Mowery and the LADOT Have a Chance to Connect with Cycling Community through the Backbone

2_11_10_rhode.jpgPlenty of activists would rather work with LADOT then against them.

Last Thursday, KPCC’s Patt Morrison aired a piece showcasing the Backbone Bikeway Network as presented by guests Alex Thompson and Mihai Petieu. I chuckled when I saw Alex Thompson’s tweet announcing that he was appearing “opposite” guest Michelle Mowery the LADOT Sr. Bike Coordinator because I knew the exchange would get fiery and rightfully so.  Mowery has come under a lot of fire from the cycling community for not being an outright bulldog for cyclists. One gets the feeling she is afraid for her job should she get too rowdy over there at the LADOT. After eight to ten minutes of show debilitating glitches with the KPCC call in system things were finally on their way.

On air, Mowery dismissed the Backbone Bikeway Network as simplistic proclaiming that the LADOT’s forthcoming Bike Master plan was sure to include most of what the Backbone was asking for anyway. I feel however that in dismissing the Backbone, Mowery missed an important opportunity to be that "YAYsayer" that the community desperately wishes for of someone in her position. That is, if most of the Backbone is already provided for in the LADOT plan then why not simply applaud it, commit to it as a “first step in a wider process” and move the topic to discuss the schedule of implementation and funding which is really the main symptom of a larger "starvation of political will" that continues to vex the LA cycling community. Sadly the exchange became a bout of bickering as to who had the better plan.

As Damien Newton opined recently in a Streetsblog article, it’s not really about what streets are and are not part of the plan – that can be agreed upon by the people who actually ride the streets themselves – it’s about whether the plan – any plan – will ever be implemented. The LADOT is notorious for it’s perceived lack of will or ability to implement bicycle infrastructure. The fact that the LADOT bike master plan is so vast and complex may be what hinders it’s sale-ability to the public and thus the political impossibility. In other words any Bike Master Plan needs to be market-able to constituents and The Bike Working Group has gone above and beyond the call of duty to create a simple politically market-able plan that motorists, citizens and politicians alike can understand and now is the opportunity for Mowery to take that and run with it.

By presenting it as a "bicycle freeway network” this plan has the potential to capture the minds of the motoring public and already, minds are being captured. The Backbone is being twittered and more importantly being talked about by media that traditionally pays little attention to bicycle issues such as the LA Times KPCC and NPR. Now is the time for Michelle Mowery to join US, the cycling community, adopt this simple powerful first step graciously created with no budget, and advocate to politicians and to the public. With the Backbone in place, the neighborhoods can work on their next steps which is implementing bike routes that will connect with the Backbone.

  • Good observations, RB. It’s sad that being a bike advocate in this city is so frequently associated with banging one’s head against the wall, which is what I want to do quite often when I’m constantly reminded of the lack of top-level support for bike/ped infrastructure that seems to plague LA.

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if we got news more like that coming out of NY of late–that top level government people (i.e., Mayor Bloomberg and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan) are reaping major success and accolades for their forward-thinking infrastructure/livability planning. See this StreetsBlog article from just today here re Broadway revamping:

  • minibikebar

    I have not seen the new plan yet…it’s suppose to be out next month? I think that is what LADOT said in the interview. I think I will await and see before I comment on the new bike plan.
    I agree with Ross….
    OMG stop with the Mowery thing….she might be a great punching bag for the cyclist but really city council, and LADOT basically duck tape her hands and feet then throw in the pool and say swim your on your own.
    The bottom line is she has no power so I’m going to the city council members who do have the power to eliminate parking/lanes for those 300 miles plus potential bike lanes in their districts and the power to tell LADOT put the bike lanes in.

    If we don’t stop the silence from the City Council member’s and the Mayors office, bicyclist will always be second citizens in Los Angeles.

  • I have been surprised how quickly some local politicians have turned into “bike friendly” councilmembers. The real proof is in overcoming eternal naysayers like Mowery and the weak cabal she has arrayed before her, but more significantly, in overcoming the institutional bias against anything other than happy motoring. The LADOT was created to centralize transportation planning decisions in LA, but the focus of that power has made it easy for the department to pave over micro-regional, parochial, concerns.

    This was all well and good for the mindless auto-dependent development of the mid-20th century – but it certainly is barely working for us now, and won’t work in the future.

    The levers of power in City Hall are one-by-one getting pulled by cyclists, but we’ve got one hell of a fight with some of the high holy policies of the LADOT.

    I think that our fight lies mainly with the Mayor’s office, and his CAO, both of whom have broad authority to dictate policy to city departments (or at least hire and fire department heads). In a city of 5 million, we have a couple of hundred very dedicated volunteers, and a community of several thousand regular bicyclists that can email, twitter, attend meetings, photograph, and ride to help our cause.

    The Backbone Network is a great rallying point (as is CicLAvia!) for this summer’s push to change the LADOT’s prime directive to properly reflect the LA Administrative Code that created the DOT:

    “The Transportation Department shall, on behalf of the City:

    (1) Consolidate and carry out programs previously assigned to various City departments or bureaus which have been transferred to or consolidated in the Department; centralize authority over the planning of transportation, traffic regulation and related uses of the City’s system of streets and highways; serve as the Department primarily responsible for the development and coordination of plans to meet varied ground transportation needs; provide a primary interface with other governmental agencies on transportation matters consistent with prior approved City Council policies and procedures; study traffic and related matters including the effect of laws and regulations relating to traffic; and secure information upon such subjects and provide information to the various departments and offices of the City concerning traffic accidents, congestion, lighting, and other conditions affecting the safe and convenient use of streets and other public ways for travel;”

    Notice how nowhere in there does it say that cars are the sole focus of the DOT? Yet somehow this department has private automobile movement as it’s primary concern.

  • Rhode Block:

    Some good comments in your article, but there’s one thing that should be cleared up about the Backbone Bikeway Network. There’s a misconception floating around that it’s meant to be a “freeway for bikes”, which implies that it should have special, segregated facilities for bikes at the expense of anyone else.

    While it may look similar to a freeway system on the maps, it’s intent is really to be an “anti-freeway”—a road space open to all modes of transit, given importance by how vital it is in moving people where they need to go.

    Where a freeway segregates and divides a city, often with negative effects on the neighborhoods it dissects, the idea with the Backbone Bikeway Network is to prioritize and enhance the city’s already-existing transportation arteries, serving to unify and connect communities. Ultimately, this will not only be good for cyclists, but good for the city as a whole.

  • minibikebar

    I think I was a little harsh dismissing Michelle Mowery’s position with the city.

    So I made a bold decision. I called her to set up a meeting to discuss the future of bicycling in the City of Los Angeles and to actually, talk to her face to face. She called back and I’m meeting with her next week. As bicycle advocates we talk about out reach or connections but how many have you actually talked to her one on one. Did anyone contact her about the Bicycle backbone map and actually, meet with her about it?
    Now, tell the truth. Communication is a two way street so I made the bold move to reach out with an open mind. Can you? And remember there is just one of her and 100’s of us.

    But I still think as bicyclists we need to stop the silence from the elected officials because they truly have the power to move the agenda forward. They have the power to remove a car lane or parking to put in more bicycle lanes.
    Make sure you keep your city council members focused on bicycles and the new plan. Long Beach had nothing, a few years ago now they have a City Manager who wants the city to more bicycle friendly. It’s amazing what one person in power can do.
    Can you hear me Mayor Villaraigosa!

  • I tried to set up a meeting with her – once just dropping by to say “Hello” (because I was downtown and had a little time to kill), she told me to scram and set up a meeting with her; the second time was our scheduled meeting, which she rescheduled twice. I gave up after that.

    Good luck!

  • I’d like to also add that several groups of people are actively meeting with elected officials, staff and city departments now – so adding your voice to the clamor will only help. Get ‘er done!

  • Roadblock

    Why are we being tasked with reaching out to her? It’s her job to reach out to us and take care of our needs. As it says in the LADOT administrative code.

    The cycling community is so desperate for service that hundreds of people have volunteered their time to help out for free since LADOT can’t seem to provide much.

    I’m just asking that instead of dismissing what the community obviously wants so badly, that Mowery embrace it and find a way to make the community happy. 55 miles of lanes and paths in 14 years is not going to cut it.

  • LAMosca

    Roadblock: you’re thinking too highly of yourself to assume she’s going to contact bicyclists…especially since the city is facing some serious layoffs.

    Who knows who is going to be left in the Planning Dept or LADOT. And no offense, but the budget and making sure the city doesn’t file for bankruptcy is more important right now than petty back-and-forth between bike “activists” and bike planning staff.

  • roadblock

    @LAMosca to you it might be petty back and forth but to those of us who are trying to make the streets safer, it’s is about an agency whose job it is to connect and facilitate cyclists that does little to nothing. It is Mowery’s job to reach out to the public and get the actual people who ride the streets involved in the process and this radio show was yet another example of her unwillingness to do so.

    Concerning the budget.. encouraging the use of bicycles is probably the number one solve for a city that is too broke to fix potholes and streets in disrepair. for every 4000 pound pavement destroying vehicle trip that is replaced by a bicycle, that much more money will be saved on street maintenance. The city and the taxpayers alike spends BILLIONS to accommodate vehicles that pollute the air and break up our pavement. Bicycle riding for trips of less than 5 miles would save us all tons of money.

  • Let the haters hate and the ridazz ride.

  • LAMosca

    Clearly, you seem to not know how to play ball in City Politics…it’s not about who screams the loudest, FYI.

  • roadblock

    @LAmosca if a large group of people are not happy with an agency and the people who are being paid to serve us and you are saying they should not speak up?

  • LAMosca – how involve have you been in what a total fight it has been to bring public officials around to see the benefits of helping cyclists out? Going along to get along gets us shoved out the door. If you make your problem a problem for someone in city hall, yes they will try to marginalize you, but when you can pack meeting after meeting with people of all ages and backgrounds asking for the same sorts of things – then you’ve got the issue licked.

    Politics is not a happy fun game – it is about conniving, convincing, and otherwise inducing the changes you want to see. You don’t do that by silently, and powerlessly, lurking in the background hoping to be noticed some day. If you have no money, but a lot of friends, then you invite them to the protest, and you bang on pots and pans until someone pays attention. Cyclists being killed in the streets, negative campaigns of blog posts, images, and news stories have pushed forward positive developments for cyclists in LA. What is your counter strategy? That we all start wearing bow ties and start saying, “Please sir, may I have another hit and run?”

  • la rider


    Actually politics is about whoever screams the loudest. Just as the silent Asian that is always ignored so are the bicyclists and would be bicyclists who never speak up.

    As cyclists we do not have the political clout that automobile drivers have, but hopefully we can change that with the internet. Responses from the LATimes article has shown that there are alot of people who feel very strongly about having other transportation options in Los Angeles and they are ready to be heard. That was one of the most active discussions the LATimes has had in awhile.

  • LAMosca

    I’m personally involved in social justice issues in Los Angeles, either doing community organizing or research. I care about bicycle issues because I think it’s important to put front and center people of color and low-income communities because bear the brunt of disinvestment in services and crappy infrastructure. I just don’t have to wear that on my sleeve.

    But I still think the severe lack of diversity in the bike community (I’m speaking specifically about those advocating for better services) is probably contributing to the issue. Multi-racial, broad-based coalitions get the city’s attention, not necessarily a bunch of transplants who don’t quite understand how to get Mowery’s attention.

    And as a Los Angeles native, who has had to interact with city staff and officials, dissing them isn’t going to get you a meeting, that’s for sure.

  • roadblock

    @LAmosca LOL. not that it matters but I was born and raised right here in Hollywood… more importantly, are you saying that people only matter if they are “non-transplant” low income and multiracial? what “non-transplanted” groups would you prefer to see among the cycling advocates? I know the pic up there is low-res but maybe you should look closer… I see all kinds of diversity, income brackets, and yes even a few “born and raised” advocates… come out and ride a bike with Midnight Ridazz and you will soon realize that the community I’ve personally helped organize for the last 6 years is probably the most diverse group of people in Los Angeles if not the world.

  • LAMosca

    What I’m saying it that broad-based coalitions are necessary to move forward, and that goes for everything. But I fundamentally believe that people of color and low-income communities need to be front and center of this issue, especially because we live in a primarily people of color city.

    And the reason I mention transplants, is because if you’ve been here long enough, you might learn a thing or two about LA politics.

    And just because folks who go on rides are a diverse group of people, doesn’t mean that these are the same people going to meetings and hearings, and reflect the diversity of the bike community (and by community I mean people who use a bike as a form of transportation). Let’s be real here….

    Anyway, it’s this kind of back and forth on some of the basics of bike advocacy that’s to the detriment of the work that needs to be done.

    I’m out.

  • Curious about the point of LAMosca’s prior comments. The poster certainly seems to (at least claim to) be well-versed in some things political and community building, but I’m not so sure anything productive came of that “back and forth” or anyone really learned anything. Was it just to take some of us readers/posters to school about “the basics of bike advocacy”–or just to pound some chests?

    I wonder if LaMosca is active in helping move forward the bike issues or other issues discussed here on LAStreetsBlog–if so, that’s great, and s/he’s got a point that a lot of strength could be realized by mobilizing the vast and diverse community I see riding and ride with on the streets of LA from just riders to more active seekers of infrastructure, safety, equal enforcement, etc.

    If not, that’s a shame–seems that his/her energy could really help.

  • roadblock

    @LAmosca from your words, I get the feeling you’ve never actually gone to a city council meeting at which the “cycling community” has shown up…. because for instance the diverse group – pictured above post city council meeting – was there to protest the LAPD’s treatment of Andres Tena (not sure/dont care if he’s a transplant or not) – a personal friend I met through the immensely diverse Midnight Ridazz, who was hit and run by a Hummer driver who was caught a block later with a bike under the wheel by an LAPD officer – and let go…. You know, social justice issues and all…

    And I agree with you 100% that low income groups and people of color should be repped in the fight for cyclists rights, but it is funny as all heck that you are defending Mowery who no more than 3 months ago proclaimed that Portland has a better cycling plan and layout because they are “very white.”

    Maybe you should get out on the streets, attend some CC meetings, get the back story and then speak on these issues?

  • Look, Mowery can keep her job by doing the bare minimum necessary not to get fired. She’s protected by civil service. She can have whatever wrongly directed ideas she wants, but the worse that will happen is that she gets shuffled off to “manage” some other program. Rather than complaining that she isn’t a “bulldog” for cyclists (when she might care less about taking on that responsibility), the correct response is to continue to lobby sympathetic City Council members and work to replace unsympathetic ones with ones who are more amenable to the bicyclists’ requests.

  • calwatch is guessing on the civil service statement. Make a phone call, ask first, then make the statement.

    These assumptions are common. The City of LA recently gave a 15 year pin to an “employee” only to find out that the person was actually a contractor.

    It’s the responsibility of the public to watch and to ask the questions, including “What are the priorities?” and “What are the responsibilities?” and “Who is accountable for this person’s performance review?”

    (Trick questions!)

  • Actually, I’m not guessing, because I did my research. The position of Senior Project Coordinator is covered under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Engineers and Architects Association (EAA) as part of the “Supervisory Administrative Unit”. ( Thus, it’s a union position. EAA is a relatively strong union and while she can certainly be moved aside for insubordination, they will likely go to bat for her if she made a justifiable decision within her scope of authority. As far as her position in the food chain, according to my handy City staff directory, the Bikeways Section (headed by Transportation Engineer Paul Meshkin) is under the Grants, Bikeways, and Enhancements Division, Bureau of Capital Programming, Office of Transportation Development and Transit Services.

  • Is that your final answer?

  • minibikebar

    Met with Michelle Mowery last week. The Caltrans building looks like “borg ship” a scary, place! And how much security do you real need, for one building. After talking with her face to face, she knows more then any of us across the board. She is a wealth of information and if you listen to her carefully, she gives you lots of information. I admit it I was stupid and foolish about her position. Do you know your enemy…she is not it. Soap just admit it you hate her for personal reasons. Be careful for what you wish for! No, Michelle Mowery, no bikeways, no money, no staff and the reorganization of the department. No bike facilities. I want someone on my side in LADOT and she is it. Just because LADOT throws her to the wolves on a daily bases doesn’t mean she is not doing her job. Don’t cut off your nose despite your face bicycle advocates. Snap out of it…this budget thing is bad and this is a way for the management engineers to gut programs for the future. We will all be sorry for our ignorance on this issue.

    Now, I’m going for a very long bike ride. Oh, Mayor Villaraigosa…”got Bike” yet.

  • Mini, step away from the Kool-Aid!

  • minibikebar

    I have written Soap about “lowering heaven” instead of “raising hell” which is more my style as a person. It is important to communicate, discuss and debate our differences, about our values, and about how we use those values to guide our decision-making. It’s disappointing that some in the bike community seem more comfortable engaging in confrontation than collaboration, and in closing channels of communication rather than opening them.

    Bicyclists have two options. We can continue to amp up the rhetoric of outrage that is reverberating inside and outside our community. Or, rather than fortifying barriers, we can use this energy to build bridges across the spaces that divide us.

    As bicyclist we can discuss our differences respectfully, moving first toward understanding, and perhaps eventually toward resolution. And we can challenge ourselves to be better: What does it mean to be a part of a bicycling community? How do we engage each other in constructive dialog? How do we move forward?

    I hope that we can advance all bicyclist agenda’s forward with
    the collective energy of our diverse community (advocates, city staff, elected officials, education and media) it is among our greatest strengths and one that clearly enhances bicycling is Los Angeles.

    Go on a long ride and think about.

  • Yo, Cal! Take a look at “exempt” vs. “civil service” positions and then factor in the fact that the EAA is fair game for layoffs while the SEIU is sitting solid. Witness the 60% “scrub” of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (Charter Department!) and you’ll see that you need more than a scorecard to keep up with the game.


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