Cycling in Los Angeles

So, as mentioned a couple of weeks back, I recently visited Los Angeles briefly on my return from Washington DC. Instead of the usual rapid stopover at the airport, I took the opportunity for a 24-hour stay to have a quick look around some parts of the “City of Angels”. Given that this is an urban area with well over 10 million people, inevitably this was only a snap-shot look at a few places, namely Santa Monica, Long Beach, and the central downtown district.

Map of LA’s cycling network. For scale, downtown LA to Long Beach is about 25km

Aside from being reasonably accessible within my day (thanks to LA’s public transport network), there was some deliberation in choosing Santa Monica and Long Beach to explore. Both had some good cycle provision (relatively speaking) that seemed worth looking at (yeah, it’s what traffic engineers do; our version of a busman’s holiday…).

A nice traffic-free environment along Santa Monica’s 3rd St Promenade

As you may expect in the famous motor city, fewer than 1% of all work commutes in LA are by bike. Apparently there are over 500km of bike lanes and paths in the city proper alone; mind you, it has to be remembered that the entire street network numbers in the tens of thousands of kilometres. And many of those bike lanes are in fairly unfriendly environments.

Is this bike lane enough on a 40mph (64kmh) multi-lane road?

There is growing momentum however, not least helped by (then) LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa breaking his arm when cycling in 2010; that was a spur for him to champion a major bikeway network plan. LA has also embraced the “Open Streets” (ciclovia) movement, with regular instalments of its “CicLAvia” held every summer, and introduced a public bike-share system around the city.

An LA Metro bike share station downtown

Painted bike lanes, sharrow markings, and off-road paths have been relatively common in LA for some time, but separated bikeways along road corridors are a more recent phenomenon. Like other parts of the US, there are many variations on a theme, such as behind parked cars in downtown Long Beach.

Still no guarantees that cars won’t park in the bikeway…

We mentioned a recent study tour to the US that looked at signalised intersections on these separated bikeways. Special signals for these were evident in LA too, to help keep conflicts limited with turning traffic.

Bikes go in Long Beach, while turning traffic waits

An interesting thing I noticed was that most pedestrian/cycle paths featured separate areas for each group. One prominent example is the new Exposition Boulevard Bike Path from Santa Monica towards downtown LA, following the metro train corridor. Sometimes this seemed rather tight, e.g. two 4-ft wide bikeways next to a 5-6-ft footpath. However, others provided generous widths for each; maybe at least 5-6m wide in total. The beach-front paths along much of the coastline are a good example of the latter. Not entirely sure where the person on a scooter chooses to ride…

Separate bikeway and footpath on the sands at Long Beach

Bike parking is an important part of providing for cycling and, in this regard, Long Beach is doing some great stuff by encouraging downtown businesses to customise their parking to suit. As well as more conventional parking in the form of a wide range of bicycles (old and new), there are palm trees, ocean waves, cupcakes, sunflowers, you name it. Quirky and fun, but practical too. In fact, the overall promotion of biking by downtown Long Beach businesses is very heartening – a good model for New Zealand cities too.

What else to put outside a dog groomers, but a ‘bone’ bike park?

Here are a few more pictures from my time in LA:

With that kerb I wouldn’t be surprised if cyclists dismount…
Further to go in LA? Take your bike on the train (or bus)
Yet another bike share scheme in LA
Santa Monica beach pathways – not a good day to be on the footpath…
One way to mix the bikeway and turning lane
Bike signals on the separated bikeway in Santa Monica
Downtown Long Beach also promotes biking via various street banners
A lone cyclist braves downtown LA

When it comes to making it cycle-friendly, Los Angeles has all the challenges you would expect of a mega-city; there is a lot of variation in what’s out there (not helped by having over 100 separate local government areas to deal with…). That’s not surprising; consider that it’s three times the population of all of New Zealand, and then think how much cycling provision varies across our country. Cycling in LA is getting better (e.g. cycle commuting has almost doubled in the past decade), but it’s starting from a very low base and has a lot of catch-up needed to make cycling a viable option for many Angelenos.

A busy 30mph road – is a (faded) sharrow and sign enough?

Have you visited LA? What did you think of cycling there?

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