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Report shows drop in LA cycling as bike lane expansion slows

FILE: A bike lane in Los Angeles. A new report shows the number of people biking dropped for the first time in six years, though ridership has held steady or grown on streets with bike lanes.
FILE: A bike lane in Los Angeles. A new report shows the number of people biking dropped for the first time in six years, though ridership has held steady or grown on streets with bike lanes.
Craig Barry via Flickr Creative Commons

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Bicycling has become more popular in Los Angeles over the last decade with the installation of miles of bike lanes, the spread of bike sharing and the growth of events like Ciclavia. But the trend hit a bump last year, according to a new report from the L.A. County Bike Coalition.

The biennial report found ridership dropped 9 percent in 2015 compared with 2013. The biggest decrease was on streets without bike lanes. Things stayed about the same on streets with lanes, although the number of cyclists increased more than 60 percent on streets that had lanes added recently, according to the report. 

This is the fourth biennial report the Bike Coalition has produced, in collaboration with Los Angeles Walks and the UCLA Lewis Center. In 2015, about 600 volunteers stationed at 180 locations throughout L.A. recorded the number of bikes and pedestrians they saw on one weekday and one Saturday.

Since the counts began in 2009, the number of people biking increased over each two-year cycle, until the decrease recorded last year.

"It says to us that we have more work to do, that the bike network is so fragmented, the bike network has a ton of gaps," said Tamika Butler, executive director of the L.A. County Bike Coalition.

The increase on streets that recently added bike lanes "shows that when streets feel safe and when folks see that there’s the space for them, they are riding more," she said.

The decline on other streets, she said, highlights the need for the city to speed up the pace of adding new bike lanes. L.A. went from a high of 101 new miles installed in 2013 to just 11 miles in 2015.

The city of L.A. and the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority have encouraged biking as an alternative to driving for short trips. According to the L.A. Department of Transportation, more than half of all trips taken in L.A. are three miles or less, but nearly three-quarters of such trips are taken by car.

Measure M, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters last week, will dedicate about 4.5 percent of revenue, about $39 million a year, to walking and biking infrastructure.

The city of L.A. has a long-range plan to greatly expand the bike network, but the Mobility Plan 2035 has drawn controversy over its proposal to add bike lanes to busy streets. Critics have opposed the idea out of concern that the lanes would slow car traffic; they've succeeded in persuading officials to strike bike lanes on Westwood Boulevard and Central Avenue from the plan.

Read the full report from L.A. County Bike Coalition: