The city spent a decade trying to transform Figueroa Boulevard—did it succeed? 

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A $20-million street improvement project billed as a “transformative link” between Downtown and South LA will finally open Thursday on roughly four miles of Figueroa Boulevard.

The city has added new signals and signs, bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and so-called “bus islands” that buffer the bike lanes so buses don’t have to weave in and out of traffic to get passengers on the busy thoroughfare.

The changes are all aimed at making Figueroa—from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near USC up to Wilshire—safer and “more organized and efficient” for people who walk, ride bikes, and use public transit.

Dubbed MyFigueroa, the project, in size and scope, is in its own class as far as street improvement projects go in Los Angeles, where bus and bike lanes are scarce and where much of road space is dedicated to cars. But it was a decadein the making (it faced a handful of delays, including a lawsuit). Was it worth the wait?

The answer is complicated.

“Figueroa will be better than it was a couple years ago,” says Streetsblog LA editor Joe Linton. “But it’s disappointing that the city spent 10 years and tens of millions of dollars and hasn’t made Figueroa dramatically better.”

Linton points to a number of issues with the makeover: pedestrians aren’t prioritized and still have to push buttons to get a green light to cross the street; the new bike-specific signals give a red light to bikes while giving the green light to cars traveling in the same direction.

All four corners require people to tap a button to get a “walk” signal – which often is skipped as people assume they don’t need to or that others have. I watched 15 people this morning wait through an entire signal cycle because nobody pushed the button #FixMyFigpic.twitter.com/fRsoogKSJD

— ᴍɪᴄʜᴀᴇʟ (@topomodesto) August 22, 2018

And protected bike lanes don’t run the entire length of the project. That’s one of a few weaknesses of MyFigueroa that’s been noted by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and Streetsblog LA alike.

Bike lanes are protected between Exposition Boulevard and 22nd Street on both sides of the road. But between Venice Boulevard and 11th Street, there are only southbound protected lanes, and between Wilshire Boulevard and 11th, only northbound protected lanes.

A “longer, fully-protected bike lane design was watered down, leaving conventional bike lanes in much of the project,” says Linton.

The transition between buffered lanes and just a green stripe on the road also comes without warning, which could be jarring to some riders.

The new @MyFigueroa bike lane taxi zone!!@LABikeLaneBlock@bikinginlapic.twitter.com/mpxonD2l9q

— Ciclavalley (@Ciclavalley) June 28, 2018

Another major issue is that cars are frequently parking or loading in the new bike lanes. Taxis, ride-hailing-app drivers, and cars in general haven’t gotten the message that the new bright green areas of the street are intended for bikes only. This is especially a problem near LA Live and the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Transportation department spokesperson Oliver Hou says the department is looking for areas near the convention center that can function as a dedicated drop-off and pick-up zone to address this issue, but there isn’t a timeline for when that fix would be implemented.

In a post on its website, the LACBC says that MyFigueroa “has the potential to be a vital transportation corridor that could safely and efficiently move people on bikes from downtown to Exposition Park.”

The organization is soliciting feedback on the project and plans to discuss bike rider issues with the LADOT this week.

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