At the June 21 Council Meeting, while many people were out enjoying the Day of Music, Council voted to close the Wilshire Bike Boulevard once again (temporarily) in the 100 west block.
Bicycle advocates worked long and hard to get the Wilshire Bicycle Boulevard into the 2012 Master Plan of Bikeways and to be included as part of the County’s District 4 Bikeways Strategy (in which it is envisioned as a key regional link in a route connecting the Coyote Creek/San Gabriel River Trails to the Santa Ana River Trail). They continued to work (with staff’s help) to get outside grant funding and to actually get it built. It is one of the few successes for providing safe bicycle routes in Fullerton, which is sorely underserved in this area. Indeed, this is currently the only safe bicycle route into downtown.
A couple of years ago this route was closed—with no discussion with the Active Transportation Committee (ATC) –to provide for outside dining. It has taken no small effort to get the bike lane re-opened, thanks in part to the support of Council. Unfortunately, the implementation was over-engineered and heavy-handed. While little evidence has been offered that this has hurt businesses, it is a truth universally acknowledged—including on the ATC—that the current large orange barriers are unattractive, and the bikeway needs to be redesigned to enhance the outdoor dining experience. But there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater by shutting down the route once again.
The bike lane does not have to be removed to be safe and compatible with outdoor dining. At the June 7 Council meeting, nine people, several associated with two restaurants, spoke about the ugliness of the orange barriers—not only those barriers defining the bike lane, but those closing off the street as well. Only one speaker, a former mayor, asked for the removal of the bike route, and dangerously suggested that bicyclists could navigate their way through the diners. Most of the other speakers asked for a redesign. Even the ATC, which discussed the re-opening but did not approve the current design as implemented, recommended changes to staff to make the bikeway safer and more appealing.
To see different ways to do this, one can Google “pedestrian street barriers,” or “bicycle route barriers” and see many examples of how this has been done less obtrusively. Most of these examples are still inappropriate or dangerous, but there is some wheat among the chaff. One excellent example is State Street in Santa Barbara, which has been closed to traffic for about a mile, in the heart of town for dining, pedestrians, and bicycles. To block traffic at the many cross streets rather than large barricades, they use planters, bollards, and a single pole. They also selectively use green paint to show bicyclists where to ride at intersections. The only barriers separating diners from bicyclists and pedestrians appear to be provided by restaurants. It does not take huge barricades to keep cars from entering a street. Indeed, the current barricades in Fullerton make it difficult even for bicycles to enter the street requiring 90 or 180 degree turns through narrow openings.
To improve the ambience of Wilshire and keep the bicycle route, the following can be done:
• Replace the end barriers with some combination of planters and bollards.
• Define the route and the access points with green paint.
• (If side barriers are to be installed), require that they be assembled with planters or boxed shrubs. (Another alternative would be metal poles.)
The staff report for the Council item suggested that bicyclists are not using the newly re-opened route. There are several reasons for this. First, despite some signage it still looks like the route is closed due to the imposing barriers. Second, the route is dangerous due to the sharp turns required to enter the path, and it also feels unsafe because of the unforgiving mass of the barriers. Finally, it is inconvenient, requiring dismounting to press the walk button at Harbor.
Ironically, earlier during the June 21 meeting, the Council passed a nearly 200-page Downtown Active Transportation Plan on the Consent Calendar (#12) with no discussion (and probably unread by most Councilmembers). The Wilshire route is a key part of this plan as the only safe bicycle route into downtown. The Council giveth and the Council taketh away. This does not bode well for this extensive plan that includes a number of valuable suggestions for getting to and around downtown without a car.
The City Manager has stated that the current barriers will be replaced with an alternative after a period of time for transition. But once the unattractive barriers are gone, so too is much of the incentive to re-install the bike route. It would be better if the ugly barriers remained to provide an incentive to act in a timely fashion.
The good news is that eventually there will be a safe, attractive (and hopefully convenient) bicycle route re-installed. The bad news is that it may be months before an acceptable design is agreed upon and even longer for it to be installed.
Vince Buck is on the Board of the Active Transportation Committee (formerly the Bicycle Users Sub-Committee).