Bike Master Plan Comments Due Friday: Here’s Mine

1_6_10_bike_plan.jpgCyclists from last May’s "Expo Exposure" Ride. Photo: LA Streetsblog/Flickr

This Friday, comments are due on the Draft Bike Plan lovingly prepared by Alta Planning and Design and submitted for public perusal and comments by City Planning and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.  I’ve gotten some criticism from critics of the Bike Plan for not writing more about it myself, and instead writing "just the facts" reviews of meetings, even though Streetsblog has hosted blistering critiques of the plan by Stephen Box and Joe Linton.  The few supporters of the plan have urged me to write up some good news about the plan.  Below are the comments I’ll be emailing to City Planning, through the "unofficial" Bike Plan website at http://labikeplan.com.  You can also submit comments through that site or the official site at http://labikeplan.org.

These comments appear as an informational piece, have not been reviewed by anyone else at Streetsblog, and are not to be considered anything more than my personal thoughts on the plan after finally reading it in its entirety over Streetsblog’s winter break.  If you want to crib any of my thoughts feel free.

Dear Mr. Turner, Ms. Mowery, City Staff and Staff at Alta Planning,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Bike Plan.

While the following comments appeared at Streetsblog, please consider them my personal comments as Streetsblog does not make comments on bike plans.

My main concern with this plan doesn’t have to do with what routes do or don’t appear, there are many cyclists more familiar with Los Angeles’ streets than I am and I would pay close attention to their comments on this matter.  Instead, I am worried that this isn’t really what can be considered a "plan" at all.  A plan has deadlines, designates who is responsible for what, has a list of goals, objectives, strategies and tactics, and most importantly identifies a source or sources of funding to make the goals, objectives, strategies and tactics of the plan a reality.

Instead, this plan focuses only on the tactics…goals, objectives, strategies and funding are left to other people.  It’s actually more a series of maps with supporting documents than a plan.  And that’s too bad, because Los Angeles sorely needs a Bike Plan to get this city to where we need to be.

At a recent meeting of the City Council Transportation Committee, Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery claimed that Los Angeles is twenty years behind Portland when it comes to bike planning.  Fine.  Knowing that Portland has a 7% mode share for cyclists during commuting hours, then the City of Los Angeles should step up and declare that the City of Angels is going to have a 7% commuting mode share by 2030.  Ambitious?  Yes.  And that’s how you set a goal.

How does one achieve a goal?  By setting realistic objectives.  Assuming that the 7% mode shift is a serious goal, the next step is to set objectives, which are a subset of goals, like mini-goals.  If the goal is a 7% mode switch, the objectives would be to improve the mode split by 1% every four years.  Of course, all of this assumes that the city has an idea of how many people are cycling as part of their commute right now, which we know they don’t.

Next would be having strategies to meet the goals.  An example of some good strategies would be "painting ten miles of bike lanes every year, painting twenty new sharrowed streets, and completing improvements on two bicycle-friendly streets.

The last step of a good plan is the tactics.  Tactics would be the maps and individual street designations that this plan does lay out.  However, to really qualify as a set of "tactics" a timeline on when we can expect any of these maps to actually turn into reality on the streets.

In short, a good plan has four key components, a timeline and a funding plan.  This "Plan" has, at best, one of the four components, no timeline and no funding plan.  In short, it needs a lot of work to get from "Draft Plan" to anything really worth moving to a full vote.

Two other points I want to hit on before I end.  The first is that by not having a timeline we’re missing out on real opportunities.  For example, Los Angeles recently celebrated the opening of the Eastside Extension for the Gold Line.  The bike plan calls for a series of "bike friendly streets," "bike lanes" and "bike routes" surrounding the extension.  Given Metro’s claims of multi-modalism and dozens of bike racks along the route, this would have been a great time to unveil a multi-modal network supporting the line and creating a real multi-modal network in east L.A.  Instead, we learned that there is no actual timeline to move the plan from paper to the streets.  We’re missing a similar opportunity for the Expo Line.  True, there is a bike path running next to the line, but that path doesn’t have a timeline and a network of local lanes, routes and other markings that connect the entire community along the line to the stations would have an even more dramatic impact on ridership.

Last, one of the reasons I’ve been given, off the record, that bike planning is so lackluster in this city is the lack of political will from our elected leadership.  While planners and LADOT staff are happy to say this privately, they also let City Councilman run them through a ringer at public meetings without challenging them.  If I take the staff at their word, then this plan would have been the perfect time to challenge them.  For example, the plan could improve plans, to be completed in the next five years, that would: create a "Bike Boulevard" on Fourth Street, right in the heart of Tom LaBonge’s district, or create the aforementioned network along the Expo Line in Bill Rosendahl’s 11th District.  If it’s a lack of political will that is leading to projects such as this not getting done, then let’s let them tell us they don’t support these projects instead of talking big at public meetings then killing the plans in private.

In closing, I do appreciate the work that has been done on this plan, but sadly there’s a lot more that needs to be done.  Fortunately, the city has hired the visionary planners at Alta Planning.  It’s time to let them do their jobs.

I can be reached anytime at thedaymen@gmail.com  if you have any questions or comments.

Damien Newton

  • awesome points Damien

  • I’ve got to agree with Roadblock — I think you nailed it.

  • yeah, I just re-read this again… really really hits the mark Damien.

  • agreed. well said.

  • I am all for moving the bicycle plan forward as is rather than delaying it with suggestions for painting lanes that will probably never be implemented. As it is the plan is filled with bright yellow dotted lines for possible bicycle lanes that are on many of the most car clogged streets. There is an extremely low possibility that any of those will ever get started as it would be political suicide to take away a lane for cars on a congested street and give it to a few bicyclists or even to add a lane for a few bikes. The motorists would likely be up in arms over that and even Copenhagen didn’t dare start out building up a bicyling infrastructure by doing that. It maybe that the reason for those yellow dotted lines is to simply fill out the map more fully. Think about how stark some of those areas of the map would look without colorful yellow dotted lines to decorate it with.

    The proposed bicyle plan seems to be a move away from trying to squeeze in bicycle lanes on busy streets, to using traffic calming techniques for bicyclists on side streets. The people who live in these mainly residential areas will likely embrace the idea of slowing traffic and Los Angeles can seek Federal funds by targeting this as safer a route to school for kids.

    There is also a limited amount of funds in Los Angeles for bicycle infrastructure projects. You cannot expect to add much more bicycle lanes to the bicycle plan map without taking away from the bicycle friendly streets plan. As it is there is probably not enough money to finish the bicycle friendly streets part of the plan within 15 years.

    When you look at it in terms of what will get the most bicyclists on Los angeles streets for X amount of dollars, the bicycle friendly streets idea has a greater potential than painting bicycle lanes. The target benefactors for bicycle friendly streets are mainly people going to school and their parents. Bicycling is a much more likely option for someone going to high school or college since they probably do not own a car and it will take the burden away from the parent of having to drive a child to school. A safer route to school for bicycling would give someone more freedom for travel than say a bus or having to get a ride from a parent.

    Putting bicycle lanes on the street or even bicycle paths is a much slower way to increase the number of bicyclists than using street calming techniques on side streets. You are mainly preaching to the male choir with bicyle lanes. Look at how many female bicyclists were counted by the los angeles bicycle coalition compared to the male bicyclists and how many kids were there? That is mainly due to the perceived dangers and painting a stripe on the road does not change that very much. Reducing the risk of riding by using street calming techniques will help to include part of the population that would never consider cycling on major streets.

    Another way to greatly increase bicycling in Los Angeles is to implement a bicycle sharing scheme. Paris doubled the amount of bicyclists in their city within about six months after Velib started and Barcelona doubled bicycling volume within about a year after Bicing. Bicycle sharing could be started in Los Angeles with little or no cost to the city.

    One of the biggest arguments against starting bicycle sharing in Los Angeles is that there is not enough infrastructure to make it work. Since a bicycle sharing plan in Los Angeles would likely have to start small from lack of funding, the city could first start with say the subway/Orange line connection in North Hollywood which has the bicycle lane that runs east and west.

    Los Angeles needs a much greater mass of bicyclists for this city to consider bicycling a serious form of transportation and bicycle friendly streets, along with bicycle sharing will help get us there.

  • DENNIS HINDMAN,

    It appears that you haven’t read the plan, nor are aware of the effects of quality, arterial, bicycle facilities on the number of cyclists in a city’s modal split.

    Those of us who have pored over this, and other documents, agree with much of what Damien said, and reject many of the defeatist arguments you espouse in your long rant.

  • I kind of hear what David Hindman is saying. I agree with safe routes to school pressure for funding and having side streets made to be more bicycle friendly. that’s pretty much the only strategy that is going to get funding. we need to make better proposals to capture more funding. as Damien Newton points out, the LADOT puts out light weight, low effort zero return proposals for safe routes to school. its as if the LADOT doesnt want the funding. They know as well as all of do, that if you get the kids and parents into cycling then you are feeding the next generation of voters with what they see as ill thoughts.

    The side streets and safe routes to school approach is a way of creeping onto main thoroughfares by increasing constituency. This is the most powerful reason that I see Midnight Ridazz as accomplishing. Getting youngsters to enjoy cycling. They will grow and mature and hopefully some of them will stick to cycling as a means of transportation. At least for short trips which will require side streets being made friendly to bicycles. It’s an easy sell to homeowners too. Who wants a freeway in front of their house? who would prefer bicycles and slower traffic?

    Eventually the cyclists will creep from the side streets on to the big streets. That’s what the LADOT fears and shits a brick over.

  • First, I spent hours reading the proposed draft of the L.A. bicycle plan. I pored over the document too as you claimed to have and I don’t agree with some of what Damian wrote. You do not speak for me, nor I for you.

    Secondly, I am aware that having safe bicycle friendly arterial streets would likely greatly increase the percent modal split of transportation in Los Angeles from around 1% for bicyclists. It would do this by increasing the amount of females and children biking, which painting bike lanes on busy streets would not have much affect on. I would suggest you read the ‘Shifting gears’ article from the October ‘ 09 Scientific American to get a better understanding of what I am talking about.

    Thirdly, are you aware that the Los Angeles city government is not a endless pit of money? If more bicycle lanes are to be put in, then the bicycle friendly streets portion would likely have to be cut back, but to appease everyone they would still probably be left on the map. Also, the city would have to find room for these lanes by taking out a car lane or building another lane strictly for bicycles. Or are you implying that there is room and the city is just not utilizing it?

    It’s not defeatist to realize that Los Angeles is not going to give much space to a few bicyclists that is currently occupied by a high volume of moving cars. That’s not realistic or feasible, although the LADOT may put more bike lanes on the map, like the yellow dotted lines, to make people happy, so that they can move forward with the original plan.

    I would suggest making comments to LADOT about intersection improvements needed for bicyclists the city may not be aware of, nor in all liklihood Alta Planning.

  • DJB

    Inadequate bike infrastructure causes low rates of cycling, which are used (to the extent that they are known) to justify the perpetuation of inadequate bike infrastructure. Such a beautiful, self-justifying loop :)

    If the car infrastructure in LA were as bad as the bike infrastructure is, nobody would be driving.

  • MU

    I would defend Dennis Hindman’s major point in that I think he is arguing that improving side streets is a better way to increase mode share than lanes on arterials. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it is a reasonable argument. I’ll let those who have done more research debate it.

    But what I would criticize Dennis, is that a lot of your statements seem to embrace the “conventional wisdom” that has resisted bicycle infrastructure improvements for years and are often short sighted or just plain wrong.

    “Bicycling is a much more likely option for someone going to high school or college since they probably do not own a car.” – I may be extending your point more than you meant it to be, but this seems to be similar to the standard assumption that everyone has a car and bike riders mainly ride by choice. Even in LA, there is a huge population that does not drive. I strongly support ‘safe routes to school’ concepts and even on focusing infrastructure around schools, colleges, etc. where you have a likely user base. But let’s not buy into the often pushed misinformation that bikes are “how kids get around”.

    “Or are you implying that there is room and the city is just not utilizing it?” I certainly don’t want to put words in Ubrayj’s mouth, but at least in the past, that is exactly was he has said, with some pretty good evidence. See: http://flyingpigeon-la.com/2009/11/the-fight-to-make-north-figueroa-bike-friendly/
    This is classic conventional wisdom, that all streets run at capacity and to remove any space for cars anywhere would increase congestion, massively slow traffic, etc. Road evaluations based on actual data would likely reveal many arterials that in fact have plenty of space. And by adding bike infrastructure to those roads, you increase mode share, reducing congestion on all roads, freeing up more space, wash, rinse, repeat.

    “motorists would likely be up in arms” Any changes will produce grumbling. But the myth that there will be some sort of massive revolt because a few bike lanes go in seems, to me, to be the lame defense of people who don’t want to consider change for other reasons. Drivers will revolt in mass if BAD changes are made. Well done, improved bike infrastructure will improve the conditions for drivers. This is a key argument that is rarely communicated to opponents of bike facilities. Again, conventional wisdom is that this is a zero sum game with bikes and cars fighting for limited space. In contrast, a well designed plan would improve transport for all.

    “Los Angeles city government is not a endless pit of money.” Very true. And I don’t have the qualifications to go into every detail of funding sources ,etc. But let’s be clear, LA is spending $1 billion to add one traffic lane to the 405. They spent $1/2 million on consultants just to come up with the new bike plan. I suspect we would all agree the real shortage is in vision and political courage. If bike improvements were a priority, there will be money.

    Finally, on a bike share plan, I would just say that assuming that LA would see the same results as Paris is a bit dangerous and simplistic. Trying to do bike sharing in LA at this point seems like a big distraction with a high risk of failure. And that failure could easily be used to thwart future bike improvments of all types. I really don’t see access to bikes as the limiting factor in LA at this point. I’m not sure why an investment in bike sharing is better than improving infrastructure first.

    Again, I think the argument about what improvements would increase mode share the fastest is an interesting, and valid one. But specific to the article in question, I don’t see how any of Damien’s points fight against that. I think all his points are exactly on in terms of changing the plan from a file drawer filler to something that will actually have some real impact regardless of the details of what specific improvments go where. Let’s not let the lies and mistakes of the car-only proponents drive what we fight for.

  • Hindman,

    Sorry about suggesting you hadn’t read the bike plan, but your rejoinders are weak.

    You bring up the cost of bicycle facilities, which are incredibly cheap and low-maintenance.

    You state that arterial bikeways will increase ridership 1% – from whence did this data come from? First, nobody in LA counts ridership numbers for bikes. Second, numerous cities around the globe have installed arterial bikeways and measured the effects – which were much more dramatic than “1%”.

    You state that LA cannot make room for bikes on its arterial streets – you are correct. LA will not do this for POLITICAL reasons – not for financial, safety, health, nor economic reasons. Further, on many streets in LA traffic volumes fall below the the on-street capacity, with lane widths and other features conducive to dangerously fast urban speeds. There is more than enough room on most of LA’s arterial surface streets, and ample reasons (not just the interest of bicyclists) to calm traffic in urban areas.

    I stand by my point that many of your arguments are defeatist.

  • Thanks for the rocking article.. I love biking and here in Alabama the best and safest is in the woods. It is a mountain bikers dream here! I write and share photos of my biking adventure here in Alabama.

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