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Submission: Westwood bike lane proposal effectively addresses traffic concerns


May 1, 2013 2:54 a.m.

Since Bike Week is coming up starting on May 13, now is a perfect time to open a campus discussion about the benefits that a complete Westwood Boulevard bike lane would bring to the UCLA community.

A bike lane that extends the full length of Westwood would be the biggest step thus far toward furthering the goals of the Healthy Campus Initiative and UCLA Sustainability’s “Be a Smarter Commuter” campaign.

As a bike commuter, I find that the stretch of Westwood south of Santa Monica Boulevard is the most challenging part of my ride to UCLA. So when I found out that Westwood is part of the “Backbone” network of the city’s ambitious 2010 Bicycle Plan, I was elated. Eventually the plan calls for the construction of a citywide bike lane network that seeks to make biking an attractive transit option for a much broader range of commuters in Los Angeles.

The existing Westwood bike lane goes only about 0.5 miles from Santa Monica Boulevard to just south of Wilshire Boulevard, and the first stage of the proposed expansion would extend it south 1.6 miles to National Boulevard.

However, the Westwood South of Santa Monica Blvd. Homeowners Association and L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz have expressed concern that extending the bike lane would negatively impact traffic and parking in the area.

These concerns are understandable, but I think they are uninformed.

The southern portion of Westwood Boulevard is narrower than the northern part, and the initial criticism was justified because the original bike lane proposal released in January did not accommodate current traffic patterns.

As opponents pointed out, more careful consideration and planning were needed. Balancing the needs of L.A. traffic with the need to encourage alternative transportation methods is no easy feat. Fortunately, this hard work has since been done by the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, who came up with an ingenious solution to the challenge.

The current version of the bike lane proposal addresses all of the concerns that have been raised.

The plan does not eliminate any parking spaces or reduce traffic lanes in the direction of peak flow during rush hour. It does not require widening the street, nor does it add to the congestion on Westwood Boulevard. In fact, the design will be familiar to anyone who has recently traveled north on this part of Westwood in the middle of the day.

Currently, parking is prohibited on the northbound side during the morning rush hour in order to make room for a much-needed second car traffic lane when the majority of traffic is going toward UCLA. Right now, the southbound side has two permanent lanes. The plan proposes to repaint the streets so that both the southbound side and the northbound side each have one permanent lane. Parking will be prohibited on the northbound side in the morning and the southbound side in the evening to accomodate peak traffic flow. This will effectively create a a floating bike lane on each side of the street – next to parked cars during normal traffic flow and between the sidewalk and the second car lane during peak hours when parking is prohibited.

This is a very effective strategy to prevent congestion when traffic is high. The latest proposal simply applies this same model during the evening rush hour and temporarily prohibits parking on the southbound side to accommodate evening rush hour traffic.

When cars are parked on the street, cyclists use the remaining strip of road directly next to street parking. It is just too narrow to be very safe. The proposal makes this space wide enough for cyclists to ride safely between parking and traffic during non-rush hours.

During peak rush hours, when parking is prohibited, there would be a full bike lane next to the sidewalk for cyclists.

This more inviting street layout would bring more UCLA commuters out of their cars and onto bikes. Nothing encourages biking more than better bicycle infrastructure – well, nothing except maybe Los Angeles’ beautiful weather. And more biking ultimately means better traffic, a better environment and a healthier UCLA.

By adding some new paint and parking signs on Westwood south of Santa Monica, the L.A. Department of Transportation can increase the safety of all road users while only minimally affecting traffic and parking, but the implementation of these changes requires the approval of the Los Angeles City Council. Email the office of Councilman Koretz to share your thoughts on the proposed Westwood bike lane.

Smith is a graduate student in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

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