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So I Went to a Bike Master Plan Meeting…

10:48 AM PST on February 21, 2008

...and a Pico/Olympic meeting broke out .

Frustrated with what they see as a limited public process, cyclists showed up by the dozens last night to discuss what should be in the next Bike Master Plan (BMP) for the city and vent about current conditions and the attitudes of city staff toward cyclists.

Many cyclists in the room fretted that the BMP was just going to be another document that gathers dust, and the city's outreach was more about being able to check a box on a to-do list than to gather public input. That there were only four meetings scheduled before the plan is drafted (with two more on mountain biking, and four after the plan is drafted) was a major catching point with the audience, nearly all of whom "voted" to ask for more meetings at the end of the session.

The deplorable current state of affairs for cyclists was highlighted that last night's meeting (and according to Stephen Box, none of the four meetings), held on a city-owned building, had bike parking. Some makeshift indoor parking was available behind a booth set up by the LACBC, but the building itself was rack and locker free. Oh, and there was no sound system, despite nearly 80 (I hand-counted 73 at one point) people in attendance.

One thing the city is definitely doing right is bringing in a consultant who has experience creating BMP's that work. Mia Burke, from Alta Planning and Design, worked on BMP's for Portland and other bike-friendly cities and seemed to know her stuff about what engineering options should be on the table. Burke's can-do attitude was needed for a meeting like this as she had to deflect or answer questions all night from a hostile audience.

The meeting started off with a lot of questions and complaints on the first sets of data presented by the consultants. Of chief concern is how the city currently accounts for "bike routes." There are more than 7,350 miles of highway miles in Los Angeles, compared to about 300 miles of bike ways. However, those 300 miles include recreational trails, partial routes (for example, where a bike path or lane exists for one block) and "death traps" such as Sepulveda Boulevard where the words "bike route" don't actually mean anything. Later in the meeting, Burke herself referred to the 150 miles of bike routes as "so-called bike routes."

One of the problems, Burke explained, is that bike planning in the city is so old. Much of the routing was done in the 1980's and the last full update was done in 1996 (the 2002 BMP relied heavily on the one from the 1990's).

So what can be done? The presentation listed several options for improving conditions on the street, from connecting and increasing the city's "broken skeleton" of bike lanes, to creating bike boulevards (streets designed to make it easy for bikes and harder for cars) to better ways of marking and designating "bike routes."

But each of these engineering methods had detractors as well. Numerous speakers spoke against bike lanes as places made more dangerous by opening car doors. Because bike boulevards are usually side streets, many cyclists will avoid them in the evening when they're poorly lit. As for bike routes, few in the room believe that they are anything more than signs and have no real meaning. Despite these complaints, everyone agreed that something needs to be done, and more speakers than not expressed enthusiasm for seeing some of these engineering options tried throughout the city.

For example, 4th Street (currently a bike route from La Brea Ave. to just north of the downtown) seems a logical candidate to be redesignated and redesigned as a bike boulevard. All that would be needed was some traffic calming, new signage, some paint, and changing the stop signs to always favor east-west traffic along the route. The speed humps and other traffic calming would keep cars (except for local trips) off the road and the signage would make it easy for bikes to have a continuous ride.

One engineering option that everyone liked was the "road diet" made popular in the Northwest and Europe. A road diet consists of taking a lane designated for car traffic and using the asphalt to create bike lanes. While popular in the room, Burke was joined by representatives from LADOT and the Planning Department as skeptics that there is the political will to try these types of projects city wide. DOT bike coordinator Michelle Mowery did note that the city has done some road diets in the past.

There was also discussion from the audience about non-engineering issues such as how to encourage more people to take up biking, how to get better enforcement of bike laws, and how to make those laws more equitable for cyclists. All of these issues will be addressed in some form in the final plan, although Burke stressed it was outside of their power to force better police education or to change the law.

There's two bike hearings left. If you can't make one, feel free to post your comments at the plan's official website.

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