How Mike Eng and the Auto Lobby Stalled on Safe Streets

5_12_09_eng.jpgAuto Club spokesman, Asm. Mike Eng
So what happened?

Despite the support of just about everyone in Los Angeles, A.B. 766 didn't muster the support to even come to a vote at the Assembly Transportation Committee Hearing yesterday.  How could such a slam dunk piece of legislation, a bill that would protect cyclists and pedestrians from the increased speeding of drivers, be such a non-starter with the State Legislature?

Unfortunately, the largest slice of the blame can be served to L.A. County Assemblyman and Transportation Committee Chair Mike "the 710 Tunnel Project Is Going to Happen Whether You Like It or Not" Eng and the Los Angeles City Government.  Eng allowed and encouraged the California Highway Patrol to act as an "expert witness" despite their clear disdain for the legislation and accepted their criticisms of "Safer Streets" as fact.  This luxury was not granted to the local police that testified concerning how current law is making their roads inhospitable to everyone, especially those of us that don't use a motor to get around, but including automobile drivers.

As for why the city is to blame, they managed to produce someone from LADOT to advocate concerning legislation that really only effects contractors and the summoned the city's official state lobbyist to stump for Assemblyman Blumenfield's parking legislation; but left the table empty for A.B. 766.  Where was Wendy Greuel, who announced at last week's press conference her intent to travel to Sacrameno and why weren't city lobbyists who were in the room ordered by Villaraigosa to the table?  That left the Enci and Stephen Box and Lieutenant Carl Povilaitis of the Glendale P.D. to do the bulk of the rhetorical lifting against the better recognized "expert" lobbyists from AAA and the Teamsters.  The lack of lobbying power demonstrated by the city has many of us wondering again, does the City really want to see this law changed?

However, none of this would have mattered if it weren't for the clear urban v rural v suburban divide that exists in Sacramento.

Krekorian testified that his bill would allow municipalities, provided they could show a clear danger to pedestrians, to not raise speed limits as a requirement to use radar as an enforcement mechanism.  Instead, if the only thing that had changed on the road was the average speed of drivers then the municipality could hold the limit at it's current speed.  In other words, drivers wouldn't be allowed to increase a speed limit by speeding.  This basic fact, that under current laws unsafe drivers are rewarded with higher speed limits was never addressed again.  In fact, the Teamsters seemed miffed that Krekorian didn't support the goal of ever increasing speed limits as cars can go faster and faster into the future.

However, after the AAA of Northern California, Southern California Auto Club and Teamsters were done their testimony, questions about "the science" of Krekorian's legislation were planted in the minds of the committee.  That it is the opposite of scientific to only take the needs of one user group into account didn't occur to most of the committee, because they've been brainwashed to think only of the drivers, who have a larger percent of the road share than here in Los Angeles.  To be fair, there probably aren't a lot of cyclists or pedestrians in some of their districts, which is why the support of Eng was so crucial and so clearly absent.

And so, listeners heard a parade of legislators talking about "speed traps" mimicking the testimony until finally the California Highway Patrol, the same organization that went into spastic fits when it accidently gave correct information about cyclists riding two abreast, took to the stand to bury A.B. 766.

The CHP, an organization that never met a cyclist it didn't think of as a traffic hazard, also attacked the "science" of Krekorian's legislation in the name of "providing expert testimony."  Not once did the CHP, nor the AAA or Teamsters, ever address pedestrian safety or explain how setting the limit at the eighty-fifth percentile of drivers was "scientific."  Incidentally, a list of how the Teamsters want you to vote in next week's elections can be found in their March-May newsletter which is linked to on the right of this page.

5_12_09.jpgThese were two of the three pictures available of Eng in his Online Press Room.
And Chairman Eng ate it up.  He followed the CHP's "expert testimony" by parroting it and calling for a new series of hearings with more "experts" so that the committee can devise a better bill to protect everyone's interests.  Eng also expressed fear that "local officials" would feel pressure to keep speed limits low from their "communities" and would bend over backwards to do so.  To Eng, that kind of democracy, people lobbying their local leaders to protect their streets, is unacceptable.  It's a far better form of Democracy to use your position attach a near poison pill highway project to a transit taxes ballot measure to force people to support what Environmental Defense has termed "one of the worst highway projects in America" for years or see transit expansion for nearly 10 million people stalled for decades.

So let's start the clock now.  It's one day with no word on Eng's series of hearings on traffic safety.  I suspect only Krekorian's reputation as a fearless and tireless advocate for what he believes in is going to make this hearing a reality.  Left alone, it would probably become the "Bike Master Plan" of state politics.

Because Streetsblog is about providing answers, I'd like to present an email that was awaiting for me in my inbox this morning.  In it, Josef Bray-Ali outlines the changes that would both make A.B. 766 more palatable to rural leaders and strengthen the bill.  What follows is the text of his email, posted without comment:

Krekorian's AB 766 is flawed and it does not address the abuse of the Engineering and Traffic Survey that has raised the ire of Angelenos.

Here is how to fix it:

(1) DEFINE PEDESTRIAN AND BICYCLISTS SAFETY - per 1,000 car trips, per capita, per anything that is reasonable. Currently, nothing exists as a standard for "safety" in an E&TS. The Los Angeles DOT uses fatalities per millions of vehicle trips! They justify anything using standards like this and we end up with dead neighbors and friends.

(2) Offer scientifically proven methods of improving bicyclists and pedestrian safety, as follows (for pedestrians):

"Much is known about what design features place pedestrians at risk ... [h]igh speeds and high traffic volume, typical of busy roads, are also important risk factors.

Several kinds of environmental modifications offer great promise in protecting pedestrians and bicyclists. These can be divided into three categories: separating pedestrians from vehicles, making pedestrians visible and conspicuous to drivers, and reducing vehicle speeds ... [v]ehicle speeds can be reduced with traffic circles, narrowed traffic lanes, curving or zigzag roadways, raised intersections, and speed bumps. ... These techniques are collectively known as 'traffic calming'."
-pg. 117 - 119, Howard Frumkin, Lawrence D. Frank, Richard Jackson, "Urban sprawl and public health: designing, planning, and building for healthy communities"

There is plenty of good science that has been done on this issue that will allow the state to uniformly apply standards to our roads. A public hearing stapled onto a flawed process is a poor policy! Keep the public hearing if you must, but force Departments of Transportation and City Managers to ignore good science no more.