First published in the March 26 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank Boulevard bridge bike lane begins at the start of the bridge, where the street intersects with San Fernando Boulevard. A cyclist traveling west would brush against a newly built, three-lane freeway ramp as vehicles rush by.
Then the bike lane ends — in the middle of the bridge. A sign overhead instructs drivers to “share the road” with cyclists.
Recently, a man on a bike came from the other direction, where Burbank Boulevard meets Victory Boulevard. Without a dedicated lane, he maneuvered in front of cars, which kept a distance of a few feet, or even inches, before he entered a bike lane that starts at Front Street — also in the middle of the bridge.
The layout of the recently rebuilt Burbank Boulevard bridge, which reopened late last year after the California Department of Transportation demolished and rebuilt it as part of its freeway widening project, has frustrated many local bicyclists. Some who spoke with the Leader said they will not bike on the bridge and expressed disappointment that, while the newer and wider surface is ideal for cars, its bike lanes appear unprotected and incomplete.
Tom Morash, who works in Burbank and rides his bike in the city every day, said in an email that the configuration’s problems were immediately obvious, noting the partial bike lanes and intersections with the freeway ramps.
“After riding the bridge multiple times in fairly tame conditions, I’d say that the lanes should be avoided by cyclists,” said Morash, who runs a Twitter account dedicated to highlighting issues with Los Angeles bicycle infrastructure. “I ride on Burbank Boulevard about once a week and it’s frustrating to have to take the entire lane rather than in a protected bike lane.”
Morash and other cyclists told the Leader they want the bike lanes to extend along the entire bridge and include protection from traffic. Some also expressed interest in bigger, more visible warning signs for cyclists and drivers alike.
In response to questions from the Leader, state and local officials said they are planning road improvements to increase safety for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers on Burbank Boulevard.
Part of the reason behind the bridge’s current configuration, is that the overpass is actually two bridges, said David Kriske, assistant community development director for transportation and planning. The section between San Fernando Boulevard and Front Street, where the department’s project extended existing bike lanes, is Caltrans’ portion. But the other “half,” from Front Street onward, is city-owned and did not undergo reconstruction.
Additionally, Caltrans and the city said in a joint statement that because the department designed the I-5 Freeway bridge around 2010, designers did not include buffered or protected bike lanes as part of the plan. Caltrans didn’t incorporate buffered bike lanes into its guidelines until 2018, according to the statement. The entities also said that they are discussing adding improved markings, traffic signal-timing changes and clearer travel lanes for the Caltrans portion of the bridge.
Meanwhile, the city is examining signage and markings on the other side of the bridge for a better connection with Victory Boulevard. Adding protected bike lanes in both directions would likely require removal of a vehicle travel lane, state and city officials said, particularly since the city bridge is thinner than Caltrans’ portion. Kriske said the city is hoping to make the short-term improvements as Caltrans does its own, potentially by the end of May.
“Anything more substantial would require a bigger conversation about those tradeoffs,” he added.
Burbank’s Complete Streets Plan, one of the city’s guiding transportation documents, considers the Burbank Boulevard bridge as a “mobility gap,” the joint statement said. While Burbank has not yet developed a specific project to fully close that gap, officials plan to create a protected bike lane on Front Street that will connect the bridge’s bicycle lanes with the downtown Metrolink station.
CRITICS BLAME POOR PLANNING
Multiple cyclists and officials who spoke with the Leader expressed disappointment that the reopened bridge didn’t feature a more bike-friendly layout. Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony said he was “astonished” to see Caltrans promote the bridge’s new bike lanes on Twitter, which attracted criticism from community members online.
“It’s not even a shadow of what we’re hoping to create, moving into the future with our bicycle infrastructure,” said Anthony, who is a cyclist himself. “I’m just very disappointed.”
The former Burbank Transportation Commission member pointed blame at Caltrans, saying the department’s “outdated bureaucracy” simply does not produce roads meant for travel modes other than cars.
“The residents need to understand that, at some point, the city is going to have to pick up the slack because Caltrans just won’t be there,” he said. “They don’t provide the same level of service our residents are used to.”
Burbank’s state representatives, Sen. Anthony Portantino and Assemblymember Laura Friedman, both told the Leader that their offices have talked with Caltrans about the bridge project. Friedman, who agreed to an interview, said California needs to rethink how it approaches transportation projects to ensure they are fit for pedestrians and cyclists, which she said “are often an afterthought” when planning projects.
Friedman, who chairs the Assembly’s transportation committee, said she recently introduced legislation that would require Caltrans and other agencies to consider alternative modes of travel when building large infrastructure projects.
“This particular issue that the city is going through is not unique to Burbank,” she said. “This is the kind of feedback that we get from cities across the state when they deal with Caltrans projects… and municipal projects.”
However, Burbank resident Mike Hollis, who bikes in the city about three or four days a week, said that he doubts the bridge — with the amount of traffic it receives from the freeway — can be fixed for cyclists. He would have preferred a wholly separate bridge over the I-5 Freeway for pedestrians and cyclists.
Hollis doesn’t plan on using the new Burbank Boulevard bike lanes.
“As long as we are trying to throw a bike lane as an afterthought onto an existing bridge that carries a high volume of autos, I think we’re asking for trouble,” he said.