More on the Bike Plan: Strength and Weaknesses

(As you may have noticed, Streetsblog is running a series gathering different people’s opinions on the Bike Master Plan.  You can read statements by a group of different bike activists from Monday,  Dan Koepel on Tuesday, Kent Strumpell in the comments section yesterday and now LACBC Founder and Green L.A. Transportation Working Group Chair Joe Linton today.)

First off, a few words on what I think a bike
plan is and isn’t. A city plan has to be approved by the applicable
departmental leadership, the City Council, and the Mayor. As such, it’s
generally a watered-down document that the institutional forces think
is perhaps going too far, and that advocates are sure doesn’t go far
enough.  In my opinion, it’s important that the bike plan take a
serious step in a good direction, but I don’t expect for it to get us
all the way there.  It’s important that the bike plan identify
worthwhile/priority next steps… but, at least for me and in the current
milieu, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be a big vision document for
a biketopia paradise for L.A. tomorrow.

Perhaps my standards aren’t high enough – perhaps I’ve been at this
too long and my horizons have been lowered too much… but I think the
most helpful context for critiquing the bike plan would be along the
lines of “what’s doable in the next couple years?” and “does this take
us in the right direction?” (as opposed to something like “does this
have everything to make L.A. perfect for bikes?”)   I see the bike plan
as an opportunity for approving a few good next steps.

The plan does not limit what bike advocates can push for.  There
are no bike lanes designated for Vermont Avenue in the Bike Plan.  If
bicyclists and neighbors and businesses come together and push for bike
lanes on Vermont, and a broad consensus forms around getting bike lanes
on Vermont, and the City Council and the Mayor get behind bike lanes on
Vermont, then it doesn’t matter what’s in the plan.
 We bike advocates don’t need to limit our advocacy to what’s in the
plan. We should continue to push the political envelope, regardless of
what the plan says.

There has been quite a bit of valid criticism of the bike plan
process.  I am not going to enumerate all the flaws in the process
here, but I will list a couple that come to mind quickly.  There
weren’t enough community meetings.  People who signed in at last year’s
public meetings still haven’t received an email announcing that the
maps have been made public.  The initial email announcement was
apparently only sent to Neighborhood Councils, not the city’s Bicycle
Advisory Committee, nor bicycle organizations, nor bike blogs, nor
people who actually attended public meetings regarding the bike plan.
 If the city wants the plan to be successful, then they need to be more
transparent and open and share information.  It’s the 21st century!
 The internet has made it cheap and easy to distribute information… the
city needs to use these tools to share information to make a plan that
has meaningful input and broader support.

I think that the main deficiency in the plan is that it aims too
low, and I think that this is a result of the scope.  The Department of
Transportation (LADOT) did not put out a scope saying that their
consultant should come up with a plan to make Los Angeles a bicycle
paradise.  The LADOT’s scope set parameters that made it nearly
impossible for a plan to be pushy or visionary.  Facility-wise, LADOT’s
bike plan scope tells their consultant to focus on just two things:

1)      Look at the 1996 Bike Plan and see if the facilities listed in it still make sense.

2)      Look at smaller secondary streets and see what might be done there.

The city then selected the Portland, Oregon-based Alta Planning +
Design to be the consultant that would come up with the plan.  Alta is
an excellent firm, but they are consultants who need to do more-or-less
what the city asks them to do, so they had to stay within the
parameters of the city’s scope.  Looking at the draft maps, it looks to
me like Alta actually exceeded it in some small ways – for example, the
new draft map for the Valley shows bike paths along additional
stretches of the Tujunga Wash and the Pacoima Wash that weren’t in the
1996 plan.  So, to Alta’s credit, it looks like they slipped in a few
good things that may have been beyond the exact LADOT scope.  I hope I
haven’t gotten them in trouble yet… though I hope that by the time this
plan is completed and adopted, it will have exceeded the LADOT’s scope
even more.

I’ve been looking over the maps and I have yet to find any proposed
bicycle facilities on them that I would actually oppose.  I think that
if the city would actually implement all the facilities shown on the
maps, Los Angeles would take a step in the right direction toward being
a bicycle-friendly city… only a step in the right direction, though,
and there would still be a lot of work left to do.  I support what’s
proposed in the plan, even though I don’t think that plan goes far
enough.  I don’t think that the facilities in the plan are stupid,
wrong, or undesirable. I just think that, for us to make bicycling safe
and convenient in Los Angeles, we will need to do all these facilities
and more.

Looking at some specific facilities:

Bike Routes:
I think that this is the one really strong aspect of the proposed draft
(which flows directly from it being what the LADOT scope was asking
for.)  Alta has done a good job of identifying plenty of very
appropriate “bike friendly streets."

Some folks have commented that “bike friendly streets” is a
little vague.  It is… but I think that this vagueness is ok, and can
actually serve us.  These streets aren’t identified as Bicycle
Boulevards or as locations for sharrows, or bike lanes, or even
something we haven’t thought of.  At this stage of the plan, I would
assert that it’s good not to nail down which specific treatment will
work best for each block of each street.  This detail would be better
to be worked out with cyclists and other stakeholders as these projects
are implemented.  Using a term like Bicycle Boulevard, which many L.A.
bicyclists don’t even understand (and even fewer non-cyclists), is more
likely to get resistance.  The cautionary example of this was a Bicycle
Boulevard proposed in Burbank was quashed by angry homeowners, most of
whom seemed to perceive it as putting a bike-only path down the middle
of their street.  As we implement facilities that are unfamiliar in Los
Angeles (such as Bike Boulevards and even sharrows) we’ll need to bring
more stakeholders into the loop about what these facilities are and are
not.  All this to say that, in my opinion, it’s ok to just call these
“bike friendly streets” for now.

I expect that some streets in some areas of the city have been
overlooked, but, at least in my neighborhood (Koreatown), the draft
plan shows quite a few excellent choices for “bike friendly streets.”  There’s 4th Street Bike Boulevard, New Hampshire, Coronado,
Heliotrope… all good useful bike streets today that could be enhanced
by various bike boulevard treatments.  The secondary street networks
for the Valley, Boyle Heights, and mid-city all look pretty extensive.

Here’s a place where all of us bicyclists should look over the
places where we ride, and send comments to the City Planning Department
to propose additional streets that haven’t been designated yet on the
draft plan.

Bike Lanes: This part of the plan appears pretty
disgraceful.  As far as I can tell, in terms of the arterial bike lane
network, the new draft plan has taken a significant step backwards from
the 1996 bike plan (and the 1996 plan wasn’t that great to begin with.)
 Lots of streets where the old plan designates bike lanes have now been
declared “unfeasible.”  These include streets that, to my eye, look
pretty doable – examples of this would include portions of Olympic
Boulevard (from downtown to Boyle Heights) and Mission Road in Lincoln
Heights.

There are a few new streets designated for lanes here and
there, including (in my area) portions of Rampart and Second Street.
 These new lanes are welcome, but they’re pretty few and far between.

One possible remedy for this deficiency would be to change some
of the language in the current draft designations.  Perhaps the
“infeasible” category could be changed to something less defeatist.
 The 1996 plan included a number of “study corridors” – while very few
of these study corridor facilities actually got implemented, they
didn’t slam the door.  I’d suggest that the “infeasible” language be
changed to something more like “study corridors” or “potential
bikeways.”  Many of these projects are likely to require some removal
of travel lanes or parking, which I understand is politically
difficult.  I’d like to see them stay in the plan, though, and we can
work out the thorny issues on a case-by-case basis.

Bike Paths:  Mercifully, I haven’t found any bike paths that have been declared “infeasible.”  I (in the L.A. Creek Freak blog and my book)
have advocated for river revitalization, and so it’s good to see that
the L.A. River, Ballona Creek, and Dominguez Channel remain intact from
the 1996 plan into the current draft.  Additional portions of the
Arroyo Seco, Tujunga Wash, Pacoima Wash, Aliso Creek, and some rail
right-of-ways have been designated, all of which are steps in the right
direction.

I would still suggest that the bike paths designated are
incomplete. There are quite a few Los Angeles River tributaries that
present opportunities for bike paths, including Caballero Creek, Bull
Creek, portions of Brown’s Creek, and others.

It’s all a draft… and now is the time to
improve the draft into something that many of us could support.  I
would encourage cyclists to review the draft plans, and to make your
comments per the instructions at the city website.  This bike plan,
while imperfect, does represent an opportunity to move forward with
some good facilities that can make Los Angeles bicycling safer and more
convenient.  It’s up to us advocates to shape draft plan into something
that we can accept… and to keep on advocating!

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