Blog Archives

Exposition Phase 1 Bike Facility: A Review

In honor of the Exposition Line opening it is time for a comprehensive review of the Phase 1 Bike Facility. I use it every day to get to work, to ride recreationally in the Santa Monica Mountains and to get to the Ballona Creek Bike Path.

The Exposition Phase 1 Bike Facility begins at the intersection of Exposition Boulevard and Vermont Avenue adjacent to the USC campus. From this point until Exposition and Harcourt Avenue, the facility is a 4-6 foot wide bicycle lane. At Harcourt Avenue, the route turns north and resumes as a 5-6 foot wide bicycle lane from Jefferson Boulevard and Harcourt Avenue to Jefferson and La Cienega. Here the alignment transitons into a 12 foot wide bicycle and pedestrian path immediately south of the Exposition Line right of way from La Cienega to National. The final portion of the facility is another 12 foot wide bike/ped path from Jefferson/National to approximately Washington/National, here north of the Expo ROW.

The Good

The very existence of this bicycle facility is a great thing for the City of Los Angeles. Never before has such a comprehensive and convenient east-west bicycle route existed in the city. For the most part the bicycle lanes and pathways are adequately designed  and the connection to the existing bike path at Ballona Creek that leads to Marina Del Rey is well thought out. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation has been helpful in responding to cyclists’ concerns over design issues so far – hopefully they will note the issues below.

The Bad – Safety and Design

Like any new traffic pattern, the Facility needs adjustment after a break-in period. Significant engineering design and safety issues exist with the current configuration of the Facility. I will discuss them from east (7th Street/Metro Center) to west (Culver City).

No Bike Route from Downtown to Expo Park

This issue is somewhat of a no-brainer. While the EIR for the Expo Line stated that a bicycle facility would be constructed for the entirety of the line, no bikeway or even bicycle route exists from Downtown LA to Exposition Park. The abundance of north-south streets with significant excess capacity, especially Flower Street, could have made for a great bicycle lane (even a green lane like Spring Street). Unfortunately no such route was built as part of this project. The isolated, and dangerous nature of accessing Downtown LA from the south via bicycle is a huge problem that this Facility did not solve.

Bike Lane in the Gutter – Entire Route, Especially Vermont-Gramercy and Harcourt-La Cienega

Excuse the civil engineering lingo – but when designing the cross section of a street, you never consider the gutter as part of the traveled way. The ETW is usually the limit of the gutter – and for good reason. Asphalt concrete pavement and reinforced concrete gutters settle at different rates due to their differing material properties so a large gap forms at the junction of these two materials forms after several years or months of roadway usage. With tires often less than 1″ wide, this gap is dangerous for cyclists. When riding these bike lanes a rider is forced to stay to one side of the crack – on the gutter side it is in the door zone, so there is little choice but to exclusively use the innermost two feet of the bicycle lane. Numerous catch basins also exist in the bicycle lanes which present an even greater hazard to bicycle riders and must be avoided at all costs. Placing dangerous conditions within a lane designed for the exclusive use of cyclists is poor design – new striping that does not include the gutter as part of the bicycle lane is needed as soon as possible.

Right Turns at Exposition/Normandie and Exposition/Western

In both the easterly and westerly directions of travel on Exposition between Vermont and Gramercy traffic is at its highest along the entire route. This traffic includes right turning vehicles which must cut across the bicycle lane. Other cities make good use of “Begin Right Turn – Yield to Bikes” signs at all right turn pockets and despite the lack of pockets, these locations would be an ideal candidate for similar signage reading “Right Turn – Yield to Bicycles.” I have nearly been hit several times by motorists turning right without looking to see if a cyclist was present and some motorists take the bicycle lane while waiting at a red light far in advance of the intersection, impeding cyclist travel to the stop bar. A further step to improving safety would be banning right turn on red at these intersections and striping bike boxes so cyclists have improved visibility to right turning motorists.

The Exposition/Rodeo/Gramercy Intersection

This intersection is the most complex and potentially dangerous along the entire phase 1 route. Rodeo diverges from Exposition across the LRT tracks. In the westerly direction of travel, the bicycle lane is acceptable for continuing on Exposition. Cyclists who wish to switch to Rodeo at the intersection face the harrowing task of crossing non-perpendicular railroad tracks. This task is nearly impossible on a road bicycle and the potential for crashing and remaining on the tracks and in a traffic lane is dangerously high. Because of this risk a “No Bicycles” sign should be installed at this intersection in the lanes that turn ont o Rodeo. Cyclists wishing to access Rodeo may easily do so at Arlington Avenue right up the road where the tracks cross a cyclist’s path at a 90 degree angle.

In the easterly direction of travel all hell has broken loose. Here a hybrid solution of sorts exists to guide cyclists across the tracks. From the stop bar, the bicycle lane turns sharply right over the tracks, through a gap in the fence, then left on to the main traveled way of Rodeo/Exposition. I applaud this rather creative solution to an impossible intersection, but most cyclists do not know this is the proper way to ride this intersection. Better signage indicating the correct route would be helpful. The unconventional cycling route through this intersection means that motorists are not looking for cyclists in the correct places. Motorists traveling due north on Gramercy are not looking for bicycles turning left on to Exposition during a red light. More than five times I have nearly been hit by motorists turning right on red from due north on Gramercy. “No Turn on Red” and “Watch for Cyclists” signs are immediately needed at this intersection on Gramercy to prevent catastrophic collisions.

Right Turns at Exposition/Crenshaw

Similar issue to Expo/Western and Expo/Normandie, although only in the easterly direction of travel and right turn on red is already forbidden. A simple “Begin Right Turn – Yield to Bikes” at the beginning of the right turn pocket lane would do wonders. Here motorists are not used to waiting for a right turn signal and many do not obey it properly – better signage is needed for motorists.

Jefferson/Harcourt Intersection

In the westerly (northerly on Harcourt) direction of travel the signal timing for this intersection is horrendous. Either the detector loop is failing to pick up on my bicycle (all the others along the Facility pick it up fine) or the allocation of Harcourt compared to Jefferson that it takes more than 3 minutes to change cycles. I have stood on the loop for over 5 minutes waiting in vain to get a green to turn left on Jefferson – it simply does not work. The only solution is to ride on to the sidewalk and press the pedestrian crossing button which is time consuming and very inconvenient. Generally, this left turn on Jefferson from Harcourt changes the a trip Exposition Bike Facility from competitive with driving to much slower than driving due to this issue. LADOT – please check the loop and also adjust the timing here. It is unacceptable.

Jefferson Blvd

Generally awful and dangerous pavement conditions exist along the portion of Jefferson the Facility traverses. Bad pavement just before the Jefferson/La Brea intersection in the westerly direction of travel has nearly caused several crashes (because of the gap between gutter and pavement, see above) and numerous potholes exist between La Brea and La Cienega in the westerly direction of travel.

Jefferson and La Cienega

This intersection presents one of gravest dangers for cyclists, especially in the westerly direction. The Facility transitions from a bicycle lane on Jefferson to a dedicated path south of the Exposition Line tracks. One single sign directs cyclists to this path, but there is no good way to access it from the westbound side of Jefferson. Crossing in the crosswalk south across Jefferson then west across La Cienega is time consuming and bicycles should be treated as vehicles, not pedestrians, and forced to use crosswalks and the sidewalk. Most cyclists (myself included) continue straight on Jefferson through this intersection, where, due to the presence of a double left turn pocket in the opposite direction, Jefferson westbound constricts into two 11′ lanes. The risk of being sideswiped by a motorist both in the intersection and just past it on Jefferson is extremely high. Immediate action is needed to prevent collisions, injuries and even death at this point in the Facility. Here are tw0 solutions:

1. Re-stripe the intersection to include a bicycle lane in the westbound direction on Jefferson between La Cienega and National. A temporary measure until this bike lane can be implemented would be sharrows on Jefferson with large “Share the Road” and “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs so motorists expect bicycles in the right lane.

2. If cyclists are to use the existing bike path south of the tracks, a proper way to actuate the signal to access the bike path from the west must be implemented. Ideally, a new cycle in the light, activated by detector loops in the westbound bike lane would prove a red in all directions, with a green bicycle signal to allow cyclists to turn left from the right side of the roadway. Because of the large delay this extra cycle would cause motorist, a less ideal addition would be a push button in the bicycle lane to activate a walk signal south across Jefferson. From there, cyclists could cross west across La Cienega on to the bike path.

Coming back in the easterly direction things are a bit better. Access to the bike path is straightforward at Jefferson and National and the transition back into the bike lane at Jefferson and La Cienega is relatively safe. One huge issue, however, is the massive column that blocks the view of right turning motorists. Sight distance around this column is essentially zero and it makes for a harrowing experience crossing La Cienega on the south side of Jefferson as a cyclist or pedestrian. This would be another great location for a right turn on red ban or perhaps ban of all right turns.

LADOT needs to do something about this intersection before someone is seriously injured or killed.

The Bad – Operations and Enforcement

Generally two major problems exist in the enforcement and operations area.

1. The neighborhoods through which the Exposition Line runs are not yet accustomed to a bicycle facility. Illegal stopping in the bicycle lane, and placement of trash cans, transient’s carts and other objects in the bicycle lanes are hazardous and desperately need to be reduced or eliminated. A combination of community outreach and education, and stronger enforcement by LADOT traffic officers could significantly improve the safety and sanctity of the bicycle lanes.

2. Street sweeping in the bicycle lanes is woefully inadequate. Piles of broken glass and rocks force cyclists out of the bike lane into traffic and cause numerous flat tires. Nothing discourages casual cycling like needed to stop for 10+ minutes to change a flat tire. LADOT needs to step up their street sweeping program along the route in order to ensure safe passage for cyclists.

The Verdict

Thank you Metro and LADOT for building this bike facility. Its a big step towards making Los Angeles a more bicycle friendly city. With a few tweaks and changes, the Exposition Phase 1 Bicycle Facility will be a great place to ride and soon will take cyclists all the way to Santa Monica with Phase 2 (under construction). Bring it on!

Neighborhood Entitlement and Transit Projects

Transportation is inherently political. Every part of modern life – from globalization, to the way we shape our cities, to the people with whom we interact – is directly related to the means by which get around. Once the realm of engineers in an office with a scale and a slide rule, large transportation projects have transformed into political behemoths whose main purpose is to satisfy every single possible stakeholder. Whether this means a large constituency of economically disadvantaged people being cut off from a city by a massive freeway (think the 10 in Los Angeles) or even a few San Francisco Garter Snakes near your construction site (BART to SFO), environmental regulations and the public input process for transportation projects are here to stay. This attitude, however, goes up against the main principle of most intraregional transportation projects – that regional investment in a rail line or roadway benefits local residents the most – but critically provides a great benefit to the region as a whole, and thus is worth the collective expenditure. Balancing these two interests – smaller constituencies like environmentalists and immediately local residents, and the larger groups who often foot the bill (regions, states, federal governments) is a critical matter of debate in American transportation policy and the topic of another discussion entirely.

Two upcoming transit projects highlight the dramatic difference between agencies and cities that have taken a constructive approach to neighborhood entitlement, NIMBYism and balancing local and regional interests, and those that have simply failed. These projects are East Link Light Rail in Seattle, Washington managed by Sound Transit, and the Crenshaw/LAX Corridor in Los Angeles, California managed by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).

First on the Crenshaw Line –

The Crenshaw/LAX corridor in Los Angeles runs from the corner of Exposition Boulevard and Crenshaw Boulevard in Leimert Park to Avaiation Boulevard and Imperial Highway near LAX. It has been a cornerstone of the Measure R transit projects and hailed as a badly needed second north-south transit line through South Los Angeles. As expected, Metro chose the Locally Preferred Alternative as a LRT line that traverses Crenshaw Boulevard until it reaches the Harbor Subdivision, after which it continues along that subdivision (now owned by Metro) until it reaches the Green Line Aviation Station. Most local residents and business owners are satisfied with this plan – the only matter of contention is how much of the line will be tunneled under Crenshaw and the addition of a Leimert Park station near proposed stations at Crenshaw/King and Crenshaw/Slauson. Budgetary obligations have forced Metro to only tunnel the line until about 48th Street, after which the line will run in the median of Crenshaw Boulevard and also consider eliminating the Leimert Park station. After long periods of public comment on the project’s environmental documents (EIR/EIS), Metro agreed to build the Leimert Park station. The $160 million? Metro will find it somewhere (to be decided). Even after this not-so-trivial tradeoff with the local community, Metro has still found itself embroiled in a lawsuit over the EIR. Lawsuits, massive change orders, gross negligence in construction contract writing, and public opposition nearly doomed the Exposition Line to failure and have made Expo nearly three years late and $300 million over budget. Is Crenshaw destined to follow in its footsteps?

East Link:

Yonah Freemark has the situation with East Link summed up well on his post on a Sound Transit’s compromise with the City of Bellevue. Essentially, Bellevue demanded a tunnel for its somewhat dense downtown, despite ample room on streets for the addition of Light Rail. Due to innovative engineering, a higher cost estimate for the surface option than first anticipated and crucially – a mutually beneficial agreement between Bellevue and Sound Transit, the tunneling option is now the Locally Preferred Alternative. This agreement was based upon a potentially precedent-setting decision Sound Transit made – Bellevue offered to pay for about half of the additional cost for the tunnel and Sound Transit, in the spirit of fostering community support and shrewdly avoiding possible future litigation, agreed to pay the second half. This arrangement is the ideal way to address local concerns to a regionally beneficial project. Locals win because they get their tunnel, and they did not even have to pay for all of it. The region wins due to the much lower likelihood of costly, time consuming litigation, and the general goodwill towards the project created by a selective distribution of funding to satiate local constituencies.

Like many transportation related matters, striking an appropriate balance is key in assuaging local concerns while building a transportation system that serves an entire region well. In compromising with Bellevue, Sound Transit has shown an aptitude for the political realities of transit projects while still managing to get the City to pay for a major portion of the tunnel it demanded. I would like to challenge Metro to come up with a similar arrangement for Crenshaw – offer a longer tunnel and the Leimert Park station, hust make a local contribution in the form of a parcel tax on the businesses who gain from the tunnel, or some other means, contingent to the agreement. Meeting the community halfway is the best way to proceed on alignment issues – just look at Expo. Metro refused to budge on the grade crossings at Farmdale and Trousdale/USC. What if the University had chipped in for a grade separated line until Vermont, or custom architecture at the three stations adjacent to campus? Because Metro refused to propose mutually beneficial options in good faith, as Sound Transit has now successfully done, South Los Angeles has ended up with an operationally inferior LRT line that is years late and hundreds of millions overbudget. Metro – it is time to start compromising with communities. Otherwise, see you in court.

Rail Transit in Los Angeles – A Map

I did a map like this for San Francisco a while back. Take a look and see what you think. I only included Central/West Los Angeles.

Main features include a Downtown LA Bus Tunnel, new Busways along Venice, Slauson, Sunset, and the Mission Subdivision, a subway/elevated extension down Vermont Avenue, extension of the Crenshaw Line to Santa Monica/La Brea, and the inclusion of a Heavy Rail West Hollywood Line. Finally, on this map I suggest that the Westside Subway Extension should go all the way to Downtown Santa Monica and the ocean.

Enjoy.

Cycling on USC Campus: The Wrong Way to Build Bike Infrastructure

The University of Southern California is the most urban university on the West Coast. The street grid from the surrounding neighborhood extends onto campus, and until the 1920’s automobile traffic was permitted on all thoroughfares on campus, as they were public roads. After acquiring all of the properties between Jefferson Boulevard, Vermont Avenue, Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street, allowed the campus to become a gated, private facility. The growth of the University has begun to move north, with most students living north of campus, and huge new projects like the New University Village and University Gateway are massively increasing the concentration of students north of campus.

The most popular means of transportation between North University Park and campus is the bicycle. Based on University counts, 15,000 cyclists a day enter and leave campus, perhaps more than much of the rest of the City of Los Angeles! This overwhelming quantity of cyclists is concentrated in the last 15 minutes of the hour, before and after classes dismiss. This condition creates crush loads on campus and also at the intersections of Jefferson Boulevard with Hoover Street and McClintock Avenue. Last year, LAPD and DPS (USC Public Safety) Officers began to ticket cyclists for riding through these intersections, even though riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is legal and even encouraged in the City of Los Angeles. This type of enforcement and neglect of the California Vehicle Code on and around the USC Campus has been the de facto bicycle policy of the University, with no attempt to accommodate cyclists.

On campus, current bicycle infrastructure is essentially limited to bicycle racks in front of most buildings. Most days, these bike racks are overused and many bikes rest on their kickstands instead of a fixed rack. USC has not even attempted to designate specific bicycle routes or paths on campus. Now that people have begun to complain about bicycle overcrowding, the University has banned all bicycles on Trousdale Parkway and Childs Way, the main north-south and east-west routes on campus, respectively. In addition, all bicycle racks in the center of campus will be moved outside a perimeter, or eliminated, in an effort to clear up center campus.

This policy will create three major problems. First of all, racks or not, people will park their bicycles in center campus, meaning that thousands of bicycles will be parked on kickstands with no organizational structure. Second, the smaller paths in the area will not be banned for bicycles, creating a far more dangerous situation for pedestrians. Finally, this policy does not deal with congestion at the intersections north of campus, or the terrible riding etiquette and technique in which most USC campus riders engage.

Here are my suggestions: ban bikes on the small paths on campus, not the main thoroughfares, and keep the bike racks in center campus. The old bike racks could be replaced by more aesthetically pleasing racks, and bikes not locked to racks could be confiscated. DPS could begin to enforce the California Vehicle Code, including ticketing cyclists with headphones on, and those who choose to chatter away on the cell phone. Also, cyclists can be ticketed for moving violations, so bad riding could be punished. For this policy to be fair, DPS must also initiate a large cycling education program. A requirement for a 20 minute online course before obtaining a license to operate a bicycle on USC campus could do wonders for riding style and etiquette on campus.

Also, a designated system of bicycle paths is critical on USC campus. The streets used for motor vehicles, like 34th Street, 36th Place, 37th Place, McClintock Avenue, and Watt Way, should be designated bike routes. Vehicular traffic should be severely limited during peak hours on Weekdays, allowing the entire street to be used for cyclists. On pedestrian malls, like Trousdale Parkway and Childs Way, European-style bike paths should be installed. These lanes could take the form of a different kind of pavement, such as brick. Cyclists must ride on the brick surface, stop at all intersections, and signal turns, allowing the chaos of these areas to cease.

Countering the problem of cyclists on campus will take this proactive approach. Covering up the problem with enforcement and bans will simply make it worse and infuriate students. After all, USC is essentially a corporation and students are its customers. It’s never a good policy to piss off your customers.