(Note: The Westside Neighborhood Council contacted me to clarify that they have not taken a position on the lanes being debated at this community meeting. I even snarked that they “continued their streak of opposing everything.” Oops. I have struckthrough their name below and offer my apologies. – DN)
From the start, it looked like a bad night for bicycle advocates on the Westside.
Before the evening began, a post on L.A. Observed by Mark Lacter  layed down the stakes for Westside residents at the LADOT and City Planning community meeting on 5 Bike Plan projects on the Westside. It’s normal people versus cycling zealots in a battle over public space. Emails from homeowner’s groups were similarly dire.
Despite the efforts of advocates, especially the Bike Coalition’s (LACBC’s) Eric Bruins to “community activists” about how bike lanes and other traffic calming devices are good for all road users; Lacter and many of those present last night at the “community meeting” can’t seem to see past their windshield.
The city came prepared. A team of planners and members of LADOT Bikeways showed up ready to answer questions about the proposals. During their presentation they pointed out that currently the proposed bike lanes would be the only North-South Bike Lanes in the local network. Also approval of the lanes is part of a longer timeline than just a meeting last night for any project deemed controversial.
While many cyclists did brave the bad weather to attend the meeting, many of the “neighborhood advocates” wanted to, in the words of Lacter, not give up any of “their” space to bicyclists.
The most sensible of the comments came from Colleen Mason-Heller, a longtime opponent of the Expo Line and one of the Chairs of Neighbors for Smart Rail. Heller noted that the bicycle plans for Westwood and the traffic studies for the Expo Line weren’t in sync. The Expo traffic studies assume two lanes of traffic in each direction, while the Bike Plan removes one of the south bound lanes. Streetsblog reported yesterday  on an LACBC proposal, that LADOT voiced support for, that would address this concern.
Mason-Heller also asked whether there was any study done on the impact to the local street network adjacent to Westwood. For example, if more car traffic moves from Westwood onto local streets, how will that impact quality of life, the safety of pedestrians in the community and air quality for homes separated from the major street.
The worst commentary came from Sandy Brown of the Holmby-Westwood Homeowners Association, who after clarifying their strong support for cycling in the hypothetical stated their opposition to any bicycling project that impacts her or her car-driving neighbors in anyway whatsoever. Cars are a fact she argued non-sensically before stating that she was opposed to any lanes on Westwood or Sepulveda.
Also speaking in opposition were representatives from the the Westwood Business Council, Westwood Home Owner’s Association, Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowner’s Association, Brentwood Community Council and several other local residential and business groups.
In total, thanks in large part to outreach from the LACBC, Ride Westwood! and the UCLA Bicycle Coalition, the total number of speakers against the proposals was roughly equal to those speaking in favor of the proposals. As one speaker against noted, the vast majority of those speaking against were older while the majority of those speaking for were younger.
Towards the middle of the testimony, Bruins tried to assuage the crowd by pointing out this is the beginning, not the end, of the discussion on these bicycling projects and that the LACBC was happy to reach out to any homeowner’s or community group that had questions or concerns. Noting that half of the trips in the impacted project area are less than three miles, even a small mode shift would more than make up for any travel lanes that were being removed. This did little to assuage the concerns of the opposition, an opposition that earlier heckeled a study that showed no net-loss of parking in the area due to the new lanes with the additional parking being added locally in other areas.
Another difference between the “pro” and “anti” factions last night, joining age and tone, was the content of the debate. Opponents of the lanes focused their complaints about convenience. Increased travel time will make it inconvenient to get home. Loss of some street parking makes it inconvenient to get to a favorite restaurant if you drive there.
By comparison, many cyclists talked about safety. There is no safe way to travel north or south on bicycle in the area around Sepulveda and Westwood between National and Santa Monica Boulevard. Neighborhood streets don’t provide lights to cross the street. The major thoroughfares require cyclists to share space with vehicle traffic. It’s not safe.
Janette Sadik-Khan, the visionary commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation once commented that supporters of bicycle, pedestrian, or transit projects should always point to safety. These projects are proven to make streets safer, and who can argue against safety?
It’s too bad Sadik-Khan isn’t visiting Los Angeles until next week. She might have been able to meet some people who’s personal convenience always outweighs the safety of others if she were around last night.
Reasonable people can disagree on whether the impacts of bike lanes on large streets such as Sepulveda and Westwood Boulevards are good or bad for the community as a whole. Mason-Heller’s comments in particular raised some good points and some good places for the city to continue its study. However, too often last night’s discussion wasn’t about raising good points, but about fear of any change that would impact one’s drive time.