CityWatch, Apr 28, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 34
The Orange Line Bike Path is 14 miles of bureaucratic "no-man's land" and a jurisdictional "hot-potato" that has departments and agencies scrambling for cover as the City's Transportation Committee asks "Hey! How did the Bike Path turn into a homeless encampment?"
Critics long ago warned that building a bike path with a fence on one side, a wall on the other and surrounding it with bushes and trees that grow up and out would result in an environment that is unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists but hospitable to those who favor seclusion and a place to hide.
Those warnings were ignored and the predictions came true. The Orange Line Bike Path is now so overgrown that in some areas such as Van Nuys, it is populated with homeless encampments. Making things worse is the close proximity of a recycling center and two liquor stores. All very convenient for the campers but at the expense of the pedestrians, the cyclists and the local residents.
Two months ago, the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council convened a meeting to address the situation, a meeting so well attended by agency and department reps that it seemed certain that the Bike Path was to be cleaned up and reclaimed. Such was not the case.
This past week, the Transportation Committee jumped into the fray and convened a meeting to determine what went wrong and who is going to fix it. The LADOT took the hot seat and explained the difficulty in supervising maintenance contracts and of working with the Metro and Rec & Parks and how the abundant overgrown landscaping wasn't their fault.
The LAPD was represented, Councilman Cardenas was represented and the Neighborhood Prosecutor, Tamar Galatzan also appeared but nobody could explain who was in charge, who had authority and who had a plan.
Councilman Alarcon cut to the chase at one point in the "Who's responsible?" debate and said simply "If it's LA's Bike Path then we should take care of it!"
That should have been the point at which everybody stepped up but instead we were treated to another round of "Yes, We Can't!"
Unfortunately, the Groupthink that prevents agencies and departments from being "negative" and just calling it as they see it is still in play and the LADOT, the Metro, the LAPD, the LASD, the Neighborhood Prosecutor, the BOSS, LAHSA, the Councilmembers and anyone else with a piece of the Bike Path are still having polite meetings where they dance about and explain why they're not responsible.
The Orange Line Bike Path has been around for a little over three years. It was designed and built by the Metro and the LADOT Bikeways Department was there through the entire process. In fact the LADOT is so proud of the Orange Line that they have a presentation they take to conferences taking credit for its success. Somewhere along the way, the responsibility for the Orange Line was formally transferred to the LADOT which, based on results, dropped the ball.
Perhaps it's time to call in the DWP and have them cut down the forest, relandscape with drought tolerant plants and create a 14 mile long demonstration garden on water conservation. Maybe we could plow it all under and plant a 14 mile long Victory
Garden and use the wide stretches for a Farmer's Market.
Whatever we do, it is imperative that the LADOT stop paying its contractors until they execute their contracts.
It is also imperative that the LAPD clarify with dispatch and the patrol officers that the Orange Line Bike Path is not the responsibility of the Sheriff but is the responsibility of the LAPD.
If the Van Nuys area is to be cleaned up, it would also be wise to have the Neighborhood Prosecutor work with the ABC to address the two liquor stores that cater to the "campers" and who are a blight on the community.
As long as blight is on the radar, the recycling center has had a negative impact on the area and yet it continues to operate. It's time for us to work together to make our abatement programs work for the neighborhood.
Most of all, we've got to get over our fear of raising the standards and offending other departments. We've got to evaluate performance based on results, not on bureaucratic endurance. We've got to stop settling for mediocrity and we've got to reach for greatness.
The Orange Line Bike Path is either a monument to our mediocrity or it’s an opportunity to demonstrate our greatness. Either way, it's our call. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net)
LADOT - The Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Within the LADOT is the Bikeways Division, responsible for the Orange Line and other bikeways facilities. http://www.ladot.lacity.org
Metro - The Countywide Metropolitan Transit Authority. They are the major operator of bus and rail service in Los Angeles County. http://www.metro.net/index.asp
LAPD - The Los Angeles Police Department . They are responsible for the Bike Path. When calling 911 from a cell phone remember that it goes to the CHP. Program 213-928-8206 or 213-928-8208 into your cell phone so that you can get to LAPD dispatch quickly.http://www.lapdonline.org
LASD - The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. They are a County Agency under contract to provide services to the Metro. They patrol the Metro Stations, they are responsible for the busway and they respond if there is an incident on a bus. They are not responsible for the Bike Path. http://www.lasd.org
BOSS - LA's Bureau of Street Services. They are responsible for the 6500 miles of streets within Los Angeles. They pick up the abandoned furniture and they factor into this scenario on the Orange Line because of the homeless encampments and the amount of furniture that must sometimes be removed. You can reach them by calling 311. http://www.lacity.org/BOSS
LAHSA - The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is a joint powers authority representing both the City of LA and the County of LA. You can access social services by calling 211. http://www.lahsa.org
Rec & Parks - The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks is sometimes mentioned when discussing bike paths because bike paths are often considered recreational facilities. In fact the LADOT fought all the way to the State Supreme Court to have bike paths declared recreational facilities so that the City would not be liable for injuries resulting from design or maintenance negligence. (Prokop vs. City of Los Angeles) LA prevailed and bike paths are now funded with transportation funding but then declared recreationa facilities. Meanwhile, Rec & Parks has little to do with bikeway facilities except when Bikeways was looking for someone to handle the Orange Line maintenance. http://www.laparks.org
ABC - The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control issues and regulates liquor licenses. If the two liquor stores along the Orange Line Bike Path in Van Nuys are contributing to the problems, it must be documented and the ABC will consider this when evaluating the licenses. If the LAPD and the Neighborhood Prosecutor aren't documenting the incidents and their relation to the liquor stores, the ABC can't do its job. The local ABC agent must be involved in the Orange Line Task Force. http://www.abc.ca.gov
VNNC - The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council meets every month and on May 13, the full Board will convene to address the issues of the community. Expect to see reps from the offices of Padilla and Cardenas and Villaraigosa as well as Bikeways, the LAPD, the Metro, the City Attorney's office and anyone else with a piece of the Orange Line Bike Path. http://vnnc.org