Overwhelming Support for #VisionHyperion, Other Livability Issues at CD 4 Livable Streets Candidates Forum

Over 150 people attended last night's forum. Eric Bruins with LACBC snapped a picture from behind the forum tables.
Over 150 people attended last night’s forum. Eric Bruins with LACBC snapped a picture from behind the forum tables.

Last night’s Livable Streets Candidates was more of a political rally for bicycle safety and bicycle lanes than anything else. The only true moments of conflict came when a heckler booed Tara Bannister for expressing concern for putting bicycle lanes on streets with high traffic, high speed streets and when Steve Veres sat alone with his arm in the air, signaling he was the only candidate who had ridden a bicycle in the past week.

Tomas O'Grady speaks while candidates and Shannon Muir looked on.
Tomas O’Grady speaks while candidates and Shannon Muir looked on. Photo via LA Walks/Twitter

In total, eight of the fourteen candidates vying to replace Tom LaBonge as the Councilmember for CD 4 sat down at Hollywood United Methodist Church to discuss their views on pedestrian safety, bicycle lanes, transportation funding and, of course, the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge.

O’Grady consistently earned the loudest applause from an audience of over 150 people, most of whom arrived at Hollywood United Methodist Church by bicycle.

O’Grady, who garnered a third of the vote in his challenge to Tom LaBonge four years ago, is popular in the room in part because of his vocal and active support for bicycle lanes and sidewalks on a newly rebuilt Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. O’Grady worked with designers to illustrate different options for the bridge when winning a multi-modal bridge seemed a longshot in 2013. Last night, all eight of the candidates pledged support for “Option 3” which includes three mixed use travel lanes, sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, and bike lanes on both sides of the bridge. The strongest support joining O’Grady came from Irani, Ramsay, Schaeffer and Veres.

Both Irani and Ramsay brought a depth of knowledge to issues from their time working in LaBonge’s office. Irani half-joked about being a victim of NIMBYism based on the reaction to safe street designs that were fought by the community. Irani also brought up the “50-50 strategy” to repair sidewalks where the city would refund half the cost to a property owner that is willing to pay to have the sidewalk in front of their property. A mini-debate over whether such a proposal is feasible and big enough ended up dominating the discussion of sidewalk repair.

Ramsay brought details and history to issues, especially funding issues, noting how development issues from decades ago have created today’s sidewalk funding crisis. A twenty-five year resident of Los Angeles, also talked about her experiences bicycling around the district and how it impacts her own policy choices.

As former Chief of Staff to LaBonge, many in the audience were interested in seeing how Ramsay was different than the sitting Councilman. By the end of the night, Ramsay had shown a greater depth of knowledge on issues than is generally credited to her former boss. She also ended her closing statement with a promise to “…work together to make the safest big city in America the most livable and bikable too.”

Oddly, Tara Bannister also arrived to Los Angeles a quarter-decade ago. Bannister, who lives in pedestrian-friendly Park LaBrea, remembers a Los Angeles that was a less hostile place to get around when she arrived than it is now. She yearned for a return to the safer streets she remembers when she arrived in L.A. While not a former staffer in City Hall, she does bring a lot of government experience having worked in Governor Gray Davis’ office last decade.

Veres, who snagged the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters earlier that day, argued that just investing in sidewalk repairs in areas where property owners could pay for some of the repair was backwards. “I would put the money in making connections to places where people go…Safe Routes to School’s, Safe Routes to parks.” Veres, who again was the only candidate who could claim to have ridden a bicycle in the past week, was most likely to vote “No” when asked about specific lanes. However, he wouldn’t rule a project out, often saying he hadn’t enough detail on the proposal or was unfamiliar with that area of the street.

Ross Sarkissian brought most questions back to the city’s structural budget deficit pointing out that the funding issues that impact every decision that the audience cares about including reconstruction of the city’s sidewalks, expansion of the transit system and redesign of the city’s streets. Sarkissian also wanted decisions to be data driven which could either be construed as a call for better planning or could be used as an excuse to delay projects.

Fred Mariscal broke the mold by admitting that he didn’t own a bicycle while every other candidate made time to tell stories about their bicycling prowess and personal travails. When it came to specific projects Mariscal supported every proposed bike lane in the “lightning round.” However, he also wanted to stagger improvements to city streets to see how things are impacted. He was the only candidate that didn’t automatically express support for a 10% set-aside for bicycle and pedestrian projects in a future transportation sales tax thinking that it would make more sense to double or triple pedestrian funding from current levels first.

Former San Diego City Councilmember Mike Schaefer seemed to genuinely care about bicycle safety issues, but didn’t put together a coherent program to advance that care into policy. He did vote “go” on all of the bicycle lanes in the lightning rounds and promised to hire a staff member who was an expert on bicycle issues. A couple of years ago, this might have earned him more support, it is similar to the “Bill Rosendahl Model” of promoting bicycle safety; but in last night’s crowded room it didn’t seem to be quite enough.

  • Niall Huffman

    Fred Mariscal, not Fred Bannister.

  • Walt Arrrrr

    Great job Streetsblog, LACBC, LA Walks. Really appreciate how the forum structure began with getting the usual “We support all modes” answers, but upon further questions, parsed-out their real commitment to Livable Streets and who would show the best leadership to move Los Angeles away from a car-based lifestyle. Shanon Muir as moderator was top-notch.

    Happy to see BikeLA has their attention, heard a few “Vision Zero” mentions, but thought there was a lack of attention paid to the Walking Class and their understanding of issues affecting pedestrians beyond sidewalk repair. Given the location of last night’s event, it would have been a good opportunity to hear their opinions on turning Hollywood Blvd into a pedestrian plaza akin to what Santa Monica did in the 1970’s with Third Street Promenade, and what recently departed former Hollywood Council Member, Peggy Stevenson proposed in 1977.

    All-in-all, the eight of the fourteen candidates that attended last night shows CD4 has some great choices as far as Livable Streets go. Very happy to hear Ramsay is proving to be more enlightened than her boss. Irani had my attention until she wanted to bet on single-occupancy autonomous vehicles. Thought that O’Grady once again proved to be the sharpest guy in the room, and gave many of us the highlight of the night with his comment about not tampering with already agreed-to plans saying, “My name doesn’t rhyme with ‘GilDillo.'”

  • Dennis_Hindman

    CD4 candidate Sheila Irani stated on a LACBC questionnaire: ” For LA, it is a tough sell to get bike lanes on major corridors and I do think we should keep the bike lanes to adjacent streets as much as possible for everyone’s safety.”

    Although that’s a reasonable point of view, its very difficult to get a complete network for bicycling using only parallel residential streets. There needs to be some space reallocated to bicycling on major streets to get past the high traffic stress streets and physical barriers such as freeways. It just doesn’t sound like Sheila is willing to push much against the status quo.

    http://lacbc.nationbuilder.com/cd4_sheila_irani_responses?utm_campaign=news_15_02_05&utm_medium=email&utm_source=lacbc

    Compare that to Tomas O’grady’s response to putting bike lanes on Hollywood Blvd: “Yes I support but it will take extraordinary community input and coordination and I am up for the challenge. In fact this could set the stage for bike sharing in Hollywood.”

    http://lacbc.nationbuilder.com/cd4_tomas_ogrady_responses?utm_campaign=news_15_02_05&utm_medium=email&utm_source=lacbc

    There’s a point to which pushing against the status quo will result in an extreme reaction back which could jeopardize any future installations. But not making much of an effort in trying to get bikeway installations on major streets is going to result in very slow progress in increasing the amount of bicycling.

  • Meg Ok.

    I contacted Tomas O’Grady for City Council through his official campaign a few weeks ago to ask his about plans for the controversial Beachwood Canyon gate. I disagreed with his plans, let him know on the phone and had no further contact with him, or anyone about the matter through any mode of communication yet received an extremely rude facebook message from him, completely unprompted. It was incredibly invasive. I don’t appreciate how he handled me disagreeing with him and feel it was a very inappropriate way for a potential elected official to behave. Further, he has censored me when I speak out against how i was treated on public forums . How will he be able to work with people to solve issues if he bullies opponents and refuses to listen to his constituents? I am continually unimpressed by this candidate and am worried about how he will treat those who do not share his opinion if elected.

  • Los Angeles Bikes

    I definitely feel that O’Grady played to the vibe of the room better than any of the other candidates, and I found myself applauding many of his statements myself, but I also left the debate worried that he scanned the room, saw a sea of helmets and messenger bags, and pandered accordingly. His strong stance in favor of option 3 for the Glendale-Hyperion bridge came across loud and clear, which was great. My fear though is that when it comes to other projects down the line (for example, the 6th street road diet) he might not be so motivated.

    By far the most frustrating part of this entire event for me was seeing just how little these candidates “get it” when it comes to pedestrian/bicycle safety issues.

    Ramsay doesn’t want to put bicycle lanes on Hollywood Blvd because “there are too many cars there.” ARRRGGGG!! Anyone who has ever ridden a bicycle in an urban environment knows that that is exactly why bike lanes are necessary on such a street.

    In the same vein, Ross Sarkissian and a number of other candidates stuck to their guns on the idea that certain streets are the rightful and exclusive domain of cars, and that bicycles should be funneled into parallel side-streets. Sarkissian even said this about San Vicente, which has no parallel side-streets! And on top of that, many of the candidates who believe in the “parallel side street” theory of bike lane placement were not in favor of a road diet on 6th street, which is the parallel side street to Wilshire, and which is therefore the obvious choice for painting a bike lane connecting the Miracle Mile to Downtown Los Angeles.

    Basically I loved the event but left it extremely frustrated that so many of the responses the candidates gave were veiled confirmations that, to them, the car is still king in Los Angeles.

  • Don W

    Quick correction on the 6th Street Bike Lane project – and why I am asking for a different name for this project – is that the 6th street bike lane would be a road diet from La Brea to Fairfax not to “downtown.”This would connect to single lanes west of Fairfax. LACMA is hear along with a park. 6th st bottlenecks to single lanes (during off peak hours) at Dunsmuir.

    This should be called the LACMA pedestrian / cyclist access and safety plan. This small stretch would give westbound crosstown cyclists who use the very popular 4th St. Bicycle BLVD a complete connection to LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits. This would also get crosstown cyclists a bit closer to Charleville / Gregory way which continues to the Santa Monica bike lanes at Century City / Avenue of the Stars and also can drop you to the National bike lanes.

    SO. From now on please call this the LACMA / La Brea Tar Pits cyclist pedestrian safety plan.

    Thank you
    -Don Ward
    Safe Streets Marketing Director

  • Jes McBride

    Great comments, Walt. I wish I had heard more support for VisionZero; I only really heard Carolyn Ramsay reference it directly as a policy, which I think speaks to her deeper understanding of current policy conversations in the city.

  • Los Angeles Bikes

    Yeah, I realize the plan isn’t to stripe bike lanes on 6th all the way downtown. I was just trying to point out that if you’re going to buy into the “let’s give the bicycles the parallel side streets and let the cars have the arterials” idea, then 6th Street is about a perfect a street as you can find to connect downtown to points west. And yet even the candidates that support that idea balk once you mention 6th Street. It’s just frustrating.

    Now just imagine a road diet on 6th street from San Vicente all the way to, say, the bike lane on Main Street. Imagine getting from the Miracle Mile to Downtown without all this business of zig-zagging from 8th, up to 4th, and back down to 7th, and without any of these dicey crossings like we have on Highland and Rossmore. This is what I dream of. A bike lane right at the mayor’s front door!

    Anyways, thanks for the correction, when I talk about this project in the future I’ll use the correct name.

    PS, are you Don Ward as in Don “Roadblock” Ward? I think I’ve been on Passage Rides with you. You ride the tandem right? Next time I’ll introduce myself.

  • SZwartz

    You job is not to ask why, but to do and die

  • SZwartz

    No one will admit that there is an elephant in the room. LA City council is a criminal enterprise as it has violated Penal Code 86 for years. The unaimous voting over 99% of the time can occur if and only if there is a voting agreement and Penal Code 86 makes voting agreements criminal.

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