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Downtown L.A. bike lane to get Hollywood makeover

A coalition of film groups persuades the L.A. City Council to redo the Spring Street lane using less paint and in a darker shade of green to aid filming.

June 19, 2013|By Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
  • Darryl Strucke and Alvin Pegues, both painters with the L.A. Department of Transportation, create a bike lane along Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Darryl Strucke and Alvin Pegues, both painters with the L.A. Department… (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)

The future looks muted for the vivid green bike lane that runs the length of Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted Wednesday to scrape the paint from the current bicycle lane and redo it with less paint and in a darker shade of green, capping a two-year controversy that pitted the local bike lobby against the muscle of Hollywood, which insisted the lane's color had made filming on Spring nearly impossible.

When the lane, which resembles a narrow bright-green carpet, first appeared in 2011, bicycle advocates hailed it as an important step for cycling safety and infrastructure in a city where car-free transportation lags behind other major metropolitan areas.

But under the bright lights of a film set, Hollywood representatives argued, the paint became so fluorescent that everything, including actor's faces, was bathed in a greenish glow. That made filming exterior shots more difficult along a corridor that location scouts often choose as a stand-in for other cities, including New York.

When Councilman Jose Huizar requested a touch-up for the lane a few months ago, the industry saw its chance. A coalition of film organizations that included SAG-AFTRA and the Motion Picture Assn. of America wrote to the City Council, saying thousands of film jobs had left Los Angeles because of it and urged council members to oppose the lane entirely.

In the end, the film groups spent more than 24 hours in meetings with cycling advocates and elected officials to hammer out a compromise. The plan, if approved by state transportation officials, will reduce the paint in the bike lane by 80% to 90%. The only color that will appear in most sections will be two four-inch stripes of forest green, flanked by the white outlines. The lane would remain fully painted in areas where vehicles frequently cut into the bike lane.

"Neither side feels like they won," said Ed Duffy, a representative for Teamsters Local 399, which represents film industry workers. Although the lane color can be digitally removed, only high-budget film projects have the time and money to do that, Duffy said, and the Transportation Department won't allow film crews to close streets in downtown or paint over street markings. He said high-profile shoots, including the television series "Mad Men," had chosen not to use Spring for exterior shots because of the lane. He couldn't otherwise quantify how much business had left Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition said the loss of the paint, and the change of color, is a step backward for safety and a blow to an area with a rapidly growing residential population. A 2012 survey from the coalition said the number of bicycles along Spring went up by half after the buffered lane was installed, and an L.A. Department of Transportation survey said bicycling on the street rose 40% this year from 2012.

New York also uses forest green paint, Huizar spokesman Rick Coca said, so the film industry will find that the Spring lane now looks more authentic. The new and old greens are in a spectrum of colors the federal government has approved for bike lanes.

"The irony in all of this is that these green bike lanes are now popping up in every city," said Eric Bruins, policy director for the bicycle coalition. "They made L.A. different from what was becoming a national trend."

The bright side, Bruins said with a tinge of resignation, is that the new paint option would cost about 75% less than the once-vivid lanes, which are now fading because of weather and constant traffic. That would make expanding the bike lanes easier and more affordable in the future.

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