L.A.’s Draft Bike Plan Enters “Civic Enragement” Phase

9_29_09_bike_plan.jpgImage: labikeplan.org

LA’s Draft Bike Plan is a huge document of thin ambition, that relies
on controversy over process to distract from the fact that it lacks
vision, it lacks substance, and it lacks the teeth necessary to bring
about any change

The Draft Bike Plan was released last week, an hour before the end of
day on the eve of furlough Friday, giving city staff the opportunity to
"drop and run" and providing a three-day cooling off period before they
had to answer for the long overdue, hotly contested and controversial
document.

Commissioned in December of 2007, the Bike Plan is part of LA’s
Transportation Plan which is an element of the city’s General Plan. As
the consultants so eloquently explained during the community workshops
during March of 2008 that kicked off the Bike Plan process, the Bike
Plan is a critical funding document that must be updated in order to
qualify for funding. As for positioning it as a powerful visionary
document with implementation teeth, city staff have never expressed
such ambition.

The limited opportunity for robust community involvement at the onset,
the long, dark and silent period of time when the plan went overdue,
the release of Bike Plan maps that positioned "infeasible" as a
standard for the future of LA bikeways and the promise of another
limited public access comment period have all fueled great gnashing of
teeth and provided great fodder for the blogs.

Now that the Draft Bike Plan has been released we can evaluate it and I
contend that it fails on three levels, based on content, based on
process, and based on commitment.

CONTENT:

Missing from the Draft Bike Plan is the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, a vision document that has picked
up endorsement from neighborhood councils and community groups
throughout Los Angeles, working its way to the City’s Transportation
Committee where staff was directed to include it in the city’s Bike
Plan. It is missing. In its place is a plaintive whimper of a vision
that simply asks for consideration. At the Federal and State levels,
Equality is positioned as the foundation of mobility planning but here
in Los Angeles, cyclists can look forward to a future based on
"consideration."

Long Beach, by way of comparison, has a Bike Plan that opens boldly by
stating that the City of Long Beach "Consider every street in Long
Beach as a street that bicyclists will use." It continues by
establishing a policy to integrate its bikeways facilities with
surrounding communities, a significant commitment given the fact that
LA County cyclists have 88 municipalities to traverse and synchronicity
is important if cycling is to be a viable transportation choice.

Los Angeles also positions integration with surrounding communities but
seems to feel a stronger kinship with Portland than with Long Beach.
Portland uses colored bike paths to indicate conflict, Long Beach is
famous for its green bike lanes and Sharrows which use the coloring to
indicate preferred position. Given a choice, Los Angeles integrated
with Portland, giving credence to an earlier criticism that the Bike
Plan should have been developed by local consultants and with a local
sensitivity.

From the missing Cyclists’ Bill of Rights to the boiler-plate data and
specs, the Bike Plan not only misses the big picture but it also fails
to establish itself as the authoritative document that could be used to
settle some of the minor Bikeways controversies that have arisen of
late in Los Angeles.

For example, are Bike Paths for the exclusive use of cyclists or are
they simply misnamed mixed-use paths that are off-limits to motor
vehicles? Are bike lanes open to mopeds and if so, up to what size
engine is permitted on a bike lane? Is the concept of wrong-way cycling
on a sidewalk valid and is it legal to ride a bike in the crosswalk?

The
Draft Bike Plan does demonstrate a bit of creativity, unfortunately
it’s creative accounting. By using the collective term "Bikeways" which
includes Bike Paths, Bike Lanes, Bike Routes, Bike-Friendly and Good
Wishes, the Draft Bike Plan can claim a significant improvement over
the old plan. But apples to apples, LA’s old Bike Plan had 452 miles of
existing and proposed Bike
Paths and Bike Lanes. The Draft Bike Plan now has 400 miles of existing
and proposed
Bike Paths and Bike Lanes. That’s a decrease. Adding Bike Routes and
Bike-Friendly streets to the mix is bad math and engineers should know
better. The simple fact is, LA slid backward and Topanga Canyon
Boulevard was designated for bike lanes on the old plan, the
engineering and funding was in place and the LADOT rejected it,
electing to downgrade it to "infeasible" and finally "possible" but in
reality "never."

From the vision to the details, LA’s Draft Bike Plan is hundreds of
pages of very pretty, shelf-ready Bike Plan, destined to collect dust.

PROCESS:

Dr. Alex Thompson of WestsideBikeSIDE
wasted no time, calling the LADOT out for the short comment period that
prevented Neighborhood Council involvement, simply by shortcutting a
process  that essentially requires a full month cycle for committee
meetings and then a full month cycle for Board Meetings, simply to
offer feedback. Thompson takes them to task simply for failing to
create a process that accommodates the 89 Neighborhood Councils who
purportedly advise the City of Los Angeles on issues that efect the
quality of life in their communities.

BikeGirl
jumped in calling the Draft Bike Plan "Infeasible" and pointing out
that the four public workshops fail to reach the cyclists of LA,
completely ignoring her community. This complaint echoes that of
Councilman Ed Reyes who asked last year why the Eastside wasn’t
involved, actually introducing a motion to City Council in an effort to
connect with the process.

GreenLAGirl
(editor’s note, look for Siel’s day running Streetsblog in a couple of weeks) entered the fray, calling out Thompson and BikeGirl, challenging them
to deal with the process and focus on evaluating the Draft Bike Plan.
Siel offers some advise on dicing the cumbersome task of evaluating
hundreds of pages of technical content, proposing that the solution
might simply be to request more meetings and dividing the duties
amongst a team of cyclists.

Again, the brouhaha over process echoes the debate that took place last
year when the City Council’s Transportation Committee weighed in on the
runaway Draft Bike Plan. Chairperson Wendy Greuel and Councilman Bill
Rosendahl have both expressed conviction that a flawed process results
in a flawed product, a position that has grown stronger as time
progressed.

Ted Rogers’ (editor’s note: Ted will be taking his turn at the Streetsblog handlebars next week) BikinginLA
gives moderation a shot and concludes with a hopeful note saying
"Meanwhile, I’m marking my calendar for the West L.A. meeting on
October 28. And I hope to see a room filled with informed and
passionate cyclists."

Through it all, it should be noted that the LADOT is in the process of
developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Neighborhood
Councils in which 60 days is the minimum period of time for comment on
small projects and the amount of time increases with the significance
of the proposal or plan. It is telling that the Draft Bike Plan is
given less than the minimum time, giving it less significance than
simple neighborhood improvements or variances.

The Draft Bike Plan refers to "respect and consideration" as the
essence of the vision and it is imperative that the City of Los Angeles
bring those words to life now, not down the road after the Draft Bike
Plan has gone through the process.

APPLICATION:

The value of LA’s Draft Bike Plan is in its ultimate impact on the
streets of Los Angeles but we have little hope that real change will
occur and, in fact, we have evidence that it is a document with no
teeth carrying little commitment from even its departments of origin.
The same folks who have been shepherding the Bike Plan to the dotted
finish line apparently failed to notice the huge Police Headquarters
being build across from City Hall over the last few years. All the talk
of bikeways amenities, support for cyclists, steps taken by the city to
encourage cycling as a viable transportation choice are contradicted by
the simple fact that nobody from City Planning of the Department of
Transportation found the courage to simply cross the street to offer
some advise to the LAPD on the positioning of their bike racks.

The Draft Bike Plan is loaded with pretty colored diagrams on bike
parking along with descriptions of appropriate and safe and practical
positioning for bike racks. If Planning and the LADOT were shy about
relying on the Draft Bike Plan they could have offered up the
Association of Pedestrian and Bicycling Professionals (APBP) standards
for bike parking. But they didn’t, leaving the Los Angeles Police
Department to figure it out on their own. Granted, one would think that
the LAPD would be familiar with Crime Prevention Through Environmental
Design (CPTED) but such is not the case. The bike racks are as far from
the front entrance as possible, around the corner and behind a wall, in
an area that offers refuge to someone who would want to hide and wait
for a victim.

Of course, this is Police Headquarters! Only a fool would commit a
crime so brazenly. Perhaps the same bike thief who stripped the bikes
at City Hall east while they were parked just feet from the from doors
but around the corner and out of the eyeline of the armed General
Services officers who ensure the safety and security of City Hall East!

LA’s Bike Plan has long given the LADOT the responsibility to
communicate to the city departments simple bike parking standards. To
this day the Library Department, the Fire Department, City Hall, Rec
and Parks, and the 45 City Departments that compete with each other for
autonomy can’t agree on how to position a bike rack if they even have
bike racks.

This does not speak well for the Draft Bike Plan’s ability to serve as
the platform that will bring together the dozen departments that have a
piece of the street that the cyclists of Los Angeles, hereafter known
as transportation solutions, must navigate in order to get home safely
at the end of the day.

Conclusion: LA’s Draft Bike Plan is thin on content of
substance, is the product of an ongoing flawed process, and avoids at
all turns any attempt to position itself as a document of change with a
real plan for implementation. It is an exercise in civic enragement
designed to qualify the City of Los Angeles for Bikeways funding that
will then simply fall into the co-mingled coffers of the LADOT, a
department that has failed to establish or support cycling as a viable
transportation choice in the City of Los Angeles.

"See you on the Streets!"