(My apologies to any L.A. Eco-Village blog readers that don’t yet find themselves way into bicycles. It’s definitely a huge part of our culture here at LAEV. This article is more about an eco-villager bicycling and engaging in bike activism in L.A., than it is about eco-village itself. More eco-village specific articles coming soon!)
I had the good fortune of being the first person to ride a new bike lane in my city yesterday. Here’s my overly-long drawn-out first person account, with plenty of blurry cell phone photos, and even talk of what I was reading and eating that day. You can get all the details after the jump. For short version go here.
The bike lanes are on Reseda Boulevard in the Northridge neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley – which is more-or-less the northern half of the city of Los Angeles, and generally the more suburban part of the city.
These bike lanes were approved by the city of Los Angeles in its 1996 Bicycle Master Plan, which designates that the entire length of Reseda Boulevard is supposed to have bicycle lanes. Reseda Blvd is about ten miles long, spanning the San Fernando Valley north-south from the Santa Monica Mountains to the San Gabriel Mountains. The plan was followed to get some lanes for mostly the least-trafficked-most-hilly stretches of Reseda Blvd, but the city left a five-mile gap in the middle.
I mostly want this article to be celebratory, so I am not going to go into all the sad details here, but it was a real struggle – follow the links if you’re interested in the full story. The city had put a hold on the rest of the bike lanes due a conflicting city plan to remove peak-hour parking to put in additional car lanes. When bicyclists and other community members rallied against that plan, the city Department of Transportation (LADOT) responded that they never had a plan, and that those unreliable bicyclists had started a “rumor.” When bicyclists produced the actual LADOT document showing the car lanes plan… the LADOT stated that it would go ahead with one mile of the missing five miles.
I got the announcement that the LADOT would be finishing striping the one-mile stretch of Reseda Blvd from Devonshire Street to San Fernando Mission Road. After a fun mid-day round of pick-up Ultimate Frisbee, I took the Red Line subway and Orange Line busway up to Reseda Boulevard. The trip seemed pretty short as I finished one great Martin Beck crime novel and started another on the way. I pedaled north on the existing bike lanes on Reseda Blvd, until I got to Vanowen Street.
The existing south Valley Reseda Blvd bike lanes end at Vanowen. I pedaled through Reseda and into Northridge. (Reseda is both a neighborhood and the name of a street.) Along the way I kept noticing how much space there is for bike lanes – the outer lane is very wide and very shareable between bikes and cars. I kept thinking what an easy project these lanes should be and what a shame it is that it took us this long.
As I rode, I was a little worried that I would get to the north Valley and find no lanes… I began to formulate a blog article in my head about I should write to put pressure on if the lanes weren’t striped. As I approached Devonshire Street, I was relieved to see traffic cones and detour signs. I encountered the city crews putting down the last of the new roadbed on the east side of Reseda Blvd, just north of Devonshire.
Somehow I had the impression that the work was going to happen in the morning and I could just pedal in and snap a couple of photos and be done. Instead I got to observe the process of how bike lanes are striped. First the street is scraped and resurfaced, and steamrollered flat. Then the markings go down.
The first marking step is the yellow chevron or “V” (see above photo) in the center of where each line will go. I am not sure what implement was used to mark these, it looks like perhaps a grease pencil.
Sometimes that big blank canvas is too tempting to resist. The street hadn’t even cooled off yet when Roll’n’ FC (?) made this mark, in what appears to be the same yellow as the other markings:
At that point crews come out with long ropes. Workers at each end pull the rope taut. Once it’s a straight line in the right place, a worker at each end puts a foot down on the rope to keep it in one place. Another worker walks the length of the line with a very long handled paintbrush and paints the preliminary stripe. Somehow I expected it to be more high-tech.
Here’s a shot of the workers with their rope as the preliminary markings are going in on the northbound bike lanes. The man on the left is holding down the rope with his foot. In the distance you can barely see a third worker who is painting the line.
Here’s a pair of shots showing the difference before and after:
As you can see from the above pair of photos, for the most part, the bike lanes were added without removing any travel lanes and without removing any parking.
At the intersection with Devonshire, the before configuration featured five south bound lanes: two left turn lanes, two through lanes, and one right turn only lane (with no parking within a hundred feet or so from the intersection):
In this area, the new bike lanes displaced the former right turn only lane. In the after picture below, there’s a small striped-off area along the curb, and next is the bike lane. As usual, the bike lane dissolves into dotted lines near the curb, so cars can still merge and turn right (not pictured.)
So, while the asphalt was still warm and just a little bit sticky and after the preliminary marking were in, I took a spin. Actually with the road sticky like that I kept looking down to see if my skinny tires were flat. It did feel very new and exciting to be the very first person to bike those lanes.
I asked the crew when they thought that the final striping would be done. They replied that the striping crews should be on at about 7pm and would finish by around 10pm.
So, given the bike geek that I am, I figured I’d take a break for dinner, and come back and watch the striping. I cruised into the adjacent shopping center (confidently demonstrating that the new bike lanes are better for business by bringing customers like me in on our bikes.) I first visited the local REI store, which actually had plenty of bike parking out front. I had used my spare tube on a flat tire earlier this week, so I bought a couple of new tubes. I was unshaven, in an old t-shirt and fraying shorts, and smelling a little ragged (after playing frisbee and biking and not yet showering) so I was worried that people there might think I was a homeless person, but they were plenty nice to me.
I biked past a few chain restaurants, and locked my bike up to eat at a Hawaiian Barbecue restaurant (turned out it was a chain, too, but I’d never heard of it.) The main worker there comment that I had a great bike. I don’t think it’s all that fancy – it’s been my back-up bike for a long time, until my main bike was stolen. It’s an old, I think early 1980′s, Bianchi 10-speed, that I bought new (it had never sold and was in some dusty back room at I Martin) in 2001. It does have a nice fancy front wheel generator hub that powers a front light (the hub and light were a thank you gift from the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition board, when I stepped down in around 2004.) Anyhow, the worker behind the counter and I got to talking about bikes. His name is Jonathan and he bikes to Pierce College from Northridge. He finds the traffic on Reseda Boulevard too heavy, so he usually bikes the parallel Lindley Avenue to the Orange Line bike path. I told him about the new bike lanes, the new Valley Bikery, and left him a C.I.C.L.E. sticker. I read a little more Martin Beck, and headed back out to the boulevard.
The thermoplastic plastic trucks were out striping. Instead of paint, L.A. uses thermoplastic to stripe road markings, because it lasts a lot longer. The thermoplastic truck is big vehicle, with a driver in the front and a second driver/operator in a cab at the back. It moves very slowly, so I was able to twitter and check email on my phone and still keep up with it. It uses a laser sight in the front, which is kept in line with the preliminary striping markings. You can see the laser’s green dot in this photo:
And here’s a nice blurry shot of the back of the truck spraying down the bike lane:
It was getting a little cold by then, so I decided to make my way home. When I crossed Devonshire, I was surprised and happy to see that the southbound bike lane had been extend a full block below Devonshire to Lemarsh Street. This section was done without any reconfiguration or restriping of the travel lanes – those lanes were just left in place and the bike lanes added. Looking south from there, it was clear to see how easy it will be extend these lanes for a long ways, without reconfiguring anything else. The outer traffic lane is downright spacious.
The capacity continues easily to the railroad tracks, and most of the way past those too. Nearly the whole street is just ripe for bike lanes! The only potential minor issue I could see is a pinch point, less than a block long, at Sherman Way (though I would want to measure that area and talk to some more knowledgeable folks before I would give up on bike lanes there.)
I did see some non-standard striping that was so unusual I figured I would take pictures. The LADOT consistently tells bicyclists that the city can’t do anything non-standard because if someone gets hurt, the city can get sued… and yet, biking around I do encounter oddball striping for cars here and there.
Here’s what I saw at the intersection of Reseda Boulevard and Rayen Street. I don’t know exactly how this is supposed to work. It’s a northbound double left turn lane, but the outer left turn lane goes through the intersection and directs the driver to make a left turn across a double-yellow line about 100 feet past the intersection, into the driveway of a business called Stereo 1.
and here’s my shot of it on the ground:
The only explanation that I can think of is that Stereo 1 wants a special turn lane for their northbound customers… but even that doesn’t make a lot of sense, because the northbound customers can make a (legal and probably a bit safer) left turn at the light at Rayen and park in the same back lot as folks using the mystery lane. I think the Reseda Blvd bike lanes can fit without even removing this mystery lane.
A big thank you to the LADOT for moving forward with the first new mile of the Reseda Blvd bike lanes. My understanding is that the designs were done by Paul Meshkin and Ken Firoozmand – kudos to them for doing a great job on this mile. Also to the crews who worked their Sunday to make it happen. Thanks also to Councilmember Greig Smith, who represents the area, and without councilmember support the project would not have been striped. Thanks to area’s Neighborhood Councils for supporting the project.
Huge thanks to Glenn Bailey – appointed volunteer chair of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee – who really kept a proactive and vigilant watch which laid the groundwork for the project to move forward. Thanks to Biking in L.A. the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, Midnight Ridazz, and L.A. Streetsblog for covering the issue prominently… and to everyone who wrote, called and showed up at meetings. Our pressure worked!
Sadly, this is just one mile and there are still four more to go to close the gap. I am looking forward to the Reseda Boulevard bike lanes extending across the entire San Fernando Valley!