Does LADOT Headquarters Know What’s Happening in District Offices? (Updated 4:55 P.M.)

8_14_09_caltrans.jpgCan you see the streets from LADOT’s offices in Caltrans’ Death Star?  Photo: Leighton Group

(Update: the LADOT responded just before "closing time" today.  Here is their official response: The information provided yesterday is accurate and still stands: the
Department has no current plans to remove any portion of the bike lane
or to install peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard.  

"We are committed
to providing choices and that means supporting all forms of
transportation.  LADOT is interested in moving people, not just cars"
according to General Manager Rita L. Robinson.)

I would be willing to bet at this point that the LADOT wishes it had never brought up the topic of peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard.

For those who haven’t followed the story, on Tuesday night the Northridge West Neighborhood Council considered a motion supporting the LADOT’s plan to remove street parking and bike lanes along a two-mile stretch of Reseda Boulevard increase peak-hour automobile capacity.  After sixty community members showed in opposition to the plan, fifteen of them cyclists, the Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to oppose any changes to Reseda Boulevard. 

However, the LADOT responded with mystification to the stories celebrating the victory at the Northridge West Neighborhood Council.  Carolyn Jackson, a Senior Management Analyst from the Office of the General Manager, basically said that LADOT was never considering such an action and the cyclists were all riled up over a rumor.

Some rumor.  Further digging by Joe Linton, a founder of the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition and member of the Los Angeles City Bike Advisory Committee, shows that the LADOT has decided to cancel plans to extend the Reseda Boulevard bike lanes to extend to the rest of the road in favor of adding peak hour car capacity.  Linton, in the comments section here and at Biking In LA, linked to a report by the LADOT for the June Bike Advisory Committee Meeting that clearly states that the LADOT does not want to extend the lanes and is planning on future peak hour car lane expansion along the three miles of Reseda that does not have bike lanes.

Linton has been vocal in asking that the LADOT apologize to Bailey, myself and Ted Rogers of Biking In L.A. for misleading us.  I’m not as interested in a written apology, but prefer his second suggestion that the apology could come in the form of three miles of bike lanes added to Reseda Boulevard.

It was this report that led to Glen Bailey, a Valley resident and Chair of the B.A.C. to begin to sound the alarms.  After all, what sense does it make to extend peak hour travel for cars for part of a road, aren’t you just creating a bottleneck somewhere else?  Bailey got in touch with engineers in the West Valley LADOT offices who did nothing to calm his concerns about the potential removal of the bike lanes on the part of Reseda Boulevard that does have the lanes currently.  After the jump, there is a lengthy "open letter" from Bailey explaining his experiences and point of view.

Adding to the concern for the existing bike lanes is a "Notice of Street Work" for the part of Reseda that currently does not have bike lanes.  This area would be completely repaved, and Bailey’s attempts to get assurances that the bike lanes that appear in the Master Plan wouldn’t be "forgotten" when the new asphalt was poured weren’t met with the answers for which he was hoping.

Personally, I don’t think either Jackson or LADOT communications director Bruce Gillman intentionally misled me that there was no reason to think that the Reseda Bike Lanes were in danger, I’m sure the LADOT central staff can’t monitor every project being worked on by every project engineer.  But, if you read Bailey’s letter and recognize him as a credible source, it’s nearly impossible to believe that something wasn’t going on in the West Valley LADOT offices that cyclists weren’t going to be happy with.

As mentioned above, the full text of Bailey’s open letter is available
after the jump.  I’ve been in contact with LADOT for a response to
Linton’s claims and concerns and when I get a response it will be
posted here also.  (update: seconds after hitting "publish" an email from Bruce Gillman arrived in my inbox that they will have a response for me this afternoon.)

Some of you might be interested in knowing the TRUTH concerning the
recent controversy over Reseda Boulevard bicycle lanes versus car peak
hour lanes and what the Los Angeles Department of Transportation might
be up to.  If so, read on.

On
June 2, 2009, just prior
to that evening’s
bimonthly
meeting, the 19 members of
the City’s Bicycle
Advisory Committee received
via email a pdf report
entitled "Bike Lane
Projects Status" with ten
items listed.  (I
have never distributed
this document to the
general public but someone
has posted it online http://glatwg.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/bike_lane_projects_in_progress1.pdf )  The eighth project listed, Reseda Bl. – Nordhoff St. to Rinaldi St. has a status note which reads:  "West Valley District does not concur with the project, cites peak hour lane usage in near future."  Due to the lateness of the hour, I don’t believe any of these ten projects were discussed during the meeting.

Having
lived and worked most of my life within one mile of Reseda Boulevard, I
know this street as well as any.  Peak hour lanes seemed to be
inappropriate given the business and residential configuration along
Reseda, not to mention that there is an existing bike lane south of
Vanowen Street extending five miles south into the Santa Monica
Mountains.  But I was particularly troubled how a bike lane project
included in the adopted 1996 Bicycle Plan could be trumped by a
"future" peak hour lane.  This was especially true since the bike lane
would serve the adjacent California State University, Northridge, the
only university in the Valley and one of the largest in California.

During
the next several weeks I made casual inquiries about these "peak hour
lanes" happening in the "near future" but no one had heard anything
about them, including the local chamber of commerce.  A search of the
City Council files online produced no results.  So on June 25, I
emailed the board members of both the Northridge East and Northridge
West neighborhood councils asking if they were aware of the project.  I
wrote, in part:

"… I am wondering if anyone was informed about the plans of the Department of
Transportation
to install peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard between Nordhoff and Rinaldi streets, and possibly further to the south?

These
peak hour lanes were the reason given earlier this month as to why
plans to install bicycle lanes on Reseda Boulevard along this stretch
in Northridge were not supported by DOT.  Personally I believe
prohibiting parking during morning and afternoon "rush" hours and
making Reseda Boulevard a six lane highway would not improve the
Northridge community, quite to the contrary.  The business district
would be less inviting, and Reseda Boulevard would be even more
dangerous for bicyclists and for pedestrians attempting to cross the
street.


I truly hope this is not the first time you are hearing about this…."

The responses were unanimous —  no, they had not heard about it.

So
I decided to then contact the DOT’s West Valley District office, which
I did by telephone on June 30.  I spoke to Taesang Nam who had no
information but assured me he would call me back later that day with
the answers to my questions.  I told him I would be sending an email to
his boss and would copy him.  I did so at 9:42 a.m. and that email read:

"Ken Firoozmand, Transportation Engineer
West Valley District
Department of Transportation
City of Los Angeles
Telephone
818-756-8784 Ext 217

Dear Mr. Firoozmand:

I understand that your office is planning on installing peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard.

For this project, please advise as to:

1.  The proposed northerly and southerly limits.

2.  The time frame for engineering design, approval, and installation.

3.  The right of way(s) to be acquired, if any.

4.  The estimated total cost.

5. 
Public notification to date and future opportunities for public input
and comment, including but not limited to the affected
Neighborhood Councils and Chamber of Commerces,

6.  Description and date of any pertinent public documents that exist concerning
same.


I
would appreciate your prompt reply to this inquiry.  You have my
permission to forward this email to others as necessary to obtain these
answers.
"

No
return call was received that day as promised, nor was there one the
next day either.  So on July 2, I called back and ended up speaking
with Mr. Firoozmand.  I included the highlights of our conversation in
an 11:12 a.m. email sent that morning to the Northridge East and
Northridge West neighborhood councils board members (and a few others)
which read:

"This morning I spoke with Ken Firoozmand of the Department of Transportation’s West Valley District.

He
confirmed that DOT’s goal is to install peak hour lanes (a third travel
lane in each direction in which parking is prohibited during peak
hours) on Reseda Boulevard.  Northridge will likely be the initial
phase but eventually they would be installed along the entire length
from Ventura Boulevard/101 Freeway north to the 118 Freeway/Rinaldi
Street.  He said the time frame is at least a year from now and that
they will notify the Council office and
Neighborhood Councils.  The actual timing depends on staffing and workload.

He
also confirmed his opposition to the proposed three mile bicycle lane
project on Reseda Boulevard between Nordhoff and Rinaldi streets as it
would preclude the peak hour lanes from being installed there.
"

In
addition, Mr. Firoozmand told me he was "not going to put in (bike)
lanes for just one or two bicyclists."  During our telephone
conversation, I requested Mr. Firoozmand’s response to my June 30 email
by answering the questions therein.  Not surprisingly, the questions
were never answered nor was the presumption upon which they were based
ever categorically denied, but more about that later.

Several days later on July 6, Dennis DeYoung, president of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council sent an email stating:

"I
contacted Ken Firoozmand today and left a message.  It’s on our Agenda
for July 14th, but I don’t know if anyone from LADOT will attend."


The issue was on the draft agenda but removed from the final version.  Why?  Perhaps because DOT was unable to
attend the meeting or the press of other business, but I don’t know.

But the following night, July 15, the issue WAS on the Northridge East Neighborhood Council
(NENC) agenda, listed as follows:

Item 8c. Traffic and Safety
i. Proposed Rush Hour 3rd Lane Reseda
Boulevard, also Parking Meter Zone
Northridge – Presentation by Ken
Firoozmand, Rita Robinson LADOT and
Councilman Grieg Smith – [Possible
Action]

Quite
an impressive list of presenters, I thought, so I decided to invite
some community residents and bicyclists to join me in attending the
meeting. 

But apparently the previous afternoon, July 14 at
4:40 p.m.,  DOT’s Carolyn Jackson had emailed the Northridge East and
Northridge West neighborhood council board members the following:

"As the Principal Transportation Engineer in charge of the Los Angeles
Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Valley Operations, I received
copies of the agendas for
your July 14 and 15
Neighborhood Council meetings.
Both agendas had items (Items 11 i & j on Northridge West N.C. agenda for
7/14 and Item 8c on Northridge East N.C. for 7/15) indicating proposed
action by the Neighborhood Councils in opposition to the installation of
parking meters and peak hour traffic lanes on Reseda Boulevard.  Your
agendas also
indicated that someone from DOT would be attending your

meetings to speak about these issues.

First of all, I have checked with both our Meter Planning group and our
Geometric Design section; and there are no plans to install either parking
meters or peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard at this time.  Secondly, the
reduction in DOT staff hours due to furloughs and DOT’s severely reduced
overtime budget do not make it possible to send someone to your
meetings to

talk about
something that we do not plan to do.  Please accept this written

summary of the situation on Reseda Boulevard in lieu of our attendance at
your meetings.

Carolyn Jackson
Senior Management Analyst
Office of the General Manager
Department of Transportation
213 972-8445
Cell  213 507-7195

Since
no guest speakers were present, NC president Steve Patel invited me to
make a brief presentation on the issue, which I did by sharing the
information I had obtained to date.  The audience was engaged, asking
questions and making comments and suggestions.  No action was taken by
the board and they moved to the next agenda item.

A few weeks later, on August 3, I sent the following email to the Reseda Neighborhood Council
board:

"Perhaps you are aware of the proposal by the City’s Department of Transportation to install peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard between Ventura Boulevard and Rinaldi Street?  Peak hour lanes would be a third travel
lane in each direction in which parking would be  prohibited for about three hours in the morning and/or in the afternoon.


I
spoke with Ken Firoozmand of the Department of Transportation’s West
Valley District who said the time frame is at least a year from now and
that DOT will notify the Council office and
Neighborhood Councils.  He said the actual timing depends on staffing and workload.

Since
no parking will be allowed on Reseda Boulevard during these hours,
businesses will be affected.  In addition, the existing bicycle lane
south of Vanowen Street will most likely be removed.


I am
planning on attending the Reseda Neighborhood Council meeting tonight
to speak about this proposal under the public comment portion of your
agenda."


I
did attend the Reseda NC meeting that evening and gave them a
two-minute overview of the issue.  Not surprisingly none of them had
heard about the proposal, including the Reseda Chamber of Commerce,
whose representative was in attendance.  Several questions were raised
and there was much interest in the bicycle lanes since several of the
board members are bicyclists.

The following evening, Tuesday,
August 4, the next regular bimonthly meeting of the City’s Bicycle
Advisory Committee was held.  Under agenda item 20, Bikeway Engineering
Report, I discussed the Reseda Boulevard bicycle lanes project from the
June 2 report (no subsequent updated report had been received) and the
peak hour lanes issue, or non-issue, depending upon whom you choose to
believe. 

In the audience that evening was BikingInLA
blogmaster, Ted Rogers, who said he was interested in writing an
article on the issue and we agreed to be in contact.  By the time that
conversation took place on Sunday evening, I had received the agenda
for the next Northridge West Neighborhood Council meeting to be held
the following Tuesday, August 11.  I was pleased the peak hour lanes
issue was actually on the agenda this time but alarmed that it included
a motion that supported their installation:

11
a. Motion by Dennis DeYoung to support Peak Hour traffic
lanes on Reseda Boulevard

Whereas the
City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation is considering eliminating
curb parking on Reseda Blvd. during peak hours to increase the flow of traffic
along Reseda Blvd. in between the 101 freeway to the south and the 118 freeway
to the north,

Therefore be it hereby resolved that the Northridge
West Neighborhood Council does hereby endorse and approve of the peak traffic
lanes on Reseda Blvd.

As
a result of the appearance of this pending motion, I have no doubt that
the emphasis of the BikingInLA article changed from just informational
to more of a "call to action," from why-isn’t-the-new-bike-lane-

being-installed to save-the-existing-lane-from-removal.  If you haven’t read the original article, you can do so here http://bikinginla.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/incomplete-streets-dot%E2%80%99s-secret-plan-to-take-away-your-bike-lanes/

At
5:30 p.m. that afternoon, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition sent
out an action alert which also reflected this change of emphasis:

"EMERGENCY ACTION NEEDED: 
STOP THE REMOVAL OF RESEDA BIKE LANES!

TAKE ACTION TODAY!!
Unbelievably,
LADOT’s
West Valley office has proposed to REMOVE the existing bike
lanes on Reseda Blvd. between Ventura Blvd. and Vanowen to make room
for peak hour traffic lanes.  The City’s current Bicycle Master Plan
actually calls for extending these lanes three miles farther north,
which would also be killed by plans to run the peak hour lanes there as
well.  

There is a motion in favor of the Peak Hour Lane proposal before the Northridge West Neighborhood Council Tuesday night at 7pm, in the auditorium of Beckford Avenue Elementary School, at 19130 Tulsa Street in Northridge.

What you can do:

1) Attend this meeting and oppose this outrageous plan!  

Where: 19130 Tulsa Street in
Northridge
Auditorium of Beckford Avenue Elementary School
When: Tuesday 7 pm

2) Contact the local Council Member, Dennis Zine, to let him know how you feel!
Jonathan Brand, Planning Deputy for Dennis Zine
jonathan.brand@lacity.org
213-473-7003

200 N. Spring Street, Rm 450
Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 473-7003 Tele
(213) 485-8988 Fax

3) Contact LA Mayor Deputy Borja Leon Borja.Leon@lacity.org
and Deputy Mayor Transportation Jaime de la Vega jaime.delavega@lacity.org

Key points:

  • Rather than removing the bike lanes on Reseda, they need to be extended north three miles as called for in the current Bicycle Master Plan
  • The
    current Bicycle Master Plan also stipulates that before any bike lanes
    are removed, there must be a public hearing before the Transportation
    Commission. -Insist that this procedure be followed.
  • Peak
    hour lanes have also been installed recently on Balboa, De Soto, Tampa
    and Topanga Cyn Blvd., key arterials in an area that serves cyclists
    poorly. 
  • Are the peak hour lanes were actually
    needed?
  • This is a significant move backwards on bicycling issues in Los
    Angeles
    .  With the LA Bicycle Plan soon to be released, we need to take
    positive steps forward."

As
a result of these communications, and probably a lot of tweets too, 15
cyclists made their way to Northridge on very short notice to join with
45 residents to oppose the peak hour lanes motion.  Reportedly this was
the largest crowd ever to attend a meeting of this neighborhood
council.  DOT had been invited but once again they were a no-show, it
was stated due to budget cutbacks.  Some attendees expressed outrage,
pointing out they weren’t being paid at all and yet they were in
attendance.  Perhaps Mr. Firmoozmand doesn’t consider his $103,376.88
annual salary sufficient to show up for even one neiighborhood council
meeting out of three that he was invited to attend?

When asked,
no one, not one person, raised their hand in support of the idea of
peak hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard.  Many, including some residents,
did speak up in favor of installing bicycle lanes instead.  Ultimately
the board of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council unanimously voted
against peak hour lanes.  Even the president voted against his own
motion!

You
may be wondering if I ever received a reply to my June 30 email to Mr.
Firoozmand that asked six questions about the peak hour lanes.  I did,
sort of, after sending this follow up email on August 12 at 7:30 a.m.:

Dear Mr. Firoozmand:

It
has now been over six weeks since I sent my initial email to you
(below).  Although I followed up with a telephone call approximately
two weeks later and we did speak, I specifically asked for a written
reply to the questions raised in my initial email.  To date, I have not
received that reply and I would like to know when I may expect it?

And his reply sent at 9:23 a.m. that morning:

Hi Glenn,
As I mentioned to you on our phone conversation, Currently
the LADOT West Valley office does not have any plan to instal peak hour
lanes on Reseda Bl. Thank You


Please
note the word "currently" in his reply and those of others at DOT.  If
DOT has NO plans to ever install peak hour lanes, then why not just say
so?  Given the June 2 report wording and the June 30 telephone
conversation, there is no doubt there was a secret plan to install peak
hour lanes on Reseda Boulevard — it’s just not secret any longer.

Some
at DOT now seem to be in a "circle the wagons" mode, trying to deflect
criticism of their actions, or lack of them, by writing off the whole
sordid affair as a "rumor."

To the contrary, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.

But
my first priority now is to get these three miles of new bicycle lanes
installed on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge.  I hope I can count on
your active support in doing so.

Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Glenn
Bailey

  • Joe

    Wooooot! Wooooot! Thanks Glenn! Thanks Damien!

    Really damning is Glenn Bailey’s statement:
    Mr. Firoozmand told me he was “not going to put in (bike) lanes for just one or two bicyclists.”

  • Erik G.

    Remember the mantra at LADOT:

    “MUST MOVE MORE CARS!”

    (Also, why does Los Angeles DOT have their offices in the California DOT building? California DOT-“Caltrans” does not have their offices in the USDOT building.)

  • As much as I’d love to see a much-deserved apology from LADOT to you, Glenn and myself, I have to agree — the best apology would be to put paint on the pavement and get those long-promised bike lanes installed now.

    Being the forgiving sort, I lean towards ascribing this whole mess to miscommunication within LADOT, rather than outright duplicity. However, the latter would be easier to fix, since all you have to do is fire someone; fixing communication problems usually requires changing the culture of an organization. And as usual, the first step is to admit they have a problem, which isn’t likely.

    I think the next step is for cyclists to contact new Transportation Committee chairman Rosendahl and ask that this matter be put on their agenda, so the TranspoComm can go on record as opposing the removal of bike lanes on Reseda and supporting the proposed bike lanes.

  • Alex

    Thanks for providing excellent coverage of this issue. We all want safe neighborhoods and liveable streets. This is how a few warriors are making that happen. Bravo!

  • Joe

    The DOT’s Bruce Gilman needs to say nothing less than “The Reseda bike lanes will striped by the end of this year”

    The DOT also needs to look at reversing the other similar wrong-headed road decisions in LA – these include Tampa and a number of other streets.

  • Thank you Glenn for being on top of this issue from the get go and for alerting us of the potential loss of another bike lane.

    LACBC will be working on a campiagn to install the 3 miles of Bike Lane on Reseda as approved in the Bike Master Plan. Let’s all work together to make it happen before the end of 2009!!

  • Rhode Bloche

    We need a militant advocacy group that is aggressive and sue happy. I’m sick of REACTing to all this tomfoolery perpetrated by the LADOT.

    I want lawsuits thrown in their faces. How about getting a lawsuit against the LADOT for institutional bias against non automotive fforms of transportation? How about a class action lawsuit for safety of pedestrians an cyclists? How about we sue to change the directive of the ladot from counting vehicles moved rather than people moved?

  • Joe

    That’s it??? Today’s dayend LADOT response is a sad evasive hollow note on a disappointing episode.

    It’s a little telling that the word “current” was missing from their earlier statements… so apparently the plan that Ken Firoozmand recently related to Glenn Bailey and Paul Meshkin is no longer current.

    At least the LADOT was caught in their lie this time… and the not-current plan was made not-current… and the story isn’t over. It’s time for cyclists to organize and win those lanes on Reseda Boulevard and elsewhere.

  • limit

    Erik G. is I remember correctly LADOT rents space from CalTrans – however if my pals at Caltrans are right about the rumor the lease will not be renewed.

  • Paul

    You know I’ve seen that building rise up off its foundation, sprout legs, shoot peds with a laser beam and then resettle back on it foundation. :)

  • Glenn Bailey

    Thanks Damien for posting my “open letter” for all to read.

    The bottom line is that at least three miles of additional bicycle lanes in Northridge on Reseda Boulevard between Nordhoff and Rinaldi street ought to have been installed and in use by now. But thanks to dictatorial bureaucrats like Ken Firoozmand they aren’t and won’t be IF they are allowed to have their way any longer.

    The sad fact is that this scenario has occurred numerous times during the past several years under Mr. Firoozmand’s watch: peak hour lanes installed throughout the West Valley in wanton disregard for the City Council adopted Bicycle Plan’s designation of bicycle lanes.

    How many times? Which streets? And what’s going on in the rest of the City? When we have compiled the list I hope Streetsblog will post it.

    Glenn Bailey

  • Growl! Sounds like the mayor’s Tiger Team is hard at work keeping bikes off the streets!

  • Erik G.

    Thanks for the insight LIMIT! An agency which alleges that it is “interested in moving people, not just cars”, like the lady brought over from the Sanitation Department says, really ought not co-habit a building owned by an agency that has, IIRC, never built a sidewalk.

    But then I really think LADOT should just revert to their original name, the “Bureau of Street Traffic Engineering” and get on with using all that still available Red Car and LARy. medians which they claimed they needed for cars all those years ago.

  • Erik G.

    “I have the utmost respect for her and I am confident she will be instrumental in easing traffic congestion in Los Angeles.”

    -Mayor Villaraigosa, giving insight into his true priorities for LADOT, speaking about his well-researched appointment of Gloria Jeff.

  • That’s crazy that they would try to make more space for cars and reduce it for bikes…people these days need to be using bikes instead of burning through fuel!

  • limit

    Erik G. IIRC Caltrans will be building something like 26 miles (2x) of sidewalks out in the desert on 138. They are adding sidewalks, turn lanes, signals, and storm drains. Plus adding in my project a rail hub.

    Oddly, at least to my perspective, the local population prefers having no sidewalks i.e being able to park at the local mom & pop store by pulling directly off the highway.

  • The LACBC website now has instructions on writing letters to Councilmembers and the Mayor. Let’s get these bike lanes striped!

    http://lacbc.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/reseda-blvd-bike-lane-letter/

  • fyi – the Northridge East Neighborhood Council has the Reseda Boulevard peak lanes issue on their agenda for their meeting tomorrow night – Wednesday August 19th at 7pm at CSUN’s University Club at 18111 Nordhoff St.

    It would be great if a few valley bicyclists could show up and support the Reseda Boulevard bike lanes. Be polite and be careful not to spread any rumors this time!!

    I’ve posted the agenda here: http://glatwg.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/nenc_agenda_8-19-091.pdf