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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New signs seek to steer bike riders and walkers away from a collision course

Courtesy Elysian Valley River Neighborhood Council

The extension of the Los Angeles River bike path into Elysian Valley last year has proven popular with cyclists. The once bumpy and uneven strip along the Los Angeles River was replaced with  smooth asphalt, lane stripes, landscaping and lighting.  But the  not everyone has welcomed the new path and the bike riders.  Many longtime residents of Elysian Valley, also known as Frogtown, who once leisurely strolled along the riverside now complain about aggressive cyclists who race down the asphalt without regards to pedestrians.   There have been some near misses and a few collisions between cyclists and walkers, including one involving the elderly father of a member of the neighborhood council. As a result,  bright blue  “Share the Path” signs commissioned by the Elysian Valley River Neighborhood Council will soon be installed along the river to remind cyclists as well as pedestrians that both groups have to be aware of each other.

“There were a lot of close calls and a couple of injuries,” said neighborhood council President Steve Appleton. “To be fair, some walkers were less than aware of the need to share.  That’s because no one was used to cyclists speeding down the new smooth path.  The river path in its prior bumpy form was the  ‘Main Street’ of Elysian Valley before anyone else cared.”

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During the path’s grand opening in December, a group of Elysian Valley residents lead by neighborhood activist David De La Torre  (pictured in video) gathered on the path to voice their concerns.

The rocky cyclist-walker relations are partly the result of a path that is relatively narrow. The strip of land between the top of the concrete riverbank and the adjacent properties is not wide enough to create separate bike and pedestrian lanes, said Appleton.  The neighborhood council worked with the Bike Coalition to get the word out to cyclists about the problems and need to share.  There was some improvement but  the bike-pedestrian run-ins have continued, prompting the the neighborhood council to look into ways to remind both bike riders and walkers about the shared nature of the path.

“We found that there was no sign in “official” [Department of Transportation] signs to deal with our situation,” Appleton said.  “So out of necessity, we created out own. ”

In July, the neighborhood council approved a sign design by local artist Nate Schulman. A pair of the 48-inch wide signs, paid for by Council Distirct 13, will be installed along the path. Appleton said he hopes the signs improve safety and raise awareness of the neighborhood.

“They not only let people know to share the path and exercise care – the signs also let folks know where they are:  namely Elysian Valley.”

15 comments

  1. If pedestrians don’t walk more than two or three abreast, there is room to go around them, and cyclists will. It’s not like cyclists are looking to barrel through people. It’s when pedestrians walk in groups of three, four, or five, and spread out to take up both lanes, that they run the risk of getting hit. If it was a shared car/pedestrian path, pedestrians would be smart enough to not take up the whole space. Not that I’m defending the spandex weekend warriors flying down these paths — they’re usually pretty entitled jerks — but I’m on the path a lot and see a lot of pedestrians with no awareness of where they are or how they are putting themselves at risk.

    And, ugh, all of this “I’m a lifetime resident” and “outsiders come in and do X and Y” makes me shudder. Public space is open to everyone. If in response to efforts to end redlining or integrating public parks back in the day, the white community said “but we’re lifetime residents!” it wouldn’t change the fact analysis. The folks who repeatedly use this trope (typically anti-gentrification folks, although not necessarily here) need a work on a developing a theory that is not vulnerable to such morally bankrupt co-option.

  2. “To be fair, some walkers were less than aware of the need to share….”

    Though he’s careful to qualify their number as minimal I’m relieved Appleton recognizes — albeit barely — that pedestrian users of the path contribute to the problem. But then he goes and disingenuously excuses them while further demonizing all cyclists by adding “because no one was used to cyclists speeding down the new smooth path.”

    From my perspective as a cyclist who’s been conscientiously and considerately utilizing the LA River Bikeway from Griffith Park through Atwater Village and Elysian Valley beginning back almost two decades ago long before it was in its present state to yesterday, I can regularly ount on encountering pedestrians who create obstacles not because they aren’t accustomed to other users but because they aren’t accustomed or willing to share. They then exacerbate the issue by walking dogs either off-leash or strung out on 15-foot leads, plugging their ears with headphones, or proceeding across both lanes two or three abreast as if they have a right to do so.

    I can’t tell you the number of times whether approaching from the front or coming up from behind any variation of the above that I’ve slowed and repeatedly sounded my bell only to be outright ignored.

    There are certainly reckless cyclists out there on the river path for whom I share pedestrians’ disdain of their irresponsible behavior, and I’m all for signage that promotes sharing and awareness, but if Appleton really wants to be fair he shouldn’t minimize one group over an other.

  3. I am a cyclist and EV resident who rides and walks on the newly improved path regularly. I’ve been forced to stop by a local homeless ex-convict pedestrian so that I could hear his threatening lecture about hitting kids on the path. (The last time I saw him, he was on a bike.) I’ve never hit a kid, but this guy felt entitled to lecture me. I think I’ve also met David once on the path. Whoever it was, that guy felt free to vent to me (while I was walking) about “the Lance Armstrong wannabes” in a righteous and entitled manner. Meanwhile, in my years of riding the path, I’ve seen just one collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian. I think race and class are the real source of the stirred-up feelings, but since those things are not usually talked about openly, guys in spandex on relatively expensive bikes have become the target of bad feelings on a path from which new copper power lines were stolen and graffiti is abundant. Despite all that, almost all the time, people on the path are friendly to one another and make an effort to get along.

  4. Non bike riding walker here. Sure there’s the obnoxious biker here and there, but what do I see again and again all over town? Two or more walkers, shoulder to shoulder in conversation, never breaking their phalanx and blocking most or all of the path/sidewalk. They don’t make eye contact with oncoming walkers or bikers. If you play chicken with them, you realize that the closest walker is peripherally aware. Some will evade at the last moment, but usually you get a rough shoulder. I can’t imagine a good strategy for a bicycle rider. As a pedestrian, I’ve grown so tired of this that I’ll just stop, turn my back and they inevitably walk around me (funny how they only collide from the front). Before walkers hate on bike riders they should take a good long look in the mirror or at other walkers. Rude begets rude.

  5. @Waka – 100% agree. I don’t bike, but it annoys me that everywhere I go, people will walk 2 or more abreast, and refuse to move, and when I say “excuse me” (in a polite tone of voice) and walk around them on the tiny sliver of space that is left, they almost always give me a dirty look as if I am invading THEIR space! I’ve never really had problems with cyclists on the path. They are usually pretty good about giving warning with a bell ring, and I’m not dumb enough to walk in the middle of the path or crowd it with 5 of my friends. It’s the walkers who crowd the path that piss me off.

  6. Thank you, Elysian Valley Neighborhood Council. This is overdue. Before the bicyclists jump all over me, please hear me out.

    I am an avid pedestrian who avoids the “shared path” on the LA River. Yes, there are respectful people, both on foot and on bikes, who slow down and move aside for each other. Sadly, there are people who ruin the experience for everyone on both sides the issue.

    On a recent weekday morning, I walked with a friend (we’re both about 6 feet tall, so you can’t claim you couldn’t see us) and my dog (on a very short leash, at my heel & yes, I always pick up after him) from Oros Park to Newell St.

    I was constantly looking over my shoulder for the unexpected cyclist. The combined noise of the 5 Freeway, trains, construction and industrial noise at nearby businesses are way louder the sounds of bikes approaching from behind. In fact, we could barely hear each other at times it was so loud.

    We thanked cyclists who used their bells or called out when they were coming up behind us. We made every attempt to always keep to one side, but the narrowness of the path makes it difficult.

    We noticed many Elysian Valley neighbors, including kids and elderly, walking their dogs – on short leashses – absolutely clinging to the the dirt edge of the path in anxiety and fear. These neighbors did not behave this way in years past, before the path was smooth and bike friendly.

    We were disappointed we couldn’t walk down in much of the riverbed since the flat parts are now covered in water. When we were able to escape the bike path for the riverbed, it was much quiter and bike free, but there were also LOTS of broken bottles.

    Everyone needs to calm down, slow down, respect one another and pick up after their dogs. (There are a lot more trashcans on the path than there used to be!)

  7. The super jerks can hit the quiet paths by pushing the trash cans into the river and graffitti on the walls. For sure catching the jerks will continue being a problem, just like speeding and aggressive bicyclist and own the path pedestrians.

    But for sure some sections of the new bike paths are super quiet compared to the parts that border the freeway. Enjoy the various artworks, the plaques and small garden they still are nice touches.

  8. First of all the local “peds” forced CD-13 to paint out the pavement markers that said “Bike Path” and now these lame signs? The pedestrians along this stretch are in danger from their own actions. I have personally had to almost dismount and or fall over to miss small children and wacky out of control “Small Dogs” on the path, obviously not being watched or trained by the adults with them, but then there are the adults, walking as wide as possible not aware of what might be anywhere on the path coming at them at any speed.
    This is a joke, is there no place in Los Angeles where the bicycle might have the right of way? Possibly on a BIKE PATH?

  9. so the cars complain about bikers riding two by two in traffic and now bikers complain about walkers not in single file. sharing the road or sharing the path i think it all just boils down to consideration for others. unfortunately, all parties (drivers, bikers and pedestrians) have been equally guilty at times. if all of us were aware and cared about how we can impact others perhaps we would not have such issues.

  10. It would also be nice if signs were put up that say “Quiet, please respect the neighbors”. Or something similar. There are lots of homeowners and residents that live along the river, respect their peace and quiet.

  11. Clearly this is a hot topic for both bikers and pedestrians trying to share the path. In my mind, much of the responsibility for the problem lies with the City who did not pay any attention to the fact that this portion of the river (unlike the rest of the bike path to the north) has historically been very well used by residents used to walking and playing on the path. The bike riding community (and the city) initially conceived of this as simply an extension of the BIKE path to the north. Despite the concerns raised by local residents prior to the construction of the path, the design was not modified in any way to accommodate pedestrians until after it was built and opened. Then, when it became clear that there were conflicts, the city began to make some moves to call this a SHARED bike and pedestrian path. There are many examples of such paths – Venice and Huntington Beach come to mind. Both are well marked, and Huntington Beach cites a municipal ordinance limiting bike speeds when pedestrians are present. Bikers are well aware of the requirements for the shared portion of the path, and then have unlimited speeds available on the predominantly BIKE portion of the path. I am happy to see the signs sponsored by the NC – hopefully everyone will come to understand that it is possible for the two users to co-exist as they do on many other shared paths.

  12. Basically, the path should be closed to bicycles. It was better before. You could walk your dog, carry your fishing pole etc., and the only cyclists had big-tired bikes. Now idiots race by and yell at you to get out of the way.

  13. Brian “I am An Idiot” of Glassel”

    It is not a bike path. It is a path along the river, where people walk their dogs and always have, and children play. You are allowed to ride your bike there–for now. Hopefully that will change. The bike use is not compatible, as it is a narrow path.

  14. The bike path has always been that, a bike path. Walkers and riders need to share the road. Bicyclers should be ticketed if they are speeding. Most bicyclers just take a relaxing ride. Those agressive ones do not belong there.

    And, I am not sure Matthew means by the issue about residents. Residents that live along the river deserve some RESPECT. That means visitors to the river need to be quiet and keep the place clean!! And, because visitors are coming through our community they need to respect the neighbors. This is not about race. Mostly upper class rich people come to use our neighborhood which is mostly poor and middle class. Whoever lives in the neighborhood deserves respect from visitors.

    • What the cyclists need to recognize —and I am one of them—is that the path does have a relevant history. Namely, that the whole area of Elysian Valley used to have a commercial district with stores and meeting places along Riverside Drive. When the 5 freeway cut it off from its main street, the path over time took on that function. OK so that’s now ancient history but bad planning decisions last generations and the pathway is both the the stand in for main street and it is by all engineering definitions too narrow.

      The well-intended path improvement points out that planning must be systematic and not piecemeal. This is a wonderful stretch of the river but it poses challenges– not just because some very few locals claim it as their own or that some cyclists are inappropriately using it for a fast training run.

      Part of walking together is to talk. People will do that, sometimes abreast because it is not pleasant to talk to someone’s back. Cyclists and walkers can be respectful. In general, using the path for fast cycle training ground will be challenging in the narrow and social stretch of Elysian Valley. This area calls for a bit more contemplative enjoyment.

      Slowly everyone seems to be getting the idea.

      Maybe what is really needed is the cantilever walkway over the river I’ve been designing. Double the width of the pathway. Instead of fighting each other on these subject maybe we can focus on the next improvements where everyone can have their way!

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