Homeowner’s whose houses abut the future Expo Bike Path have filed suit to force a full environmental review of the bikeway. The lawsuit charges that LADOT and Caltrans didn’t provide a complete view of the bikeway while applying for and granting a Categorical Exclusion (CE), a designation which exempted the project from a full federal environmental review.
Or, in plane English, a group of homeowner’s who don’t want part of their yards used an easement for the Bikeway are doing their best to slow down its construction.
The lawsuit has already had an impact. The state has retracted the CE and LADOT is reworking its environmental documents to meet some of its complaints. LADOT declined to comment for this article, stating only that “The City does not comment on matters under litigation and that LADOT and other agencies involved, hope to work with all concerned stakeholders on this issue.”
Given that construction of the bike path isn’t scheduled until 2011 at the earliest, the long-term impact of this lawsuit could be minimal if LADOT can produce a strengthened environmental report in a timely manner. If the lawsuit is successful and the bike path goes under a full NEPA review, it could kill the bike path because construction costs would increase if the bike path isn’t built at the same time as the light rail.
To earn a categorical exclusion, agencies need to show that a project would have minimal environmental impacts and would be non-controversial. Faced with a lawsuit that challenges everything from the impacts the new pavement would have to the ecosystem to the effects of the new lighting would have on the neighborhood; those basic assumptions are under attack.
The lawsuit also wants traffic studies for the areas where the bike path moves on to the street. The separated bike path along Phase II has a gap between the intersection of Motor Avenue and National Boulevard and the area just North of the I-10. The unhappy homeowners want to know how the plan will be extended into the street and how those bike lanes would effect traffic. The lawsuit could create an interesting precedent. To some, it seems obvious that the LADOT is trying to segment the project so that traffic impacts of the on-street portion of the bike path don’t have to be studied in the environmental process. To others, it could provide a legal basis for more legal challenges to bike lane projects. After all, if a road diet isn’t occurring for the lanes, then any impact to car traffic should be minimal.
Unsurprisingly, the position of locals on the lawsuit seems to depend on how they feel about the Expo Light Rail project. The email that alerted me to the lawsuit grumbled about the role that Neighbors for Smart Rail, the organization fighting against the Expo Line as currently configured, had in getting this lawsuit off the ground. On the other hand, Sarah Hays, one of the co-chairs of Light Rail for Cheviot writes:
…it is outrageous that a few people can block a project that will benefit not only our neighborhood, but the entire city. I have been walking the neighborhood recently, and the majority of the folks I talk to are looking forward to using the Expo Line and the bike path. It gives us a way to take a bike ride with our kids without the fear of being run over on the city streets.
But popularity and politics doesn’t play as strong a roll in court as it does with the Expo Construction Authority. We’ll keep you updated on any further legal developments.