PeopleforBikes Praises Flawed Figueroa Bikeway Design

The bicycle industry lobby Peopleforbikes has posted the image below, identified as an official rendering, of the proposed bikeway on Figueroa Street in Los Angeles.

PeopleforBikes praises the political developments which led to this project and describes it as a “win.” My response is “what were the designers thinking, if it can be called thinking?” And “does PeopleforBikes expect to gain any credibility by supporting this?

Even putting aside general debates about “cycle tracks”… let’s just look at some specifics of the design here.

This is much less and also much more than a “protected bike lane”, PeopleforBikes’s description. Being separated from the other lanes by a barrier, it is not a bike lane but a bike path — one of substandard width. Most of the installation as shown is intended to serve bus passengers. Bicyclists get the narrow strip which is left over.

The roadway has been narrowed by one lane’s width, but more than half of it has been given over to a traffic island for a bus stop, and less than half, to the bikeway. The bikeway is not as wide as either the bicyclist or the pedestrians in the foreground are tall: only about five feet wide, between vertical curbs.  Because bicyclists need to track two feet from a curb to avoid the risk of a pedal strike, the bikeway is only wide enough for a single line of bicyclists.

Figueroa bikeway official rendering

Bicyclists’ speeds on level roads range from approximately 8 to 25 miles per hour.  One bicyclist overtaking another on this bikeway risks handlebars’ tangling, or a pedal strike. Overtaking a cargo tricycle is clearly impossible. Expect crashes, and parades of bicyclists limited to the speed of the slowest.

There is only that one bicyclist shown…if bicycle traffic were as heavy as PeopleforBikes would like, the bikeway would be clogged.

The bikeway is adjacent to a sidewalk. Expect pedestrians in the bikeway, and bicyclists riding on the sidewalk, or the bus lane, because the bikeway is slower.

The fence shown to the left of the bikeway (apparently to prevent pedestrians from crossing at an undesignated location) is nonstandard for either a pedestrian or bicycle barrier — bicyclists and pedestrians alike would topple over it. The fence is immediately adjacent to the bikeway, and that also is nonstandard.

The intersection in the foreground is signal-controlled, but the special crosswalk to the bus stop beyond the bicyclist is not. Now, imagine a crowd of pedestrians who just got off a bus, crossing in that crosswalk. If more than a few bicyclists have to wait, they will back up into the signalized crosswalk in the foreground, and into the intersection. Green paint in the crosswalk indicates, as it so often does, “we broke the rules when we designed this.”

With pedestrians in the locations shown, the bicyclist shown has to have crossed the walkway against the light. That doesn’t reflect on the design itself, but it does reflect on the people who approved the rendering, and the the designers.

The striped, angled cutaway in the traffic island serves to allow large trucks and buses to turn right without dragging their wheels over the curb. But it is delimited by raised rubber barriers which might survive one or two days of wear and tear by trucks. The stripes also define the cutaway as a no-drive zone.

A truck apron is usually made of durable, slightly raised, distinctive paving. What were the designers thinking?

The tree overhanging the bikeway would drop leaves into it, an issue I brought up in an earlier post on this blog. The bikeway is shown as impeccably clean in the illustration, but it is too narrow for a standard street-cleaning machine.

I have read elsewhere that this bikeway would cross 26 intersections and 49 driveways.

The right one-foot width of the bikeway is the gutter pan, and there is a seam between it and the asphalt pavement. These seams break up, and can trap bicycle wheels. Water collects in the gutter, as also shown in videos which  my friend Gary Cziko has taken from his bicycle. He describes them as follows:

1. The first video at http://vimeo.com/88343481 is a combined front and rear view while cycling on Figueroa northbound from Exposition to 7th Street, where the cycle track is planned. It was made at mid-day on a weekday with fairly light-to-moderate traffic.

2. The second video at http://vimeo.com/89685353 is rearview also northbound at evening rush hour starting a bit further south than the first video.

Gary has more to say about his videos but I’ll leave it to him to comment.

5 Responses to PeopleforBikes Praises Flawed Figueroa Bikeway Design

  1. This is very much like–but is a lot longer than, and so even worse than–Austin’s Guadalupe cycletrack, which a Green Lane Project writer deemed #3 in his list of the ” best ” such facilities for 2013. It is far worse than what was in place before and has already caused crashes.

  2. I left my own $0.02. So did Tricia. Thanks for the heads up, John.

  3. Hi, John – I appreciate the critique. For what it’s worth, I agree that the five-foot lane behind the bus stop is on the narrow side, definitely too narrow for passing or pedaling abreast. If you look at the cross-sections in the fairly detailed project description from which I pulled the image, this is the narrowest point for bike lanes on the corridor, where the 3-foot bike lane buffer includes a curb. The bus stop, according to that description, is to the left of the curb in a separate allocation of ROW. On other sections of the road, the lane and buffer range from seven feet plus a curbed buffer of up to four feet, and six feet plus a three-foot painted buffer.

    The point about fallen leaves is good, and worth paying attention to (by cities and by advocates). I’m actually putting up a post today about street cleaning machines that can operate in as little as four feet.

    The subtler design issues you raise are persuasive, too, and definitely worth raising with the city as it moves closer to full engineering on this project. None is a fundamental flaw with the concept, though, and certainly all of these (speed tradeoffs included) will make the street far better for biking on than it currently is for almost everyone.

  4. Here is part of my comment left on P-f-B. I linked to this post and then said:

    LAB staffer Carolyn Szczepanski, discussing “Staying Safe in Protected Bike Lanes”

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/2403320/Staying%20Safe%20in%20Protected%20Lanes%20-%20Szczepanski.pdf

    The bottom line, as lucidly pointed out by Ms. Szczepanski, is that separate facilities do not relieve a cyclist, whether 8, 80, or anything in between, from being attentive, knowledgeable, aware, and knowing how to avoid a crash. Sometimes, I think cyclists relax their guard a little too much when offered their own segregated space that is marketed as “safe”. Carolyn’s concussion after hitting a pedestrian is a good counterexample–safety is still to a major extent controlled by events and your ability to master them. I’m glad Carolyn is still here to talk about her story.

    On Saturday, there was a cyclist killed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, apparently while crossing the RailRunner tracks while on the Santa Fe Rail Trail. She rode right out in front of an oncoming train. Witnesses said she was wearing headphones. I implore cyclists to retain their situational awareness and practice riding skills whether on the road or on a cycletrack. I implore People for Bikes to promote cyclist education as much as they do segregated facilities. One does not displace the other. PfB’s stated goal “Riding made simple. The choice to ride a bike is yours. The responsibility to ensure safe and convenient riding opportunities is ours.” is only partially true, and I’m trying to be civil here. PfB cannot make you a safe rider and an unsafe rider can be hurt or killed on a cycletrack just as he or she can on a regular road. Trust me.

    Some mistakes you only get to make once. That Santa Fe lady, a sixty year old, is dead in large part due to a lapse in awareness. Perhaps, that lack of situational awareness was due in part to thinking some other entity was responsible for her safety.

    (some links to the Santa Fe story are on LA Bikes) — Khal

  5. Impressive and thorough analysis of the proposed bike path. As a first-time visitor, I am enjoying this blog quite a little bit.
    I do not want to sound cynical or world-weary (well maybe a little bit of the latter… and a lot like Joan Didion…) but I cannot imagine LA embracing any form of non-car-transit anytime soon; it would run anathema to everything with which it identifies: “freedom of the road” and such nonsense. I wish it were so, though.
    As a seasoned cyclist and former inhabitant of that place of strange and unending sprawl, it just does not strike me as the region to give any sort of credence to anyone not driving a brand-new-shiny car (single occupant, naturally). Perhaps that’s the reason it’s such a narrow bike path? One group is too-often unaware of another’s risks and needs until it moves a mile on two wheels (or feet). I hope LaLaLand proves us all wrongly and that this project draws more people out of their cars and onto less wheels, ‘if you build it, they will come’ style. Moreover, it’s important to recognize that, while flawed in concept, the Figueroa plan is a step in the right direction – and what a step, too, given LA’s unending yet torrid love affair with the automobile.

    Thanks for the great reads!

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