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.