Last Friday, the LADOT responded to criticism of the city’s plan to commit to environmental review many of the projects outlined in the Bike Plan. However, their response, and release of the first batch of projects that will be stalled while a review is completed, have created more anger and confusion than anything else. Despite the assertions from City Planner Jane Choi on the Bike Blog and Claire Bowen on Streetsblog, most cyclists see this review as a waste of time.
Of particular concern is the idea of grouping together packages of bicycle projects to be reviewed at once instead of letting every project go through what could be a quick environmental review on its own. Choi defends that decision by pointing to the EIR for the San Francisco Bike Plan, but her explanation is causing more criticism than not:
San Francisco’s Bicycle Plan EIR cleared 30 miles of new lane projects for implementation. Each package will be limited to a similar size in terms of mileage due to cost, funding and feasibility. The draft proposed Package 1 has about 45 miles of streets.
“This is exactly the battle we fought to keep a mandated-stricter-review-standard out of the bike plan.” responded Joe Linton. “It’s like a zombie back from the dead.” Linton is referring to the battle at the City Planning Commission to get language removed that required the grouping of bicycle projects together to be reviewed. Back in November of last year, Linton wrote about the importance of this language change:
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.
Others see this not as a test of bike plan projects, but as a way to avoid working on projects that could prove controversial. “This is how bureaucrats test to see who has the most pull and who is willing to fight them all the way with this stuff.” wrote Josef Bray-Ali, a former City Staffer, founder of the Bike Oven and proprietor of the Flying Pigeon Bike Shop.
But if sending bike projects is a political calculation, and not a project delivery one, then Planning Staff may be miscalculating. One advocate, who asked for anonymity, wrote, “The whole time the bike plan was passing through council they (staff) were so nervous that it wouldn’t pass, and it went through unanimously.”
Pushing the environmental review may actually create more political problems for city agencies, reporting on the City’s Budget meetings, Stephen Box writes about an exchange between Budget Chair Bernard Parks and city staff. “LADOT got taken to task tonight (Thursday) by Parks in the Budget Hearings for using Measure R money for staffing instead of actual projects. Knowing that the LADOT is having a hard time actually spending the money and that the City Council is asking the hard questions, it’s time to dispense with the financial limitations argument that LADOT always puts forward and to demand that the Measure R money actually get put to work.”
Meanwhile, groups such as the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Bikeside are working behind the scenes to advocate for a streamlined environmental process for these projects, one that won’t take at least a year and begin in the fall. But their goal might be larger than just getting plans through the system.
Speaking if CEQA, Alexis Lantz from the LACBC writes, “We need to change the city’s threshold guidelines… and that goes beyond these projects and this issue – but I see it being the larger obstacle that must be challenged and changed in order to get these projects done easier and more cost effectively.”
As advocates jockey to change the city’s mind on sending bike projects through a review, it’s getting clearer and clearer that the Honeymoon between cyclists and the city might be coming to an end.