L.A. Planning Commission Supports Bikes, Delays Plan

Tired but happy, bike advocates and planning commissioners take a moment for a group shot after a marathon meeting of the Planning Commission.  Photo:
Tired but happy, bike advocates and planning commissioners take a moment for a group shot after a marathon meeting of the Planning Commission. Photo:Mark Didia

In a marathon meeting yesterday, the City Planning Commission sided with an unusually cohesive pack of Los Angeles bike advocates and decided not to approve the city’s draft bike plan. The commission voted to continue (delay) the bike plan decision until their December 16th meeting, directing staff to work with commissioners to continue to improve the plan.

The City Planning Commission meeting began at 8:30am, though the bike plan item wasn’t heard until around 12:30pm, and not resolved until just after 4pm. The long wait time led to quite a bit of caucusing in the hallways. These negotiations led to City Planning Department staff making quite a few significant plan modifications. There was a long list of last-minute changes, posted in hard-copy and described verbally. The details need to be confirmed (and sometimes the devil is in those details), but, verbally, City Planning’s Claire Bowin reported that they included:

  • Strengthened commitment to more robust bicycle boulevards, though still called “bike-friendly streets.” When the draft plan was released earlier this year, the bicycle boulevard minimum appeared indistinguishable from bike routes; at a minimum they could have included merely signage and no other features. City planning staff later upped this to two features. Yesterday morning the ante was upped to three features of the following five: signage, sharrows, intersection treatments, traffic calming, and diverters.
  • Changing the minimum car/travel lane width from 11 feet to 10 feet. This reaffirms current city policy, and makes more bike lanes feasible.
  • Modifying project prioritization criteria (and a planned new draft of the 5-year Implementation Plan – which wasn’t on the table today, but received plenty of mentions) to favor implementation of projects in low-income areas.
  • Removing the distinction between the plan’s “proposed” and “potential” bike lanes, and deleting references to “required” CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act.) review.  This is actually a very significant change. Instead of the plan dictating a requirement for time-consuming review on all 500+ bike lanes in the “potential” category, these projects can now be reviewed individually, with the easier ones now cheap and quick and the more difficult ones possibly necessitating additional expensive review. The amount of review will be dictated by project specifics, not by heavy-handed clumping. Cyclists will still need to push for these projects and generate support for them. L.A.’s livable street advocates will need to keep their focus on the Department of Transportation (LADOT) which will, lane by lane, determine when more or less rigorous review is needed. The current LADOT practice, though not visionary, is much more affirming of bike lanes than the standard that had been embedded in the draft plan. The LADOT has implemented road diet projects (car/travel lane removal for bike lane implementation) on Myra, Wilbur, Hoover and elsewhere.
  • Focusing a revised 5-year Implementation Plan on streets only, with the city’s bike-dedicated portion of Measure R funding directed to street projects only.  (as mentioned above, the 5-year plan was alluded to repeatedly, but no revised version has been released to the public yet.) The city will continue to construct bike paths, but given these projects’ reliance on separate (grant) funding, they will be tracked separately from the 5-year plan.

This last-moment flurry of steps in the right direction met with an activated bicycle community whose battle lines were already drawn.

Though Planning and LADOT staff sounded a few wrong notes (including calling bicyclists an “undeground constituency”), they did respectfully acknowledge the importance of L.A.’s bicyclists in shaping and reshaping the plan. For the first time, planning staff acknowledged that the Bike Working Group’s Backbone Bikeway Network was indeed “the genesis of the Citywide Bikeway Network” in the plan.

More than 20 stalwart cyclists, from Bikesiders to LACBCers (factions of L.A.’s bike community that… let’s just say… don’t always agree), took the stand to decry aspects of the draft plan. Also assembled and testifying were folks from Midnight Ridazz, the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, C.I.C.L.E., the Valley Bikery, the Bicycle Kitchen, Pacoima Beautiful, and individual cyclists. Also commenting were equestrian and park advocates concerned about off-road moutain bike use in L.A. City parks.

Members of the Planning Commission listened to bicyclists’ concerns, and expressed a great deal of interest in a plan that would have “teeth” in making L.A. more bike friendly. The Villaraigosa-appointed City Planning Commission has been a very progressive force in supporting livable urbanism, including pushing the Planning Department in its struggle to shift from perpetuating a car-centric past to midwifing L.A.’s multi-modal future.

Late in the day, with multiple issues unresolved, the commission (tired from 8 hours of meeting) questioned senior Planning staff (tired from a year spent re-tooling the bike plan) and ultimately affirmed the concerns of assembled cyclists (tired from years spent watchdogging the bike plan process.)

While there’s still work to be done – for the commission, staff, and bicyclists – yesterday’s continuance marks an important victory. Cyclists flexed political muscles. Commissioners trusted and supported cyclists pleas for a better plan. Bike-sympathetic Planning staff respectfully brokered compromises and fixed flaws. The draft plan on the table jerked a few significant steps toward respectability.

City Staff, commissioners, cyclists and indeed all Angelenos look forward to a revised bike plan being approved by the City Planning Commission, hopefully in December… and the fruits of that plan ripening on the streets of Los Angeles.

17 thoughts on L.A. Planning Commission Supports Bikes, Delays Plan

  1. Though contentious and stressful at times, we are pretty happy with the results of the meeting. These things are born out of conflict and compromise; it’s how the sausage gets made. But when it’s all said and done, we think the revised plan that’ll go before CPC in December will be a good one.

  2. The article states that changes included “Removing the distinction between the plan’s “proposed” and “potential” bike lanes, and deleting references to “required” CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act.) review.”

    That’s great! I wouldn’t mind a city-wide EIR getting done for the overall plan, since it could be another opportunity to further improve and refine the bike plan, if LADOT has the money for it. But requiring and EIR for every bike lane is ridiculous and not necessary. LADOT should start putting in bike lanes now, as streets are repaved or re-painted, while working on futher reviews if necessary.

    Legally, LADOT has every right to put in bike lanes if they fit the new bike plan and are listed, and they are cheap. Look at what New York has done in a few short years.

    LADOT should also include some plans in the 5-year plan to “study” protected on-street bike paths (by moving over the parking, or putting in “temporary” paint and plastic bollards), as done in New York on multiple avenues and Broadway, and in San Francisco on Market. The plan should be to later upgrade them to more permanent bikeways, with curbs, planters, bike signals, etc. This is also what Long Beach is doing downtown on Broadway and 3rd (construction to start any day now), and with the Bike Boulevard on Vista.

    We need to see some changes NOW, to prove that LADOT is serious about making Los Angeles safe for bikes.

  3. Great job. The pie definitely wasn’t fully baked and extra time in the oven will no doubt yield a much better dessert.

  4. Thank you to all those who continue to fight for this year in and year out. And thanks also for not agreeing just because “we’re on the same side”, but still coming together when a unified front moves the ball more than fighting for perfection. It’s too bad so few have to do most of the heavy lifting on this, but know that a LOT of people out there are watching and appreciate your efforts.

  5. I hope that in the Measurement section of the plan, there is some sort of reporting schedule created to track progress of the plan and measure its success or failure at quarterly or monthly intervals. More generally, we ought to have road performance (crashes, noise, modal use, etc) on a more regular basis.

    The bike parking segments were pretty darn weak, or simply MIA when it came to private property requirements. Private property owners should be able to swap a large percentage of their required car parking for quality bike parking. It would help spur development (on a small scale) in this slow economy, and it would create a larger body of citizen cyclists.

    And one more thing, there is a portion of LAMC that prohibits the riding of passengers on a bicycle other than on a seat afixed to the rear of the person doing the pedaling. This is dumb! My shop is filled with bikes that allow a rider to safely carry passengers in front. A revision of this portion of the code should be part of the passage of the Bike Plan. Repeal LAMC 80.27!

  6. Don’t forget the Bikerowave!

    We really all came together yesterday and got the message across. It was a beautiful thing.

  7. The majority of bicycles driven on our Los Angeles City streets are for recreational use. So if road bicycles are categorized under a Chapter of the Transportation Element in the LA Bike Plan, then mountain bikes should also be categorized and treated the same. Please do not remove mountain bikes from the LA Bike Plan. I’m also disappointed in the anti mountain bike tone of the plan and the weight given to unsupported and incorrect information from the equestrian and hiking communities. By adding exaggerated claims on safety and the environment to the plan, the equestrians and a small number of hikers from the Sierra Club have spread misinformation and fear. The safety issue about mountain biking in Griffith Park is a “red herring” to lead the debate away from the fact that the equestrians and hikers don’t want to share the trails. Mountain Bikers, equestrians and hikers currently share over 100 miles of multi-use off-road trails in LA County. These trails function safely for all three user groups. The fact that all three groups already coexist on County, State and Federal trails only proves that the equestrians and hikers believe that they have an entitlement to the existing trails because they were here first. This false claim is both selfish and elitist, especially when the LA Bike Plan has been modified to prioritize and favor implementation of projects in low-income areas. The equestrians and hikers do not have the right to deny the use of Griffith Park by at-risk young people who live in the neighborhood adjacent to the Park. Especially when the mountain bike community is growing at the same time that the equestrian community is shrinking.

  8. @Johnathan Kaye:

    “The majority of bicycles driven on our Los Angeles City streets are for recreational use.”

    Care to elaborate on the methodology you are using to draw that sweeping conclusion?

  9. “…pushing the Planning Department in its struggle to shift from perpetuating a car-centric past to midwifing L.A.’s multi-modal future…..”
    You’ve outdone yourself with this little gem!

    We all owe a debt of gratitude to cyclists who braved the long, interminably long, meeting. Kudos for sticking it out and caucusing in the hallways. As we know with City Hall, little happens in the meeting; much happens in the halls. Thanks again for keeping on keeping on.

  10. @angle By standing at the corner of Sunset and PCH and counting more bikes than you can. Not trying to crush your beliefs… just my observation – by me – for me.

  11. @Jonathan Kaye – Generalizing about the entire city of Los Angeles based on observations at Sunset and PCH would yield a lot of misconceptions about wealth, race, housing, transit, climate, bicycle usage, etc. I hear some folks drive for recreation – probably more on PCH than many L.A. locations.

    It’s true that plenty of folks bike purely for recreation… but I think there isn’t a clear dividing line between recreation and transportation. If I ride to get to a meeting and I enjoy the ride and I get fitter and healthier from it, is that recreation or transportation? or both?

    From my anecdotal observations living in Koreatown and biking around Los Angeles, I’d guess that the majority of cyclists (of the ones that I personally observe) ride primarily for transportation. I wouldn’t go so far as to make a bald assertion that my local observation is definitive for the entire city… I would want to find data to back up those sorts of statements.

  12. @Joe Linton The issue of proportion is how you see it. The important thing is that more people ride. What do you think of the fact that riding off-road in the LA City Parks is against the law and not in State and National Parks?

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