More Analysis Details on LADOT’s Sharrows List

Where do sharrows work best for L.A.?

This article features even more analysis of the L.A. City Transportation Department (LADOT) listing of streets where they’re going to put sharrows. I’ve spent time looking into the specifics of the list, because it seems urgent, so I am not going to dwell too much on the big picture frustration: LADOT shouldn’t be prioritizing sharrows, which are cheap and inferior to the bike lanes and bike boulevards specified in the city Bike Plan.

Instead, here I am focusing on the details of the sharrows list, hoping to head off LADOT inappropriately slapping down sharrows in the wrong places by year’s end.

The story thus far: A week ago, LADOT published a list of 20 miles of streets where they will put sharrows “by year’s end” on “streets that cannot easily accommodate bike lanes.” I responded to LADOT’s list by posting a long preliminary critique here. My sense is that LADOT is attempting to fulfill a mayor Villaraigosa’s 40-miles per year bike plan implementation pledge by implementing the cheapest easiest facilities, instead of those specified in the city Bike Plan. This was pretty much confirmed by LADOT at L.A. Streetsblog, where LADOT is quoted stating:

Some streets that receive the sharrow treatment are too narrow for bicycle lanes such as Fountain [Avenue] and Arden Bl.

So… I figured it made sense to pack my measuring wheel, round up a friend (thanks, Julia!), and bike out to some of these streets and check to see if they are actually “too narrow for bicycle lanes”. 

(Stickler note: Bicycle lanes are a minimum 5′ wide next to parking, or 4′ next to a curb… so for a street to be truly “too narrow for bicycle lanes” it would have to be 7 feet wide or less. I take it that when LADOT states “too narrow for bicycle lanes” actually means something more along the lines of “too narrow for bicycle lanes without repurposing any space already dedicated to cars.” This “too narrow for bike lanes” usage is common, though; sometimes advocates even say it, but it bugs sticklers like me.)

So… how much space is needed for bike lanes? There are some different interpretations on exactly how much space is needed for what, but here’s what seem to be minimums for city of L.A., based on past practice:

  • bike lane 5′ next to parking, 4′ next to curb
  • car/traffic lane 10′ (other cities do 9′, LADOT prefers 11′)
  • curb parking 7′ (sometimes LADOT will do 6.5′)

So, for a basic 2-lane street, like Arden Blvd or Fountain Avenue, the minimum ends up being 44-feet: 7’parking-5’bike-10’car-10’car-5’bike-7’parking. 7+5+10+10+5+7=44. The minimum is 44 feet (sometimes 43 feet can squeeze in lanes, but that gets tight and more-or-less courts door-zone conflicts.) So, generally 44-feet is the minimum street width for bike lanes for a basic 2-way street with parking. Remember that number: 44 feet.

In my earlier post, I stated that, on first glance at the LADOT sharrows list, I thought these eight streets are wide enough to add bike lanes, while keeping all existing car lanes and parking:

  1. Arden Place
  2. Arden Blvd (especially southern end)
  3. Yucca Street
  4. McConnell Avenue
  5. State Street (especially northern end)
  6. Mott Street (especially northern end)
  7. 51st Street (especially eastern end)
  8. Colden Avenue (especially eastern end.)

It turns out that I was definitely wrong on two out of these eight: Arden Blvd and Mott Street are not wide enough for bike lanes, unless we remove something else. Arden Blvd is 40 feet wide between Wilshire and Melrose. Mott Street is 40 feet wide  between Chavez and 4th.

Of the other streets listed, all six have significant stretches where LADOT states they’ll do sharrows, but where there’s width for bike lanes. Four of them have stretches where it’s too narrow to easily add bike lanes the entire way.

In San Francisco, where a street (for example Polk Street) varies from too-narrow to wide-enough, the city implements bike lanes where there’s sufficient width and adds sharrows where there’s not sufficient width. San Francisco posts a sign at the interface that says something long the lines of “bicyclists allowed full use of the lane.” The city of L.A. historically hasn’t done this, but should. There’s probably a line to draw somewhere (ie: it’s not worth doing a bike lane for less than half a block of a short block) but I think that LADOT (possibly because they’ve been criticized about 10 years ago for a short bike lane project in Westwood) has thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater here… plenty of their sharrow streets have the width to easily accommodate plenty of bike lane mileage. The solution for making these streets safe and comfortable for bicycling will be to to do a mixed facility: part bike lane, part sharrows.

Here are the specifics listed in the order they appear on the LADOT’s list:

Arden Place: This is a one-block street in the Hancock Park area that connects Arden Boulevard with Rossmore (which becomes Vine); it’s next to Christ the King Catholic Church. Though it’s only one block, 0.05-miles long, it’s definitely a useful bike street. It’s also 49 feet wide – so there’s plenty of room for bike lanes.

Yucca Street: LADOT list shows sharrows for the 0.2-mile two-block stretch of Yucca between Vine and Cahuenga, in Hollywood. There’s only one through lane in each direction, and the street is 72 feet wide. There’s a bunch going on there: lots of turn lanes, triangular striped medians, and diagonal parking on one side of the street on each block. Nonetheless, if the LADOT can’t get 10 feet worth of bike lanes on a 72-foot-wide two lane street, they’re not trying… or, actually, they are trying – trying to give it all to the cars.  Basically the easy way to do these two blocks of Yucca would be to combine the bike lane with the right turn pocket. Plenty of room for bike lanes, and implementing them should help the street feel a bit more like a neighborhood retail street than a freeway off-ramp.

West L.A.'s McConnell Avenue last Saturday. 44 feet wide, why no bike lanes?

McConnell Avenue: LADOT’s includes sharrows for the 0.3-miles from the Culver Boulevard bike path to the Ballona Creek bike path. McConnell is the first street upstream from the Marina Freeway. It’s a quiet street, residential on one side, industrial on the other. The street is 44 feet wide, the minimum for bike lanes. Anecdotally, last Saturday, there were many more bicyclists (plus pedestrians, and runners, and even dogs) travelling the street than there were cars.

State Street: LADOT’s list has sharrows for the 0.5-mile stretch of State from Chavez to 4th Street, in Boyle Heights. It’s immediately east of White Memorial Hospital and connects with the new First Street bike lanes. State is a very useful bicycling street as it’s one of the few smaller streets to cross the 10 Freeway. The 0.3-mile stretch of State Street from 4th to Pennsylvania Avenue is only 40 feet wide – too narrow to add bike lanes without removing something else. North of Pennsylvania to Chavez, for 0.2 miles, the street widens to 46 feet (and even a little wider at Chavez, where State is 50 feet wide) which is enough for bike lanes. Maybe such a short length wouldn’t seem to be so important, but State Street is a hill. Sharrows would mean than bicyclists pedaling uphill are expected to “take the lane” and share the same space with cars going uphill, which is uncomfortable (even for experienced riders like me) and unsafe. It’s much easier to cyclists and drivers to share a lane  going downhill (where it’s more important to keep faster-moving cyclists outside the door zone). I’ve heard of an asymmetric treatment on hills: bike lane going uphill, and bikes take the lane (sharrows) downhill… though I don’t know of anywhere this has been done. (Can anyone out there give examples? especially ones where merging works well.) So, at a minimum, LADOT should do uphill bike lanes on the hill above Pennsylvania, where there’s plenty of room. My hunch would be to do an asymmetric treatment something like this:

  • Northbound sharrows from 4th to 2nd (flat)
  • Northbound bike lane from 2nd to Cesar Chavez (uphill)
  • Southbound bike lane from Cesar Chavez to Pennsylvania (downhill)
  • Southbound sharrows from Pennsylvania to 4th (downhill, flat)

51st Street: LADOT announced 2.6 miles of 51st Street, from Hoover to Long Beach Avenue, would receive sharrows. 51st Street is in South L.A., five blocks south of Vernon Avenue. It’s a smaller street that’s useful for bicycling because it crosses above the 110 Freeway. For the 2.1 miles from Hoover Street to Hooper Avenue, 51st is 40 feet wide – too small to easily add bike lanes. The easternmost half-mile, though, from Hooper Avenue to Long Beach Avenue is 44 feet wide, hence just right for bike lanes.

Colden Avenue: LADOT announced it will add 2 miles of sharrows on Colden Avenue (a street that I confess I hadn’t heard of before the LADOT announcement.) Colden is also in South L.A. not far from the Watts Towers. Colden runs east-west between 95th and 97th Streets, four blocks north of Century Boulevard. From Vermont Avenue to Avalon Boulevard, Colden is mostly 40 feet wide, trunking down to 36 feet at points – not wide enough for bike lanes. East of Avalon to Clovis, for a half-mile, it does widen to 50 feet, easily wide enough for adding bike lanes.

And then there’s a street I missed on my list of eight streets where I initially thought there was sufficient width for bike lanes – Fountain Avenue. Fountain is a designated bike route going east-west from West Hollywood to Los Feliz. It’s a useful smaller alternative paralleling Hollywood, Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards. East of Western Avenue, Fountain is part of the city’s sharrows pilot. What tipped me off to go out and measure is that Fountain is designated as a “future bike lane” in the city’s recently approved Bike Plan. My expectation was that it isn’t wide enough, but I figured I’d check.

Fountain Avenue does vary, and definitely includes parts that aren’t wide enough for easily adding bike lanes. Fountain also stops and re-starts, so the Fountain bike route jogs south a block including Bronson, La Mirada, and Van Ness, each for a block. Here’s a listing of the widths:

  • Fountain from La Brea to Highland (0.3 miles): 44 feet wide
  • Fountain from Highland to Seward (o.3 miles): 32 feet wide
  • Fountain from Seward to Wilcox (o.1 miles): 24 feet wide
  • Fountain from Wilcox to Vine (o.2 miles): 40 feet wide
  • Fountain from Vine to Bronson (0.5 miles): 44 feet wide
  • Bronson from Fountain to La Mirada (0.04 miles): 60 feet wide
  • La Mirada from Bronson to Van Ness (0.1 miles): 40 feet wide
  • Van Ness from La Mirada to Fountain (0.06 miles): 40 feet wide
  • Fountain from Van Ness  to St. Andrews (S) (o.2 miles): 40 feet wide
  • Fountain from St. Andrews (S) to St. Andrews (N) (0.06 miles): 48 feet wide
  • Fountain from St. Andrews (N) to Western (0.07 miles): 60 feet wide

The good news here is that there’s space for very easily-implementable bike lanes on good stretches of Fountain: a half-mile (!) from Vine to Bronson, and a third of a mile from La Brea to Highland. And this is a street that already sees significant volumes of cyclists.  It would be a shame for the city to do sharrows here, where bike lanes are feasible.

That’s all for the street measuring stuff for now.

Parking restrictions on Hoover Street around 70th Street

One other thing that I noticed that’s going to complicate LADOT’s sharrows list: peak hour parking restrictions. For sharrows to work, parking needs to hold still. If there’s parking some hours of the day and not others, then the safe lane positioning (that sharrows mark) will vary.

Most of the LADOT list’s 4.4 mile stretch of Hoover Street is designated tow-away no parking from 7am to 8am. A portion of Vine Street (north of Hollywood Boulevard) has parking restricted from 6pm to 3am. Does LADOT plan to remove the parking restrictions? My recommendation for that part of Hoover would be road diet bike lanes.

We’ll see.

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13 thoughts on “More Analysis Details on LADOT’s Sharrows List

  1. Pingback: Streetsblog Los Angeles » Today’s Headlines

  2. I don’t know the exact width of the street (with parking on both sides, it’s rather narrow, I can attest), but in the Santa Monica Bike Action plan, they propose to put a buffered bike lane on the uphill direction of Arizona Ave. where there is currently no bike lane, and install shared lane markings on the downhill side.

    I’m not familiar with the streets you cover here, but I wonder if it would be possible to have a halfway solution for the streets you mention that are under 44 feet in width.

  3. @Wanderer – A road diet doesn’t necessarily adversely impact bus service. It depends on traffic volumes and turning behavior… In some cases it can make traffic flow more smoothly, hence it’s possible that it could make bus service better… but on the whole it’s probably neutral – neither better or worse – for bus service.

  4. Pingback: Sharrow Study: Sharrows No Substitute for Bike Lanes « L.A. Eco-Village Blog

  5. Why do you want the cyclists on McConnell cordoned off onto a bike lane? Putting in sharrows allows them to continue riding where they currently are, without problems, in the middle of the street.

    I prefer sharrows to bike lanes, especially bike lanes next to car parking. BIke lanes give the impression that bicycles should ride inside them all of the time and give cars a line that bicycles supposedly do not cross. They also give inexperienced cyclists the idea that riding directly next to a parked car is a good idea. As an experienced cyclist, I know that one of the most dangerous places to ride is next to a parked car where an opening door can throw me into the travel lanes, and I ride on the left side of the bike lane or even on or over the line. Thus bike lanes disservice experienced bicyclists because they encourage cars to travel too close to them and disservice inexperienced cyclists because they encourage them to ride too close to parked cars.

    Thus I would prefer sharrows instead of bike lanes on almost all roads.

    I prefer riding down Washington Blvd with no bike lane and cars passing me with extra space to riding Venice Blvd with cars passing me two feet away at 50 mph. I like the Culver Blvd bike path the most.

  6. There are numerous flaws in this and is a reflection of typical advocates that don’t know the contextual specifics of design and engineering (I’m a bike/ped professional). 44′ is not adequate, nor are many of the claims you make in terms of being able to stripe designated bike lanes. Instead of improving conditions you are effectively advocating the marginalization of cyclist safety for the appearance and perception of safety.

    5′ bike lanes with parked cars allow no room for error, and when next to the minimum 10′ travel lane and minimum 7′ parking lane, makes things even dicier (due to door zones). That is why 6′ lanes are becoming the preferred, along with buffered zones.

    4′ bike lanes are only standard on a shoulder typical (no curb and gutter) and if there is curb and gutter then it is 4′ of pavement exclusive of the gutter pan, which your measurements didn’t indicate inclusion or not.

    Research also shows that bicyclists tend to ride farther left in a bike lane and motorists farther right (in their lane) when a bike lane is present, thereby reducing the spatial separation. That is why using absolute minimums is a potentially bad design, especially when parking is present. Lastly, a 7′ parking lane can’t even accommodate a full size SUV or pickup unless they are literally against the curb, and even then their mirrors are in the bike lane. Commercial vehicles can’t fit in a 7′ parking lane.

  7. Pingback: Bike Report Card for FY11-12: Overall A- « B.I.K.A.S.

  8. You are so awesome! I don’t believe I have read through a single thing like this before. So wonderful to find someone with genuine thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This site is something that is needed on the web, someone with a bit of originality!

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