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Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Riding the wave of the future: Cities plan sprawling network of bicycle lanes
The humble bicycle has been around since the 1800s, beloved as a treasured staple of childhood transportation for generations.
Now, a cycling revival of sorts is sweeping across America's cities,
especially among adults seeking a healthier alternative to the
automobile. And maybe a bit more fun in their lives.
Over the next 30 years, the city of Los Angeles plans to install 1,600 miles of bikeways.
To connect the sprawling, car-loving metropolis and make it more bike-friendly.
It won't come without growing pains, as officials were reminded this
month when new bike lanes on two San Pedro streets replaced car lanes.
Complaints from residents continue to roll in over that project.
And a new green lane bikeway on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles
has prompted grousing from filmmakers who like to use the area for
vintage movie scenes.
"It's still very recent, but we're not going anywhere," said Tim Fremaux of the city's Department of Transportation.
As Bike Week kicked off Monday, cycling proponents are eager to get
the word out about the expanding push to make bicycles a more prevalent
mode of transportation in Southern California.
The genesis of the regional push for more bike-friendly
transportation routes in Los Angeles is often traced to Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa's broken elbow. Three years ago, Villaraigosa was knocked
off his bike when a taxi pulled out in front of him while he was in the
bike lane on Venice Boulevard.
But the discussion about improving the city's focus on bike safety
already was in gear, riding a wave of what has been the growing global
"Things are changing all over the world," Fremaux said, citing cities that have active bike-share programs.
But he acknowledges it's an uphill battle in a car-centric place like L.A.
Ted Rogers, who writes the BikingInLA blog and is a member of the Los
Angeles County Bike Coalition, said cycling nevertheless is catching on
for many reasons.
"Everybody talks about the increasing gas prices and traffic
congestion," said Rogers, who lives in West Los Angeles. "All those are
great reasons to get on your bike. "
But the real reason?
"They find out it's fun," he said.
Like most folks, Rogers discovered the joys of bike riding as a youngster.
"Like every other kid in the '70s, I rode a bike," he said. "I sold it when I went off to college. "
Then the 1979 film "Breaking Away" about bicycle racing came out.
"I was sitting in the movie theater and thinking how much fun I used to have on my bike. I went out and bought one. "
Before moving to Los Angeles, he rode his bike around alligators in
the Louisiana bayous and the mountains and plains of Colorado.
"Denver had a great system of bike trails and paths, you could ride
across the city without ever getting on the street," he said.
In the mid-1980s, Rogers, a freelance advertising copy writer, landed in Los Angeles.
"You were lucky if you had a bike lane, let alone anything else," he said.
The third-class bike routes the city did have were all on busy highways - "places where I'd never go on a bike," he said.
But things have improved since then, he said.
"It's been remarkable," he said. "Even going back five years I
remember speaking at a symposium where someone asked me a question of
whether it was getting better or worse" for cyclists in Los Angeles.
"My answer was, 'It's getting a lot worse.' There were virtually no
bike lanes in the city, traffic was getting heavier, drivers were
getting more frustrated dealing with bikes and there were a lot more
confrontations and anger.
"Everything has turned around since then. "
There are several classes of bikeways, including dedicated paths and
routes. "Sharrows" - asphalt markings reminding cars and bikers to share
the road - are popping up on roads throughout the Southern California
Bike safety booklets are being produced and distributed, reminding
everyone the rules of the road for both motorists and bicyclists.
Rogers credits the new awareness to the aftermath of a road rage case
from 2008 in which a motorist later was convicted of deliberately
stopping his car in front of two cyclists on a downhill stretch of
Mandeville Canyon Road. The driver, Dr. Christopher Thompson, was
sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $20,000 to each of
the cyclists for legal fees.
"That was front-page news but it was happening on a smaller scale every day," Rogers said.
Rogers said bike lanes - along with respect between motorists and
cyclists - is making a difference, but that some areas of the city need
"People tell me that the (San Fernando) Valley is not a picnic," he said.
Elliot Ir, who owns Reseda Bicycles, said streets there can be dangerous for bicyclists.
"I don't think there's much effort made by the car drivers to let
bike riders ride free," he said. "There are too many incidents of hit
and run, it's becoming predominant. ... And obviously the Valley is
getting much more congested. "
The city of Los Angeles plans to add about 40 miles of bikeways a year, Freemaux said.
Long Beach is bike friendly with shared lines designated routes like the one along 2nd Street in Belmont Shore.
Among the first funded
projects is a corridor along Figueroa Street between downtown and
Exposition Park, which will be built over the next 18 months.
In the South Bay, a bicycle master plan also is in place to create a
network of new routes, adding 213 miles of new bikeways in El Segundo,
Lawndale, Gardena, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance over the
next 20 years.
Just this month, Manhattan Beach also signed onto the plan.
Long Beach is one municipality that already has made a concerted
effort in recent years for the title of "the most bicycle friendly city
in America. "
The city has invested more than $20 million from state and federal
grants in its bicycle infrastructure, creating more than 130 miles of
bike roadways, protected bike lanes and other paths.
A green share lane along Second Street in Belmont Shore has worked
out well, according to one business manager who asked that his name not
be used. For the most part, he said, drivers are courteous.
"You'll see some impatient ones who swerve into the middle lane to
go around them," he said. "But Long Beach is such a pro-bike and
bike-friendly city. "
The city of Pasadena launched its bike plan three years ago.
Rogers' main concern with the L.A. city plan is how long it will take.
"I'm going to be an 80-year-old bike rider by the time they finish"
in 30 years, he said, adding that he hopes the city will find ways to
expedite the process.
Cycling, said one city official, appears to be on the road to becoming a significant wave of the future.
"It's part of the urban culture," said Michelle Mowery of the Los
Angeles city bike program. "It's cheap, it's economical and research is
showing that more and more people under 30 are less likely to get
drivers' licenses. "
Maps showing proposed bikeway routes for the city of Los Angeles are available at bicyclela.org/