Submission: Cycle of unsafe biking in Westwood to continue if Koretz is re-elected
By Andy Rice
March 2, 2017 8:58 p.m.
I commute to my job at UCLA by bicycle. Most mornings I also ride my 8-year-old kid to school on a detachable trailer bike. It has taken some time to find a route that felt adequately safe for this journey, and I’m still not convinced some days that I’ve quite hit the mark.
But City Councilmember Paul Koretz has missed the mark entirely with his opposition to a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard.
One way to bike into Westwood is to ride up Westholme Avenue after winding through the hilly Ohio Avenue corridor and facing the variously predictable driver behavior at grade crossings there. While perhaps safer than Westwood Boulevard or Gayley Avenue, it is a much more strenuous ride. If I have my kid, I take this route for safety. It’s not ideal, and it discourages potential cyclists who would like to start their work or school day a little less sweaty.
On flatter Westwood Boulevard, the worst stretch is the zone just north of Wellworth Avenue, crossing Wilshire Boulevard. There is just no good way to handle this five-block gauntlet as a cyclist. The bike lane ends and doesn’t reappear until you reach the UCLA campus at Le Conte Avenue. Safe and equitable access for the cyclists who already use this route were key reasons why planners originally included a continuous bike lane on Westwood Boulevard between Pico Boulevard and UCLA in the Mobility Plan 2035. The plan has since been amended to exclude Westwood Boulevard.
Koretz is a vocal opponent of the Westwood bike lane, citing safety concerns and the priority of access for motorists. He even tried to scuttle a study of impacts of the proposed bike lane on traffic congestion and business activity, stating that he did not need complete information to make a decision on this issue. “Since I can’t see any way that I wind up supporting the bike lane on Westwood anyway, I am going to just kill it now, rather than waiting for a study,” he wrote in an email to several Westwood homeowners, since made public thanks to a California Public Records Act request.
The cycling community on the Westside is still frustrated about this. The decision was not about parking spaces, as there is adequate room for a continuous bike lane with minimal interference to parking, turn lanes and motorist access. Koretz’s proposed alternative bike lane on Gayley Avenue would in fact require the elimination of parking, according to cyclist and city planner Ryan Snyder.
And it’s certainly not about safety. As a cyclist, I find it difficult to see how Gayley presents a safer alternative unless the plan eliminates a car lane. On a typical morning, I cross Wilshire on Gayley as cars speed past me in the share row to turn into the parking garage just on the other side of the intersection. North of Weyburn Avenue, there is a bike lane for a block or so, but cars waiting in the In-N-Out drive-thru routinely spill onto the road and force cyclists to veer dangerously left to get around them. I also pass a UPS or FedEx truck stopped in the right lane on about half of my rides.
But the worst problems are southbound. Cars merge onto Gayley from the right at Levering Avenue, adjacent to a gas station where cars enter and exit at unpredictable angles. Approaching the Gayley-Wilshire intersection, the bike lane disappears and the right lane turns into a right-turn-only for cars heading to the 405. Cyclists who wish to continue straight ahead have to cross traffic in the right lane to reach the center lane. It is an unpredictable move to perform in front of cars, and feels dangerous.
I made the mistake of taking my kid southbound on this route one time, and I will never do it again. It’s worse than Westwood Boulevard. Offering Gayley as a solution just shows Koretz doesn’t ride a bike here.
Smooth, flat, direct, bustling Westwood Boulevard is the prime street in Westwood. It would be a complete street – a great street, even – with a wide, safe, beautiful bike lane between the sidewalk and the parking spaces.
But students are transient in this neighborhood and tend not to get too involved in local politics. So the wealthy old folks who dominate the neighborhood councils hold more sway on this issue. They seem to want to tell cyclists what is and is not safe, rather than listen to cyclists and support what they say they need.
I want a city council representative who encourages and seeks out creative solutions for cyclists on Westwood Boulevard. Southbound on Westwood, traffic lights are predictable and bus stops are generally manageable. The median on Westwood offers room for designers to work – either on a lane down the center of the street, or in a remade configuration adjacent to the sidewalks. I want a better option than “no.”
In fact, we need one. A 2013 study estimates that if Californians walked or biked for half of their short-haul trips – under 1.5 miles for walking, under 5 miles for biking – the state would easily reach carbon dioxide reduction goals by 2030 while reducing rates of chronic disease by upwards of 14 percent.
There is a candidate and bike commuter named Jesse Creed running against Koretz this year, and he has pledged to at least investigate a continuous bike lane on Westwood Boulevard. If this is an issue that concerns you, then register to vote and go to the polls March 7.
Rice is a UCLA lecturer and Westwood resident.