Council Vote on Road Bond Pushed Until Next Tuesday, Advocates Push for Safer Streets for All

Deborah Murphy and Don Ward (left) listen as Eric Bruins testifies at today's L.A. City Council Hearing. Photo: LACBC/Instagram

At the start of the public hearing on the resolution asking the City Attorney to draft a bond measure for the May 21 that would dedicate 29 years of taxes towards road repair bonds, Council President Herb Wesson announced that the Council would not vote or debate the measure until next Tuesday. While Wesson offered praise to both sponsors of the legislation, Council Members Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino, he was also concerned that there wasn’t enough public outreach or participation in the construction of the measure.

That didn’t stop a group of fifteen bicycle and pedestrian advocates and a handful of Neighborhood Council Board Members from making their case.

Not content with Englander’s promises that the final ordinance would include improving reconstructed roads with modern crosswalks, approved bicycle projects and ADA compliant curb cuts, advocates representing the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), the Safe Routes to School’s National Partnership, Midnight Ridazz, Cyclists Inciting Change Through Live Exchange, Los Angeles Walks and independent activists from stating their case.

“We want to make sure this bond is for the future transportation system, not the past transportation system,” testified Eric Bruins, the Policy and Program Director for the LACBC. Bruins, along with other staff and volunteers from the LACBC and L.A. Walks, prepared a policy document for Council Members that can be read here.

While the majority of those testifying were bicycle advocates either LACBC staff or Midnight Ridazz organized by Don Ward, the conversation kept returning to the $1.5 billion needed to repair the city’s crumbling sidewalks.

Repeating a statistic she uses often, Jessica Meaney of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership reminded Council Members that, “Over 20% of all trips made in L.A. County are on foot or on bicycle yet it receives only 1% of funding.” Later, Meghan Kavanagh argued that, “”If we decided (funding allocations) based on mode share, $1 billion (of the bond) would go towards sidewalks.”

Or, as Deborah Murphy, the Chair of the City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee and Founder of Los Angeles Walks put it, “This bond could improve the state of our roads and sidewalks for all people, especially people with disabilities.”

While most Council Members refrained from commenting, President Wesson took time to thank each commenter for taking the time to come down to City Hall and even gave a bicycle shop owner a chance to plug his business. After comment was done, Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl took a moment to voice his support for bringing bicycle planning into the bond measure.

“Absolutely every aspect of cyclists issues needs to be addressed.,” Rosendahl said of the measure. “Cycling is part of the solution.”

But it wasn’t just safe streets advocates that packed into City Hall. A handful of Neighborhood Council advocates were also present to make the argument that the N.C.’s were being left out of the process.

“You guys have a lot of nerve asking us for more money,” thundered Jack Humpherville of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and contributor to City Watch. “We’re talking about 10 billion dollars (when you add in all of the bonds being proposed for the May ballot).”

In a less combative mood, Sharon Cummings, Chair of the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council, pointed out that it takes Neighborhood Council’s sixty days to create formal public policies on such proposals and the process for this bond is really rushed.

Earlier in the meeting, Councilman Buscaino perhaps gave more ammunition to the charge that the process is being rushed when he noted that Englander had only approached him about co-sponsoring the measure “a couple of weeks ago.” For his part, Englander promised robust outreach to Neighborhood Council’s to make certain all of the worst roads in their communities would be fixed.

Bolstering the argument that the bond is needed to repair crumbling streets,  Nazario Sauceda, the General Manager of the Bureau of Street Services (BSS) presented some sobering statistics on the city’s history of road repair. Basing much of his data on a 2011 State of the Streets Report, Sauceda showed how for decades in the 1980’s and 1990’s the city was funding about half of what was needed to maintain city streets. In recent years, the city has doubled the amount so BSS can maintain city street conditions, but not improve the backlog of projects.

“We were not properly maintaining our streets,” Sauceda succinctly argued.

With current staffing, it would take about ten years to fix all of the backlogged projects, which are about 31% of city streets or 8,400 lane miles.

While Wesson and some other Council Members seem put off by the rushed timeline, there’s also no doubt that they would love to put the issue in front of the voters, and in the Council’s rearview mirror.

“Every member of this Council, when you go to community meetings, this (when is this road going to get fixed) is the question we get asked all the time,” stated Wesson.

Full Disclosure: Deborah Murphy is also an editorial board member of Los Angeles Streetsblog and Meghan Kavanagh is the wife of Santa Monica columnist Gary Kavanagh.

  • Dennis Hindman

    This proposed bond initiative is for the May election, not the March election.

    The 2011 Bureau of Street Services State of the Streets Report lists 38% of the streets in D or F condition. This is also stated in percentage of square feet of streets in these conditions.

    The LACBC policy document is essentially asking for a much bigger bond to improve the condition of streets and sidewalks. The 2011 BSS report asked for $2.63 billion every year for ten years to bring the condition of streets up to a average of B. LACBC wants a average A condition as the goal.

    There may be $1.5 billion in needed sidewalk repairs. That also would require more money in a issue of bonds.

    The city of LA gets a 15% local share of Measure R half-cent sales tax. For a 1% share of the sales tax money collected in the city of Los Angeles would require that the city give 1/15th of their local share. They give 1/20th of this for bicycle projects and 1/20th of this for pedestrian improvements. This is the majority of the money that the city spends for on-street bicycle projects. The city spends additional money for crosswalks and  walk signals.

    There is 5,500 miles of sidewalks in Los Angeles  that give a barrier protection from motor vehicles.

    There are 55 miles of bike paths to protect bicycles from motor vehicles. Bicycling in Los Angeles is disproportionately underrepresented in terms of quality and quantity of transportation infrastructure.

  • Anonymous

    Every one of the arterial streets (and some busy collector streets) on the bike plan that need reconstruction should have a physical barrier built under this bond inititive to protect a person on a bicycle from motorized traffic and parked vehicles. This should be included in any bond measure. Additional costs would be necessary to the installation of dedicated bicycle signals and no left and right turn signals to prevent vehicles from turning into the path of pedestrians and bicyclists at intersections.

    We don’t expect pedestrians to walk between two stripes that are next to parked cars and fast moving traffic, so why do we feel this is adequate for people on a bicycle?

  • Anonymous

    The $3 billion Street Repair and Safety General Obligation Bond Program is for $300 million per year for street reconstruction over a ten-year period of time.

    The Bureau of Street Services currently has a budget of about $100 million for maintenance and reconstruction of streets.

    That’s a total of $400 million per year for the bond and the money the Bureau is already receiving.

    In the 2011 State of The Streets Report by the Bureau of Street Services it requests $263 million per year over a ten-year period of time for maintenance and reconstruction of the streets to get the streets in a average grade level of B.

    That’s a $137 million per year difference between what was requested in the 2011 State of The Streets Report and the $100 million current level of funding, plus the $300 million per year bond request. Over a ten-year period of time thats $1.370 billion. There needs to be a lot more than a few miles of bike lane stripes installed for that kind of money.

    It looks like the vast majority of the left over money will be going towards sidewalk repair and improvement according to council member Englander in this interview he had with Streetsblog:

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2013/01/07/behind-the-3-billion-road-repair-bond-measure-englander-promises-better-streets-for-all/#more-79563

    We should be insisting that a concrete barrier be built on any reconstructed streets that are on the bike plan which have enough room to put in a cycle track. It will be tough to get substantial amounts of money for on-street improvements for bicycling in the future, so this is a rare opportunity for potential funding.

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