No more “door lanes”!

Gary Kavanagh's illustration of door zone bike lane - Door Lane!
Gary Kavanagh's illustration of door zone bike lane - Door Lane!

There’s a road diet proposed in Venice which will add bike lanes to Main St.  The road diet is controversial (check the comments on LA Streetsblog), as the bike lane is tight against parked cars, putting cyclist riding the center of the bike lane.  The proposal comes before Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) tomorrow (Tuesday) and below you can find my open letter to the board of directors.  For context: VNC and Mar Vista Community Council are adjacent to one another.

Edit: Mihai Peteu modified the Santa Monica Bike Map to show just the collisions taking place on the Main St bike lane in Santa Monica.  It paints a striking picture.  Not only are there a lot of collisions, but the usual ratio of 5 to 10 pedestrian collisions to every cycling collision is inverted: there are far more cycling collisions than pedestrian.  I can remember complaints about the Main St bike lane in Santa Monica since I started riding . . . and there’s been quite a number of awful collisions there, among them the Cathy Jones hit and run.  LADOT has stated that one benefit of the Main St project in Venice would be to continue the Main St. bike lane in Santa Monica.  This map calls into question the wisdom of continuing a door lane with a bad reputation, when the travel lanes are overly wide (11 feet).

Here’s the map, click through for the dynamic version:

Cyclist and pedestrian involved collisions in Santa Monica on Main St.  Map by Mihai Peteu and Jason Leung.
Cyclist and pedestrian involved collisions in Santa Monica on Main St. Map by Mihai Peteu and Jason Leung.

The letter:

Venice Neighborhood Council members,

I’m writing you to ask that you reject the motion for item 6-C (Main St Road Diet) and ask DOT to provide you with better, safer and more innovative options for Main St. I will try to be at VNC for the item, but I have a prior obligation in Santa Monica which runs till 8. If I cannot make it, these are my thoughts:

I have appeared before you on this item, as well as on the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights and other items. I’m writing as a Del Rey resident who still bikes on Main St, and who often rode it in 2008 and 2009 when I lived on Horizon Ave in Venice. My background in cycling activism includes co-founding Bikerowave, authoring elements of LA’s 2010 Bike Plan as President of Bikeside, and my work as board member of the Mar Vista Community Council.

There are two good reasons to reject this motion, a motion which voices support for an LADOT plan for modifying Main St. First, while LADOT has participated in the NC process by appearing before your committees, they have not offered you options, a key feature of democratic process. Second, the nature of the proposed bike lanes endangers cyclists perhaps as much as it protects them.

Neighborhood Councils should be offered options by city departments. Too often proposals shopped by the City are “my way or the highway.” In this case, LADOT’s proposal is “keep Main St the way it is, or change it to what we want.” To my knowledge, DOT has not offered other striping plans besides the plan under consideration. This lack of options gives VNC little leeway to express its vision of Venice.

The proposed road diet is controversial in the cycling community. Some cyclists, this advocate included, argue that, as a minimum standard bike lane, it puts cyclists at risk. This has been written about on LA Streetsblog, Gary Rides Bikes, and Bikeside.

The proposed bike lanes will be in what cyclists call the “door zone.” The door zone is the section of the road next to parked cars where, if someone opened their door while you were riding by, you would crash into the door. If you bike in the door zone you’re risking free open heart surgery at the hands of a car door.

These bike lanes are the minimum 5 foot width next to a minimum 7 foot wide parking lanes. LADOT may characterize the bike lanes as “up to standard”, but realize this is the minimum standard that LADOT must build to *by law*. A study of parking behavior conducted in San Francisco showed that in 1 in 7 cars, when the driver opened their door to get out, that door extended beyond 9.5 feet from the curb. In this case, 9.5 feet from the curb marks the dead center of the proposed bike lane. So the study suggests that 1 in 7 car doors will cover most of the bike lane – that’s a risky bike lane.

And even more risky because many riders in Venice are novices. A veteran of LADOT’s minimally supportive streets knows that when a bike lane is in the door zone, you ride the outside edge, escaping most doors. Casual cyclists usually don’t know this. And what makes Venice such a bike paradise is the thousands of casual cyclists riding the streets on any given day. A design like the one offered by LADOT puts those casual cyclists in the door zone – offering them a false sense of security.

DOT has been creating some innovative bike lanes recently in other parts of the city. In Central LA they’ve built a bike lane with a buffer, and in Highland Park they’re doing a painted bike lane. Why innovative options like this are not on the table in Venice is beyond me!

So I encourage you to ask questions and get at the core of the issue. I believe that LADOT can offer other designs, they simply have not. In my work as part of the Bike Plan Implementation Team, I have seen LADOT turn around new designs within a month, so asking for alternatives is not unrealistic, and it doesn’t risk much delay. I defer to whatever VNC concludes – y’all know your neighborhood and if I could somehow move back to Venice (make the rent lower!) I would!

Here’s some questions you could ask of LADOT:

  • We’ve heard that you are implementing bike innovations like buffered bike lanes and painted bike lanes in other parts of the city. Will you report back with new options that incorporate these kinds of elements?
  • Why can’t the travel lane widths be reduced from 11’ to 10’ to encourage lower travel speeds and provide additional width for bike lane design?
  • How often do you estimate a cyclist will be doored in the current proposed design?
  • Realistically, will large, 11′ travel lanes reduce traffic speeds? Isn’t reduction of travel speeds supposed to be a benefit of road diets?


Dr. Alex C Thompson
Community Director, Mar Vista Community Council
President, Bikeside

(PS – Joe Linton pointed out that there is no MUTCD specified minimum width for a parking lane, so I got that wrong.  However, functionally it doesn’t make much difference, as cars don’t shrink if you make the parking lane narrower, and most cars are nearly 7′ wide.)

Alex Thompson

Bikerowave co-founder, Cyclists' Bill of Rights co-author, President of Bikeside, and Math Phd. HULK SMASH straight from Michigan!

12 thoughts on “No more “door lanes”!

  1. I agree with your overall points – the design would, as you state, be better and safer, if LADOT would do 10′ travel lanes. Nonetheless, I think that, as is, I would favor the NC approving it and getting the road diet on the ground. I think it’s a good step in the right direction.

    In some places LADOT does 6.5′ parking lanes, occasionally with 5′ bike lanes – ie: on part of Sunset Blvd. That’s an even tighter configuration, that makes for a even more door zone than 7/5.

    I personally think that 7′ parking and 5′ bike lane is fine (and much preferable to sharrows.) Yes, much of the lane is often in the door zone. Yes, sometimes riders get doored … but less confident newbie riders ride in the door zone wherever there are parked cars. And the standard bike lane has been studied by city of Cambridge and found, overall, to result in bikes and cars in safer lane position. Road diets have been studied by Federal Highway Agency FHWA and shown to be safer for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians – mostly they’re safer because they eliminate a dangerous blind spot when a driver turns left across two lanes of traffic.

  2. Though it’s not the perfect landscaped cycling greenway that I see in my dreams: the road with the wide cycling paths down the center, a separate path for dog walkers, most car parking removed, and cars crowded way over to the sides. It’s a very satisfactory, state of the art, road diet designed to current standards by LADOT. The width of the bike lanes is fine. It varies in width along the route considerably.

    There a bus maintenance depot on this part of Main street, so there’s a lot of bus traffic. In general yes,they should be 10’travel lanes. I can see the need for 11′ travel lanes for these buses. Otherwise the buses will tend to impinge the bike lane.

    I attended a meeting with LODOT engineers, sponsored by Ken Rosenthal’s office for the VNC and all those interested. I had a few minor suggestions concerning bicycle traffic which I’m not sure are in the plans – I encourage these additions to the plan.

    Put a bike box at the end of the path at the Windward circle, and the major cross streets of Abbot Kinney, and Rose. (A bike box is a painted green area in front of the stopline for cars.) This will put bicyclists out in front of the cars, where they are more visible, at the place where the most bicycle accidents are likely to occur.

    Also, LADOT sees this as a singular project. I see it as a piece of the landscape of Venice. Lets have them to put some wayfinding signage up. Think how important road signs are! Add a few more signs to direct cyclists to the bike path and for bike path connections. I’m envisioning an iconic sign on the circle directing bicyclists across the bike lane gap to the Venice Bvld bike lanes and one there over to the Main street bike lanes. Another sign on Rose to the bike path further along. There are a lot of visitors in Venice, and more will come by bike if we help them find their way.

    I agree with Joe above, better to get lanes on the street that wait for some slightly better configuration. I believe the road diet for Main street will be a great improvement for bicycling in the area. I urge everyone to come to the VNC meeting tonight.

  3. Sure, it’s not perfect but it’s progress. Once the lanes are implemented and used it will become evident how valuable these bike lanes will be to everyone. If they are the success that most cyclists imagine them to be then they will inevitably become improved.

  4. I think that this is better than nothing. It my not be the ideal, but that doesn’t mean the project doesn’t have elements that shouldn’t be supported.

    According to police records, of the 70 reported vehicle-bicycle collisions that have occurred in SM, 41 were the fault of the cyclist. Now this is of course dependent on the police report and their interpretation of the incident. However, if it is the case that the majority of these accidents were the fault of the bicyclists I don’t think showing the number of collisions above does much, if anything, to bolster your argument. Ultimately, peds and cyclists are generally safer where there are greater numbers of peds and cyclists using the facility. I believe the proposed road diet will encourage use of these facilities until a better option is possible.

  5. “Sure, it’s not perfect but it’s progress.” – f ron miller

    “I think that this is better than nothing.” – Mig

    “I think it’s a good step in the right direction.” – JL

    “I agree with Joe above, better to get lanes on the street that wait for some slightly better configuration.” – Eric Weinstein

    What is everyone afraid of? Bikeside invested minimal resources in this effort and got 6 inches, while LACBC, who spends half a million dollars a year, endorsed the plan the minute DOT submitted it, and got no improvement in return. They’re not going to pull the project off the table because we asked for better.

  6. Awesome – I was totally ready to take what LADOT put on the table… and, mainly due to your banging on it, Alex, you got us cyclists an extra foot! Good job!

  7. Alex, i agree with your position – we need to demand better bike facilities rather than accept mediocre installations that will only serve to give unsuspecting cyclists a false sense of security.

    Mig on the issue of fault, SMPD is notorious for citing CVC 21202(a) to inaccurately place the fault on a bicyclist. Law enforcement still interprets this provision as a bicyclist must ride as far right as POSSIBLE, instead of the correct term of as far right as PRACTICABLE. Furthermore, the exceptions in 21202(a), noted below, are often conveniently ignored when this citation is used to place blame on bicyclists.

    (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

    (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

    (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or SUBSTANDARD WIDTH LANES that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of 21656.

    (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

    My guess is the number of police reports placing bicyclist at fault would be significantly reduced if SMPD correctly interpreted the full provision of 21202(a) with its exceptions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *