Cyclists, City at Odds Over Bike Plan Implementation

To read the full list of "Package 1" projects, click on the image.

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.

  • Eric B

    Alexis is spot-on. As long as the City’s CEQA guidelines include thresholds that say that removing any parking or reducing auto LOS (even if multi-modal LOS increases) is considered a significant impact, the Planning Department’s hands are tied.

    We need to define a third way between “no environmental review” and “study to death.” That third way is to set reasonable thresholds wherein not every parking space is sacred and any decrease in vehicle speed is not necessarily an impact. All projects go through environmental review. The hope is that we can shift the point at which a bike lane goes from neg-dec to MND or from MND to EIR. Doing so complies with CEQA, but decreases review costs and delays.

    The alternative is to completely gut CEQA. While I’m sure many Republicans would agree with that approach, I don’t think too many readers of this blog would.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for keeping the City’s feet to the fire on this Damien. Now that we’ve got the “best laid plans” in place, it’s all about follow through.

  • Despite mayor and council support, and rhetorical support from LADOT and LADCP, it seems clear that the city would rather excessive amounts of money to delay, instead of actually spending funds on implementation… and these environmental studies are an order of magnitude more expensive than the striping itself. (And after studying, the city can say that their studies show that these projects should not proceed – so we may spend excessive time and money and end up with no facilities at the end of the day.)

    It’s astonishing that the city of L.A. hides behind SF – the city of L.A.’s projects are tepid in comparison to SF (which is doing colored pavement, shared bike-transit lanes in the middle of the city, and more)… if L.A. was actually proposing something pushy, then maybe they would need some funding put toward environmental review. The city of L.A. should talk with Long Beach, which is spending money implementing projects on the ground, and doing the miniminum review needed.

    Lastly, the list itself is ludicrous… look at Devonshire (in yellow) the 6th column states that the imact is “minimal” – if there’s minimal impact, then why spend excess time and money on review? Spend the EIR money on implementation, not studies.

  • Josef Bray-Ali

    I like how the impact is “removal of parking lane” along all these street-car-commercial strips. Nothing better to kill a project than to piss of local businesses by removing on-street parking in front of their shops.

    The LADOT has an institutional bias towards “commuters” in cars blowing through an area as fast as possible. Built into their process is a step-wise construction of a backlash by people concerned with driving as fast as possible through an area.

    These bike lanes need to remove travel lanes. Pure and simple. Remove travel lanes. Put that up front. Merchants and locals will support a more livable local street if you put that on the table. A car-only sewer pipe with a little bike lane garnish on the side is not going to do it.

    About this EIR business, the city has “guidelines” but I want to see case law. If Long Beach can slam through a protected bikeway in short order, what is keeping us from doing the most rudimentary bike facilities in LA?

    There needs to be a concerted effort to keep this environmental review line (and that is all it is, a line) from blocking the changes we’ve all been pushing for for so many years now.

  • LADOT has created a moving target (again) – the list published was removed and replaced by a new version… with no note, no explanation – in an apparent measure designed to piss off bicyclists reviewing the document? groan.
    Original is stored here: http://glatwg.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/priority-1-environmental-package-4_26_2011-ladotbb-11apr27.pdf
    TOdya’s version is here: http://glatwg.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/priority-1-environmental-package-4_26_2011-ladotbb-11may2.pdf

  • Agree regarding parking removal. Other than a few very limited situations (ie: Reseda Boulevard 2-block narrow stretch – from Chase to Napa), creating bike lanes cannot mean massive parking removal… or it’s a non-starter backlash.

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