Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CityWatchLA - LA’s Bicycle Plan – Read Between the Lies

CityWatch, Aug 26, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 69

Transportation Politics
By Stephen Box

The City of Los Angeles is currently in the process of updating its Bicycle Plan, also known as Chapter IX of the Transportation Element of the General Plan of the City of Los Angeles.

To the uninitiated, the Bicycle Plan sounds like a hopeful planning document with the potential to lay down policies and plans that will integrate cycling as a transportation solution, complete with positive environmental impacts, health benefits and congestion relieving results.

To those who have been paying attention, the Bicycle Plan more closely resembles another LADOT funding scheme, short on vision and long on opportunity to fund uninspired roadway projects with the limited funds made available for Bikeways projects.

Rita Robinson, General Manager of the LADOT, offers her support for the Bicycle Plan explaining that it will allow the Department of Transportation to apply for the State’s Bicycle Transportation Account (BTA) funding.

Mia Birk, the consultant from Portland who facilitated the Bicycle Plan workshops earlier this year, opened the session by explaining that the Bicycle Plan was necessary to qualify for BTA funding, and then went into an overview of the “17 points of compliance” necessary to qualify for funding. Was this a funding seminar?

Most recently, LADOT’s Bikeways Coordinator appeared before the City Council’s Transportation Committee to report on the progress of the Bicycle Plan update process and reported that the Bicycle Plan was necessary if the City was to qualify for the Metro’s Call for Projects and the State’s BTA funding opportunities.

This “focus on funding” might be a good thing if it resulted in the means to develop and implement a “vision” that resulted in an improved environment for cyclists.

Unfortunately for the community, the results are not there.

For example, the LADOT has succeeded in funding only two projects using BTA funds out of the $50 million made available statewide over the last 7 years.

The first funded project was in the 05-06 funding cycle and was for a section of the LA River bike path with an award of $500,000.

The second was in the 06-07 funding cycle and resulted in an award of $1.25 million for a quarter mile of bike lane on the Fletcher Bridge, a project that was referred to as having a total value of approximately $7 million. (Bike lanes are essentially painted lines supported by signs and the cost typically runs $50K per mile)

The LADOT took the $1.25 million for the quarter mile of bike lane on the Fletcher Bridge and then applied to the Metro for the same project, calling it a “Bikeway Improvement” and asking for approximately $7.5 million, referring to the total value of the project as $20 million.

In other words, the LADOT has funded a Bridge-Widening project using Bikeways Improvement money by disguising it as a Bikeways project.

It is against the backdrop of the extravagant Fletcher “bike lane” project that cyclists ask about simple improvements to the cycling environment such as better curb lane maintenance, traffic signals that recognize cyclists and more bike parking throughout the city.

It’s unfortunate that cyclists have to rely on specific funding and aren’t simply included in all roadway design, improvements and maintenance projects. That day will come soon.

In the meantime, the meager funding set aside for cyclists ends up cobbled together to fund projects that fail to demonstrate a commitment to cyclists as much as they demonstrate a commitment to road widening.

The Bicycle Plan has the potential to be a significant and powerful document, full of vision and promise and hope.

For that to happen the Bicycle Plan needs to start with Equality as the principle that drives all Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement and Evaluation options and choices.

(Stephen Box is a cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch.)

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