Are we doomed to have a second-rate bicycle network?

By Jim Smith

The Neighborhood Council’s grudging approval, in concept, of the proposed Main Street bike lanes, Sept. 20, came only after city officials said it was their way or the (car) highway. It would take months, even years, to implement any changes, said Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation (DOT) officials.

One of the problems with the plan that concerned the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) Board was the dangerous side-by-side lanes for cars, buses, trucks and bikes. If people on bikes try to keep their distance from the big vehicles, they run the risk of being “doored,” that is, hit by a driver’s door from a parked car when it suddenly opens.

Alex Thompson, president of Bikeside (who introduced himself as the other Alex Thompson), Board member Amanda Seward and I, spoke in favor of bikes and other vehicles being separated by parked cars. In other words, put the bikes by the curb, then parked cars and finally other vehicles in the center of the road. This arrangement is called buffered bike lanes and is used throughout Europe. It’s also being used more and more in the U.S., including New York City, Portland and Long Beach, among other cities. DOT officials protested that buffered bike lanes were not in their “toolkit.”

Apparently, DOT engineers and managers went to school when bikes were not an important consideration. They are auto-centric. They seem to consider bikes just another type of car, perhaps a two-wheeled car. It is similar to when personal computers were first introduced. Many people considered them just another form of typewriter, and called them Word Processors.

In fact, bikes are on the verge of radically changing the way we live. As bikes become more common than cars, commutes will become shorter, neighborhood stores will reappear, communities will become more sociable.

No one died for mistaking a computer for a typewriter, but bike riders are often seriously injured or killed because of unsafe road conditions. How many more car-bike crashes will it take before DOT stops whining about plan changes and starts implementing safe bike routes by means of buffered bike lanes, bike-only streets, car-only streets, education for auto drivers, more signage and sharrows, wider bike lanes, bike signals at intersections, reduced speed limit streets and other safety features.

Given their past performance, the entire DOT may have to be sent to reeducation camps to learn that bikes are not cars. Remember, these are the people who gave us a crosswalk on Abbot Kinney and Palms where pedestrians cannot tell if the light for cars has changed to green or if it is still red.

They are the people who, in a fit of sadistic humor, threw bikes, cars and buses together in one small lane (may the biggest SUV win!) on Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Now we have a Main Street bike lane where more than 700 bike riders will daily risk their lives. Santa Monica is currently studying changing its Main Street bike lanes to make them safer, a fact not mentioned by DOT at the VNC meeting.

The Main Street bike lane almost connects with the Venice Blvd. bike lane (another hazardous route). Almost, but not quite. If the geniuses at DOT had striped three blocks of Venice Way, from the Circle to the Library, it would have connected. Don’t they have maps downtown?

DOT was so desperate to get its plan approved by the VNC that it resorted to lobbying its Board. It urged people from all over Los Angeles to email or attend and speak in favor of DOT’s plan. One example: “Main Street bike lanes need your support! Please contact the Venice Neighborhood Council, and Council Member Bill Rosendahl’s office and let them know how much you want these lanes.” (

How odd is it that the mighty DOT would lobby a little neighborhood council? In fact, neighborhood councils are set up to reflect the feelings of their stakeholders, not the position of a city department. No one contacted by the Beachhead wanted to talk about this blatant breach of the rules. Not Bong-Hwan Kim, General Manager of the Dept. of Neighborhood Empowerment, not Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, and not several VNC Board members called by the Beachhead. One VNC Board member said off the record that it is not right, but it is done all the time.

It seems that we in Venice will be unable to have a say on things as simple as bike lanes until we have cityhood or until L.A. is truly occupied by its residents.

1 reply »

  1. Jim, were you at the recent BPIT meeting? It was an opportunity to speak up for separated bike lanes, and in fact, you can email with agenda items for the next meeting if you plan on attending that one! These bike lanes are not perfect design, and the attitude from Alex Thompson (and you I guess, I haven’t heard much of your name in the LA bike scene to be honest) gave us an extra 6 inches of bike lane. I agree we need to advocate for better facilities, thanks for being critical of our standards. In the end though, I think we can consider this bike lane, a victory, even if it is only a small one.