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.
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.”
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.
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.