The city of Los Angeles’ Transportation Department (LADOT) seems to operate at two speeds. Both unhealthy. The difference in how long it takes LADOT to implement sharrows is instructive. Just how long does it take LADOT to install a sharrow?
Let’s say that a bunch of bicyclists push for implementation of sharrows. Well… then it takes LADOT about five years to paint their first sharrow.
Let’s say that a bunch of councilmembers, planning commissioners, city departments, a mayor, and a bunch of bicyclists agree to a bike plan for implementing bike lanes instead of sharrows - and LADOT figures it can hoodwink them all by doing sharrows instead of what’s actually in the approved bike plan. Well… then sharrows are done in just 34 days.
Some Sharrows Background
A sharrow is a contraction of “share arrow” – a lane marking designating where bikes and cars can safely share a lane. Sharrows make drivers aware of bicyclists on the road. The positioning of the center of the sharrow also advises cyclists where we can ride at a safe distance from parked cars. Sharrows are better than nothing, but not a lot better. They’re wimpy, and, especially where there’s sufficient road width, sharrows are no substitute for a bike lane.
Around the year 2000, the city of San Francisco began experimenting with sharrows. They were approved for use statewide in September 2005.
The Long Slow Slog for L.A.’s First Sharrows – 5 YEARS
In 2005, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) staff and volunteers began the initial push for sharrows in Los Angeles. The exhaustion is evident reading between the lines in LACBC’s Sharrows Pilot Study report:
Launched in 2005, LACBC’s Sharrows Campaign was initiated [...] One of the initial tasks of the campaign was to identify locations where shared lane markings should be implemented. [...] In 2006, LACBC submitted its findings from the survey with a proposal for a Sharrows Pilot to the LADOT. The proposal remained untouched for over a year. [...] LACBC initiated the study in 2010 in full partnership with LADOT.
Even with outside funding lined up, LADOT dragged its heels. In 2008, LADOT published a report and announced sharrows would be installed in 2009. First it was gonna be April 2009, then September 2009, then late 2009, then early 2010. LADOT bike coordinator Michelle Mowery claimed that the department wasn’t sure what paint to use, because it might be too slippery. Finally, five years after the sharrows campaign got rolling, in June 2010, the city painted its first sharrows on Fountain Avenue.
The Rapid-Fire Slapdash of L.A.’s Second Sharrows – 34 DAYS
With a new bike plan approved in March 2011, and a mayoral pledge to implement 40 miles of the plan each year, the LADOT decided it would rather do more sharrows than do what’s actually in the bike plan.
On August 29 2o11, LADOT announced 20 miles of streets where sharrows “will be going into [sic] the ground before the year’s end.” The overwhelming majority of these streets weren’t designated for sharrows in the approved 5-year implementation plan or the overall bike plan. Many of the sharrow streets had sufficient width for bike lanes, without removing car capacity. There was no public process in selecting what bike facilities could be implemented. No notice was given to communities, elected officials, residents – just a declaration on the LADOT website. Input from cyclists was ignored. Even after the announcement, LADOT changed the announced streets without any notice. For example, sharrows were announced for Hoover, then without notice, they were omitted… which seems to indicate that LADOT announced sharrows, then later actually looked at conditions on the ground. Many of the un-announced sharrow-tagged streets were on the CicLAvia route, as if LADOT was rubbing local bike activists’ noses in LADOT’s commitment to implement crappy facilities, instead of following the approved bike plan (the plan clearly indicates the implementation of mostly bike lanes and very few sharrows.) [Added 24 October: Bike lanes on Central Avenue are approved in the plans and are on the CicLAvia route. Striping them would be more appropriate than the sharrows.]
Despite my and others’ protestations, LADOT worked overtime to install 20 miles of sharrows over the weekend of October 1st-2nd 2011. From disrespectful announcement to disrespectful implementation, this batch of sharrows took just 34 days!
How Long Should it take for LADOT to Install a Sharrow?
In my opinion, both of these speeds are problematic for meaningful input. Five years is so long that communities lose interest and lose hope. 34 days clearly isn’t enough time for folks to meet and discuss and advise.
Both of these speeds reflect the paternalism and disrespect that John Fisher’s LADOT is known for. LADOT consistently approaches streets as places that we in the public just need to shut up and trust LADOT technical experts. This deeply-flawed process results in lack of public trust, and, of course, backlash – for examples, see Wilbur Avenue and 4th Street Bike Boulevard. Whether LADOT is jamming freeways, road-widening, or bikeways down communities’ throats, the process must change. LADOT must change its culture. It must learn to respect the public, and to view the people who live on streets and who use streets as valuable collaborators.
It feels like a tall order for bicyclists. Not only do we need to get LADOT to respect and embrace bicycling as valid transportation, but we also need to get LADOT to adopt a respectful open participatory process. I’m not sure which is more difficult.
(Credit where credit due: Thanks to L.A. Streetsblog‘s Damien Newton for initially alluding to the contrast in sharrow timelines, and to Eco-Village’s and former LACBC‘s Aurisha Smolarski-Waters for pointing me to LACBC background, and for really pushing to make those first 5-year sharrows happen.)