I’ve always liked Wilshire Boulevard.
With the exception of my first few months crashing on the floor of my oldest friend’s apartment — in terms of years known, not age — I’ve spent my entire time in this city living, and usually working, within a few blocks of it.
For most of the 20th Century, once the city spread west from downtown, it was L.A.’s Main Street, home to virtually every important bank, business and department store in the city. It was also the epicenter of West Coast advertising; at least until Chiat/Day started the industry’s westward migration by moving to Venice.
Now though, it’s a faded version of its former self, a street so choked with traffic and stop lights that some sections are virtually impassible most of the day. A street most Angelenos try to avoid by taking parallel streets such as 6th or Olympic; cyclists have their own bypass routes.
As Yogi Berra once said, “No one goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”
Yet it is a street with infinite possibilities, drawing a nearly straight line from downtown to the coast. And soon, with luck, it will soon be home to the long-delayed and much debated Subway to the Sea — making it a perfect platform for a bold reinvention that goes far beyond anything this city has yet contemplated.
Imagine a Wilshire without traffic.
A Wilshire where the subway doesn’t just take a little pressure off vehicular traffic, but replaces it entirely. Where people aren’t just encouraged to take mass transit, but where it becomes the most viable and efficient means of transportation.
A Wilshire Boulevard so completely reinvented, from Ocean to Grand, that alternative transportation becomes the mainstream.
On the far right side of the roadway in each direction, you’d have a row of parking next to the curb, flanked by a single lane of traffic. Every few blocks, a barrier would force drivers to turn right, preventing through traffic. This would allow drivers to use the boulevard to get to shops and offices, just as they do now, yet eliminate any other traffic.
Next to that would be a single through-lane in each direction for bus traffic. This would allow riders to get off the subway at the nearest stop, then transfer to a bus to get to their final destination.
Finally, the center of the roadway would be a bike boulevard — an entire traffic lane in each direction devoted strictly to non-motorized traffic and physically separated from motorized vehicles. This lane would also be free from barriers, allowing cyclists to safely travel the entire length of the boulevard, from downtown to the coast.
By placing it inside the car and bus lanes, rather than near the curb, buses could easily reach the curb to pick up or let off passengers, and cars could turn right into parking lots or pull into a parking space without crossing the bike lanes — eliminating the risk of right-cross collisions.
This could also be combined with a series of bike stations located in key employment centers, offering secure bike parking, showers and simple repair services, making bike commuting a viable alternative for many workers.
On either side of the boulevard, wide sidewalks — now free from the overwhelming noise and choking exhaust of passing vehicles — would entice strollers and shoppers with sidewalk cafes and open air markets.
It will never happen, of course.
It’s a lovely pipedream; just an exercise in possibilities.
Because something like that would take an enormous amount of money, which seems to be in very short supply these days. And it would take leaders with the genuine vision and courage to see the possibilities and turn away from the exclusively car-centric mentality this city is built on.
And that seems to be in even shorter supply.
Gary gets my vote for the best April Fool joke for a post so impossible it almost had to be real. Ubrayj comments on the Ponzi Scheme that is transportation planning. Metro plans an interactive chat this Friday; good place to ask why complaints seem to disappear into the void. Like the rest of us, cyclists in Long Beach want more. An older blog by my favorite Scottish bike blogger explains why London cyclists are tempted to run red lights. A Texas cyclist and custom bike builder tracks bike collisions, including a despicable hit & run in Utah and a Houston cyclist crushed by a fire truck; he also relates a harrowing story of his own recovery after being hit by a city-owned pickup truck. And finally, as if they didn’t have enough reasons to hate us, now we have a bicycling hit man.