Following his bike crash and broken elbow, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vowed to hold a "Bike Summit" to talk speak with cyclists about ways to make the city safer for bicycling. Yesterday, the Mayor made good on his promise, announcing that the Summit will take place at 9:00 A.M. in the Metro Board Room on Monday, August 16. Villaraigosa sounded an upbeat note in his press release announcing the Summit:
“Let’s get together and talk about what we need to do to make the streets safer for cyclists,” said Mayor Villaraigosa. “Whether you depend on your bike for commuting or just take it out for fun, I invite you to come to the Bike Summit to talk about your experiences and learn about what we’re doing in Los Angeles to make streets safer for everyone.”
Many cyclists are taking a cautiously optimistic tone about the event, but others are concerned the Mayor is using cyclists as a prop and still doesn’t know or understand the issues regular cyclists face on our street. For example, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition saw the sunny-side of the announcement, while Bikeside labeled the Summit a triple failure. Speaking for the LACBC, Aurisha Smolarski writes:
LACBC appreciates the Mayor’s newest initiative to focus on the needs of Los Angeles cyclists. We see the Summit as a way to provide the Mayor with ideas on how to quickly create safer streets. We would like the Mayor to walk away from from his bike summit with concrete action items and a clear commitment to directing the LADOT and other city departments to better work with and for bicyclists. Overall we hope the Summit is the first step in the Mayor taking leadership for creating a more bike-friendly Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Bikeside noted that there are some pretty big issues to be concerned about with the timing, content and even title of the Summit.
A 9:00 A.M. Monday morning in August doesn’t seem to be the best time to bring out a crowd for a Summit. While this may be one of the few times the Mayor had a hole in his schedule, a first-thing-in-the-morning Monday meeting already sets a tone that this isn’t a major issue in the Mayor’s office…broken elbow or not. However, the CicLAvia blog argues that even if cyclists can’t set the time and place for the Summit, it’s still a chance to show the Mayor and every other decision maker in the city how organized and enthusiastic the cycling community can be. I’m guessing that CicLAvia is hoping that the Mayor would, I don’t know, finally officially announce the date for CicLAvia?
Of course, one reason for the odd timing of the meeting, might be that it was the only way to wrangle the schedule of the leaders of the LADOT, Bureau of Street Services, City Planning, LAPD, etc… If that’s the case, the Mayor’s Office should release a list of who will be attending. Also, if you’re asking a community to give up the start of its work week for a summit, it would speak volumes about the Mayor’s commitment if he managed to stay for the entire two hours.
A second issue has to do with the content and organization of the Summit. In their press statement, Bikeside charges that the Mayor’s office hadn’t reached out to cyclists, even the city’s official Bicycling Advisory Committee, about the event. LABAC Chair Glenn Bailey confirmed that he hadn’t received any details on the Summit until it was publicly announced. Similarly, moments before the Mayor’s release hit the wires another member emailed me to see if I had any details on the Summit because he hadn’t heard anything since the announcement last week that there would be a summit. Bailey did note that the Summit will be discussed at next week’s re-scheduled BAC meeting. Bailey is the Mayor’s appointment to the BAC. It should also be noted that when the city released the Draft Bike Plan in 2009, it did so without the input of its official advisory committee and was roundly criticized.
Of course, a lack of cyclist input and involvement into the agenda, leads to major concerns about what it is that is going to be discussed. Bikeside’s president, Alex Thompson, makes the point that the Mayor’s announcement pushes infrastructure improvements as the cure to what ills the city despite the fact that his crash was caused by a negligent driver. All the infrastructure in the world can’t protect a cyclist from a driver that doesn’t care enough about safety to notice a mayor surrounded by LAPD officers cycling down the street. Thompson writes:
The mayor was hit in the Venice Bl bike lane. Actually, the mayor was
hit in the Venice Bl. bike lane while protected by his LAPD security
detail. Yet the mayor puts forward, above all, building bikeways as a
solution. If mayors with police security details are getting clobbered
in bike lanes, building bikeways isn’t going to do the trick. We need
education and enforcement. We need a real educational program, and we
need additional funding for LAPD enforcement activities related to
cycling. Above all, we need more walk and less talk. Less bike talking
with the mayor, more of the mayor walking into council with bike
Another cyclist, who wished to remain anonymous, echoed Thompson’s point about educating drivers about rights and cyclists about safe cycling should be the focus of the summit, not infrastructure improvements:
Infrastructural improvements? The Mayor was riding in a Bike Lane but
was quoted as saying his security was to the left to protect him from
traffic. The Mayor had LAPD support. He rode close to the right where he
thought he would be safe. EDUCATION should be the focus. The Mayor has
already discredited the participation of the LAPD by declaring that the
Taxi Cab operator did nothing wrong. The Mayor was wrong and he has
demonstrated that EDUCATION is the key, starting with the Mayor.
Bailey, after welcoming the Mayor’s focus on cycling, also expresses an impatience with the pace of improvements for cyclists and calls on the Mayor to make some changes in the way City Hall operates. Unlike the two cyclists just listed, Bailey wants to see more infrastructure on the street:
But the time for more "talk" has long since
passed. The Mayor needs to immediately direct all responsible City departments to do
their jobs and fully implement the adopted 1996 Bicycle Plan. They
need to report at the "Bike Summit" in detail what they will be doing
during the next month and the year ahead to
comply with the existing plan and the pending 2010 plan requirements. Because in the past, the , as an example, has been installing peak hour lanes on the
very streets the current Bicycle Plan designated for bicycle lanes.
Needless to say, the bike lanes were never installed.
Meanwhile, Joe Linton had three specific suggestions for things the Mayor can do right now to make the city a safer and better place for cyclists:
1. Release the Full Draft Bike Plan: The draft
bike plan that the mayor’s YouTube stated "the Planning Department is
putting the finishing touches on" should actually be released in advance
of the summit. The plan is incomplete without the listing of
facilities. If it remains sloppy and non-committal, bicyclists aren’t
going to support it, and it’s going to drag out for a long time.
2. Implement the Approved Bike Lanes in Downtown L.A.:
Last year, the city approved Downtown bike lanes on 7th, 2nd/Glendale,
Figueroa and Flower. These are easy, very cheap, already approved,
high-visibility projects that should be implemented by the end of this
year. The city is mainly implementing bike projects in the Valley
lately, the mayor should work with the LADOT to implement inexpensive
bike projects in population-dense places where Angelinos already ride
3. Visibly and Vocally get behind CicLAvia:
Mayoral staff, along with LADOT and LAPD, have been very supportive of
CicLAvia scheduled for 10/10/10 – another very cheap project that can be
done this year! I would urge the mayor to be more vocal about his
commitment to CicLAvia. It would be great if he could promote it in
places like youtube, press releases, press conferences, and other media
appearances – especially Spanish-language media.
What’s in a Name?
One last issue is the name of the event, "The Bike Summit." I remember advocates and Occicdental College holding a "Bike Summit" in March of 2009. When I called Linton about the appropriation of the name, he laughed it off. His theory was that advocates should be happy the city is co-opting the language used to promote past events. Besides, he informed me that the Bike Coalition held Bike Summits in 2000 and 2001 and before that a group called "Bike Expo" had held similarly named events in the city.