Bike Travel in the San Fernando Valley

Prologue to the Series

The various types of bike infrastructure in the Valley in my order of preference

There was a reddit thread that I saw (on Twitter under the #bikeLA hashtag of all places) about “Bike Lanes in the San Fernando Valley.” Most people were like, “Look at Google Maps, duh.” But from my own (now 4 year) car-free experiment, I can tell you, Google Maps might not be the way to go.

In fact, in the last couple years, I’ve been manually adding many of the new bike lanes to Google Maps in the San Fernando Valley. How did I know about them? That comes from experience. You need to ride the roads to learn them. There is no real shortcut.

Another problem with Google Maps is that their review process has gotten worse due to fears over vandalism. I would not be surprised if we end up with a different way of keeping tabs on bike infrastructure in the next five years.

That being said, this begins a series on my personal views on what bike paths and lanes are useful in the San Fernando Valley. Give them a shot for all your long-haul, cross-valley needs and let me know what you think.


Methodology

My experience as a very, very avid driver for the first half of my life colors my views of how to explain this. As a driver pre-Waze, I worshiped the great Freeway. The 101, the 405, the 118, and (to a smaller degree) the 27 (aka Topanga Canyon Boulevard) were the boundaries of the Valley and any point in the Valley is best visited by hitting those first.

My bike navigation strategy is very similar: Where am I now? Where do I need to go? Which North-South, East-West route can I use to do the majority of travel?

Also, I live in Chatsworth, the extreme north-west of the 818, almost the tippy-top of the triangle (Porter Ranch is what I would call the very tippy-top). A lot of my suggestions are with that in mind. However, a couple of new connections here and there have really rounded the square (and this concludes your geometry lesson), so wherever you are, this information should still be useful.

The new LADOT Bike Program site is pretty excellent. They keep a better inventory of the bike lanes than Google Maps. However, there still isn’t a way to use their information for routing, nor any way to tell what is new, what is old, and what is ugly.

My maps will all have links that jump to the corresponding section on Google Maps or the LADOT Bike page (depending on which one I’m presenting). If one is missing, please let me know.

Maps that don’t have North up have a note as to which direction is North in the captions.

Lastly, because of my north-west leaning geographical bias, I may leave out your favorite route! Please let me know where I’m lacking in information and I’ll gladly check it out.

Terminology

Bike people sometimes use words that don’t make sense to most people. I don’t want to discourage new people with weird vocab, so here are a few I use in this series. These are a brief overview, but for more detail and less opinion, LADOT has a nice breakdown of the types of infrastructure with images.

  • Bike lane: a painted line or lines showing where bikes should ride and cars should not. Sometimes they are great with space (buffers) between the bike lane and the traffic lanes. Sometimes they are bad in that they are right next to parked cars. This is called the door zone.
An important aside: always stay on the far left side of the bike lane when there are parked cars because people don’t look for bikes when they open their doors. This is seriously dangerous. I’ve found as long as I stay to the left side of these door zone lanes, I’m safe of doors and fairly comfortable with traffic.
  • Bike path: a road for bikes and people with no cars allowed! The best.
  • Cycletrack: a special type of bike lane that has some sort of physical separation between the car and bike lanes. Also very good.
  • Sharrow (portmanteau of share and arrow): A road marking of a dumb little chevron over a bike explaining where bikes should ride in absence of a bike lane. Generally useless. I try to point out (and avoid) sharrowed roads (that is, roads with sharrow markings) wherever possible, but the powers-that-be at LADOT have “connected” some otherwise broken lines with sharrows, so sometimes they are hard to avoid completely.
  • Quaxing: Shopping by bike, foot, train, or bus. Named after New Zealand politician Dick Quax who said: “no one in the entire western world uses the train for their shopping trips” Here’s to you, Dick.
  • Promute: A commute for Pros. Generally a super hilly, super far, or off-road bike commute. I don’t think Chatsworth to NoHo on bike path riding a steel bike from the 80s is a promute, but others may argue else wise.
  • Comfortable/Uncomfortable: I think the danger of getting hit by a car from behind is overblown, so I use the word comfortable (as opposed to safe) for places where there is ample separation from car traffic and uncomfortable (as opposed to dangerous) for places where either there isn’t a lot of room or cars may be forced to follow me at my speed. I do it daily, so don’t tell me I’m crazy; it is doable. Or maybe I just have toxoplasmosis.
  • Mother-may-I buttons: sometimes called beg buttons, those buttons you have to press at an intersection before a walk signal will appear.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the meat of the project.