Wednesday, November 03, 2010

City Planning Embellishes Reality

LA's Department of City Planning is filled with some of the most creative people in town, folks who regularly turn out innovative and imaginative work that entertains, inspires, and stirs passion.

Unfortunately, the work falls under the category of "fiction" because of its limited connection to reality. I offer as an example the Planning Department's staff report on the City of LA's proposed Bike Plan.

City Planning staff reports are like movie trailers, they offer a quick preview of the upcoming proposal so that the Commission can make an educated recommendation in advance of the actual "screening." Seasoned film audiences know that there are three types of trailers;

Teasers that offer a glimpse of what can be expected.

Spoilers that offer up the entire plot and leave nothing to be discovered.

Impostors that offer up an entertaining journey that bears no resemblance to the actual film.

City Planning's Bike Plan staff report falls into the Impostor category, offering the Planning Commission an entertaining and inspiring experience that bears no connection to reality.

1663 miles of Bikeways - the cameo: Planning Staff promise 1663 miles of Bikeways, a claim that includes Bike Paths, Bike Lanes, and Bike Routes. Bike Paths are very expensive off-road facilities that cost more per mile than what the Bureau of Street Services spends to resurface a mile of our streets. Bike Routes are the streets that get a little green sign that says "Bike Route" indicating that the Bikeway mileage has been pumped up. Bike Lanes get a commitment of 56 miles and an additional "speculative" 511 miles which indicates they will end up on the editor's floor. This Bike Plan relies on a cameo appearance by recognizable talent, and then surrounds it with 1663 miles of language that lacks substance and commitment.

Bicycle Boulevards - the knock-off: Planning Staff acknowledges that the public clamors for "innovative bicycle treatments" including Bicycle Boulevards. They are low-density local routes that give priority to cyclists by discouraging cut-through motor vehicle traffic, prioritizing right-of-way, and providing traffic control that supports cyclists at the arterial crossings. Rather than actually include Bicycle Boulevards in the proposed Bike Plan, City Planning offers up "Bike Friendly Streets" as a knock-off substitute, the equivalent of featuring "the other, other Baldwin brother" in Slap Shot IV.

Cyclists' Bill of Rights - the inspiration: Planning Staff acknowledge that the City Council directed the LADOT, Planning, Public Works, the LA Bicycle Advisory Committee, the City Attorney and the LAPD to report back on the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. This City Council directive was ignored. Instead Planning Staff dismisses some principles as redundant while claiming that others are included. This is true in the same sense that the works of Shakespeare are also in the Bike Plan, after all he used the same alphabet and if properly rearranged, one could find A Comedy of Errors.

Backbone Bikeway Network - the theme: Planning Staff acknowledge the work of the LA Bike Working Group in creating the Backbone Bikeway Network which is positioned as a commitment to connectivity. Rather than embrace this theme and use it to connect the City Family in the delivery of City Services, Planning Staff dilutes the Backbone and fails to support cyclists as they commute on the streets to the same destinations as pedestrians, mass transit passengers, and motorists. Instead, it proposes bike tunnels, bike trails, and other last-resort solutions that divide communities rather than connect them.

Complete Streets Act - the surprise ending: Planning Staff acknowledge the powerful cultural shift that has resulted in innovative multi-modal transportation funding and policy. This includes the Complete Streets Act which supports the rights of all those who use the streets, from pedestrians to cyclists to mass transit passengers to motorists. It's only in the small print of the staff report that City Planning reveals its claim of an exemption from the Complete Streets Act. Is there something wrong with the Complete Streets Act? Does City Planning find fault with the complete Streets Act?

The Department of City Planning's Bike Plan Staffing Report is a good read. It's interesting, it's informative, and it's a complete work of fiction.

In the grand scheme of things, LA's proposed Bike Plan is the equivalent of bad script turned into a bad film, supported by a great trailer that merely needs to get an opening night audience in order to recoup its investment. Then, it goes straight into the bargain bin at the 99¢ Store.

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