The first thing I noticed when I arrived at last night’s Bike Plan meeting for the Westside was that the format had completely changed from the 2008 meetings. In 2008 the format consisted of a public presentation and "Q+A" session which last time devolved into a contentious debate over the state of cycling and the ability of the city to deliver on its promise of better cycling in the city. Last night there were three sets of posterboards manned by staff from Alta Planning or the city and tables with maps for people to draw comments. All city and Alta staff took comments on large paper note pad.
"They’re learning," joked Stephen Box, who helped organize protests about the public outreach and content of the plan in 2008 and the Bike Working Group meetings this year. But LADOT Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery said the new format would allow for people who aren’t usually heard to make their case:
It’s been really great, because too often we don’t hear from shy people…We’re getting tons more comments than last time (in the winter of 2008) and it’s been great for me. People are sent to me with specific issues on their commutes, on their streets, and I can help fix many of those problems.
Jordan Turner, the point of contact for the plan, agreed with Mowery that the format was the right one and that comments continue to pour in, both good and bad.
We’re hearing from a range of people, a range of comments from everything from people that like the plan to people that want us to start over.
When asked what has been a theme running through the comments from all the meetings thus far, Turner answered
People are focused on implementation. They want to see stuff on the ground. Most people seem happy that we’re doing this, that we’re thinking and planning, but what they really want is to see something happen.
Indeed, what we’re actually going to see come out of the plan seemed to be on the mind of most in attendance. Mark Peterson of the Bike Writers Collective was handing out ride cards mocking the Bike Plan as the "Plan with no teeth." He explained that a lack of timelines and clear accountability makes for nice reading, but he doesn’t believe we’ll actually see any of these projects.
Some of this stuff has been in a plan for thirteen years. There’s no time parameters anywhere. When will this get done?
That’s not to say that there weren’t those in attendance who support the plan, or at least parts of it. Biking In L.A.’s Ted Rogers noted that it’s "a good start" while two LACBC Board Members gave the plan a qualified thumbs up.
Kent Strumpell, who also serves on the Bike Advisory Committee and on the Bike Plan Citizen Advisory Committee, after notied that the Bike Plan is just that, a plan, and not an enforcement document. However, he pointed out that the matrix in Appendix B gives certain jobs and action items to specific departments creating accountability within the city. He also noted that the plan creates policies that will empower local bike activists to get the most that they can from the developers and the city from project mitigation funds.
Giving a less enthusiastic pat on the back was Dr. Michael Cahn who managed to call the plan a "monument of seriousness and a monument of failure because it embraces incremental-ism." Cahn did seem overall supportive of the plan opening with, "It’s wonderful to sit down with a five hundred page pdf put together by smart people that takes bicycling a little seriously."
It was somewhat surprising to hear positive comments from two Bike Coalition Board Members, even if Cahn’s was somewhat tongue in cheek, given the criticism the plan received in the LACBC’s official comments. But that was the way things went last night as the anger on the Internet and at previous forums wasn’t outwardly demonstrated. The most contentious thing I heard was a member of the city staff complaining to me about the labikeplan.com website and thanking me for "exposing it." Oddly, the Bike Working Group also enjoyed the article.
I should note that in my survey of the room, there were more people that didn’t like the plan than that did, however, most of them had comments on how the plan could be improved or parts protected instead of a demand that the plan be scrapped. One time a cyclist approached Stephen Box asking how we could keep the City Council and Mayor from killing the plan. I didn’t get all of Box’s response, but it was basically that we want the City to reject this plan and replace it with something that is more organic, progressive and aggressive.
Spending nearly all of the two hours circling the room, ease dropping and reading the easels, there were three comments that were repeated over and over again. The first two seem right out of the Bike Working Group playbook, and the third was about the hot debate over whether bicycles belong on our trails.
The first two items were asking that the Cyclists Bill of Rights be included in the plan in its entirety and that the plan definitively state that all streets are for bicycles.
In December of last year, the City Council near-unanimously endorsed the Cyclists Bill of Rights and earlier the LADOT and City Planning had been directed by then Council Transportation Committee Chair Wendy Greuel to include the document in the Bike Plan. While the phrases from the Bill of Rights aren’t included word-for-word within the plan, staff maintains that the "spirit" of the document is included. That wasn’t good enough for many of the cyclists in attendance as "Cyclists Bill of Rights" had more checks marked next to it than any other suggestion. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not it’s good enough for current Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl, who introduced the Bill of Rights to the Council.
Calling for all streets to be declared "bikeable streets" also shouldn’t be controversial. After all, it is the law. However, there still seems to be confusion from the motoring public on this point, just read the debate on this recent Mandeville Canyon comments thread, and you can see the concern. A clear declaration from the city that cyclists belong on the road could, and should, be the cornerstone of any bike plan in any city.
The last issue that was raised over and over again was the inclusion of Chapter 3 of the draft plan entitled "Off-Road Bicycle Policies" which basically means policies regarding bike riding in city parks. For many in the bike community, this is an issue of equity, public space and just the right to belong. Others wonder why a recreational use is even being discussed in a transportation planning document.
Lynn Brown, the National Trail Coordinator for Equestrian Trails Inc., explained that it’s not a desire to keep cyclists from using public space, but a safety concern that is pushing her coalition, which includes the Sierra club and runners groups, to get chapter 3 removed.
We support multi-use trails when they are safe, but our trails are already extremely crowded with hikers, runners, equestrians, mommy-stroller groups…every group imaginable. However, we’re all moving on legs, moving at around five miles per hour. When you add a wheeled extreme sport, you create a catastrophically unsafe element.
Cyclists supporting mountain biking countered that the plan doesn’t say that bikes should be allowed on trails, even if the trails in surrounding areas, for example in Orange County and San Diego, do allow bikes as well as the groups Brown mentions.
Of course, whether or not the Final Bike Plan incorporates all or none of these suggestions may not be known for awhile. After the comment period ends in November, the city has vowed to continue excepting comments into the new year. Then these comments will be compiled into a Final Plan. Then the plan will go through another round of public comment before moving on to the City Planning Commission. From there, it’s on to the City Council Transportation and Planning Committees before finally going to the City Council at an undisclosed date in the future. In the meantime, Box vowed that the Bike Working Group will continue to meet and work on an alternate plan. Their next meeting is this weekend, while the next Bike Plan meeting is next week in Northeast L.A. See our calendar section on the right for more details.