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Seeing red over green: Some unhappy with Spring Street bike lane

When L.A. painted a 1.5-mile strip of Spring Street neon green last year, it was hailed as a major step in the city's effort to have cars and bicycles coexist. But the lane has been criticized by the film industry, which frequently uses the stretch of Spring as a stand-in for other cities and eras.

March 16, 2012|By Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times

When Los Angeles painted a 1.5-mile strip of Spring Street neon green last year, it was hailed as a major step in the city's effort to have cars and bicycles share the road.

But now, the bike lane has become a symbol of how hard it can be to reserve room for cyclists in a city dominated by the car.

The green lane has been criticized by the film industry, which frequently uses the stretch of Spring Street, in the heart of old downtown, as a stand-in for other cities and eras. Producers say the eye-catching lane makes it more difficult to use Spring as a substitute for, say, a Manhattan street.

"If you're depicting 'anywhere U.S.A.' or anywhere in the world — that is our claim to fame here in California," said Ed Duffy, business agent for Teamsters Local 399, which represents location managers, casting agents and studio drivers.

Duffy said a number of shoots have been moved because of the green lane. "The challenge right now … is to try and keep that mystique."

The lane also is confusing to some motorists, who are not sure whether they can drive in the green section when bikes are not around. The answer: basically, no.

Then there's the paint. It's a particularly bright shade of green, but every week it becomes more and more faded. And large sections of the paint have come off, leaving officials searching for a type that will stick to the street.

The hope was the Spring Street experiment could be a harbinger of many green bike lanes around the city. But officials now say they will rethink their approach before expanding to other downtown streets.

A lane also is planned for Main Street — another favorite film backdrop — but city leaders stress they aren't likely to use the same green paint.

"In hindsight, more extensive preliminary testing and getting film production companies onboard with our initial trials could have made the project more successful," said Tim Fremaux, the project's engineer with the city's Department of Transportation. "We can move forward with these lessons learned."

The Spring Street lane is part of a larger campaign by City Hall to make streets safer and more inviting to cyclists. Advocacy groups have been lobbying for years for stricter traffic laws and changes in road design to get more people using bikes, and their efforts are beginning to pay off.

After Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa broke his elbow in a bicycle accident in 2010, he convened a bicycle summit and launched a safety campaign. Then he helped champion the city's first Bicycle Master Plan and threw his support behind the first CicLAvia, which closed several miles of city streets to motorists for most of a day.

The Spring Street trial emerged in September from a planning workshop with Dutch experts who have long used solid-color bike-only lanes to reduce collisions and make cyclists feel safer.

Its placement downtown was symbolic, running boldly past City Hall and Los Angeles Police Department headquarters.

If advocates were seeking attention, they certainly got it.

Spring Street is a popular site for filming; the Greco-inspired architecture of City Hall, for example, has served as a stand-in for Congress and for New York courtrooms. In the last 12 months alone, more than 150 filming permits were issued for the stretch that includes the new lane.

Officials at FilmL.A. said they were blindsided by the lane, having been told about it only shortly before it was installed.

"In highly filmed areas, we were hoping the city would consult with us and the film industry about any impacts making these kinds of decisions might have," FilmL.A. President Paul Audley said.

"It's not the end of the world or a crisis, but it didn't need to happen, which is the point," he said.

Audley's group recently met with aides to Villaraigosa and the city's transportation department to address concerns.

The department is working to find pigments that work better on screen and considering ways to cover the lane during filming or eliminate it during editing and processing. Production crews — and motorists — also have to get used to staying out of the lane.

While looking out for violations a few weeks ago, bicycle advocate Carlos Morales stopped outside a building on Spring Street where a television crew had left lighting equipment blocking the green path.

Morales asked why there was equipment in the bike lane. The show's location manager eventually apologized.

"We haven't really figured out a way to coexist if we have to temporarily impede the bike lane," said Greg Lazzaro, a location manager with CBS Productions.

The transportation department is planning to test six other ways to permanently color the bike lane, including applying super-strong thermoplastic and epoxy coatings.

They believe sections of concrete along Spring Street are so worn that they are missing crucial pores that help absorb paint. So they also will try to better prepare the road's surface.

"It was really disappointing that the paint didn't stick from the get-go and we've had this issue," said Alexis Lantz of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

"There's still an opportunity," she said, "... to get it right."

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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