L.A.’s Draft Bikeway Plan: Non-Committal, Sloppy and Perhaps Illegal

9_29_09_bike_plan.jpgShouldn’t this map have street names? Oh… now it does! All Image via labikeplan.org

In September 2009, the city of Los Angeles released its draft Bicycle Master Plan update. This followed the May 2009 release of slightly different facility map portions of the plan. The public is invited to four meetings later this month to learn about and give input on the draft plan.

The blogosphere has quite a few critiques of the plan including those by Stephen Box, Alex Thompson, Green LA Girl, and Dan Gutierrez. L.A. StreetsBlog has run various reviews (including one by this author) of the initial May 2009 maps, and last week featured Box’s scathing article which declared that the plan "fails on three levels, based on content, based on process, and based on commitment."

The plan has a wide assortment of specifics – from mountain biking
policy to signage specifications to commuting statistics, and much
more. This article analyzes and enumerates problems with the bikeway
facilities listed in the plan. The draft bikeway facilities are:
non-committal in their language, sloppy, and perhaps illegal. Details
follow after the jump.

Many Los Angeles bike advocacy successes in recent years have stemmed from facilities designated in the 1996 Bicycle Master Plan. These include bike lanes on Reseda Boulevard, Silver Lake Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, and others.

Many of the plan’s technical specifics end up being fairly
malleable. For example, the 1996 Bicycle Master Plan approved a
"program for meter mounted bicycle parking" but when LADOT bikeways
staff encountered resistance on this, they, without amending the bike
plan, smartly shifted to the familiar inverted-U racks.

Hence the facilities are a very critical part of the plan.

Bike Facility Language is Non-Committal

When the initial May maps were released, bicyclists reacted strongly
to the classification of "currently infeasible" for most of the
bike-lane-designated streets from the city’s 1996 plan. Bike activists
responded that this "infeasible" wording was inappropriate. The new
September maps, contained in chapter 4 of the draft plan, responded to
bicyclist concerns by changing the wording from "infeasible" to
"potential" bike lanes.

In comparing the 1996 plan to the 2009 draft, the city’s language
for all bikeways has been downgraded. The 1996 plan shows bikeway
facilities as "designated" while the current draft update calls them
"proposed." If the city is serious about completing these planned
facilities, it should carry forward the designation language into the
current plan.

Bike Facility Chapters Are Sloppy

There are actually two different versions of the city bike plan
on-line, and they’re different, depending on how one accesses them. One
can download the entire plan in one fell swoop, or download it
separately chapter by chapter.

Here’s a detail of page C9 downloaded as part of the entire plan:

10_9_09_joe_2.gifPage C9 detail

Here’s the very same page C9 downloaded as part of just Appendix C:

10_9_09_joe_3.gifThe very same Page C9 detail, but looking different.

These look very different, no? Which of these is available for
review at the city’s libraries? Perhaps the public should be given 45
days to review each version – so 90 days in total? These two appear to
possibly be the same document, just sorted differently… or maybe one
sorted and one randomized… but the author didn’t have time to verify
if they’re actually the same list. Perhaps one of them has more
bikeways than the other… difficult to tell.

Page citations in this article are based on the 2nd version – the
separately down-loadable version – the one sorted in no discernible
order. Your results may vary if you download a different version than
the author.

Has any bicyclist out there ridden on the city’s Avenue 88? Probably
not, because it turns out that there is no Avenue 88 in Los Angeles.
That doesn’t stop the draft (p. C-19) from designating… er…
proposing that bike lanes should go on Avenue 88.

How about Chanlder Blvd? Wiill Rogers Street? Sanland Blvd? Tenesse
Ave? Murfield Road? These are typos, of course, and this author will
probably have a typo in this article. In addition to their role in
serving to promote Will Campbell’s bike blog [sic], the errors make it difficult to search the document electronically.

The list of existing bike routes (page C-6 to C-8) is especially
riddled with errors. It’s missing the mile lengths for all these
facilities. Many of the facilities are just wrong: has anyone biked the
existing bike route on 4th Street from Olympic Blvd to Boyle Av?
Probably not, because 4th doesn’t actually intersect Olympic in Los
Angeles. How about Griffin Avenue (located in Highland Park) from
Burbank Blvd to Hartsook Street (both in the Valley)? No wonder they
lack mile lengths… because these and another dozen or so listed just
don’t make any sense.

Then there are the maps.

The maps lack portions of the western end of the San Fernando
Valley. Perhaps it’s an honest error – it’s difficult to fit the whole
Valley onto 6 pages… but it actually drops an existing bikeway from
the plan – the bike lanes on Burbank Blvd from Valerie Avenue to Valley
Circle Blvd. A portion of Pacific Palisades is similarly omitted,
dropping part of the planned extension of the beach bike path.

10_9_09_joe_4.jpgIntroducing the Metro Gray Line?

The maps show a mysterious gray line running horizontally through
the north Valley… perhaps it’s a veloway? a new freeway? high speed
rail? or just a distraction?

The existing bike paths shown in the Sepulveda Basin are incorrect. It shows a bike bridge over the LA River that doesn’t exist.

The Valley and South L.A. maps include street names, but the West and Central L.A. maps don’t.

It now appears that the city has changed the maps since the original files were posted;
today West and Central have street names. See for yourself – the old
version is shown at the top of this article. The new maps are in Chapter 4 here.

This alteration, presumably done with good intent (to fix an error)
brings up some questions: shouldn’t document changes trigger at least a
new 45-day review period? Shouldn’t the review period start after the
city finishes making changes to the documents that it has released? How
do cyclists know that the city didn’t downgrade another bikeway
facility while they were revising the maps? The city did these sorts of
downgrades between the May and September map versions – for example
York Blvd went from Bike Friendly Street to Potential Bike Lane. Did it
do additional downgrades between the September and October maps? It
would build trust if the city would openly and transparently announce
these sorts of post-release changes. The city should also leave the old
versions on-line, so that bicyclists could double-check them.

The maps are inconsistent with the bikeway listing in the appendix.
For example, on page C-16, Woodman Ave from Sherman Way to Chanlder
[sic] Blvd is listed as a "proposed" bikeway so it should be in green,
but the map shows it in orange, the color for a "potential" bikeway.
The same is true for Centinela Ave from Mitchell Ave to Venice Blvd
(page C-20).

Is the Wholesale Downgrading of Bike Lanes Legal?

The city is attempting to update the bike plan without subjecting
the new version to environmental review. LADOT representatives have
repeatedly stressed the plan can’t remove any street space from cars,
because that would subject the plan to an EIR which the city hasn’t
budgeted for.

At the same time, the plan downgrades (or in some cases omits) more
than 60 miles of streets already designated for bike lanes. On page 41,
the plan states a net loss of 57 miles of designated bike lanes, but
the overall total is probably closer to 100 miles based on this
author’s rough calculations.

In the absence of environmental review, it may well be no more legal
to upgrade bike designation than it is to downgrade bike designation.
If the city is going to trash its prior plan, then it opens itself up
to lawsuits from bicycle advocates.

At the October 6th BAC meeting, the Planning Department committed to reviewing this issue with the City Attorney.

Where Does the Plan Go From Here?

One possible solution would be for the city to merely add the new
facilities in the current draft update to the previously designated
facilities in the prior plan. This will likely not please many of the plan’s most vocal critics who are openly calling to "destroy this bike plan" and start over… but, it could allow the money spent on this plan to result in a small step forward for the city.

While the city does this revision, it could also proof-read the
plan, fix errors and inconsistencies, and publish a new draft. At that
point, it should give the public at least 60 days to review and comment
on the new version.

  • I think it is trivially easy to find non-General Fund money that can be steered towards a full Environmental Impact Report for the Bike Plan.

    The city collects a nice chunk of money from AQMD fees (these get squandered on “clean air” vehicles for city employees and Dept. of Envir. Affairs staff); the city gets Prop. C and will soon receive Measure R funds – and can apply for TDM and Bikeways money in the Local Returns and Call For Projects the MTA runs.

    It would take, what, $2 million to do a proper EIR city-wide? Another two years for us to get the right findings (i.e. “It is okay to take away car capacity in exchange for bicycle facilities”) and the right designations.

    This isn’t that big of a deal legislatively, so why don’t we push for this?

    When/if the plan makes it to council committee (or before), let’s get a councilman/woman to propose moving dedicated money towards the Planning Dept. (not the DOT) to do this plan right.

    While we’re at it, why don’t we focus on moving the Bicycle Coordinator position to a high-level Planning or Mayoral office position? Why is the Citywide bike coordinator placed in a subordinate position to the “Car Department” bureaucracy? This is a ludicrous state of affairs.

  • Joe, this is the best analysis I’ve seen yet. Thank you for your effort and attention to detail.
    Forever the optimist, I think the unbelievably poor plan is igniting some new fires and fanning others. Lots of movement and energy.

  • Evan

    This is a really damning analysis. I wasn’t as up-in-arms as a lot of others were w/r/t the time delay and small window for review and comment, but the sloppiness and errors in what was put out after a lengthy delay should be causing a lot of embarrassment at LADOT and Alta Design.

    (it probably won’t, though)

  • summerbreeze

    great review Joe! I like the note from Ubrayj02. We need a real Bicycle Planning Rep at the Mayorial level. There’s no way we’ll get past the DOT bulls#$t until our transportation gets a real rep. Thanks again.

  • @ubrayj- Josef – If you’re sure it’s trivially easy, go for it!

    Yes, there’s significant money that the city spends on things that I wouldn’t prioritize… but… I think, in a year when the city is laying off and furloughing staff, it’s not going to be trivially easy to get a couple million dollars for environmental review of a bike plan.

    Implicit in your scenario is that there’s political will to do a really great bike plan that actually prioritizes bikes – and plans to take significant space away from cars and reallocate it to bikes… I think that’s completely needed, but it’s going to be difficult – and it’s going to find resistance in city departments – including planning – and among many L.A. drivers. I think we can (and need to) do this over time… but it may take a while.

    Timewise – here’s my guestimate at a best case scenario for the trajectory that I think you’re asserting:
    Stopping the current plan – complete early 2010
    Funding a new plan – complete early 2011
    Completing the new plan – complete early 2012
    Finishing the EIR – complete late 2012
    That’s a best-case scenario… and there’s no guarantee that we get anything more than what we have in the plan now. Also, if bicyclists kill the current plan (which I assert, in its current state, we should – though, at this point, I am still pushing to get it modified into an acceptable state), then it’s may be tougher to get funding for a new one. Folks can say LA blew $ money on the last one and nothing came out of it, why should we throw good money after bad…

    I think it’s more fruitful to bang on the current plan to get it into something that’s at least a small step forward. During and after that, bike activists need to push politically, inside and outside of the bike plan. We should be pushing for things like road diets, etc., in places where we don’t necessarily see them in the plan. We don’t need to limit ourselves to what’s in the plan… we can get things not in the plan, if we build the political will for those things.

  • Was amazed to learn about how NYC is using lots of CMAQ funds to build a variety of bike treatments – So Cal needs to follow suit

  • To make LA bike friendly, we need “ground rules” (standards, metrics) that allow for the removal of automobile access, volume and speed in exchange for bike, pedestrian and transit facilities.

    To get those standards, we need a Bike Plan to add them to the General Plan.

    To get a Bike Plan with those standards we need an EIR.

    Money for an EIR can come from a variety of sources:

    – State Public Utilities Code (sec. 99231 & 99233) sends about $4.5 million to the City annually for “a balanced transportation program for bicycle and pedestrian facilities”. This money currently goes into the black box known as the “Capital Improvement Expenditure Program”;

    – Local Returns money from Measure R and Proposition C “ANTI-GRIDLOCK TRANSIT IMPROVEMENT FUND”. This money can be used on streets used by transit, and its use is open to a broad interpretation of the law that authorizes its allocation. Unallocated amount annually is in the range of

    – Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Trust Fund, a $4per vehicle fee imposed on vehicles in the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Forty percent of revenues are allocated to cities based on population. Funds are to be used for programs to
    reduce air pollution from motor vehicles. Average annual revenue: ~$5.0 million. Funds used to pay for gaps in funding in various departments and to buy “Clean Air” fleet vehicles for the City. $424,000 pays for the city of LA’s van pool program – important, but nonetheless trivial in light of the impact a forceful Bike Plan could have.

    Plus a few more, depending on how creative we want to get!

    The EIR process will build a political will where none exists now. I’m curious about the findings that the EIR in San Francisco’s Bike Plan made to allow car capacity and Level of Service to be degraded in favor of bicycle facilities and access. A little copy and paste will follow (hopefully) but that document is huge, and I haven’t had the time to read it all.

  • Sorry about the poorly formed post. There is no unallocated Prop C money in this category, but these pots of money are “bike friendly” and not tied to the General Fund.

    So, now that these dedicated bicycle funds have been identified, the work of lobbying to pull enough capital to pay for a full EIR for the Bike Plan lies before us. Ready, set, go!

  • The problem is that there are political constituencies (some of them purely bureaucratic) that are already signed up for all those pots-o-cash, which renders getting access non-trivial (though of course I agree that many of them would be better spent on making LA fabulously bikeable). I would hate for this to devolve into a unnecessary cash-burning lawsuit over the lack of an EIR in support of removing the road space dedicated to bikeways. Hopefully just the knowledge of the possibility, and the memory of the SF bike plan EIR lawsuit (from the other side) will be enough to keep it from getting that far.

  • Also, while it would of course be nice to have better policy representation of cyclists within the city and county (and state, and national) governments, I doubt that that’s really enough. There has to be a significant political constituency that’s being served by such a hypothetical high-level adviser in order for their recommendations to get get taken seriously, and despite the many-fold increase in the popularity of cycling in SoCal over the last 10 years, I really think we are still a tiny niche in the grand scheme of transportation lobbies swirling around LA. More and more what I think we need is better community building (a la CICLE) and better data collection (annual bike census, collaborative incident reporting and routefinding) to be able to make the case, long term, that we matter, and to inform future plans, which will be less sloppy, non-committal, and illegal…

    Or maybe you were hoping that the politicians would lead the people into a more rational and sustainable transportation system? That can’t be what you were thinking. That’s ridiculous. :)

  • The money and the research is laid on the table. That work has now been done, you’re welcome.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to count committee and council votes and walk the halls talking to staff people on a draft motion to pull this money together into an EIR for the Bike Plan. That is, however, what needs to be done.

    While that legislative effort is going on, we also need organizing (rides, parties, letter writing, fundraisers) to support the cycling agenda.

    This isn’t rocket science, and we’re not asking for anything that controversial. The precedent in other cities has already been set (NY, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Madison, Boulder, London, Paris).

    I sometimes think that the cycling movement’s greatest weakness is its naive and fearful attitude towards local politics.

  • joe, do you think an EIR could not find bicycle challenges to LOS legitimate? in other words, could an EIR process actually screw us? Is this what you mean by not getting anything more than the plan we already have?

    in terms of road diets, how can we take away car lanes and reduce speeds without an eir? especially if we’re not giving people any alternatives (save increased transit services, but I don’t even know if that makes sense/would be possible in road diet figurings)?

    it just seems like if we’re constantly rallying people for this on going battle to push through any single project that benefits bicyclists, we’re wasting steam. why not make one big push to get a document that proves once and for all, cycle facilities can legitimately challenge LOS, making our individual battles of the future all the more advanced?

  • Okay, someone mentioned you need fundraisers to support the bicycle agenda? I believe it was ubrayj02? I am a professional grant writer and fundraiser and, you guessed it, a cyclist. And female, which is the indicator species, right? Whatever. I support the cycling agenda, and if you have a plan, and a nonprofit that will be the fiscal receiver of any funds, I will fund raise for bicycling in LA. I think there are other cyclists out there who have talents they can lend to the cycling agenda. It’s just a matter of finding them and getting them involved.

  • @Dancer/Amanda – yes – It’s not exactly what ubrayj/Josef asked for, but we can use some of your development help at C.I.C.L.E., if you’re up for it. Let’s talk! I expect that other groups like Kitchen, LACBC, etc. would also be interested. Most likely, though, the $ going to the non-profits is going to be for plans, campaigns, education – as opposed to non-profits implementing actual facilities… the city itself applies for the funds to build the facilities – maybe they’ll want your grant-writing assistance, too?

    @Ramon – hmmmm… a whole lot of good questions in short comment! I am not a lawyer, but I’ve seen a few Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) in my day… so I will hazard a long-winded response to each of your questions (if there are lawyers out there, please correct me where I am in error):

    Yes – an EIR done by someone who doesn’t want bikes on L.A. streets could screw bike. Yes – using Level of Service (LOS) to measure impacts to car traffic is one way this harm could be done.

    The good news is that EIR law, as I understand it, doesn’t mandate that you (or the city) would need to actually do the best thing for the environment… it states that you need to have been thorough in understanding the impacts of all your alternatives. So, theoretically, if the EIR showed that a road diet was going to help bikes but harm cars (hence to-an-extent screwing up the environment,) the deciding body (in L.A.: the city council with the concurrence of the mayor) could still make a finding saying we really analyzed all this well, and we understand the impacts, and we’re still going with the road diet. So, it can boil down to political will.

    “Is this what you mean by not getting anything more than the plan we already have?” No. What I meant by this in comment#5 is that if we kill the current 2009 Bike Plan update, then get another new Bike Plan update process funded in 2011… there’s no guarantee that we’ll get a new 2011 plan that’s any better than the 2009 plan before us. Just doing it over again doesn’t mean it will be any better.

    “in terms of road diets, how can we take away car lanes and reduce speeds without an EIR?” There are a few ways to do this:
    1. Do a road diet on a street that’s already been approved in the current 1996 plan. A portion of the Silver Lake Blvd bike lanes did this, reducing four car lanes to three. A similar approach is possible on streets like York Boulevard and Fletcher Drive – both designated for bike lanes in the 1996 plan.
    2. Do a road diet on a low-traffic-volume street where it’s more-or-less obvious that there won’t be any serious impact nor any complaints. An example of this would be the recent bike lanes on Myra Avenue – see http://bit.ly/4u7cvZ. They weren’t in any plan. This can’t really work for big projects, but if the city is very confident that nobody will sue them, then they can get away without an EIR.
    3. Along the lines of that last sentence… if there’s an overwhelming public consensus from all parties for a road diet project, then the city might just do it without an EIR.

    “especially if we’re not giving people any alternatives” What? You don’t see the bike as an alternative?!?! (Though your point is probably right – in a today-conventional EIR process, removing a car lane and adding an alternative – a bike lane – would likely be analyzed as a loss of travel capacity – a negative impact.)

    “why not make one big push to get a document that proves once and for all, cycle facilities can legitimately challenge LOS, making our individual battles of the future all the more advanced?” No reason not to. There’s a really good case for this (see various writings by ubrayj/Josef including the hyperlink in the second to last paragraph of the above article) and I am certainly not opposed to it. My personal guess is that challenging Length of Service (LOS) is a big, difficult, somewhat-esoteric policy campaign and bicyclists are still a relatively small share of the commuting and voting public, so it may be difficult to win today… and, after we win the LOS policy fight, we’d still probably have to campaign for individual facilities. So… my hunch/opinion is that it’s likely to be more fruitful for cyclists to campaign for facilities, to win a number of these, gather momentum, hopefully to get more people biking hence building a larger constituency… then, when we have some facilities victories under our belt, and when the LADOT sees that we’re not going away… then we take on the bigger systemic biases. But it’s not exclusive – I am working with folks to get more bike lanes on Reseda Blvd, and I would like to lend some of my energy to a campaign (led by you? or Josef?) to reform Level of Service. We can and should do both.

  • Joe, excellent response, thank you for all of that, though the tug of war going on in my brain just got all the more heated (and I of course ALWAYS consider bicycles an alternative, if not the ONLY alternative, but in the above case I was confused…as I am about a lot of this).

    Is there any documentation of the steps everyone went through to get the Silver Lake-Sunset Bike Lane put in? And why isn’t anyone organizing to target the very individual bike projects you mention on York and Figueroa? Also, you refer to the 1996 plan, but what about the plan after that, the 2001 plan, does that supersede 1996? Or is it possible that all projects ever approved on any bike plan are fair game?

    It seems we need to be compiling lists of projects with the most potential and then pounding out the political and grassroots support for them and getting them completed; does that sound right to you? Maybe your new Liveable LA will be doing that–need any help? Put me on it!

    Anyway, I hope you’ll come out this weekend to the Bike Working group event at LACC. I think your opinion is absolutely critical to a well rounded understanding of the situation.

  • @Ramon –

    “Is there any documentation of the steps everyone went through to get the Silver Lake-Sunset Bike Lane put in?” It’s a longer story, but suffice it to say that the Silver Lake lanes went in because the LA County Bicycle Coalition board (when I was board president) and staff (when Ron Milam was ED) did a lot of work with neighborhood groups and put pressure on the council office. Sunset was a little easier, after seeing the huge outpouring of support on Silver Lake lanes, the council office ok-ed the Sunset lanes easily.

    “And why isn’t anyone organizing to target the very individual bike projects you mention on York and Figueroa?” Most folks aren’t aware of what’s in the plan. Also, it takes some work, some time, some resources… and in some cases we’ve pushed hard and the LADOT has stalled and done nothing. This was the case with Fletcher Drive… DOT waited us out despite a campaign in ~2001-2002. It’s not just about bicyclists pushing these, but about building some broader neighborhood consensus to push for them. Some groups are doing some of this: LACBC (current campaigns for Reseda, 4th Street,) CICLE (premature announcement, but we’re going to be organizing a campaign for the York lanes – join us!) and some BAC leaders (BAC chair Glenn Bailey’s work made the new mile of Reseda lanes happen.)

    “Also, you refer to the 1996 plan, but what about the plan after that, the 2001 plan, does that supersede 1996?” The 1996 plan is pretty much currently in effect unchanged. It needs to be re-approved (in what is called a “technical update” – which is really a non-update) every 5 years for the city to eligible for state Bicycle Transportation Account (BTA) funding. The ~2002 and ~2007 updates merely affirmed the 1996 plan.

    “Or is it possible that all projects ever approved on any bike plan are fair game?” Projects NOT on a bike plan are fair game, too. See my statements here: http://bit.ly/42MFnG It can be easier to implement projects already approved in the plan… but where there’s political consensus, projects can certainly move forward without being in the plan.

    “It seems we need to be compiling lists of projects with the most potential and then pounding out the political and grassroots support for them and getting them completed; does that sound right to you?” Yes – I think so. We should compare what we see on the approved plan with where we ride and then put pressure on the city to implement the facilities that we think are worthwhile. Wherever possible, we will be more effective where we work in coalition with other bicyclists and other neighborhood groups.

  • At yesterday’s open-to-the-public L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Commitee (BAC) combined Planning and Bikeways sub-committees meeting, I raised the issue of the unannounced, undocumented changes that have been made to the on-line plans.

    As I described above, the initial versions posted on-line in September contained non-existent streets, typos, omissions, unsorted lists, etc.

    After the October 6th BAC meeting raised the issue of missing street names, the downloadable document changed to include street names. After this October 9th Streetsblog article appeared, some of the errors and typos have disappeared, and some lists have been changed in other ways (new sorts at least – hard to tell what all has been changed without doing line by line comparisons.) As far as I know, these changes keep being made with no notice going to anyone as to what documents have been updated, nor what the changes are.

    BAC members present at yesterday’s meeting unanimously requested that any document changes (made since the initial September release and going forward from now) include 1) the date of revision, 2) a list of what changed, and 3) that the prior versions initially released in September remain available on-line.

    Department of City Planning’s (DCP) Jordann Turner stated that he would follow up with Alta (the city’s bike plan consultant) regarding document changes made since September. Both DCP’s Jordann Turner and DCP’s Helene Bibas stated that for the current draft, there will “no changes going forward” to the draft documents online.

    I take this to mean no more unannounced changes to the current online draft documents. Bibas did state that the DCP is planning to do a new “formal” draft – expected to be released in December. The new formal draft is likely to be substantially different than what is online – based on the input that DCP is receiving at meetings and in writing.

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