Let’s be honest: At this point, not much more needs to be said about the merit of putting a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard through the village. Daily Bruin columnists and the Daily Bruin Editorial Board have shown how a designated lane will make the street safer by reducing collisions. UCLA Transportation and Emergency Medical Services are behind the bike lane, as are both the UCLA undergraduate and graduate student governments. And on May 28, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning will present the 2035 Mobility Plan to the City Planning Commission for recommendation to City Council with the document currently recommending a Westwood Boulevard bike lane as part of Westwood’s future transportation network.
And yet, there is the risk that in the absence of a clear UCLA campus voice, the City Council can act to erase Westwood off the draft plan, and thereby constrain any discussion of the issue for the next 20 years. A mobility plan without Westwood Boulevard would hinder future generations of Bruins and UCLA staff by limiting both the university’s and Westwood Village’s ability to leverage new Expo and Purple line rail stations coming in on Westwood Boulevard.
The real question at this point is whether some combination of political and university leadership can actually make sure the Westwood bike lane happens. There is room for a unified vision here, largely because just like the UCLA community, our district councilmember Paul Koretz is such a passionate believer in the need to confront climate change. The councilmember believes “that the climate change crisis is no longer out there in the future. It’s here. It’s now.” He is admirably specific about the implications of unchecked greenhouse gas emission rates, so much so that he has urged Los Angeles to set the aggressive goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emission levels to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
The issue of climate change is connected to bike lanes because we need to get serious about expanding our options for getting around without a car. Thinking globally, it is hard to imagine a city that is admired for its efforts on climate change, yet is not increasing its bicycle infrastructure. Los Angeles still has a lot of ground to make up on this front, but the good news is that Westwood Village is one of the absolute best places in the region to support many ways of travel. Given the large student population and the village’s walk-ability and excellent public transit, the only thing really missing in making this area an environmental superstar is a safe, convenient bike network.
Students and employees use Westwood because it’s the most direct route to travel to campus from the south. When the Westwood Expo Line station starts operating in early 2016, we can expect many more people to start bicycling the 20-minute ride along Westwood to and from the UCLA campus. The fit of Westwood and bikes is so clear that even if we built gold-plated bike lanes on alternate routes and handed out free bagels, people would still probably ride on Westwood.
In the end, it isn’t just UCLA student and staff bicyclists who stand to lose the most if a bike lane isn’t implemented. The UCLA administration stands to lose a considerable measure of credibility. Right now the university is currently positioning itself as a leader in global sustainability and has embarked on an ambitious Grand Challenges project to lead Los Angeles toward becoming 100 percent energy sustainable by 2050. One can only imagine the awkward silence that will ensue at campus conferences and events pertaining to climate change when an audience member poses the question: “How can UCLA expect to be a model for the world on energy sustainability when it can’t even stand up to a local neighborhood group at its own doorstep?”
At this point, a bike lane through the village is no longer just a bike lane – it’s a symbol of commitment to taking climate change seriously. As the next two weeks offer us a chance to weigh in on this important matter as it goes before the City Planning Commission, we will see whether courage can trump political pragmatism. Because when it comes to bike lanes and climate change, the future is now.
Holmes is a graduate student in urban and regional planning at the Luskin School of Public Affairs.