A Broad Section of Cyclists Descend on City Hall, LAPD No-Shows
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 dais. "Bike Friendly" Councilman Tom LaBonge, Bernard Parks and Richard Alarcon all declined to attend the 8:00 A.M. meeting. But perhaps even more disappointingly, the LAPD didn’t bother to show up either.
As for levity, that came in the form of a back and forth between Midnight Rida Roadblock, the LADOT and City Council that ended with Rosendahl asking why he hadn’t submitted a resume to work for the LADOT. Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery responding, "Don’t worry, we have it."
I should also note the diversity of the audience. Cyclists were represented by people of all races and cultures. Cyclists were wearing spandex, suits, sandals, skirts and loafers. Some of the audience had to leave for a 9:00 A.M. meeting held between Green L.A. and the Mayor’s office at 9:00, and another dozen or so people left after the Bike Plan portion of the hearing. However, there was never less than thirty five activists in the room, giving up their morning to push for safer cycling in Los Angeles.
I’ll try to do justice to the agenda and the issues raised after the jump.
Unlike at the official Bike Advisory Committee two weeks ago, this time the LADOT and City Planning were both in attendance and ready to discuss the Draft Plan. There was little news at today’s hearing, but Planning did announce that hearings on the plan are scheduled to begin on July 27th. I guess that means that we should expect a draft plan beyond the maps sometime in the next couple of weeks. The bad news, is that there will still only be four public hearings spread around the city in the same four geographic areas that we saw in March of 2008:, the Westside, Downtown, San Pedro and the Valley. There is still no public heraing for the Eastside, which I guess is o.k. since Eastsiders claim that the maps presented exclude them anyway. Yes, the last sentence was sarcasm.
The public testimony centered around two themes. The first was that the public outreach on the plan has been terrible. The second was that the draft maps aren’t inspiring in any way.
As has become a running theme, just about everyone that stepped to the podium slammed the process that has produced the plan. In some ways, I have to think that the folks at Alta Planning cringe whenever they hear of these meetings. Alta is a planning all-star that has a reputation for for producing high quality bike plans through an inspiring and empowering public processes. But when they run into LADOT and City Planning, they end up with an angry constituency and a mediocre plan.
Joining the Bike Coalition, Bike Advisory Committee, Bike Writer’s Collective and a regiment of cyclists were members of the Sierra Club, Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council and a handful of equestrians. Such a diverse group, and not one person who isn’t a city employee defended the outreach.
At one point Greuel asked the audience how many people attended the public meetings last March. A handful of hands went up. While Helen Bibas of City Planning defended the outreach noting the website and Spanish Language materials; I have to wonder when you have a room full of people that found it more convenient to bike Downtown at 8:00 in the morning rather than attend the public meetings you set up how you could possibly think that your outreach plan was sufficient.
Outside of the obvious solutions presented, such as holding more meetings or allowing cyclists to participate throughout the creation of the plan; a more innovative way to get people involved was proposed by Roadblock. He noted that it isn’t expensive to have a top notch website where people can have conversations, see plans and comment on them, update maps, submit their own maps etc. It was this comment that led to Rosendahl’s request that Roadblock volunteer with the LADOT if they can’t afford him. Hey, Roadblock, make sure you get one of those "Proud to be LADOT" lanyards.
I’m not going to go over all of the complaints about what is actually on the maps. The maps haven’t changed, and neither have the complaints about them. You can read first thoughts by a group of different bike activists, Bicycle Magazine writer Dan Koepel, LABAC Member and LACBC Board Member Kent Strumpell, and LACBC Founder and LABAC Member Joe Linton all on Streetsblog. I will say that the crowd was pretty much evenly split between the group that wants to improve the current plan and the group that wants to kill the plan and start over because a flawed process has produced a flawed plan.
As a side topic, a number of equestrians and members of the Sierra Club showed up to complain about the involvement of the Ospry group in the creation of the Bike Plan. The Boulder, CO based group was brought on by Alta Planning to do public outreach to find "common ground" to potentially open up more park trails to cyclists. Their horse peoples’ testimony was played close to the chest. Instead of arguing that opening the trails would be bad for equestrians, they slammed the private meetings Osprey held and argued that the trails issue was a distraction from the Bike Plan. Most cyclists in the room agreed that the issue of what to do with mountain trails has little impact on the life of bike commuters struggling to ride safely on city streets.
As for the Council Members: Rosendahl, hinting very strongly that he expected to be the next Transportation Committee Chair, talked about making sure that the next Transportation Committee, which will be seated in June, will continue pushing this issue and that he felt that getting cyclists involved in bike planning is a slam dunk for the City. Greuel, who has one more hearing left in her term before she moves across the street to the Comptroller’s Chair, directed the LADOT and Planning to come back to the Transportation Committee next week with their public outreach plan for the Draft Plan so that it can be reviewed.
Before we could even get started, one of Reyes’ aid in attendance clarified that they didn’t want to bring back the plan that the city just revoked; they wanted to bring back a new plan that could make life safer for cyclists. LABAC Chair Glenn Bailey testified that instead of wasting limited bike funding on a new program, the City should instead just partner with one of the national organizations that already does voluntary licensing and go from there.
LAPD Report on "Hummer Incident" and Internal Bicycle and Pedestrian Training
The LAPD no-showed the hearing so there wasn’t a report.
LADOT Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery broke the bad news to the catcalls of the audience, including a demand that they "send them the tapes" from today’s meeting. After Greuel promised that she would have the LAPD present at next week’s meeting, Stephen Box half-joked that the calendar was "wearing us out." If scores of cyclists can make an 8:00 A.M. meeting, skipping work and giving their free time, it’s a major failure that the LAPD couldn’t send anyone that would been paid to be in attendance. It’s little wonder that they can’t get out from under a consent decree from the federal government.
Also, Bailey offered to have the Bike Advisory Committee host an open town hall to address the issues between cyclists and pedestrians. There wasn’t a firm commitment from the Council that they were interested in moving forward.
If they do show up at next Wednesday’s 2:00 P.M. meeting, I’ll be sure to report what they say. However, I’d wait to see the schedule this Friday before taking the afternoon off.
Update on Federal and State Bike Funding
We still aren’t seeing a lot of it. Rosendahl and Greuel asked about stimulus funds and the LADOT sadly responded that it was mostly for shovel ready projects and LADOT didn’t get stimulus funds for bikes. I hate to ask, but how much planning does it take to paint a bike lane?
Authority to Remove "Derelict" Bikes from City Bike Racks
A quick debate ensued over what the best way to deal with "derelict" bikes abandoned on city racks was. Greuel shared my concern that strong standards needed to be in place to make certain the city didn’t accidentally remove and confiscate active bicycles.
There was also discussion that if we’re going to open the municipal code up on bike parking; then the City should also change the rule that bans the parking of bicycles on parking meters. To be fair, the ban on meters is completely unenforced.
Box also pointed out that the security of city bike racks is a larger issue than just derelict bikes. Just last week a group of bicycles were vandalized in broad daylight right outside their office building at 200 Spring Street, aka Los Angeles City Hall.
Changing Municipal Code to Require "Audible Announcement" of Bikes Passing Peds on Sidewalk
A lot of people wondered why this was even being discussed when the current Municipal Code requires that cyclists not ride in a dangerous way. At one point, cyclist testifying that there should never be a ban on bicycles on sidewalks noted that it’s a lot safer for him to ride on the sidewalk at 10 m.ph. than on the road at 20 m.p.h. Putting aside the statistical reality that it’s not true that riding on a sidewalk is safe for anyone, I should also note that 10 miles per hour is way too fast for sidewalk riding.
All in all, there wasn’t a lot of news at the meeting, although for the third time in six weeks, the Bike Community roared at the City Council. Whether that roar leads to better policy in the BMP or from the LAPD remains to be seen. However, at least we do know that Greuel’s last meeting as Transportation Committee Chair next week shouldn’t be a boring one.
(more to come…keep checking back)