Big-Bucks Bikepath : Group Wheels and Deals in Hopes of Securing Funds for Westside Veloway

Times Staff Writer

You think Metro Rail has problems? Try promoting a bicycle freeway--a 2 1/2-mile, 17-foot-high concrete track that would afford perhaps 4,000 pedalers a day temporary protection from such natural enemies as automobiles and trucks, not to mention large dogs.

Estimated cost: $7 million to $10 million.

That’s the vision of Ryan Snyder, director of a small group that calls itself Citizens for the West Los Angeles Veloway. Snyder, a Westwood resident, has been pushing the veloway (from the Latin velox , or quick) for seven years. It’s been one hill after another.

A 31-year-old planner for a mid-Wilshire company that designs ride-share programs (for automobiles), Snyder has, in his spare time, sent out more than 8,000 veloway brochures to residents and merchants, appeared before commissions and committees and spoken privately to government and industry officials.


Pulling a cardboard miniature of the four-lane veloway out of the back seat of his car--the model is too big to lug around on his bicycle--he apologized for its somewhat bent railings.

“I’ve carried this around to so many places it’s gotten a little worn,” he explained.

Los Angeles County (at the urging of Supervisor Ed Edelman), Caltrans and UCLA have spent $132,500 studying Snyder’s concept of not-so-rapid transit. A final environmental impact report seemed near the finish line recently, but it has since been held up by new snags over the projected route between Santa Monica Boulevard and UCLA.

Still, Snyder remains optimistic.

“There are thousands of people out there who would bicycle to UCLA and Westwood if they only felt they could do so safely,” he said. “With Los Angeles’ reputation for innovation, I think the veloway would usher in a whole new era for commuting.”

A bicycle freeway would, of course, be another modern-day first for Southern California (a wooden span for pedalers briefly graced Pasadena at the turn of the century).

Pondering the possibilities, Bill Keene, KNX radio’s traffic reporter, said, “I guess we’d have a new set of terms for accidents. There’d still be fender-benders, but now we’d also have spoke-spoilers and handlebar-havoc. I wonder, would there be a diamond lane for bicycles-built-for-two?”

First, the route must win preliminary approval.

The veloway needs right-of-way permits from such varied bodies as the Veterans Administration, the federal General Services Administration, the city of Los Angeles and UCLA, all of whose property the cyclists would two-wheel through.

As envisioned by Snyder’s group, the track would start in a UCLA parking lot near the corners of Le Conte and Gayley avenues, pass through (and above) Westwood, span the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, cross over to the center of Sepulveda Boulevard and end just south of Santa Monica Boulevard. A second leg would run west to Texas and Federal avenues. A third would connect with San Vicente Boulevard.

The latest thumbtack in the bikeway’s path was the discovery that UCLA has another construction project planned at the proposed starting point--a conflict that Snyder says can be worked out.

City and county transportation officials also question whether Westwood merchants would approve of their stores facing a veloway. The aesthetic quality of the track is another factor, freeways not being famous for their attractive appearances.

“I’d like to hold a design/building competition,” Snyder said. “I think the veloway could be attractive in the way bridges are attractive--graceful, not bulky. We’d like to have it lit at night, which would be a beautiful sight.”

Approval is only the first step. The bikeway will still suffer a blow-out if financing isn’t obtained.

A freeway free of belching exhaust pipes, blaring horns and vanity license plates sounds idyllic. And the veloway’s board of directors includes such prominent names as Edelman, Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles) and UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young.

But where would the $10 million come from?

“I think there are lots of people who would use the veloway,” Edelman said. “I think the weather is good for it. But we (the county) just don’t have the funds to pay for it.”

The federal government, given its unwillingness to bear the burden of Los Angeles’ Metro Rail project, seems even less likely to sponsor bicyclists.

Snyder will try to scrape together funds from a variety of sources, using the argument that the veloway’s tab is not so high when you consider that it recently cost more than $8 million to build one Westwood parking structure that has fewer than 500 spaces.

One possible--though distant--veloway source might be a share of the “traffic mitigation fees” that developers in Westwood will have to pay the City of Los Angeles under a recently passed ordinance. (The fees are to be used for traffic decongestion projects, such as computerized traffic signals.) Snyder is also seeking private donors, such as sponsors of the 1984 Olympics.

No meter ramps are planned for the veloway but it could offer another feature at the entrances: a tollbooth.

“Having the bikers pay a toll would be one way to help maintain the veloway once it was constructed,” Edelman said.

A study by the Urban Innovations Group of UCLA found that 1,200 bicyclists commute to work or school daily in the general area. The study estimates that figure would rise to 4,300 if the track were built.

As for traffic enforcement, Snyder visualizes Los Angeles Police Department officers on patrol bicycles upholding a 25-m.p.h. speed limit as well as keeping out undesirables, like pedestrians.

Speaking hypothetically, Los Angeles police Capt. Stanley Kensic of the West Los Angeles Area Station did not seem bothered by the prospect of (relatively) high-speed chases on the veloway, but he added a cautionary note: “Mopeds could be a problem, or one of those ATCs (motorized three-wheelers) might try to get on (the veloway). There’s usually someone out there who’ll try something like that.”

Snyder hopes that the West Los Angeles Veloway would have more lasting power than the Dobbins Elevated Cycleway of Pasadena did.

Named for its promoter, Horace Dobbins (later a mayor of Pasadena), the four-lane track was built of wood and covered with asphalt and beach sand. Dobbins envisioned it running nine miles from the Green Hotel to Los Angeles, elevated at heights ranging from three to 50 feet.

The first 1 1/2 miles of the track opened on New Year’s Day, 1900, with a “Mr. Bedell and a party of New Yorkers” taking the maiden ride, one Pasadena paper reported. The cycleway was extended slightly, but public enthusiasm dimmed, Dobbins ran short of funding and the track was dismantled within a few years.

Later, the route was revived--for the Pasadena Freeway.