LA plans to add bike lanes, reduce driving lanes

The city of highways has approved plans to reduce driving lanes and provide space for biking and other transportation options:

The City Council has approved a far-reaching transportation plan that would reshape the streetscape over the next 20 years, adding hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes, bus-only lanes and pedestrian safety features as part of an effort to nudge drivers out from behind the wheel.

Not surprisingly, in the unofficial traffic congestion capital of the country, the plan has set off fears of apocalyptic gridlock.

“What they’re trying to do is make congestion so bad, you’ll have to get out of your car,” said James O’Sullivan, a founder of Fix the City, a group that is planning a lawsuit to stop the plan. “But what are you going to do, take two hours on a bus? They haven’t given us other options.”

For Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Mobility Plan 2035, as the new program is being called, is part of a larger push to get people out of their cars and onto sidewalks that began with the expansion of the mass transit system championed by his immediate predecessor, Antonio R. Villaraigosa…

Mr. Garcetti compared people who fear that removing lanes will make the streets horrific to lobsters boiling slowly in a pot: The changes may make traffic 15 percent worse instead of just 5 percent worse each year, he said, but the situation is already becoming untenable.

Perhaps only in Los Angeles would residents file lawsuits to ensure their ability to sit in big traffic jams. According to one recent study, LA area residents lose on average the second most hours a year to traffic (first is the Washington D.C. area). Of course, there is no guarantee that these changes will quickly make things easier for drivers as well as for all travelers. Yet, adding more lanes does not usually help traffic; it simply serves to add more drivers to the road.

There are some allusions in the article to the issue of social class. We might think that more mass transit options would help lower-income residents as owning a car is expensive (maintenance, insurance, gas, parking). And bicycles are pretty cheap. Yet, is urban biking primarily something desired by middle- to upper-class residents who could afford cars but want greener options? Biking often also requires a certain density so that rides aren’t too long. Thus, even good bike options may not help many people who have to travel more than 10 miles each way to work. It can also be difficult to get wealthier residents to ride buses.

While it would take much more than this plan to transform LA’s transportation network and self-understanding away from the car and highways, it will be interesting to see if this plan can keep nudging the needle toward other options.

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