Fueled in part by Metro’s Westside Mobility Plan, the issue of cycling topped the agenda at Westside Urban Forum’s (WUF) most recent panel discussion. Advocates and city planners from across the region joined together to highlight the changing transportation landscape.
The Westside has fantastic potential for bicycling for transportation and is already a great place for recreational bicycling, according to Eric Bruins, Planning and Policy Director, Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition.
“Terrain is relatively flat, the destinations are close together, and traffic is so bad that bicycling doesn’t take any longer for many trips,” Bruins explained. “The problem is that so few accommodations have been made on our streets to make bicycling safe and comfortable, that relatively few people are willing to try it.”
Herein lies the issue facing city planners and urban designers the region over, the panel discussion revealed.
WUF organized the expert panel – the first on cycling in 15 years – to discuss how improvements could be made to enhance the future for cycle commutes.
Proposals for miles of bike lanes, bike share in Santa Monica, and planners’ growing enthusiasm for cycling’s role in reducing congestion, pollution, and obesity, are all indicative of what’s in store for Westside commuting, according to WUF.
“The Westside may be poised for a bicycle revolution,” WUF said. “As popular as recreational cycling is on the Westside, bicycle commuting and bicycling infrastructure has not gotten the attention it warrants.”
The Westside deserves a high quality, connected bicycle network so that people feel comfortable riding for everyday trips, according to Bruin, explaining that half of all bicycling trips on the Westside are under three miles.
“These are trips to school, to the store and, for many lucky Westside residents, to work,” Bruin said. “A robust bike network would close many of the gaps that riders now face, particularly crossing the 405 and accessing the new Expo Line stations, which will be on major streets.”
One issue that makes cycling a dangerous occupation in Westside cities is limited street space.
“As the Westside continues to grow, some of that space will need to be prioritized for people who are making more efficient choices to take transit and ride bikes,” Bruin said.
Santa Monica has already added 40 miles of marked bicycle lanes to their city streets and is now poised to launch a new bike share program, which is set to become regional in implementation.
Making the program, and cycling, in Santa Monica safe, City Planning staff identified streets with ample lane width to enable the creation over the past three years, of clearly-marked bicycle lanes.
“Often times you have width in the travel lanes,” explained Francie Stefan, Strategic Planning and Transportation Manager, City of Santa Monica. “Through bringing the lane width down to 10-11 feet, we’ve been able to create bike lanes without any loss in throughput.”
The city has also established a network of bike-safe streets parallel to major traffic thoroughfares. They run north-south and east-west, without impeding busy areas.
“What’s great is then you get bike priority streets that are not competing with transit streets,” Stefan explained.
Vitally important to successful cycling networks is the cooperation of Westside cities, she added.
Westside Cities Council of Governments (WSCCOGS) has been working on such plans in recent years and is involved in the Westside Mobility Matrix and Westside Mobility Plan. WSCCOGS has also identified five key priorities for network gap closure, to ensure seamless cycling commutes – these priorities will be presented to relevant city councils for development.
Essential to the success of all mobility and street-sharing programs is education and the awareness by all who move around the city, Stefan explained.
“Cyclists are also drivers and pedestrians are also cyclists sometimes,” Stefan said. “So we are always trying to find a balance to serve everyone on the streets.”
“The only way that we can all be safe is if we are all anticipating each other,” she added.
People also have to remember that transportation is about the surrounding communities, not just commutes, Bruin said.
“We’ve spent so many resources trying to make it faster to drive from one place to another that we’ve often destroyed the quality of the places along the way. Reorienting our thinking to see our streets as community assets is the first step toward reclaiming them for the people that live here,” he explained.
“People are happier when they have choices and there’s no more fun way to get around than by bike,” he added.