Literally a Half-Step: Metro Motion Would Add Bicycle and Pedestrian Expert to Advisory Committee

One of the major advisory committees to Metro is seeking Board approval to change it’s by-laws so that there are two dedicated spots for bicycle and pedestrian professionals.  While this move is a welcome step in the right direction, advocates who have lobbied for the policy change find themselves underwhelmed even as the motion moves to a full Board vote at next week’s meeting.

Crossing the street isn't always easy...but joining Metro's TAC can be impossible for regular citizens. Unless they're employed by AAA. Photo:##http://www.losangeleswalks.org/join-our-call-to-action-for-the-hyperion-bridge/##L.A. Walks##

Crossing the street isn’t always easy…but joining Metro’s TAC can be impossible for regular citizens. Unless they’re employed by AAA. Photo:L.A. Walks

In 1977, Metro created a technical advisory committee (TAC). This state mandated board is a major component of Metro’s project creation, as staff and the Board regularly solicit input  from this body. The structure and membership is intended to represent LA County’s diverse geographic and modal interests with a combination of government agencies and non-government organizations. The TAC will weigh-in on everything from the Call for Projects project sheet to the design of new train stations to changes to the bus service offered by MTA.

Currently, the TAC has 32 members, 28 of which have voting power. Assuming the Metro Board passes the motion amending the TAC’s by-laws, it will then have 34 members, 29 of which have voting power. For a change that is supposed to show Metro’s commitment to creating a truly multi-modal transit system, the path this motion has traveled could lead one to question this commitment.

Here’s some of the ways Metro’s TAC changes went “off the rails.” Much of this context was first discussed last November on the Safe Routes to Schools California website.

Last summer, the Streets and Freeways Subcommittee of TAC, requested that TAC add one pedestrian expert and one bicycle expert as voting members to its committee.  After months of discussion, the TAC decided there should be one voting and one non-voting member. The Streets and Freeways Subcomittee disagreed but were eventually overruled.

For historical reasons, the Automobile Club of Southern California, a lobbying group for the auto-industry, also has a voting seat on the TAC. Despite this precedent, only city or county staff could apply to be on the TAC for the bicycle and pedestrian positions. While Metro received seven applications for the two spots, it seems an odd move to deny entry to an advisory committee to the likes of Deborah Murphy, Jessica Meaney, and other professional advocates who have both the knowledge and perspective to excel in such a position. If it’s good enough for AAA, why isn’t it good enough for any other non-governmental organization?

If the TAC is seeking the Metro Board’s approval for a by-law change and it deems non-governmental groups and advocates ineligible to be members, then why not take this opportunity to make the AAA representative a non-voting member?

Metro doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for designing pedestrian and bicycle friendly transit. When the Gold Line Eastside extension opened in 2009, a tour of the facilities showed the bicycle and pedestrian planning to be woefully inadequate. As time progressed, Metro sought to correct this failure with the Eastside Access Project, but generally one looks to connect stations to the community BEFORE the line is built.

Things were equally shaky with the opening of Phase I of the Expo Line. The gutter bike lane that ran parallel from USC to La Cienega wasn’t repaved even though much of the rest of the street was and the bicycle racks at some station have been overflowing since day 1. The bike lane, which to be fair was a City of Los Angeles project, was mostly repaved AFTER the line opened.

Metro isn’t the enemy, and things seem to improve every year. But if the goal was to bring in more expertise and improve the quality of its own advisory body; it seems that the TAC tripped over its own feet in the process. Where a leap forward is needed, Metro is proposing another half-step.