Saturday, September 06, 2008

CityWatchLA - LaBonge: Lights Out on Cyclists in Griffith Park

CityWatch, Sept 5, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 72

But, It’s the Law?
By Stephen Box

Councilman Tom LaBonge declared the Griffith Park Holiday Festival of Lights "unsafe for cyclists" on Wednesday and reaffirmed the ban on cyclists saying "the cars would be moving slowly, the cyclists would be riding fast and the motorists would be distracted. It's just not safe!" With the Holidays fast approaching, LaBonge convened a long overdue meeting, inviting reps from the DWP and the Department of Recreation & Parks to sit down with Equestrians and Cyclists to iron out details for the upcoming Festival of Lights.

LaBonge cut right to the chase and asked the Equestrians what they wanted and they responded with a reasonable enough request. They want to ride horses through the Festival of Lights, "after dark!"

There was a bit of discussion on the logistics of automobiles and pedestrians and horses all in the same area and finally it was agreed that the Equestrians would ride along the river, come up by the Ranger Station and then ride through the Festival, but only from 5pm to 7pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. This compromise seemed to satisfy all parties.

Then LaBonge turned his eyes on the Cyclists and asked what they wanted and they also responded with a reasonable enough request. "Abide by State Law. When the streets are open to motorists, ensure that they are also open to cyclists." There was more than a bit of discussion and none of it moved toward a compromise.

Joe Salaices of Rec & Parks explained that the streets had been reconfigured to accommodate the motor vehicle traffic, leaving no room for cyclists. He went on to explain that cyclists are known to ride "25 miles per hour between the cars" and that the difference in speeds between the cars and the bikes is just too dangerous!

Kimberley Hughes of the DWP pointed out that there will be a Bike Night on November 28th so that "the kids can ride their Big Wheels, parents can teach their children to ride their bikes and families can enjoy the Festival together."

The Cyclists rejected the "Bike Night" offer, prompting Rory Fitzpatrick, LaBonge's Chief of Operations, to call it a stalemate. LaBonge again asked for a compromise but the cyclists simply responded by explaining that they have no authority to negotiate State Law.

LaBonge pulled out a memo from the City Attorney's office, unsigned and on plain paper with no letterhead, and claimed that it authorized him to ban cyclists from the Festival of Lights. He passed out copies of the memo and repeated his claim that "the streets of Griffith Park aren't City streets!

The meeting concluded with the following arrangements being made for the different user groups.

Pedestrians will have 14 nights of vehicle-free Festival ending on December 7th.

Motorists will have access to the Festival beginning on December 8th and running until December 30th.

Equestrians will have access to the Festival on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 5 – 7pm, also beginning on December 8th.

Best of all, this year, special provisions are being made for man’s best friend. The bridle trail will be set aside for the exclusive use of dogs (and their humans) on the 14 Pedestrian nights.

Ultimately, there are many ways to enjoy the upcoming 2008 Griffith Park Festival of Lights. Guests can come by automobile, they can walk, they can ride a horse, they can even come by dog sled. They simply can’t ride a bike through the Festival.

Somehow this makes sense to Councilman LaBonge, the self-proclaimed best friend of LA’s cycling community. LaBonge, on his website, proudly proclaims “We could solve so many of the challenges facing Los Angeles right now if more of us rode bikes. We could take a big chunk out of air pollution, traffic and our waistlines, too.”

He then turns around and asks the City Attorney for support in banning cyclists from the streets of Griffith Park, a request that is met with the simple caveat “it is by no means certain that a court would agree.”

The author of the “Bicycle Ban” memo suggests arguing “the closing is necessary for the safety and protection of persons who are to use that portion of the street during the temporary closing.” In other words, cyclists are banned in order to provide for the safety and protection of the permitted motorists.

Another proposed argument is the idea that the law allowing for the prohibition of certain vehicles (heavy trucks that might damage streets) get flipped and used to prohibit bicycles, again for safety purposes.

The final claim is that the Festival of Lights is a group activity, “specifically designed to attract and permit vehicles to pass through and view the lights” and that cyclists aren’t part of that group.
It’s hard to believe that LaBonge can read this memo and hold it up as a credible support for the ban on cyclists.

Ultimately, the Festival of Lights is an autocentric environmental nightmare that fills the park with idling automobiles, clogs the adjacent neighborhoods, chokes the air with exhaust fumes and causes congestion that is significant enough to shut down the freeway!

The Festival of Lights is also the City of LA’s gift to the people of LA, and to the horses of LA, and to the dogs of LA, just not to the cyclists of LA!

Cough, Cough! Here’s wishing LA Green Holidays!

(Stephen Box is a cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

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