Monday, July 13, 2009

My Comments on the Bike Plan

The following is my response to the City's recently released Bike Plan maps, which were released for public comment about a month and a half ago. Honestly, it has taken me this long to write to the city because the plan is 1) so confusing and 2) so underwhelming that it's hard to know where to start. But I sat down and tried to comprehend the mess of color coded and overlaid lines and then wrote the following letter.

Dear Ms. Bibas and Mr. Turner,

I am a commuter cyclist who lives in Pico-Union, about a mile west of downtown. I ride about 14 miles a day: it's 12 miles round-trip to my job in West Hollywood, and I tack on another 2 miles for errands. Next year I will be a graduate student at UCLA and will be doing the downtown-Westwood ride at least 3 times a week. Thus, my main areas of concern in looking at this bike map are East-West connections in the "Central" region (as you've broken it down). I find it glaringly devoid of those.

I usually ride on Olympic between Hoover and San Vicente, and San Vicente between Olympic and Orlando. Olympic is a horrific road that came up multiple times during the Transportation Committee meeting, which I attended. It is the quickest, most direct route to both my job and my school, and the plan proposes no improvements to it. Furthermore, I'm confused as to why it is not marked as a Class III Bike Route. In the April 2006 Bike Map distributed by the Metro, Olympic between downtown and La Cienega is listed as a Class III. Has this distinction (and the accompanying Share the Road signage) been removed?

The proposed improvements to 4th and 8th Streets to make them Bicycle-Friendly streets will help. However, the design standards for bicycle-friendly streets have not yet been released so it is impossible to tell what the impact will be. Neither 4th nor 8th extends very far, so there is a need for a longer east-west connection.

3rd and Fountain, two roads that I ride often, are proposed to be Shared Roadways. However, the shared roadway distinction for 3rd only lasts for about 2 miles. In my experience cyclists need to go farther than that. In addition, as I mentioned above, Olympic was a Shared Roadway as of April 2006, and that did not make it a safe or enjoyable road to ride. The design standards for Shared Roadways will determine whether this distinction actually protects cyclists. I add my voice to the many who support sharrows. Putting paint on the street sends a clear signal to both drivers and cyclists about how to share the road safely.

Legally, every road is a "Shared Roadway," whether the city puts signage there or not. Why don't we see more dotted purple on this map? Streets like 6th and 3rd have very narrow right lanes, requiring cyclists to make full-use of the right hand lane. All streets with a narrow curb lane need sharrows and signage. That way, drivers understand that cyclists are allowed the full use of the lane and will change lanes and safely pass. Currently, "taking the lane" on roads like this results in harassment from drivers. The city could easily change this with some paint and signs, but this map shows so very few of the dotted purple lines that would make that part of the plan.

There are no (zero!) proposed bike lanes throughout the area bounded by La Cienega on the west, Franklin on the north, Vermont on the east, and Adams to the south. This area is the heart of Los Angeles: it encompasses Mid-City, Hollywood, Koreatown, West Hollywood, Los Feliz, and more. It is unacceptable that this plan denies bike lanes to all of these communities and to the cultural centers of our city.

I understand that we will need political will to put down bike lanes and bike routes on most of the streets that appear as grey on this map. I echo the voices of many others who call on the Planning Department and LA DOT to make this bike plan more ambitious. We should not be afraid to remove traffic lanes or parking in order to make the city bikable. The community of cyclists will stand behind city planners if they have the ambition to request room for bikes at the cost of cars.

The design standards for bike lanes remain a concern. Most of the city's bike lanes run to the left of on-street parking, rendering them practically unusable. If a cyclist rides far enough to the left to avoid getting doored, she is probably riding outside the bike lane. The dangers of dooring are real and cyclists have died all over the country as a result of motorists opening their doors into bike lanes. This design flaw must not be repeated in the few places new bike lanes are proposed.

I have written this lengthy letter because I care enormously about the future of cycling in Los Angeles. I want to be able to get around this city on two wheels free of fear, and I want our roads to accomodate not just die-hards but also novices, elderly people, and children. This bike plan will have to be much, much more ambitious for that to happen.

Please keep me on distribution lists as the plan goes through its next stages. To sum up my letter: I support the idea of bicycle-friendly streets, but most of these streets do not accomplish the necessary major connections. I would like to see more Shared Roadways as long as the design standards are actually effective (i.e. sharrows). I would like the plan to aim higher so that we can remove parking and traffic lanes and improve more of the city's streets.

I will submit more route-specific comments via the website.

Thank you for your time.

Kristen "Herbie" Huff

Next steps: I have an idea. We should get blocks of people to rally behind specific roads for those website comments. LACBC mentioned some roads they believe should be moved out of the "unfeasible" category. I smell an internet letter-writing party...

I call Olympic.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Public Comment at the LA Metro Board

I spoke before the LA Metro board two weeks ago about how I was almost hit by a Metro bus. The video explains all the details of the incident:

The male voice speaking after me is Mayor Villaraigosa. It was pretty thrilling to look him in the eye and tell my story. After I stepped down from the podium, several high-level reps from the metro gave me their cards and asked me to email them, including Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Flowers.

The size and formality of the room, as well as the presence of the County Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, all surprised me. I was expecting something more along the lines of the tiny, crowded, and informal Transportation Committee Meeting I had attended the week before. (You can see me at the very right edge of the picture, standing).

It's very easy to make a public comment before the Metro Board. All you do is arrive a few minutes before the meeting, fill out a public comment card, and then wait your turn. If there are a lot of cards, as was the case at this meeting, you will get one minute to speak, although they are usually pretty lax about letting people go over the time if they are actually getting somewhere.

I'm glad Stephen Box encouraged me to come speak and that he accompanied me to the meeting and made sure I talked to the right people. He said, and after my experience at the board meeting I agree, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease! My conviction to keep riding is renewed. Each time I ride, I contribute in a tiny, personal way to a reduction in air pollution, and to the education of other vehicles who learn how to share the road with me. My conviction to take accompanying political action has never been stronger. Each time I organize with my fellow cyclists and demand accountability from our elected representatives, we wield our political power to make a more bikable and livable Los Angeles possible through large-scale decisions that are made at the government level with public money. A better world will need both personal and political convictions.