L.A.'s Bike Lane Blues

December 14, 2011
The city's new green bike lane has hit costly speedbumps.

The city of Los Angeles recently followed the lead of cities like San Francisco and New York by altering two of its streets and adding new bike lanes, part of a pilot program that included painting the entire width of the lanes bright green. These new lanes have been welcomed by the bicycle community and by ribbon-cutting local politicians as a bold green sign of the city’s efforts to become a safer and friendlier place to bike. Riding down one of these new lanes, a 1.5-mile section of Spring Street downtown, it’s easy to feel the difference from other streets in the car-dominated city, with the neon green lane practically impossible to miss. But after a few blocks of riding, that bright green starts to dim, with sometimes huge splotches chipped off and eaten away, revealing the black pavement and gray concrete beneath. And that’s after a second coat of paint had been added. In a month.

“By the first rainstorm they were compromised,” says Tim Fremaux, a traffic engineer and bikeways project manager at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

And that first rainstorm came early. Despite a fairly clear forecast, rains drizzled shortly after crews laid down paint the weekend of November 19. According to Bruce Gillman, LADOT’s public information officer, the $15,000 coat of paint couldn’t properly set because of the moisture. In addition, passing buses, cars, bikes and pedestrians further affected the paint’s ability to dry properly. “Cones weren’t left in place long enough to control the traffic,” says Gillman.

Within days, much of the paint on a long stretch of the new bike lane looked like it had gone through years of service. So two weeks later, they tried again.

“We re-applied with a different paint, but recent rainstorms compromised that coat as well,” says Fremaux, of rains that fell earlier this week. The second coat of paint, which included an epoxy base to help it stick to the ground, cost another $15,000.

But again, the bike lane is now fading away on about half of its 11-block stretch, with chipped paint drifting into gutters and down the street. The bulk of the paint remains, but the visible decay is at the very least troubling for a project with only a few weeks under its belt and already two faulty coats of paint.