Monday, June 29, 2009

Father and Son Grand Tour Dream Ends With Tragedy

photo credit hereinmalibu

21 years ago, Rodrigo "Rod" Armas strapped on his helmet, hopped onto his bike and set off on the LA Wheelmen's Grand Tour, an annual cycling event that starts and finishes in Malibu, drawing participants from throughout California as well the surrounding Western States. Grand Tour riders typically have an appetite for distance as is evidenced by the route options which range from the 200 Kilometer, 200 mile, 300 mile and 400 mile routes.

The Grand Tour is a fully supported event meaning that there are abundant pit stops and sag teams that patrol the route, offering everything from encouragement and refreshments to medical and mechanical support. The ride starts early on Saturday morning and riders must complete their selected route within 24 hours.

This past Saturday, Rod again saddled up for the Grand Tour, this time accompanied by Christian, his 14 year-old-son. They were among the last cyclists to check in, picking up numbers 473 and 474. Rod strapped on the same helmet he used 21 years before and the father and son team set off on the Highland Double, a 200 mile route that heads up to Port Hueneme and then turns inland over the rural, quieter and hillier back roads of Ventura County.

At around 9pm on Saturday evening, Brian Meek, a cyclist who had stopped with mechanical difficulties was in the Rincon pit stop when two cyclists rode in, stirring cheers and applause. The cyclists were Rod and Christian and they were the two last riders on the Highland Double route. Bryan reports that as Rod sat down he dropped his helmet in the dirt. "One of the guys at the stop took it from him and said he would clean it for him. The father and son were tired but in great spirits and shared some of their ‘stories’ with all of us. I listened as the father shared that he was wearing the same helmet he used 21 years ago the first time he rode the Grand Tour.

As Saturday turned into Sunday, Rod and Christian had approximately 190 miles behind them including 8500 feet of elevation gain and four very challenging hills. They were riding on the shoulder in ideal conditions. the sky was clear, there was great visibility, the roads were dry and there was a slight off shore breeze. All was well and they were within miles of rolling into the finish line in Malibu.

A SAG driver passed the father and son team on PCH and reported that all was well and that the cyclists were making good progress toward the Malibu finish.

At approximately 1:30 am, the next SAG driver came across an emergency scene with medical and law enforcement personnel at work on the two cyclists who lay on the ground at 34000 PCH. The SAG driver radioed back to the the other support teams in order to coordinate the Triple Century cyclists who would soon be riding south on PCH past the emergency scene.

Rod was pronounced dead at the scene and Christian was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center with severe and comprehensive injuries. Their bodies were crushed, their bikes were destroyed, their blood was on the road and yet there was no sign of the person responsible for the mayhem.

The LA County Sheriff's Department provides law enforcement services for the City of Malibu and they found an abandoned Dodge Ram pickup truck approximately 1 mile farther south on PCH. There was no sign of a driver.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department deployed a K-9 unit to the scene in an effort to locate the person who drove the truck into Rod and Christian and then left them broken and bleeding on the road.

Two hours later at 3:25 am, a security guard at Zuma Bay called from the guard shack to report that he had found the suspect and the Sheriff's Department arrested Robert Sam Sanchez, 30, of Oxnard. Sanchez was transported to a hospital where a blood test was performed and then he was placed in the Lost Hills Station jail where he was charged with Vehicular Manslaughter (191.5a) vehicular DUI resulting in injury (21153a) and felony hit and run (2991a).

The story thus far is chilling and has had a significant impact on the cycling community, who for the most part, will pause for a moment as the realization that "It could have been me!" sinks in and then go back to life as usual.

But for some, this is more than a moment to mourn the loss of one of our own and the opportunity to offer condolences to the broken family left behind, this is the time to ask some hard questions.

1) Robert Sam Sanchez, the suspect who stands accused of running down Rod and Christian, has already bailed out and is at home enjoying freedom and the assumption of innocence, an assumption that will probably prevail if he has access to any decent legal representation.

Sanchez was not caught behind the wheel of the vehicle, the investigation is taking place by two Deputies who are part of the traffic division of the Sheriff's Department, not the criminal division, and their Supervisor is on medical leave.

What's it going to take for this investigation to be conducted with the full and enthusiastic support of the LA County Sheriff's Department? What's it going to take to get the District Attorney involved now, while the investigation is under way? (btw this is #4 of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights - "cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."

2) Lt. Glafkides, the Watch Commander on duty Saturday evening and Sunday morning reports that she has worked this station for 3 and half years but she has never heard of the LA Wheelmen or the Grand Tour. There were 4 Deputies on duty in Malibu that night. There were none on duty in the unincorporated areas around Malibu. The LA Sheriff's Department also handles law enforcement responsibilities for other "contract" communities such as Hidden Hills, Westlake Village, Calabases and Agoura Hills. All totaled, there are approximately 145 square miles in the area that are under the watch of the LASD.

How does the Sheriff's Department not notice the large number of cyclists rolling through the community and how is it that the Watch Commander doesn't know of such a significant event? Lt. Chew relates that he has an email from the LA Wheelmen indicating that an event would be taking place but somehow the Watch Commander never received the message nor noticed in the years prior that the Grand Tour was taking place.

3) PCH has such a horrific record of traffic tragedies and through it all, cyclists find themselves having to argue for their rights on the road. Brad House was hit from behind by a road raging motorist and flipped into the air over the car. The judge found Brad at partial fault, after all, he was in the lane!

Two cyclists, Scott Bleifer and Stanislov Ionov, were hit from behind and killed by the operator of a catering truck. This incident stirred a significant community debate that had many arguing that the cyclists were at fault for riding two abreast and in the lane.

Missing from the discourse is the simple discussion of how pedestrians and cyclists and mass transit passengers and motorists can all use PCH while maintaining some sense of balance based on equality and a guarantee that all modes of transportation will be supported.

After the deaths of Scott and Stanislov, the PCH Task Force was formed and given the mandate of reviewing safety issues for cyclists on PCH, monitoring conditions on PCH and maintaining interagency responsibility for the conditions of PCH. Velo LaGrange and the LACBC and others tout this as one of their accomplishments and yet...the PCH Task Force has gone dormant and cyclists are dying. Why, even the "Share the Road" signs are getting hit by motorists!

The City of Malibu refers to the Sheriff's Department who refer to Caltrans. Meanwhile PCH remains a very busy and congested and conflicted corridor that more closely resembles a traffic sewer than a vital community lifeline.

Through it all, the cycling community has to ask the hard question "What are we going to do about it?"

4) The speed limit on PCH varies from fast to faster to really fast. The exact numbers vary but range from 45 to 50 to 55. Again, the LASD refers to the State's speed trap law and throws up their hands saying, "It's state law, we set the limits based on the 85% rule." (This is the "science" where motorists vote in an opinion poll with their gas pedals)

Do we really live in communities that are so helpless? Are we not adults with some responsibility for our city, our county and our state? How is it that we tolerate such helplessness from our leadership and from out law enforcement offices?

If PCH needs to be slowed down, let's slow it down. There are 28 miles of PCH through Malibu and on this past Saturday night there were 4 Deputies on duty. Engineer a road diet, implement traffic calming technology, do something other than wring hands and wonder why people are dying!

photo credit independentsources

5) The Office of Traffic Safety put the spotlight on Malibu and reported that "Malibu is #1!" Unfortunately the category was for vehicle injuries. Granted, the report from the Office of Traffic Safety is based on statistics from 2005 but unless something dramatic has changed, Malibu is left with the lingering reality that for a City of their size and with the number of miles traveled, they have been recognized by the State of California as:

#1 for vehicle injuries
#2 for alcohol accidents
#1 for alcohol related accidents for the age group 21 to 34
#1 for speed related accidents
#2 for accidents after dark

Granted, there is a motorcycle cop in Malibu who leads the County in tickets issued but unless he is going to escort me every time I ride my bike to the store, he's an anecdotal anomaly. The brutal reality is this: Malibu is a tough place for pedestrians, for cyclists and for mass transit passengers who must navigate some brutal stretches of PCH.

What are we doing to address the significant danger of the speeding motorists and intoxicated motorists that have Malibu one of the most dangerous communities in the State of California?

6) Motorists who run over pedestrians and cyclists choose to run. They do it time after time and then again. The penalty for running is better than the penalty for being drunk. This inequity in the law needs to shift.

Even worse is the simple fact that hitting a pedestrian or cyclist while sober is hardly a crime. After all, "He came out of nowhere!" is a legal defense and "I didn't see him!" is an acceptable explanation for killing and maiming.

The motorist who ran down LA Wheelmen Bobbi Fisher from behind was sober but had a dog in his lap and was distracted, resulting in a broken back for Bobbi. The motorist wasn't even cited.

The motorist who turned left into oncoming LA Wheelmen on a tandem simply said "I didn't see them." Advanced in age and with failing eyesight, the motorist lost his California license, a small inconvenience he overcame by pulling an out of state license using his vacation property as his address. He still drives to the local pub in Malibu while the cyclists slowly heal.

Putting a motor vehicle on the road is a significant responsibility and yet our leadership acts as if it is a basic right and that any effort to hold a motorist accountable is an infringement of their basic human rights.

What is it going to take for us to take the lead and to establish safety and freedom of fear as basic human rights. (btw - this is #1 of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear.)

7) Ride organizers and Cycling clubs live in fear of LIABILITY. Why? For encouraging people to get off the sofa and go for a ride?

What is it going to take for "We don't need no stinkin' permits!" to become the battle cry of access to the new public space, the streets of our communities?

In fact, what's it going to take for us to shift the fear of liability and to reverse the relationship. Our leadership should be the ones grimacing and cringing and feeling the full fear of liability every time another pedestrian or cyclist is injured or killed on the public streets that they are responsible for maintaining and supervising!

Why are pedestrians and cyclists treated as 2nd class citizens when they want access to our streets? These streets belong to the public and our leadership is responsible for maintaining fair and equitable access.

Why would we tolerate anything less?

As for me, this is far from over. I'll see you on the Streets!

Friday, June 26, 2009

CityWatchLA - Park[ing] Day LA is On the Way

CityWatch, June 26, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 51

Park[ing] Day LA hits the streets of Los Angeles on Friday, September 18th, as community activists, neighborhood leaders and urban planners throughout the city step up to the curb, put a quarter in the meter, and proceed to transform curbside metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

Jane Jacobs, in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" writes that in order to make a city safe, prosperous and worth living in, one must start with "lively and interesting streets."

To that end, Park[ing] Day LA is an opportunity for community members to engage passers-by, motorists, members of the press, city leadership and yes, even the authorities, in a rational and respectful dialogue of everything from our city's parks and public space to the environment and allocation of land to mobility issues and local beautification projects.

Park[ing] Day LA is an opportunity to create community, engage the public and create a dialogue, all while taking advantage of one of the best real estate deals in town, the public park(ing) space.

Park[ing] Day originated in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco based art and design collective, transformed a metered parking spot into a park-for-a-day in an effort to make a public comment on the lack of quality open space in American cities. Their goal was to reprogram the urban surface by reclaiming streets for people to rest, relax and play and their mission is to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play.

This is the third year that Los Angeles will be participating in Park[ing] Day and the call is out for individuals and organizations who want to work together to stir a discussion of LA's parks, open space and land use allocation.

Last year there were over 70 parks spread throughout Los Angeles, built and hosted by community activists, architectural and design firms, advocacy groups and neighborhood councils.

Cyclists loaded up trailers with sod, trees and park benches and then rode through Central LA until they found an empty park[ing] space. They would throw a quarter in the meter, unload, roll out a park, sit for a spell and engage the passers-by in a conversation and then after the meter had run out, they would load up and head off to another empty park[ing] space.

Architects and designers in Silver Lake created a Zen garden complete with babbling brook and flagstone walk that proved to be irresistible to those who wandered by.

East Hollywood, which is the "park-poorest" neighborhood council in the city, went all out and built the "East Hollywood Rec Center" complete with swimming pool and BBQ pit. Alfredo Hernandez hosted a party that earned him the title of Park Czar.

Mia Lehrer and Associates built a park inspired by the LA River and complete with willows and giant reeds. The beautiful and serene environment was complemented with shade from plastic bags and police line tape as a reminder of the impact of pollution on nature.

One park featured basketball, some created complicated political statements, others simply loaded up on basic park amenities and encouraged folks to sit a spell and relax.

As for the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, well, they simply did it all. Not content with a simple parking space, they simply shut down the street and threw a block party. Organized by Gunner Hand and Ashley Zarella, the block party included bands, food, exhibits and, in keeping with the park theme, served as the driving force for a petition drive for a downtown dog park.

The 3rd annual Park[ing] DayLA is just 3 months away and now is the time for neighborhood councils to partner with community groups and to select a message, pick a location, assemble the team and go to work transforming LA's best real estate deal, the park[ing] space, into a park.

For a recap of last year's Park[ing] Day LA and ideas on how to build your own park visit

Park[ing] Day LA has a twitter page on

For an overview of the origins of Park[ing] Day visit

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

CityWatchLA - Hey! I’m Walkin’ Here!

CityWatch, June 23, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 50

Los Angeles took a small step toward becoming a pedestrian oriented city as a result of last week's "Pedestrian Safety" conference held across the street from City Hall at the Caltrans Castle.

Hosted by the local folks at Caltrans and sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the Caltrans State Division of Design, the conference was designed to help state and local transportation professionals address pedestrian safety issues through design and engineering solutions. Caltrans Director Doug Failing wasted no words as he set the course for the two day journey, declaring to the assembly of engineers, planners, public works administrators and community activists that his commitment to street use was "All modes, all methods." Short on words, long on impact.

There were moments of silence during the conference, such as when the speakers pointed out that California State Law doesn't just suggest that local authorities support pedestrian activity, nor does it simply require that they support pedestrian activity. The State of California actually specifies that "all levels of government" work to increase levels of walking and pedestrian travel. The stunned look on the game faces of the professionals who have spent entire careers moving cars was worth the price of admission.

There were also moments of lively interaction as debates broke out over jaywalking, crosswalks and the often referenced "false sense of security" that is touted as an excuse to remove marked crosswalks in Los Angeles.

All of these debates clearly illustrated that the "science" of engineering and planning is driven by philosophy and political will. To that end, a community needs to clarify its goals and use the tools to make them a reality.

A bit of revelation, a bit of revolution and the attendees were divided up into teams and turned loose on the streets of Los Angeles for a field trip where they were called on to assess the situation, apply the principles from the conference, and then to make recommendations.

Some teams were made up of representatives from the same agency and other teams were made up of representatives from different communities. While the "sameness" of some teams allowed them to reach consensus quickly, it was the "diverse" teams that had robust discourse and a much more detailed list of recommendations for improving the studied intersections.

This bit of discovery ended up becoming one of the workshop recommendations, that agencies incorporate robust design input from the beginning, all based on a commitment to include bicycling and pedestrian facilities into "all transportation projects."

Unfortunately, the studied intersections did not support the ambition and hope that multi-agency improvements would benefit from greater team input.

The first study intersection was recently "improved" by the City of Los Angeles and included potential partners such as the Metro and Caltrans. Several teams reviewed Los Angeles Ave. as it approaches the 101 and it didn't take long for them to come up with 25 basic recommendations for bringing the intersection up to standards.

The second study intersection was recently "improved" as the result of the Gold Line Extension and this was an especially distressing experience. When the many agencies involved in the Gold Line Extension put that much money on the streets and then ask pedestrians to cross the tracks twice in order to maintain their course, it is evident that pedestrians are still simply an afterthought.

What's it going to take for the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Country in the world get in line with Federal and State Law and make our streets safe and accommodating for everybody, especially those who are the most vulnerable, the pedestrians?

Tough questions, solid recommendations, great expectations.

"See you on the Streets!"

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at credit: ◘

Friday, June 19, 2009

CityWatchLA - Greuel Scolds Transpo for Dismissing the Public

CityWatch, June 19, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 49

Transportation Committee Chair Wendy Greuel chastised representatives from both the Transportation and the Planning Departments, saying "We've got a room full of people, all claiming to have been left out of the Bicycle Plan Update process. You can't call that the result of effective outreach!"

This took place at a "Special" meeting of the Transportation Committee scheduled for 8 am on what turned out to be Laker Celebration Day. A glance at the agenda indicates that it must have been Greuel's intention to wrap up all of the cycling issues in one big meeting, as she approaches the conclusion of her reign as the Transportation Committee Chair and prepares to take over the City Controller helm. Unfortunately, Councilmen Parks, Alarcon and LaBonge were no shows and it was left to Chair Greuel and Councilman Bill Rosendahl to navigate a busy bike agenda that included the Bike Plan, Bikeways funding, Bike Parking, Abandoned Bikes, the efficacy of the Bikeways Department and the LAPD's relationship with the cycling community.

When it came time for the LAPD to report on their training for LAPD officers on cycling rules and regulations and to report on recent incidents between the LAPD and cyclists, Greuel called for the LAPD to step up and ... they weren't there. Somehow it was the LADOT who knew the LAPD weren't going to attend the meeting, not the Councilmembers, an interesting revelation in the realities of our City Government.

Greuel at first moved the item to another date but the room erupted in protests from people who wanted to be heard. She took public comment on the item and heard from a long list of people who called on the LAPD to support cycling as a transportation choice and who called for better education of the LAPD on the specifics of the California Vehicle Code that cause so much confusion on the streets.

Attending the standing room only meeting were cyclists from all over the city representing a wide range of cycling interests and expressions but united in their desire to see the City of LA support cycling as a transportation solution. They were joined by representatives from homeowners associations and neighborhood councils, as well as cycling organizations and a variety of advocacy groups.

We’re all here noted one participant because "we just want to be involved in making our streets better places to ride and our communities better places to live."

When speakers complained of the consultant-driven process that has kept the public from participating, Rosendahl sat up and called for the consultants to step forward. Nobody moved. Not the consultants in Portland, not the consultants in Berkeley, not the consultants in Colorado, and not the consultants in San Francisco. They just couldn't hear the call.

Rosendahl found this to be disturbing and he began digging into the money. "How much have we paid these consultants?" he asked the Transportation and Planning representatives. When he heard that the City of LA has already paid out 80% on a plan that all at the table profess they have not yet received, he was not happy. He called for the consultants to show up next week at the regularly scheduled Transportation Committee meeting to account for the money, the contract and the Bike Plan.

The Department of Transportation was well represented at the meeting, in spite of their claim that this is a Planning Department process. Rita Robinson, General Manager of the LADOT was flanked by Haripal Vir, Michael Uyeno, and Carolyn Jackson, all of whom were there backing up a Bikeways staff that claimed not to have the Bike Plan. As for the Planning Department, GM Gail Goldberg, who said last month "The Bike Plan will be out in two weeks!" was nowhere in sight and in her stead were two Planning reps with a feeble PowerPoint presentation that should have been entitled "Smoke and Mirrors."

In a meeting that stretched for three hours in spite of the 60 second limit on public comment, cyclists took opportunity after opportunity to share their experiences riding the streets of Los Angeles and stressing the need to address the significant safety issues that cyclists confront every time they roll onto the streets, it was a comment overheard after the meeting was adjourned that was the most revealing.

"Well, I guess we survived that one!" said one LADOT staff member to another … demonstrating clearly that from their perspective … it's meetings such as this with calls for accountability that pose the most significant threat, not the streets of LA. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ◘

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 ◘

Sunday, June 14, 2009

LADOT Bikeways to LA Cyclists: An Open Letter

Dear Cycling Community,

We've had some great times over the years, we've come a long way together, but it's time to take a hard look at our relationship.

You used to be so happy, so grateful for bits of attention and your very own Bike to Work Week, but lately you seem so demanding. All this talk of equality and the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and wanting support from the LAPD is very disturbing. Especially now that you've started evaluating the performance of the LADOT.

Frankly, it's just too much. It's as if you don't know your place anymore.

Anyway, you seem so unhappy with us!

All of this brings us to that painful place where it's apparent that the best thing is to simply end this relationship and go our separate ways.

There was a time when our relationship had promise, a time when we shared common interests and seemed to benefit from each other's company but things have changed.

We're both under a lot of pressure lately. We have financial issues and you...well...whatever.

Let's just say goodbye and go our separate ways.

If it makes you feel better, it's not you. Truth be told, it's just that...well...there's someone else!

His name is San Antonio and he's so dreamy. He's not very tall but he drives a big car! Well, he doesn't actually drive it himself, he has a driver and it's not really a car, it's a Yukon. Can you believe that! He makes my heart go pitter patter! Anyway, he's quite busy, after all, he's very important, and he has a Deputy named Jaime who drives a big Hummer and he's the one who looks after us.

It's not what you think, it's not like we're a "kept" department, it's just that we're special and we need special attention.

Okay, it's really important that we end things quickly, after all it wouldn't do to make San Antonio jealous. You probably already know how he feels about cyclists and it would just upset him if he saw you hanging around.

As for the Bikeways funding, we're gonna keep it, after all, it was kind of a gift. Right? Surely you understand. We can't give it back anyway, it's already been spent...on...stuff.

Anyway, we've had some good times. We've had some laughs. Remember the Bike Plan? That was good for some laughs. We're still laughing. What a hoot!

Hugs and kisses,

LADOT Bikeways!

p.s. As for LaBonge, you can keep him. We never really took him seriously anyway and besides, he's so annoying!

Friday, June 12, 2009

CityWatchLA - MTA: Take Me to Your Leader

CityWatch, June 12, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 47

Those who doubt that the City of Los Angeles is a ship adrift in treacherous waters need only visit the Metro Board to watch our Captain in action and they'll leave convinced that we are in dire straits.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shows up late, insults the public, lectures other elected officials, wanders off when the discourse fails to hold his attention then returns to pontificate before simply disappearing, all in a clear demonstration of the leadership style that the Los Angeles depends on as the city faces down biggest challenges of this generation. Granted, chairing the Metro Board is just one of San Antonio's many responsibilities but given the significance of the most recent regular Board Meeting and the $3.7 Billion budget they had on the agenda, one would think that he would at least stick around for the vote.

The Board meeting in question was scheduled to start at 9:30 am and the public was greeted with a sign that stated "The Metro wants your input" and then another smaller sign that stated "public comment cards will not be accepted after the start of the board meeting." With the Metro Boardroom filled to capacity at 9:30 and the overflow crowd sent to the cafeteria, the Metro's staff stopped taking cards and left the public to watch as the Boardmembers trickled in and finally reached quorum just shy of 10 am.

Props to the Governor's representative, Caltrans Director Doug Failing and Councilman Jose Huizar, both of whom were on time and ready to grapple with the future of transportation in LA County. They were joined by newly seated County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and collectively they served as the welcoming party for the other Boardmembers who drifted in as if their participation was a casual afterthought with little significance or impact on the lives of those who packed the room.

County Supervisor Don Knabe picked up the gavel and called the meeting to order, San Antonio still missing in action. He tried to knock a few items off the agenda, obviously stalling and then he took public comment, scheduled for the end of what looked to be a minimum of a three hour meeting and moved it to the beginning, mixing it up with public comment on agenda items.

This didn't bode well for members of the public who were counting on speaking at the end of the meeting and he called out names of people who couldn't get back into the main room in time to grab their 60 seconds of glory at the microphone.

During the confusion, San Antonio slipped in and took control of the meeting. Well, he gave it a shot. As the Metro's budget came up for discussion and action, he looked at the comment cards and then addressed the crowd, challenging them "Do you really need to speak on this item? We're in danger of losing quorum and if you speak it will only take up valuable time?" He repeated this challenge three times, growing more direct and condescending each time.

At one point, a member of the audience yelled out "I took the day off to come here and I'm going to address the Board!" Another member of the audience yelled out "I'm an elected official, just like you, and I'm here to speak on behalf of people who voted for me and expect me to represent them! I'm going to speak!" That guy is going to go far if he keeps that up!

When the dust had settled, the public had the opportunity to talk, the representatives of the surrounding communities had also spoken and San Antonio had slipped out the back door, leaving the remaining Boardmembers to approve the budget and set the course for the Metro.

Keep in mind, the Metro Board consists of heavyweights including the five County Supervisors, representatives from Glendale, Santa Monica, Lakewood, Duarte, the Governor's appointee, Doug Failing and San Antonio and his three appointees, Richard Katz, Jose Huizar and Rita Robinson.

One would hope that the Mayor of the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Country in the world would be able to lead this crew of seasoned veterans of the system in an orderly meeting, especially as they sit on Measure R funds that amount to tens of billions of dollars of OUR money, all precariously positioned and awaiting their leadership and vision and execution. One would also hope that these leaders would also keep San Antonio in check but such is not the case.

All the more reason for the people of Los Angeles to step up and to take responsibility for the future of this City and to ask the hard questions, "Who's at the helm and why are we headed for the rocks?" (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ◘

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

City Council Creates Office of DIM

LA's City Council has taken the bold step of creating the Office of Dusty and Ignored Motions (DIM) that specifically tracks all Council motions and monitors City Departments, reporting back on the "snubbing" that those motions receive as they collect dust and a few laughs before they are completely ignored and are finally forgotten.

Rumors that Councilman Jack Weiss will be appointed as the City's Chief DIM Officer were unconfirmed as was the "suggestion" that this post would carry with it a $200K per year salary and would also be supported by a staff of 24, all to be selected and hired by the Chief DIM Officer.

A Council spokesperson explained the need for the Office of DIM by pointing out that the unique structure of the City of LA's government leaves the City Council with the illusion of authority but that in fact, it's all a charade. While this "political threatre" is good for groups of school children who tour the Council Chambers on any given workday, it's bad for the people who live and work and conduct business in LA and who depend on strong leadership in order to enjoy the quality of life they expect from the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Nation in the world.

A brief glance at some recent motions from last year that caused the people of LA to rush to the Council mic exclaiming "You like us, right now, you like us!" revealed that the Departmental "Lands of NO!" include the LAPD, the Department of Transportation and the Planning Department.

These Departments along with many others, have gotten so good at ignoring the City Council that they actually sit in Council Chambers, dressed up for the occasion, and look directly at the Council as they nod their heads up and down, all the while saying very clearly "Yes, we can't!" They then quickly turn the discussion into a complaint of their staffing woes and their budgets constraints. The actual motion in question fades from the discussion and begins the journey into ignomy while the City Department staff wear out their Capezios dancing around the City Council instructions.

Councilman Ed Reyes of Council District 1 introduced a motion that simply called on the Department of Planning to create a pilot project in his district consisting of a public workshop so that residents, bicyclists, businesses and others could weigh in on bicycle projects such as Bicycle Boulevards, Road Diets and Bike Stations. The input from his district which includes northeast Los Angeles, Dodger Stadium, Chinatown and MacArthur Park, would then be incorporated into the City's Bicycle Plan.

This motion had his one of his constituents blogging "I am going to thank the Councilman tomorrow, on my way to work. The man is a genius." Meanwhile, the Department of "No!" stifled their snickering long enough to nod their heads and they then promptly ignored the motion and went on their way.

Council President Eric Garcetti introduced a motion a year ago this coming June 27 that directed the Department of Transportation to develop a "Shared Lane Pavement Markings" (Sharrows) pilot program on Vermont Avenue between Hollywood Boulevard and 4th Street and Fountain Avenue between the 101 Freeway and Hoover Street. Sharrows are a lane marking (Chevron and cyclist) that is used to indicate the correct lane position for cyclists so that they are not in the door zone and so that motorists are clear on the correct lane positioning. Sharrows consist of paint. Right there in the lane 15 feet off the curb line. They're pretty simple until you bring the LADOT to the table.

This motion had cyclists throughout the City hopeful that Los Angeles was going to finally explore the full toolbox of engineering innovations that cities around the world use to support effective and safe cycling on urban streets. Of course, the Department of "No!" had other ideas and the creative excuses for a lack of progress have included concerns over the use of paint on the streets of LA because it's slippery, explanations that the work is taking a looooong time because the contractor is very busy, and the very simple "These streets are filled with cars. There's simply no more room for cyclists!"

Councilwoman Janice Hahn recently responded to tensions between the cycling community and the LAPD with a motion directing the Los Angeles Police Department to report on recent bicycle incidents and conflicts between bicyclists and motorists, as well as efforts to increase police officer training related to bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

The LAPD showed up, flanked by the LADOT, and gave a powerful demonstration of non-responsive blame-shifting, referring the cyclists of LA as "these people" and then passing the baton so that the LADOT's representative could chime in on the training of cyclists on safety and responsibility. In both cases they demonstrated an inability to read OR incredible skills at simply dodging the directions and avoiding the responsibility.

As a wise Councilwoman once said, "I used to believe in conspiracy until I met gross incompetence."

Either way, the City Council of Los Angeles has done some great work, or so it would seem if one were to simply survey the landscape of dog-eared motions, all ambitious in their wording but ultimately impotent in their impact.

Now is the time for the people of Los Angeles to rally behind the Office of DIM and to encourage the City Council to pay attention, to insist on results and to follow through on these momentary sparks of innovation that need to go from motion to reality.

Friday, June 05, 2009

LAPD - "Who Teaches the Teachers?"

(LAPD Officers ride the Hollywood/Vine crosswalk until they defer to the primacy of the motor vehicle and ride out into the oncoming traffic)

A couple of months ago, I was observing the LAPD's Valley Traffic Division as they conducted a pedestrian crosswalk sting on Reseda Boulevard. It was an amazing sight to watch. A police officer in street clothes, the "decoy," would step out into the crosswalk and begin to cross the street. Motorcycle officers stood lined up on the side streets, at the ready to ride into the relentless traffic to cite the motorists who failed to yield the crosswalk to the pedestrian. It was like watching cowboys herd cattle with the traffic cops pulling over as many as four motorists at a time and lining them up curbside for their tickets. It was an amazing sight to witness.

At midday, when the sting operation shutdown for lunch, I saw Officer "K" writing tickets for three male cyclists. My curiosity was piqued. After all, this was a crosswalk sting. The LAPD was there to cite motorists who failed to yield to pedestrians. I watched.

The cyclists were riding inexpensive bikes on the sidewalk when they were stopped and they were dressed as if on their way to or from some form of manual labor. They might be referred to as workforce cyclists. They were silent throughout the ticketing process. They avoided eye contact, they took their tickets and they silently rode north on Reseda.

I asked Officer "K" what the cyclists had done to warrant the citations.

He explained that they had crossed the intersection in the crosswalk against the flashing hand.

I commented that the law prohibiting crossing against the flashing hand applied to pedestrians and that the 3 men were clearly cyclists, not pedestrians.

That was when Officer "K" smiled and said "That's why I wrote them up for crossing against the solid circular red!"

I pointed out that the light couldn't have been red because the crosswalk still had the flashing hand.

He said he had to write it that way because there was no California Vehicle Code (CVC) to rely on to enforce that ban against riding in the crosswalk.

I countered by pointing out that it's not illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk and that was why there was no CVC prohibiting it.

He stiffened up a bit here and responded that it was up to a Judge to decide and that even if the ticket got thrown out by the Judge, the process was a learning experience.

I closed my mouth and held my tongue but from my perspective, the process had become the punishment, not the lesson.

I'm not sure when the LAPD mandate went from enforcing the law to teaching the law but it leaves me wondering "Who Teaches the Teachers?"

The City Council asked the same question last month when an incident between the operator of a Hummer and several cyclists sparked the cycling community to ride en masse to the Police Commission and the Inspector General claiming bias based policing.

Cyclists involved in the Hummer vs. Cyclists incident claimed the Hummer driver hit a cyclist and then left the scene, driving over three more bikes in the process and dragging one of them up the street. The LAPD responded, caught the Hummer driver, interviewed those at the scene and then allowed the driver of the unlicensed Hummer to drive away from the incident.

The cyclist community was so enraged by this incident that they scheduled a "Storm the Bastille" ride on May 1st and asked the City Council to join them in fighting for even handed and equitable enforcement of the law. The City Council responded to the complaints of the May 1st "Storm the Bastille" cyclists with the following motion (09-1035):

MOTION Numerous incidents have been reported relative to bicycle and vehicle collisions and aggressive motorists attitudes to law-abiding people riding bicycles. Complaints have also been raised regarding the treatment of bicyclists by the Los Angeles Police Department. It is critical that the City respond to these situations and respond appropriately.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the City Council direct the Los Angeles Police Department to report on recent bicycle incidents and conflicts between bicyclists and motorists, as well as efforts to increase police officer training related to bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

The motion was made by Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Councilman Bill Rosendahl, seconded by Councilmembers Ed Reyes, Tom LaBonge, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel.

Unfortunately, the motion directing the LAPD didn't elicit the response the cyclists sought.

LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese reported to the City Council two weeks later but he failed to address "police training related to bicycling activities and laws," instead regaling the council with his version of the Hummer vs. Cyclists incident. He relied on his memory for the report, having neglected to bring the actual file (a compilation of three reports, initially logged as two reports and finally released as single report with a single report number) and I would contend that he made a few mistakes along the way including referring to the cyclists of Los Angeles as "these people."

Albanese reported that the cyclist hit the Hummer, a statement that is contradicted by reality. The cyclist was hit from behind, the damage was to the rear of the bike and he was thrown forward. Tough to do unless the LAPD is going to claim that the cyclist also broke the laws of physics. Albanese continued by claiming that the statements of all witnesses were taken, again contradicted by reality. I forwarded the contact info of another witness to the incident to the LAPD, one who was not on the ride or in the Hummer but who lived in the area. He had identified himself to the Officers at the scene but was told, "We already know what happened." Albanese then referred to the investigating division as both Central Traffic and South Traffic. A small mistake, but nonetheless, a mistake.

Through it all, the Deputy Chief of the LAPD demonstrated some serious skills. He was initially directed to report on LAPD training but he artfully dodged that instruction and shifted the discussion to an incident but denied the City Council the opportunity to actually review the report which left him free to present his version of the incident unchallenged.

The LADOT Bikeways Coordinator sat next to him and followed suit, turning the conversation into an off-topic discussion of bicycle safety and responsibility training for cyclists as well as the updates of the City's Bicycle Plan and the LADOT website.

The LAPD and the LADOT made no pretense of addressing training for the LAPD on bicycling regulations and laws and that is a complete failure, not only to respond to a City Council directive, but to the community as a whole.

The need to address training for the LAPD on bicycling regulations and laws was made clear this past week.

On Monday, June 1, 2009 at approximately noon, a woman rode her bicycle on the sidewalk of Louise Avenue in the valley. As she approached the intersection of Valerio she rode into the intersection on an unmarked crosswalk. At the same time a large truck approached the intersection on Valerio and proceeded to turn right onto Louise. The cyclist and the truck collided, she fell to the ground and the truck crushed her head as she lay on the street.

The operator of the truck, which was equipped with a crane and was hauling DWP power poles, was unaware of the incident until he was notified via walkie talkie by his "pilot" in the escort vehicle that was behind the truck.

This incident is tragic, a life was lost. In addition, the lives of those involved will forever be scarred by the horrific nature of the scene. The fact that the vehicle was moving through a quiet residential neighborhood is also a concern as is the fact that the truck was operated by an LADWP contractor.

But especially disturbing is the resulting confusion during the investigation of the incident and the confusion over "the rules of the road."

Councilman Smith's office responded to the incident the next day and explained, via email, that "the bicyclist was reportedly riding on the wrong side of the roadway and traveling against the traffic flow; making her the initial "primary cause" of this tragedy." The email went on to detail the law enforcement experience of Councilman Smith, Chief of Staff Mitch Englander and Public Safety Deputy Jim Dellinger.

The LAPD's Public Information Officer confirmed the report that the LAPD considered the cyclist the "primary cause" of the incident because she was riding a bike in a crosswalk which is a violation of CVC 21200 which requires a cyclist to obey the rules of the road. The PIO explained that a cyclist must either dismount at crosswalks or ride on the right side of the road with traffic.

I asked if he had ever ridden the Orange Line Bike Path or the Chandler Bike Path or any of the City's bikeways facilities that actually direct cyclists into the crosswalk at intersections. The PIO paused and then suggested that I speak to the investigating officer.

I called the LAPD's Specialize Collision Investigation Detail (SCID) and spoke to the investigating officer assigned to this case who also explained that cyclists must obey the rules of the road which prohibit riding a bike in the crosswalk. I asked for the actual vehicle code or municipal code that prohibits cyclists from riding in the crosswalk and he simply referred to CVC 21200 and repeated the claim that cyclists must dismount before using a crosswalk.

The cyclist who lost her life at the intersection of Louise and Valerio is not here to explain what happened. She is not here to defend her actions and in a way it doesn't matter because, regardless of who is determined at fault, she is still dead.

But...I believe we have an obligation to be accurate in applying the law to this incident and it is either illegal for a cyclist to ride a bike in a crosswalk or it's not. That is a simple issue that can be settled quickly and if the LAPD's appraisal of this incident is based on that ruling then it is very important that we are accurate in applying the law.

I contend that it is not illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk. It might not wise, it might not be advisable, but it is definitely not illegal. cyclists are not required to dismount at intersections or at crosswalks.

The fact that there is confusion over such a simple issue demonstrates the real need for specific training for the LAPD on bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

On May 1, 2009 the City Council called on the LAPD to report on police officer training related to bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.

This tragic incident and the resulting confusion demonstrate the need for the LAPD to review and report on their departmental training of the rules and regulations that govern safe and effective cycling in the City of Los Angeles.

p.s. Attached is a 2006 City Council resolution addressing cyclists in the crosswalks.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

CityWatchLA - LADOT Demonstrates Need For Department of DIY

CityWatch, June 5, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 45

The City Council took another swing at LA's antiquated bike licensing program, taking the House of Molasses one step closer to a complete repeal of the controversial law. 

Cyclists have long complained that the Bike Licensing program was ineffective, pointing out that the licenses weren't actually available and that a database of registered bicycle owners wasn't actually maintained. 

Critics went further pointing out that the law was so poorly written as to require anyone riding a bike through LA from a neighboring community to purchase a bike license and that the fine of $160 for riding a bike without a license exceeded LA's authority under state law. Through it all, the LA Department of Transportation and the LA Police Department maintained a contract with Ilium Strategic Marketing & Design for a program educating the public on "the need to register their bicycles." Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent in recent years promoting a program that doesn't even exist! 

The issue came to a head last year when the LAPD pulled a group of cyclists over and began citing them for riding their bikes on the streets of LA without bike licenses. The cyclists charged that the citations were a form of harassment, that the LAPD pulled them over and then had to search the book until they could find an infraction. 

The editor of Los Angeles Magazine was on that ride and he detailed the incident and the "retaliatory tickets" in a feature article in the January edition of the magazine. 

This was the proverbial last straw and cyclists organized a "Storm the Bastille" ride and over 100 cyclists filled the City Council's Transportation Committee chambers and charged the LAPD with bias based policing, detailed the absurdity of the bike license program and called for its repeal. 

The LAWeekly was there for the meeting and wrote of the event quoting Rhode Bloch who at one point referred to   the LADOT's Bikeways Department asking "Have they never spoken to a cyclist?" [Link] 

Streetsblog wrote of the event finding the showdown between Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger and Councilman Bill Rosendahl to be one of the highlights of an emotional and energetic committee meeting.    

Through it all, the LAPD stood their ground! 
The cyclists persevered, charging that the process itself was the punishment, that cyclists either take the ticket and pay $160 (in person!) or take a day off from work to fight the ticket. Either option was unacceptable, especially since their only crime was to challenge the primacy of the motor vehicle by daring to ride a bike on the streets of LA in front of the LAPD. 

For nine months the controversy has simmered and this past Tuesday the Council motion calling for an ordinance repealing the law finally made its way to the full City Council. Phew! 

In spite of the fact that the Councilmembers all agreed on the need to repeal LAMC 26.01, they took the time to engage in a bit of pontificating that left audience members shaking their heads. 

Councilman LaBonge jumped to his feet and immediately shifted the debate "to the children" and pointed out that if a child was hit by a car while riding to school, how would we know the identity of the child? While this doesn't really address the complaint that the LAPD was writing $160 tickets to adults, all of whom carried ID, he raises a good point. 

But the bike license solution is hardly an effective solution to the "child identity" dilemma, especially since kids  borrow bikes, become separated from their bikes and sometimes ... gasp ... even walk to school which leaves us waiting for the LaBonge shoe license proposal. 

Councilman Zine stepped up to regale the audience of his glory days on the beat and of the times in which he was able to return stolen bikes to their owners, all because of the bike license program.   

Unfortunately much has changed since those days and the defunct bike licensing program is no match for the many techniques that today's cyclists employ to deal with bike theft. I was reminded of Rhode Bloch's exclamation at the Transpo committee. "Have they never spoken to a cyclist?" 

Cyclists these days use a variety of techniques for "marking" bikes so that they can be identified and reclaimedby their owners. In fact while the LAPD is still relying on a cigar box filled with receipts and index cards, cyclists employ a variety of online resources to support safe cycling in the City of LA. Imagine if the City Council were to actually work with the cycling community! 

Cyclists can register their bike at list their stolen bike on post or text incidents with motorists on BikeX post locations of crashes, hazards and thefts at Bikewise, email in Metro incidents to or hit-and-run incidents to 

All of this speaks volumes about the strained relationship between our City's leadership and the cycling community. 

As for the DIY movement in the cycling community, Bicycling Magazine recently highlighted the exploits of LA's Department of DIY and the recent short lived Fletcher Bridge bike lane improvements that were installed in the middle of the night and at no cost to the City of LA. 

The LADOT responded with uncharacteristic swiftness and the offending bike lane was painted black and the supporting signage was removed. Bicycling magazine quoted the LADOT Bikeways Coordinator as saying the DIY incident "lost goodwill." 

Rosendahl took some time during the bike license debate to address LA's relationship with the cycling community and he asked the same LADOT Bikeways Coordinator about the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, a document that he has been championing since the horrendous Mandeville Canyon incident of last year that left two cyclists broken and bleeding, purportedly at the hands of a motorist who found their lane positioning offensive. 

The Bikeways Coordinator responded that the Cyclists' Bill of Rights was still under review because there were a few items that gave them some concern and they were reviewing the document with the help of the City Attorney. This is the same document that opens by claiming "Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear." One can only wonder if it's the "travel safely" or the "free of fear" that gives the LADOT staff cause for concern. 

Rosendahl pressed on and went after the City's long overdue Bike Plan. When he asked the LADOT how many miles of BIKE PATHS there are in Los Angeles, the LADOT sidestepped the specific question and  instead responded "About 5% of the City's roadway network has a bikeways facility on it." 

(There are 6,500 miles of roadway in Los Angeles. There are 51 miles of BIKE PATH and there are 142 miles of BIKE LANE.) 

At the end of the day, the long, slow and cumbersome repeal of the City's Bike License law drove home the simple message that if the City of Los Angeles is going to become a bike-friendly city, it will be a Department of DIY project.  

“Cyclists across LA have until June 12 to review and offer suggestions to city planning officials on proposed new bike lanes that would traverse the city.” Complete LA Times report here .  

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

LA Bikeways stimulates Seattle and Portland economies

Los Angeles is getting a new bike map, three bike maps actually, and they'll be here in late June or early July according to Carolyn Perez Andersen, the President of Seattle based Ilium Strategic Marketing & Design. Ilium also provides the LADOT with brochures, maps, wayfinding, marketing and other materials to support the DASH line and other transit services provided by the City of Los Angeles.

These bike maps are not to be confused with the three Draft Bike Maps that were released this past Thursday by the City of Los Angeles as part of the City's Bicycle Plan Update Draft Map. The Ilium Bike Map contract was approved a little over two years ago by the City Council which authorized the Department of Transportation to commission Ilium Strategic Marketing & Design for the "development, marketing and distribution of the Los Angeles and Surrounding Communities Bicycle Map." The contract was to cover two years with two one-year extensions and authorized a cost "not to exceed $400,000."

This might be a good time to ask why the City of LA authorized a $400,000 contract with Ilium for a Bike Map and then entered into a $450,000 contract with Alta for a Bike Plan which also includes a Bike Map.

Actually the good time to ask these hard questions would have been long ago and we did ask them then but to no avail.

I was at the City Council on December 19, 2006 when the Ilium contract came up for approval. I was joined by two other cyclists and we all testified to the efficacy of the Metro's Bike Map and to the unnecessary expense of producing another map, especially if it only covered LA and left holes and gaps indicating other municipalities. Anyone who travels for more than a few miles in any direction in LA knows you can visit several cities in a simple journey. Would we collect separate maps for each City? How would I carry these 88 maps?

I'm no Eagle Scout but I can certainly navigate my way across town without requiring two LA Bike Maps, one developed by a company based in Seattle and the other developed by a company based in Portland. In fact, if I wanted a Bike Map, I'd much rather rely on the comprehensive Metro Bike Map which includes all the municipalities within LA County and which already exists, as opposed to the Ilium mystery map and the Alta promise of a map.

In spite of our protest, the motion was approved unanimously at 13 to 0. Councilwoman Jan Perry was absent and CD7's seat was empty.

We left Council Chambers disappointed that $400,000 was going to be spent duplicating something that already existed but we were assured by LADOT staff that their version was going to have "special" features.

As the City of Los Angeles grapples with the budget crisis, I think it's not only fair but essential that we challenge our city departments to account for their performance and that we start with a very simple "Show me the money!"

Watching the LADOT's funding schemes is like watching three card monte and we know how that exercise in "Trust me!" ends.

Ilium Strategic marketing & Design is no stranger to Los Angeles. They have been engaged in a lucrative relationship with the City since 1991. One of the more recent (2006) contracts was for $5 million and included "marketing services for other transit related programs within the City such as the LAPD's Bicycle Program which educates users on bicycle safety and the need to register their bicycles."

Well, that was money well spent. This contract expires at the end of this month and there are two one-year options available.

Would it be too much to involve the community in the development of resources such as the maps that the LADOT has commissioned from Ilium? After all, we're the ones who will purportedly be using them, if they are of any use and if they are accessible.

I still have the Metro Bike Map that I took to City Council when I protested the Ilium contract. It still works! I also have a post-it note with the biking infrastructure of Los Angeles detailed on it, after all, there's not much to speak of and so it doesn't require much paper.

The City of LA is sitting on revenue that is more than 30% higher than the day Mayor Villaraigosa took office. Our budget crisis is one of accountability and the effective management of our money. This little contract with Ilium is just one of many contracts with many companies. Where's the oversight? Why does the City of Los Angeles allow departments to contract with so many different companies to provide duplicate marketing and website services, all with great redundancy and insulation and at great expense and waste.

This is Los Angeles. I believe that we deserve better!

LA's Mean Streets - Unsafe for cyclists, pedestrians and mass transit passengers!

(Hans Gutknecht/Daily News) Album ID: 767869 Photo ID: 23918480

Monday was a bad day for pedestrians and cyclists and mass transit passengers in the City of Los Angeles.

First a woman cyclist was killed at 12:10 pm as she rode on Louise Avenue in Reseda. The Daily News reports that she was hit by a LADWP truck operated by a contractor and pictures of the scene indicate that it was a large truck hauling a trailer loaded with light poles. The LAPD reports that she was southbound on the sidewalk of Louise and was crossing the street when she was hit by the right-turning truck as it turned from Valerio onto Louise. The cyclist was pronounced dead at the scene.

The afternoon was not yet over when news came out that the Fire Department was attempting to extricate a male adult from under a bus on South Pacific Avenue in Venice. According to the LAPD, the 30-year-old man was crossing the street in the crosswalk when he was hit and dragged by a right-turning bus. The bus operator did not know the pedestrian was under the bus and continued for a couple of blocks before he was flagged down and informed of the body stuck under his bus. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene.

At about the same time, a motorist on West Vanowen Street plowed into a bus stop, hitting four people and dragging one woman until the vehicle was stopped by a tree and a pole. Residents from nearby lifted the vehicle to free the trapped woman who was then transported to a local hospital and is reported in critical condition. The other women suffered minor injuries.

In all three cases the fire department, the police department and the press report that the vehicle operators required medical attention and at least two were transported to area hospitals.

Our streets are filled with vehicle operators who can't handle their vehicles or the environment in which they operate or the consequences of their failure to control their vehicles.

If the City of Los Angeles were a movie set, it would be illegal to allow children on the streets and the 1st Assistant Director and the Transportation Captain would be up on charges for allowing the set to disintegrate into a scene where people die on a regular basis.

But it's not a film set, it's reality and it's bad. It's no longer headline news when somebody dies as the result of a traffic collision, just scrolling trivia, with names withheld and incidents forgotten as the next victim takes their place on the list of the nameless who dared to walk, ride a bike or take the bus.

Our streets are filled with high performance vehicles driven by low performance operators. Our cars are engineered for speed and come with air bags, seat belts and crash cages, all which enable the occupants to survive a traffic collision but this does nothing for those who walk, ride or simply stand on a sidewalk. These are the most vulnerable and we do nothing to make the streets safer for them.

The City of Los Angeles may not be in a position to address the driving skills of all those who operate vehicles on the streets of LA, but it surely is in a position to require those who operate City owned vehicles or City contracted vehicles to take a simple driving course that stresses the rights of pedestrians and cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles.

If we are to set a safety standard for our streets, it is imperative that we start with those over whom we have the most control, those who are on the payroll of the City of Los Angeles.

I'm calling on the City of Los Angeles to implement a training program to ensure that any city employee or contractor operating City owned or contracted vehicles be required to successfully complete a course for motor vehicle operator's on safety for pedestrians and cyclists. The League of American Bicyclists already has the course material in place for a program such as this, all that's missing is the political will to make it a reality.

Now is the time and we are the political will.

"See you on the Streets!"

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!"