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Bike Riders in the Sky--Plan Called Safe for Environment


Bicycle riders who risk life and limb to commute to UCLA may one day be able to pedal above the madding crowd on a four-lane elevated bikeway.

After six years of study, an environmental impact report has concluded that the envisioned two miles of bike freeway, called a veloway (from the Latin velox , for quick), can be built without significant harm to the environment.

The report represents a significant step forward for what would be the first bikeway of its kind in the world.

Boosters, who packed a public hearing last week, extolled the proposed bikeway as a boon to the environment that will draw bike riders who are now daunted by traffic on the roads leading into Westwood.

"By far the most dangerous thing I do is ride my bike to work," cyclist John Wiley said to the standing-room-only crowd of more than 150 at the UCLA Faculty Center on Tuesday.

The West L.A. Veloway is unusual also in that the concept and the 13-year effort to make it a reality have come from the community, not a public agency.

The tentative route starts at UCLA and heads south through Westwood Village along an alley parallel to Gayley Avenue. It crosses the Wilshire Boulevard-Veteran Avenue intersection via an overpass, then continues south along Veteran and turns west through Westwood Park, where it splits into two segments.

One elevated segment goes down the middle of Sepulveda Boulevard to just south of Santa Monica Boulevard. The other segment goes west, crossing Sepulveda Boulevard and the San Diego Freeway on another overpass to the Veterans Administration property. West of the freeway it splits again, with one branch heading northwest to connect with San Vicente Boulevard, a traditional bike lane to the beach. The other branch goes southwest to connect with Texas Avenue near University High School.

Some portions, including the part in Westwood Village, will be at street level. The highest point will be the freeway overpass, 24 feet above the traffic. The rest of the above-ground segments are planned at 17 feet high and 16 feet wide.

The notion of cyclists zooming above the freeway has been viewed as a pipe dream by some. As UCLA Law School Prof. Michael Asimow observed at the hearing: "Everyone scoffed, including myself. 'Come on. This can never be built. This is Los Angeles.' "

Even the originator of the idea, UCLA Prof. Emeritus Paul Boyer, said he had concluded the project was too difficult to undertake.

But a group of dogged biking enthusiasts, headed by urban planner Ryan Snyder, have stuck with the idea and now find themselves at last in a position to make it happen.

But not tomorrow. The environmental impact report still has to circulate to the public and the local, state and federal agencies involved. In an effort to keep costs down, the bikeway has been routed through public land as much as possible, but this means that permits have to be obtained from agencies ranging from the Veterans Administration to the Fire Department.

Snyder said the estimated $7 million needed to build the veloway has not been raised, but he said he is hopeful the Los Angeles County Transportation Committee and the city of Los Angeles might fund the bikeway, as they have other less ambitious cycling lanes.

Though little opposition was expressed at the hearing, some may surface, especially concerning the aesthetics of a structure 17 feet in the air. Snyder vows to make the elevated stretches of the veloway pleasing to the eye.

"I insist they are not going to be ugly," he said.

Community activist Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood and a UCLA professor, explained that the bikeway is so near and dear to the community, it's almost unpatriotic to criticize it.

"There is an enthusiasm about an alternative to automobiles," she said.

That enthusiasm was expressed repeatedly at the hearing, as cyclists touted their avocation as a healthy alternative to pollution and traffic and a small contribution toward slowing the greenhouse effect by cutting down on the use of fossil fuels.

Westwood homeowner Alan Friedman took the aesthetic issue head on: "Is it more aesthetic to have a beautiful veloway or another parking structure?" he asked. "I don't think it's even a close test.'

The cost of parking lots was raised too. David Eisenberg, chairman of the West L.A. Veloway committee, told the crowd that the cost of the veloway is comparable to what UCLA recently spent for 133 parking places. If ridership surveys are accurate, the proposed bikeway could draw 4,000 riders a day.

"Let's show Los Angeles can take its problems in its hands and make a bold, innovative solution," Eisenberg said.

Though faced with a complex permit process, Snyder said, he is optimistic because most of the agencies in question have been involved in the proposal from the outset, and virtually all elected officials from Sen. Alan Cranston to City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky have endorsed the veloway in concept.

Mayor Tom Bradley is the latest official to come on board. A letter from him read at the hearing lauded the bikeway as visionary.

If any politician has been the bikeway's angel, it is County Supervisor Ed Edelman, who helped secure about $100,000 from the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission for the environmental impact report. He also guaranteed the commission its money back if the project does not reach fruition.

An initial study of the project costing $67,500 was paid for out of Edelman's road funds, UCLA and Caltrans, Snyder said.

From the mood of the partisans at the hearing, they are ready to move from the drawing board to the road.

Asimow lauded the veloway as a "great triumph of citizen action."

"Let's build it," he said.

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