Scoping 4th Street

On the morning of Wednesday, October 27th, representatives from the LADOT Bike Program and the LACBC, a reporter for the Larchmont Chronicle, Heidi Sickler from Mayor Villaraigosa’s office, and Carolyn Ramsay from CD 4 Council Member Tom LaBonge’s office gathered together at Shatto Park to take a bike ride.  You can be sure that LADOT Bike Blog was in attendance as well.  You can read the LACBC’s take on the ride here.

Shatto Park

LACBC's Alexis Lantz waits in the Shatto Park parking lot

A leisurely morning bike ride through Koreatown may not seem like an earth shattering event, but the reason they all came together marks the beginning of a new type of bicycling infrastructure in Los Angeles.  The group that assembled that morning was there to do the preliminary scoping for all the possible treatments for a Bicycle Friendly Street (BFS) along 4th Street, otherwise known as the 4th Street Bicycle Boulevard.

Ed. Note: You can check out the rest of our 4th Street photos at the LADOT Bike Blog flickr page.

4th Street – A Long Bicycle History

4th Street has captured the imagination of Los Angeles bicycle advocates for many years.  As a low-traffic street with stoplights at major crossing arterial streets, 4th Street offers bicyclists a safe east-west corridor across Koreatown and Mid-City.  Going through extremely dense and congested neighborhoods which don’t have much in the way of bicycle infrastructure, 4th Street offers one of the few convenient, comfortable, and safe routes for bicyclists in the area.  The LACBC identified 4th Street long ago and has campaigned ever since then to convert the street into a Bicycle Boulevard.  Other groups like CicLAvia have also highlighted 4th Street’s suitability as a Bicycle Friendly Street.

The LACBC’s efforts got a shot in the arm from CM Tom LaBonge, who also saw the benefits of a bicycle boulevard (not just for bicyclists, but also for residents, pedestrians, and safety reasons) on 4th Street.  He has long championed the cause of bringing safer, more friendly streets for bicyclists and pedestrians to his council district.  Council Member LaBonge pledged earlier this year to bring together LADOT, LACBC, and his office to work out the details.  Mayor Villaraigosa, newly committed to bicycling issues, is also throwing his support behind a BFS on 4th Street.

Vermont & 4th

Scoping the 4th & Vermont intersection

The 2010 draft LA Bike Plan, coming to the Planning Commission next month, also has gotten into the act.  The Bicycle Friendly Streets in the draft’s Technical Design Handbook have 5 levels of treatments that can be applied to the streetscape.  The most robust of these treatments (like diverters, covered earlier this week on LADOT Bike Blog) are analogous to the bicycle boulevards of cities like Berkeley, Palo Alto, or Long Beach.

Site Visit – On Bikes

While some treatments for a Bicycle Friendly Street – like signage or sharrows – don’t need a lot of planning to put in place, many of the more robust treatments need to be correctly sited and planned.  Wednesday’s ride sought to cast a critical eye along the 4th Street route and really get a good look at what could be done, and where.

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Examining the intersection at 4th & Harvard

Since the purpose of treatments on 4th Street are to make the route more bicycle friendly, it only stood to reason that the sites should be scoped on bicycle.  By having all the different representatives experience biking along the route together, we were all able to share a greater understanding of what the issues were at each intersection and how different treatments would effect those issues.  Instead of having a meeting or looking at plans on paper, sharing a bicycling experience helped to get everyone involved on the same page.

P1010082

One end of Wendesday's Ride

Hoover to Wilton

The morning scoping ride went along the western half of the proposed Bicycle Friendly 4th Street, from Hoover Street to Wilton Place – the Bicycle Friendly Street in the 2010 draft Bike Plan goes from Hoover Street to Cochran Avenue.

At each intersection, LADOT Bike Program staff would measure the width the intersection’s four sides as well as diagonal distance.  With these measurements, staff will be able to determine which streets can handle either diverters, roundabouts, chicanes, or curb extensions.

P1010075

Measuring Intersections

Different treatments were discussed by everyone in attendance as well as the possible consequences and how they would work with other treatments along the route.  The extremely salient point was brought up that the most intensive treatments should be reserved for streets where one Bicycle Friendly Street intersects with another – like Oxford & 4th or New Hampshire & 4th – to get double the bang for our bicycle buck.

Plenty of Room

What we were particularly struck by on the ride along 4th Street was the amount of unused road space, both in the size of the intersections and the width of some streets.  The intersection of 4th and Hoover has an especially large area of pavement used for absolutely nothing.  What if it was converted into a gathering space for the community and an end point for the 4th Street Bicycle Boulevard?

Hoover & 4th

Look at all that space!

Another striking intersection was at Catalina & 4th.  When looking at this offset intersection, it’s easy to see why the LACBC wants to install a diverter.

Catalina & 4th

Maybe just bikes will travel through this intersection in the years ahead

Looking Ahead

Before any of the larger treatments go in, LADOT will look to implement smaller improvements over the coming months.  In this way, LADOT can make 4th Street more bicycle friendly while working out treatments that require more planning and funding.  Most immediately, the department will recalibrate the loop detectors along 4th Street to make them sensitive enough to detect bicycles at stoplights.

One of the most important lessons learned on this scoping session was the need for coordination.  This means coordinating between the different treatments along the 4th Street route: does it make sense to have a roundabout in one intersection and a curb extension blocking turning traffic at the next?

This also means coordination in the neighborhood: the success of the 4th Street Bicycle Friendly Street will depend on how the residents along 4th Street adjust.  The treatments on 4th Street should provide positive changes such as reducing cut-through traffic, improving street aesthetics through increased landscaping, and reclaiming the street environment for the residents that live along 4th Street.  If there is adequate outreach and community involvement, residents will see the benefits a safer, more beautiful street can bring.  If there isn’t adequate outreach, complaints could derail the efforts to bring Bicycle Friendly Streets to Los Angeles before they get off the ground.

When more information becomes available about the Bicycle Friendly Street on 4th, LADOT Bike Blog will be there to bring it to you.

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