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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.  Read more…

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Metro Committee OKs Dismal Walk/Bike Plan Now, Funding Report Later

Active transportation supporters at Metro's Planning and Programming Committee on

Active transportation supporters hold up #metrofundwalkbike messages at this week’s Metro’s Planning and Programming Committee. Metro’s board did not increase funding for active transportation in its Short Range Transportation Plan, but director Mike Bonin introduced a motion which, if passed, would direct Metro to develop an Active Transportation Finance Strategy. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

More than fifty people showed up at this week’s Metro Planning and Programming Committee to urge the Metro board to support active transportation. Metro’s proposed $88.2 billion, ten-year Short Range Transportation Plan (SRTP) includes only $500 million for active transportation funding. Though walking and bicycling make up nearly 20 percent of L.A. County trips, Metro allocates less than one percent of its budget to those modes.

Aware of active transportation advocates’ mobilization, Metro staff’s slide show [pdf] attempted to make active transportation funding sound more plentiful than it actually is. Metro staff’s presentation suggests that the agency is supporting walking and bicycling through agency funding for categories including Signal Synchronization and Transit Capital. By totaling Metro’s committed $500 million, plus a hodgepodge of eligible Metro, state, and local funds, the staff presentation showed “up to $1.17 billion” in potential funding for bicycling and walking.

Though it is unlikely that the actual funding total will end up anything near this “up to” potential, the asserted $1.17 billion still would represent only 1.3 percent of the overall $88.2 billion plan. This is nowhere near the roughly $18 billion that active transportation would receive if Metro’s allocations were based on the current 20 percent modal share. Ideally, funding shouldn’t be limited to the existing mode share, but could be aspirational. Metro values expanding its rail infrastructure, presumably aspiring that more rail investment will create more rail ridership. Metro’s fiscal commitment shouldn’t necessarily be to maintain the existing 20 percent active transportation mode share, but to fund expansion of safe walking and bicycling facilities in order to increase levels of active transportation.

The committee did respond to active transportation demands, but not by increasing the dismal amount of funding in its SRTP. Instead, Metro board member Mike Bonin put forth a motion [PDF] (full text after the jump) that directs Metro to study active transportation and come up with a funding strategy. Safe Routes to School praised the board’s leadership embodied in the Bonin motion; Santa Monica Spoke called it a “good start.” The motion directs Metro to complete its Active Transportation Funding Strategy and report back to the board in October 2014.

Hopefully that funding strategy will not be chock full of “up to” dollars, but will actually represent an acknowledgement by Metro that safe and convenient places to walk and bike are integral to the agency’s regional transportation system.

As expected, the committee approved the agency’s SRTP, without approving any additional dollars for active transportation. The SRTP is expected to be approved by the full board next week.

Metro is considering a possible future transportation funding ballot measure. Past measures have primarily drawn from projects and budgets already approved in the agency’s Short- and Long-Range Plans. Though active transportation has been repeatedly shortchanged in Metro’s past plans and past ballot measures, if advocates keep up this timely pressure, dedicated bicycle and pedestrian funding could be a significant part of a future ballot measure.

County ballot measure funding or not, active transportation continues to grow. Will Metro’s October report address pedestrians’ and cyclists’ concerns?

Read more…

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40% of Proceeds from ExpressLanes Going to Active Transportation

Thanks to funds collected by Metro's ExpressLanes, funding to convert this bridge and other parts of the Dominguez Channel will be converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path.and the service road that has now been funded to be converted into a similar path. This portion along the channel is currently closed. Carson and County Flood Control will work together to open it to the public for bicyclists and pedestrians. Photo: Lauren Grabowski

Thanks to funds collected by Metro’s ExpressLanes, funding to convert this bridge and other parts of the Dominguez Channel will be converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path.and the service road that has now been funded to be converted into a similar path. This portion along the channel is currently closed. Carson and County Flood Control will work together to open it to the public. Photo: Lauren Grabowski

While much of the attention on yesterday’s Metro Board committee hearings was on the showdown over active transportation in the Short Range Transportation Plan, some good news emerged in the Congestion Reduction Committee tasked with overseeing Metro’s ExpressLanes Program.

Over $26 million in funds collected by variable toll lanes on the I-10 and I-110 were programmed, pending Board approval, for projects that include a Downtown Los Angeles Bike Share program, a Union Station Bike Hub, MyFigueroa outreach/marketing, and active transportation projects in El Monte, Carson, Monterey Park, Baldwin Park, and other parts of the county. The rest of the programmed funds will go towards improvements in station access to the express bus services, improvements to the ExpressLanes themselves, and even a Dodger Stadium Express bus service for the South Bay area.

The Metro staff report, including a two-page table breaking down the funded and un-funded applications, can be found here.

At yesterday’s committee meeting, there was some questioning of the funded program list. John Fasana, Duarte City Councilmember and long-time Metro Board Member, questioned the staff recommendation to fund new ticketing machines for Metrolink trains. The project scored a 75, higher than some of the active transportation projects and all of the highway projects, yet the committee ruled that it did not meet corridor-connection funding criteria.

In the end, the final funded project list won the committee’s full backing — a big win for active transportation advocates. While only 0.6% of the Metro’s multi-billion-dollar Short Range Transportation Plan funding will go towards supporting active transportation, roughly 40% of this much smaller pot will.

There are two other takeaways from this report and the Metro action: Read more…

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An Interview with C.I.C.L.E.’s New Managing Director Vanessa Gray

C.I.C.L.E.'s new Managing Director Vanessa Gray. Photo: Vanessa Gray

C.I.C.L.E.’s new Managing Director Vanessa Gray. Photo: Vanessa Gray

Vanessa Gray is the new head of Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange, best known as “C.I.C.L.E.” Dan Dabek, the last to steer the C.I.C.L.E. team, recently departed for the East Coast, where his partner is pursuing higher education. Streetsblog L.A. wishes Dabek a teary-eyed farewell, and welcomes Gray to her new gig.

Streetsblog: First off, just in case someone is reading this who isn’t already familiar with C.I.C.L.E., tell us briefly what it is.

Vanessa Gray: Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.) is a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, working to promote the bicycle as a viable, healthy, and sustainable transportation choice.

We believe that our cities can be places that support an overall high quality of life–where people can enjoy clean air, calm and friendly streets, and closely-connected and diverse communities.

We envision our streets as vibrant, welcoming spaces that safely accommodate all road users and prioritize the safe passage of people–on bike, on foot, by wheelchair, by bus, and/or by train.

Tell us about yourself. What’s your background? Where are you from?

I was brought up in the military through the Air Force. We would move every 2 to 4 years. I’ve lived in places such as Libya, Tripoli, Okinawa, Japan and traveled through Guam and Wake Island. I usually tell people I’m from the near the last base where my father retired, Vandenberg Air Force Base in Northern Santa Barbara County. However, I can say I actually grew up on bases in Africa and Asia.

Prior to joining C.I.C.L.E. as its Managing Director, I worked as a Senior Communications Specialist with SEIU, as a Communications Deputy for an L.A. City Councilwoman, and a Manager at Beverly Hills Pavilions. Last October, I coordinated Safe Routes to Schools’ Walk to School Day at Micheltorena Elementary School.

How did you get interested in bicycling?

At college in Virginia, I had a used Fiat to get around, but it would break down every other week. I spent all my meager work study money trying to keep that crummy car running. Finally, it broke down again and I told my mechanic Tony (yes, that was his name) don’t fix it again. I instead took my work study check to the nearest bike shop and bought a hybrid bike. It was my main transportation through college and beyond. During the summers, I would ride to 3 different lifeguarding jobs. I was in the best shape of my life.

Read more…

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Showdown Over Bike/Walk Funds Missing from Metro Short Range Plan

Metro's Every Day is a Bike Day campaign appartently doesn't apply to the agency's funding planning days.

Does Metro’s EVERY DAY IS A BIKE DAY campaign apply to days when Metro is planning their future funding priorities? Find out this Wednesday as the agency considers its Short Range Transportation Plan. Image: Metro

Metro’s Short Term Transportation Plan is on the agenda for this Wednesday’s Metro board Planning and Programming Committee. The SRTP is the agency’s $88 billion plan for the next 10 years.

Though concerns have been raised about technology, articulated buses, and extending the Gold Line east of Azusa, the main point of contention appears to be over funding for active transportation: walking and bicycling. Overall, the 10-year plan includes $500 million worth of active transportation funding, just 0.6 percent of the overall $88 billion budget.

The Safe Routes To School National Partnership (SRTS) and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) have been at the forefront of a broad coalition urging greater Metro investment in  active transportation. They are mobilizing organizations and individuals to attend the Metro committee meeting on Wednesday, July 16 at 2:30 p.m.

From the  SRTS website:

In Metro’s view, walking and biking are the purview of cities, not a regional transportation priority. As a result, Metro has a fragmented approach to walking and biking that does not ensure that all of the parts add up to a region that is in fact multimodal, safe and serves the needs of all travelers and all trips. [...] As Metro prepares for a possible new transportation sales tax in 2016, now is a critical time to reevaluate the region’s policy vision and investment strategy to support a transportation system that works for all.

More than 60 organizations signed on to this L.A. County Active Transportation Collaborative comment letter. Other non-profits urging greater funding for walking and bicycling include NRDC-Climate Plan-Coalition for Clean Air, Move L.A., and the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Transportation Committee.

It’s not only non-profit community organizations echoing the call to support walking and bicycling. Also submitting comments to Metro were the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the L.A. Unified School District, and Jon Kirk Mukri’s city of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT.)  Here is an excerpt from LADOT’s refreshingly livability-minded comment letterRead more…

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City Planners Listen to Stakeholders Regarding Potential for Bike Lanes Along Boyle and Soto

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

As I pedaled my way up the hill towards Mariachi Plaza, I had to dodge a skateboarder coming straight at me at a rather significant clip.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen a skateboarder in the middle of the road there.

The eastbound stretch of 1st between Boyle Ave. and Pecan St. is quite wide, and the skaters usually turn onto Pecan or hop back onto the sidewalk and out of traffic at the Pecan/1st intersection. The thrill of an unfettered downhill is brief, in other words, but apparently worth the risk of skating against traffic.

That’s who needs special lanes, I thought as I crossed Boyle and picked up the 1st St. bike lane. There are more skaters than bikers, and they need to be able to get around easily, too. 

I was thinking about the possibilities for community-specific road reconfigurations because I was on my way to a roundtable meeting to discuss the possible implementation of bike lanes on Soto St. and Boyle Ave., two of the 19 streets on the 2010 Bike Plan’s Second Year slate of projects. The roundtable, run largely by David Somers of City Planning and LADOT Bikeways Engineer Tim Fremaux, was the city’s first stab at connecting with a few Boyle Heights stakeholders and gathering specific feedback regarding mobility and other issues along those streets.

Screen shot of the 2010 Bike Plan's lanes planned for Soto (from Huntington to 8th) and Boyle (from 5th to 8th).

Screen shot of the 2010 Bike Plan’s lanes planned for Soto (from Huntington to 8th) and Boyle (from 5th to 8th). Click to enlarge.

I was looking forward to hearing other stakeholders’ thoughts on the lanes. Although I didn’t expect any of the participants to offer push-back, I knew they would be aware of the concerns that others in the community might raise when the city looked for support for the project from the wider public.

First among those concerns is the view that bike lanes can act as a gateway drug for gentrification.

When the city comes a-calling in a long-marginalized community and only offers the one thing that is at the bottom of that community’s lengthy list of needs, it’s not unusual for some to be suspicious of the city’s intentions.

The popular “bikes mean business” mantra doesn’t help allay fears, either, as it doesn’t necessarily hold up in lower-income communities. There, bicycles can signify of a lack of resources, and long-standing businesses catering to hyper-local needs are not the ones well-heeled cyclists are likely to favor (see the discussion of the gentri-flyer debacle for more on this).

Another key concern is that Boyle Heights is a largely (bus) transit- and pedestrian-heavy community and that it needs upgrades to its pedestrian and bus infrastructure much more than it needs bike lanes that facilitate connections to rail.

This is not to say there aren’t a lot of cyclists in the area — there are. There is a sizable number of commuters, as well as a growing contingent of youth that regularly ride for both transport and recreation.

But they aren’t as visible a presence as the pedestrians. And it is often economics and community mobility patterns (i.e. moms needing to run errands with a few kids in tow) that keep many reliant on walking, skateboarding, and/or transit, not the lack of bike infrastructure–meaning that the community may be unsure that it would reap any benefits from the presence of the lanes. Read more…

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Pocrass: When Does a Government Entity Become Liable for a Dangerous Street?

Jim Pocrass is a leading bike attorney representing people from throughout Southern California who suffer serious personal injuries – or the families who lost a loved one to a wrongful death – because of the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is a cyclist and active in the bicycle community, supporting numerous bike-related causes. He also is on the board of directors of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free consultation, or to contact Jim, visit www.pocrass.com or call 310.550.9050. 

James Pocrass. Photography by Dennis Trantham

James Pocrass. Photography by Dennis Trantham

A couple of weeks ago, Jim volunteered to answer Streetsblog reader questions about legal matters. His answers proved so detailed that we decided to break them up into a five part series (one per question) rather than one giant story. Part 1 is available here.

Q:  Council members have recently been shutting down proposed road diets that would make well-known dangerous streets safer (sometimes they do so under the guise of “safety”). Would an individual hit or injured while biking (or walking) on one of these notorious streets – after a council member vetoes a proposed bike/pedestrian safety enhancement – have any legal standing to take (successfully) the city or council office to court?

A: For those who come upon this post and who may not know what a road diet is, let me define it before I answer the question.

Simply put, a road diet is the popular term for when a road is reconfigured to add a bike lane, a pedestrian crossing island, and/or parking. Research has shown that a road diet increases safety by reducing collisions for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

Benefits of a road diet include reduced vehicle speeds, improved mobility and access, reduced collisions and injuries, and improved livability and quality of life (U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration).

Some motorists complain because since a road diet also decreases the speed that they can drive, they believe it increases congestion and the time it takes them to get from point A to point B. There is some research to indicate that this is not true, but perception is often “everything.”  In some cities, this has led to what the New York Times labeled “The Bike Wars.”

Now, back to your question. It isn’t as easy to sue a government entity (city, county, state or federal government body or representative), as one would think. Read more…

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Sheriffs Blame Cyclist Victim in OC Road Rage Bottle-Throwing Incident

Screen capture showing Gatorade bottle thrown at cyclist. Source: Youtube

Screen capture showing Gatorade bottle thrown at cyclist. Source: Youtube

On May 31, 2014, Bryan Larsen was bicycling on a crowded stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in south Orange County. He began to notice a pattern of harassment by the occupants of a large white 4×4 Ram Truck, with Texas Virginia license plate “TX 65-500.” When passing cyclists, the truck would spew thick black coal-rolling exhaust.

Larsen got out his phone and began to record video. He then captured this road rage incident.  The truck swerved out of the car lane toward Larsen, who was riding in the bike lane. The truck slowed and its passenger threw a bottle full of Gatorade at the cyclist. When Larsen held his phone up and shouted that he had captured the incident on video, the truck blasted more exhaust and drove away.

In a television interview, Larsen describes the incident:

I was in a lot of fear. They came into the bike lane. The tires were as big as I was and I thought they were going to run me over.

Larsen posted the video online and reported the incident, submitting the evidence to the Orange County Sheriffs Department.

OCSD responded that they were investigating, but stated that there really was nothing law enforcement could do, since even though it was caught on video, no sheriff had actually been present to eye-witness to the incident.

Meanwhile, the video went viral. The incident was reported in local media. Larsen approached Arizona-based advocacy organization Look! Save A Life which produced an annotated version of the video, slowing down and clarifying what occurred. Just over a month passed with no response from OCSD.

On July 7, Look! Save A Life published this Open Letter to the Orange County Sheriffs Department. The letter was also shared widely.

The next day, the OC Sheriffs finally responded.

But not quite in the way cyclists expected.

OCSD stated that they will not be charging the truck’s driver. They may charge the passenger with assault and battery for throwing the bottle.

And the kicker: OCSD plans to charge cyclist Bryan Larsen for shouting obscenities. On the video, Larsen can be heard stating “do that f—ing on video right now!”

Read more…

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Metro Round-Up: LAX, Open Streets, New Reps on Technical Committee

Concept rendering for new LAX rail station. Green Line and Crenshaw Line light rail  run at grade, below future "automated people mover." Image via Metro staff report

Concept rendering for new LAX rail station at 96th Street and Aviation Bo. Green Line and Crenshaw Line light rail run at grade (visible in the middle right), below future “automated people mover” (visible in the upper right). Image via Metro staff report [PDF]

At yesterday’s Metro Board Meeting, directors approved a handful of initiatives that have great implications for the future livability of the Los Angeles Region. Here is the re-cap:

Technical Committee Adds Pedestrian and Bike Representatives

The Metro Board approved adding two new active transportation representatives to the agency’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). In addition to new TAC members representing bicycle and pedestrian transportation experts, the motion [pdf] approved yesterday also added a non-voting public health representative.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and Safe Routes to School National Partnership have pushed for long-overdue Metro TAC expansion. The TAC includes a representative from the Automobile Association of America, but no one advocating for active transportation. Earlier this year, Streetsblog previewed TAC expansion. Since that earlier article, the somewhat half-hearted proposal was strengthened by a March 2014 motion from Metro boardmember Mike Bonin.

Here’s what the LACBC’s Eric Bruins had to say about yesterday’s Metro board action:

It’s about time for Metro to embrace multi-modalism throughout the culture of the agency, including their advisory committees. This committee is involved in the nuts-and-bolts of decision-making at Metro, so it’s important to have people at the table constantly viewing agency actions through a lens of how they impact walking, biking, and public health throughout the county.

Open Streets Events Expanding Throughout L.A. County

SBLA covered the expansion of CicLAvia-type open streets events when Metro staff recommendations were circulated about a month ago. As LongBeachize previewed, representatives from the city of Long Beach attended the Metro Board meeting, expressing their concerns over Metro’s selection criteria. Metro awarded funding to only one event to each applicant city before funding any additional events hosted by the same city. Proportionally, this puts the cities of Los Angeles (population 4,000,000) and Long Beach (population 500,000) on equal footing with Lawndale (population 34,000) and Culver City (population 40,000). (Population figures here.)

Though Metro board member John Fasana expressed that Metro should “re-tool” in future open streets funding cycles, the board approved the staff recommendations unchanged. Lots more ciclovías coming to lots of neighborhoods over the next couple years!

Rail Connection with LAX Approved

Despite boardmember Mike Bonin expressing some concerns (including very low ridership projections, a focus of this L.A. Weekly article) at last week’s Metro Programming Committee meeting, yesterday’s LAX approval went very smoothly. The Metro board approved a preferred alternative for connecting rail to LAX. It’s a new rail station, located at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard, where LAX-bound riders can board an Automated-People-Mover (APM). Depending on operations decisions, still to be determined, the new station will serve the existing Metro Green Line, Metro Crenshaw Line (under construction) and possibly even Expo Line trains via Crenshaw. (Editor’s note: this would be way in the future – there are no current plans to connect Expo and Crenshaw tracks.) Both Mayor Garcetti and Bonin stated that they expect the 96th Street Station to be more than just a transfer point, but indeed a full-featured world-class gateway to Los Angeles.

With the LAX connection conceptually decided, there’s still lots of environmental studies, design and operation decisions, finalization of features that will be designed/built by LAX itself, and about a decade of construction before the riders can experience it.  Read more…

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Five Key Tips For Metro Regarding Safe Bus-Bike Interactions

Early last week, Michael MacDonald posted his helmet-camera video showing a Metro bus driver veering rightward into his path, then braking. The incident occurred on Adams Boulevard near Hauser. When MacDonald confronted the driver, he responds dismissively and closes the bus window.

The video bounced around the bike corner of cyberspace. It was picked up by Biking in L.A. who called it “a perfect test case for the city’s cyclist anti-harassment ordinance.” The footage ran on Univision and CBS.

There are other similar videos online. Below is one that took place on Santa Monica Boulevard, from YouTube user Wes + Bikes.

Though it doesn’t get recorded on video often, I can personally confirm that this sort of merge conflict happens to lots of L.A. cyclists very frequently, especially those of us intrepid enough to “take the lane” on L.A.’s busier arterial bus-route streets. Yesterday, I bicycled from Koreatown to Downtown L.A. and had two transit vehicles merge into my path, one a Metro Bus and the other an LADOT DASH Shuttle. Public agency bus merges are frequent, as they get over to the curb to pick up passengers, but I’ve also been cut off by plenty of private vehicles, especially near freeway on-ramps, and  driveways. Read more…