Advocates claim road diets are about safety and the environment. They’re hurting both.
Last summer the Santa Monica City Council voted to approve $5 million for new bicycle infrastructure. The funds cover 19 miles of new bike lanes, as well as 39 traffic light bicycle sensors and 1,250 bike racks. Contractors began painting the new neon green lanes in November, and as of this writing there are several new miles of shiny happy bike lanes extending through the city.
There’s just one problem: The paint the contractors used apparently isn’t up to snuff. Throughout the city, existing green paint is washed away, faded, cracked, or otherwise compromised. What’s more, the paint already is fading from brand-new lanes the city installed less than two months ago on streets including Sixth and Eighth. It only took a couple of rain storms. The worn-away paint makes it difficult to tell where the bike lane ends, especially at night. The situation is an accident waiting to happen.
The way the bike lanes are laid out also causes safety concerns. It’s been said many times, paint never stopped a semi. Like many other places in L.A., Santa Monica has installed bike lanes on the city’s busiest streets and thoroughfares, often when one block over is a calmer residential street that would be perfect for a lane.
Nor is this idle speculation. As has been well-documented, in Los Angeles pedestrian deaths have nearly doubled in the first two years of Vision Zero, from an average of 84 per year (which we can all agree is already far too many) to 134 in 2017. Cyclist deaths also saw a slight increase. Perversely, advocates and politicians use this data as justification for more road diets and bike lanes, even with a growing body of evidence that road diets on major thoroughfares impede emergency response times, often dramatically.
It also raises the question of the alleged environmental benefits of cycling infrastructure. We’re told that making it easier for adults to bicycle around reduces emissions because fewer people are driving. And sure, if you’re riding a bike you’re not burning gasoline (then again, ditto if like me you drive an electric car).
But here’s the thing: Cars burn the least amount of fuel and produce the lowest emissions levels when operating at a constant rate on uncongested streets. How many millions of additional tons of CO2 has Vision Zero caused?
Likewise, where’s that green paint going? It’s washing into storm sewers and then out into the ocean. In essence we’re swapping pounds of carbon into the atmosphere for pounds of toxic paint in the ocean. Sorry, Flipper, you’re one of the eggs we’re gonna have to break to cook up our bicycle Utopia omelet.
The layout of these lanes raises serious questions about the city’s overall strategy. Designs often seem intentionally haphazard. Lines are painted arbitrarily, confusing even the most basic maneuvers for bicyclists and drivers alike. There is no uniformity to signage. And often projects are rushed, leaving even more room for error.
Increased traffic and therefore emissions. Increased pedestrian and cyclist accidents and deaths. Significant hazards for all road users. Impeded first responders. The overall slapdash nature of road diet execution.
It seems that L.A. has put the Vision Zero bike trailer before the Schwinn. We urge the city to place a temporary moratorium on future road diets until a comprehensive review of existing ones can be performed. Lives, and the environment, depend on it.