Bike Sharing Coming to USC and City Passes Rough Timeline for Anti-Harassment Ordinance. Speed Limit Increases Delayed.

The City Council met today and discussed two cycling related issues.  The first was the ongoing discussion of whether or not the city should have a bike sharing program.  Second, the Council debated how to create an ordinance that would better protect cyclists from harassment.

As predicted, Councilman Rosendahl moved to "re-open" the public record on the anti-harassment ordinance so that the cyclists present can speak.   But first, the Council heard an update on the effort to bring "Bike Share" to Los Angeles.

1_27_10_velib.jpgA shot of a rack of Velib bicycles in Paris. Photo: SlimmerJimmer/Flickr
Bike Share: After a lengthy public comment period, we finally reach the "bicycle" portion of the meeting.  Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery is called to the front.  Apparently, Metro is also looking at a bike share program and have already identified an investor.  Metro and their investor are most interested in bringing bike share to Hollywood.  Meanwhile, despite bike share being brought up over a year ago, the LADOT still doesn't have an idea of where it would do its own pilot program.  If there were a community as excited about bike share as they are about Sharrows, this would be as large a scandal in the cycling community as the stall on Sharrows is.

While Mowery and Rosendahl skimmed the idea of bringing bike share to "around our college campuses," Council Woman Jan Perry is already ahead of the game.  Responding to a question from Councilman Tom LaBonge, Perry announced that her office is already working with a private investor to create a bike share corridor between USC and the Downtown.  This seemed to be news to Mowery, who asked that Perry's office coordinate with her and Metro to make sure that their plan is integrated with other efforts.

There were some other general comments on bicycling from Councilmen Dennis Zine, Ed Reyes, Eric Garcetti, Tom LaBonge and Greig Smith.  All of the Councilmen offered some praise for bike sharing and cycling in general.  Garcetti noted that his staff is also working on a bike share plan for Hollywood and mentioned the "S"word (Sharrows.)  Reyes offered praise for cycling and noted that the city needs to do more for its bicycle dependent population and praised the "City of Lights" Program.  LaBonge noted that an easier way to encourage cyclists to take transit and bike for the "last mile" is to make it easier for cyclists to take their bikes on buses and trains.

The Council was just hearing a report on the potential of bringing bike share to Los Angeles and was not asked or required to take any action.

1_27_10_digable_soul.jpgBelieve it or not, this was done with the offier's cooperation. Photo: digablesoul/Flickr

Anti-Harassment: The Council opted for what we've been calling the "three step process," but did so with Rosendahl's consent and gave a real time line for a process to bring new laws designed to protect cyclists on our streets.  In other words, it seems that the Transportation and Public Safety Committees have agreed to work together on the best-possible ordinance.

Councilman Greig Smith, the Chair of the Public Safety Committee, kicked off the debate by re-stating his preference that the Council should require a joint report from LADOT and the City Attorney to create a report on what kind of ordinance the city could pass to better protect cyclists.  This plan, which was also backed by Councilman Rosendahl, will include opportunities for cyclists to provide input on what kind of harassment they see and the final report would say whether the law could be changed locally or would require a state fix.

When it was Rosendahl's turn to talk, he outlined the timeline.  First, the LADOT and City Attorneys will meet with cyclists to determine what the major issues are on the streets while drafting a report on where are local opportunities and where are state opportunities.  Next, and perhaps the highlight of the process, will be a February 24 "special" City Council Transportation Committee Hearing that will only deal with bicycling safety issues and will be attended by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.  There will also be a joint hearing between the Transportation and Public Safety Committees to hear the report by the City Attorney and cyclists before the final ordinance is drafted.  Speaking of his goals for the process, Rosendahl stated that "We have to change our culture about bicycling.  We have to work together."

Following the discussion from the Council Members, a score of members of the cycling community spoke about harassment, "hit and runs," and downright ignorance by the LAPD when it comes to enforcing the law. 

One speaker, Ian M., recounted how after being involved in a Hit-and-Run crash, he was able to get the driver's information, but not able to get the LAPD to take a report.  One officer told him he was "biking the wrong way," because he was biking with the flow of traffic and not against it.  As he moved up the chain of command, that logic was abandoned by the police, but officer insisted that no law had been broken despite the car driver assaulting him with a vehicle and fleeing the scene.

Speaking for the LACBC, Aurisha Smolarski urged that the ordinance include training for motorists in how to share the road with motorists and pushes the idea of a "three foot passing law" for motorists.  "In the work place we have anti-harassment law to protect us from sexual harassment.  No LAPD officer needs to be present.  But on the road cyclists have no such right."

After public comment was completed, three more Council Members, Reyes, Anthony Cardenas, LaBonge and Rosendahl spoke.  Reyes noted that the most common response to a cyclist being physically harassed or assaulted on the road is, at-best, indifference from the LAPD and that cyclists deserve more.  Earlier Reyes spoke about the vulnerability of seniors on bicycles, but this time he focused on younger cyclists who bike because it's their only option as "working-poor."

Cardenas asked the City Attorney to clarify that threats of physical harm, be they at someone on a bike or someone at a super market, constitute assault already in our municipal code.  The City Attorney commented that of course it is.  Cardenas also noted that a big reason to push this kind of law is to use it as an educational tool.

Councilman LaBonge pushed for greater cooperation between the LAPD and LADOT on the anti-harassment issue.  He also commented that cyclists are also endanger from "a public works standpoint" because theft of copper wire has left the L.A. River Bikeway to be without lights before Garcetti brought him back to the issue of anti-harassment.  LaBonge joked, "But I was being harassed by the darkness."  He then took a moment to grandstand asking that "Share the Road" signs be replaced with "Watch for Bikes" to cheers from the audience.

Rosendahl wrapped up the discussion with a crowd pleasing closing statement.  "The culture of the car is going to end now!  The purpose of this ordinance is to protect cyclists in a way that they haven't been protected before.  The LAPD hasn't been part of the solution, but sometimes has been part of the problem.  We're going to pass an ordinance that isn't going to be challenged and protects cyclists."

Check Back Here at 2:00 P.M. for updates on the Speed Limit Increases that will be in front of the Transportation Committee this afternoon.

Speed Limit Increases:  At the request of Councilman Paul Krekorian, in who's district the speed limit increases would occur, the two speed limit ordinances for Chandler Boulevard and Riverside Drive were temporarily pulled from the agenda.  As you might remember, Paul Krekorian, when he was an Assemblymember, sponsored legislation that would have allowed communities to control traffic speeds instead of the commuters traveling through the streets.

However, Dorothy Le of the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, Donna Casset, Stephen Box, Jay Goldberg, from the local neighborhood council, and Krekorian himself were permitted to speak against the ordinances.  Because the motions were not passed, there will be another chance to give public comment before a new vote occurs.  Bryan Gallagher, a senior transportation engineer for LADOT's Valley Division, testified that these studies and limit increases are necessary because of state law that requires that limits are set at the eighty-fifth percentile of drivers.  Under questioning from LaBonge, Gallagher gave a revealing look at LADOT traffic programming, when he discussed the theory of "big streets, big traffic; little streets, little traffic."

LaBonge rhetorically asked if "safety is the number one goal, right?"  Gallagher responded that, "Safety is the number one goal, but if studies show that if you set the speed too low, then you're actually increasing accidents."  This caused Councilman Paul Koretz to sarcastically comment that we should just stop enforcing the speed limits altogether if we're just making the streets less safe.