The Backbone Bikeway Network (LABP 20/100)

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!

Alex Thompson

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