Most people who’ve cycled around Los Angeles have experienced a patchwork of bike lanes. One minute they’re pedaling along a green stretch of asphalt with protective bollards, and moments later they’re tangling with high-speed traffic and the threat of parked cars’ doors.
That disconnected network of bicycle infrastructure is the main reason LA ranks 55th out of 104 large cities globally in the People for Bikes 2021 ratings released Thursday. Brooklyn was the best-rated large U.S. city, followed by San Francisco, Manhattan and Seattle.
“LA is similar to most cities in the U.S. in that it’s tended to approach projects on a corridor-by-corridor basis instead of putting in full networks of bicycling paths and trails all at once,” said Kyle Wagenschutz, vice president of local innovation with the advocacy group People for Bikes in Boulder, Colorado.
Using feedback from everyday bike riders, city staff and other public sources to help People for Bikes understand local perspectives on bicycling, cities were rated with a network score that looked at how well the bicycling infrastructure provided access to the places where people live, work and go to school, as well as where they recreate, run errands and connect to public transit.
“Having a connected network of low-stress streets and trails makes a place more bike-friendly for both experienced riders and those who are new to bicycling,” Wagenschutz said. “Most people are interested in biking only when it’s a comfortable experience, so we calculate how easy and comfortable it is to navigate a city using the streets, trails and bike lanes already in the community.”
With a network rating of 28, LA scored slightly better than the national average of 26 out of 100 points for cities of all sizes, but only a third as well as the top-rated large cities.
The average network score of cities with more than 1 million residents was 45, but the higher the score the better; 50 is considered the tipping point in People for Bikes’ scoring system, correlating with higher rates of bicycle ridership, improved safety and greater connectivity than their peer cities.
To improve its score, Wagenschutz said the city needs to focus on four key areas: lowering the speeds of all vehicles, improving safety and visibility at intersections, separating bikes from cars using protected bike lanes and expanding public transit and improving access for bikes.
Part of LA’s bicycle infrastructure connectivity problem is sprawl. Brooklyn, San Francisco and Manhattan are all more compact than LA and had higher network scores in the People for Bikes city ratings.
“The city of LA is enormous in terms of where it’s physically located, reaching all the way down to the port, so it does make it somewhat more challenging to create a network of transportation options,” said Kevin Shin, senior director of policy and partnerships for the LA County Bicycle Coalition. “In order to reach certain parts of LA, you have to go through all these other cities, and for LA County as a whole, there doesn’t seem to be the kind of collaboration or the kind of clear planning that is needed.”
As part of LA’s Green New Deal, the city plans to increase the percentage of all trips made by walking, biking, micro-mobility, matched rides or public transit to at least 35% by 2025 and to 50% by 2035. Bike lanes are a critical part of achieving those ambitious goals, but it’s a slow process.
While more than 700 miles of bikeways have been added to LA since 2010, according to the LA Department of Transportation, the city has more than 6,500 lane miles of streets, according to the Bureau of Street Services.
LA is, however, making strides. In 2020, LADOT added or made safety upgrades to more than 61 miles of bike lanes — more than double the improvements it made in 2019. This year, the agency plans to complete the Adams Blvd. Safety Project, which will incorporate bike lanes and signal upgrades, as well as the San Vicente Safety and Mobility Project.
In 2023, it will add 1.25 miles of path along the LA River between Owensmouth and Mason, and 4.75 miles to the San Fernando Bike Path adjacent to San Fernando Road between Brandford and Cohasset in the city of Burbank.