Jonathan Friedland: City council member should not block Westwood bike lane development
Ignorance is bliss – it’s also unsafe, irresponsible and completely inappropriate when forming transportation policy in Los Angeles.
Between 2002 and 2013, there have been 52 bicycle accidents on the stretch of Westwood Boulevard where Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, with pressure from some of his constituents, has been opposing the development of a bicycle lane.
UCLA students know the daily commute in Westwood too well. For students who live south of Wilshire Boulevard, biking to campus is perilous because of the lack of bicycle lanes, which encourage drivers to look over their shoulders before making a right turn.
However, some Westwood residents, who have been the most vocal to Koretz, want a different location for the bike lane planned on Westwood Boulevard, such as Sepulveda Boulevard or Gayley Avenue. What these residents need to understand is that Westwood Boulevard is far safer than other options because of slower vehicle speeds. The greater amount of stoplights and pedestrian traffic on Westwood Boulevard causes much slower speeds among drivers, leading to safer cycling conditions.
However, Koretz abandoned an engineering study on potential bike lanes on Westwood Boulevard before it determined whether a bike lane would hinder traffic. In an email to some of his constituents Nov. 11, 2013, Koretz said, “I can’t see any way that I wind up supporting the bike lane on Westwood (Boulevard) anyway, I am just going to kill it now, rather than waiting for a study.”
Koretz should give the bike lane on Westwood Boulevard a chance by letting the engineering study proceed instead of proposing an amendment to remove it from the Los Angeles Mobility Plan 2035.
Without bike lanes, drivers feel less obligated to share the road and often forget that cyclists are on the roadways too. Drivers conduct themselves in a much safer manner around bike lanes, which give them a constant reminder to check over their shoulder before merging into the right turn lane.
Similar plans have worked in other cities. In 2011, New York City developed a protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue, an extremely busy street in Manhattan. Consequently, crashes between cars and bikes decreased 34 percent and cycling on weekdays increased 56 percent.
In addition, a memorandum from the New York City mayor’s office in 2011 stated that when protected bike lanes were installed in the city, injury crashes dropped by 40 percent to more than 50 percent for all road users .
Similarly, when a protected bike lane was installed in Washington, D.C., only 26 percent of drivers exceeded the speed limit as opposed to 66 percent before the lane.
In addition to improving cyclists’ safety, the bike lane would increase retail revenues in Westwood Village’s businesses.
This too has precedence elsewhere. In Salt Lake City’s Broadway area, retail sales increased by 8.8 percent after a bike lane was built.
The increase in business revenue could actually be significantly greater than in Salt Lake City because of Westwood’s significant population of students without cars. The bike lane would encourage students to frequent Westwood because of the safer cycling conditions.
The Westwood Village Improvement Association’s executive director, Andrew Thomas, said the same uptick in business will happen in Westwood if bike lanes are installed on Westwood Boulevard. He added that an engineering study is the only way to see the true impacts of a bike lane.
Nonetheless, Koretz continues to block the study, which would determine the impact of bike lanes on Westwood Boulevard.
Paul Neuman, Koretz’s spokesperson, said in an email statement we should discourage cyclists from riding this stretch of Westwood Boulevard and that “placing lines on a street in the name of increased safety doesn’t necessarily lower the accident rate.”
However, Koretz has no factual information about bicycle lanes hurting the community, while previous cities’ studies show bicycle lanes only help cyclists’ safety and businesses. Without the engineering study’s completion, Koretz has no reason to oppose the bike lane.
In fact, according to the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, the preliminary study Koretz cancelled was leaning towards declaring the possibility of installing a bike lane without removing any traffic lanes or parking.
If the study had been allowed to reach this conclusion, it would have proven that the impact on drivers and bus timetables would be negligible, but Koretz did not allow the city to finish the study and instead lacks transparent evidence about the lane for his constituents.
Rather than encouraging residents to bike more often, Koretz is prioritizing drivers over cyclists’ safety on Westwood Boulevard. Instead of serving the whole of his constituency, he’s avoiding learning more about how bike lanes could help or hurt the community.
Koretz needs to let the engineering study proceed before trying to block the bike lane’s passage without any sound evidence.
Tips and tricks for optimizing the UCLA biking experience
By Arthur Wang
Cycling in Westwood has always been a bit of an uphill battle. And I’m not just talking about the elevation changes around the UCLA campus.
Students here, by and large, are just resistant to hopping on the saddle (not a seat) to zip around campus, even if they can shave a significant chunk of time off the commute. Maybe that’s not surprising, given that students here actually ascribe mortality to a single flight of stairs. I might not be dedicated or athletic enough to ride with the campus cycling team, but I can get from the Hill to North Campus in fewer than 10 minutes, while it might take a brisk walker 20 to find themselves in front of Public Affairs.
Despite benefits like these, students remain discouraged by biking, and are adept at coming up with excuses for not doing so. I set out to address a few misconceptions and mistakes that disincline UCLA students to riding around a campus that was recently upgraded to a silver rating in bicycle friendliness by the League of American Bicyclists. How can a willing rider best optimize their experience conquering the hills of Westwood for their commute?
Mistake: picking the wrong ride
Bruins who acquire a pair of wheels without having done their homework are the ones who abandon their bikes and leave them for enterprising students to pick up at the annual Bike (Re)cycling Day. Very often, they’ve simply chosen the wrong one for the job. A cheap mountain bike might have the variable gears to take on hills, but they weigh too much for most folks to get anywhere fast. Fixed-gear bikes, or “fixies,” are somewhat lighter and significantly more popular, but because they lack gears, don’t expect any mercy if you want to ascend the unkind inclines of the Hill and North Village.
There are better choices. The first is the hybrid bike, which combines the comfortable flat handlebars and wide gear options of mountain bikes with an overall design that lets you book it to class in case you overslept. A more economical candidate is a used road bike, which is on the heavier side and may require some extra maintenance and attention, but can be found at a bargain and has enough gears to take on hills. It is also usually constructed with near-indestructible steel.
Of course, there is also the beach cruiser. Please do not buy one – they’re heavy, handle poorly and usually have no gears to speak of. As such, it’s no surprise that so many abandoned bikes are cruisers. Most importantly, they are the preferred ride of USC students.
Myth: Cycling is not worth it because there are no bike lanes and lots of hills.
Make no mistake: Westwood needs more bike lanes. The bike friendliness of UCLA doesn’t quite extend to Westwood as a whole, and the busyness of Westwood Boulevard and the narrow, car-cluttered streets in the North Village can make cycling feel downright inhospitable. But cycling is not illegal in places where there are no bike lanes; drivers are, by law, expected to anticipate and maintain a 3-foot distance from cyclists on streets even if the infrastructure is not there. This is by no means an excuse to obstruct or ignore the need for lanes or paths of any kind, since they drastically improve safety.
In any case, owning a bike can extend your range of movement by a great deal. Trips to Beverly Hills, Sawtelle or shopping centers south of Wilshire Boulevard, unreasonable to walk and costly to Uber, are perfectly reasonable trips by bike – none of these rides take longer than 15 minutes going downhill. And if you’re not in the mood to pedal your way back up to apartment or dorm, or simply bought too much during a shopping spree, buses equipped with underused bike racks are at your disposal for the return trip. This tactic, known as multimodal transport, solves the problem of going uphill, saves time and costs next to nothing for UCLA students.
Biking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s understandable – bike or no bike, Westwood is a weird, compact, collegiate enclave within one of the most sprawling major cities, and Uber has rapidly become the most ubiquitous way for college students to move around. Still, the feeling of freedom (and the wind blowing in your face) provided by cycling is unrivaled. You can just hop on and go, with no need to wait for the bus or driver, and breeze past frustrated drivers stuck in LA traffic.
And of course, parking is always free and widely available. So now there really are no excuses.
Bruin Talk: Bike Lanes
Video by Catherine Liberty Feliciano
The Los Angeles Mobility Plan proposes a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard from Le Conte Avenue to Wellworth Avenue. We asked Bruins with bikes what they think about biking and bike lanes on the busy street, which they share with cars, buses and pedestrians alike.