Tuesday, June 16, 2009

CityWatchLA - The Emperor's New Bike Plan

CityWatch, June 16, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 48

The City of Los Angeles is led by folks so befuddled in their duties and yet so enamored with themselves that they spend the bulk of their energy directing the city's many departments to "make more plans" and "report back to us" and "repeat as necessary" and "schedule more meetings," all as the city spirals into ruin.

Several years ago LA's Bikeways Department came before the City Council and said "It's time to update our Bicycle Plan!" The City Council, ever mindful of San Antonio's quest to turn LA into America's greenest big city, quickly approved the plan to update the Bicycle Plan, after all "LA loves cyclists!"

With the smell of money wafting from City Hall, consultants from around the country pedaled their way to Los Angeles and LA's Bicycle Plan Update Process was on, or so it seemed.

Consultants from Portland and Berkeley and Denver and San Francisco convened community meetings and showed the local cycling community the plans of other cities. "Imagine, your Bike Plan could look just like this, albeit with less vision and less commitment and less hope for becoming a reality, but it would have all the pretty colors!"

A website was built, postcards were passed out, comments were solicited and then...gasp...nothing happened!

The contract was extended another year and periodically, LA's Planning Department and Transportation Department would wake from their respective slumbers long enough to report to the City Council's Transportation Committee, turning in reports and giving verbal presentations on the thorough planning process. It was heady stuff that must have inspired many to embark on careers as consultants, after all the money is good and the expectation for performance is low.

Through it all, the Transportation Committee was inundated with complaints until finally, with pressure building for improvements to the LA's cycling environment, the City released the Draft Bike Maps which have lots of very pretty colored lines and incorporate "vision" terms such as "infeasible" with such regularity that one is left wondering if this is part of a plan for ending cycling in LA, rather than supporting it.

Last week, the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee convened for its bi-monthly meeting and had some fairly direct concerns about the missing Bike Plan and the "leaked" bike maps but they were unable to find anybody who would take responsibility for the Bike Plan or the process.

One would think that the LABAC, which is filled with members of the community appointed by the Mayor and the City Council to advise the City of LA on matters related to cycling in LA, would be involved in the process of updating the Bike Plan. Such is not the case.

The only Department represented at the meeting was Transportation which claimed complete ignorance in all things Bike Plan, claiming that they're completely out of the loop on the maps and the plan, adding "It's all in the hands of the consultants!" Further distancing themselves from the process which they set in motion two and a half years ago, they went on the offensive and blamed any department not present for the failings of the process.

The Planning Department was blamed for holding up the plan, the City Attorney's Department was blamed for not supporting the process, Public Works was blamed for not participating, the LAPD was blamed for not caring enough to attend the meetings and Street Services was blamed for not weighing in on street maintenance standards.

Through it all, the LADOT Bikeways Coordinator complained that they receive no respect from the other Departments and went on to maintain complete innocence, absolving themselves of any responsibility in the process, a position contradicted by their own consultants.

Several months ago, the Transportation Committee, in a frenzy of support for the cycling community, directed the LADOT to include the Cyclists' Bill of Rights in the Bicycle Plan. In the hallway, after the meeting, cyclists approached the consultants to confirm the directive and were shocked to hear the consultants respond "We don't take direction from the City Council. We only take direction from the LADOT."

The City Council has long offered words of hope for the City's Bike Plan and along the way, the Transportation Committee has received reports from the General Managers of both Transportation and Planning. Rita Robinson and Gail Goldberg have both turned in glowing accounts of the Bike Plan process but the real question is very simple.

"Has anybody actually seen the Bike Plan?"

On Wednesday, June 17th, the Transportation Committee convenes at 8:00 am for a SPECIAL meeting that, once again, provides for a "Department of Transportation (DOT) report relative to a Bicycle Plan update."

How will Transportation Committee Chair Wendy Greuel respond when the public takes a look at the charade and cries out "But the Emperor has no Bike Plan!"

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net) ◘

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