True Grit: clearing a path for beachfront bicyclists

See the sand on the bike path? Me neither.

Notice anything different lately?

As you may recall, a couple weeks ago I wrote about the long-standing problem of sand on the Marvin Braude Bike Path along the beach in Santa Monica and Venice.

Then last week, I shared an email that I sent to County Bicycle Coordinator Abu Yusuf, after discovering that the county is responsible for maintaining the bikeway.

Or most of it, any way.

And I promised to let you know when I received a response. Then again, if you’ve ridden the bike path over the last few days, I probably don’t have to tell you what that response was.

To be honest, I didn’t think they were taking me seriously at first.

This is what local cyclists have had to deal with in recent months.

Mr. Yusuf emailed back, explaining that the bike path gets cleared three times a week, and inspected on a regular basis. And their records showed the maintenance was up to date and it was clear of sand.

So I picked up the phone, and said, as politely as possible, maybe you should take another look at those photos.

I explained that I’ve been riding that bike path for nearly 20 years. And this was the first time it had looked more like a sand trap at Riviera than southern California’s most heavily used bikeway — and stayed that way for over two months.

I was prepared for an argument. But his response surprised me.

As late as Monday, the bike path in Santa Monica looked like this.

Yusuf took my complaints seriously — even though they contradicted what he believed — and offered to meet me in Venice to take a first hand look.

Meanwhile, my original email, which had been circulated through the county maintenance department, seemed to be having an effect.

When I rode the bike path last week, it seemed a little cleaner than it had anytime since the storms of last May. Not yet free from sand, but clearly efforts had been made to clean the sand off in a number of places.

Then I rode it again this past Monday. And it showed even more improvement, though it still had a long way to go.

This is how the same section looked on Tuesday.

So Tuesday morning, I rode out to Venice, this time as a representative of the LACBC, to meet with Yusuf and the county’s other Bicycle Coordinator, Kristofor Norberg. I also asked my friend George Wolfberg to join us, since he’s involved in a number of local and regional community groups and bicycle advisory committees.

What we saw surprised us.

Overnight, following the regularly scheduled Tuesday morning maintenance, the bike path had gone from a sea of sand to an actual, ridable bike path. There were still problems, but the cement was cleaner than it had been in months.

It may not be perfect yet, but the bike path hasn't been this clear in months.

Of course, no pathway along the beach will ever be completely free of sand. Daily ocean breezes blow it onto the path, and every beachgoer who tramps across it drags a little sand with them.

But the difference was night and day.

So the first thing we did when Yusuf and Norberg arrived was to say thank you. Then we took them on a little walk to point out some problems that still remained.

They surprised us, too. Instead of the sterotypical SoCal bureaucrats hell bent on defending their department, we found two very polite and friendly men who were clearly committed to solving problems and finding a way to get things done.

In other words, exactly the kind of public servants our city and county so desperately need these days.

Kristofor Norberg and George Wolfberg examine how much of the bike path has been lost to sand.

We showed them places where a malfunctioning sprinkler system washed out the sand bordering the path, sending it streaming across the bikeway in inch-deep deposits. Along with areas where sand had been allowed to overtake the edges of the path, reducing its usable surface by as much as a foot and a half in places.

We pointed out places where pedestrians walk across the bike path, often without looking — and they showed us where warning signs had been removed or covered with graffiti, and where sweeping equipment had worn off the markings that indicated portions of the path were for bikes only.

And we talked about the problems presented by the odd combination of cyclists, skaters, skateboarders, joggers, pedestrians and Segway jockeys who traverse the path on a daily basis. In fact, we watched as a bike rider nearly had to be restrained after colliding with a skateboarder.

And after a tour that lasted well over an hour, our meeting felt more like four friends working together to solve a problem than a couple of cyclists butting heads against the usual brick wall of local government.

This sign used to say something; now it's just bike parking.

In the end, they committed to follow up with the county maintenance staff to make sure the path stays as clear of sand as possible, and to see what can be done about the problem areas and the streaks of sand the sweepers sometimes leave behind.

They offered to look into additional signage and striping to identify the bike-only portions of the path and warn pedestrians to look out for bikes when they cross the path. They also agreed to ask for bike cops to patrol the path from time to time to try to prevent conflicts before they happen.

And finally, they asked for your help.

If you notice any problems on the bike path or areas where the signage could be improved, Yusuf wants to hear from you; you can email him at ayusuf@dpw.lacounty.gov. Or just send them to me or the LACBC, and we’’ll forward it to him for you.

On the other hand, he also made it clear that there are limits to what he can do.

For instance, the county has responsibility for everything on the bike path itself — but anything on either side falls under the jurisdiction of other city or state agencies.

And their jurisdiction ends just north of the new Annenberg Community Beach House, where the city takes over.

Which means we face a whole different set of problems to get that section cleaned.

But at least, this is one clear victory for cyclists.

Clearly, we still have work to do; this is where the city maintained portion of the bike path begins.

6 comments

  1. Jim Lyle says:

    Wow! If Mr. Yusuf ever runs for public office, I’ll vote for him!

  2. Digital Dame says:

    I’m impressed, that they met you out there in person is noteworthy in itself. And you got real resulsts! My helmet is off to you ;)

  3. Rach Stevo says:

    Nice! I swore off that path when I had to continually ride in the wrong lane to avoid sand drifts. Maybe I’ll go back sometime.

  4. The Trickster says:

    Well done Ted.

    Also noted that the woman from Malibu’s Facebook page has disappeared.

  5. Robert Sibilia says:

    I am representing a woman who sustained severe multiple fractures of her ankle when her bike hit a virtual sand dune several inches deep on the bike path. Has anyone made complaints of injury to COunty?

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