The Backbone Bikeway Network (Backbone) is a network of major boulevards in Los Angeles that Bikeside and the City of Los Angeles have committed to making plush, encouraging, and safe for pedestrians and cyclists.  The proposal was developed by a series of workshops known as the Bike Working Group.  Eventually, after many conversations, a lot of work and some tough battles, the City of LA made the Backbone the center piece of the 2010 Bike Plan.

The Backbone is in essence a goal: make the Backbone boulevards bikable, walkable, livable.  It is not necessarily a commitment to protected bike lanes on every street, or a commitment to any specific physical treatment.  Instead, it is a commitment to hold Backbone’s boulevards to a higher standard of connectivity and livability, employing whatever forms of engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation which will get the job done.

The Backbone was first developed by the Bike Working Group.  It began as principle #3 of 12 for LA’s Best Bike Plan – a plan that activists sought to create to draw contrast between the City of LA’s draft plan in 2009, and what a visionary plan would look like.  Here’s the list of principles, authored by Alex Thompson:

  • 1 – Genesis: Every street is a street that cyclists will ride.
  • 2 – Action: LA must commit to the implementation of key measures within 2 years.
  • 3 – All City: A Backbone Bikeway network will be the engineering focus in the immediate future.
  • 4 – Transformation: Neighborhood pilots projects to create pockets of ultra bike friendliness, including bike boulevards.
  • 5 – Strength: Any new plan should go through a full programmatic EIR.
  • 6 – Intelligence: Evaluate success by measuring progress against goals, timelines, bike counts, and collision data.
  • 7 – A Generation: Get em’ young – building a car-free army from LA’s youngest generation – beginning at the school level.
  • 8 – Justice: LAPD will under go mandatory 8 hour training in cyclists’ rights, laws concerning cyclists, and practical bike training.
  • 9 – Execution: Move Bikeways out of LADOT.
  • 10 – Democracy: The plan must be approved by cyclists, or the NCs.
  • 11 – Total: The six Es – Equality, Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation – give the structure of the plan.
  • 12 – Equality: The Cyclists’ Bill of Rights is the foundation for the plan.

At the meeting of the Bike Working Group (open to the public) where these principles were introduced, participant identified 3 new principles they would like to include in this list.  Then participants voted on their favorite principles, and eventually chose the Backbone as their top principle.

From that meeting onward the Bike Working Group refined the proposal.  Ultimately it took on new flavors, including suggestions from Box for better integrated decision making in the City of LA, to signage proposals by Jeremy Grant.  Ultimately, the Bike Working Group chose more than 300 miles of blighted boulevard to serve LA’s 469 square miles as targets for the ambitious Backbone project.

This proposal was initially poo-pooed by staff in radio debates on the Pat Morrison show and elsewhere.  However, Department of City Planning Staff did include aspects of the Backbone in their redrafted bike plan when it was released in fall 2010.  This bike plan was still unsatisfactory to activists, however.  Historically unfriendly orgs pulled together to stop the draft 2010 Bike Plan from moving through the planning commission on November 4th, 2010.

After this stop, staff were inclined to reconsider the merits of the Backbone.  With support from the Planning Commission, particularly Diego Cardoso and Barbara Romero, and support from Mayor Villaraigosa, 2010 Bike Plan architect Claire Bowin added the Backbone to the plan.  In the process Bikeside worked with Bowin to restructure the form and presentation of the bikeway networks in the 2010 Bike Plan, and ultimately the Backbone ended up the as the central element of the city’s planned bikeway networks.

Today the Backbone is becoming reality through the efforts of Bikeside, the City’s Bike Plan Implementation Team (a task force mixing departmental staff with cycling citizens), and the efforts of cyclists across Los Angeles.