MyFigueroa! Needs a Hero as Livable Streets Villains Line Up Against City’s First Cycletracks

Listening to yesterday’s City Council Planning and Land Use Committee over the phone, it felt as though I was listening to a parody of a hearing. What should have been a major moment for the MyFigueroa! project, the city’s most important bicycle and pedestrian project on the books. turned into an almost baffling show of city government at its worst.

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The end result was that the City Council committee requested staff return “in 30 days” with a report answering some questions they’ve already answered many times and to examine streets outside the project area to see if there could be cycletracks put on them. They were supposed to decide whether or not to advance a challenge to the environmental documents prepared by City Planning or a motion by Councilmember Curren Price which requires a new traffic study for the corridor.

As I said. It was baffling.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. My Figueroa! was supposed to be a legacy project for both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his successor. The first separated bike lanes in the city. The first truly complete street. It was supposed to be a wonderful unifying moment for the city and a proud moment for the leaders that made it happen. As recently as last week, it was the centerpiece of the “new” Los Angeles that the city bragged about when seeking partnerships on bicycle projects.

But instead of a wonderful unifying moment, we got a muddled meeting and a sad replay of the old argument about car culture and the need to preserve street space for the private automobile.

In short, yesterday’s meeting was something of a comedy of errors: There was no leadership shown from the City Council Members present, with the possible exception of Councilmember Gil Cedillo helpfully suggesting that the project could move into his district. Staff seemed unprepared for some of the hardest questions, even as the General Manager of City Planning hung out in the back of the room while his staff was getting grilled. While staff from the Mayor’s Office was present, they didn’t take to the podium to speak for the administration.

The Councilmember representing the area, Curren Price, seems to want the project to be built, the $30 million to be spent in his district and no traffic lanes to go away. Accomplishing all three of these things is, unfortunately, not possible.

A lawyer for Darryl Holter’s Shammas Automotive Group suggested a bunch of other streets  (for example Hope and Olive, on the other side of the freeway) that should be studied instead of Figueroa Street for dedicated bike lanes that would be in Curren Price’s district. The owner of these car dealerships is still pretending he supports this project, even as he fights to overturn the environmental documents and threatens a lawsuit.

The lawyer’s suggestion was taken seriously, even though anyone who’s followed this project closely knows that former Councilmember Jan Perry asked for the same study to happen.  The result was that the lack of connectivity between the suggested streets and streets on the west side of the I-110 made them outside the project area. That is, there is no funding on the table to do a MyFigueroa! style road treatment to these streets, even if it were a good idea.

Besides, the grant that paid for the planning and would pay for the implementation is entitled, “Linking South Los Angeles to Downtown: Figueroa Corridor.” It’s unlikely bike lanes on Spring Street would somehow meet the requirements of the grant.

If that’s not enough, the LACBC explains from a planning perspective why MyFigueroa! is the street that makes the most sense for the city’s first true cycletracks.

To top if all off, the Film and Television Industry even showed up to complain that with separated bike lanes they wouldn’t be able to park film trucks on the side of the street anymore.

Will it be?

That’s not to say the meeting wasn’t filled with advocates for safe streets, for cycletracks, for better pedestrian crossings. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Community Health Councils, Trust South L.A., USC Bicycle Coalition, Los Angeles Walks and other community groups all put out the word and packed the room. An overwhelming majority of speakers were in favor of the project. It was truly a show of the people v the powerful.

And while the result was a head scratcher, all the Planning and Land Use Committee truly did was buy itself some time. Thirty days from now, there will still be a road diet on the table, a rich guitar-playing automobile dealership owner and the Film and Television Industry will still be opposed to it, and safety advocates and residents will still show up in number to support it.

The only difference will probably be whether or not Councilmember Price or Mayor Eric Garcetti come out strongly for or against the project. Even if they do, the decision to move Price’s motion to study the project further or Holter’s appeal will still rest with Chairman Jose Huizar and Councilmembers Mitch Englander and Gil Cedillo.

My favorite memory of the City Council Transportation Committee came in 2010 when Jaime De La Vega, then the Deputy Mayor for Transportation, rescued the Measure R local return “set-aside” for bicycle and pedestrian projects when Councilmembers Bernard Parks nearly derailed it in the name of being a budgetary watchdog. De La Vega wasn’t scheduled to appear that day, he was just listening to the meeting on the Internet, heard what was happening, and intervened on behalf of the administration.

Anyone hoping for a re-run yesterday was disappointed.

Mayor Garcetti made a flowery speech on the importance of thinking about the environment when building out the city earlier in the day. But his staff wasn’t there to come to the rescue of MyFigueroa! later in the day.  Price is caught in a tough situation. As the LACBC noted in their coverage of the meeting, the new Councilmember is caught between a desire to see this legacy project happen and some of the most powerful interests in his district opposed,

But, nobody said leadership is easy. That’s why these people were elected…to show leadership.

Meanwhile, we still await word on whether or not funding for the project expires at the end of the year. The original grant stipulated that funds had to be spent before 2015, but a new state law created extensions for some projects for a number of reasons, including the dissolution of the state-sponsored Community Redevelopment Agencies. The CRA-LA funded the MyFigueroa! project, but project staff confirmed they have yet to receive official word that MyFigueroa! qualifies for the extension.

Time will tell what the Council decides to do. The clock is ticking.

  • Matt Ruscigno RD MPH

    Does anyone know if LA Trade Tech has taken a position on this? Lots of students there riding bikes and they have somewhat of an idea re non-automobile transport because they are on the blue line and many students don’t have cars.

  • Roger R.

    How about a picket line/protest in front of their dealership on Fig? Many people who buy cars would like that bike lane too. Perhaps we can get prospective car buyers to turn away? I’m sure at least a few would listen. That might get them to rethink their lawsuit.

  • Andrew Fung Yip

    Maybe talking having a walkathon where supporters walk on Figeroa visiting the various shops, museums, businesses to talk about the project. I’m sure there’s a large amount of forward thinking business owners that will understand the benefits of having this project go through.

  • Roger R.

    Combine Andrew’s idea and mine, and you’ve got a good carrot and stick approach.

  • Salts

    Garcetti still not stepping in to save MyFig. The Green Lane Project application, btw, should be called the Green Lame Project application, all the proposed projects are weak and lame. Also, the application still is missing after appearing only briefly in the last article.

    Prediction: MyFig will die. No cycle track will be implemented on Figueroa and Garcetti and Price will act disappointed that “it didn’t work out” or that “it wasn’t the right time” or “it came about too suddenly” (and ignoring the years of planning and money that went into it.)

  • Kenny Easwaran

    USC really ought to also, as one of the main anchors on the south end of the project, and with a huge cycling population that doesn’t yet explore the city very much. (I’m a faculty member there, but don’t have any administrative or official authority.)

  • Dennis_Hindman

    A spokesperson for USC opposed the installation of cycle tracks on Figueroa St at the PLUM meeting. Even though he mentioned in his statements that there are 8,000 students who ride bicycles.

    USC is the biggest private employer in the the city of Los Angeles, providing jobs for 26,400 people in a calender year. If this institution cannot get behind it, then the odds of it being installed are slim to none.

  • ubrayj02

    Los Angeles Critical Mass needs to become something other than a parade of teenagers surrounded by cops. If those kids can party on bikes, they can show up in council meetings and voice their desire for this project online, over the phone, and in person. It is fun to be in favor of something like this.

    How many “advocacy” organizations do we need to actually do the MOST BASIC LEVEL OF POLITICAL WORK in this town?

    Let’s be real here though: we lost this all in the last election. Baby boomer electeds are m.f’ing poison for anything having to do with livability and the value of our streets as something more than a highway with stop lights.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    There is little merit behind the argument by the car dealership owner that is opposed to the installation of cycle tracks on Figueroa St.

    Car sales are a low volume business with few parking spaces provided for potential customers. This does not necessitate having a six lane road to reach these facilities.

    New car dealerships on Figueroa St are located no more than a block from a freeway. This is to enable a wider territory of potential customers and eliminates the need to drive for miles on Figueroa St to reach these dealerships.

    Delays in reaching these dealership that would be imposed by reducing the amount of lanes for the five hundred customers that bring their cars in for service at these six dealerships per day is another excuse used. Yet, these same customers have to wait in line for several minutes to get the service ticket written up and they must wait for their car, or have another way to leave the facility. These take up much more of the customers time than any delay in traffic for the few blocks that they travel on Figueroa St.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    That’s really unfortunate. Did one of the representatives of the new USC chapter of the LACBC have a chance to speak in favor? I submitted a written comment, but I wasn’t able to attend the meeting because I was preparing for a 4:30 class.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Alex Levitt of the USC bicycle coalition spoke in favor of the project at 23:00 mins into the meeting that you can listen to in the link below:

    http://lacity.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=103&clip_id=12609

    At 26:35 mins into the meeting, USC representative David Galavees stated the University was against the proposed bike lanes on Figueroa St.

  • Gary

    Video of Cycling on Figueroa Street

    This video includes both front and rear views of cycling northbound on Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles between Exposition Boulevard and 7th Street on Monday, March 3, 2014. There is were the $20M cycle track is planned.

    It will be interesting to compare the traffic, cycling conditions and cycling travel time after the cycle track is installed (after condition) to this video (before condition)

    Here is some information about the video and street:

    1. Video starts Monday, March 3, 2014 at 11:06 am (Exposition Boulevard) and ends at 11:19 am (7th Street)

    2. Distance is 2.5 miles

    3. Google Maps shows 26 intersections northbound between Exposition Boulevard and 7th Street (including Exposition and 7th)

    4. Viewing the video, I counted 49 driveways northbound between Exposition and 7th St.

    5. Total elapsed time is 13 min 11 sec.

    6. Overall cycling speed is 11.4 mph.

    7. Total time waiting at four red traffic signals is 2 min 15 sec..

    8. Average speed while moving is 13.7 mph. I made no attempt to keep up with motor traffic.

    9. Of the 16 motor vehicle drivers who approached me in my lane from the rear, 10 changed lanes completely to pass me and 6 waited behind to make a right turn.

    10. Traffic is light to moderate. Google traffic data indicates that there is not significantly more traffic other times of the day. From 7 to 9 am and 4 to 6 pm the curb lane would be free of parked cars allowing continuous cycling in the curb lane without having to merge left to go around parked cars (as done several times in the video).

    11. The posted speed limit is 35 mph with one or two school zone 25 mph signs.

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