(Note: We’re just covering yesterday’s hearing in this article. For more on the actual content of the plan, click here.)
Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council held a joint hearing of the Transportation Committee and the Planning and Land Use (PLUM) Committee to discuss the city’s Draft Bike Plan. By the end of the hearing, which lasted well over two hours, the Committees had sent the plan to the full Council for final approval along with a five-year work plan and a schedule for City Planning and LADOT to update the Council on the plan’s progress every three months.
But it wasn’t always easy.
Seven Councilmen sat in the main chambers, Richard Alarcon, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Tom LaBonge, Bernard Parks, Ed Reyes, and Bill Rosendahl. All of the Councilmen were supportive of the plan in general terms. After testimony from Alex Thompson wondering why Sepulveda, a critical North-South route with poor conditions for cyclists, wasn’t in the top ten projects to be completed, Rosendahl became the only Council Member to call for any specific changes in plans for his District.
Also present were LADOT Acting General Manager Amir Sedadi and Planning General Manager Michael LoGrande. Sedadi didn’t mince words, calling the hearing a “Historic moment in the City of Los Angeles.” With the exception of staff’s insistence that a plan to extend the Beach Bike Path through Venice not be included in the Final Bike Plan, it would be difficult to tell who was an advocate and who was a staffer. Even LADOT Senior Bikeways Coordinator Michelle Mowery, who was once the spokesperson for those not wanting to see the Backbone Bikeway Network be a large part of the plan, referred to the Draft Plan, backbone and all, as “the most fabulous plan I could have dreamed of.”
The bulk of the testimony came from cyclists who were happy, if tired, after three years of meetings and public comment. It seemed another kumbaya moment for the long fractured bike advocacy community as representatives from Bikeside, the LACBC, the BAC all sang from the same hymnal and another dozen unaffiliated cyclists praised the plan’s passage.
However, the bulk of the debate by the Councilmen was over a provision in Chapter 3 of the Draft Plan that calls for further study of a way for mountain bicycles and equestrians to coexist on the city’s mountain paths. This is apparently cause for outrage amongst the city’s equestrian community, and reason for a lengthy debate that had little to do with the rest of the plan or with making life better for the city’s “transportation cyclists.”
Wearing a cowboy hat, Dale Gibson, the chair of the equine advisory committee, argued that mountain biking should be excluded from the plan because “it’s a recreation issue, not a transportation issue.” Later, Mary Kaufman with the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council argued that excluding mountain biking from the plan was a public safety issue because of the mixed use nature of the trails. However, that testimony supports staff’s position that the city has an obligation to figure out a way to provide safe mountain cycling because it doesn’t have the manpower to enforce a ban and cyclists are already unsafely using the trail.
Lynne Brown, of National Trails Incorporated, took the same information and argued the opposite angle. If the city allows cyclists to use trails not designed for them, it opens the city to liability it doesn’t face while cyclists “poach” those trails today.
Most of the debate between the Council Members was about the Mountain Biking v Equestrian issue. The most vocal defender of the equestrians was Councilman Alarcon who chastised Councilman Koretz for making a joke about “horsing around” because this is a very serious issue. However, the Council seemed utterly unable to grasp that the solution that Planning seemed most comfortable with, separate trails for mountain bikers and equestrians, should address the concerns of those worried about bike access to our city’s parks and about safety issues involving bike/horse conflicts.
There was also a debate about extending the beach bicycle path through Venice as discussed on Streetsblog yesterday. Despite an impassioned plea from Jim Kennedy, with more support added by Thompson, a motion by Councilman Alarcon to include the project in the plan failed to get a second Councilman’s support so it didn’t even get to a vote.
Also not getting a “second” was a motion by Councilman LaBonge that would ban any plan to create mixed use trails for cyclists and equestrians to use. For awhile the Councilman seemed to believe he could amend the plan himself. When he was assured he could not, he seemed shocked that nobody else would second the motion. Later, some face saving language was added to the plan asking City Planning to come up with a compromise solution that works for cyclists and equestrians.
In the end, the plan was moved and most two-wheeled advocates left the room happy. However, there was one dark cloud on the horizon. One equestrian noted that the horse riders have hired an attorney. Thompson reports that their attorney is a CEQA specialist named Doug Carstens.
Some of the equestrians claim to be representing the local Sierra Club which could create an “only in Los Angeles” moment if a lawsuit actually came to fruition. Only in L.A. could you see the Sierra Club sue the city over a popular bike plan…