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Tue, Apr

Los Angeles Needs More Bus-Only Lanes: Measure HLA Misses the Mark

LA POLITICS

TRANSPO LA - Los Angeles will never be a comprehensive bicycle city. There is too much sprawl with long distances to cover. The City of Los Angeles and adjacent cities in Los Angeles County are not flat, but the place is covered with hills, and unique to the city of Los Angeles it has a mountain range bisecting it, The Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area. 

To try to convert Los Angeles into a bicycle centric city does not look at the reality of the geography, nor the aging population which is not jumping on bicycles en-masse to get around the city. 

The Santa Monica Mountains separate the Los Angeles Basin from the flat San Fernando Valley. Elevations rise to over three-thousand-feet. The Sepulveda Pass is the widest canyon of the mountain range, which is filled with the San Diego Freeway, 405. Sepulveda Boulevard parallels the freeway and can be used by bicycle riders. In my younger years I rode my bicycle on Sepulveda Boulevard through parts of the pass, and even then it was a challenge. Now in my mid-sixties I would not contemplate riding that road on bicycle. I have, however, climbed Sepulveda Boulevard by taking a Metro Bus many times to the Getty Center. Most recently it was three weeks ago without incident or arriving a sweaty person nervous from fighting traffic. 

While the San Fernando Valley is quite flat, and that is good for bicycle riding, but in the summer the temperatures are far too hot for commuter bike rides. In the winter it gets quite cold, and when the Santa Ana winds blow, their fierceness tops trees and stops bicycle riders in their tracks. 

To try to make the Los Angeles region a bicycle city such as Amsterdam or other flat cities willfully ignores the geographic realities. 

A list of areas starkly illustrates the place is hilly and makes bicycle riding a great challenge. 

A short list of places in no particular order other than they indicate hills: 

  • Baldwin Hills
  • Lincoln Heights
  • Bunker Hill
  • Washington Heights
  • Fairview Heights
  • Mar Vista, great ocean view because of the hills
  • Highland Park
  • Arlington Heights
  • Beverly Hills
  • Hollywood Hills and its very steep canyons
  • The Westchester Bluffs and the steep hills of Sepulveda and Lincoln Boulevards
  • The steep hills of Echo Park
  • The miles long ascent of Vermont Avenue from the Santa Monica Freeway to Griffith Park, and then the very steep climb up into the park
  • Verdugo Hills
  • Signal Hill
  • North Hills
  • Fox Hills 

All would be climbed to get to or out of the flat areas of Los Angeles. That is not an attractive proposal. Proposals to make Los Angeles a bicycle centric city seem indifferent to the types of bicycle riding: pleasure; employment; education; doctor and dentist appointments; physical therapy. 

After a long workday, or in the classroom all day, the last thing a person wants is to have to climb hills on a bicycle. However, on a bus and or train the steepness of hills do not matter. 

If someone on a bicycle needs to get from relatively flat mid-city to areas south the most direct routes are La Cienga or La Brea Boulevards through Baldwin Hills. Those are long, strenuous climbs up, and very fast and dangerous descents. This is a safety issue which seems to be ignored by the idea of bicycle centric Los Angeles. Those routes are not feasible for everyday commutes. 

The ballot measure HLA on the March 5, 2024, election has its numbers wrong. The measure wants three hundred miles of bus only lanes and six hundred miles of bike lanes. That should be reversed. 

Comparisons must be made between bicycle riders and transit riders. 

From the LADOT Walk/Bike Count:

BIKING

We counted a total of 13,448 people biking in our 2019 Walk & Bike Count. In total volume, the top location for biking was Ballona Creek Bike Path at 2,360 bicyclists. The second highest recorded location was Hoover St between 29th St and 30th St at 991, and Washington Blvd at 816.

While the study is from 2019, there is no indication of a increase of magnitudes of daily bicycle riders.

From the Metro count of transit ridership:

Ridership Up with Help from Improved Safety, Back-to School Riders

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today announced that the agency saw a 10 percent year-over-year increase in total system ridership in September 2023 compared to September 2022 with more than 24.5 million boardings, marking the 10th consecutive month of year-over-year ridership growth. Metros monthly bus and rail ridership is now at nearly 80 percent of its 2019 pre-pandemic level. Average weekend ridership is now at 91 percent of pre-pandemic (September 2019) levels and 77 percent for average weekdays. The increased focus on safety, and the resulting 53 percent decrease in crime across the system since April, is helping to drive increased ridership, along with improved reliability and frequency of service.

In September, Metro had 24,671,730 boardings on its bus and rail services. An average of 938,167 rides were taken each weekday, the first time since February 2020 that weekday Metro ridership has surpassed 900,000 boardings. Saturday boardings averaged 637,957 and Sunday boardings averaged 543,721. Post-pandemic ridership recovery continues to be strongest on the weekends, with average boardings on Saturdays reaching 86 percent of their (September 2019) pre-pandemic level and average boardings on Sundays reaching 92 percent of their (September 2019) pre-pandemic level.

This should be glaringly obvious to most that to overwhelmingly serve the most people resources for restricted lanes must go to buses, and not bicycles

Climate change continues towards it destructive paths around the world. A primary source of global warming is carbon gases from vehicles. The quickest way to reduce these sources is to drive less, and the remedy for Los Angeles is not bicycles, but buses with their own lanes and trains and subways.

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native, a composer whose works have been performed nationally, and some can be found here.  He is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His dedication to transit issues is to help improve the transit riding experience for all, and to convince drivers to ride buses and trains to fight air pollution and global warming. He is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College and a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)