LADOT Claims to Be Out of the Loop on Bike Master Plan

What’s going on with the Bike Master Plan?

 That question has been on the minds of cyclists ever since public outreach meetings for the plan were announced in January of 2008.  The release last week of a series of low-resolution maps by the Department of City Planning actually made the confusion and frustration felt by cyclists even worse.  The low resolution pdf.’s were nigh impossible to read, contained incomplete information and occasionally were missing streets entirely.

Looking for more answers, I took a trip to the Parker Center for the June 2009 meeting of the city’s official Bicycle Advisory Committee.  This Committee consists of people appointed by the City Council and Mayor’s Office to advise policy makers how to make the city a safe and attractive place for cyclists.  Surely here I would be able to find out what was going on, when we would see the rest of the plan and what was up with the low resolution maps that were released last week.

What I got was disappointment and more confusion.

Representing the City was Michelle Mowery, the senior bicycle coordinator with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.  Mowery claimed to not have any details about why the maps were released at all, why Planning chose such a lousy format for the release, when new details would be released to the public or why there were so many errors on the maps that were released.  Basically, she was denying that the LADOT has anything to do with the plan, that it’s a planning document.  Mowery even denied personally looking at the maps that were posted online.

Nobody from planning was at the meeting, neither were any of the consultants from Alta Planning or the group that is working on the mountain biking plan, or anyone who could answer any questions that had to do with the Bicycle Master Plan.  In other words, the only representatives of the city either weren’t willing or weren’t able to comment on the BMP beyond what we can ascertain by looking at the maps ourselves.

This latest public relations debacle continues what has been a disheartening process from the city in what is usually a time of empowerment and hope in other cities.  After all, if the city’s official group of expert cyclists can’t get the people responsible for the most important bicycle planning document in the city, what hope do the rest of us have? 

The next meeting of the full Bicycle Advisory Committee is set for early August.  Mowery said that she hopes that public outreach meetings would be held at some point in July.

  • Michelle Mowery’s disavowal of the Bike Master Plan was so insane last night. She blamed Alta Planning, the Planning Department, the Ocelot Group, and anyone who was not sitting in her seat wearing her clothes – but none of those accused of screwing things up were in the room to respond to her accusations.

    When she was asked, “Where are the Alta Planning staff, then? Where is the Planning Department?” We got a shoulder shrug and a mention of how hard it is to get those folks to come to a meeting. Wha?!

    Her job description reads “Senior Bikeways Coordinator” – and she can’t hustle with phone calls and email to get the people she claims are responsible for the Bike Plan SNAFUs into the room with the City’s own Bicycle Advisory Committee? What does this lady coordinate? What is she actually coordinating, other than a waste of taxpayer money and a plan that will leave LA a bike-UN-friendly city?

    This plan needs to be killed and done again properly.

    Damien, what are our chances of getting a leaked version of the Bike Plan that came from Alta Planning and Design before it got wrecked by the LADOT?

  • I heard that someone tried a Public Records Request and were denied. I’m guessing it’s going to take a lawyer.

  • paging DJ Wheels

  • I’m starting to wonder what a senior bicycle coordinator does. All I ever hear is we can’t or it’s unfeasible. I like the idea of some more DIY projects, bike lanes or even just sharrows. So they will come out and paint it black in a day, but at least it will feel like something is being done instead of nothing. And as was mentioned regarding Fletcher in the Bicycling article, that black paint it self is a line, and still kind of works as a bike lane anyways.

  • Dan

    I possibly believe Michelle.

    Why? Perhaps I’m a conspiracy theorist at heart, but:

    Event one: DOT threatens to cut all bike funding.

    Event two: DOT releases a crap bike plan. Michelle is left out of the loop, as is the entire bike department.

    Why wouldn’t event two be true, given event one? What I believe his happening is that DOT actually is trying to get rid of the bike department. It failed to do so via event one, and then came up with the lame excuse that it was “strategic.” (Or, it was strategic, but it still opened the topic and – more importantly regarding this issue – let the bike department know exactly where it stood.)

    Then, a plan appears whose release the bike department knows nothing or little about. Further proof that the bike department – which has always been marginal, but important from the standpoint of giving DOT plausible deniability when accused of not really caring about bikes – has become, given these times, finally what DOT has always, by its actions, considered it to be: expendable.

    Remember, if the bike folks get cut, the people who are probably behind all this keep their jobs and their budgets. Strong incentive to screw over a department that has been basically ineffective and institutionally disrespected (chicken and egg?) for over a decade.

    I won’t get into whether or not we in the bike community will be better off without the department and its personnel. Much of the stuff that’s been discussed lately, in terms of DIY and community-based policy, speaks for itself, though it has mostly been in reaction to DOT’s ineffectiveness.

    The next step – and recent events make this urgent – is to prepare for the day when the bike department’s ineffectiveness, whatever the cause, transforms into nonexistence.

  • Benjamin

    High resolution versions of the maps are now available – http://www.labikeplan.org/bikeway_maps – content is otherwise unchanged (still only draft versions).

  • Anonymous

    I’d suggest another California Public Records Act request–I presume the denied request was for the draft plan, which is arguably protected by the deliberative-process exception.

    The contract terms, statement of work, and similar documents related to the public contract with Alta Planning, however, would not be protected, and they would probably identify the City of Los Angeles officials authorized to direct Alta and contain some version of the overall project schedule and deliverables.

  • Let the bikeways division in the LADOT die/go away. With plans like this, what is the point of having the LADOT do this type of work anyway? They hired the best bike planning contractor in the country and then released this dog of a map and plan on us … who cares if this particular group of people is taken off the case?

    We need leadership from the mayor’s office and the planning department on this. Where has the mayor been while cyclists have been getting killed on the streets he’s been working so hard to speed up for cars? Where is “do real planning” and the Urban Design Studio coming into play with this plan?

    There is enough dedicated bike project funding, that doesn’t affect the General Fund, to kill the LADOT’s bikeways division and start a new one in the Planning Department and to hire a deputy-level staffer to work on these issues.

    Jaime de la Vega in the mayor’s office got crap for driving a Hummer to work as the transportation deputy – what kind of crap has he gotten for sitting idly by while pedestrians and bike riders are being killed daily on the streets he is responsible for?

  • Kent Strumpell

    At last night’s BAC meeting we heard some relevant information regarding why the maps don’t go farther in designating new bikeways, esp. bike lanes.  I, for one, was planning to argue that the plan should include designation for “road diets”, ie, lane or parking removal to free up space for bike lanes. Apparently there are factors I hadn’t anticipated.

    Pretty much all opportunities for installing bike lanes, where the roadway width can accommodate it, have either been done or are planned.  The consultants found a few more, very few.  To create more will require: a. removing travel lanes (one can be sufficient), b. removing on-street parking, or c. widening the road.  Removing lanes has implications for affecting levels of congestion, which can then trigger significant environmental review.  Indeed, San Francisco’s ambitious new bike plan (proposed a few years ago), called for significant levels of lane removal and was challenged in court by one local citizen.  It has been held up ever since.  City of LA wants to avoid such an outcome.

    So, we have the “Proposed but Currently Infeasible” (PCI) designation for roads that desperately need bicycle accommodations, but where, for various reasons, this isn’t feasible.  Reasons include: traffic planners unwilling to give up a lane; local merchants unwilling to give up on-street parking; fear that local commuters will shoot any politician that infringes on their god-given access to maximal roadway width, etc.  

    The environmental review trigger is avoided by relegating future bikeway expansion that requires lane removal to individual projects (starting life with the PCI designation).  There is also logic in this from the political standpoint, in that each proposed project will probably entail a local campaign to convince the opposition to consent to it (as in the case of parking removal).

    According to Michelle, decisions to remove lanes or parking are intensely political and cannot be made by staff or designated extensively in the plan (at least they are unwilling to propose these options, based on well-founded fears that major hell will break loose if they did). You can be sure that local Council Members will need to approve any such project.  A lot of folks are blaming city staff and the consultants for this lack of ambition.  The reality, in my analysis, is that this just reflects our local political landscape.  If we want meaningful expansion of our bikeway network, I am convinced that we have to start at the political level.  Battles for repurposing travel lanes or parking into bike lanes will probably have to be fought street by street.  All politics are local!

    Actually, the PCI designation might be a tool we can take advantage of, add to, and then advocate that specific streets receive specific treatments. Of course, if we can get more PCI streets re-designated in the plan for better treatments, so much the better, and we should try. But given political realities, we might have to take all the advantage we can of this PCI device.

    On the bright side, we also heard a report on bike lane installation progress. 14.6 miles of new bike lanes have funding and are in the works or were recently completed. And Main Street in Venice will extend the Santa Monica bike lanes south, ahem, a road diet!

    Kent Strumpell (BAC member)

  • Kent, your post is the bike world equivalent of a house slave telling the field slaves that massa’ may be tough on us, but its the best we can hope for us being slaves and all. I don’t buy it. I don’t buy Michelle Mowery’ line about a CEQA lawsuit, and why should we be threatened by such a lawsuit in the first place? It would (*gasp*) delay the Bike Plan!

    The Bike Plan is already delayed! Nobody made any motions last night to demand that the plan include lane removals, traffic calming, etc. in the next draft of the plan! What is wrong with your guys?! Are those lights in the Parker Center so dazzling that you can’t make up your mind about something as vital to cyclists interest as this?

    Why take political advice from a shell-shocked public servant who’s been telling us “Yes, we can’t” for a couple of years? She is not the only person working on this issue, and nobody in the audience is asking her to single-handedly fix this mess, but she is supposed to COORDINATE the efforts of the public with city government to see that cyclists interests get served. That isn’t happening right now.

    And from what I’ve heard the State of California is revising its CEQA standards, to prevent stupid lawsuits triggered by the bike plan in San Francisco. Why are we afraid of that again? It will cost us millions and produce no bike facilities? The City already spends millions on “bike projects” and gives us nothing. It will delay the Bike Plan? The plan is already delayed – if we can get a REAL plan out of the delay, it is wort the wait.

  • Jesus, all this focus on bike facilities – but no talk of standards that can be inserted into the General Plan through the bike plan that would allow for the political landscape to shift in favor of bicycle and pedestrian amenities! It is not just about bike lanes – it’s about how the city measures our roadways. If we can change the way engineers are asked to design a roadway, and give them more dimensions of the city ot look at, we’ll end up with better, safer, urban streets. Why is this always a fight with Mowery over facilities that she claims we will never get?

  • So most of the so called “feasible” routes are built out, and that is supposed to some how make us content with what is essentially a load of crap for a system. It’s time for real fights and debates over space in this city, it’s time to end the era of every god damned inch of automobile space being sacred land.

  • Sorry about getting a little aggro there, but whole thing pisses me off. Especially after looking at plans from Mexico City of all places after the LA bike summit, looking at such a low bar coming out of LA, just seems pathetic.

  • Knowing how poorly fulfilled are the seats presently filled by the likes of chief meter maid Jimmy Price and LADOT general “manager” Rita Robinson, is it any surprise that senior bicycle “coordinator” Michelle Mowery is no less competent and possibly insincere?

  • Dan

    I have no doubt that Michelle is beleaguered, and that her job is brutal. She gets props for staying in the game far longer than most of her counterparts at the other side of the table have.

    But the entire bike department at the DOT needs to strike words like “no,” “impossible,” “unfeasible,” and “you don’t understand” from their vocabulary. Period. Michelle is the public face of the city’s bike policy. She’s described herself, over and over, as a “punching bag.” I feel bad for her, but political figures – and she is one – are ultimately responsible for the way their perceived, and do have the ability to change those perceptions.

    A good first step for the bike department would be to recognize that we are not just a constituency – we are its customers, and state that publicly, loudly, and frequently.

    If the infrastructure at DOT above and around the bike department is such that Michelle and her colleagues have either been so beaten down that they cannot do so, or understand that this is true, than what we must do is change DOT change. We have to remember that Michelle’s bosses owe their livelihoods – and for many of them, most likely, their sense of selves – to having climbed the ladder of a institution that was born out the need to serve cars and freeways, to be their guardians and gatekeepers. There are no busses, bikes, or pedestrians in DOT’s soul.

    That may no longer be written policy. It may no longer be what DOT says It may even no longer be what DOT’s folks think they believe. Let’s put it this way: we’ve got the General Motors of city transit departments. Hidebound, lumbering, and – even if it can see the new horizon – puzzled by it and scared of it.

    Let’s dismiss, right now, the political and commercial considerations that we’re hearing. They need to stop. I’m sick of hearing that L.A. should be like Portland or Davis or Amsterdam. But we can learn from a more legitimate example – New York, where I grew up. Well into the 1980s, the transit situation there was beyond miserable. Subway service was nonexistent at some stations. Graffiti was everywhere. There were almost no bike lanes or bike paths, even on the bridges. Riding – even in places like Central Park – was dangerous, not just because cars didn’t like us, but because the police harassed us and didn’t protect us when our bikes were stolen. A bike traffic light, installed at Herald Square, existed only to snag us so that we could be ticketed. There was no practical way to get to the airport by mass transit, nor was there any way that urban subway and bus riders could buy discounted quantity passes, the way suburban commuters could for decades.

    The word “impossible” came from every sector that it does today. It came from politicians and bureaucrats, and from every special interest. Rudolph Giuliani gets some of the credit for the change, but it didn’t really come from him: it came from people who realized that the city had fallen down on the job.

    So it got fixed.

    We are the bike department’s customers, and the DOT’s customers. We are being provided with awful customer service. So are pedestrians and mass-transit users. We also have a wonderful ace-in-the-hole: automobile users are getting equally shitty customer service, and serving us well will also benefit them. If the bike department cannot understand or provide us with a satisfactory service experience, then we need to bypass it – and not just by going way up, to city hall.

    There are plenty of people at DOT who work at higher levels who need to hear from us. We should no longer allow them to tell us that “it isn’t their job.” As long as they continue to deny as as a constituency and benefit to all of Los Angeles – as well as abuse and disempower the minority of people that they’ve appointed to “help” us – we need to deny them that bureaucratic comfort.

    Here’s a link to the DOT’s executive staff page:

    http://www.ladot.lacity.org/about-executive-staff.htm

    Here is a link to DOT’s organization chart:

    http://www.ladot.lacity.org/about-executive-staff.htm

    When you write, tell them that you want a direct response, and prefer not to be referred back to the bike department. But do – out of respect – CC the bike department anyhow.

  • Kent,

    Your comments are irrelevant and your role as apologist for the LADOT Bikeways is a disservice to the cycling community who have a right to expect the BAC to represent the cycling community.

    The Bicycle Plan should be a vision document full of vision and standards. The Bicycle Maps should be a network of connectivity that lays down a network that we can all work toward making a reality.

    It should include priorities and it should be inspirational and aspirational.

    These Bike Maps roll over and ask us to embrace the future as “infeasible!”

    The consultant is in no position to survey the landscape of future political realities and decide NOW what’s feasible. Unless, of course, they worked for the LADOT.

    Who wrote the scope of work for the Bicycle Plan process? Consultant says it’s the LADOT Bikeways coordinator. Who decides what’s feasible on the streets of LA? Consultant says that the LADOT established that standard.

    The greatest offense in this whole process is that it demonstrates a clear cut lack of respect for the cycling community. Actually, this process and the resulting product is actually a statement of contempt for the cycling community.

    If the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee isn’t involved in the process and doesn’t warrant a visit from the Bike Plan’s Planning Manager, Alta Planning, the Osprey Group, the City Attorney, Cultural Affairs, the Department of Aging or any of the many people and departments being blamed for the complete ineffectiveness and incompetence, then how can any cyclist on the streets suffer any delusions that they count, that they matter, that there is any hope of riding streets in Los Angeles where cyclists will be treated like equals.

    Kent, the LADOT is disrespecting you. The City Attorney is disrespecting you. The Planning Department is disrespecting you. Demand better!

    Now is the time for the cycling community to stand together and demand that the word “infeasible” be stricken from the Bike Plan, the Bike Maps and the vocabulary of anybody anywhere talking about the future of cycling in the City of Los Angeles.

    “See you on the Streets!”

  • Just wanted to mildly point out that if bike lanes were designated in the 1996 Bike Master Plan then their location is already adopted policy and any CEQA compliance for that decision is complete. This makes it even more important not to water down their designation with a lame “Proposed but Currently Infeasible” designation. It is true there is some political effort involved in implementing each specific project where tough trade-offs exist, but it would be ironic if the Draft Master Plan undermined the ability to provide key regional links.

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