Saturday, December 19, 2009
Cyclists claim their Rights, Smokey writes a Ticket
As thousands of cars idled in gridlock that resulted in miles of parked cars, LA's Park Rangers focused on the arrival of 50 cyclists, complete with General Services Bike Police escort, and stood prepared to enforce a law they couldn't identify, following the orders of people they can't identify, and finally writing me a ticket for "FAILING TO COMPLY WITH TRAFFIC CONTROL OFCR."
Friday, December 18th, marked the end of the pedestrian nights at the Griffith Park Festival of Lights and the beginning of the vehicular nights. To the city's credit, there were 14 pedestrian nights and there will be 13 vehicular nights, marking the first time in 14 years that the car-free nights outnumber the vehicular nights. As for cyclists, there was the token press conference "Bike-Night" and then nothing but the traditional "it's for your own safety" exclusion from the vehicular nights.
For the last four years, cyclists have ridden the Festival of RIGHTS, decorating their bikes and howling at the moon, riding the Festival a few rounds and challenging the prohibition on cyclists. This year was no different. Well, not much. When we arrived at Mulholland Fountain for the traditional milling about and socializing, there were two General Services Bike Cops who were very polite and friendly and who told us it was their responsibility to escort us safely through the Festival of Lights.
We rode, we howled, we enjoyed riding Griffith Park and we made lots of friends along the ride. At least that's what it sounded like as the cyclists and the people stuck in gridlock exchanged holiday greetings.
As we regrouped at the Zoo parking lot, we encountered Sgt. Kilpatrick of LA Rec and Parks. He artfully moved his vehicle so as to block us and then gave us a series of explanations on why we couldn't ride the streets of Griffith Park. I asked him under whose authority he was prohibiting cyclists while we watched the public drive their cars on the street right behind him. He said they were Rec and Park streets and they could exclude cyclists. I invoked State Law, pointing out that Los Angeles may be a big city but it hardly trumps State Law and CVC 21 is the Uniformity Code and it guarantees me the right to ride the streets that are open to the motoring public.
Sgt. Kilpatrick then invoked the special event argument, I responded by asking for the permit. He had none. I asked for his supervisor, he said he was it. I asked who gave the instructions to prohibit cyclists, he didn't know. We chatted for a while and he was very polite but firm, he said he would cite us if we violated the ban on cyclists in the park during the Festival of Lights. I asked what law would be violated and he didn't know. He really didn't know what law because when he wrote the ticket, it was for failing to comply.
Here are a few problems:
1) "It's for your own safety!" is code for getting cyclists out of the way of the motorists. It's not about our safety or the streets would be cleared of motor vehicles, intersections would be grade separated and motorists would be banned from the park. It's about moving motor vehicles and the plan was prepared by engineers who can't conceive of what to do with all of the humans.
2) Simple attempts to restrict cyclists must be resisted as a matter of principle. Los Altos went so far as to paint "NO BIKES" on El Monte Road before cyclists protested and won. Pasadena drafted an ordinance restricting cyclists from riding two abreast, making it to the second reading before cyclists again prevailed. In both cases, CVC 21 was invoked and used to demonstrate that local municipalities don't have the authority to restrict cyclists unless specifically articulated in the CVC. (Bike licenses, sidewalk riding and cyclists on the freeways are the exceptions) The Griffith Park prohibition is one of tradition and it is inappropriate and illegal.
3) The prohibition has no "Owner" and there is no accountability. Did Councilman Tom LaBonge direct the Park Rangers and the LADOT to prohibit cyclists from the Festival of Lights? Did the DWP determine that the Festival would be safer with no cyclists? Was it the LADOT who prepared the traffic plan for the Festival and determined that the two hour trek through the gridlock would be safer for the motorists if the cyclists were banned? Was it the Park Rangers who banded together and proposed a cyclist-free Festival? Why is it so hard to find the person behind the directive?
4) Sgt. Kilpatrick is in his third decade of service as a Peace Officer. How is it he stands prepared to enforce a ban on cyclists on the streets of Griffith Park, yet he can't identify the supporting law, he can't identify the authority who gave him his orders and he can't even offer up a reasonable defense of the absurd policy. He is the guy in charge. I would hope that he is enough of a professional to recognize that a man of his experience and his level of authority is of value because he thinks, because he asks questions and because he does what's right, not just what he's told. We are so far beyond the "I'm just following orders." days and the City of Los Angeles deserves better from those who operate under the color of authority. Putting on a badge and a gun means stepping up and doing what's right, not simply what is anonymously passed down as a directive.
5) The City of LA is in the midst of the worst budget crisis in our lifetimes. Rita Robinson, the GM of the LADOT, just met with the neighborhood council reps to tell them that the year-long Memorandum of Understanding meetings would not result in an MOU because she was unable to make any commitments in the middle of the current budget and staffing crisis. How then does she find the money to pay LADOT Traffic Officers to work Griffith Park wrangling the tens of thousands of motor vehicles that jam up the park and the surrounding community. Who is paying for the LADOT staff?
6) Rec and Parks stands to lose over 200 members of their staff as a result of the Early Retirement Incentive Plan. The department is in turmoil and local communities are being told that their parks are in danger of being closed and services restricted, all as a result of the budget meltdown. Meanwhile, the Park Rangers are out in Griffith Park with all of the trucks and gear, looking for cyclists who threaten the stability of the eco-system with their nefarious plan to ...ride their bikes on Crystal Springs Drive, the one with the bike lanes that get decommissioned during the holiday season to make room for more cars. Who is setting the Park Ranger priorities and who is directing them during the Festival of Lights?
7) The DWP has hosted the Light Festival ever since then-City Council President John Ferraro helped them think of it 14 years ago. How does the DWP get to host the Festival of Lights without pulling a permit, without paying fees that other organizations would have to pay if they wanted to put on a special event and dramatically impact the operation of the park as well as the surrounding community. How did the DWP avoid the rules and regulations and fees that apply to all other community groups and non-profits and special events?
8) The traffic on the 5 Freeway gets congested all the way back to the 134 Freeway, requiring mitigation and supervision from Caltrans and the CHP. In the last 14 years, have the operators of the Festival of Lights taken responsibility for evaluating the impact of the Festival on the freeway and on the safety of those who are caught in the congestion? Are Caltrans and the CHP voluntary partners with the Festival of Lights or are they simply responding to the disruption of service on the freeway?
Councilman Tom LaBonge of CD4, Jon Kirk Mukri of Rec and Parks, Rita Robinson of LADOT, and David Freeman of the DWP are all, at some point in time, referred to as the authority and the one in charge when it comes to the DWP's Festival of Lights in Griffith Park.
One of them needs to step up and take responsibility for the Festival of Lights.
That person needs to reconcile the current Festival of Lights with the Mayor's commitment to making LA the Greenest Big City.
That person needs to reconcile the current Festival of Lights with the City's current budget crisis.
That person needs to reconcile the current Festival of Lights with the Mayor's recent acknowledgment that he and the City of LA don't do enough for cyclists.
Most of all, that person needs to rise to the occasion and give the people of LA hope that even in the midst of these dire straits, there are people within the City of LA who will do what's best for the people of LA.
Happy Holidays and I look forward to seeing you on the streets of Griffith Park.