Reclaiming Los Angeles from cars, one lane at a time

Los Angeles officials opened a new, 2.2-mile bicycle lane that comes at the expense of a lane for automobile traffic. Can the city change its car-first culture?
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Los Angeles city officials last week cut the red tape on a new, 2.2-mile bicycle lane that comes at the expense of a lane for automobile traffic.

Whoa, Nelly.

Ari Bloomekatz rightly notes in the Los Angeles Times: "In a city known for traffic gridlock, deliberately eliminating an entire lane for cars could be politically dubious." But there it is, along 7th St. from Catalina Avenue in the Koreatown neighborhood all the way to Figueroa Street in the city's downtown district.

The swap, small as it may be for a sprawling city with more car-dedicated asphalt than I can fathom, marks a turning point in which city officials begin to embrace the concept of multi-modal transportation -- that is, the idea that the road can be equally shared by pedestrians, bicyclists, private cars and public transportation.

Los Angeles may be known as the nation's driving capital but it has a small, passionate community of pedal-pushers that are working to show that the City of Angels is less hostile to two-wheelers than it may first appear.

In a down economy, that's good news. Although many daily cyclists in L.A. are middle-class urbanites who can afford a car but choose not to, there are plenty of low-income residents who rely on public transit and use bicycles to go the last mile.

While actual infrastructure changes like this help pave the way (no pun intended) for more bicycling, the new lanes are also visible cues to help change the car-first mindset of many Angelenos. And it's a cheap fix for the city, too: a little paint, a few signs and a few traffic light adjustments are all that's needed. (Though enforcement may be the bigger issue.)

L.A.'s master bike plan calls for more than 200 miles of new routes every five years, but the question is whether there's enough funding to make a relatively cheap goal happen. If city officials are really looking at the big picture, you could argue that taking cars off the road pays for itself -- and then some.

In traffic-choked L.A., a car lane is given to bicycles [Los Angeles Times]

Photo: James Phan/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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