I got a chance to ride the new green bike lanes on First Street in Boyle Heights. The city installed green pavement markings there last Saturday, November 18th 2011. The First Street lanes are different than the new Spring Street green bike lane downtown in a few ways… but I think that both of them are excellent high-visibility bike projects.
The First Street bike lanes extend 1.6 miles from Boyle Avenue to Lorena Street. I initially reported them here, then posted the greening plans when the preliminary markings appeared on the street. The green pavement on the First Street lanes was added only in conflict zones – areas where bikes and cars cross paths: driveways, alleys, merging areas, beginning of each block, etc. This limited deployment of green marking makes sense for drawing both cyclist and driver attention to these zones… and it’s also cheaper to maintain in the long run.
The Spring Street lane, on the other hand, is pretty much continuous green for the entire block… which makes more sense downtown, because there are few driveways, hence few conflict zones. In downtown, doing just conflict zones could mean almost no green on many blocks.
Spring Street’s green lane was done with paint… which, unfortunately, is already showing signs of wear. I suspect that this is mostly due to the paint going down during a rainy weekend, so it probably didn’t set entirely well.
Boyle Heights First Street lanes were done with thermoplastic… which is basically a very very durable paint made out of melted plastic. The city of L.A. uses thermoplastic for pretty much all roadway lane striping. I described the thermoplastic lane-striping process in excessive detail here. After all of two days, the thermoplastic seems to be holding up really well… at least better than the paint downtown.
(For the record, some additional differences between Spring and First: the Spring lane is one-way, First lanes are two-way. The Spring lane is buffered, First is not.)
I am glad to see the city Transportation Department (LADOT) experiment with this green-colored lanes. Green pavement has certainly been a worthwhile tool in other cities – including San Francisco and Long Beach. But… Joe’s critical caveat here… I wouldn’t be very supportive of LADOT using green coloration really widely.
According to the city’s bike plan, the cost of one mile of bike lanes is either $30,000 or $50,000 (there are differing figures shown in different places… actual material costs are on the low end… analysis, design, outreach, etc. add up to the higher figure.) According to the city fact sheet distributed at today’s green lane press conference, the Spring Street one-way paint cost was about $150,000 and the First Street thermoplastic was about $250,000. So figuring a per-mile bike lanes cost, the green comes out to about $200,000/mile for paint-continuous or $150,000/mile for thermoplastic-conflict-zones. Either of those amounts would more than triple the ~$30,000 materials cost of conventional bike lanes.
The city has relatively few bike lanes today. I think that the best use of limited bike funding will be for LADOT to add lots of new (conventional not-green) bike lane miles. It could chew up the entire bikeways budget to go back and paint green on all the streets in the city’s meager existing bikeway network… and at the end of the day, we’d have the same inadequate mileage as we currently do. Nobody is actually proposing revisiting all the existing bike lanes… but I just thought I’d put it out there that I think we need a whole lot more miles of bike lane… and not so much green coloration… nor sharrows. I am sure there will be some good L.A. uses for the green paint, just not all over.