For more than five years, Aurelio Candanedo relied on his bicycle for transportation. Last October, that changed. On his way to work, he collided with a car at Whittier Boulevard and Indiana Street.
Candanedo suffered minor injuries, and the accident caused him to change his daily routine ”“ at least for a while. “I didn’t ride my bike at all. I was scared,” he said. Candanedo blames the lack of bike lanes and a lack of respect for cyclists for the accident.
While Los Angeles is better known for its reliance on cars than its bicycle and pedestrian friendliness, city planners and cycling advocates have been working on a plan to enhance safety and transform the experience of people like Candanedo.
Safety is an especially urgent concern in low-income areas with high population densities, such as Boyle Heights, which tend to have more traffic accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists.
City officials and bike advocates alike are counting on bike lanes to increase safety, while also helping to increase the number of cyclists on the streets. Crews began striping new bike lanes on 1st Street in Boyle Heights in early September.
The lanes extend nearly two miles from Boyle Avenue to Lorena Street and connect the Metro Gold Line stations at Soto Street and at Mariachi Plaza. Eventually, bike lanes will extend from Mission Road to Indiana Street, connecting with the Pico/Aliso and Indiana stations.
New bike lanes are a result of the Los Angeles Bike Plan, which was approved in 2010. Measure R, a 2008 California ballot measure that levies a one-half cent sales tax for transportation projects, funds the plan.
Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes, a major proponent of the plan, says a bicycle network and bicycle system “provide an option that begins to influence younger generations and how they define the notion of getting from point A to point B.” He says that reducing people’s reliance on cars can help rid the environment of contaminants and have a positive affect on health.
The plan has as a long-term goal the construction of 1,680 miles of bikeways, at a rate of about 200 miles every five years. Implementation begins this year and extends to 2045. If successful, it will connect cycling routes across Los Angeles, with a focus on areas that lack safe bike access.
In the last year, cycling groups and community activists successfully lobbied for revisions to the Bike Plan, which the City Council approved in March. The first new bike lane was added because of community advocacy. Striped in August, its 2.2 miles lanes go along the 7th Street corridor, from Catalina Avenue in Koreatown to Figueroa Street in downtown. The route runs through three of the city’s most densely populated areas.
The next phase of the corridor will include an additional 2.9 miles and extend the 7th Street bike lanes through downtown to Soto Street in Boyle Heights. In addition to bringing bike lanes to city streets, the Bike Plan will educate motorists about the rules of the road on “bike friendly” streets that have pavement markings, traffic diverters, and signs.
Several other projects also aim to make city streets safer. The Eastside Access Project works to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians going to schools, businesses, and recreational centers around four Eastside Metro stations: Pico/Aliso, Mariachi Plaza, Soto, and Indiana.
“The car is here to stay, but there are people who want a different choice,” says Jane Choi, a planning assistant for the Los Angeles Department of City Planning.
MORE TREES AND ART
Major improvements will include street striping, repaving of sidewalks, and repainting of crosswalks. Landscaping improvements to make streets more appealing include lighting, trash cans, tree plantings, and the addition of public art to reflect the local culture. All Eastside Access projects are expected to be built by 2015, according to MTA Project Manager Laura Cornejo.
The East Side Access Project has invited community participation to help broaden the list of problem areas. That process helped to identify the 1st Street corridor from Cummings Street to Soto Street as a trouble spot.
“There are lots of people that ride their bikes in Boyle Heights, but a lot of people ride them on the sidewalk now, which isn’t the safest, if you’re walking,” says Lisa Padilla, lead architect of the East Side Access Project.
In a recent informal survey of 53 Boyle Heights residents conducted by Boyle Heights Beat, 13 percent of those polled indicated that they would use bicycles more often if there were more bike lanes.
Eighteen-year-old Grace Lopez, a Boyle Heights resident, complains that motorists harass bicyclists. “Some drivers are good, and they go around us,” she says, “but some drivers stay behind us, and it pushes us.”
Cyclist Candanedo agrees. “On major streets, cars beep me off the road,” he says. With limited access to a car, the 20-year-old East Los Angeles College student has had to get back on his bike to get to school and work.
With new bike lanes and a new anti-harassment Law that prohibits motorists from tailgating cyclists, the hope is that cycling will soon become more popular throughout the city.
Even without the new bike lanes, the number of cyclists in Los Angeles has increased dramatically ”” by 67 percent over the last decade, U.S. Census data show. “There’s an explosion of cyclists,” says Choi, “young and old.”
More detailed information on the 2010 Los Angeles Bike Plan can be found at www.labikeplan.org/