The Backbone Bikeway Network (LABP 20/100)

By Alex Thompson

If you open the draft of the proposed Bike Plan, and you flip to the maps, you’ll find a sixteen pages of confusing mess: dashed lines, dotted lines, infeasible lines, and tiny street names.  By contrast, when the Bike Working Group publishes its Best Bike Plan (a community effort to produce a ambitious bike plan for LA), you’ll be able to flip to the centerfold, and view three clean, coherent maps outlining a system of bikeways that will get you anywhere in the city.

Backbone Bikeway Network, Central Area (updated)

Backbone Bikeway Network, Central Area (updated) - click to enlarge

It’s the Backbone Bikeway Network.  The Backbone Bikeway Network will get you from Downtown to West LA, Crenshaw to Valley Village, and LAX to Hollywood.  The Backbone doesn’t have neighborhood level detail, because that’s not what a citywide system is for – this system gets you 5 and 10 and 20 miles across town.  It goes on major streets – arterials – unlike the proposed Bike Plan, and it gets you within striking distance of major destinations like Dodger Stadium and City Hall.

This is the first section – the Central Area.  Mad props are due to Mihai Peteu for designing this beautiful map – let’s hear it for Mihai!  In the next few days we’ll come out with the Valley map, and the South LA map.  This is the hardwork of the 3rd Bike Working Group, and we fought and loved over each decision.  Therefore, we invite you to criticize!

Here’s a basic criticism: what do you do once you get near your destination and you must leave the Backbone?  Then you make use of the neighborhood network.  The neighborhood network is whatever the neighborhood has – bike lanes, sharrows, traffic calming, narrow streets with high speeds and pot holes, wide streets with calm traffic, whatever happens to exist there.

The draft plan fell into a trap – it tried to describe the big picture (the Backbone) and it tried to describe the small picture (the neighborhoods), in one step.  It did that all at one level of detail, street by street, zoomed all the way in.  That might work for a small town, but for such a big city, it’s confusing at best.  Trying to use the city’s draft to understand the big picture is like using a Thomas guide to get to Vegas.

Now, you might say, “if they implement the proposed plan, it won’t matter that the maps are hard to read, just so long as the facilities exist.”  Well, sure, if it was a good plan.  However, it’s pretty clear that when they were designing the plan the designers were zoomed way in too.  Proposed bikeways squiggle and end, and they change types.  By designing with the map zoomed all the way in, they lost the big picture, and we ended up with a vision-less proposal for a bikeway system.  Moreover, as Joe Linton showed us, when you do the math, there really wasn’t much planned in the draft proposal.

We left out the neighborhood network because we wanted a clear, communicable vision of what city connectivity could be, and should be.  However, we’ve got a secret tool box of innovative approaches we hope to deploy in neighborhoods.  I’ll give you some clues – they involve neighborhood level democracy, cut through traffic, and mini-humans.

The Backbone doesn’t lack vision, but it demands political will.  At $8,000 per mile of bike lane, striping this network would cost next to nothing.  However, it will take political will to stand up to the status quo who don’t want to come to the bike party – it’s an ambitious plan.  I say, “so what?”  I’m here to stay and we’re prepared to develop and supply the political will to make this happen.  I will personally go to neighborhood councils along these stretches and make impassioned pleas for support.  We will make it happen, we only require the endorsement of City Council of the concept.

Over the next few days we’ll post the other maps, and provide a few more details about the Bike Working Group’s conception of the Backbone.  Until then, weigh in!

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61 Responses to “The Backbone Bikeway Network (LABP 20/100)”

  1. Gorgeous. To quote Captain Picard, “Make It So.”

  2. Alex this looks great. I hope to see more of this including glendale blvd from riverside (and into glendale)through 2nd st to the gold line at alameda. that is a major arterial st and pretty much the only way to get to DTLA from Hollywood. connects with sunset bike lane as well. great work that you guys are doing!

  3. Alex – nice write up and thanks for doing the work of distilling the comments from BWG 3.

  4. You need a few more details to make this more legitmate in the eyes of politicians and the technocrats that they deal with daily:

    What types of bike lanes/paths would these be? Protected or painted between parked cars and traffic?

    Total mileage of system once completed

    Estimated total cost to complete

    With these numbers, we can push for grant applications to be filed by the city, we can ask for private donors to pony up, we can hit up foundations and health insurance companies (looking for regional savings in the overall health and safety of their clients) and push to make sure that we find resources to get this done.

  5. flippinbirdsfromtheshoulder February 2nd, 2010 at 10:45 am

    This looks great. As a recent addition to the two wheeled community, I’m already tired of inconsiderate motorists, badly designed lane schemes, and the generally disjointed nature of the current bike lane network. My question is this: what next? What needs to happen in order to get these lanes put in place? I’m a fairly intelligent Angelino with limited local governmental connections, is there anything in particular that I can do?

    I linked follow up comments to my email, so comment with any ideas. Let’s get moving!

  6. I have some suggestions for a backbone for the valley… I’ll show them to you at the hollywood NC tonight

  7. I’m really loving this. My only suggestion – and perhaps this is asking too much financially – is that you push for these bike lanes be protected.

    I really think that for long distance travels it’s important for cyclists to feel very comfortable and safe, and I think that consciously or unconsciously fear is a big reason why more people continue to chose cars over bikes. I take my bike every day to work, but I’m frankly leary of riding down streets like Venice, even though it has a bike lane.

    I’m definitely a big believer in sharing the road, and I’m not trying to give motorists a break by suggesting the lanes be protected. But I do believe protected lanes on the city-wide plan would result in much greater usage, more people choosing bikes over cars, and less danger to cyclists.

    In either case I love this plan.

  8. What kind of bike lanes do you propose? Personally I suggest following Danish model of having bicycle lanes be same size as car lanes.

  9. Apologies for my first moniker (flippinbirdsfromtheshoulder). It’s funny, but it doesn’t really convey sincerity.

    Question for Alex and/or anyone already immersed in this process: What are the political realities of this situation at a municipal level? For example, I would imagine this project to be something that the LA city council would have to adopt? If so, where do individual councilmembers stand on issues related to say, cyclist safety vs. traffic flow management? (It seems to me that though our idyllic bill of rights characterizes, and rightfully so, cycling as a traffic management solution; the majority of motorists would consider any re-striping to be a flow inhibitor.)

    Also, if this is an issue that needs support on a council level, who are the best allies to seek out in terms of endorsements, and have any of these individuals/groups been contacted?

    I’ve worked for NC’s before, and am familiar with the process of obtaining their support. Is this the purpose of tonight’s showing?

    Okay, sorry, that’s it. I have a ton of questions. Please take them as indicators of how serious I am about getting some real momentum behind this project. I’m new to it all, but willing and able to learn quickly and take up the good fight, so to speak.

  10. I agree with UrbanReason. It’s something we all know, but the roadways and drivers (texting or talking or applying make-up) here are intimidating. If there were protected paths, I’d be far more likely to ride the 30miles r/t to work. As it is now I drive 3x a week and work at home x2. I commend all the cyclists I pass on Venice Blvd., but frankly am not willing to ride Venice Blvd (then Alvarado and Glendale) after dark. Thank you for the macro Backbone Bikeway Network map and thinking. Having recently moved from NYC, I do venture out on my bike (and will more!) and look forward to meeting more of the LA cycling community.

  11. Completely agree about the importance of protected lanes. I commuted by bike through Hollywood for a year. During that time I was in three accidents. After the third I decided it was not worth dying to ride my bike.

  12. So where do the bike lanes go? Between parked cars and the right lane? Instead of the parked cars? Which major arteries will be closed to motorized vehicles and turned into bike lanes? What would happen to the businesses on these streets? How about the crime factor? This plan is talking major upheaval. I am a bike advocate and recreational rider but really folks – Los Angeles? I see nothing here but long wide stripes on a map. Bring some nuts and bolts to the next meeting.

  13. From Seattle: What a huge task you all have taken on. I believe that success with this in LA will get the attention of the rest of the worlds leaders. Alternatives to unhealthy automobile use is needed in every corner of the globe. What an inspiration this will be for all. Thank you

  14. what about south l.a.??

  15. Are cities like Beverly Hills and WeHo involved? I ask because the Santa Monica corridor end abruptly and dangerously in Beverly hills and the road there is a bit too narrow to assume simple striping. Any thoughts about getting them to play ball?

  16. I’m in San Diego. We’ve got nothing like this.(I wish!!) Not even on paper or with a group working to make it happen, as far as I know. This looks great. I wish you success and will use this, and the L.A. Bike Working Group, as inspiration to see if we can do something similar down here.

  17. If we could do it in NYC with narrow, clogged streets (and more aggressive drivers), I think we can find a way to build protected lanes here in Los Angeles. The deference to the car here is bewildering. When the lanes were built in NYC the streets weren’t closed, parking wasn’t done away with and businesses enjoyed increased visibility.

  18. This would resolve my major impediment to riding to work. A safe route is 8 miles with more hills than the direct route, which is 5 miles but dangerous (Beverly Blvd). If this were implemented my route would be 6 miles and nearly flat … perfection.

  19. Great idea. The map looks wonderful. Just one question: What are the dotted lines? I don’t see a key with an explanation. Thanks.

  20. I like the enthusiasm, but from street level some of this plan might be difficult to carry-out. For example, northbound Crenshaw, from the freeway on, is a hairy ride. And Wilshire has so many potholes, patches and pitfalls that it’s hell on axles.

    To grk who got in three accidents in one year: ride WITH the flow of traffic, stop at red lights and stay off the sidewalk and you’ll be fine.

  21. its a great start but there is no route from the Central SFV. it would be nice to have a path on Barham pass and Cahuenga pass. I ride that every morning and its dangerous.

  22. JV-

    All good tips on riding, but nothing to do with my accidents.

    – car on wrong side of road avoiding construction sending me off road
    -truck pulling out from strip mall directly in front of/into me
    -the dreaded car door opening.
    None were even that bad in terms of injury, but all were close calls.

  23. JV:

    Agreed on the perils of being doored. Tis the principal argument in favor of a project such as the 9th ave. project linked in J.’s earlier post. A striped bike lane is fine, but if it’s within 3 feet of parked cars, I simply will refuse to use it.

  24. oops. Meant to address grk.

  25. There is potential for “being doored” even on the big fat bike lanes, such as on Venice Blvd. The only remedy for that is to keep your head up and pay attention (and try to stay a door-width from cars, if possible). Dedicated lanes, such as the Orange Line route across The Valley, are the best, though hardly a practical alternative on this side of the mountain.

  26. JV:

    I’m not entirely clear on why you’re arguing as though you’re lecturing a bunch of kids who just learned how to ride a bike. I think it’s safe to assume most people commenting on this post are aware of bike law and basic bike safety.

    Bike lanes can be built in a way in which they are protected from vehicular traffic, and keep you from getting doored. Why so defensive?

    It’s great that you’re providing so many helpful tips, but I don’t think I understand your point.

  27. …because he doored a biker once, and teh guilt…IT BURNS!!!1!!!

    /I keed

  28. J.; I saw your examples of NYC bike lanes: One-way streets were used, and an entire lane was removed from vehicle use. In L.A., streets would lose two lanes – one in each direction, and the resulting traffic would be unbearable. Imagine major arteries becoming single lane in each direction. One doesn’t need to drive in NYC, whereas one does need a vehicle of some kind in L.A. A few blocks of a single bike lane on 9th Ave. does not convince me.

  29. Guys – keep it civil, and keep it inspiring, or else I will be forced to HULK SMASH!

    BTW – to all – more posts on this forthcoming – don’t believe that you’ve read the full story yet. I’d love to answer all these questions but I’m totally buried . . . keep the good critiques coming.

  30. Otis — you’re very quick to make a suggestion or example seem impossible or implausible here in LA. I’m not suggesting shutting streets or further clogging arteries. Some streets, like Venice for example, have plenty of room for at least 1 separate bike lane for much of it’s length. I drive it at rush hour so I think I have a valid point of view. I don’t think traffic would be unbearable. And imagine — more people like myself would be riding bikes and alleviating the car traffic.

    Do you think 8th or 9th avenue in Manhattan didn’t already have traffic congestion? Of course it did — but a decision was made to take steps to accommodate something other than the car. As you say, one doesn’t *need* to drive in NYC (and I didn’t own a car), but the congestion on those roads is worse than many LA streets and they still put in the lanes.

    I’m not suggesting 2 bike lanes on every green line on the above map, but I think there are some huge improvements to be made. No one balked when streets with no bike (or sometimes pedestrian) access were built in this city. Don’t you think that mind-set should change?

  31. J:

    I’m definitely with you on that. I think the fear of traffic being unbearable with reduced lanes comes from a similar place as the myth that adding lanes decreases congestion. Several studies have shown (Sorry, I don’t have the actual sources on hand – but one of the studies is mentioned in Duany, Plater-Zyberk & Spark’s book Suburban Nation) that this is likely not true, and that within a few years traffic on roads with added lanes will be just as bad as it was before the new lanes due to the increased confidence of travelers taking non-critical short-distance trips.

    Conversely, the theory would suggest that removing lanes will simply decrease the number of short, unnecessary trips taken. When you add bike lanes and the fact that a whole new group of travelers will now feel safe enough to make short trips by bike – you’ll likely either end up with the same or less traffic as before removing those lanes.

    Overcoming that (understandable, but unfounded) fear from motorists about increased congestion is a big hurdle, as I see it. But as it is, you can already get almost anywhere in LA proper at the same speed by bike as by car. It seems logical enough on the surface, but I don’t think there’s any evidence that adding bike-lanes and even taking away traffic lanes will make traffic congestion any worse.

  32. Speck, not Spark. Sorry.

  33. Alex et al. – nice work with the map, but a quick thought that came to me while riding home: Is there any possibility of finding an east/west route between Wilshire and Venice? Pico’s pretty miserable and Olympic has some mean stretches, but I’m just trying to imagine how I’d travel from somewhere like Olympic/Fairfax to Pico/Sepulveda.

    Seriously though: Nice work.

  34. @You – South LA/South Bay and SFV maps are coming!

    I love the constructive discussion this has sparked. Please do come to the next LA Bike Working Group meeting, this is the kind of feedback we need from you guys. We want as many riders as possible to put their stamp of approval on this rogue bike plan of hours.

    Stay tuned for more maps and the next LABWG meeting place and time.

  35. Many ask what the green lines represent.

    Well, ideally, I’d like to see bike lane PLUS sharrow in the lane right next to it.

    If there isn’t enough space for a bike lane, and a road diet is totally out of the question, a sharrow with a bright and visible green stripe down the middle would be just fine in my book – check out Long Beach’s sharrow pilot project:

    Isn’t that simply beautiful??
    1) This says “Cyclists allowed by law to ride in the lane. Don’t you dare honk”
    2) Also, by putting the sharrow slightly to the left of the middle of the lane, it entices riders to stay out of the (usually) crappy pavement and debris near the curb.

    How expensive can paint possibly be?!?! They can’t say no to our demands. Our safety and lives are on the line.

  36. @Mihai;

    A.MEN. Seriously, this is a great idea.

  37. Yes, I’m also loving the Long Beach work. In addition to the above Mihai points out, behold the BOX:

  38. The Backbone Bikeway Network ( was created by cyclists for cyclists because the LADOT’s draft bike plan failed not only in the eyes of the city, but also in the eyes of various organizations, advocates and individual cyclists.

    The Backbone Bikeway Network would give the cyclists a safe and fast way to get across town to the same destination that motorists go.

    The Backbone Bikeway Network would mandate that these streets would be first priority for street services, repair, maintenance, and for LAPD enforcement, LADOT resurfacing, Caltrans repairs, etc..

    This would benefit motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and businesses. These streets won’t need special paint, nor would it take away from motorists because they don’t own it. The streets (all streets) belong to humans and it is bad to suggest that the BBN would be for one user at the expense of another.

    Streets are paid for in many ways, including sales tax, general funds, fed and state money, not just gas tax. Please google it and you’ll find info. Also, the tear and wear on the streets that we all (motorists, cyclists, peds, roller bladers, scooter drivers, etc.) pay for with our sales tax, far outweigh the tear and wear that cyclists cause on the street.

    In addition we all pay for the traffic police, the fire department support, the damage to the environment and the health care and insurance costs for a mode (cars) that kills 40K people a year and injures many times more. We all pay for the costs incurred by an auto-centric culture.

    When the city is laying off people and budget cuts are inevitable, the DOT’s proposed bike plan is not going to see any fruition for years. Mowery can testify to that. The LADOT’s bike plan is a dog & pony show. Bikeways is going to be one of the first departments that is going to be cut.

    Cyclists and motorists, we need to band together and make the streets safe for all users. Both men and women outgrow their driving years by about 10 years, so we are all together in this. We need to make the streets that are already taking us to school, to work, to shopping and employment centers safe for all users and the Backbone Bikeway Network guarantees just that.

  39. Excellent! And clear.
    A couple suggestions:
    1) Use the rivers and creeks, or show them as opportunities. LA River, Ballona creek etc.
    2) Connect to the Valley
    I would argue that this is where the bike plan STARTS. (cue music)
    Did the Brits plan a train network with tracks to nowhere? NO
    Did the Eisenhower administration plan a freeway network that failed to connect cities? NO
    Incremental infill is only possible IF you have a backbonoe to begin with.
    The current plan looks like an invertabrate splashed on my windshield.

  40. I think many existing paths are great, but really scary at night…like Ballona Creek…how about lighing for these routes…solar lights that at least get us a few hours past dusk, when most people are still commuting home from work. On the designated bikeways on city streets, they could be marked at night with periodic solar powered LED lights embedded in the street…to mark the way and also give a heads up to motorists…perhaps a flashing green color or flashing pink or something not already used by some other function…


    Think about it.

  42. Also on the elevated bike paths you can have a pedestrian walking side to maximize safety and efficiency for everyone.

    Keeps pedestrians and bikers away from the cars. They could be enclosed in that 1″ chain link


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