Streets Notes for the Upcoming Bike Plan Meetings

9_29_09_bike_plan.jpgI'll be going to the Westside Meeting.  If anyone wants to write about the other ones, let me know.

Starting on Thursday, the City of Los Angeles will hold the first of five "official" public meetings on the Draft Bike Plan that was released for public viewing after some draft maps were released earlier this summer.  It's been a long road for the Bike Plan from the scoping meetings held in February of 2008 and a process that has brought a groundswell of hope and the seeds of change in other cities has been one full of anger, accusations and a near complete lack of trust.

It's gotten so bad, that Stephen Box and Alex Thompson, two well-featured members of the advocacy community, have started a Bike Working Group to create an alternate to the Bike Plan.  They held their first meeting this weekend and attracted dozens of cyclists from around the city and county.  At his personal blog, Box explains the difference between the Bike Working Group and the Bike Plan.

The BWG opened up the Draft Bike Plan for discussion and then drew the participants into the process of actually creating a real Bike Plan, rather than simply commenting on somebody else's version. From the opening vision to the need for imperative language, to the standards and designations to the tools for implementation, the entire document is open to revision or replacement.

Between now and the Halloween meeting of the Bike Working Group, the city will hold four meetings on the official Bike Plan.  A fifth meeting, that was promised me at a City Council meeting, will be held in Northeast L.A. on November 4th.  For a list of all five official meetings, visit the Streetsblog calendar.  For more information on the next Bicycle Working Group Meeting, visit Soap Box.

But as we get ready for the Bike Plan and Bike Working Group meetings, let's look back at the last 20 months that have led us to where we are.

Back in February of 2008, I attended a public meeting for what was then called the "Bicycle Master Plan" and was surprised at what I witnessed.  My experience with these sorts of meetings was that they were events of hope, change and new ideas.  Instead, I was treated to a couple of hours of contentious back and forth between cyclists and staff.  I had known that there were a lot of cyclists angered by what was perceived as a lack of a public process, but was still surprised by the venom in the room.

Running the meeting was Mia Burke, from the all-star bike planning outfit Alta Planning and Development, the consultants credited by many for the changes that Portland has undergone over the past decades.  While Burke pushed that these meetings and the planning should be a happy time, her presentation left many in the room feeling as though the plan would be more about what couldn't happen than what could happen.

And then, we waited.  We were told that the Draft Bike Plan documents, incorporating the public comments, Alta's research, and comments by City Staff would be ready by late fall of 2008 or definitely by the end of the year.

And then we waited.

In May of 2008, I started getting excited about the Plan again.  Before I moved to L.A., I had spent a couple of weeks in Baltimore working on a friend's successful City Council campaign.  While there I heard some great things about the future of transportation planning, but having lived in Baltimore for ten years earlier in life, I didn't believe it.  Back in town for a friend's wedding, the city had spent millions of dollars on delivering large pieces of its 2006 Bike Plan and it showed.  Surely if a mid-sized city with the economic problems of Baltimore could make these kinds of changes, Los Angeles could hit it out of the park when it was our turn at the plate.

In July of 2008, there was the Mandeville Canyon Road Rage Crash which is currently being debated in a court of law.  The details of the case have been well discussed, but the reason this matters so much in discussing the Bike Plan is that from this moment on, Westside Councilman Bill Rosendahl became a staunch proponent of cycling issues and perhaps the most progressive Councilman on all bike, walking and transit issues.

In November of 2008, the Transportation Committee held its second "Bike Only" meeting where the LADOT made two "bad news" announcements.  The first is that the city shouldn't look into a bike sharing network because the rest of our bike system is too lousy to support it.  Second, the Draft Bike Plan was running behind schedule but should be available in January of 2009.

January came and went and so did the following months.  After getting a couple of comments from readers asking where the plan was, I emailed LADOT Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery who told me the plan would be ready in April and could be passed by the entire City Council in June.

April came and went, and during Bike to Work Week I had a chance to attend a Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting where again Mowery was asked when we were going to see the Bike Plan.  The word "Master" had now been dropped.  At this point, then City Council Transportation Committee Chair Wendy Greuel had announced she would hold a hearing on the plan before she left office on July 1.  Mowery announced the plan would be available sometime in July or August.

At this point I should note that grumbling about the time line had spread from the hard-core activists in the Bike Writers Collective and Midnight Ridazz to just about every cyclist I talked to.  The belief, fair or not, was that Alta Planning had turned in a plan we would have been happy with and the LADOT was messing the plan up in the editing cycles.

Just over two weeks later, the Planning Department released the maps that would be the backbone of the Bike Plan.  The reaction from the bike community was outrage with a few optimists that expressed happiness that the city had released anything at all. Most of the anger was directed at two points.  First, the plan seemed to have fewer lanes than the old plan.  Second, there was a new category called "proposed but currently infeasible," which may have marked the first time the word "infeasible" had appeared so frequently in such a plan.

To make matters worse, with most cyclists that weighed in expressing displeasure, all of a sudden the LADOT was distancing themselves from the plan.  At a Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, Mowery called the Plan a "Planning Document" and wiped her hands of the whole thing despite being the person responsible for writing the scope of work for the project.  Indeed, Mowery's name has been scrubbed from the Bike Plan website, and only Jordan Turner from City Planning's name remains.

Trying to bring some peace to the cacophony, Joe Linton wrote an even-handed piece that laid out what he saw as the maps strengths and weaknesses.  At the top of the piece are links to all of our coverage of the Bike Maps in the early weeks.

But don't worry, cyclists were told repeatedly.  The maps were only part of the plan and when we saw the rest of the text we would be happy.  The Bike Plan was released in late September, and the result was not happy cyclists.

Taking his first turn as guest editor, Stephen Box demolished the Plan and joked that instead of "civic engagement" the city's goal was "civic enragement."  He concludes his piece:

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.

As time moved on, we noticed that not only had the city scrubbed the "May maps" from their website, but they were also changing maps within the posted plan without any notice.  While it's good to update bad information, notice to the people working diligently to provide comments would be nice.  Fortunately, collaborating with Alex Thompson and Ted Rogers, Streetsblog was able to post the old maps so people could compare old and new.

The Bicycle Advisory Committee, newly energized under new Chair Glenn Bailey also chimed in asking for increased time for public comment.  Per email received from Bailey earlier today, the city will accept comment on the Draft Bike Plan until it releases the Final Plan "in 2010."

No longer willing to look on the bright side, Joe Linton wrote what might be the harshest criticism of the plan in a piece entitled "L.A.’s Draft Bikeway Plan: Non-Committal, Sloppy and Perhaps Illegal."  Any scraps that Box left lieing, Linton finished demolishing in his critique.

Which brings us to last week's "Bike Working Group" meeting mentioned at the top of this article.  Frustrated by the city, cyclists started working on their own alternative plan.  How their efforts will jibe with what's put out by the city could be one of the dominant stories taking us in to 2010.

At the very least, it will provide an interesting contrast to the city's meetings, which begin tomorrow in the South Bay.