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!"

  • bummer…but what now?

  • On Saturday, October 3, 2009, Dr. Alex Thompson will be presenting the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights to the NC Action Summit, calling for an endorsement and enlisting them in the campaign to support cycling as a viable transportation solution.

    http://NCActionSummit.com

    Right Now! We need your help! LA City College in East Hollywood @ 10:30 am for the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights and citywide action to make LA a great place to ride!

  • To answer “What now?” I propose the following:

    (1) Prevent city council approval/adoption of this plan. Take dedicated bikeways money (not affected by slump in Genneral Funds due to budget crisis), fire a staffer or two, and run the Bike Plan through a full EIR and city-wide community outreach program. Build into the plan measures of roadway performance that will count bicycles (and pedestrians and transit users) and the regular collection of data regarding injuries, deaths, etc. on any of Los Angeles’ streets.

    (2) Lobby the mayor’s office hard to wrestle some political focus on this, the greenest of transportation modes. With the mayor’s mandate, and a properly engaged Transportation Deputy, bicyclists can make changes in the LADOT without needing to jump through legislative hoops with the council. The mayor can, more or less, issue an executive order (or whatever it is called in the City) and have a DOT policy changed.

    (3) MOVE BIKEWAYS MONEY OUT OF THE LADOT. The Bikeways Coordinator(s) need to be in the mayor’s office, or a deputy to the head of Planning – the only office(s) with overarching legal authority to make a decision like this: “This street’s quality of life is measurably worse with this volume of cars, we need to calm car traffic and increase other modes here.”

    tl;dr: RRRRRAAAAAAGGGGGEEEE!!!!!

  • Joe Mamma

    word, on the number of meetings. 1 meeting per 1,000,000 people? how many people are employed in ladot working on bike stuff? weren’t they hiring another planner earlier this year? what ever happened to that? what do those people do all day? i will call all my city reps on this one.

    but sr. box, i’m confused by para 3 of the “content” section. with regards to colored bike lanes, the la plan is saying cars should watch out for cyclists in colored lanes. how is that different from the long beach colored sharrows? and no “local sensitivity?” i feel like i’ve seen this critique elsewhere in your posts. i asked around, and my friend said the consultants have an LA office with staff who bike all over los angeles. are you calling my friend a liar?

    seriously, this is a draft plan. isn’t the whole idea for us to send in our comments and questions so they can be addressed? (by the way, you don’t need a $450k plan to answer the issues you raised in para 5. they are 1) duh: joggers and dog-walkers go wherever they want; 2) no: bike lanes are cool, mopeds are lame; 3) yes: the concept is valid, moreover, it happens in reality; and 4) crosswalks are like hot lava, touch them on a bike and die.)

    i’m okay with critiquing process–for now. call your neighborhood council. call your community planning group. call your councilman! anyone who might have leverage. but please, PLEASE, do not go to my public meeting and complain further about process. i don’t want to hear it there. the fact that we have limited time for involvement makes all the time more valuable, and i, for one, want to use it to improve the plan.

  • Enough about the process! The “substance” of this plan is a flaccid swipe of damp paper stuck on the bottom of a DOT staffer’s shoe.

    We need specific types of data collection (on a calendar) mandated in the plan. We need full environmental review to allow staff to plan for bike lanes that negatively impact Level Of Service for cars. We need a set of ordinances drafted for the council to approve with this plan that will increase cycling and reduce automobile dependence.

    Box isn’t wrong in his critiques. The process has been pretty awful to watch unfold and the substance of the plan is similarly flawed.

  • Joe, the Draft Bike Plan opens with a vision that holds respect and consideration up as the ideals that will lead us to the promised land. Those responsible for the Draft Bike Plan promptly demonstrate disrespect and a lack of consideration for the cycling community with the flawed process that prevents robust civic engagement.

    Show yourself and the cycling community some respect and simply support the request for appropriate consideration.

    The local Piggly Wiggly must go through a much longer process of public comment and civic engagement when it simply asks for a variance in order to move its awning closer to the sidewalk.

    The Draft Bike Plan is a document of such potential significance, it deserves to be enhanced, not diluted.

    But moving past the process, what’s it going to take to get something like the Long Beach standard into the LA Draft Bike Plan:

    “Consider every street as a street that bicyclists will use.”

    Let’s move from soft words and establish a baseline standard of absolute accommodation. It’s happening at the Federal level, it’s happening at the State level, why not here in Los Angeles?

  • fyi – Joe Mamma – awesome name, lol

  • User1

    I really think this planning commission lacks a vision of what their end product should look like. I would like to offer them examples of four cities that have an impressive bike plan in place. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong in my observation, but I like Chicago’s bike plan, Seattle’s, San Francisco’s, and New York’s bike plan. I would say Chicago’s topography and demographics are about the closest to what LA has. LA is about twice as large in square miles, and about 25% more in population. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of expectations to want a plan produced that looks like theirs, would it?

    (hope the links work)

  • Ernie Strawn

    Seems to me we are asking people who do not ride bicycles to improve things
    for bicyclists. How about not supporting these people even if they claim
    to be on our side, but do not ride!

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