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Submission: Bicyclist safety essential to Westwood’s future

By Daily Bruin

Jan. 22, 2014 12:00 a.m.

Thousands of people like me commute to UCLA every day. But an out-of-date street configuration makes the short commute up Westwood Boulevard a hazardous one for bike riders.

On my ride to school, a collision with an automobile is a very real concern, especially where there is no bike lane. Despite this danger, there are still a significant number of us who choose to get to campus using this designated bicycle route.

A complete bike lane on this street is critical to ensure the safety of those of us who already depend on it, as well as encourage broader participation in active transportation modes. The need for a safer street will become acute when increased numbers of commuters begin arriving with the upcoming completion of the Exposition Light Rail line through West Los Angeles.

There are bike lanes on a part of the Westwood route. However, bikes are forced to share a lane with cars for the 1.6 miles between National Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard. It is this dangerous gap which the Los Angeles Department of Transportation Bike Plan Implementation Team sought to close by the end of last year.

Unfortunately, the objections of certain stakeholders to any change in the current configuration of Westwood seem to have drowned out the pleadings of the UCLA community members who appeared at Westwood Neighborhood Council meetings, testified at an LADOT public hearing and sent numerous emails in support of the proposal. An online petition for the lanes now has over 400 signatures.

Last fall Councilman Paul Koretz, who voted in favor of the 2010 LA Bike Plan that includes Westwood as part of its “Backbone Network,” single-handedly stopped progress toward these bike lanes. Bike lane opponents, organized by a certain vocal segment of a local homeowners association, expressed concerns about potential traffic and parking impacts in the area. Supporters, including myself, contend that a study should be completed to determine whether there would in fact be any impacts on traffic or parking before drawing such conclusions.

While LADOT conducted its study, we eagerly awaited the results. Meanwhile, opponents continued to denounce the proposal throughout the summer and fall, apparently uninterested in the study’s outcome. On Nov. 13, in a surprise reversal, Koretz announced that he had directed LADOT to stop the study, which he had originally authorized, and declared his firm opposition to any bike lane on Westwood.

As Los Angeles has grown around UCLA over the last 85 years, the university has unfortunately become an island in a veritable sea of automobile traffic. Now, with the rise of bike commuting nationwide and the Westwood light rail station opening in two years, this is a critical time to improve UCLA’s connections to the surrounding neighborhoods.

For the last decade, new car sales among young people have been in decline. Signs of a historic shift in transportation priorities are influencing policy at all levels. Federal, state and local regulations are being revised to accommodate “complete streets” design. UCLA has just installed Southern California’s first bike counter on Strathmore Place and plans to install another one in Westwood.

A year ago, Councilman Koretz committed to studying a new street configuration on Westwood Boulevard and hosting a public forum in order to hear from all stakeholders. The UCLA Bicycle Coalition and other concerned members of the UCLA community are asking him to keep this commitment. We are asking him to make a decision based on the available facts, which LADOT had begun to assemble. Once the facts are in, Councilman Koretz and stakeholders can rationally weigh the likely costs and benefits.

I do not support bike lanes at all costs. If traffic would be severely impacted, then I would reverse my support for the proposed changes.

The future of the university and the city must not be left solely in the hands of an insular group of activists resistant to any mention of change and dismissive of the manifold benefits of increasing bicycle ridership.

With a population that continues to grow and traffic congestion that threatens to grow with it, change is both necessary and inevitable in Los Angeles. Bikes are an essential part of that change.

The Los Angeles of the future cannot be a truly world-class city if the three-mile radius around UCLA remains impenetrable to all but the most daring of bicyclists. If, on the other hand, we anticipate demographic trends and allow bicycling to flourish, traffic will gradually improve, and UCLA will become a more appealing center of higher learning to a new generation.

Smith is a graduate student in the Department of Information Studies.

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