Draft Bike Plan Looks to Move Forward. Problems Still Remain.

It's time to say it.  Bike route signs are next to useless, and can cause more problems than they solve as this route in West Hollywood shows.
It's time to say it. Bike route signs are next to useless, and can cause more problems than they solve as this route in West Hollywood shows.

(This is the first of a two-part series on the Bike Plan before it’s heard by the Planning Commission.  Part II, by Joe Linton, is coming tomorrow. – DN)

This Thursday morning, at 8:30 A.M., the Los Angeles City Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the 2010 Draft Bike Plan and vote on whether to move the plan to the full City Council.  If they approve the plan, the plan could clear the Transportation and Planning and Land Use (PLUM) Committees by early December, and the full Council by the end of the year.

In other words, if there’s any chance to improve the Draft Bike Plan, the time to mobilize is now.  City Council Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl has vowed that the Plan will not leave his committee unless it is “fixed,” meaning that the bike community is happy with the plan.  While Streetsblog applauds the Councilman’s pledge, do we really want to wait for the last second to have politicians fix a planning document during a public meeting?  Or do we want get involved to make sure that their job is easy when the plan comes to City Council committees?

The answer is obvious.  We want the problems fixed before the plan gets to the City Council.

And there are still some serious problems with the Draft Bike Plan.  True, the most recent draft of the plan is a huge improvement from earlier drafts.  However, earlier drafts were so bad that pretty much anything would have been an improvement.  Whether the current draft is better than the Plan of Unfulfilled Promise (aka the 1996 Bike Plan) isn’t even clear.  What is clear is that the Draft Bike Plan, even if fully implemented, isn’t going to make Los Angeles a world class city for bicycling.

At Bikeside, Alex Thompson takes a look at the current draft of the plan and finds it extremely lacking.  Thompson lists nine major problems with the plan, and it’s hard to take issue with anything he writes.  You can read Thompson’s full article by clicking here, or read more Streetsblog after the jump.One of my main problems with the plan, and one shared by Thompson, is that a lot of the plan exists on paper.  At the LADOT Bike Blog, they opine that:

A bike plan that cannot be implemented is worth less than the paper it’s printed on.  At the end of the day, the new plan gives the LADOT Bike Program a broader toolkit and a stronger mandate to implement bicycle infrastructure throughout the city.

While that might be true, the Draft Bike Plan reads more like a wish list than a full plan.  The plan promises 1,600 miles of new bikeways.  Thompson explains the problem with that number:

Sure, the draft has hundreds of miles of bike lanes “designated”.  But when you get down in the details you find out 511 of those miles fall in the “further study” category – a category that has previously gone by the name “potential” and “infeasible”.  Only 56 miles of bike lane are left.

Another issue with that number of “1,600”?  It includes “Bike Routes.”  Since arriving in Los Angeles, I’ve been amazed that anyone would consider “Bike Routes” a safe place to bike on city streets.  Just slapping a little green sign on a poll and acting as though it makes a street bike-friendly is wildly ineffective.  I’m hardly alone in that view.  As a matter of fact, it’s shared by LADOT Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery.

The problem with bike lane and bike route designation is just one example of the issues that remain with the improved Draft Bike Plan.  If you have issues of your own, the best way to influence the final document at this point would be to make a showing at the Planning Commission this Thursday.

After all, if it gets past them, it’s in the hands of the politicians.  And for every ally cyclists have on the Council, there’s another member of the City Council that will want to rubber stamp the plan and move on to something else.

  • A bike route can concentrate riders on a single roadway instead of multiple parallel roadways, so that there’s safety in numbers. Also, some “bike routes” have wider lanes than the standard.

    Bike routes shouldn’t count apples to apples with bike lanes and paths.

  • The bike route shown above is just fine if a cyclist realizes that (s)he must ride to the left side of the lane (region between the yellow stripe and the shoulder stripe) to avoid the door zone. Sharrows (left of center in the striped lane, or center of the “effective lane” which is the actual lane minus the door zone) could well be added to that route, as well as Bikes May Use Full Lane signs, if the desire is to promote low risk driver behavior on that route. In other words, I’m suggesting that Sharrows be used as a general treatment for bike routes. This would make these routes better for cyclists and train motorists to expect bicyclists to use these routes as drivers.

  • Erik G.

    Instead of generic Bike Route signs, why not have signs that list distances to destinations, or small street maps that might, for example, highlight a low-traffic parallel street that bicyclists might prefer to use?

  • The myopia of focusing on bike routes is not an effective strategy to get a more powerful BIke Plan. Thompson, to his credit, doesn’t get caught up in the silly discussion going on above.

    Bike Routes, except for the elite Vehicular Cyclist, have proven to be a complete failure at improving the modal share of cyclists, closing the gender gap of cyclists, and improving safety for all road users.

    Do you see what I did there? I shifted the debate away from minute issues around one particular engineering treatment of the road to broader (and measurable) goals that the bike plan fail to address.

    We have competent engineers (somewhere) in our city government. They can figure out the best ways to design streets.

    We, as citizens, need to give them design parameters.

    I would like to see the following happen (for example):
    – a larger percentage of road users on bicycles (should be measured and reported monthly or quarterly)
    – equitable numbers of men and women riding bikes (should match demographics)
    – lower numbers of crashes, injuries, and fatalities of bicyclists, pedestrians, and other street users

    Does this bike plan do this? Does it even measure this stuff? No, not really. There is no reporting schedule, there is no analysis, written into the plan. There is no scheme for data collection and publishing.

    Bike routes are a ruse used by the writers of this plan to bump up numbers and to prevent the informed from affecting the process by distracting the uninformed. Don’t waste your time on them, focus on winning larger goals with this plan and in the committee hearings to come.

  • Will Campbell

    Now it’s time to point to the inanity of Bike Route signage? I feel so vanguard having been pointing and laughing at the useless things for 20 years.

  • I feel 100% safer on the street with the much maligned Bike Route signage…in fact I have one attached to my door so as I exit my house I will be reminded the streets are safe for me so pedestrians and motorists alike will heed to my bike.

  • @Josef Bray-Ali – You wrote: “The myopia of focusing on bike routes is not an effective strategy to get a more powerful Bike Plan. Thompson, to his credit, doesn’t get caught up in the silly discussion going on above.”
    .
    Of course I’ve been arguing against the dedicated routes mindset for close to two decades, that’s why the Long Beach plan considers every street as a route that bicyclists will use; wording I co-wrote with Ryan Snyder. But then you probably didn’t know this because you are relatively new to the BMP process.
    .
    Josef continues: “Bike Routes, except for the elite Vehicular Cyclist, have proven to be a complete failure at improving the modal share of cyclists, closing the gender gap of cyclists, and improving safety for all road users.”
    .
    Elite vehiclular cyclist? Where did that come from? For the record, the streets and highways code defines routes in terms of their ROW and user attributes; they were not intended to close gender gaps, nor improve the safety of all users. How would a bike route reduce car-car, car-ped crashes, and Shared use pathways increase bike-ped conflicts? And mode share? San Francisco had large mode share increases while facilities development was frozen. And gender gaps; are you serious? Your silly prose misses the point that route designations were not designed to further your desired causes.
    .
    Josef imagines a re-framing: “Do you see what I did there? I shifted the debate away from minute issues around one particular engineering treatment of the road to broader (and measurable) goals that the bike plan fails to address.”
    .
    No, you simply made some factually incorrect and some propagandist statements. The discussion of bike routes is relevant, because no matter what you think, the state allows cities to designate routes, so what is done to those designated routes matters (more on designated routes below). For example, here are some “elite” bicycle drivers moving at a red-shit speed of 8mph, comfortably controlling a lane: http://www.youtube.com/user/CommuteOrlando#p/a/u/3/eY6v2X1twMo
    .
    I’ll bet if you slowed down to 8mph, you could also control lanes…
    .
    Josef continues: “We have competent engineers (somewhere) in our city government. They can figure out the best ways to design streets.”
    .
    The staff at LADOT is a more than a bit resistant to education about bicycle transportation as Stephen Box explains here:
    http://soapboxla.blogspot.com/2010/06/ladot-bikeways-misses-another.html
    .
    JBA: “We, as citizens, need to give them design parameters.”
    .
    Have you ever tried this? I have (with LADOT and LBDOT), and unless it’s in a standard, it’s like pouring water on a full glass. The way I’ve been reaching engineers and planners lately, to move them beyond minimum state standards, as the Federal policy is encouraging them to do, is through education (see above link for the UBT course I’d be happy to give to LADOT, if they could manage to come downstairs for a day).
    .
    Josef states his design parameters: “I would like to see the following happen (for example):
    1) a larger percentage of road users on bicycles (should be measured and reported monthly or quarterly)
    .
    And how would an engineer or a planner design for “mode share”, since there is no accepted or standard engineering methodology for increasing mode share as a “design parameter”. Mode share is affected by many factors outside of road design as the recent San Francisco experience shows (large mode share increases during a complete moratorium on facilities development). So if mode share increased or decreased, there would be no way to determine if the increase was CAUSED by the infrastructure changes. In other words, correlation does not equal causality.
    .
    JBA: “2) equitable numbers of men and women riding bikes (should match demographics)”
    .
    How? This is an even more nebulous design parameter.
    .
    JBA: “3) lower numbers of crashes, injuries, and fatalities of bicyclists, pedestrians, and other street users”
    .
    This is dominated by user behavior, and is influenced much more by education than infrastructure. Are you suggesting an education “design parameter”?
    .
    JBA: “Does this bike plan do this?”
    .
    It can’t, except maybe for the safety and education part implied by 3) above. Have you read the streets and highways code? Are you aware of what the minimum legal requirements are for a bicycle transportation plan (AKA Bicycle Master Plan)? Check out SHC 891.2:
    ===========================================================
    891.2. A city or county may prepare a bicycle transportation plan, which shall include, but not be limited to, the following elements:
    (a) The estimated number of existing bicycle commuters in the plan area and the estimated increase in the number of bicycle commuters resulting from implementation of the plan.
    (b) A map and description of existing and proposed land use and settlement patterns which shall include, but not be limited to, locations of residential neighborhoods, schools, shopping centers, public buildings, and major employment centers.
    (c) A map and description of existing and proposed bikeways.
    (d) A map and description of existing and proposed end-of-trip bicycle parking facilities. These shall include, but not be limited to, parking at schools, shopping centers, public buildings, and major employment centers.
    (e) A map and description of existing and proposed bicycle transport and parking facilities for connections with and use of other transportation modes. These shall include, but not be limited to, parking facilities at transit stops, rail and transit terminals, ferry docks and landings, park and ride lots, and provisions for transporting bicyclists and bicycles on transit or rail vehicles or ferry vessels.
    (f) A map and description of existing and proposed facilities for changing and storing clothes and equipment. These shall include, but not be limited to, locker, restroom, and shower facilities near bicycle parking facilities.
    (g) A description of bicycle safety and education programs conducted in the area included within the plan, efforts by the law enforcement agency having primary traffic law enforcement responsibility in the area to enforce provisions of the Vehicle Code pertaining to bicycle operation, and the resulting effect on accidents involving bicyclists.
    (h) A description of the extent of citizen and community involvement in development of the plan, including, but not limited to, letters of support.
    (i) A description of how the bicycle transportation plan has been coordinated and is consistent with other local or regional transportation, air quality, or energy conservation plans, including, but not limited to, programs that provide incentives for bicycle commuting.
    (j) A description of the projects proposed in the plan and a listing of their priorities for implementation.
    (k) A description of past expenditures for bicycle facilities and future financial needs for projects that improve safety and convenience for bicycle commuters in the plan area.
    ==========================================================
    .
    JBA: “There is no reporting schedule, there is no analysis, written into the plan. There is no scheme for data collection and publishing.”
    .
    And this is failure to follow SHC 891.2, since commuters are supposed to be counted (notice the “Shall” wording in the law).
    .
    JBA: “Bike routes are a ruse used by the writers of this plan to bump up numbers and to prevent the informed from affecting the process by distracting the uninformed. Don’t waste your time on them, focus on winning larger goals with this plan and in the committee hearings to come.”
    .
    Bike routes are often used to pad numbers (It’s done in essentially every BMP I’ve seen), but that’s not why the “designated routes” mindset, plaguing planners, engineers and many bike advocates, is so damaging. The problem is that all route designations, including Class I paths, Class II lanes, and Class I paths, serve as a convenient excuse to ignore the bulk of the road network and focus on connecting a few bikeways, and allows bike planners to think they know where and how we should ride, rather than fixing the laws and giving cyclists real behavior choices. Choices made real through supporting as many of the basic behaviors (driver, edge, and ped) as possible on as many routes as possible. Remember, every street is a street that bicyclists can and will use, so instead of designating routes, we should be talking about ALL streets.

    The most important policy to have in the plan by far, is the top level policy that clearly recognizes that every street can and will be used by bicyclists. From there, one can talk about what policies and actions can affect all streets (pavement standards for example), and which others may only be limited to streets with bikeways. In addition the plan also needs a backbone, as others are pursuing. Josef is correct that the City will not create a plan for your needs, since the Streets and Highways Code doesn’t require what many of you want. This requires numbers and alternatives, and I’m glad many of you took it upon yourselves to create an alternative plan.

  • Elite vehiclular cyclist? Where did that come from? For the record, the streets and highways code defines routes in terms of their ROW and user attributes; they were not intended to close gender gaps, nor improve the safety of all users. How would a bike route reduce car-car, car-ped crashes, and Shared use pathways increase bike-ped conflicts? And mode share? San Francisco had large mode share increases while facilities development was frozen. And gender gaps; are you serious? Your silly prose misses the point that route designations were not designed to further your desired causes.

    The Streets and Highways code’s intent, as with all laws, is open to debate.

    How would a bike facility reduce crashes? By lowering the speed limits of cars, reducing conflicts between modes.

    And about gender gaps – I can’t believe that you aren’t concerned about this. When the LACBC did their survey of cyclists in LA, they found that 80% of riders counted were male. You can guess that LA is made up of a roughly 50-50 split of men and women. Why this discrepancy? This gender gap does not exist in many other cities around the world that embrace a more robust policy regarding bicycles.

    Regarding the counting of mode split … let’s see … you’re such a smart guy here, so maybe you can find this yourself but I’ll just go ahead and link to a large database of traffic counts that the LADOT has done for 20+ years that allow one to approximate the percentage of road users by mode:

    http://ladot.lacity.org/mancountlist.htm

    Download one of those forms and see for yourself how to calculate mode split.

    You’re a smart guy that’s obviously taken offense at what I’ve said instead of using your intellect. The measures I propose are, well, measures.

    What I am saying is, the plan has no accountability. That is, there is nobody tasked with standing on the street, or installing a machine (yes, they do exist), or a series of cameras, and counting the number of people riding bikes before and after the a bike facility is installed.

    There is no scheduled report of traffic crashes, injuries, before and after proejcts are implemented. This is something that is vital to any effort to improve conditions for cyclists! It is as much about politics (something I am guessing you don’t care about) as it is about cycling safely.

    There is no survey of road users that takes into account their age nor their gender. The state code about “commuters” applies to projects the state is funding. If we go above and beyond that measure, to measure how closely bicyclists hew to existing demographics (data available from the Census), then we’ll know that we have, in fact, achieved something.

    Without the inclusion of this base line data collection, how will we know things are working out for the best? We all just show up at your door and ask you? There will, or there, won’t be a mob in city hall?

    That is a stupid way to govern. This plan needs a core of data collection, analysis, and publishing – otherwise we end up with the stupid debate about gutter pan widths, sharrow placement while mainstream society scoffs, mocks, and ignores the very real solution to many problems bicycling represents.

  • Josef wrote: “The Streets and Highways code’s intent, as with all laws, is open to debate.”
    .
    The intent is open to debate, but the law is as I quoted it. The city doesn’t need to do any more than follow the law. If you want more then you either need to change the law or lobby for the City to voluntarily do more. Claiming that the intent of the law is open to debate is a useless point.
    .
    Josef: “How would a bike facility reduce crashes? By lowering the speed limits of cars, reducing conflicts between modes.”
    .
    Have you ever studied crash statistics and crash modes; it sure doesn’t look that way to me (and I have as traffic cycling instructor, curriculum developer for cyclists skils training, and cycling transportation professionals). Many car-bike crashes have nothing to do with speed, and are are caused by crosing conflicts (correctable through improved bicyclist/motorist behavior), so just lowering speed limits is not a panacea. Furthermore, a bike facility is NOT a “lower speed limit”. So just adding a bikeway does not automatically lower speeds, in fact adding bike lanes in particular, increases motorist speeds by moving bicyclists out of the way, so drivers can go faster (no matter what limit is posted on signs). And you didn’t even address the issue of shared use pathways, which increase bike-ped conflicts.

    The worst problem with yout thinking is that you don’t appear to understand the difference between planning and engineering. You stated that modes share, crash reduction and gender gaps should be design parameters., and I challenged this position, and you are silent. Parameters are measureable aspects of design, like geometric parameters, or the location of traffic controls, etc. There is no gender gap, or mode share, or even crash reduction, parameter in the HDM or CAMUTCD that can be applied. One can try to plan for increased mode share, or gender gap reductions, but these are not design parameters. Typically a plan will call for increased capacity, or support fo bicyclists, etc., so an engineer in the former case might seek to add travel lanes, or in the latter case, add bike lanes, etc. If you told an engineer to use gender gap as a design parameter, he might ask you where that parameter is located in the HDM or CAMUTCD, or even the AASHTO Green Book,and what would you tell him?

    Planners decide overall goals, like shifts in mode share, or possibly trying to address the gender gap, etc, and engineers design the actual facility.
    .

    Josef continued: “And about gender gaps – I can’t believe that you aren’t concerned about this.”
    .
    Stop trying to imagine what I think and try instead to understand what I wrote. I wrote that gender gap is NOT as design parameter; this in no way means that I don’t care or don’t understand the issue. I was taking exception to your muddy mixing of planning and design concepts. I never claimed to be “not concerned about this”.
    .
    You also didn’t grasp what i wrote about mode split as a design parameter: “Regarding the counting of mode split … let’s see … you’re such a smart guy here, so maybe you can find this yourself but I’ll just go ahead and link to a large database of traffic counts that the LADOT has done for 20+ years that allow one to approximate the percentage of road users by mode:…”
    .
    Measurein mode split after the fact IS NOT the same as using it as a design parameter. Do you really think I don’t know how to calculate mode split?

    .
    Josef then tries to get into my head: “You’re a smart guy that’s obviously taken offense at what I’ve said instead of using your intellect. The measures I propose are, well, measures.”
    .
    Because I’m a “knowledgable” guy (how smart I am is open to debate), I took exception to your extreme characterizations of cyclists and muddy mixing of planning and enginering concepts. If you want the plan to measure things, you will see that the state already requires that city plans measure commuters, and I’ve always been an advocate of measuring all cyclists, regardless of trip purpose, just like we do for motorists. it is prejudicial to talk about measuring bicycle commuters, since this ignores utility cycling and recreation, which are also valid car trip[ purposes. We should just be measuring all traffic, foot, bike ,car, without applying prejudicial qualifiers. I’ve been an advocate for measurement for a very long time; it’s just one of those things that we scientist/mathematician/engineer types like to do.
    .
    Josef makes a great statement: What I am saying is, the plan has no accountability.”
    .
    Yes! And to do that the plan has to be based on goals (not design parameters) which can be measured, like behavior, mode share, crash counts, and even gender (as Josef noted previously). And to determine if these goals are met by the elements of the plan, they must be measured in ways that are as objective and statistically valid, in either before-after studies, or when routes with bikeways are compared to those without.

    I am no fan of surveys, because people often say one thing in a survey, and do another when they are on the road. I would prefer the use of video for measurements, in elevated locations, say on poles or buildings to monitor areas of interest, and so that the captured video is a record that can be studied for more than what a human can catch during a Medieval manual bike count.

    For example, if the right hook crash rate (or left crosses) is high at a given intersection, it would be nice to know what factors are contributing, and it can be done with video, it can’t with a manual count. The reviewed video count is also more accurate, becasue people can review the tape and carefully identify all the cyclists, even if there is a big group or multiple simultaneous users coming from different directions.

    There is so much more information to be had with video, and if we think up something new to measure, that wasn’t in our original planning, we can still apply this new thing to count/measure, after the fact because of the archival footage. Video also serves to reduce bias, because if a count appears to be skewed, or unusual, it can be independently reviewed for consistency. This increases the transparency of the process.

    The current plan is an Oregonian interpretation of what the City wants, not what cyclists in LA City want.

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