Council Moves Anti-Harassment Ordinance, Safe Routes to School Plan

Richard Alarcon and Telfair Elementary School children try out the new Smart Crosswalk in 2007.

“We’re in the same place with pedestrian planning that we were on bicycle planning 15 years ago, and that’s nowhere.”  With that strong opening statement, Bill Rosendahl kicked off discussion of a proposal that the city create a data-driven plan for Los Angeles’ Safe Streets to Schools Program.

For those not familiar, the city applies for funds from the state and federal government to make it safe and attractive for children to walk and bike to school.  For years, the program has underperformed, netting around half the dollars it would expect based on population.  Advocates have pointed to lackluster applications and a politically driven process to create the applications as reasons for Los Angeles’ mediocre showing.  With the creation of a Safe Routes to School’s “Master Plan” over the next two years, funded by Measure R dollars, that could finally change.

In addition to a unanimous vote from the three present Council Members, the study received the endorsement of L.A. Walks, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Transportation 4 America, Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic and the Sierra Club.

After the vote, Councilman Richard Alarcon took the floor to respond to some comments about how easy it is for students to walk or bike to school that, in his mind, seemed to blame parents.  We should note that Alarcon lost his three year old son to a car crash over two decades ago, and has a three year old daughter right now.  Knowing how much I worry about my son’s safety when he’s in my bike, I can only imagine how Alarcon feels every time his daughter travels anywhere.

“When I was a kid I spent a lot of time on my bicycle, because my parents were divorced and they lived three miles apart,” Alarcon began. “I wouldn’t have my kid do what I did 40 years ago.  It’s just not safe, and we’re not ready.”

In addition to this Safe Routes to School Plan, Alarcon called for more safety training, more investment in infrastructure and more education of drives.  However, he also found a carte-blanch call for more parents to send their kids to school via bicycle a dangerous one.

“Three kids, with parental supervision, can’t cross the street without being killed,” Alarcon continued, referencing the February 11th death of Maria Pena in a hit and run crash. “We shouldn’t suggest to parents that they should put their kids on their bike to get to school.”  Instead, he continued, we should encourage parents to investigate different routes to schools, and decide for themselves what works best.

Alarcon ended his unusually long statement by calling the Safe Routes Study an “encouragement to do more” and “a chance to ween ourselves a little more off the automobile.”

Alarcon’s statement was emblematic of the challenges Safe Routes to School’s advocates face.  Alarcon has a strong record supporting safe transportation options, especially for school students, yet is still scared to let his own kid walk or bike a half mile to school.  That being said, the Councilman hopes that conditions on the ground change so that he will be comfortable with his daughter walking or biking, “without getting hit by a car or getting driven off the road.”

In other words, the city can plan all the infrastructure they want to, if unsafe driving and road rage are still considered common place, parents will continue to buckle their students into their cars instead of giving them the opportunity to get themselves to the classroom.

The city has a long way to go to make our streets safe for children.  At least now there’s a “plan to make a plan” to figure out how best to do that.

The Council Committee also quickly passed the “anti-harassment ordinance” for cyclists on to the full Council.  The LADOT Bike Blog promises full coverage of that portion of the meeting “coming soon.”  In short, bike lawyer Ross Hirsch and Jeff Jacoburger and Jay Slater from the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee all testified and supported the proposal with a few suggested changes to the language clarifying what “harassment” means and how to asses fines to drivers found guilty of violating the new ordinance.

I think most Streetsblog readers are familiar with the three years of advocacy that went in to the “bike/ped set aside” and the “anti-harassment ordinance,” but credit goes to the LACBC’s Alexis Lantz and Aurisha Smolarski, LA Walks’ Deborah Murphy and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s Jessica Meaney for working with LADOT and Councilman Rosendahl’s Office for making the idea of a Safe Routes Master Plan a reality.