“Weekend Update:” What Happened at the Big Bike Meeting

11_21_08_sharrows.jpg

For a veteran of Transportation Committee Hearings, today was a strange day.  Maybe it was that instead of thirty people wearing suits, the committee room was full of over 100 bike activists wearing just about everything from suits to spandex.  Or maybe it was Councilman Rosendahl basically yelling at the LAPD.  Or maybe it was Chairwoman Greuel actually stopping the meeting to applaud those in attendance.  Whatever it was, I liked it.

Not to say the meeting didn’t have it’s low points, provided at times by LAPD and LADOT; but the overall tone of the meeting was productive, even festive at times, and it ended with cyclists streaming in the hallways to celebrate and laugh.

We should also note, that while he didn’t do anything to stand out as did the other three committee members that were present, Councilman Parks did stay for the entire meeting.  Rosendahl, Greuel and Tom LaBonge were all called out at one point or another to help deal with the budget crisis meetings that were going on at the same time.

The meeting began with a discussion of the Bike Master Plan which will be available for public comment this January.  Before the LADOT presentation, the cyclists had our chance to testify.  Appropriately, the first person to testify was Ron Milam, Los Angeles County Bike Coalition Co-Founder and its first executive director, who has had as much to do with moving the city to this point as anyone.  Other commenters either cited examples of why a bike plan is important or wondered why so many projects from previous bike plans haven’t actually been constructed.

There was no new information given, except a short announcement by LADOT Assistant General Manager John Fisher that the city will construct 18 miles of new bike lanes and 20 miles of new bike paths in the next couple of years.  LADOT Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery promised that the new plan would look at filling in gaps on the bike network by focusing on collector streets.

Our first low point for the afternoon came after Fisher mysteriously vanished from the podium, never to return after seeing that the Council was asking questions, leaving Mowery to answer Councilman LaBonge, who had taken over chairing the meeting temporarily.  His first question asked how the city knows what is working and what isn’t.  How do we measure success by showing where new riders are using amenities and how do we track accidents?

Mowery had no choice but to admit that the city doesn’t really count bicyclists or track bike crashes.  Instead, she pointed out that the state has an accident database and maybe we could work to make that database work better.

LaBonge’s next question was basically, "name me three bike projects that have worked."

Mowery commented that there are many success stories, but as LaBonge pinned her down on it she only listed two, the L.A. River Path and the Orange Line Path.  Oddly, she also mentioned that they were planning on building a path similar to the Orange Line, one for the Expo project, which of course we really can’t call a success…since it hasn’t been built yet.  If you were at the meeting and paying close attention to LaBonge, you would have seen that he counted with his fingers, "1," "2," "2," "2," and "2."  He never got to "3."

Let me state quickly for the record that I know that Michelle’s point was that there are more than three successful bike projects; but someone that doesn’t know her as well would probably have found it odd that she only listed two projects that are on the ground and then a future one.

Up next was the discussion on bike licenses, and the bike community was ready to vent about what has been shown to be selective and illegal enforcement of a nuisance law.

But that wasn’t what the LAPD wanted to talk about.  Officer Earl Paisinger, Assistant Commissioner of the LAPD, told a nice story about a plan to use bike licensing as an outreach effort to youth and how proper licensing would lead to kidnapped children being tracked easier.  I’m not sure if the LAPD was hoping that by talking about kids the Council would be cowed to inaction or if Officer Paisinger was completely unaware of what is actually going on at the street level.

The first person to testify was Midnight Rida Roadblock, who helped kick off the controversy when he got a $160 dollar ticket for not having a license.  What followed was just a laundry list of why the city’s bike licensing program as it currently is being enforced is basically a Civil Rights violation on wheels: the LAPD announced they would enforce the law via a flyer on the back of a computer at one of their stations, and licenses are only available at two police stations and only on special days, and both stations routinely run out of licenses for weeks at a time, and legally the LAPD can only issue $10 fines for an unlicensed bike but are issuing much higher ones, and the only stations that are enforcing the law just happen to be in minority neighborhoods, and (almost there) the law only allows the police to ticket city residents for riding unlicensed bikes yet they target everyone and, most damningly, the majority of LAPD officers are completely unaware the program exists.

Following this testimony, LaBonge tried to steer the discussion in a positive direction, but when Assistant Commissioner Paisinger only offered that he was unwilling to discuss suspending ticketing until the program could be fixed, everything else was lost in the din.  When the crowd hissed, LaBonge reminded everyone that Officer Paisinger had a right to his opinion.  But don’t worry, Paisinger assured the Council that the LAPD would be able to discuss the program "intelligently" in a couple of months.  The crowd was not reassured.  If nothing else, the LAPD will report back in 60 days.

Neither was Councilman Rosendahl, who returned from a meeting with the Mayor just in time to take an even more aggressive stance than LaBonge.  After calling the program "disfunctional," Rosendahl basically told the LAPD to announce they were suspending ticketing by the next Full Council Meeting or he would fix it for them legislatively.  Given that Rosendahl is not expected to be at the last meeting before Thanksgiving, it will be interesting to see if the LAPD takes his threat seriously.  Nevertheless, the animated and angry Rosendahl sounded more activist than legislator, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Chairwoman Wendy Greuel brought us back from the brink, and we moved onto a discussion of the city’s efforts to create in a bike share plan.  This is sort of a favorite issue for Greuel who fell in love with bike sharing when she visited Denver during the Democratic National Convention and Bikes Belong flooded the streets with 1,000 rental bikes.  After a brief discussion of whether or not the proposal allowed for enough flexibility for people to submit proposals for either special events or in just certain areas, the LADOT was given the o.k. to move ahead.

Next, the discussion moved to the city’s efforts to bring Sharrows to city streets.  While Sharrows are a top priority for the LACBC, the LADOT isn’t in a rush.  As a matter of fact, the city hasn’t done much since they moved forward with the plan in July.  The City is waiting to hear back from a consultant who they hope will help them design a plan to help them decide what streets they can consider putting Sharrows on.

After Greuel wondered whether the LADOT could "sense frustration from us (the Council) and the public."  An LADOT official, who was not Greuel or Fisher, commented that he had concerns about placing Sharrows on streets that are already at car capacity because more bikes on the streets would slow down traffic and create air pollution.  This somewhat shocking statement barely caused a ripple from other LADOT officials but solicited a shocked murmer from the cyclists.  Fortunately, this was the last low point on the agenda.

(editor’s note: Joe Linton has an entirely different take on what LADOT said and meant in the Sharrow’s discussion about traffic that you can read in the comments section.  I know from talking to others in attendance at the meeting that there were other people that heard it as I did; but that doesn’t mean that was the DOT representative’s intention.  Since Joe seems to know him better than I, his full comment is worth a look.  If I mis-represented his comment, I apologize.)

The last bike item on the agenda was the endorsement of the Cyclists Bill of Rights.  Despite some fears that the document would be amended and shortened; Rosendahl, who originally introduced the motion endorsing the statement of rights and responsibilities, promised it wouldn’t be changed in a back room deal and would only be changed if the City Attorney brings up a legal issue. 

However, the bad taste left by the LADOT comment in the last agenda item lingered in the comments of several members.  Patrick Miller commented that the DOT’s mantra seemed to be "No We Can’t," and Bill of Right’s co-author Stephen Box began his testimony by noting that he was "not an obstacle, not in your way, I’m a cyclist."

The City Attorney will review the Bill of Rights before it goes to the full Council.  Before the issue was closed, Rosendahl noted that five Council Members have already endorsed the proposal including Greuel, Parks, and Council President Eric Garcetti.

Reading this post, you might wonder why the mood was so celebratory when so many uninspiring things happened during the meeting.  The answer is simple.  For a constituency used to second class treatment, seeing an engaged and animated City Council taking their sides was a watershed moment.  Hopefully, it’s just one in a series until we live in a different Los Angeles.

For more images from today, visit Streetsblog’s Flickr page.

  • As my first L.A. council meeting of any kind, I was amazed at both the number of involved cyclists who attended, and the obvious respect given them by the council members. Unfortunately, I arrived after LaBonge left, and Parks barely spoke while I was there, but Rosendahl and Greuel won my respect.

    LADOT’s inane thumb-twiddling on the subject of sharrows was another matter, however. Cyclists are already riding these streets; all we’re asking is that they indicate where in the lane we should ride, so drivers understand that they’re required to share the lane.

  • In this era, bikes are political bedrock. Managing a city around the interests of cyclists and pedestrians is a sure-fire way to get re-elected (if done wisely).

    Bike and pedestrian projects are also cheap and easy to do quickly – so a project can be completed and praise can be awarded to current councilmembers before they get termed out. So, we’re not asking for much and the reward to the councilmember can be nearly instant.

    Further, most cycling advocates in L.A. are educated, employed (mostly) self-publishing, self-organizing, and very active in their communities. You mess with this type of constituent at your own peril.

    We need a more focused knowledge of how the LADOT and LAPD (and other departments) can be changed in slight ways to suit our interests, because I think we have a few politicians on our side.

    I was so jealous of everyone who got a chance to be there. I had a few zingers prepared but I had to work in my bike shop all day. Thanks for the report Damien.

  • A couple thoughts on today’s meeting:

    1. Sharrows Nuance: While I sense that LADOT folks are dragging their heels on sharrows – the reason I think for this is that they are trying to set too high a bar by bringing it out citywide, instead of scrambling out a quick pilot to see how easy it is. I want to clarify what I heard the DOT’s Mike Uyeno say – this is all paraphrasing – I haven’t listened to the tape. I didn’t think he said that the DOT didn’t want to implement sharrows because they would slow down traffic (aside: this may be why the DOT doesn’t want to implement them… but, actually, I wish that road-markings were all that it took to slow down LA traffic!), I heard him say that if LADOT did sharrows and someone didn’t like them, then that person could challenge the city, using environmental review laws (like NEPA and CEQA) to legally challenge the sharrows – if that opponent asserted that the sharrows slowed down traffic and thereby increased auto emissions.

    My sense is that it wasn’t so much that Uyeno asserted that sharrows slow traffic, it was that if LADOT wasn’t (painstakingly, cumbersomely, tortoisesquely) thorough about their analysis, then the project could be legally challenged. I think that this is a double standard – I’d like to see LADOT take a couple years of study every time they widen roads, or propose more-and-more-and-more cars projects like the Pico-Olympic one-way stuff.

    It does feel like the LADOT is taking way too long to do something that’s cheap, visible, proven and easy. I’d suggest that bicyclists propose some specific streets that meet the state’s criteria for sharrows… get a pilot project on the ground… then move on to implementing more assertive on-street projects like road diets, bike lanes, and bicycle boulevards. When we push for the bigger stuff that actually takes space away from cars, then the DOT will want to fall back to something less pushy – ie: sharrows.

    2. Follow the Money: Council motions come and go. They are worthwhile, but I have seen quite a few well-intentioned motions get through all the hoops, but never really accomplish anything because there’s really no money behind them. If we want to see the bike plan implemented, then we need to be looking at the city budget and pushing the council, the mayor, and the DOT to commit real money to the bike program. The mayor’s budget comes out early in the new year… and gets debated and approved by council in early spring. Anyone out there good with accounting and interested in analyzing the current numbers and pushing for increased bike money in the upcoming budget?

  • Damien,

    An excellent summary of the meeting! Overall I thought it was a turning point for the cycling community here in Los Angeles. When I attended my first transportation subcommittee meeting almost two years ago their were only a handful of cyclists in the audience. When I spoke at that meeting Councilman Parks dozed and we had tepid interest from the other councilpersons. That’s all changed. Now the audience was packed (in large part due to Stephen Box and Enci’s tireless agitating) and the council is listening and acting.

    It’s chilling to me that we have two city departments, LAPD and LADOT that don’t seem to answer to the council or the public. Who do they answer to exactly? The mayor? Themselves? Their paid consultants?

  • Joe, I think you have it exactly right about funding. We need to get general funds set aside (or some other local source of funds) for bike projects. We don’t need to ask for too much – but a couple of million dollars a year can have a mighty big impact.

    Erik, the LADOT and the LAPD (and most of L.A.’s departments) are in many ways their own autonomous little worlds. From what I’ve heard, the Public Works Department and the LADWP are even worse.

  • I haven’t heard the tape but my recollection of the comments coming from the MTA regarding sharrows were roughly:

    1) Sharrows are “expensive” the money isn’t budgeted for them.

    2) The city may have a potential liability by insinuating that a high traffic street is safe for bicycle travel.

    3) Sharrows are some how in conflict with right turn pockets and there is no way currently to reconcile the rules regarding sharrows and the rules regarding the turn pockets which are plentiful in Los Angeles

    4) That the thermo plastic that DOT uses could be a hazard to cyclists if it gets worn and slick, another potential liability.

    That is the gist of the things I remember from their testimony.

    My sense is that they were basically putting up obstacles that they can use as bureaucratic cover so they can get away for putting this off and stalling for another 10 years.

    ———–

    My thoughts:

    1) I am admittedly ignorant to the costs of infrastructure … but I can’t imaging the expense of painting sharrows is that great, especially in relation to the expense of other road projects. Putting in sharrows would be extremely cost effective if it were integrated into any road work .. ie if they are already closing, working on, repaving and or repainting a street they could do sharrows at that time for little added expense.

    2) It is patently absurd to suggest that the city would have liability for putting down sharrows on any street. Period. Sharrows make the roadway safer. Every roadway in LA is legal to be driven on by bicycle. If there is any liability to be had its for all those streets that need sharrows and don’t have them. AT THE VERY LEAST every current class 3 bikeway (aka bike routes) should be instantly eligible for sharrows.

    Sharrows only indicate where a bike is legally and safely supposed to ride. Sharrows do not indicate anything different about a road than what is currently recognized as settled law and settled safe practice for vehicular cycling. This is as absurd as not arguing against posting the legal speed limit for fear that people might drive at that speed.

    3) There may be some truth to this … and if that is the case the rules need to be changed to reflect the fact that as stated above sharrows only indicate where a bike is legally allowed to ride and therefore are appropriate for any street.

    4) Again what ridiculous excuse making. All the DOT needs to do is call any of the many number of cities who have sharrows. Ask what material they use. What works the best. Get it. Use it.

    This shit is so absurd to me.
    Again bikes are less than an afterthought. And when they are finally considered, it like lets see how much time and money we can waste to get the least amount done. Let’s create a few problems for every solution so we can have an excuse not to acomplish anything any time soon.

    D.O.T. = Yes we Can’t.

  • Maybe LADOT is being a little too cautious, but the fact is that lawsuits have delayed bike projects: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121919354756955249.html?mod=hps_us_inside_today It’s something that the lawyers have probably whispered into their ear.

  • Greg

    Sharrows:

    Lets talk about sharrows.

    I don’t have a car. I bike commute everyday 6 miles each direction.

    Sharrows are narrow. If they are installed improperly they will impede car driver’s perceptions of my rights on the road. Unless they go in the middle of every narrow lane (such as Washington Blvd between Overland and its intersection with Culver, Beverwil between Cattaraugus and Sawyer) and not on the edge, I don’t want them.

  • angle

    Greg:

    Sharrows are designed to indicate (in no uncertain terms) that the traffic lane they are in is legally shared by cars and bikes, and if installed properly, they direct a cyclist to ride in a safe road position (outside of the door zone). If they’re in a narrow lane, then they would indeed have to be essentially in the center of it.

    Concerning lawsuits: I’d be shocked if the LADOT has never been sued by MOTORISTS for the incredibly poor condition and design of L.A.’s roadways.

  • Joe

    @Greg – “Unless they go in the middle of every narrow lane (such as Washington Blvd between Overland and its intersection with Culver, Beverwil between Cattaraugus and Sawyer) and not on the edge, I don’t want them.”

    They definitely go in the middle of narrow lanes… they direct bikes to share the lane… not to hug the curb.

  • michelle selvans

    so did the meeting not cover the last agenda item? (7. Motion (Greuel – Rosendahl) relative to reviewing the RAND Corporation report on “Short-Term Strategies to Reduce Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles.”)

    i was very curious to hear the Council’s (and LADOT’s) take on the brief, as it seems comprehensive, future-thinking, and includes practical implementation advice. and since the LA County MTA helped fund it, i hoped the LADOT might actually be making a plug for action based on the study…

  • They did discuss it, but it was brief. I missed the whole discussion the five minutes I was in the hall getting the last round of quotes from the cycling community. I figured the RAND talk would be long and I’d be able to catch up, but instead I almost missed my chance to talk in the Dodger testimony.

  • ernie2bike

    Perhaps we need a more proactive approach. In some areas of the United States
    it is common to paint ‘Dan Henrys’ for bike routes. Permission is not asked for even in cities. The idea is if you ask permission it enters the government bureaucracy never to be seen again this lifetime.
    I recently discover spray chalk which looks like paint, but in a few days wears off.
    A pilot sharrows street using spray chalk?
    Grangers should have spray chalk.

  • we gotta get more press out at the next one though. great turnout and community, but we gotta get bigger and better.

  • I’ve got to say, we’ve got to be more organized, with a pre-packaged legislative agenda sent to the council offices prior to the meeting.

    Showing up the day of to talk during public comments is great, but to effective at lawmaking you need to … lobby! Yes, actually lobby. Set up appointments with staff, present your wishes, make promises to do things that make the legislator look good or do well in the next election (even vaguely).

    Also, do your homework on who and what you’re facing in the cities departments. They don’t listen to the council! There has to be a way to make them responsive to our demands.

    There are good reasons for not wanting sharrows (e.g. They don’t do much for old people or kids. They aren’t going to work on streets w. traffic going 45mph), but the crap Michelle Mowery pulled out of her rear about “thermoplastic paint” is absurd. Her cluelessness is our great advantage, and yet we don’t exploit it because our paid advocates aren’t lobbying, they’re cleaning out bike lockers!

  • Does anyone have audio or video or exact transcript of the “short announcement by LADOT [AGM] Fisher that the city will construct 18 miles of new bike lanes and 20 miles of new bike paths in the next couple of years.”?

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A Broad Section of Cyclists Descend on City Hall, LAPD No-Shows

|
Post meeting, the Ridazz headed over to check out the Lakers Outgoing Transportation Committee Chair Wendy Greuel held what was supposed to be her swan song to the bicycling community at an almost-all-bikes Transportation Committee meeting earlier today.  It’s true, there were some low points, such as only Councilman Bill Rosendahl joining Greuel on the […]

Gate Swinging Shut on Ballona Creek Entrance

|
The LAPD Testifies on the Gate Closure Yesterday, the City Council Transportation Committee followed the advice of the LAPD and voted to approve a trial closure of one of the entrances to the Ballona Creek trail along Culver Drive between Purdue Avenue and Sawtelle Boulevard.  An amendment by Committee Chair Wendy Greuel requires that a […]

An Ode to Bill Rosendahl

|
I had to look up the date, but I’ll never forget the time I ran into City Council Member Bill Rosendahl on the evening of June 14. I ran into my Councilman in our usual place, the produce section of the Whole Foods on the corner of National and Barrington. The usually ebullient Rosendahl was […]