Linda Sarna is the acting dean of the UCLA School of Nursing and the Lulu Wolf Hassenplug Endowed Chair in Nursing. Dr. A. Eugene Washington is the vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. This op-ed appeared Nov. 7 in the Huffington Post.
Westwood Boulevard, particularly the stretch from Wilshire Boulevard to the UCLA campus, is clogged with automobile traffic. This route is also heavily used by bicyclists and pedestrians, for whom little accommodation has been made. Recognizing the need to improve the condition, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti prioritized Westwood Boulevard as one of six inaugural streets in his Great Streets Initiative to be upgraded with bicycle lanes, landscaping and other improvements necessary to provide a safe and welcoming environment for pedestrians and cyclists.
A group of community members from the areas surrounding the UCLA campus is vocally opposing the addition of bike lanes to Westwood Boulevard, even though initial assessment indicates that the bike lanes can be implemented without the loss of parking or travel lanes, removing the worries generally associated with bicycle projects. In fact, city planners have already designated this stretch of Westwood Boulevard for bike lanes as part of the 2010 L.A. Bicycle Plan. The expansive width of this street makes this opposition to a simple stripe of paint perplexing.
Los Angeles needs more cyclists and pedestrians and fewer autos. Transportation accounts for approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and is the main contributor to L.A. having the worst air quality in the nation. Reducing our car dependency will play a major role in improving the quality of life in our great city, and highly traveled streets like Westwood Boulevard can set the example for streets that facilitate zero-emission transportation options of cycling and walking.
As streets become more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists, the decreased traffic congestion not only improves air quality, but also decreases the potential for traffic collisions. Westwood Boulevard currently has L.A.'s second highest rate of automobile collisions with bicyclists. Studies show that bike lanes decrease the odds of injury by up to 47 percent on major streets with parked cars — conditions similar to those on Westwood Boulevard. Dedicated bike lanes will benefit the safety of all street users (including drivers) as bicyclists would be confined to a separate lane and less likely to wander across travel lanes or sidewalks. With over 800 cyclists each day plying this stretch of LA roadway, it is incumbent upon the city to provide them with safe passage. Encouraging biking and walking also provides numerous health benefits by increasing daily physical activity. Studies show that as little as 20 minutes of physical activity can significantly improve health and lower the risk of chronic disease.
UCLA makes Westwood Village not only the largest employment center in L.A. outside of downtown, but with 42,000 UCLA students as well as visitors from around the world, it is a citywide and regional destination. Increasing the people-friendliness of Westwood Boulevard will bolster current efforts to revitalize Westwood Village businesses as bicycle lanes and other infrastructure attract more bicyclists and pedestrians who move at a slower pace compared to drivers, and thus are more likely to linger and shop. Given the variety of public transportation projects in the pipeline, including the Purple Line extension to Westwood and the imminent completion of Expo Phase 2, safe and convenient bicycle access along Westwood Boulevard will only become more critical.
The city of Los Angeles must make our streets safer and more welcoming to pedestrians and bicyclists and not let a vocal few jeopardize the well-being and safety of the many whose choice of zero emission transportation options improves air quality and reduces traffic congestion for all of us. With almost 3,000 bicyclists commuting to Westwood each day, along with thousands of pedestrians, we strongly support the revitalization of Westwood Boulevard into a “Great Street” with much-needed bicycle and pedestrian amenities — including bicycle lanes.