In rush-hour traffic, Wilshire Boulevard is not for the driver who is faint of heart. Nor is it for bicyclists, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I know this post is going up on our Roadshare page, and I’m not sounding very generous. In fact, I’m just trying to keep drivers and bicyclists alive.
Wilshire Boulevard is the iconic Los Angeles street running from downtown Los Angeles on the east to the ocean on the west, offering up a travelogue of Southern California as it passes Koreatown clubs, Hancock Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, the luxury stores of Beverly Hills and the towering condo canyon of Westwood. That may sound charming and elegant, but in the decades since Henry Gaylord Wilshire cleared a path through his barley field so the city could put in a road, that thoroughfare has become a pulsing asphalt ribbon that unspools as wide as five lanes in each direction in some spots. Cars can be stuck in traffic or zoom by at near freeway speed (which of course is wrong and I’m not recommending it — I’m just saying).
Where in that mix does a bicyclist fit? Cyclists themselves refer to Wilshire as “the gauntlet.” Yet I see them as I drive east on Wilshire past the grounds of the VA during morning rush, heads down, cycling as hard as their legs can go, traveling at a fraction of the speed of any car. There are less-trafficked stretches of Wilshire where bicycling seems doable and safer, but not on this portion where there are no dedicated bike lanes and no safe side of the street. So they ride in a lane, which means that, as a driver, I am trudging along behind them, trying not to hit them and trying not to get myself hit by the traffic now going faster than me in the next lane over that I’m trying to merge into. Tricky for me. But all this has to be harrowing for the cyclist.
So why not ban bicycles from Wilshire Boulevard and similarly fast-moving streets?
Because it’s against federal law. Streets are for cars and bicycles, and you can’t ban one or the other.
However, you can encourage and discourage certain kinds of traffic on certain streets, which is what the city’s Department of Transportation is doing when it “traffic calms” a street by putting in bike lanes or rotaries at intersections, or speed bumps (which apparently are not a problem for bicyclists). That encourages bicycle traffic and discourages fast car traffic. Similarly, fast-moving streets can be allowed to move fast — by not installing bicycle lanes or rotaries that welcome cyclists and slow down drivers.
I realize bicyclists are on Wilshire on the Westside in rush hour for the same reason I’m on it: to get somewhere as quickly as possible. But the more extensively the city develops its bikeway network of lanes, paths and bicycle-friendly streets, the more choices — hopefully — cyclists will have for an east-west corridor other than Wilshire Boulevard.