Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Topanga Canyon Speedway

It must be tough to buy a gift for LA's Department of Transportation. Caltrans tried but the gift was rejected. At the very least, the LADOT could have just accepted it and then rewrapped it and regifted but instead they just straight up said "No!" It's enough to make one wonder if Caltrans will be sending gifts to the LADOT anytime in the near future.

At issue are the bike lanes that Caltrans funded and engineered and wrapped up with a bow and tried to have delivered to the City of Los Angeles.

Topanga Canyon Boulevard runs through Woodland Hills in the West Valley and is also known as California State Highway 27. It belongs to the State of California and Caltrans is responsible for it but, as is the custom, defers to the local authority with regard to improvements and integration into the local transportation system.

Doug Failing, Director of Caltrans District 7 which includes Los Angeles County and Ventura County, was the featured speaker at a Great Streets Forum held last year in Woodland Hills. Hundreds of people turned out for inspiring presentations and discussions of Great Streets and how they are designed, the features that make them great, the designations that bring them to fruition.

A member of the audience who lives close to Mulholland Drive asked what it would take to make Topanga Canyon Boulevard a Great Street. Mr. Failing responded by describing a street with open setbacks, wide sidewalks, parkway separation, bike lanes, traffic lanes and a median strip with shade trees and greenery, all delivered in a way that integrates with the activity of the local community as the boulevard weaves through the west valley. The room erupted in applause. Pat Smith, the Urban Planner who has been working with the Warner Center Specific Plan was there and when she takes notes, she simply draws what she hears. The person sitting next to her watched her sketch the "reimagined" Topanga Canyon Boulevard and said quietly "I'm going to Art School!"

Caltrans embarked on a local improvement campaign and, as guided by the City of Los Angeles Bike Plan, an element of the Transportation Plan which in turn is part of the General Plan, generated the money and the engineering for Bike Lanes on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The Bike Plan calls for bike lanes on Topanga Canyon from Mulholland Drive to CA State Highway 118, a distance of about 9 miles. That's a fairly significant bikeways improvement and a significant connector in a densely populated area.

The LADOT's traffic engineer in charge of the west end of the San Fernando Valley is Ken Firoozmand, a legend in Valley Bikeways Improvements who has been in the news lately for interupting the development of the Reseda Boulevard Bike Lanes. Again, the Bike Plan called for bike lanes on Reseda but as the local LADOT authority, Firoozmand overruled and determined that the area would benefit from peak-hour parking instead of the bike lanes. A report was generated that indicated the bike lanes were not going to happen and the cycling community stormed the local Neighborhood Council, wrote letters, made phone calls and Allan Willis, LADOT's Principal Transportation Engineer for Valley Traffic Operations dismissed the whole brouhaha as "trash talk." Councilman Zine dismissed the concerns of cyclists as based on rumor. Councilman Smith was simply silent. Then the "Report" turned up and the Bike Lanes were back in play.

As the cycling community engaged in an end-zone victory dance, the LADOT was apparently in the clubhouse toasting Firoozmand and Willis, giggling at the gullibility of the cycling community, and plotting the next evisceration of LA's moth eaten Bike Plan, due to be replaced with a newer "Infeasible" Bike Plan sometime between last year and never.

Ken Firoozmand is from LADOT Operations. He has authority over the streets in the West Valley. Bikeways is part of LADOT Funding. They simply don't have the heat to make the Bike Plan come to life. This is evidenced by the simple fact that when push comes to shove, bikeways improvements disappear from the landscape. The consultant engaged by the City of LA to develop LA's new Bike Plan opened the process by describing the need for a Bike Plan as "a funding requirement." The Bike Plan wasn't presented as a tool for changing the world, simply as a device needed to qualify for grants. She then went on to specify the 17 points of compliance that were necessary from a funding perspective. But all of the funding in the world doesn't translate into bikeways improvements if the Engineers in charge believe in pushing motor vehicles at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists. The city picked up $1.25 million of Bicycle Transportation Account funds for the Fletcher Bridge bike lanes (0.25 miles of bike lanes!) The money did not result in bike lanes on the Fletcher Bridge. (The Department of DIY gave it a shot but they were removed!)

My simple question to the LADOT is this, if you're not going to use those Topanga Canyon Boulevard bike lanes, can I have them? I'd like to put them to work and it seems a shame to have them go to waste! I can think of so many great places to place 9 miles of bike lanes.

"See you on the Streets!"

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