Sunday, November 7, 2010

LA Bike Plan: Pretty Unambitious Compared to Tacoma, WA and Des Moines, Iowa

Oh, the rewards of reading all the way to the end of reports without disregarding their appendices and addendums. I just found this fascinating figure in Alta Planning+Design's "Seamless Travel" study. (If you're wondering, the study concerns extensive bike survey and count data collected in San Diego County, and efforts to model bicycling and walking demand based on the data). Anyway, the figure:

(You have to click to enlarge because I couldn't get a large version to display properly with the way the blog is formatted. Source is here, final report, p. AD-1).

It's painful to hear the depressing story this figure tells about where Los Angeles is and where it is going. First of all we are second to Des Moines, Iowa (?) in our ratio of bikeways to roads. And - wow - our ratio is three times smaller than San Diego's, and San Diego is not what I would consider a bike-topia.  Worst of all, of the six cities in the figure, Los Angeles has the lowest aspirations of any of them. Our planned bikeway mileage is only 9% of our total roadway mileage.

I'm not sure where the 655 mile number comes from, though I'm sure Joe Linton could answer that question immediately. As most people know, Alta Planning+Design wrote the first drafts of the LA Bike Plan, so it's possible the researchers who wrote this study just called up the Alta staff in the LA Office and asked them for a number.

In any case, the LA Planning Department has now taken over the Bike Plan and they are now touting a new number: 1,633. This number is HUGE on the cover of the Bike Plan, and the implicit message is that 1,633 is a great aspiration, one that sums up the plan's commitment to making Los Angeles a more bikeable city. Now even if we put aside the many ways in which this number inflates the Bike Plan's actual commitments, i.e. the long story regarding how many of the miles are "proposed/infeasible/whatever" and may or may not require an EIR, even if we put all that aside, this six-city comparison illustrates that the 1,633 isn't all that ambitious. If we were to update this figure to replace 655 with 1,633, we'd get a 23% roadway coverage goal, which is still lower than Portland's. But that would be inaccurate and misleading since the 1,633 includes bike paths and routes, and those aren't included in this comparison. The true coverage calculation should only include bike lanes and bike boulevards. I'll exclude the "potential/infeasible/future study" bike lanes since the plan offers up excuse after excuse not to do them. This gives 66 miles of planned bike lanes and 642 miles of bike boulevards (specious! but I'll go with it). This total 708 miles of planned on-street bikeway network corresponds to a proposed completion factor of just under 10%. Even if we include the "speculative" bike lanes we only get a coverage of 16.8%.

Let me say that plainly. Even if the new Bike Plan is passed and we consider all the Bike Boulevards and Bike Lanes as legitimate planned mileage (which no one who has been watching the planning process closely would ever do), LA has set lower bikeway mileage goals than Des Moines, Iowa or Tacoma, Washington.

Now, to be fair, I have no idea what the Bike Plans in any of these other cities look like. For all I know their Bike Plans are also filled with speculative and "infeasible" mileage. We also don't know how LA would compare in a longer list of cities.

Anyway, I think this is a thought provoking figure. I would like to see a more extensive version of this figure, comparing roadway coverage in lots of cities. How do San Francisco, Boulder, New York, or Chicago measure up in terms of proposed completion factor? This is a nice metric.

I hypothesize that the year in which the city's Bike Plan was updated would be a significant factor determining the size of a city's ratio of proposed bikeways to roads. Bike Plans seem to have gotten more and more ambitious in recent history.

Still, perhaps all the back-and-forth over the categories of bike lane mileage has obscured the larger point that relative to other cities, this plan designates a very low percentage of the roads in Los Angeles as planned bikeways.


Joe said...

I am not sure where they get 655 miles for L.A.

As far as I can tell it's worse - it should be 570 - from the 1996 bike plan (paths 134 + lanes 320 + study 76 = 530) and then toss in about 40 miles of Myra Avenue type bike lanes (streets with new bike lanes that were never on the city bike plan) and 530+40=570.

Maybe we should ask Alta where the get the 655...

Carter Rubin said...

Thanks for digging into the mucky details, Herbie. Having worked in Tacoma for three months, I can vouch that it's a pretty ordinary city as far as the road network goes, and I wouldn't really call it progressive in terms of street policies.

Vicki Karlan said...

These are interesting points. Do you know if each of the cities define their total miles of roadways the same way?

My guess is that size, infrastructure and history of DOT in each city may also play a significant role in how many miles of bikeways get implemented. A more streamlined process in smaller municipalities probably helps them. Not to say LA isn't lagging, I just suspect there's a lot more to it and it's not about comparing apples to apples. Another other thing that could also help explain differences is when each city started implementing bikeways. Cities that began earlier may be more efficient in implementing future ones. Geography also plays a role. These are not by any means justifications for not moving forward more progressively, just something to keep in mind when making comparisons.

I think focusing on growth/% change might be a better measure.