Wednesday, November 3, 2010

LA Bike Plan: Hearing before the Planning Commission

[wow, I haven't posted here in a long time. There is so much to say about Canada and school and my new home in Angelino Heights but I've just been too sleep-deprived to say it. I'm passing on some comments I'll be making to the city, which I already made the effort to type up, in this post.]

The LA Bike Plan goes up before the Planning Commission tomorrow, and I'm writing to post what I plan on saying to the Commissioners. Some people want to fail the plan. I am not really on board with this. I got into a long back-and-forth with Joe Linton over the details, but what it really comes down to is my lack of faith in the power of Plans to solve bicyclists' problems. Like Joe himself said on Streetsblog today, I believe that most of what gets done or not done is a matter of politics and organizing, not plans. Plans aren't laws. They aren't enforceable. If cities want to totally ignore them, as far as I understand, they can. The accountability processes for planning are thus indirect and weak. If you don't like the content of a given plan or its execution, your recourse is to complain to elected officials who are actually accountable to the public. Otherwise, cities can disregard plans all they want.

I say this because a lot of the criticism of the LA Bike Plan has been about how it is "The Plan with no Teeth" and how there are a lot of lines on it but nobody believes they will actually become real bike facilities. Based on what I said above, I don't think that is surprising. No plan really has teeth. As a consequence I've shifted my thinking away from the notion that this Plan should address all the problems that bicyclists can face in LA. After three years of adding routes and tweaking policies and increasing the specificity of the plan, I now want to pass it and get on with the business of building quality bike infrastructure. We can use the specifics in the Plan to hold agencies accountable, and if that is not strong enough, we can use laws and elections, which are stronger than plans. I think this planning process has been a drain on advocates' energy and time and I want it to end. I think our time would be better spent using the political process, elections, and laws.

All that said, I am nonetheless joining forces with other advocates in demanding some answers and revisions to the Plan. For what I hope is the last time. I want to share these here.

------What I plan on saying tomorrow. Hope it will fit in the time limit!---------------

Hello. I’m Herbie, I’m an LACBC member. I live in Angelino Heights. I co-founded the UCLA Bike Coalition which submitted extensive comments on this Bike Plan almost a year ago. I’ve come here to ask some questions that get at the underlying problems that have plagued this plan.

I am saddened that I have to ask these questions because there is a lot in this plan that is good. The web of bikeways criss-crossing the city on the maps - that is good. The idea of bicycle-friendly streets with very little car traffic that novices can feel safe on - that is good. So many of the policies are good, and there are pages and pages of them. I especially support revising the mitigation requirements for development so that trip mitigation funds can fund bikeways instead of road widening (p. 81 of ch. 4). [editor’s note: It’s a reform I’ve called for ever since I heard about how much mitigation money NBC Universal would have to shell out to widen freeways and arterials. It’s nonsense to use “trip generation” formulas that assume a certain percentage of people will drive with no recognition of how infrastructure influences those decisions. People and development don't create the need for road widening. Departments of Transportation do.]

But there are disturbing questions that remain and that undercut bicyclists’ faith in this plan. I come here to ask these questions in earnest and I hope that Planning will answer them immediately at this hearing.

(1) Why is it so important to segregate the bike lane mileage into categories? What is at stake in making this distinction? Clearly, someone in the city cares about this, but who, and why? The Plan has preserved these categories after two years of bicyclists rejecting them. In each revision, the categories are tweaked to hide them further away in ever more opaque language. Planning needs to explain why preserving these categories is more important than responding to bicyclists’ repeated feedback.

(2) Another question for Claire. Can you clarify whether the Plan recommends EIRs for all of the “potential”/”infeasible” lanes? The language in the plan is unclear. The Plan’s MND says that “bicycle lanes currently identified as potential will require additional analysis (particularly impacts on traffic) pursuant to CEQA” (24). Since many people in this room suspect that Alta’s initial analysis showed that many of the lanes in those categories could actually be done Today without any CEQA review, bicyclists will not accept those lanes being written off as second-rate “potential” lanes. The truth is that these lanes could be striped today with no studies, so why is the Plan giving the impression that they somehow need to be studied? They were already studied in the beginning of this process by Alta and they were found to be immediately possible.

(3) Finally, where are the technical analysis documents from Alta? Bicyclists have filed Freedom of Information Act requests for these documents and we have not been shown them. It is unacceptable for an agency that serves the public interest to withhold information from the public. These technical analyses are neither confidential nor sensitive; they simply describe the car traffic volume and road widths on a given street and then calculate the feasibility of putting bike lanes on that street. This document is sitting in one of your (Planning’s) desks right now and you need to come forward with it. Withholding a technical document from the public is a scandal when your agency exists to serve the public good. 

If these three questions can be answered, and if bicyclists’ concerns about incorporating equity measures and adequately defining bicycle boulevards can be met, then I can wholeheartedly support this plan. 

I hope Claire (Bowin) and Jane (Choi) answer these questions immediately so that all of us can celebrate the really good parts of the plan, which are the many miles of planned bikeways, the pro-bike policies and the detailed five-year implementation schedule. Planning has worked with advocates on many of these items. I want to see that work move forward.

I think I speak for many bicyclists when I say that we are looking forward to keeping the city on track with that implementation schedule and seeing a really different biking environment in Los Angeles within the next five years.


Roadblock said...

I applaud you and agree with you. See you all tomorrow.

Maddz4planning said...

You rock so much, I only hope I can come up with something as clear and helpful this myself.

SoapBoxLA said...

Herbie, Great to see you at City Council, awesome comments, you ROCK!