Why the Festival of Rights Matters

12_21_09_for.jpgCyclists gather at the Festival of Lights for this year’s Festival of Rights protest ride. Photo: Soap Box

Some see it as a niche ride for activists.  Some see it as Stephen Box’s attempt to get on television and continue his feud with Councilman Tom LaBonge.  Still others as a ride that engenders mire bad will with city agencies than it’s worth.  After all, how many hard core cycling activists really want to ride through car choked streets to look at a bunch of holiday lights?

But those critiques of the now annual Festival of Rights ride through the Festival of Lights are missing the point.  Box and his fellow riders are riding against the city of Los Angeles, or really any governmental body, being able to randomly decide that cyclists cannot ride on a road.  The attempts to justify the decision to tell cyclists that they cannot ride the road have ranged from laughable, such as when Councilman LaBonge waived an unsigned memo, not on city stationary, from the City Attorney’s office to non-existent such as this year’s efforts by a Park Ranger to explain he was enforcing the ban because, "he was told to."  However, it would appear that California law doesn’t have any allowances for municipalities to decide when and where cyclists can ride on the road with motor vehicles.

"We are so far beyond ‘I’m just doing what I was told.’" Box told me on the phone, expressing frustration with law enforcements inability to justify their ban with laws.  "We are now
in an era where officials are expected to take responsibility for their
actions.  People are expected to do what is right, nut just "I’m doing
what I was told."

So let’s break this down.  Every year the Department of Water and Power, in an effort to be visible from space bring Holiday Spirit to Griffith Park, hosts the DWP Festival of Lights.  Just because the city is so broke that another department’s General Manager is making the rounds explaining that they can’t afford for traffic engineers to email Neighborhood Councils before destroying their street life, is no reason for the DWP, a department funded by your electric bills, to consider ending the Festival.  Every year the city comes out with a new schedule for the Festival and recently has been expanding the access for cyclists and pedestrians to view the lights on certain nights.  For example, this year there were actually more nights dedicated to pedestrian travel through the Festival than car-only nights.  Even cyclists get a couple of extra half-hours on Saturday nights in addition to the now-traditional bike-only night.

Some would say that’s a step in the right direction.  I agree to a point.  It would be great if the entire festival were pedestrian only.  Then I would agree that cyclists were inappropriate.  In the mean time, there is still no legal justification to ban bicycles from local roads open to cars in the state’s vehicle code.  Go ahead, look it up.

Which leaves us with the justification of banning bikes is a safety measure that a traffic report prepared by LADOT’s Alan Willis, who is taking the city up on its voluntary retirement program, saying that cyclists would be endangered if they were allowed in the park at the same time that cars were allowed.  Even if that were the case, and has Willis ever seen some of the conditions cyclists ride through on city designed streets, it still doesn’t give them the right to ban bicycles.  Its simply a power they don’t have.

But what about street festivals such as Chinese New Years or the Italian Festival every fall?  Then the city closes entire roads to cars and bicycles.  True, but that is within their power.  The city can close a street, but it cannot say that a street is for one set of road users and not another as it does with the Festival.

In his summary of this year’s ride and clash with a Park Ranger, Box repeatedly makes the point that the DWP is not getting a permit for the Festival as any other person or agency would be required to get close a street or erect large lighting fixtures.  However, Box is trying to make a larger point about the bizarre Coalition of the Willing between Recreation and Parks, the LADOT and LADWP to create this yearly festival, police it as they see fit, and do it without going through all the proper steps.  However, we’re more concerned with the transportation policy, and I should point out that even if the city granted itself a bunch of permits, it still doesn’t have the power to ban bicycles from local roads without also banning all other types of vehicles.

  • I’m excited to see where Stephen’s adventures in court will lead to. I still don’t understand how a City as dysfunctional as ours can come together on so many levels (the bureaucrats/officials that is) for events like these? Same with crap like Michael Jackson’s funeral and Laker parades, events that screw the majority of people living in this city, whether in wasted tax dollars or polluting externalities. There must be some darker motive here…

  • Spokker

    I don’t understand why a festival of lights is opened to vehicles of any kind. Driving is not really conducive to oooo’ing and ahhh’ing. It should probably be a pedestrian only event. No Segways either!

  • bent_rider

    The DWP was not so fond of the Mono-Lake-Bike-A-Thon held for 15 years either. It started with cyclists gathering water at their reflecting pool and transporting it by bicycle back to Mono Lake. That is, until the last year, ’95 when DWP capitulated and agreed to save mono lake. Mayor Riordan joined us for that one.

  • Erik G.

    I didn’t think “I’m just following orders” has been a legitimate excuse since about October 1, 1946.

  • Travis

    ummmm, if a festival can’t be closed to bikes, then will cicLAvia be required to be open to cars?

    I’d vote for the street festival dwp light show, and toss in equal days for pedestrians, cyclists, and those in cars. 2 cents.

  • Travis,

    Flawed logic.

    Cyclists are guaranteed their place on the streets. That does not mean that motorists go where cyclists go.

    Do motorists drive cars on bike paths? Not legally. Do motorists drive cars on sidewalks? Sometimes but it’s also illegal.

    The oft quoted “cyclists have all the rights and responsibilities…” screed leads people to assume that it is that simple. It’s not.

    Cyclists have the best of three or four worlds and there are many exceptions.

    Cyclists are, in many cases, permitted to ride on sidewalks with peds. Motorists are not.

    Cyclists are permitted on 1000 miles of state highway. Pedestrians are not.

    Cyclists enjoy access to transit only lanes. Peds and motorists do not.

    Cyclists ride without registration or operator license or insurance requirements. Motorists don’t.

    In other words, the law is complicated, imperfect and sometimes full of contradictions.

    But the challenge here is the City of LA’s exclusion of cyclists based on the old tired “It’s for your own safety.” It’s not about the Festival of Lights, it’s about never, ever allowing the exclusion of cyclists to become an acceptable solution when addressing to public safety.

    See you on the Streets!

  • Erik G.

    Meanwhile…

    “The City Council’s Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee agreed this morning to prohibit smoking within 10 feet of restaurant patios, gardens and decks. “This is a big step forward,” said Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes parts of Hollywood, Silver Lake, Koreatown and North Hollywood.”

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/12/smoking-ban-for-outdoor-restaurant-seating-backed-by-la-council-committee.html

    Tobacco smoke bad, Car smoke good.

  • Scott Killeen

    Tax the shit out of bicycles and that will be the day I give a shit about bicyclist! Move to freak’n China where a bicycle means something! Pedal your sorry asses as much as you want and thanks for saving all the gas for me to use………

  • Done!

    Tax on the sale of bicycles: 9.75% in Los Angeles!

    Guess where a big chunk of that money goes? To pay for roads!

    Tax the income of cyclists? Done! Guess where a chunk of that money goes? To pay for roads!

    Scott, do you know what percentage, more or less, gas taxes pay for our roads? Depending on how you calculate it, gas taxes and car user fees get close to paying for HALF the expense of providing roads for the public to use. Guess where the other half comes from? General revenues, bonds, sales taxes – funds that everybody has to pay for, regardless of whether they own a car or not.

    So, now that you fantasy has been delivered, what say you?

  • Say, you wouldn’t happen to be: http://twitter.com/scottkilleen would you?

  • Spokker

    Taxes on the wealthy pay for everything, anyway.

  • limit

    The easy solution is to allow automobiles, bicycle, and pedestrians all at once. This logical separation by mode of travel, bah!

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