Monday, July 13, 2009

CityWatchLA - Metro’s Identity Crisis

CityWatch, July 14, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 56

The Metro is proposing to take LA's cycling community for a ride, one step forward and two steps backward, all in a misguided effort to revise the Metro's bikes-on-rail policy.

Current Metro policy prohibits cyclists from bringing their bikes on rail during peak hours (6:30 am - 8:30 am and 4:30 pm - 6:30 pm) a policy that is rarely enforced or even acknowledged based on the anecdotal presence of bikes on most Metro light rail during these hours.

The Metro is proposing to remove the restriction, a simple action that should be hailed by the cycling community with cheers of "They like us! Right now, they really like us!"

But a quick survey of the eight-page handout for the proposed policy revision revealed the small print, the details, the motivation for the out-of-character "What have we done for the cycling community lately?" posture of the Metro. Under the "enhance safety" bullet point, the Metro addressed safety by slipping in a universal limit on cyclists with a two bikes per rail car limit. This means that the last Red Line train from NoHo in the middle of the night, one that typically has two cars, would be limited to 4 cyclists.

The late night trains are typically light on passengers but heavy on bikes. It also means that during busy times, cyclists would be racing back and forth on the platform with their bikes, counting cyclists and looking for the "light" rail car. Hardly a safety improvement on the platform!

There are a couple of significant issues here, bigger than the simple specifics of where the bikes go and how many fit.

1) Bikes are a form of transportation. Cyclists are able to get around the city and fill Metro service gaps because of their bikes. Metro passengers are able to get farther and to fill service gaps because of their bikes. We should be supporting the potential synergy here, not limiting its efficacy by excluding cyclists with limitations that apply to no other user group.

Mike Cannell, the General Manager for Metro Rail Operations, explained that with the increase in ridership on the Metro Rail, space has become increasingly scarce. Good point. He pointed out that with the success of the Flyaway from the airport, more and more passengers are taking luggage on the Train. Good point. He pointed out that when you add strollers, carts and ... gasp ... one time he saw a guy with a Christmas tree, we're really now all competing for limited and finite space. Good points!

BUT...bicycles are a transportation solution. When the guy can ride his Christmas tree from the train station to his home, it should be in the same category as the bicycle, but until that day, bikes support and enhance the Metro Rail service as a form of complementary, not just alternative, transportation. All else is "stuff" and to limit bicycles to two per car while not limiting strollers, wagons, luggage, and other personal property demonstrates a clear attitude of "What are we gonna do with all of these cyclists?"

Cannell continued by pointing out that the presence of "all of these bikes" was a violation of the fire and penal codes because of the blocked doorways. He was asked if It was the "blocked doorways" that was the violation or if it was "the bikes blocking the doorways" that was the violation. He responded that it was the bikes. When pressed, he repeated that the prohibition was against bikes, not people or luggage or strollers or Christmas Trees, but against bikes.

Cannell's team pointed out that the space on a rail car is finite and a bike takes up space, thereby reducing Rail Car capacity. Cyclists countered, "By riding a bike, cyclists complement the Metro and close service gaps in the system, thereby increasing Transportation System capacity!"

Crickets chirped when the Metro staff was asked if anybody had actually counted cyclists on buses, on rail, and on the streets and if there was any information or data to support this discussion and the proposed policy recommendations.

The Metro doesn't count cyclists because, apparently, cyclists don't count.

2) The Metro has an identity crisis. Anyone who visits the Metro with any regularity is reminded of the old tale of the Elephant surrounded by the blind men. Essentially, six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body.

The blind man who feels a leg says "It's like a pillar!" The one who feels the tail says "It's like a rope!" The one who feels the trunk says "It's like a tree branch!" The one who feels the ear says "It's like a hand fan!" The one who feels the belly says "It's like a wall! The one who feels the tusk says "It's like a solid pipe!"

The Metro is the proverbial "elephant." The Train folks exclaim "The Metro is a Rail System supported by bus connectivity."

The Bus Operations folks exclaim "The Metro is a Bus System that saturates the region with connectivity but competes with Rail for operating funds!"

The Training folks exclaim "It's a conflicted environment with everybody in our way!" The Real Estate folks exclaim "It's a development opportunity supported by transit!"

The Parking Lot folks exclaim "Seriously, look around. It's a parking lot supported by transit!" The Outreach folks exclaim "It's an opportunity to engage and to create community!" The Pedestrian folks exclaim "Hey, where's the elephant?"

The Bicycle folks exclaim "Don't anger the elephant!" Through it all, the local municipalities and agencies look at the elephant and see an ATM that's gonna dispense $40 Billion of Measure R money over the next 30 years, all to projects based on the Metro's priorities and oversight.

The Metro, by design, is our Regional Transportation Authority. It's an "elephant" and all of "the blind men" are correct. It's many things, but first and foremost, it is responsible for creating and funding a Transportation System that services all modes, using all methods and moving all people.

Federal funds along with Measure R funds put the Metro in a significant position of power and the character of our regional Transportation System is due to the priorities that are established at the top. The Metro funds everything from freeways to bike lanes to educational materials to the trees that make it more pleasant to walk to the bus stop.

Based on results it is evident that the Metro has meandered in its commitment to creating a Transportation System with a "multi-modal" commitment to moving people.

There is hope that this is going to change. The Metro has a new CEO, Art Leahy, and a new Chairman of the Board, Ara Najarian, both of whom have a reputation for innovation and a commitment to civil service.

Leahy and Najarian now have the opportunity to work together to integrate the many opinions of "the blind men" into a cohesive vision and mission for "the elephant." It's on them to create a real regional Transportation System that is committed to moving all people using all modes and that is committed to improving the quality of life for our communities.

Their first challenge is on the horizon and will come up this Thursday in the Operations Committee when the limit of the number of cyclists comes up for a vote. As Cannell puts it, "This system wasn't built with cyclists in mind."

The Metro now has the opportunity to address that oversight and to integrate cyclists as transportation solutions into a real Transportation System. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ◘

1 comment:

Rob A said...

Rob A says
The bike people are just a politically aggressive interest group. They pay lip service to "transit ," but for them it's really all about bikes. The problem with this agenda: transit uses the same streets that cars use, and if you take away lanes and street parking for cars---and, by the way, taxis, trucks, and emergency vehicles---you're going to make it harder for transit to move. These people are arrogant crackpots determined to screw up traffic, based on a juvenile vision of the future.