Friday, March 04, 2011

What a Difference a Few Years Make: A Journey to Relevance

LA’s Bike Plan has already caused traffic congestion, clogging the steps of City Hall as the Mayor, the City Controller, and a full peloton of Councilmembers stood before the press on Wednesday to declare “Los Angeles is on the path to becoming a world-class city for bicycling.”

What a difference a few years make! It has been ages since I innocently visited City Planning Publications to purchase a copy of the General Plan’s Transportation Element ($15) in an effort to locate the current Bike Plan. As I flipped the pages, I found a placeholder that indicated where the Bike Plan would be if it were worth printing. (It wasn’t) Thus began the journey to relevance.

Three years ago, the LADOT hired a consultant from Portland to guide the City of LA in the process of developing a new Bike Plan. At the first meeting, before a standing-room-only crowd, the consultant opened by stating, “We’re gonna have to move fast, we have a lot of ground to cover and we don’t have much time.”

It was at this point that Alex Thompson, President of Bikeside, jumped to his feet and interrupted the consultant with the simple challenge “Why not?”

That became the battle cry of the community as LA’s Department of “No!” led the Bike Plan development process.

“Why not?”

Along the way, the LADOT spent $400,000 on the consultant’s Bike Plan, one that was eventually scrapped.

Meanwhile, the community banded together under the banner of the LA Bike Working Group and developed a crowd-sourced vision for connectivity, one that transitioned into a City Planning process that involved people from all walks, er ...rides.

LA’s current Bike Plan is a victory because of its content, most significantly the Backbone Bikeway Network that will bring together greater synchronicity of basic city services on the big streets that already move people of all modes.

The Bike Plan is also a victory because it is the result of a community driven process, one where people of all modes and perspectives had a voice in the process. In fact, the City Hall peloton also included folks from the Bikesiders, the LACBCers, Midnight Ridazz, the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, C.I.C.L.E., the Valley Bikery, the Bicycle Kitchen, and Pacoima Beautiful demonstrating the power of a common ground approach to planning.

Most important, the Bike Plan is a victory because it offers the City of LA an opportunity to pursue funding that will make our streets work for everybody, whether they walk, ride a bike, take mass transit or use a personal vehicle.

After all, streets that are good for cyclists are good for everybody.

Cyclists favor well-maintained streets free of potholes and debris. They prefer streets with moderate vehicle volumes and speeds, an environment that is likewise safer and more hospitable for both motorists and pedestrians.

Surveys in San Francisco found that local businesses benefited from "traffic calming" through their districts, which included accommodations for cyclists.

Finally, an increase in the number of cyclists in a neighborhood -- which means more eyes on the street -- has a direct relationship to a reduction in crime.

In other words, what's good for cyclists is good for your community and LA’s Bike Plan has the capacity to do something that no other plan has ever done, connect the plans.

LA has a General Plan, it has Community Plans, it has Specific Plans, it has Master Plans, it has Vision Plans, it has a River is a City of Plans! They compete, they contradict, they confuse and now is the time to connect them!

Imagine if the Bike Plan were to be used as a model for engaging the community in the process, for bringing some connectivity to the many plans, for preserving the character and personality of our neighborhoods and for providing a toolbox of transportation solutions that blend with our local land-use priorities so that neighborhoods are empowered, not overpowered.

The long and arduous journey to the finish line for LA’s Bike Plan has clearly demonstrated that a group of outsiders can move City Hall. News of this success story has resonated throughout the country, but what’s most important is what happens on the streets of LA.

Now is the time to work with neighborhood councils, community groups, homeowners associations and Angelenos of all modes so that the spirit of connectivity can resonate through Los Angeles.

While the City Hall peloton stands at the finish line press conference, our greatest opportunity is to establish this as the beginning, not the end, of a significant journey that will continue to connect Los Angeles.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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