I didn’t understand how controversial a bike lane could be until I wrote about one.
Almost a year ago, the current city editor at The Bruin asked me if I could write about Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz’s opposition to a proposed bike lane on Westwood Boulevard. I wrote the story dispassionately, failing to see why anyone would really care.
It didn’t occur to me that issues of parking, safety and congestion were at the crux of residents’ concerns. I also didn’t realize that safety, convenience and a more sustainable future was at the crux of everyone else’s.
Since then, I’ve followed the issue with increasing voracity, tracking Mobility Plan 2035 – the city’s plan to improve life for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders – through Google Alerts, spending hours in Koretz’s spokesman’s office combing through more than 500 pages of emails related to the bike lane and loitering around City Hall for a quote.
Just Wednesday, I live-streamed a Transportation Committee meeting just in case Koretz brought up the lane. Despite the City Planning Commission’s February recommendation that the lane stay on Westwood Boulevard instead of being removed and several community members’ advocacy for the specific route, Koretz motioned to move the proposed lane to Gayley and Midvale avenues, which was subsequently approved 3-1.
Despite numerous meetings and votes on protecting the bike lane over the course of the past year, the amendment will be voted on Friday. Southern California Public Radio summed it up best in its headline: “LA City Council re-re-re-considers plan to add bike lanes, reduce some car lanes Friday.”
The story of bike lanes in Westwood, however, dates back at least 40 years. On Jan. 12, 1976, The Bruin wrote a story about the Westwood Bikeway, which was supposed to be completed 11 days prior.
The headline and subhead declared “Local bikeway delayed” and “Loss of parking feared.” Because 89 parking spaces were threatened by the bikeway, the proposal prompted objections from the Westwood Chamber of Commerce and local business owners.
Parking has long been a problem at and around UCLA, partially due to Los Angeles’ car-centric culture. But the university has long been moving away from the automobile, transitioning from a commuter to a residential campus in the ’60s and ’70s when the Westwood Bikeway was in the works.
Several changes were suggested to the bikeway, including a proposal to move a stretch of it to the sidewalk – which is illegal in Los Angeles – and a proposal to reconstruct sidewalks to include a different elevation for cyclists. The car reigned supreme in the Village, and arguably still drives residents’ priorities today.
The bikeway in question now exists on Le Conte Avenue and runs between Hilgard and Gayley avenues, with some strange gaps, making it a questionably useful resource for cyclists.
The LA City Council will vote Friday on the amendment to move Westwood’s proposed bike lane. Wherever it decides the lane belongs, you can expect it to be built sometime in the next 20 years. But who knows if the vote will end the conversation – a year ago, I thought one article would be it. Now, I certainly don’t.