Thoughts on Main St Road Diet and Bike Lane Extension

By Mihai Peteu

I am glad it’s happening.  It will make that short yet scary-to-ride stretch of Main Street more lively, rideable, and livable.  The road diet and bike lane was approved on Tuesday evening at the Venice Neighborhood Council meeting. Most speakers favored the project, a few had reservations.

Road diets do create a safer environments for the most vulnerable road users. However, speed limits are merely suggestions, so bus or no bus, it would be nice to have seen a 10ft car travel lane instead of 11ft, and a nice roomy bike lane with a hashed door buffer zone.   So, in the defeatist tone of a lot of folks that I’ve seen commenting on local bike blogs – “It’s good enough for now”.

The main motivation for this article is the overall tone of the LACBC support letter in favor of the road diet, which I ran across a day after the deal was sealed.

Now on to…

The Gripes

Outright ignoring the dooring hazard is irresponsible, especially for a Bike Advocacy group. Also, it seems that LACBC continues to make excuses for LADOT’s inability to come up with a first-rate bike facility while deriding cyclists’ for their lack of “education”. The Main St corridor through Venice is a key connector between two very active commercial, relatively walkable areas. It is heavily used by cyclists and deserves the best bikeway possible. LADOT instead offers the MUTCD minimum bike lane design, which pales in comparison to what Long Beach is doing for its residents.

I am aware of the usual excuse: protected bike lanes are not an accepted standard, therefore LADOT is not eligible for funding, yadda yadda. Make it happen, in Venice. Go that extra yard and get that grant money, call it a temporary pilot project if you have to.

What door zone?

A cornucopia of caveats and assumptions...

Getting doored hurts and can cause very serious injuries.

What’s most offensive about the statement above is the shift of blame from city planner to the cyclist. “You should have seen that door opening from a mile away, newbie cyclist!” Are we designing a bike lane for the 8-80 age group, or for those with heightened spider-senses? I was unable to attend LACBC’s recent ThinkBike workshop, but I’m fairly certain the Dutch would set the bar higher.

Cyclists in cities with amazing bike facilities don’t have to be educated about the perils of the door zone. Why? They have amazing bike facilities, which minimizes dangerous situations from the start.

Cyclist education + Wishful thinking != Impermeable force field
Gary offers up his preferred bike lane design and wishes that LADOT would aim higher. A doctor who commented on the LACBC post asks for the seemingly unattainable pie in the sky:

Another gripe:  ”Build it now, improve it later” mentality.  Built it well the first time around, instead opting for mediocre and hoping for improvements decades down the road!  Smaller cities like Santa Monica are more nimble, and  actually do react to cyclists’ concerns in a reasonable amount of time.  Maybe it has something to do with accountability – there are less departments to infinitely shift blame and responsibility onto when your project is lagging.

But honestly, when’s the last time you’ve seen the Venice Bike lane being “improved”? There’s fresh, smooth pavement in the travel lane adjacent to the Venice bike lane, but the bike lane itself is untouched.  It’s just as gritty and dishoveled as it was 5-10 years ago.

The Numbers

The paragraph below is what mainly sparked my outrage, and caused me two nights of lost sleep while I mapped and double checked the collision data repeatedly. A bold statement butressed by a breeze of thin air:

rushed conclusions

Excerpt from LACBC Main St Road Diet support letter - a brief review indeed

I will assume that the erroneous statement meant a two-year time span, from 2008 to 2010. According to my calculations, there were 28 total traffic incidents involving cyclists on Main St in Santa Monica between Jan 1st 2008 and Dec . About a third of those incidents were Sideswipes (10 incidents), another third were Broadsides (9), with the rest being Uncategorized (5), Head-on crashes (3), or Rear-end collisions (1). I have absolutely no idea how anyone can clearly draw a conclusion about how many of these incidents were doorings or caused by the door zone, after all, there is no specific label for a dooring in SWITRS.

CORRECTION: During the same LADOT time span, there were 17 traffic collisions reported, not 28.  A lesser discrepancy than originally reported.

Jan 2008-Dec 2009 Main St Collision Types (2 yr time span)

Jan 2008 - Dec 2009 Main St Collision Types (2 yr time span)

2008-2010 Main St Collision Types (3 yr time span)

2008-2010 Main St Collision Types (3 yr time span)

Primary Collision Factors for those same 28 incidents, same two year three year time span – unfortunately not very useful without a mention of which party was at fault.


Primary Collision Factors 2008-2010
Looking at the Main St (Santa Monica) collisions from Feb 2006 to Feb 2011, 42 records in all, the only conclusion I’ve come to is that the safest stretch of road is between Colorado and Pico, and that incoming traffic from arterial roads (Pico, Ocean Park) can make those intersection a bit more dangerous.   Main St and Ocean Park is the most dangerous intersection in Santa Monica, not only due to accruing the highest number of incidents, but also due to the overall severity of the victims’ injuries.  So we can assume that the Main St bike lane is heavily used, but judging from the data alone, I can make no direct assumptions about how effective the bike lane is at keeping riders out of harm’s way.

Cyclist Incidents on Main St, 2006-2011

Note:  The dataset I used is mostly comprised of street intersections.  This PDF contains traffic collision data involving cyclists from February 2006 to February 2011.  I have not been able to acquire a more accurate list of street addresses from the Santa Monica Police Department. Also, my dataset does not state which party was at fault. Regardless of that, keep in mind that’s a subjective call made by the responding officer.  If LACBC has more detailed data like actual street addresses and party-at-fault, I would still like to see how it supports their conclusions.

Now, let’s not be naive, we all know a large portion of incidents go unreported – the estimate is around two thirds. The former SMPD Deputy Chief was allegedly doored on Main St, and even he chose not to file a report. And in at least one case, a cyclist in Santa Monica has been convinced by a police officer that he should not file a police report if the paramedics do not respond to the scene. He was doored in the Broadway bike lane.

Think about that scenario for a moment.  It often takes paramedics arriving on the scene AND a willing police officer to take a report in order for these incidents to even be recorded. Most of the time, cyclists are so shook up, they allow the motorist to leave without exchanging contact info.

So when you see a red H&R Felony or orange H&R misdeameanor on that map, you best believe someone was seriously hurt.  Imagine that map with the other 2/3 of the unreported collisions.

Another takeaway is that Main St isn’t as rosy of a picture as it’s painted.  Clearly, there is unresolved conflict between cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.  And we’re duplicating the same lane layout just south of Rose, and somehow hoping for better results.

Conclusion

In retrospect, the aforementioned LACBC support letter was rushed, and the project backed mainly by a culture of fear. It’s a covert way of saying “this offer of a bike lane on Main St may disappear off the table if we don’t accept it as is“. The Main St road diet is a win, but the attitude that we should accept the first bike project LADOT offers without any scrutiny is a losing mindset. This paints cyclists as hungry dogs fighting for scraps. And as we gain political power in this city, we need to leave that mindset behind.

It would be nice to see bike advocates looking past the bare minimum design standards. We deserve better, the momentum is on our side.   Also, a bicycle advocacy organization should stray away from deriding the very people it claims to represent.

I understand that LACBC is considering this a win, and rightfully so, but why not set the bar higher? Extending the bike lane on Main St the last 0.7 miles is a no brainer.  Once it’s clear that there’s enough public support for the project as it stands, why not ask for more?

Don’t be afraid to criticize something that doesn’t feel right. Don’t be afraid to expect more from your city planners.

I used to think Alex Thompson was a conspiracy theorist, but now I truly wonder if that extra half a foot would have been eked out if Bikeside had not pushed the envelope on this issue.

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18 Responses to “Thoughts on Main St Road Diet and Bike Lane Extension”

  1. Mihai, thanks for strongly making your case without making enemies. I truly appreciate your efforts to call the LACBC to task without starting WWWIII.

    I am one of those you criticize — fairly — for wanting paint on the street now, rather than holding out for a better solution. My take was that the road diet was needed as soon as possible, and that fighting for a better solution for the bike lanes would delay the project, possibly for years, and might not even be doable in the current climate.

    Maybe we could have held out for a better solution, but I don’t think we would have gotten it. But I’d be the first to admit that I may be wrong.

    Clearly, the LACBC letter should said through December 2009, rather than to December 2009. As for the collision stats, I’m not not sure where the LACBC got theirs, but I think we all recognize that Bikeside maintains the city’s most complete and accurate collision data.

    However, I can assure you that the LACBC, and I personally, were fighting just as hard for that extra six inches, if not more.

    We’re all fighting for safer and more ridable streets. We may go about it in different ways and prefer different alternatives, but we’re on the same side.

    You clearly understand that, and I thank you for that. I’m happy to consider you an ally in that fight, even when — or perhaps, especially when — we disagree on some things.

  2. @bikinginLA

    I’m not aware of anywhere that LACBC is on the record fighting, or even requesting, more than the minimum 7′ parking, 5′ bike lane that DOT offered.

    I attended the Venice NC meeting. Except for one, the LACBC supporters who spoke offered unequivocal support for the 5′/7′ configuration as it was. The LACBC letter offered no firm position, but seemed to be affirming support for the original DOT striping plan.

    Whereas, Bikeside is on the record numerous times in blog form, in emails to Rosendahl, and before Venice NC pushing for more width.

  3. Alex, not all advocacy is conducted in public. Often, it is conducted behind the scenes — and often, more effectively — by working directly with various officials to get a better result.

    I myself sent emails to various people asking that more space be given to the bike lanes, and have discussed the matter in person with city staff members. I have also been cc’d on emails from others in which they argued for better solutions than those contained in the original proposal, and informed of in-person meetings in which the same case was made.

    I appreciate your advocacy, and give you credit for arguing for the best possible solution. But just because you’re not aware that others were fighting for improvements in the plan does not mean it didn’t happen.

  4. Thanks for this insightful reexamination of the data, Mihai. We loves the data, and your scrutiny, like Bikeside’s always, is a reminder that part of the larger advocacy lift is better data.

    On that note, I believe that we should have, and have a right to demand, direct reports from the police departments. I can read my local papers’ police blotter and learn about petty thefts and the like, for example, but I can’t learn about serious accidents and fatalities.

    When asked how they get word of burglaries and the like, local papers’ columnists say they just call the department weekly. When I asked my local (BHPD) about traffic reports, they say they simply don’t have a process to make it available. This should be a specific focus of the PDs so that we have more fine-grained data coming directly from police reports, aggregated not annually but weekly or monthly. Tools like RSS exist to push reports out. This should be on our agenda.

    RE: those bike lanes, like many I’m of two minds, somewhat comforted by the presence of lanes but aware I have to be vigilant about the doors. Agreed – lanes in door zones are not a control devices that meet their intention or potential. Pragmatically, speaking (to Ted’s point) perhaps it’s still a battle in-the-winning.

    On this particular issue like others, it’s not either/or but both/and. We have too many corridors and intersections without any guidance or protections whatsoever, so pulling on both levers, the institutional support and the harder-edged activism is key to move forward.

  5. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that Main Street is undergoing improvement. But I also see no reason not to fully disclose that it’s not the ideal solution. The whole asking for better behind the scenes yet agreeing with what’s offered in public may backfire in the long run. It makes the rather lame MUTCD standard bike lane seem like the gold standard when it really isn’t.

    Some city planners get it, some don’t. After following the LUCE process and bike action plan closely for a few years, I can safely say that Santa Monica gets it. Buffer zone here, bike boulevard there. The city of LA needs a lot more handholding in order to get to that point.

  6. While I generally agree with this post, January 2008 to December 2009 IS two years.

    12:00 AM 1/1/08 to 11:59 PM 12/31/09 if it makes more sense to look at it that way.

  7. Ted may very well have sent letters, but LACBC and others adopted a public position that undermined the efforts of Bikeside & Co to get a safer facility. I mean LACBC actively poo-pooed the dooring issue in the letter from Klausner. And it wasn’t a Main St. specific remark – the letter implies that engineering standards should not strive to address the door zone issue and assigned the blame for doorings to education. Which misses the point that cyclists are legally obligated to ride in a bike lane, door zone or no.

    @Mark Elliot – I encourage you to take note that Mihai and Gary’s – senior members of SM Spoke – concerns about doors were ignored in letter from LACBC. I understand Better Bike BH is also a satellite org to LACBC . . . so keep that in mind.

    It’s one thing for some to push and some to buddy up w/ LADOT. It’s entirely another for the groups getting close w/ DOT to oppose the work of groups like Bikeside who are seeking better.

  8. And I’ll add Ted that you shouldn’t expect credit for letters you won’t publish. I also think showing up in person and your public stance are more important than private email advocacy . . . which is why I attended both VNC meetings and the BAC subcommittee meeting on this issue.

  9. Alex, no one ever asked for “credit.” I was merely correcting your erroneous assumption that no one from the LACBC did anything to address getting those extra 6″. Frankly, I don’t give a damn who gets credit as long as the paint gets on the street; if you want to take full credit for it, be my guest.

    As for attending meetings, I go to a lot of many every month that I don’t see you at, either. But I don’t assume that you had no interest in those matters, or that your voice wasn’t heard. Not everyone can be at every meeting, no matter how much they may care about the result.

    And as you note, the LACBC was well represented at that meeting; there was a flurry of emails in the days leading up to the VNC meeting to confirm that people would be there to represent the Coalition.

    Oh wait, we don’t get “credit” for those either, since you didn’t read them. Maybe from now on I should cc’ you on all my correspondence.

  10. I like the idea of 5′ lanes with 1-2′ of hashed spacing between the lane and parked cars…. Road diets are engineered traffi calming and a much better situation than what is currently there. I understand the need to ask, even demand the best, but the reality is that until we can convince the public at large that cycling is the way, we are dogs begging for scraps. Keep plugging away at the public at large. That is the constituency that the LADOT and the politicians answer to. By all means, criticize the infrastructure but lets not cannibalize ourselves in the process.

    We want to create a steadily rising chorus of bike songs that the public at large can join in on. If we constantly rip each other in the media the public is going to become disenchanted and tuned out.

    C’mon Bikeside, I love you guys. Lets all sing together.

  11. Roadblock – I come back to this questionable door zone stance in LACBC’s letter:

    “2. Door zone concerns. Cyclists who are unaware of the door zone hazard (the space immediately adjacent to the left of parked cars where a cyclist can be hit when the parked motorist opens his/her door) typically ride in the door zone with or without the presence of a bike lane. Cyclists who are aware of the door zone hazard typically ride outside the door zone when bike lanes are not present and will ride to the left edge of the bike lane when bike lanes are present. The problem is not bike lanes but educating about the door zone hazard.”

    When we asked for more width they threw this back at us. When we disposed with that, this got thrown back at us:

    “3. The LACBC views bike lanes that exceed the 5 foot minimum as preferable, but we also recognize a potential hazard that comes with providing a travel lane that might be too narrow for the bus traffic on Main Street. We recognize a need for a balance between the two and we don’t see the wisdom of completely rejecting a road diet on Main Street that might include a 5 foot bike lane.”

    The LADOT line verbatim – 11 ft was absolutely necessary for Metro buses.

    Interestingly, the Pacoima designs out of Think Bike, which I liked, had 10.5 ft lanes with Metro buses in them . . .

  12. Alex, from my experience the LACBC statement rings true… lines of paint on the ground aren’t going to keep ignorant or fearful cyclists out of the door zone… Yet we can’t expect perfect infrastructure from an LADOT that is directed by politicians who answer largely to car drivers.

    I’m just concerned that if we fight each other, that the LADOT is going to exercise it’s option to ignore us for another 10 years. Bees with honey. Bees with honey.

    At the end of the day a road diet, like Mihai says, is better than whats there. Lets not kill the good will and the progress that LACBC and many other advocates have hard fought won. It’s getting better and there is nothing wrong with demanding the best, unless of course it ruins our chances of getting anything.

  13. @Robert – Yes, thank you for correcting my mistake, typed in my 5:30am lunatic state of mind. That indeed rounds up to a two year period. Glad someone is double-checking the numbers.

    My posted chart is for a 3-yr time span, not the LADOT 2-year span. So the discrepancy isn’t 15 vs 28 reported incidents for the same period, it’s 15 vs 17 (regardless of whether you do Jan 01st 2008 – Dec 1st 2009, or Jan 31 – Dec 31st). Will remedy the post with another chart.

  14. Subjective Bureaucrat September 29th, 2011 at 8:22 am

    I am going to open my big mouth here. I very strongly back what Roadblock is saying here. The idea of a strategic attack for better bicycle infrastructure is crucial to changing the hearts and minds of the public. The simple fact is that the cycling community as a whole needs Bikeside for the strong stance that it takes on bicycling infrastructure. Someone has to push aggressively for the absolute best, most ideal and Bikeside seems to fill that role very well. At the same time our community needs an organization that will work like honey in the very messing business of getting things done. This at times requires compromise away from the ideals towards a more realistic end (that may not be the best). LACBC is amazing in this regard and having personally worked with them on a number of projects I can vouch that what they are accomplishing is nothing short of amazing in the current climate we find ourselves.

    That being said, I want the best and will continue to push for it everyday. Shoot for the stars, if you reach the moon that is a pretty amazing place to be.

    Professionally speaking there is no reason that we cannot have 10 ft lanes next to 6 (or 7) ft bike lanes. Bus drivers are well practiced at driving in narrow lanes. The bike lane (which does not always contain a cyclist) does well to assisting their turning radius and buffering them away from parked cars. It really is a win for everyone.

  15. @Roadblock -

    We differ here. But I think we can agree on this – a line of paint 5 ft from the parking lane *legally obligates* you to ride in or near the door zone. As well, you know how motorists react when cyclists do not ride in a bike lane when one is available – hysteria! The sky is falling! If a bike lane is there, people will feel obligated to ride there, door zone or no. And that means a door zone facility puts experienced and inexperienced cyclists at risk.

    @Cory –

    It’s all fine and dandy to work an opponent from both sides, but when the mainstream organization’s public rhetoric undermines the so-called-radical organization that makes the mainstream organization appealing to deal with, the mainstream organization risks the possibility that the radical organization will stop clearing obstacles for them . . . that the radical organization will find another field of play, go work there, and the mainstreamers will suddenly have to take full responsibility for getting their damn sharrows out of the door zone.

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