More on the Bike Plan: Strength and Weaknesses

(As you may have noticed, Streetsblog is running a series gathering different people’s opinions on the Bike Master Plan.  You can read statements by a group of different bike activists from Monday,  Dan Koepel on Tuesday, Kent Strumpell in the comments section yesterday and now LACBC Founder and Green L.A. Transportation Working Group Chair Joe Linton today.)

First off, a few words on what I think a bike
plan is and isn’t. A city plan has to be approved by the applicable
departmental leadership, the City Council, and the Mayor. As such, it’s
generally a watered-down document that the institutional forces think
is perhaps going too far, and that advocates are sure doesn’t go far
enough.  In my opinion, it’s important that the bike plan take a
serious step in a good direction, but I don’t expect for it to get us
all the way there.  It’s important that the bike plan identify
worthwhile/priority next steps… but, at least for me and in the current
milieu, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be a big vision document for
a biketopia paradise for L.A. tomorrow.

Perhaps my standards aren’t high enough – perhaps I’ve been at this
too long and my horizons have been lowered too much… but I think the
most helpful context for critiquing the bike plan would be along the
lines of “what’s doable in the next couple years?” and “does this take
us in the right direction?” (as opposed to something like “does this
have everything to make L.A. perfect for bikes?”)   I see the bike plan
as an opportunity for approving a few good next steps.

The plan does not limit what bike advocates can push for.  There
are no bike lanes designated for Vermont Avenue in the Bike Plan.  If
bicyclists and neighbors and businesses come together and push for bike
lanes on Vermont, and a broad consensus forms around getting bike lanes
on Vermont, and the City Council and the Mayor get behind bike lanes on
Vermont, then it doesn’t matter what’s in the plan.
 We bike advocates don’t need to limit our advocacy to what’s in the
plan. We should continue to push the political envelope, regardless of
what the plan says.

There has been quite a bit of valid criticism of the bike plan
process.  I am not going to enumerate all the flaws in the process
here, but I will list a couple that come to mind quickly.  There
weren’t enough community meetings.  People who signed in at last year’s
public meetings still haven’t received an email announcing that the
maps have been made public.  The initial email announcement was
apparently only sent to Neighborhood Councils, not the city’s Bicycle
Advisory Committee, nor bicycle organizations, nor bike blogs, nor
people who actually attended public meetings regarding the bike plan.
 If the city wants the plan to be successful, then they need to be more
transparent and open and share information.  It’s the 21st century!
 The internet has made it cheap and easy to distribute information… the
city needs to use these tools to share information to make a plan that
has meaningful input and broader support.

I think that the main deficiency in the plan is that it aims too
low, and I think that this is a result of the scope.  The Department of
Transportation (LADOT) did not put out a scope saying that their
consultant should come up with a plan to make Los Angeles a bicycle
paradise.  The LADOT’s scope set parameters that made it nearly
impossible for a plan to be pushy or visionary.  Facility-wise, LADOT’s
bike plan scope tells their consultant to focus on just two things:

1)      Look at the 1996 Bike Plan and see if the facilities listed in it still make sense.

2)      Look at smaller secondary streets and see what might be done there.

The city then selected the Portland, Oregon-based Alta Planning +
Design to be the consultant that would come up with the plan.  Alta is
an excellent firm, but they are consultants who need to do more-or-less
what the city asks them to do, so they had to stay within the
parameters of the city’s scope.  Looking at the draft maps, it looks to
me like Alta actually exceeded it in some small ways – for example, the
new draft map for the Valley shows bike paths along additional
stretches of the Tujunga Wash and the Pacoima Wash that weren’t in the
1996 plan.  So, to Alta’s credit, it looks like they slipped in a few
good things that may have been beyond the exact LADOT scope.  I hope I
haven’t gotten them in trouble yet… though I hope that by the time this
plan is completed and adopted, it will have exceeded the LADOT’s scope
even more.

I’ve been looking over the maps and I have yet to find any proposed
bicycle facilities on them that I would actually oppose.  I think that
if the city would actually implement all the facilities shown on the
maps, Los Angeles would take a step in the right direction toward being
a bicycle-friendly city… only a step in the right direction, though,
and there would still be a lot of work left to do.  I support what’s
proposed in the plan, even though I don’t think that plan goes far
enough.  I don’t think that the facilities in the plan are stupid,
wrong, or undesirable. I just think that, for us to make bicycling safe
and convenient in Los Angeles, we will need to do all these facilities
and more.

Looking at some specific facilities:

Bike Routes:
I think that this is the one really strong aspect of the proposed draft
(which flows directly from it being what the LADOT scope was asking
for.)  Alta has done a good job of identifying plenty of very
appropriate “bike friendly streets."

Some folks have commented that “bike friendly streets” is a
little vague.  It is… but I think that this vagueness is ok, and can
actually serve us.  These streets aren’t identified as Bicycle
Boulevards or as locations for sharrows, or bike lanes, or even
something we haven’t thought of.  At this stage of the plan, I would
assert that it’s good not to nail down which specific treatment will
work best for each block of each street.  This detail would be better
to be worked out with cyclists and other stakeholders as these projects
are implemented.  Using a term like Bicycle Boulevard, which many L.A.
bicyclists don’t even understand (and even fewer non-cyclists), is more
likely to get resistance.  The cautionary example of this was a Bicycle
Boulevard proposed in Burbank was quashed by angry homeowners, most of
whom seemed to perceive it as putting a bike-only path down the middle
of their street.  As we implement facilities that are unfamiliar in Los
Angeles (such as Bike Boulevards and even sharrows) we’ll need to bring
more stakeholders into the loop about what these facilities are and are
not.  All this to say that, in my opinion, it’s ok to just call these
“bike friendly streets” for now.

I expect that some streets in some areas of the city have been
overlooked, but, at least in my neighborhood (Koreatown), the draft
plan shows quite a few excellent choices for “bike friendly streets.”  There’s 4th Street Bike Boulevard, New Hampshire, Coronado,
Heliotrope… all good useful bike streets today that could be enhanced
by various bike boulevard treatments.  The secondary street networks
for the Valley, Boyle Heights, and mid-city all look pretty extensive.

Here’s a place where all of us bicyclists should look over the
places where we ride, and send comments to the City Planning Department
to propose additional streets that haven’t been designated yet on the
draft plan.

Bike Lanes: This part of the plan appears pretty
disgraceful.  As far as I can tell, in terms of the arterial bike lane
network, the new draft plan has taken a significant step backwards from
the 1996 bike plan (and the 1996 plan wasn’t that great to begin with.)
 Lots of streets where the old plan designates bike lanes have now been
declared “unfeasible.”  These include streets that, to my eye, look
pretty doable – examples of this would include portions of Olympic
Boulevard (from downtown to Boyle Heights) and Mission Road in Lincoln
Heights.

There are a few new streets designated for lanes here and
there, including (in my area) portions of Rampart and Second Street.
 These new lanes are welcome, but they’re pretty few and far between.

One possible remedy for this deficiency would be to change some
of the language in the current draft designations.  Perhaps the
“infeasible” category could be changed to something less defeatist.
 The 1996 plan included a number of “study corridors” – while very few
of these study corridor facilities actually got implemented, they
didn’t slam the door.  I’d suggest that the “infeasible” language be
changed to something more like “study corridors” or “potential
bikeways.”  Many of these projects are likely to require some removal
of travel lanes or parking, which I understand is politically
difficult.  I’d like to see them stay in the plan, though, and we can
work out the thorny issues on a case-by-case basis.

Bike Paths:  Mercifully, I haven’t found any bike paths that have been declared “infeasible.”  I (in the L.A. Creek Freak blog and my book)
have advocated for river revitalization, and so it’s good to see that
the L.A. River, Ballona Creek, and Dominguez Channel remain intact from
the 1996 plan into the current draft.  Additional portions of the
Arroyo Seco, Tujunga Wash, Pacoima Wash, Aliso Creek, and some rail
right-of-ways have been designated, all of which are steps in the right
direction.

I would still suggest that the bike paths designated are
incomplete. There are quite a few Los Angeles River tributaries that
present opportunities for bike paths, including Caballero Creek, Bull
Creek, portions of Brown’s Creek, and others.

It’s all a draft… and now is the time to
improve the draft into something that many of us could support.  I
would encourage cyclists to review the draft plans, and to make your
comments per the instructions at the city website.  This bike plan,
while imperfect, does represent an opportunity to move forward with
some good facilities that can make Los Angeles bicycling safer and more
convenient.  It’s up to us advocates to shape draft plan into something
that we can accept… and to keep on advocating!

  • A well-reasoned argument from Joe, as I would expect. However, I think a lot of the anger many cyclists are feeling — myself included — stems from how conservative this plan is, as opposed to the bold vision we had expected given Alta’s reputation and the urgent need for change in this city’s transportation policies. After all, why hire a firm like Alta if you’re not looking for a bold, visionary plan?

    As for bike boulevards, the problem is in how they are sold. No property owner wants a “bike boulevard” on their street. But if you tell them you have a plan that will provide traffic calming measures, eliminating the need for speed bumps while still maintaining local access, they’re interested.

    Tell them it will include a neighborhood beautification plan that will make the street more walkable and inviting, and improve safety — and probably increase property values. Tell them it will attract more shoppers to local businesses, and show them how similar plans in other cities have resulted in increased store traffic and sales revenue.

    Then tell them they can get all this for free, with no increase in local taxes — all they have to do is accept this thing called a bike boulevard as a part of the plan in order to get the funding, and I guarantee you, they’ll be sold.

  • Thank you for dropping the bikeways thing…OMG what a waste of time and energy. Start working on individual city council members, NC’s to get political clout to get more space on the roads for bicycles. If we can get one CC member to remove parking on one road for bike lanes…it will put pressure on the other CC member to do the same. Domino effect…get working on this issue or we will continue to be second class citizens.

    Planning stated the streets must be feasible to be considered for the bike plan. We need to start making unfeasible streets feasible by removing parking. Is the bike plan perfect? NO Do I hate it? NO. Do I think it can be tweaked to make it better, YES.

    Again, I want CC to do something meaningful and real for bikes. I want space on the streets for bike lanes.
    I want street parking eliminated on some east/west and north/south streets and I want bike lanes instead of parking.

    I want a “motions” from city council members, BAC, NC to get rid of some street parking and put in bike lanes throughout the city.

    Start writing letters to the all CC members, BAC members and all NC’s to support bikes by eliminating SOME on street parking and putting in bike lanes.

    This week a bicyclist riding on the sidewalk was killed by a truck turning right. Would it have made difference if there was a bike lane on this street with parking removed?
    Just like that DIY article said…most cars/trucks on the road stay within the lines on the road. If there was a bike lane maybe the truck would have respected the bicyclist space on the road.

    As you can tell my focus is space on the road for bicyclists.

    My last item is I would like the mayor’s office with local state politicians to re-introduce bill AB 1941 that Santa Barbara Assemblymen, Pedro Nava introduce in 2006 that would have changed
    the current law that requires a vehicle to pass bicycles to the left at a “safe distance.” His bill AB 1941 would change this requirement so that vehicles must now pass bicycles at a minimum distance of 3 feet. Specifically, this change will be reflected in Vehicle Code section 21750. AB 1941 would of also list penalties assigned to vehicle operators that violate this section.

    Not only would it give bicyclist space but it would have given the police the tools to help their investigation of an accident involving a bicycles. All the police would have to do is pull a measuring tape and if it was less the 3 feet the truck or car is a fault. No debate about whose fault it was.

    But alas the trucker’s lobby and the bus operators lobby killed it in Sacramento.
    Like they need any more room on the road!
    This time it will take power and money to beat the truckers lobby and bus operators lobby in Sacramento. If the bicycle community don’t get more political clout we will never be respected.
    Write the mayor and CC to get this re-introduced, today.

  • I disagree with Joe on this point:

    “The plan does not limit what bike advocates can push for. There are no bike lanes designated for Vermont Avenue in the Bike Plan. If bicyclists and neighbors and businesses come together and push for bike lanes on Vermont, and a broad consensus forms around getting bike lanes on Vermont, and the City Council and the Mayor get behind bike lanes on Vermont, then it doesn’t matter what’s in the plan. We bike advocates don’t need to limit our advocacy to what’s in the plan. We should continue to push the political envelope, regardless of what the plan says.”

    This document is the foundation upon which future funding requests to the State, the Feds, and the MTA will be made for bike facilities. If it is not in the plan, then everything must be done from scratch every time a neighborhood comes together around bicycling issues. If there are no bike-friendly measurements and standards included in this plan (the same omission occurred in past plans), then we’re doubly screwed in the future – as we’ll have to make the case, every time, without official measurement regarding safety, livability, health, property values, and the state of local retailers.

    There is a bizarre attitude from Michelle Mowery that, if something significant is put in the plan to secure cyclists’ rights to the road that the plan will never make it out of council and never achieve anything for cyclists. However, if there is nothing substantive in the plan, what the hell is the point of making one in the first place?!

    I’m not asking the LADOT to do all the heavy lifting on this. There are zoning designations that the Planning Dept has in specific plans that will most likely never come to fruition – but they are on the books and serve up criteria for those trying to develop a parcel in an area. What is wrong with the city setting its own table properly, so that when (or if) the food arrives it will be ready to eat?

  • Wow… Josef – is that really the only thing you disagree with me on in this post?

    I think you’re right Josef, it is a problem that the only facilities that get in the plan are the easiest to do… and even those aren’t easy in L.A. The plan does designate what resources the LADOT will pursue… so, if a facility is not in the bike plan, then it’s more difficult for a community effort to get funded.

    The nuance I add to Josef’s point, though, is that I would suggest that the limiting factor on most L.A. bike projects is not funding, but political will. Bike lanes, sharrows, and even bike boulevards are cheap – and can generally be done within the city transportation budget. Road diets, parking removal, re-striping are cheap fiscally… but not easy politically… which means we bike advocates need to organize, to build coalitions, and get specific demands implemented.

  • I enjoyed Joe’s thoughtful comments on the strengths of the Draft Plan, and on having realistic expectations.

    I have to agree with Josef that it is VERY important not to abandon potential bike lane alignments from the 1996 Draft Plan as infeasible. My understanding is that based on the recent San Francisco Bike Master Plan
    CEQA ruling, projects such as bike lanes which displace parking and/or shift vehicular traffic patterns in ways that could conceivably result in a potentially significant environmental impact require CEQA analysis. The cost of that analysis, and the potential for obstruction due to lawsuits regarding its adequacy, can wind up meaning many good bike lane and traffic calming/bike friendly streets projects cost twice as much and don’t get implemented.

  • Thank you Joe. Another well reasoned and readable argument.

    “Bike friendly streets” is a much better phrase than “bike boulevard” for the sales pitch, for sure.

    If the cultural concept of a “bike friendly street” or even of a “Livable Street” could be sold in Los Angeles that would certainly be a positive benefit for all users of the roads.

    Without the Mayor on board however, I am inclined to believe that precious little of the updated LABMP will be implemented.

    Also, without an organized forced akin to the powerful Equestrian lobby, the needs and rights of pedestrians and cyclists alike will likely continue to go unnoticed.

    That said, I can’t help but agree with Joe Linton when he says,

    “I’ve been looking over the maps and I have yet to find any proposed bicycle facilities on them that I would actually oppose. I think that if the city would actually implement all the facilities shown on the maps, Los Angeles would take a step in the right direction toward being a bicycle-friendly city… only a step in the right direction, though, and there would still be a lot of work left to do.

    I support what’s proposed in the plan, even though I don’t think that plan goes far enough. I don’t think that the facilities in the plan are stupid, wrong, or undesirable. I just think that, for us to make bicycling safe and convenient in Los Angeles, we will need to do all these facilities and more.”

  • @Alison: I agree that we need to fight not to abandon these bike lanes from the 1996 plan (as I states, I think that the draft plan’s greatest deficiency is in its lack of commitment to an arterial bike lane network.) Maybe there’s a legal case that we can make that declaring so many of these planned bikeways infeasible has an environmental impact and therefore would require CEQA analysis before they can be struck from a plan.

    Any CEQA lawyers out there who could weigh in on this??

  • When you suggest going after the City Council and putting our hopes in their ability to get behind a plan and their ability to make it a reality, please keep in mind that City Councilmembers have given two very specific instructions for the Bike Plan that have been ignored.

    As the consultant put it “We don’t take direction from the City Council, we work for the Department.”

    Do not underestimate the ability of the “Department” to shape the direction and the content of an endeavor such as the Bike Plan.

    I’d love to be wrong on this but the outreach alone indicates that the “Department” either doesn’t get it or refuses to do it but either way, we’re not getting the “process” that the City Council has directed.

    It might be more likable to be more agreeable and it might be polite to feign optimism as we’re handed mediocrity as a vision document but rest assured, this Bike Plan is the work product of a department that is committed to moving cars through the City of Los Angeles.

    We’re not a priority and these Bike Plan Maps are the evidence.

  • I love this LA Streetsblog space.

    I’d like “infeasible” defined more specifically.

    I think I’m remembering correctly that Alta has presented at various conferences aspects of their involvement in this process, and that they highlighted some nitty gritty detective work they did in preparing this map.

    I think I remember, specifically, GIS analysis that kept notes on street widths and intersection dynamics. Armed with that knowledge, bicycling advocates could track down what’s on the books for these streets, what the hang-ups are, and which government entities would need to be pushed to fix those problems.

    Maybe we should call these segments, “currently infeasible”?

  • @Stephen – agreed – Bikes currently not a priority for the LADOT and the bike plan draft and scope are evidence.

    @Nate – From the letter that accompanied the bike plan, the specific definition of infeasible: “Key corridors where bike lanes are desirable, but would require either roadway widening or the removal of travel lanes or on-street parking.” In a way this is true… what I (and others I think) would like is for the LADOT to commit to some travel lane [sic] removal (ie: a road diet) and/or removing some parking to make way for bike lanes. The LADOT states that they can’t do this, due to possible CEQA challenges… but, like Stephen states, it appears to less about CEQA than about prioritizing dedicating as many inches of roadway as possible to cars, cars, and more cars.

    Many relatively-easy bike lane projects implemented in L.A., including Silver Lake Boulevard and Griffith Park Boulevard, have ended up removing some parking. (This has been mostly due to the LADOT deepening left turn pockets… but that’s another story.) If the standard is “no lane/parking removal nowhere,” then we’re likely to get no (or nearly no) new bike lanes.

    “Currently infeasible” while better than just “infeasible” still sounds like “NO”… I’d rather get wording like “potential” or “study” which sounds like “maybe.”

  • Dan

    Joe, I agree on almost all your points. But I do think that the problem with the word “infeasible” is not one of conscious choice, but (as I said in an earlier comment thread) of institutional culture.

    The bike department has been marginalized within and without the DOT. Now, as signaled by its own operating vocabulary, that marginalization has become deeply internalized.

    We’re capable of good government here in Los Angeles. The bike department, perhaps, should stop talking about tangible things for a while. It needs to look inside itself and examine why it has taken such a negative tone. It needs to finally take responsibility for darkening the public dialogue with broken promises, disheartening language, excuses, and instant dismissal of good ideas (even “infeasible” ones!)

    It should then promise to move forward in a way that is relentlessly positive – especially when setbacks occur. It can do so by sharing those setbacks with us, and by asking us for our empathy and commiseration, and offering us the same. Our common goal – and we need to remind each other of this all the time, and we must be happy warriors, in spite of how difficult the task – is to turn in a new direction the most impressive, well-fortified, and massively engineered empire of motorized transportation humankind has ever built.

    Why would such a thing not happen? Fear. Over and over, we’re told that something should be said, or would be said, but can’t, because somebody would get fired. Time to forbid that statement, as well, because the more it is repeated, the more all of us believe it. Do our well-meaning representatives at the bicycle department truly believe that opening a fair dialogue about the big picture would lead to such punishment?

    If so, what an ugly organization they work for. And there’s a remedy.

    My message to the department is that the constituency that can change your bosses isn’t your bosses. The truth is that you are invisible to the apparatchiks above and around you.

    Your champion is the bike community.

    We have the power to make the bureaucracy listen.

    The catch is that you have to ask us. You have to show us that it is worthwhile. Get us on your side, and we will fight for you. Do that, and the language will take care of itself.

  • Dan

    One more thing: if you’re a member of the department, and you’re reading this, try an experiment. Every time you find yourself calling bullshit on this psychobabble- or on any of these threads, actually – stop and say “what if” instead, just as an experiment. Then make your judgement.

    It really works.

  • Amen – what is so wrong with the Bikeways Coordinator using all the screaming rabble to win a few fights rather than start new ones?

  • Jeff Jacobberger

    The maps are a joke. For example, 8th Street is a great bike street, but the gated commmunity of Fremont Place stands in the way. Drawing a dotted line through this gated community but labelling it “infeasible” allows the City to create a map that looks like it has a continuous route when it does not. The purpose of a “plan” is to find a safe way around Fremont Place–admittedly a difficult task, but a necessary one.
    I live in the Miracle Mile. A bike “plan” that does not give me a safe route to any important neighborhood destination: LACMA, The Grove, the Farmers Market, Beverly Center, Cedars-Sinai, Pan-Pacific Park, Poinsettia Park, the Target/Best Buy, or any grocery store–much less future subway stops at Fairfax/LaBrea or Fairfax/Wilshire–is not a plan. It is merely a series of lines that someone gets to pretend is a plan.

    How can this be a plan for the future when no proposed route/bike-friendly street or any other marking on the map actually reaches what we know will be subway stations at Wilshire/La Brea or Wilshire/Fairfax

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