Thoughts on Main St Road Diet and Bike Lane Extension
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…
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.