Local Return in L.A.: Bike Racks, Bike Lanes, and a Better Plan for Safe Routes to School

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation, LADOT, has released it’s report on how it plans to spend the portion of the Measure R Local Return funds that were “set-aside” for bicycle and pedestrian programs.  You may remember that during debate on whether or not bicyclists and pedestrian safety projects deserved a set-aside some Council Members, notably Bernard Parks and Greig Smith, were worried that there wouldn’t be enough projects to meet the set-aside.

Well, that debate can be put to rest.

The bicycle program will receive an infusion of roughly $2.675 million dollars that will go towards bicycle lanes, sharrows, bike parking and bike friendly streets throughout the city.  Every Council District will see some sort of improvement from the Measure R cash.  A portion of those funds, less than 9%, will be used for staff hours, but overall the funds are being spent on new projects that will go on the ground.  Pages 4 and 5 of the linked report contain a list of the projects.

But where things get really exciting is the pedestrian component.

In addition to improving intersections and transit stops, the city is putting aside just less than half of the pedestrian funds for Phase I of a two-year study of access to our schools for students on bike and on foot.  For those not familiar with the history of Los Angeles’ Safe Routes to School program, this might seem a disappointment.  However, the city has consistently under-performed when seeking state and federal grants from the “Safe Routes to School” programs because the city’s applications seemed to be more about politics than what schools were most in need of help.

By committing to a city-wide study, the LADOT is reversing course and embracing progressive transportation over politics.  In the past, LADOT had tried to excerpt political pressure to earn funding for applications that were less deserving than others so that Safe Route’s dollars would be spread out geographically.  This study proposes that the City use data, such as collision rates, to identify where prioritize efforts and give a strategic plan for supporting city-wide students walking and bicycling to school.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl has been pushing for a strategic plan since his appointment as Transportation Committee Chair in 2009, “When it comes to transportation improvements, it’s all too common how the City employs an ad-hoc strategy. A Safe Routes strategic plan moves the City to a data driven process that will target  comprehensive improvements at schools most in need.  A strategic vision for getting kids to-and-from school by bicycle or walking will not only mean safer, healthier communities but also make the City far more competitive in winning transportation grant dollars.”

The City of Los Angeles makes up 10% of the state’s population, and 11% of its school-age children.  Yet, the city traditionally receives about 5-7% of Safe Routes to School’s funding.  Hopefully, this study can begin to reverse this trend.

“LADOT is excited to be a part of a strategic, data-driven plan that will map out “Safe Routes To School” projects in Los Angeles neighborhoods,” explains Pauline Chan, LADOT’s Senior Transportation Engineer for City-wide Traffic Safety Programs.

In testimony delivered late last year, Safe Routes to School’s National Partnership’s Jessica Meaney made the case for a data-driven Safe Routes to School’s Plan.  “A data driven – safety plan for LA’s school kids to walk and bike to school – would be a tremendous move for the City of LA to make – on so many levels. I recognize it would be challenging and complex – but I do believe there is a way the City could develop a meaningful and effective program.”

But there are some concerns with LADOT’s overall proposal.  Advocates note that the study is to be overseen by a “Pedestrian Coordinator” a position which isn’t funded using Measure R or any other dollars at this point.

“Our concern is that in the summary it talks about the pedestrian advisory coordinator, but has no staff dollars for the program,” explains Deborah Murphy, the founder of L.A. Walks and the Chair of the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee,  “They should reallocate some funds from the transit stop enhancements for the pedestrian coordinator.  They can’t just propose to have the pedestrian coordinator later.”

As mentioned earlier, Streetsblog will live tweet the meeting tomorrow at 2:00 P.M. and will follow-up with a larger story on Thursday.