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