LA Times Editorial: Councilmembers Should Not Be Tinkering with Bike Plan

Bicyclists on North Figueroa Street. Photo via Fig4All Flickr
Bicyclists on North Figueroa Street. Photo via Fig4All Flickr

I was excited to read yesterday’s pro-bike Los Angeles Times editorial entitled Some bumps in the road on the way to a bike-friendly L.A. The piece calls out Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo for stopping the approved North Figueroa bike lanes. The Times supports the “worthwhile objective” of  implementing bicycle infrastructure to make “the city safe and hospitable for cyclists… [to] reduce carbon emissions and overall congestion.”

Most critically, the Times highlights the regional importance of completing the city-wide bicycle network:

Unless some demonstrable miscalculation was made in the bike plan, or unless there’s a real safety issue, individual City Council members should not be tinkering with the plan, which was designed carefully with the whole city in mind. (italics added)

When the city approved its bike plan, it affirmed the importance of bicycling as a valid and worthwhile component of the city’s transportation systems. If individual councilmembers opted out of crosswalks, curb-cuts, bus stops, or, heaven forbid, freeway on-ramps, in individual districts, would the mayor and LADOT be so compliant? What if councilmembers start opting out of sewers or flood protection infrastructure? Should councilmembers be nixing regionally interconnected projects? I am glad that the Times doesn’t think so.

Unfortunately, even in this welcome editorial, I think that there are a few ways in which the Times misses the mark. 

The Times repeats Cedillo’s debunked claims that bike lanes somehow delay police and fire vehicles, though it later implies that this might not be a “real safety issue.”

Even in a short pro-bike editorial, the Times manages to take the driver’s point of view seven times:

  1. “southbound drivers would spend only an extra 41 to 46 seconds in traffic”
  2. “Adding bike lanes reduces space for cars and irritates drivers; that’s undeniable.”
  3. “luring Angelenos out of their cars”
  4. “make legions of drivers … relinquish a fraction of their lanes”
  5. “No driver wants to be slowed down by even 47 seconds.”
  6. “It’s understandable that drivers are frustrated”
  7. “maybe some drivers will get out of their cars”

It’s encouraging that two of the above mentions are about getting drivers out of their cars. But contrast this with bicyclists. The editorial only mentions cyclists twice.

Drivers are important. They will remain a big part of L.A.’s streets for the foreseeable future. Even when the bike plan is fully implemented, cars are slated to continue to receive the lion’s share of L.A. road space. LADOT’s road diet plan for North Figueroa leaves cars three travel lanes, a turn lane, and two parking lanes: 62 feet out of a 72-foot-wide roadway. Bicycles would get two 5-foot-wide bike lanes.

Isn’t it about time that the Times stops weighing all transportation infrastructure based on how it impacts drivers? Even Caltrans is moving beyond measuring transportation this way.

The Times might take a cue from its own architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne who wrote that “it’s time to stop measuring new transit initiative[s] and other changes to the city in terms of how they’ll affect [car] traffic.” It would be great if the Times editorial writers would support bike plan implementation because bicycle facilities (using Hawthorne’s words describing transit benefits) “expand options” and “offer new ways to get around.”

The Times’ bike plan editorial concludes, stating: “The hope is that over time, those [bike] lanes will begin to fill up.”

Memo to the Times: that bike-lane-filling has already begun.

Please look around. L.A.’s streets have long been shared streets. Despite many decades of car-centric, safety-adverse transportation priorities, there are still plenty of transit riders, pedestrians, and, yes, bicyclists getting around on L.A.’s great streets. Hundreds and thousands of us.

  • AJ

    And this isn’t just about bike lanes. 10 people have died walking across North Fig over the past decade. Traffic calming is imperative to create safe streets for everyone.

  • Joe Linton

    agreed – I had something on that in an earlier draft… but it didn’t make the final cut. Adding “bike infrastructure” results in streets that are safer for everyone – drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and, of course, bicyclists!

  • Bob Campbell

    “No driver wants to be slowed down by even 47 seconds.”
    I drive, walk, and rarely bike on Fig, and I am 100% ok with listening to the radio an additional 47 seconds if it means a safer street for everyone.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t it true that no one councilmember can officially “kill” a project?

    A councilmember can voice their disapproval, but that concern is to be weighed (albeit with a bit more weight) along with the other public comment that has been received regarding a project. A lone councilmember’s opposition does not constitute the final word on the issue.

    LADOT should thank the council office for their input and continue accepting public feedback. And road diet supporters should continue to (politely) offer that feedback.

  • rickrise

    I have a lawyer looking over the city charter to see exactly what powers the council has collectively or as individuals in this regard. My own reading was that Cedillo has NO power to stop an approved project, but I want an eye dedicated to legalisms to do a thorough search. He is doing this pro bono, and I should have his opinion by early next week.

  • Ms_El_Lay

    As a longtime community ag-tivist, I for one find the contentious nature of the NE bike thugs to be counter-productive in dealing with Cedillo and community stakeholders. While I admire civil disobedience used judiciously, the mean-spirited actions and aggressive behavior of these cyclists has no end or limit. Going after John Nese was the last straw for me. I miss your voice of reason in the trenches, Joe!

  • ChrisLoos

    Having only followed this controversy via what I read in Streetsblog and the LA Times and not having attended any of the meetings, please enlighten me as to what a “bike thug” is.

  • jennix

    What are you talking about? “Bike thugs”? Really? John Nese? Please, if you’re gonna try to throw straws, at least tell us what you’re referring to.

  • HighNoon

    I have attended the bike meetings. There are bike thugs to the same extent there are car thugs, except bike thugs can’t do nearly as much damage. The make-up of the pro-bike crowd has been diverse and respectful for the vast majority of the meetings and I’ve attended at least four: at friends of the LA river, at HHPNC at Ramona senior center, Nightingale elementary, and franklin high. These folks may be different from you (a bit younger and darker), but that doesn’t make them thugs. If you don’t care for bike riding or this cause that’s fine, but there is absolutely no evidence or support to substantiate that claim.

    What do you call people who go out of their way to misinform motorists by handing out flyers and telling lies on the street? Those are real thugs, with actual blood on their hands.

  • Ms_El_Lay

    Agreed that there is bad behavior on both sides. We are asking for people to adopt new behaviors. We want cars, bikes and pedestrians all sharing the road, but everyone needs to change their ways. You’d think that we’re asking for a kidney from some people!! If you don’t understand what I’m referring to, you are fortunate. I have dealt with NIMBYs for 20 years regarding land use issues. The anti-bike laners are the same people who’ve previously opposed historic preservation, bussing, and backyard farms. Nor have I attended all the recent meetings with Cedillo. But I have observed that there is a small faction of cyclists in our region that are self-righteous and quick to ridicule anyone who disagrees with their POV. I’ve seen some rude posts online about John Nese, owner of the renowned Pop Shop in Highland Park who doesn’t want a bike rack on his property. He also contends cyclists comprise a small demographic of his business. In general, studies show that bikes are good for small business. There has been remarkable progress in putting portions of LA on a road diet. But I’d like to see folks on all sides operate with more patience. Manners and kindness go much farther than screaming and accusations. PS – I don’t appreciate your inference that race has anything to do with my opinion.

  • LAifer

    If the councilmember in whose district the lanes would be constructed is opposed to that happening, it’s VERY unlikely that the rest of the council would go against his wishes. So, while no councilmember is technically an island unto his or herself, the net effect is that they get to act like little mayors of their respective districts.

  • LAifer

    God forbid my commute take a minute longer every day if it means that one fewer person will die this year, and every year hence. The LA Times ought to look at this from the perspective not of ease of driving by car, but of public safety and our civic duty to look out for one another. Simple as that.

  • HighNoon

    Suffice it to say you are describing the behavior and motives of people in settings you haven’t been in.

    The issue with your post is that you claim you don’t believe the bike crowd is being productive because they are disrespectful, self-righteous, and aggressive. What about the behavior of many motorists and anti-bike laners that drive fig or are involved in this process, can their behavior not be described the same way?

    If you were truly concerned about these issues, you wouldn’t exclusively call out the anti-bike lane crowd, because as you say there is plenty of this bad behavior to go around. Your comment is just like Cedillo saying he’s not doing the bike lanes in the name of safety. If he truly cared about safety, he would do it immediately. Just like if you truly cared about having honest and civil discourse you would call out both sides equally. To your credit, your second post seems to be moving in this direction. And to be fair to me, I didn’t exclusively mention race, but also included age.

    I’m pretty sure no one is forcing John Nese to have a bike rack on his property. IF they were, it is his right to decline. However, when it comes to the public right-of-way, like sidewalks and the street, his opinion is worth no more than the next HP stakeholder. He is also clearly misinformed about the potential impacts of bike lanes. Whether bicyclists make up a large part of his business is irrelevant when we are talking about improving access, safety, and mobility choices for all local stakeholders. Would anybody by the argument that we should close down or not provide streets with cars lanes because cars aren’t a major portion of another businesses clientele? Stop being so auto-centric…. this logic would never work if applied to any other travel mode.

    Finally, this blog has highlighted events where cyclists have made it a point to ride to his store and try and demonstrate the value to businesses of accommodating bikes. There is nothing that can convince this man to see things another way, and in my opinion that is not operating in good faith or honestly. That’s no better than these alleged “bike thugs” you spoke of.

  • Randall Gauss

    The bike rack John Nese was opposed to was requested by a customer that frequented his shop on bike. It would have been installed on the public sidewalk in front of his store.

    He has mentioned an incident were he nearly hit a young girl on a bicycle while backing out of his store parking lot. He does not want people cycling near his store.

  • Alex Brideau III

    So this particular project requires a full Council vote?

  • PatrickGSR94

    “LADOT’s road diet plan for North Figueroa leaves cars three travel
    lanes, a turn lane, and two parking lanes: 62 feet out of a 72-foot-wide
    roadway. Bicycles would get two 5-foot-wide bike lanes.”

    So… more door-zone bike lanes then, right? Hooray for deadly infrastructure design…. not.

  • marcotico

    No its back door politics. The councilmember tells DOT not to proceed and they don’t. The mayor would have to intervene to push it forward, but won’t because he needs councilperson support for citywide initiative. Based on Rickrise’s comment above it may or may not be the way things are supposed to operate, but it is the way they do operate.

  • marcotico

    I used to agree with your comments, however, i believe advocacy needs the angry and the conciliatory to move forward (and these are modes of action not personality traits) . Looking at the recent history, the angry are able to get things done, and the conciliatory are able to keep the momentum going. The bike plan was a watered down mess, and both the the angry and conciliatory where instrumental in getting it improved and approved. But if you look at the last year (Hyperion Bridge, Westwood Blvd fiasco, and now NELA) it is obvious that as Josefl Bray-Ali says, the conciliatory are getting disregarded, and it is time for anger and real consequences. Planning and policy can be achieved with blocks of advocacy groups, but funding and engineering need more political will. Cedillo’s ultimate insult is describing the approved plan (which of course he wasn’t here to vote on) as “Developed by 1,000 people out of 4 Million.”

  • New Dynamic

    I think the key here is to not accept “back-door politics” if we feel the issue is important. There is a new administration in office and a new LADOT head. Those supporting this project have an opportunity here to rally the troops and challenge business as usual.

  • Ms_El_Lay

    Whatever, dude! I am old enough not to care what you think of me. I’ve always been a friend of bikes and worked with the Joe Linton and advocates to get the York bike corral and the initial bike plan underway. I don’t like bullies. It’s not good to make targets of your own neighbors and peers, especially those who’ve been doing good in the community for decades. When you insult folks, people will judge you for that and remember it. It doesn’t help your cause. The old guard will eventually come around, or die out. It’s clear that the political will and popular momentum is on the side of the bike coalition….so please chill out! It may take longer than you want, but that’s just the way the City operates. Bike lanes will happen. In the meantime, what if you took all that biking intelligence and energy to create some positive, productive contributions to our community? Teach folks how to ride safely and hold free clinics. Give away bikes to kids. Start a bike share program. Those initiatives will earn you new followers and lots of karmic/political support. However, if you continue to act aggressive to everyone who disagrees or questions your tactics – even harmless posters like myself – – you will be perceived as a-holes. “Nuff said. Your choice!

  • ubrayj02

    One thing I have learned over the years in LA bike politics: for every person allegedly turned away because we are “assholes” I’ve had ten more show up at rallies, meetings, rides, parades, and parties.

    Every gadfly and politician I get a chance to speak with tells me the same thing, “You are too aggressive/loud/rude. Tone it down and you’ll get more from the system.”

    Do you know why we need to turn the volume up constantly? We went through years learning the hard way that “being nice” in LA gets us squat.

    Take the high holy road to obsolescence or start kicking butt when it counts. I know a lot of dedicated bike advocates and I can count on one hand those who are earning a living doing advocacy work.

    Don’t ask a small army of unpaid amateurs to act like [insert your favorite celebrity advocate for a lost cause here] and you won’t be disappointed. “Nice” advocates can afford the luxury of manners because they have wealth and power behind them. What power we have as a group we’ve had to create through constant contact with each other and heavy rhetoric against those in power.

  • ubrayj02

    Who has gone after John Nese? Mean spirited aggression? Where have you been on this issue?

    Did any of us put up a symbol for the opposition in local shop windows crossed out? Did we print incorrect data about the impact of a road diet on car traffic in the local paper? Did we distort public comment and misrepresent those we disagree with? No, but all of these things were done by those opposed to the road diet.

    Here is what the bike community did to John Nese: we organized a bike ride to his store to buy goods and let him know that we love his business and we want him to remember that. The NELA Buycott:
    http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2013/05/northeast-l-a-bike-lane-battle-spreads-to-business-community/
    http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/groups/around-town/p/cyclists-pedal-across-figueroa-and-colorado-to-promot95bf5ad1a4

    Your patronizing tone is an affront to the facts.

  • New Dynamic

    I believe the full Council already approved the bike plan of which this is an element and now it falls to LADOT to implement. Since the LADOT general manager reports to the mayor, it would seem the LADOT GM and the mayor have the power to keep this project alive irrespective of a single council member’s opposition.

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