Monday, June 01, 2009

LA Bike Plan's "Proposed Bicycle Network" Aims Low and Still Falls Short

Last Thursday was Groundhogs Day for LA's long overdue Bike Plan and the Draft Bike Map peeked its head out of the city's Byzantine den of multi-departmental oversight and looked around for its shadow.

The release was quiet with only neighborhood council members notified of the availability of the Draft Bike Map at local libraries as well as online at

There may have been others notified but as somebody who signed in at four workshops, I find it strange that I didn't receive notification. Apparently the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee, The LA County Bicycle Coalition, the Caltrans Bicycle Advisory Committee, the Bike Writers Collective and the many local cycling organizations were also left off the distribution list.

Nevertheless, word of the release spread quickly and the public has had the weekend to review the three Draft Bike Maps.

Heres my take on the City of LA's Bicycle Plan Draft Bike Map:

1) Outreach: FAIL! Seriously, what is it going to take to get the LADOT (and Planning) to engage the public and to treat the community with a little respect. The LADOT Coordinator had previously claimed that the budget for outreach was 20% of the $450K budget for the Bicycle Plan. Surely that would cover the cost of emailing those who are established in the cycling community or those who have attended prior meetings and signed up for notifications. City's Transportation Committee, as far back as Jan 10, 2007, has taken the time to specifically instruct the LADOT to include the public in the process. And yet, the current distribution for the Draft Bike Map left out the cycling community.

2) Format: FAIL! Surely we could find somebody at Starbucks with an iPhone who could throw this map through iMap and perhaps generate something close to useable. Others more knowledgeable than I have commented:

"This map is embarrasing. If I was forced to release a map like this by a client I would hang my head in shame." Marcotico

I find the maps to be cumbersome and close to useless with a dose of frustrating thrown in. I looked at my neighborhood, was unable to compare the new map with the old, was unable to filter the noise, was unable to do anything other than to exclaim "More of the same from the LADOT!"

3) Vision: FAIL! This document sets out to aim low and then still falls short. Who gets to call improvements "infeasible" and decide that cyclists belong on side streets? Who gets to position a diluted "bike friendly" designation as our hope for improving the city of Los Angeles for cyclists? Why not include real data such as vehicle counts or speed limits or hipster coffeehouses or any of the many factors that make a streets favorable for cyclists? Why not set the bar really, really high and then let the community come together to make it happen?

How about a tally sheet. Be so bold as to give us the actual mileage of proposed Bike Paths, Bike Lanes, Bike Routes and Bike Boulevards. LADOT Assistant General Manager John Fisher went on record with some commitments. Are they reflected on this map?Tell us what's really on the table.

4) Usefulness: FAIL! I simply have to look at Hollywood and ask the simple question "Will this improve conditions as I ride from home to USC, Downtown, Griffith Park, Glendale, Burbank, the Valley, the Westside, NE LA, South LA, Harbor, ANYWHERE?" Seriously, the answer is no! Even the existing popular routes that I ride now remain unimproved by anything so simple as signage or sharrows or any encouragement while at the same time "bike friendly" streets are identified that appear to encourage me to "get out of the way" of motorists on their popular routes. This is not a useful document nor does it reflect a useful strategy or vision.

Why gray out neighboring communities? We still ride through them and any evaluation of efficacy of routes will include connecting with neighboring communities. Why can't LA play nice with the neighbors? Do we really need 88 municipal maps as well as the County map?

5) Clarity: FAIL! The cloud of "unfeasible" routes simply creates visual noise that obscures the brutal reality. There is no Bikeways vision in place, there is no clearly articulated strategy or commitment to standards or improvements. Optional, subject to further evaluation and "may include" are the foggy terms that allow this document to deteriorate in an expensive suggestion.

Graphic artists have reacted at first glance with shock that a cumbersome mapping document such as this was released to the public with a straight face.

"tried to pull it into adobe illustrator to separate out the wishful thinking parts but it's lo res flattened artwork... no dice, thus wishing for them to put this into google maps and allow for turning off and on proposed routes versus infeasable routes etc... pdf fucking sucks and since it's a lo res image they could have just as well made it a jpeg..." RB

"Ahh, why can't someone make a better online mapping interface that doesn't suck... PDFs are so 1990..." jerich1ne

6) Standards: FAIL! There are Bike Routes, there are Bike Lanes and there are "Shared Roadways." Then there are Bike Boulevards. Well, there would be if the LADOT wasn't so afraid of them. The LADOT needs to settle down and set standards and then work from that position. Others have begun the process. There are Bike Routes, there are Bike Lanes and there are "Shared Roadways." Seriously, we know what Bike Paths and Bike Lanes are and where they are but EVERY street is a "Shared Roadway" and even with bike paths and bike lanes, cyclists can ride all the streets. The challenge is to support cyclists who ride the streets of Los Angeles. How is this new "Shared Roadways" designation going to do this?

7) Vocabulary: FAIL! Repeating the phrase "where bicyclists have full legal access under the California Vehicle Code" is completely unnecessary and a waste of space. It goes without saying (kind of like "the laws of gravity will apply to all users of this street") but if necessary, say it once on the map and get it over with. Better yet, use the legal standard which is that cyclists have the right ride on roads and highways unless expressly prohibited. That means the streets of LA and it also means 1000 miles of highway in the State of California. Why does LA keep sprinkling this little bit of "permission" on the small streets?

In addition, using soft words and phrases such as "might be implemented" and "subject to further evaluation" and "applications of various treatments" leaves enough vagueness as to be meaningless and useless.

8) Subterfuge: SUCCESS! The LADOT wrote the scope of work for this project and secured the funding and handled the call and made the presentations to the City Council. All through the process, it was clearly driven by the LADOT. The Bike Plan consultant kicked off the Bike Plan process by referring specifically to the LADOT Coordinator by name as the authority that framed the specs of the process and the direction of the vision. Along the way, the Bicycle Plan, which is part of LA's Transportation Plan which is in turn part of the City of LA's General Plan, was shuffled so that a member of Planning was listed as the project manager but rest assured, this is an LADOT project and the vision comes from LADOT's mandate to move motor vehicles.

Make no mistake, no matter how hard the LADOT works to put the Bike Plan on Planning, this is an LADOT project and that is a good thing for motorists. This is funded with Bikeways funding, this should benefit cyclists but it is driven by a commitment for moving cyclists out of the way of motorists.

9) Funded activity with no real impact: SUCCESS! This map is an indication of things to come. It lacks commitment, uses soft language and includes enough "gray" markings to create the illusion that there is some real Bikeways activity taking place. It has colorful dotted lines that indicate things to come (or not) it has lots of routes that will get you where you need to go (or not) and it will have kept a lot of people gainfully employed during its long gestation period. It's a funding exercise!

10) Creative use of the word "UNFEASIBLE" in a vision document: SUCCESS! Is this an engineering standard? Is this a planning document? When did political will dictate the creation of a master planning document? Why is the LADOT's philosophy the driving force in this process? What happened to public input?

Overall, I'm calling the LA Bike Plan Update Draft Bike Map a complete success from the LADOT's perspective for subterfuge, funding and the bold use of the word "UNFEASIBLE" but a complete failure from the perspective of the cyclists who have hope that they'll get some support as the ride the streets of LA.

From my perspective, I'm calling this process flawed from the beginning and I'm putting my hopes for better cycling on the streets of Los Angeles in the hands of the DIY crew!

"See you on the Streets!"


Anonymous said...

not sure how we can implement bike ways on streets we bikers use that have such ruts that it makes for risky riding a road bike down such streets as Beverly Blvd.

Yep, i had the "what the..." dumbfounded look when I took a glance at the map with its grey'd out areas like we don't pedal thru those sections of town. yea right


Tony2 said...

I left 15 suggestion all within 5 miles of where I normally ride 3 days ago.
It is week. It's hard to read the street names, but I pick things apart and use seperate resources.
I got it done.
What good it does?
Remains to be seen......