Mixed feelings, these past few weeks, about L.A.'s quickly expanding arsenal of green bike lanes -- part of an adorable national trend.
The new lanes are, literally, neon green. Though some grumpy drivers see it as yet another blight on their crappy commute, as traffic lanes must be narrowed and/or removed, the very vocal biking community in L.A. has applauded City Hall's dedication to alternative transportation and the safety of those who use it.
So important is this biker-advocate support to L.A. officials...
... that they may have sorta kinda jumped the gun last month on the Spring Street paint job downtown.
Though the 1.5 miles of roadway set to be greened were wet, due to a late-November downpour, the L.A. Department of Transportation ordered a paint job anyway. LA Streetsblog speculated that the rush was in anticipation of a Monday press conference:
The culprit appears to be an overanxious LADOT who wanted to have the lanes ready for the Monday press conference, even though the weekend preceding the Monday event was a wet one. In the week preceding the press event, officials warned that the conference could be moved if weather didn't allow the painting to occur over the weekend.
Indeed: The Los Angeles Times reported, pre-peel, that "work crews over the weekend, battling a downpour, were able to complete most of the lane with only a few touch-ups outstanding."
That's when the green paint started to corrode. The department wrote on its own blog: "Unfortunately, inclement weather did not allow for the paint to fully set, leading to some blotching that many of you have no-doubt seen."
Bruce Gillman, LADOT spokesman, explains to the Weekly today that "this is a pilot program for us. After seeing the results, the decision was made to try [an epoxy-based paint], which calls for primer."
So yesterday, as promised, the green stripe down Spring Street was restored to full glare.
However, Gillman says that the failed first coat cost the city $15,000. (Another green lane on 1st Street in Boyle Heights was more expensive -- $35,000 -- because it was coated in "thermoplastic." That one's still going strong.)
A glowing release from the original press conference downtown:
"[City Councilmembers Jan Perry and Jose Huizar] cut a green ribbon tied to the handles of two bicycles and then took the inaugural ride down the new Spring Street bike lane, which runs between Cesar Chavez Avenue and 9th Street. ...
LADOT is continuing to lead the way in the delivery of innovative and safe bicycle facilities in the City" said Deputy Mayor for Transportation Borja Leon. "The department has focused on public safety and outreach while accomplishing one of the Mayor's primary goals -- a robust transportation network."
One Streetsblog commenter opined that "the creation of this lane is about a DOT that isn't truly committed to better bike infrastructure, but instead is about political PR."
Veteran citywatcher Jack Humphreville likewise questions L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's much-hyped bike dreams.
"We haven't seen any studies, if you will, as to the impacts of the bike plan," says Humphreville. "How many bikers are there in this city? How many miles do they ride to work? We haven't seen any studies on the impacts this is going to have on slowing traffic."
He adds: "Bike lanes are very good for short distances. But for the guy who's commuting from the basin, with a longer distance to travel, does that work?"
Despite his great lengths to please the biking community, Villaraigosa hasn't exactly seen all love from that minority, either. As detailed by LA Weekly reporter Ryan Deto, City Hall's ambitious bike plan has no concrete promise for implementation. The League of American Bicyclists noticed as much earlier this year, snubbing our desperate city in its list of the top 25 "Bicycle Friendly Communities."
In response to the green lanes in particular, some are complaining that the paint disguises dangerous potholes. Oops. This isn't the first time LADOT has wasted money by bumbling past the planning/public-input phase. From the LA Weekly story:
Don Ward of the Midnight Ridazz cycling group fought hard to make the section of Wilbur Avenue in Northridge where he lives safer for pedestrians and cyclists after several people were killed in car accidents. But the L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) almost comically botched the safety plan in June 2010 when it reduced Wilbur Avenue from four car lanes to three and added bike lanes and street parking -- without notifying area residents.
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When said residents (predictably) complained about losing a lane, the department scrambled to clean up:
This time, the bike lanes were moved into the gutter -- and the speed limit was increased.
"LADOT spent $50,000 to repave the roads and paint lines again, which were just repaved and painted for the addition of bike lanes," Ward says. "That money could have fixed 9,000 potholes. The road is now more dangerous -- even the LADOT engineer admitted that."
At this rate, we might as well pay the guerilla green-laners down in Mexico City to come do the job for a fraction of the price. Or maybe this would be a fine opportunity to let that UC Davis cop to get his pepper-spray jitters out?