Bike Lanes – To Share Or Not To Share?

In my younger days, I enjoyed riding my bike around the Palos Verdes peninsula. My bicycle was a used green ten-speed and not anywhere near the technical complexity of today’s road bikes.

I would venture off from my parents’ house near Crestwood Avenue and make my way to 22nd St. and then head around the backside of the hill to Palos Verdes Dr. North then back home on Western Ave. On other occasions, I would tackle the switchbacks near Marymount College or ride through Miraleste Drive and then up Crest Rd. to the top of the hill to enjoy the view.

My most memorable bike ride was with my friend Todd Karli when we followed the Olympic torch back in 1984 for the Los Angeles summer games. We met at PCH and Western and followed the running of the torch up Crenshaw to Palos Verdes and down Hawthorne all the way to 190th and PCH before returning home. We experienced a little part of history that day.

Back then there were no bike lanes, although looking back it would have been nice to have had them, especially through the blind turns around the backside of Palos Verdes. Today, many cities across the country have made bike lanes an important part of the landscape and Los Angeles is no different. In fact, you can read the five-year bike lane plan for Los Angeles at the Department of City Planning website. The strategy is to lay down at least 200 miles of bike lanes every five years across Los Angeles to create a contiguous bike lane network. As part of the 2010 Bicycle Plan, 253 miles of bike lanes will be implemented at a cost projection of $27 Million, and San Pedro is right in the middle of it.

Recently, bike lanes have been implemented on Capitol and Westmont and have resulted in one of the biggest local protest in a long time. The story has lit up Facebook, been covered on the local TV news and in newspapers and local protests have been conducted on Westmont. Why? Is it because people in general do not like bike lanes? No, it’s because locals are frustrated because car lanes and left turn lanes have been eliminated and center dividers narrowed to put in these bike lanes.

The result has been longer commuting times bringing kids to and from Taper Ave., Dodson and Mary Star High School, as well as making it difficult to maneuver in and out of Ralphs and Albertsons parking lots during peak hours. Drivers are not only confused by the markings on Westmont that separate the bike and car lanes and where they can cross them when merging to make a right turn, but become so frustrated with waiting in traffic that they enter the bike lanes to bypass the traffic altogether. This has resulted in moving violations being issued. What remains to be seen are the wait times that may occur on Westmont and Gaffey St. during soccer season for families to arrive at the Field of Dreams, the impact when Ponte Vista is developed, or the delays on Gaffey now that the southbound lanes at the Channel St. intersection has been reduced to a single lane. Based on the protests, it remains to be seen if the current plan to change Pacific Ave into single car lanes to make room for bike lanes gets implemented.

One idea that may be considered to resolve the current and future bike lane dilemmas is to establish shared bike lanes similar to what has been done along 2nd St. in Belmont Shore. This type of lane requires an automobile to yield for bicyclists present in the lane otherwise autos are free to travel in the lane.

Although the bike plan was approved prior to Councilman Joe Buscaino being elected, he has been proactive in assessing the situation and getting feedback from residents and listening to business owners’ concerns in order to determine how to resolve this issue. What is also encouraging is the vocal and written outpouring by locals who are truly frustrated with the way this segment of bike lanes have been implemented and are determined to fix it. spt

Westmont Drive Fiasco Proves It: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

It’s a good thing I take blood pressure medication because I nearly popped a vein when I read what happened to Westmont Drive. And that was before I read the response from our councilman and his spokesman.

We live in the age of stupidity, so what happened on Westmont shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, look what Washington, D.C., has given us now that policy is determined not by “will it work” but on “will it feel good?” That kind of thinking in Sacramento has given us a pair of transportation boondoggles known as the bullet train and Complete Streets Act (“Well, it looked good on paper”). LAUSD wants my wife to supervise breakfast for 24 kindergartners in the classroom (visualize crayons in syrup). And somewhere in an ivory tower cubicle in Downtown L.A., someone who’s probably never even driven on Westmont read the Complete Streets Act and decided that what one of the worst traffic areas in San Pedro needed was the elimination of a car lane to provide room for bicyclists. Something about the street being “underutilized.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. Councilman Joe Buscaino said he’d ask the Department of Transportation to provide an update on the impact of one less car lane. Too bad no one thought of doing that before the changes were made. How about the city send just one employee to stand on the corner of Westmont and Western between 7:30 and 8 a.m. any weekday? Anyone ever try exiting from Coco’s or Rite Aid onto Westmont at any time of day? As the debate continues over adding 830 housing units at Ponte Vista, the “Nightmare on Western Avenue” not only hasn’t been helped, it’s been made worse.

It’s bad enough that it was done literally while no one was looking. That it’s just another ham-fisted effort by the nanny state we now live in to get people out of their cars and onto bikes is pretty obvious from the comments by Buscaino spokesman Branimir Kvartuc. He said that the change wasn’t made “to accommodate (existing) bicyclists but to encourage (new) bicyclists.” Buscaino then doubled down by saying, “This is to encourage people to get out of their cars and use their bikes. To those who say San Pedro doesn’t use bikes, I say, ‘Let’s start. Why not?’”

Why not? Well, have you tried to get all those parents to stop driving their kids to Dodson and Mary Star? Maybe that’s the plan: Make the drive so miserable they’ll stop. Good luck with that. Or ask your longshore buddies to bike to work. Oh, that’s right, there isn’t a bicycle lane on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Can’t see a lot of families bicycling to Field of Dreams. And it might be hard to pick up lumber or plants at Home Depot using a bike. I guess you could haul paving stones in a backpack two at a time. Perhaps you can encourage my 84-year-old mother who lives near Dodson to hop on a bicycle to make her hair appointment. The only accomplishment of eliminating that car lane right now is making sure she and dozens of other drivers sit in their cars an extra 10 or 15 minutes waiting at the intersection of Western and Delasonde.

That’s why not, Joe.

This must be what happens when a politician runs for re-election without any opposition.

Time for a reality check, councilman: This isn’t Asia or Europe. This isn’t even Santa Monica. This is San Pedro. I would have expected a comment like Joe’s from someone who lives on the Westside or a beach city, but not from a native of San Pedro who should know better. I took issue with Janice Hahn over her planting stop signs and speed humps all over town, but at least she had the pulse of San Pedro when it came to Ponte Vista. That’s what we need now, a councilman who will stick up for his constituency – the vast majority of which rely on cars and trucks.

Maybe Joe’s just spent too much time around people like that downtown San Pedro art gallery owner who had the gall to say, “People in vehicles think they own the road…We need to eliminate our reliance on four-wheeled transportation.”

Sorry, but people who drive DO own the road, in a matter of speaking. We pay 71-cents a gallon in taxes every time we stop at a gasoline station, and most of that money goes to transportation projects. Those people in their bright Spandex and shiny helmets who cruise the peninsula every weekend should thank the gas-guzzlers instead of metaphorically flipping them off. I say this as someone who road his bike to work for most of the `80s, way before it became de rigueur. And, yes, I looked ridiculous in Spandex.

This column is appearing a month after the bicycle lane went in. Here’s hoping that by now Joe has come to his senses and is doing all he can to get the Westmont car lane restored. Traffic officials realized the error of their ways last year when they messed with the turning lanes from Weymouth onto Western and quickly changed it back. Like the general in charge of the Hurricane Katrina cleanup said, “Don’t get stuck on stupid.” spt

Nightmare Parking at Field of Dreams

As much as I love to watch my children play soccer, every year I secretly wish they would decide to play flag football instead, in a field where I can park close by and watch games under a shade tree. For years, I have endured the nightmare parking situation at the Field of Dreams so my children can play soccer in San Pedro. But getting to the treeless field is like a trek to the outback and it leaves me feeling like a pack mule carrying chairs, coolers, and umbrellas a mile to practices and games.

There are 1,400 youth registered to play AYSO soccer at the field just below the flaming refinery flare and across from the butane tanks, which is another story altogether. The field has 150 parking spaces and on game days the lot is open to only coaches and referees. All of Westmont Drive and part of Gaffey Street is used as employee parking for the warehouses above the fields, leaving very little parking options for soccer families. It would probably be easier if I could figure out how to parachute in with my children and chairs.

Street parking on Westmont is a popular parking ticket trap with confusing signs whose arrows point across the street and at hills instead of the street. It is anybody’s best guess where it is legal to park. Knowing this, I have been extremely cautious where I park but still end up with a parking ticket while parked against a curb not painted red. The parking enforcement vultures are there every week, preying on hard working families who honestly are confused by the inconsistent red curbs and confusing signs. Wouldn’t it be better to have the city directing the thousands of people at the field instead of taking advantage of them? I fought my ticket and won but still the curb is not painted red.

To make matters worse, Recreation and Parks, who maintains the field owned by the Bureau of Sanitation, fails to keep the pedestrian gate open, which creates a dangerous situation for the families walking in. There is a narrow opening in the lot with no curb or sidewalk forcing families to walk inches away from moving vehicles. With only one way into the narrow lot, it is like entering the Bermuda Triangle at peak practice times, cars go in and do not come out. Some vehicles are too large to turn around so they have to back all the way out after dropping off their children. There is no loading area on the street making drop offs very challenging, especially with big rig trucks speeding down the hill.

My children have had such great experiences playing soccer but this parking fiasco needs to change. Collaborating with other parks and schools would be a good start. My son’s team once tried to hold a practice at Peck Park but we were asked to leave the empty park by two park employees. Possible solutions could be to have some games at other local parks or have a shuttle service (red trolley) and create an exit at the back of the field’s parking lot. The field is at full capacity with children playing soccer in every possible area so cutting into the field to add more parking would only create new problems.

The youth and families of San Pedro deserve a better situation. With Councilman Buscaino’s office actively looking for solutions, I feel like maybe after all these years we finally may see a positive change (no pressure Joe). For starters, they can take the overgrown city tree in front of my house that will not be trimmed for another 50 years by the city and move it to the Field of Dreams for much needed shade.

Anyone else with similar adventures at the Field of Dreams can contact Councilman Buscaino’s office with feasible solutions at (310) 732-4515. spt

Jennifer Marquez writes about low-cost and free events in her blog www.grassrootsmama.com. She can be reached at jennifertmarquez@yahoo.com.