The L.A. Bicycle Master Plan — Imagine a great city. Or not.

Recently, I was going through my files, and stumbled across the this:


When I moved back to Los Angeles — the city of my birth — a few decades back, my mother sent me the old 1951 Thomas Guide they’d used when they lived here. Why she kept it, I have no idea. Nor do I really know why I never bothered to look at it until a few weeks ago.

Inside, I found a few hand-written notes marking places our family had lived before I was born, as well as the usual lines and markings people make on maps, indicating routes they had taken and places they’d been.

I spent hours combing through every page, as if it was a personal message from beyond the grave, connecting me to a personal history I’d been too young to remember.

It also connected me to this city’s past. And as I looked through it, what struck me most was something that had long-since disappeared from L.A.’s streets — the many routes of a rail and streetcar system that had once connected virtually every inch of the metro area, as well as extending out to Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino Counties.

The legendary Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway, and the Yellow Cars of the Los Angeles Railway.


It was, at one time, one of the finest interconnected mass transit systems in the world. Yet this particular map was notable for capturing a period that marked the rise of the freeway and the rapid decline of the Red Cars.


Within another 10 years, the final passenger line was discontinued, and the Pacific Electric Railway would cease to exist — perhaps the biggest mistake Los Angeles has ever made, as we now spend billions of dollars to recreate a pale imitation of this once vibrant system.

Now the city is on the verge of another mistake rivaling the dismantling of the Red Cars.

At a time when L.A.’s bicycling community is growing stronger than ever before, and cyclists are demanding a greater voice in the political process, the city has tried to sneak out the much delayed Bike Master Plan by releasing it to neighborhood councils rather than letting cyclists see it — even those who have been deeply involved in the process.

Of course, cyclists soon got wind of the plan, since some serve on their neighborhood councils. And the overwhelming response was that the city had failed once again.

Instead of the bold plan that had initially been expected from the famed Alta Planning + Design, we got an underwhelming, water-down map completely lacking in vision.

No bold thinking. No bike boulevards — let alone bike boxes or even sharrows. No commitment to complete, livable streets that serve all users, rather than just moving vehicles in and out with ever decreasing efficiency. And most of the suggested new bike lanes, at least here on the Westside, came under the heading of “Proposed but Currently Unfeasible.”

It’s been suggested by members of the LADOT that Los Angeles is built out, and there’s no more room to accommodate bikes. But if New York — one of the most crowded and built out cities in the world — can dramatically increase their network of bike lanes, Los Angeles certainly can.

So instead of capitalizing on the momentum provided by the bike community and a rare opportunity to rethink, not just the nature of L.A. transportation, but the very nature of Los Angeles as a more livable city, we get yet another failure of leadership.

A failure that begins at the top, and works its way down through the bloated bureaucracy that actually runs L.A.


Liz points out the need for yet another ghost bike, as a cyclist is killed by a DWP truck in the Valley. While Los Angeles can’t figure out how to build, let alone pay for, biking infrastructure, Glendale proposes building a bike corridor using federal stimulus money. Bicycling Magazine reports on how L.A.’s DIY cyclists take the creation of infrastructure into their own hands — something likely to become more common, given the failure of the Bike Master Plan. Stephen Box joins the chorus commenting on LAB’s tarnished bronzes. JHaygood decides to take his kids to school in a Chariot. Flying Pigeon sponsors back-to-back dim sum rides. UBrayj casts a vote for the League of Bicycling Voters. And in Texas, the Safe Passing Bill is on the way to the governor’s desk.


  1. jhaygood says:

    that thomas guide is an amazing artifact. what a treasure.

    oh and i couldn’t believe that nyt article about infrastructure – then i saw the date… july 4th,2009. knew something was up – it’s some satire piece…

    but fact is nyc is doing amazing stuff:

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks, J. I found a lot of stories about the new bike lanes in New York, and went with the one that seemed to come from the most credible source. But you’re right — I completely missed the date that showed it was a fake. I’ve replaced it with a couple other links, including the one you sent. I appreciate the heads-up!

  2. keith says:

    hey nice find, the map book. yes amazing the railcar system that was once in place here in LA, library has a book about it too. you could easily travel from downtown to the beach.

    yea LA is way funky for biking. West Hollywood seems to do a better job with bike lanes than LA. of course if they did put in bike lanes you wouldnt see much of the bike lane stripe because it would be out of sight in the ruts and valleys that are alongside many of the roads we use to pedal/commute around the city.

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