Mayor’s Office Rescues 10% Set-Aside for Bicycling and Pedestrian Projects in Measure R Local Return

As someone who has been pushing hard for a "bicycling and pedestrian set aside" for Measure R funds from before it was called Measure R, I have mixed feelings about yesterday’s City Council Joint Hearing with the Transportation and Budget & Finance Committees.

On one hand, it was gratifying to see the funding guidelines for how the city will spend its share of Measure R local return funds, including the set-aside, move forward to the full Council.  While it’s true the set-aside will be re-debated next year, provided it passes the full Council, that will account for roughly $6.2 million dollars.  If spent correctly, that’s a lot of bike lanes and ADA complaint curb cuts. 

On the other hand, at one point it seemed as though the proposal was going to be turned around to limit the amount of Local Return funds that could be spent on people powered transportation.  Without some timely intervention from the Mayor’s office, what was supposed to be a big day for cyclists and pedestrians could have been a disaster.

For those just joining this discussion, during the debate at the Metro Board on the project list for what would become Measure R in the summer of 2008, bicycling and pedestrian advocates petitioned for a set-aside in the "Local Return" funds for "non-motorized transportation."  While they didn’t get the set-aside, they did get a promise from Mayor Villaraigosa that the City would spend a sizable portion of its local return on bicycling and pedestrian projects.  What followed was a year and a half of hearings and negotiations, led by the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition, with assists from LA Walks and Stephen Box at crucial points, that led to yesterday’s hearing and a future hearing by the City Council.

So what happened?  After a parade of speakers testified in favor of the bicycle and pedestrian set-aside being included in the city’s Measure R spending guidelines, Councilman and Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl voiced his support for the set-aside.  But then a funny thing happened.  Transportation Committee Member and Budget & Finance Committee Chair Bernard Parks spoke against the set-aside, voicing concern that it would hamper the city’s ability to do other projects.  His logic was that if you do the set-aside before making a final plan for how the set-aside would be spent that you might end up wasting funds on less deserving projects just to meet the guidelines.

Parks proposed changing the language to read that "up to 10%" of Measure R local return funds spent by the city could be spent on bicycling and pedestrian projects.  Parks’ proposal would have turned what was supposed o be a guarantee of some funding for bike/ped projects into a limit on what could be spent on these projects instead.  Whatever Parks’ intention, the result would have been a restriction of Measure R funds towards "people powered projects."

Screen_shot_2010_04_19_at_8.12.20_PM.pngCouncilman Greig Smith

Following Parks, Valley Councilman Greig Smith put on a private clinic on how little he knows about transportation funding in the city.  After agreeing with Parks’ position, Smith pushed for someone to tell him what percent of residents are cyclists.  Of course, there’s no bike counts being done by the city.  Smith also didn’t seem to understand that a lot of people are cyclists even if they don’t use their bike every day or even every week.  After the city couldn’t answer his question with anything more than a guess, Smith declared that it was "a lot less than 10%,"  I guess the Councilman has done his own bike counts and is just keeping the numbers secret from the rest of us? Thus the city shouldn’t set aside "10% for this group."

Of course, the 10% is for cyclists and pedestrians leaving us with one of four options for the Councilman’s statement.  He either can’t read, didn’t bother to read the legislation in front of him or listen to the speakers, doesn’t know what a pedestrian is, or just doesn’t care about cyclists so much that he couldn’t hear anything else but "money for bikes."  I’m guessing it’s the second option, but given his efforts to delay an "anti-harassment law" for cyclists, it could be the fourth as well.

Of course, is Smith wants to play the math game, he could declare that if cyclists are only 3% of transportation users, a low estimate for an urban area, than they should receive 3% of all LADOT construction programs.  Or, since 100% of people are pedestrians, that is all the LADOT should support anyway.

Moving on from Smith, Councilman Koretz spoke highly of cycling and told an anecdote about supporting a Council candidate 35 years ago in part because of his bike-friendly views.  He then joked that he didn’t want to be walking into City Hall on his cane in 35 years complaining that he couldn’t bike there because there were no bike lanes.

Still to speak were Councilmen Huizar and LaBonge with a 2-2 declared vote on the set aside.  LaBonge rose to speak and delivered a somewhat muddled speech that seemed to be leaning towards voting for the "limit" language instead of the "set-aside" language.  However, half-way through his testimony, he asked for some expert commentary from LADOT.

The LADOT ducked giving a firm answer. Something to remember the next time LADOT tells you they "want to be more like New York."

Next, LaBonge asked the Mayor’s Office for their opinion, and Jaime de la Vega went to the witness table and delivered an eloquent defense of having a set-aside for bicycling and pedestrian projects.

(The set-aside)

creates a discipline on how you spend money in the future.  This city should spend a disproportionate amount on transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects.

In other words, just like the rest of the Measure R funds, Local Return projects shouldn’t be based on what the city is now, but what the city should be in the future.  Affter de la Vega’s testimony, LaBonge voiced support for the set-aside, and soon Councilman Huizar, who also serves on the Metro Board as a Mayoral Appointee, did too.

While a 4-2 vote seemed assured, Rosendahl did accept an amendment that required that the city revisit the issue of the set-aside after 2011 to make certain that the city is able to spend those funds.  Of course, if the city isn’t spending those funds, it’s not for a lack of projects.  The city could declare that all of the set-aside was going to make sure that every intersection at the city has ADA compliant curb cuts and that would gobble up all of the set-aside even if the city didn’t paint a single inch of bike lanes in the next two years.

That being said, yesterday’s opposition creates uncertainty that the set-aside will pass the full Council.  Eight votes are necessary, and we can assume that there are at least four from today’s vote, but where will the other four come from?  In the past, Richard Alarcon has voted for the set-aside, but so had Councilman Parks.  Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Ed Reyes have supported bicycling projects in their district, but haven’t gone on record in support of this particular piece of legislation.  Councilman Paul Krekorian was a champion for cyclists and pedestrians with his "safe streets" legislation in Sacramento, but hasn’t been put to any test in his Councilmanic district.  The list goes on and on.  With no date yet set advocates are going to have their work cut out to make certain the final version of the Measure R spending plan doesn’t cut out the cyclists and pedestrians that were promised some much needed support 21 months ago.

  • 15% of Measure R is local return, so if all localities in LA County set aside 10% of that 15% that’s only 1.5% of Measure R money going to bike and pedestrian improvements. When you look at it that way, it seems laughably small.

    Also, this shouldn’t be seen as pedestrian/bike funding versus road funding. Pedestrian and bike funding REDUCES wear and tear on roads and reduces traffic by making it more attractive to do something besides drive.

    As far as road funding goes, PLEASE fill in the pot holes on major bus routes! Anybody who rides the bus in LA knows what a bummer this is.

  • Funny that nobody in the City of LA knows how many cyclists there on the streets. Well, maybe not so funny since the city doesn’t count anything other than car trips! It makes it hard for policy makers to know which way to vote when the staff aren’t providing basic information to inform decisions.

    When the much despised Gloria Jeff was at the LADOT a few years ago, she had the department audited twice and published annual reports. It was funny for me to read the Biekways Section’s entries. “Coordinated ongoing technical assistance to advise the committee” is how I’d summarize it.

    No numbers of pedestrians using the streets. No cyclists counts. No death nor injury counts broken down by council district or operations office in the DOT. No list of the most dangerous intersections in the city. Nothing. No data. Except for counts of car trips made in LA in one huge “don’t fuck with us because this is how many people use our car-only network” number.

    When will we have the city or the mayor’s office running counts of non-motorized transportation? When will we have official google maps of traffic deaths and fatalities? We’ve got volunteer organizations trying to fill these huge gaps in basic information and jerks on the council bumbling through their “concerns” about funding bikes and pedestrian projects based on anecdotes about LA more than 50 years old.

  • And by the way, can we start sending thanks and kudos to the mayor’s office for this? This is the green turn-around his reputation needed. Leadership on this will be easy, cheap, and ensure a horde of bike nerds like me will not curse his name at every turn.

  • It’s funny ubrayj, I was actually thinking earlier today that if someone told me a year ago I was going to write two stories in the same day about Villaraigosa (or his deputy mayor) pushing for bike/ped/transit against the forces of highway expansion; I would have thought they were crazy. Here’s hoping that we’re at a tipping point.

  • As for Smith’s comments, the percentage of people who ride bikes nationwide varies according to which study you choose to cite.

    I usually refer to the 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors sponsored by the USDOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which said that 27.3% of all Americans over the age of 16 rode a bike at least once in 2002.

    That figure is likely to be on the low side for today’s Los Angeles, given the recent explosion in the popularity of bicycling and L.A.’s year-round riding conditions. Even if you cite lower the lower figures of 15% – 17% found on the Bikes Belong website, it’s a lot more than the “less than 10%” that Smith claims.

    Maybe instead of making invalid assumptions, he should ask one of his aides to consult Google first.

    Then again, I’d be more than happy to sacrifice part of that 10% to fund a study that would provide an accurate count of biking and pedestrian behavior in Los Angeles, so we wouldn’t have to deal with the uninformed observations of carhead council members the next time this comes up.

  • Ted,

    Maybe this would be a nice mini-project for the League of Bike Voters?

    With the mayor’s support, we’re likely to get a bunch of Villaraigosa-dependent councilmembers’ “Aye” votes.

    Likely Yes Votes:
    Reyes
    Garcetti
    Rosendahl
    Huizar
    Koretz

    That’s 5 yes votes we can likely count on. We’ll need 3 more to put us over the top.

    Potential Yes Votes:
    Alarcon
    Hahn
    Cardenas
    LaBonge
    Wesson
    Perry

    That’s 6 other legislators that we need to scrape 3 votes off of. Several of them have made rather strong commitments to safety and livability, or are looking to have something of a legacy once they term out.

    Perhaps someone out there in bicycle advocacy land (LACBC? CICLE? League of Bike Voters? Bikeside?) can arrange a meeting with the councilmembers above and make the case to their staff, promise undying support for their future political causes, and bribe them with happy fun talk about how great a given politician is from their blog and social media profile, and those of their friends.

  • Roadblock

    Umberto I love the sound of your online voice…. Come here you sexy beast gimme a hug…..

    EVERY bike group should be working on calling council members.

    And what’s up with Parks and his sneaky attempt to add language that would cap ( “up to” ) the funds. Not very bike friendly!

  • As a point of clarity, I did want to add that Council member Alarcon was actually the council member who initiated the motion verbally and should be credited with being a long time supporter of this 10% set-aside for bikes/peds. At yesterday’s meeting, he presented an official letter again stating this position, thus putting him in the Yes vote category.

  • and..LACBC is planning on setting up meetings with some of the councilmembers mentioned above to ensure we have have more definite support for this set-aside as well as Smith and Parks, who obviously need some education.

  • Councilman Alarcon is the originator of the motion to commit funds to cyclists & peds. He is definitely a “yes” vote on the 10%.

  • Councilman Krekorian is the originator of the Safe Streets Bill. He’s a “yes” vote on the 10%.

  • Shoot, all we need is one more vote!

    Those that are in the “Yes” column need to know that we will remember this, and thank them accordingly.

    This funding needs to be used for the phased construction of projects, lest it turn into yet another slush fund for various departments and groups within the LADOT. That is, the Back Bone now has 30 years of funding. Sidewalk repair now has 30 years of funding. Cyclist and pedestrian counts now have 30 years of funding. This money, leveraged with the approx $6 to $7 million that is bike/ped specific amounts to A LOT of money. No more LA City employee van pools, no more millions thrown at the Environmental Affairs Department (thank God they’re gone).

    One more vote needed and someone needs to get in a suit and present a thank you card to the legislators who will vote yes on this. We need a congratulatory ride and fundraiser (for some noble cause) with awards to be presented to the council members.

    One more vote!

    People to call:
    Hahn
    Cardenas
    LaBonge
    Wesson
    Perry

  • LaBonge voted for the motion on Monday. If we assume Krekorian and Alarcon are yes’s, well that makes it hard to picture this not passing.

    Also, the mayor has already set aside 5% for each in next year’s budget.

  • 15 votes, but can we guarantee it when it gets to the full council?

    There needs to be a celebratory bike ride/walkathon once this money gets locked in. Combined with the Mobile Point Source Reduction Fund; the Local Transportation Fund; and a few other places and we’re looking at a chunk of dedicated bike and pedestrian money that can really do some good.

  • Jim

    Make sure these yes votes get recorded – another great step forward for cycling

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