By Jim Smith
Most of use spend the majority of our time outside our houses on the streets and in the buildings of Venice. The exceptions are those who use Venice as a bedroom community from which they depart each day on a long commute to a faraway job.
Unfortunately, transportation gurus and actual planning is concerned almost exclusively with moving people long distances via freeways, rail and rapid buses. Planning for getting around Venice is almost nonexistent.
Cars aside, the most likely ways of moving around Venice are bikes, shuttles, walking, and skating. That is, if we accept the premise that driving a car only a few blocks, and trying to park it, is counterproductive. Driving a car also adds to pollution and costs more and more as gasoline prices rise. Electric cars reduce some of these problems but they still must be parked somewhere. A previous Beachhead article (Nov. 2002) showed that nearly any place in Venice can be biked to in 10 minutes or less.
The Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation has finally gotten around to painting bike sharrows on a Venice street. Abbot Kinney Blvd. now has the image of a bicycle here and there on the surface of the street. Is it a joke? What do they mean? There is no explanation to motorists about how they should alter their driving. Many drivers run right over them.
Like some kind of cargo cult, the LADOT has taken a symbol to designate a bike lane and smacked it right in the middle of auto traffic. And smack is what is likely to happen to cyclists who think they have some measure of safety because of the sharrow. The sharrows are just the latest example of LADOT’s incompetence (or are they jokesters?) when it comes to tinkering with AKB. A few years ago, they re-stripped the street to include a center lane whose purpose seems to be to allow parking for UPS trucks when their drivers are making deliveries. Next came the bizarre cross walk connecting Rialto and Palms. Bizarre because it includes flashing lights for motorists which are invisible to those attempting to cross Abbot Kinney. Is the light on? Is it off? Let’s gamble our lives that it’s on. Here we go…crash.
While LADOT’s ineptness might be funny, it is no laughing matter to those who have been hit by cars, either trying to cross the street on foot or biking down it. The sharrows will just make matters worse. They don’t provide room for a car and a bike side by side.
What Abbot Kinney Blvd. needs is less cut through traffic and buffered bike lanes. The street is now classified as a secondary highway. But CalTrans, the state agency, has indicated that it would be willing to drop that designation and return AKB to the status of a street, where traffic calming measures could be used. Unfortunately, there is at present no city of Venice to ask CalTrans to make it so. And there is no way to impose a congestion tax on non-resident drivers for using our small streets as thoroughfares. Venice, after all, is in the coastal zone. It is a destination for those seeking recreation and relaxation. It is not a short cut for those going to and from their jobs in other cities.
A buffered bike lane is defined as a part of the street devoted to bikes and separated from car traffic. The safest way to do this is to put the bike lane next to the curb and move the auto parking into the street. On Abbot Kinney, this would involve eliminating the UPS lane and having one lane for auto traffic in each direction. Bikes would flock to the street and cars could still go their merry way.
Again, the lack of a Venice city administration makes planning and doing something that makes sense for Venice a difficult undertaking.
L.A.’s Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, suffered a broken elbow in a bike accident in July. He was riding on the bike lane when a taxi pulled out from the curb right into him. Had the bike lane been next to the curb, he, and many others in similar situations, would have avoided injury.
Buffered bike lanes could also be used on some of our bigger streets like Grand, Main, Venice, Washington and perhaps Rose. If they are 50 feet or wider, they could have buffered bike lanes.
Lincoln Blvd. needs radical surgery. I would suggest a trench be dug from the Santa Monica city limits to Maxella for through traffic. It would be similar to the tunnel on Sepulveda that goes under LAX, but it would be much cheaper as a trench. The top of the trench would be open in the middle, letting air and light into the speeding thoroughfare below. Except for this gap, the top would be paved as a street for local traffic. It would have room for one lane of auto traffic, a buffered bike lane and wide sidewalks. Pedestrians would be able to cross Lincoln without first taking out a life insurance policy. Tear down that wall of traffic! Reunite east and west Venice!
Venice needs shuttles for both tourists and for residents. Tourists could ride a shuttle from parking lots a mile or more away. Residents, particularly seniors and disabled, could ride to markets and other Venice shopping areas. Fares could be adjusted as they are on the Vaporetto (water bus) in Venice, Italy, where tourists pay 6.50 Euros for a ride while residents pay only 1.10 Euro.
Of course, seniors (honored citizens as they are called in Portland, Oregon) should ride free. The shuttles should be all electric and perhaps include London-style double-decker buses to entice tourists to ride them. They could be a source of revenue for the future city of Venice.
Venice is fortunate to have routes of the Santa Monica Blue Bus as well as the MTA and the Culver City Bus. Yet, as far as I can tell service has not improved or changed in the 40 years that I’ve been riding them. Of course, the fares have gone up. The only significant improvements have been in “rapid” buses. The Blue Bus Rapid 3 is a fast, cheap and convenient way to get to LAX. I can’t imagine why anyone would drive there any more. The new MTA Rapid 33 on Venice Blvd. is useful for going down to L.A. City Hall to complain about something or to go to Union Station to catch the Metrolink or Amtrak;however, when I took it to Union Station from the Venice Post Office it took more than an hour. We have still not caught up with the old Red Car speeds of 100 years ago. In any case, Venice shuttles should link with bus stops to make them more convenient to ride.
When testifying on the Venice Community Plan back in the 1990s, I suggested that a Venice “walking, biking and skating zone” be created. I believe that should still be a goal of Venetians. Automobiles were not part of Abbot Kinney’s original plan for Venice. It was to be a town of adequate mass transit, including multiple trolley lines. There was even a miniature railroad that snaked through Venice. Walking was the main thing, however. From the beginning Ocean Front Walk and Windward Blvd. were closed to vehicles. The canals provided leisurely transportation via gondolas.
Walking doesn’t require much infrastructure and skating can be done on buffered bike lanes (except on the beach). However, sidewalks on many streets are too narrow and should be widened. Horror of horrors, that would encroach on the world of automobiles. Exactly.
Today, many people believe they cannot function without their cars. While a car is good to have if you want to take a trip out of Venice, it’s not needed for 90 percent of trips within Venice. Let’s all take a vow today that we will not fire up a car to take a trip within Venice except when absolutely necessary. I believe that Venice would become even more of a paradise if everyone would do this.