This Morning’s Bike Week L.A. Press Conference Made One Cynic Smile

New Metro CEO Phil Washington addresses this morning's Bike Week L.A. press conference. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
New Metro CEO Phil Washington addresses this morning’s Bike Week L.A. press conference. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

I get pretty cynical, critical, and dismissive about bike week. OK, some folks, probably rightly, know I get too cynical and bitter about a lot of things, and bike week is one of those.

This morning, I finished up SBLA’s bike week calendar post, which is pretty critical of the promotion for tonight’s event, “Is Bicycling In Your Future?” The event’s title assumes that nobody bikes in Los Angeles now or in the past. The promotional blurb, for example– “Can bike infrastructure make the streets safe enough for you to ride on?”– is addressed to people who are assumed to never bike. To me it says: if you’re waiting for L.A. bike infrastructure to be complete before you bike, you will never bike.

Even Metro’s bike week promotional slogan (see graphic) assumes bicyclists are not traffic, and portrays cycling as a cloud of exhaust, albeit a blue cloud. Other Metro bike week messaging states “Give your car a break” and this is for an agency whose bus and train riders are more than three-quarters car-free. Why assume that the reader has a car? I guess it is better than AAA’s inadvertent bike blood-splatter messaging.

I guess I should have some empathy. Bike week gets a few agency staff outside their comfort zone. There are a bunch of people who spend all day writing serious stuff about how freeway widening projects will “decrease surface street traffic.” Yes, Metro and Caltrans are still saying this, as of March 2015. Once a year, these professionals are told to toss cyclists a crumb. They are stuck behind their windshield, terrified of bicycling. Is it any surprise that the results come off as wooden and tone deaf? They are not used to taking bicycling seriously. Their leadership has not made taking bicycling seriously an ongoing priority for their job. What should I expect?

So, there was a press conference at Grand Park this morning where Metro, the L.A. City Transportation Department (LADOT), Caltrans, Metrolink, Good Samaritan Hospital, CicLAvia, L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, and C.I.C.L.E. all got together to announce and promote bike week.

And it was actually good.

Numerous speakers got things right, and sounded very appropriate, positive, and hopeful notes:

  • Hosting the press conference, Metro boardmember Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker barely touched on bike week, instead outlining ongoing Metro efforts to support everyday bicycling, repeatedly saying that it is not about “bike week” but “bike life.” Dupont-Walker outlined recent and upcoming Metro initiatives: three-bike bus racks, a new secure bike parking hub prototype under construction in El Monte, the selection of a Metro regional bike-share vendor expected next month, and a newly funded $224,000 initiative for a series of bicycle safety education classes.
  • Metro boardmember and L.A. City Councilmember Paul Krekorian spoke enthusiastically about the success of CicLAvia in the San Fernando Valley, and the way the event highlighted synergies between cycling and transit. As a Metrolink boardmember, Krekorian announced that all this week, Metrolink is offering free rides for cyclists. Just show your bike as your ticket.
  • Metro boardmember and L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis spoke about participating in the recent East Los Angeles CicLAvia, how bicycling and walking are the way people from all over the world get around all the time, and how it is time for L.A. County to “put funding behind [active transportation].”
  • L.A. City Councilmember Jose Huizar opined that the impact of CicLAvia has been greater than any policy or legislation approved in recent years. He stressed that, through CicLAvia and everyday bike transportation, Los Angeles is seeing that bicycling is great for health, the environment, and business.
  • New Metro CEO Phil Washington spent his first couple of hours on the job at the bike week kick-off. He stated that he checked in at his office, put his briefcase down, found the bathroom, and took the train to get to Grand Park for this morning’s event. Washington stressed that walking and bicycling are key components for creating a balanced transportation system that serves everyone from 8 to 80 years old.
  • LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds touted the agency’s 30 new miles of bike lane this fiscal year, its first parking-protected bike lanes, and new bike corrals. She stressed that “it’s not really about the bike” but that bicycling is one important component of a safe, strong, prosperous, resilient city.
  • Nonprofit representatives Good Samaritan Hospital’s Andy Leeka, CicLAvia’s Aaron Paley, LACBC’s Tamika Butler, and C.I.C.L.E.’s Vanessa Gray extended and deepened the bicycle appreciation and enthusiasm. LACBC released a new fact sheet compiling survey data from their Operation Firefly bike-light giveaways.
  • The only consistent wrong note was sounded by Caltrans’ District 7 Director Carrie Bowen. Bowen sounds very knowledgeable when interacting with the Metro board regarding Measure R freeway-widening projects, but at this morning’s event, she read monotonously from a prepared statement, even asserting that Caltrans has always included bicycling in its projects. Just. Not. True. Caltrans has come a long way toward realigning the agency’s past car-centric approach to better support a healthy 21st century mix of transportation modes, but, frankly, this change is still just beginning to take hold, sometimes grudgingly. Bowen closed by exhorting cyclists, “If you are driving, slow down for the cone zone.” Really.

It may all be a once-a-year attaboy event, but it actually sounded pretty good to me. Even if agencies do not align their budgets, their priorities, their policies, their messaging, their metrics, etc. for successful active transportation, at least some agency leadership can see the wisdom in embracing bicycling and walking. Rome wasn’t torn down in a day. Bicycling, walking, and transit are increasing anyway, despite agency inaction and resistance.

Inaction and resistance are gradually giving way to support, investment, and expertise. Critics like me offer some praise here and there.

And, at CicLAvia, on downtown L.A. streets, on Reseda Boulevard, on the racks in front of Metro buses, and in a week-long series of bike events, Southern California gets a glimpse of its safe, strong, prosperous, resilient future.

Bike week calendar here.

  • Roger R.

    Great piece Joe. Another thing to be cynical about–did anyone who spoke today have a Dutch or a Danish accent? LA has to admit we all suck at this. The numbers show it. It’s time to bring in planners from overseas who know how to get people riding for reals. Of course, they may get so frustrated they head straight back to LAX–but maybe our weather will keep them here long enough to do some good.

  • ChrisLoos

    Will never happen. LA has to constantly reinvent the wheel.

  • Asher Of LA

    “Other Metro bike week messaging states “Give your car a break” and this is for an agency whose bus and train riders are more than three-quarters car-free. Why assume that the reader has a car?”

    Because Metro’s ridership is largely poor people who cannot afford to drive, so Metro doesn’t appeal to this captive customer base. Metro officials don’t really believe they can garner the business of drivers.

  • Alex Brideau III

    To Metro’s credit, I’m glad they are marketing Bike Week to current drivers instead of those who don’t own cars. I’d like to see them get out of their cars and onto a bike. I don’t think this is a negative at all.

    That said, I’m not a fan of the “Can bike infrastructure make the streets safe enough for you to ride on?” promotional text you cited. It seems to imply that the streets are currently so unsafe that one would be fool to bike on them. Instead, Adding one small word would make the phrase more accurate, IMHO: “Can bike infrastructure make the streets *feel* safe enough for you to ride on?”

  • planning_nerd

    “Metro officials don’t really believe they can garner the business of drivers.”

    Given that the tagline is targeted towards car owners, this statement makes no sense…unless you are saying that metro staff are spending money on a campaign they don’t believe can work (a possibility, I’ll concede).

  • Joe Linton

    At CicLAvia we were really careful to use inclusive messaging – stuff that finds common ground between people who already bike and others. I don’t think Metro needs to market like cyclists don’t exist – it sends the wrong message.

  • Asher Of LA

    I was referring to Metro’s transit services, not its bike week marketing.

  • Wanderer

    But Metro needs to grow its ridership among Los Angeles residents who do own cars, who as of now are still the great majority.

    Marketing is a matter of opinion but I like “give your car a break” as a ride transit message. It speaks to the all too widespread idea that if I can’t take transit for every trip, i can’t take transit for any trip. No, give your car a break, take transit when you can.

  • Joe Linton

    I think it’s important to use inclusive messaging. Metro can craft a message that appeals to both people without cars and people with them. In my opinion, if Metro is trying to affirm/celebrate cyclists, the first place to start isn’t by assuming ad readers will all have a car.

  • No need for accents, LA could just start by redoing the City’s standard sections based on criteria in the CROW manual. That’d make better bikeways the default for any new project and major maintenance. Then also focus on traffic calming/removal (which the residents of neighborhoods impacted by Waze might be more amenable to) with filtered permeability for those on bikes to create a much more bike-friendly city.

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