I’m going to come right out and say it: West LA commuters are about to get their shit fucked up for a year by CalTrans and Metro. And I believe that while those commuters are covering the brakes, the transportation movement has an opportunity to accelerate.
I’m referring, of course, to the planned ramp closures on Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards that are part of the 405 Widening Project. The first phase of closures begins in August, and the subsequent phases eventually touch all eight ramps. Some ramps will be closed for up to 90 days. That’s three months of detours, three months of crawling traffic, three months of getting to work late. See the table for the specific dates, and plan accordingly!
You may say, “That’s no big deal for me, I don’t have to take the 405.” My response is that you don’t have to take the 405 to feel the effects of these closures. Consider that, in October, three of the four ramps on and off of Wilshire will be closed at the same time. This may result in increased traffic on Sunset and Santa Monica. However, as Josef Brayj-Ali points out in Traffic is Not Like Water, stopping up the Wilshire ramps does not correspond to “damming the 405 river,” and the outcome can’t be predicted accurately.
You may say, “Do drivers even read BikesideLA? I’m a cyclist, and I’m going to zip past those jammed-up cars like I’m Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone!” My response to that is “That’s great!” But it’s not nearly good enough. I’m calling out the need to look beyond the individual benefits that we enjoy as two-wheelers, and to embrace the collective advantages that we provide to all road users. These ramp closures are a golden opportunity for the City and the bike community to demonstrate that putting more people on bikes, on buses and in carpools can reduce the strain on our failing infrastructure.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that trips from the Westside to the Valley should be made via bike during the construction. What we should look at is increasing the number of local trips within West LA that don’t need a car. What I envision is a highly targeted effort in the Westwood Village, Brentwood, Sawtelle, and West LA neighborhoods to lighten the load on their streets. An effort that would help us overcome the chaos that will inevitably result from the broken traffic flow. An effort that could establish a precedent which outlives the 405 Widening Project.
The foundation of this effort would be two-way outreach to inform the community, and to gather suggestions for improvements. I’d love to engage the Neighborhood Councils and Homeowners Associations to get residential blocks and apartment buildings organized around commuting together. Imagine a handful of “bike buses” traversing West LA, or full loads of passengers emerging from sedans upon arriving at the office.
We could use some help from larger organizations, too. While the City is posting “Detour” signs to funnel cars to the next available on-ramp, it could also designate some safe routes for cyclists. Local businesses could participate by offering promotions to patrons who arrive by bike or transit. After all, better traffic flow on a street can only result in more exposures for the storefronts on that street. There are lots of possibilities, and I would appreciate your ideas in the comments!
Let’s get prepared to milk this opportunity, and to demonstrate that promoting cycling means promoting more efficient road use, which benefits everyone.