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Recipe for Creating a Bicycle-Friendly City

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

What are the ingredients for creating a bicycle-friendly community? A community that feels safe, convenient and pleasant for all ages and abilities to ride a bicycle. It is important to understand, to begin with, that there are no easy, painless, overnight solutions. Over the past several decades, we have unconsciously done everything we could possibly do to make bicycling an exceptionally dangerous, unacceptable way to travel. It will therefore take quite a while for our cities and towns to see bicyclists crowding our streets. And change will need to be incremental and from a great many sources. There are no silver bullets.

Here are my top 5 recommendations for how to make a more bicycle-friendly community.

1. Parking Cash-Out. Local employers (particularly local government agencies and large private employers) must establish a parking cash-out program. By ending this enormous subsidy for driving a car to work, cash-out is the most effective tool we know of to recruit new bicyclists. An increased number of bicycle commuters dramatically increases bicyclist safety and comfort while riding, and promotes political action to improve bicycling conditions.

2. Centralization and Residential Density. Important facilities and events, such as the county farmers market, the conference center, the major movie theatre complex, the major fitness center, the main post office, major government facilities, and annual festivals must only be allowed in the central area of the city (subsidiary or duplicate facilities and events can be allowed in the periphery). Those facilities and events that are currently located in peripheral locations must be incrementally moved to central locations. Locating these facilities and events at peripheral locations substantially reduces their accessibility by a large percentage of commuter bicyclists. Such an effort is not only crucial to bicycling, but is also essential in creating a sense of community. Similarly, a city must establish higher density residential development within the central areas of the city. Doing so dramatically increases bicycling because such housing increases the convenience, safety and practicality of bicycling. Destinations such as school, retail, recreation, government facilities, jobs and culture become more proximate (more w/in bicycling range).

3. Traffic Calming and Road Diets. High-speed, inattentive car travel is one of the most significant reasons bicyclists feel unsafe and uncomfortable while bicycling — and why so many are discouraged from bicycling at all. Each time a street is traffic-calmed, or has travel lanes removed (road dieting), bicycling is dramatically improved and there is a significant increase in bicycling. A large percentage of streets carry car traffic that features uncomfortably and unsafely high speeds, and a number of streets can greatly benefit from travel lane removal (for example, 5- or 4-lanes to 3). Many of these diet opportunities provide a way to install an in-street bicycle lane on streets that do not have space today, and in-street bicycle lanes are, by far, preferable to off-street paths for commuter bicycle travel. Because 4-, 5-, and 6-lane streets are a primary cause of high speed car traffic and inattentive, reckless driving, it is important for a community to avoid building them, and to “diet” those that are already at that size. High-speed, inattentive driving significantly discourages bicycling in most every community.

4. Off-Street Path System. The off-street bicycle/pedestrian path system in nearly every community is either non-existent, or contains a number of path opportunities that have languished, unbuilt, for decades. The gaps in this “greenway” system must be eliminated. While completing the system will not result in a significant increase in bicycle commuting, it would dramatically increase recreational bicycling. A completed greenway system also plays the crucial role of recruiting novice bicyclists and non-bicyclists into becoming regular, confident bicyclists, because off-street paths provide a “training ground” that allows large numbers of untrained bicyclists to learn the skills and joys of bicycling in a safe, non-threatening, sociable environment.

5. In-Street Bicycle Lanes. Despite what is often believed, in-street bicycle lanes are much more desirable to a commuter bicyclist than are off-street paths or sidewalks. Paths can only feasibly link a tiny number of destinations that a bicyclist seeks to travel to, and even for the small number of destinations that can be reached by a path, using the street is nearly always faster and more direct than using an off-street path. And just like motorists, a primary desire by bicyclists is to find the fastest route to a destination when commuting. In addition, contrary to popular belief, studies have shown for several decades that in urbanized areas where there are numerous crossing driveways and streets, in-street bicycle lanes are significantly safer than sidewalks. Because paths usually create the same safety hazards as sidewalks (by having numerous driveway and street intersections), they are generally discouraged as a design treatment within urbanized areas. Given all of this, a bicycle-friendly city must ensure that as many major streets as possible contain in-street bicycle lanes. It is important to keep in mind that one size does not fit all. In general, in-street bicycle lanes are NOT appropriate on low-speed downtown streets or neighborhood streets. Their application tends to be most appropriate on higher-speed suburban arterial streets.

References for #5 above:

Florida Dept of Transportation (1998). Florida Bicycle Facilities Planning and Design Manual. Tallahassee FL.

Florida Dept of Transportation (2002). Plans Preparation Manual. Tallahassee FL.

Wachtel, A. and Lewiston, D. (1994). Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections. ITE Journal. September.

Forester, J. (1984). Effective Cycling. MIT Press.

Forester, J. (1983). Bicycle Transportation. MIT Press.

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Little-Known State Law Gives No Parking Perk

Certain employers must pay a stipend to those who don’t drive to work. L.A. hasn’t enforced it.

By Jean Guccione, LA Times Staff Writer

October 10, 2006

When his boss offered him $185 a month or free parking, Tom Fleming didn’t hesitate: He bought a $52-a-month bus pass and pocketed the difference.

 

That’s exactly what state lawmakers had in mind in 1992 when they enacted a law requiring certain employers to pay a monthly stipend to employees who carpool, ride public transit, walk or bike to work.

But “a lot of employers don’t even realize they should be doing it,” said Gennet Paauwe, a spokeswoman for the California Air Resources Board, which administers the program.

 

And employers aren’t the only ones with little information about the law: State officials have no idea how many businesses are required to offer the cash inducements, much less how many of them actually do.

 

Always on the lookout for ways to reduce traffic congestion, the Los Angeles City Council’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday will consider how to go about implementing and enforcing the so-called parking cash-out law.

 

“I think it’s clear that parking policies affect how people get to work,” said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who is the committee chairwoman. She cited studies showing that free parking encourages people to drive to work alone.

 

Conversely, 17% of all drivers offered cash in exchange for their free parking space will give up their vehicles, said Donald C. Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA who helped write the state law.

 

“It treats every employee equally,” he said. “It’s much fairer than saying you get free parking or nothing.”

 

Statewide, only Santa Monica enforces the law. More than a decade ago, provisions of the statute were incorporated into a traffic management ordinance.

 

Throughout the Southland, free parking is an ingrained fringe benefit. The Southern California Assn. of Governments estimates that 95% of the people who drive to work park there for free, Shoup said.

 

Under the parking cash-out program, employers must pay a stipend equal to the cost of a parking space to workers who do not drive to the office. The law covers public and private employers that have at least 50 employees and that offer free parking in a leased lot.

 

Those restrictions mean that just 3% – or an estimated 290,000 of the state’s 11 million employer-paid parking spaces – are subject to the law, according to a 2002 report by the state legislative analyst’s office. About 84% of the free parking spaces are exempt because they are employer-owned.

 

Some larger employers offer free bus passes and other incentives to reduce car emissions under regional air quality guidelines. Those entities can satisfy smog-reduction requirements and the state law by incorporating parking cash-out subsidies.

 

Martin Wachs, director of the Rand Corp.’s Transportation, Space and Technology Program, called the cash-out program a “first step.” He said the city also should consider limiting parking in high-rises, especially those near public transit.

 

“It doesn’t make sense to me to spend billions to build subways and the buildings next to them that have seven, eight, 10 levels of parking that is provided free to those employees,” he said, noting that free parking will trump even the most easily accessible public transit.

 

Shoup studied eight Los Angeles-area firms whose workers were offered cash instead of free parking. His 1997 report concluded that, on average, 17% of the employees took the money.

 

The law does not cost employers any more than if every employee opted for free parking, Shoup said. In fact, the cash-out provision gives lower-paid employees who are more likely to take public transit benefits equal to those provided to their colleagues with cars.

 

The legislative analyst’s report found that employee participation ranged from 2% to 22% at various job sites, depending on such factors as the subsidy amount, business type, location and proximity to public transit. “High-paid employees with irregular schedules [are] not easily swayed by cash incentive,” the report states.

 

At the Century City law firm of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, none of the lawyers has exchanged free parking for cash, firm officials said. But 17 other employees – including Fleming, the firm’s director of information, resources and management – took the money, said John Kramer, administrative operations manager. Each of the firm’s more than 200 employees gets a free parking space, valued at $185 a month, or the cash equivalent.

 

Fleming, 58, lives less than three miles away in West Hollywood. He said he was surprised when he moved here from Baltimore six years ago and was offered free parking. He takes the bus and the cash. “It’s a very nice bonus and it most definitely keeps me from driving,” he said.

 

Other companies have had greater success. More than half of the workers at an unnamed financial services firm in downtown Santa Monica cited in the legislative analyst’s report took a $200-a-month stipend and found another way to work. Since the law was enacted, Santa Monica has reduced employee parking by as much as 20% and increased the average number of passengers per vehicle from 1.3 to 1.5.

 

The city of Los Angeles does not require employers to submit annual traffic plans. But officials are exploring whether to revise tax forms to seek data essential in identifying businesses that should comply with the state law.

 

Shoup, the UCLA professor and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” applauded the city’s efforts. “Most of us assume that if the state passes a law, it will be enforced,” he said, noting that at the time he thought workers would push bosses to pay up.

 

But the Air Resources Board’s Paauwe said the law’s many exemptions make enforcement difficult. For now, it is “complaint driven,” she said. Possible violations may be reported by calling (800) 952-5588 or the local air district.

 

The statute includes a $500 fine per vehicle for noncompliance, but no one has been fined.

 

Shoup isn’t concerned that Los Angeles’ effort to enforce the law might take too long. “It has not been enforced since 1992,” he said. “We can wait to do it right.”

 

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