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

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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.