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.