The West Hollywood City Council unanimously approved plans on Tuesday to improve landscaping along the city’s three-block stretch of La Brea Avenue—but without bicycle lanes requested by as many as 50 of the 57 members of the public who have formally commented on the proposed $1.4-million project.
The council voted 5-0 to use a $862,500 grant from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, plus $619, 922 of Weho’s own money, to add 5,729 square feet of green space to La Brea Avenue that would include 40 new street trees and 21 blue, pedestrian-level street lights to match Santa Monica Boulevard.
Although bicycle lanes are not included in the so-called La Brea Avenue Streetscape Project, a set of proposed median islands have been designed to accommodate unprotected sharrows (share the road) bike lanes in the future.
Mayor Jeffrey Prang initiated the discussion about the La Brea Avenue Streetscape Project by pointing out that although many of the public comments associated with the plan raised the issue of bike lanes, the project happens to be under a California Environmental Quality Act review exclusively for landscaping and lighting improvements.
According to a project document provided to the City Council members and the public, because Weho’s stretch of La Brea Avenue has no parking during morning and afternoon peak hour traffic hours, a marked bike lane would not be feasible on the roadway without considerable changes to parking facilities and traffic capacity.
The document also notes that although the City of Los Angeles does not currently have a bike lane on La Brea Avenue, the roadway is earmarked in the city's Bicycle Master Plan "for future regional bicycle improvements."
A number of speakers argued for West Hollywood to get an early start on bike lanes on La Brea Avenue.
Matt Baume, a member of the West Hollywood Bicycle Coalition, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, said that if the city is already undertaking construction to accommodate bikes on La Brea in the future, “why not get the work started now instead of waiting?”
The reality, said Baume, is that “La Brea is about to change dramatically—it’s no longer going to be a place you speed though on your way to some place nice.” Instead, La Brea is “going to become a beautiful destination and more people are going to be able to share that road.”
Riding a bicycle on La Brea Avenue is currently a nightmare, Baume stressed. “It’s too scary—the number of cyclists who are able to get to their destinations on La Brea right now is effectively zero.” He added: “When I ride my bike there, I ride on the sidewalk—I don’t want to, but the street is terrifying.”
Besides recommending an early start to bike lanes on La Brea, the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition also “would like the city to keep the public informed about what is going on,” Baume said. “I think we felt a little blindsided by the exclusion of bike lanes from this project when previously it was suggested that [bike lanes] would be part of it.”
Councilman John D’Amico asked if there are signs on La Brea that tell riders it’s okay to ride on sidewalks in the area. “I know that in my neighborhood there are some signs that tell you not to ride on [sidewalks] because there’s a bike lane,” he said, adding: “But I wonder if the opposite is true” on La Brea.
In response, a city official said that there’s precisely such signage on the eastern stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, where bicyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalks. Asked what it would take to install similar signage on La Brea, the official replied that the city would have to do an analysis of the situation there and formally present it to the City Council before taking any action.
Steven Greene, a member of the West Hollywood Transportation Commission and a transportation planner by profession who said he is also a biker, explained that the La Brea Avenue Streetscape Project is “technically exempt from CEQA” in keeping with recent provisions in the state’s environmental quality act.
“But you still have to do a traffic study and a public hearing,” Greene said, adding: “While we’re looking at bike lanes [on La Brea], let’s look at Fairfax, where we could really do them really quickly.”
West Hollywood’s section of Fairfax Avenue is the only part of the roadway that is six lanes wide, Greene said. “In L.A., it’s four lanes [and] we could very easily put in bike lanes.”
Councilman John Duran said that he had been biking for the past few years—“and I know how dangerous it is.” However, he added, “it doesn’t appear that in our 1.9-square-miles we can [add bike lanes] effectively without the cooperation of Los Angeles, which is the giant octopus all around us.”
Installing bike lanes along three blocks of West Hollywood’s stretch of La Brea Avenue “just isn’t practical,” Duran said, not least because for bikers to transition from two lanes of traffic in the City of Los Angeles’ section of the street to three lanes in West Hollywood and then back to two lanes would be “more dangerous in terms of balancing bikes and cars.”
West Hollywood is a linear city that’s “so narrow north to south” that bike lanes on a north-south street such as La Brea is “going to be the most difficult to implement without a regional planning system,” Duran said.