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.