons. Personally, if I don’t get there well before noon, I usually opt for a less scenic but far more ridable alternative on the streets.
Like Yogi Berra once said, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”
Lately, though, there’s been another problem, as the storms of the last few months have left a deposit of sand strewn across the bikeway that lingers to this day.
At first, sections of the path, particularly through the winding curves along Venice Beach, were unridable due to several inches of windblown sand piled high atop the concrete. Yet even now, weeks later, sand remains on major portions of the bikeway, presenting a significant safety hazard to anyone using the path.
In many sections, it covers most or all of one side of the path, pushing riders, skaters and pedestrians moving in both directions onto a single side of the bike path, greatly increasing the risk of collisions. In other places, it coats the entire pathway with a thin veneer of loose sand, forcing cyclists to traverse a surface that can shift dangerously beneath them, risking a spill if they take a corner too quickly or misjudge an angle.
I’ve used my first aid kit more in the last few months patching up strangers who’ve wiped out on the sand than I have in the last few years.
Even more dangerous are the barely visible wisps of sand that spread across many of the path’s curves, threatening to take down any unsuspecting cyclist who happens to overlook such a seemingly insignificant obstacle as they take in the many sights of Venice.
I find myself breaking well before most curves, taking even relatively clear-looking corners slower than I would have earlier in the year on the off-chance that there may be a fine layer of sand I don’t see. But on a bike path frequented by tourists, not many riders have the local knowledge required to anticipate problems like that.
Which means that, sooner or later, you’re going to end up paying for the injuries suffered by a cyclist who looses control and takes a serious spill, or the pedestrian he or she slides into — assuming you’re not the one it happens to. Because even though the state law absolves local governments of any liability for off-road (Class 1) trails, it also requires adequate warning of known hazards.
And if two months worth of sand piled on the bike path isn’t a known hazard, I don’t know what is.
Of course, a beachfront bike path should imply the presence of sand. But the length and amount of sand, as well as the amount of time it’s been allowed to remain there, goes far beyond any reasonable expectation.
In the past, both the Santa Monica and L.A. sections of the bikeway were swept on a semi-regular basis to keep conditions like this from building up. But this year, budget cutbacks have apparently impacted cleaning operations, making any attempt to clear the path a rarity.
And on the few occasions when they have tried to clean the sand off, the tool used has been a heavy industrial front loader, rather than the smaller and more efficient Bobcats, sweepers or even hand brooms that have been used in the past.
A front loader may be fine for moving a few tons of sand, but it’s entirely inadequate when it comes to removing the last few layers of sand that can make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain traction. In fact, it can make the situation worse, as the thin layer of sand a front loader leaves behind is often more dangerous than the thicker layer that was there before.
It’s simply the wrong tool for the job. Like using a pipe wrench to adjust your spokes.
Last week, after riding through Venice, I emailed a city official to say that something had to be done before someone gets seriously hurt. The response I got back said that they were working on it, but having trouble determining exactly what department has jurisdiction for the path.
You’d think that would be an easy question to answer after years of previous maintenance. But maybe that’s the effect of several rounds of staff cutbacks, as the institutional knowledge required to actually run the city is seriously depleted along with its staffing levels.
Evidently, though, they must have figured something out. As I rode back along the path on Wednesday, I passed yet another front loader on the bike path, apparently on its way to another semi-effective attempt to clear the concrete.
I’m not holding my breath.
This weekend marks the busiest time of the year on our local beaches, as tourists and locals alike crowd their way onto a few feet of prime beachfront real estate, competing for space on a thin strand of overly popular concrete.
Will the bike path be ready for them — let alone safe?
I wouldn’t count on it. I also wouldn’t count on it being ready for riding anytime soon afterwards.
Because if they can’t manage to sweep off the sand left behind by a few storms, how are they going to clean up after a few hundred thousand beachgoers?