Why the Festival of Rights Matters

12_21_09_for.jpgCyclists gather at the Festival of Lights for this year’s Festival of Rights protest ride. Photo: Soap Box

Some see it as a niche ride for activists.  Some see it as Stephen Box’s attempt to get on television and continue his feud with Councilman Tom LaBonge.  Still others as a ride that engenders mire bad will with city agencies than it’s worth.  After all, how many hard core cycling activists really want to ride through car choked streets to look at a bunch of holiday lights?

But those critiques of the now annual Festival of Rights ride through the Festival of Lights are missing the point.  Box and his fellow riders are riding against the city of Los Angeles, or really any governmental body, being able to randomly decide that cyclists cannot ride on a road.  The attempts to justify the decision to tell cyclists that they cannot ride the road have ranged from laughable, such as when Councilman LaBonge waived an unsigned memo, not on city stationary, from the City Attorney’s office to non-existent such as this year’s efforts by a Park Ranger to explain he was enforcing the ban because, "he was told to."  However, it would appear that California law doesn’t have any allowances for municipalities to decide when and where cyclists can ride on the road with motor vehicles.

"We are so far beyond ‘I’m just doing what I was told.’" Box told me on the phone, expressing frustration with law enforcements inability to justify their ban with laws.  "We are now
in an era where officials are expected to take responsibility for their
actions.  People are expected to do what is right, nut just "I’m doing
what I was told."

So let’s break this down.  Every year the Department of Water and Power, in an effort to be visible from space bring Holiday Spirit to Griffith Park, hosts the DWP Festival of Lights.  Just because the city is so broke that another department’s General Manager is making the rounds explaining that they can’t afford for traffic engineers to email Neighborhood Councils before destroying their street life, is no reason for the DWP, a department funded by your electric bills, to consider ending the Festival.  Every year the city comes out with a new schedule for the Festival and recently has been expanding the access for cyclists and pedestrians to view the lights on certain nights.  For example, this year there were actually more nights dedicated to pedestrian travel through the Festival than car-only nights.  Even cyclists get a couple of extra half-hours on Saturday nights in addition to the now-traditional bike-only night.

Some would say that’s a step in the right direction.  I agree to a point.  It would be great if the entire festival were pedestrian only.  Then I would agree that cyclists were inappropriate.  In the mean time, there is still no legal justification to ban bicycles from local roads open to cars in the state’s vehicle code.  Go ahead, look it up.

Which leaves us with the justification of banning bikes is a safety measure that a traffic report prepared by LADOT’s Alan Willis, who is taking the city up on its voluntary retirement program, saying that cyclists would be endangered if they were allowed in the park at the same time that cars were allowed.  Even if that were the case, and has Willis ever seen some of the conditions cyclists ride through on city designed streets, it still doesn’t give them the right to ban bicycles.  Its simply a power they don’t have.

But what about street festivals such as Chinese New Years or the Italian Festival every fall?  Then the city closes entire roads to cars and bicycles.  True, but that is within their power.  The city can close a street, but it cannot say that a street is for one set of road users and not another as it does with the Festival.

In his summary of this year’s ride and clash with a Park Ranger, Box repeatedly makes the point that the DWP is not getting a permit for the Festival as any other person or agency would be required to get close a street or erect large lighting fixtures.  However, Box is trying to make a larger point about the bizarre Coalition of the Willing between Recreation and Parks, the LADOT and LADWP to create this yearly festival, police it as they see fit, and do it without going through all the proper steps.  However, we’re more concerned with the transportation policy, and I should point out that even if the city granted itself a bunch of permits, it still doesn’t have the power to ban bicycles from local roads without also banning all other types of vehicles.

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