Thursday, December 31, 2009

CityWatchLA - The Year of the Well Connected

CityWatch, Dec 30, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 105

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste!"

The City of Los Angeles is in the midst of a crisis of unprecedented proportions and that presents LA with a rare "do-over" opportunity. A chance for the people of Los Angeles to embark on a new direction. One embracing the tactics of other Great Cities and charting a course driven by a connection to our destiny, our vision, and our purpose. If LA Mayor Villaraigosa wants to change the City’s downward spiral, he'll quickly establish Los Angeles as the Capital of the Well-Connected. He'll appoint a Czar of Connectivity. Not just somebody to fine-tune the Mayor's Tweeting skills, but somebody to rally the people of Los Angeles around our history, our story, our legacy and our journey.

Here are a few places that Los Angeles, the land of the well-connected, can start:

1) Los Angeles needs to connect with its history. Its story. As the City struggles with the budget crisis, now more that ever, the people of LA need to define the city's purpose.

Brisbane, Australia has a museum at its City Hall, and in that museum is an exhibit that presents the "City Machine" concept and tells the story of Brisbane from its early days to the present to its vision for the future.

It is acutely clear that the city's purpose is based on meeting a hierarchy of needs that starts with public health and public safety and moves through infrastructure and transportation to education and the arts.

Brisbane's motto is Meliora sequimur, Latin for We aim for better things. LA needs to connect with its past and maintain that connection as if it were the rudder steering the ship. It's the sign of a Great City.

2) Los Angeles needs to connect with its personality and character. As the City struggles to service the many communities in Los Angeles, the diversity of people and the variety of needs is often offered as an obstacle and as an excuse for inactivity.

Sydney, Australia by way of contrast, is a city with 25% more people and it positions itself as a "City of Villages," capitalizing on its diversity and celebrating the many choices to be found.

Los Angeles is the greatest brand in the world and it is made up of people from over 100 countries and speaking over 200 languages. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we recognize the people of Los Angeles as our greatest asset and position the patch-work quilt of LA's demographic landscape as a strength, not as a weakness. It's the sign of a Great City.

3) Los Angeles needs to connect physically with itself. Our communities are bisected and divided and children learn from an early age "Stay away from the street!"

We are a city of fences, boundaries, and borders, all of which contribute to the anonymity that prevails and prevents us from coalescing as a Great City with a shared purpose. There is no better time to embrace the development of open space, green space, and public space as tools for connecting the people of Los Angeles.

The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council recently hosted a team of Planning Gurus from around the country as part of a sustainability survey and their recommendation for LA was to create "zippers" of public space that united neighborhoods and communities. LA needs to embrace the concept of streets that are designed for people. It's the sign of a Great City.

4) Los Angeles needs to connect with its clearly defined vision. The Mayor can talk about issues all day long and he even has a section on his website labeled "issues" but he does not have a clear VISION for Los Angeles.

Shame on us for waiting. It's acutely apparent that LA is currently a city focused on symptoms and that it is up to the people of LA to imagine the future and to create a vision for Los Angeles.

The East Hollywood Neighborhood Council has commissioned an "Imagine East Hollywood" project that is collecting the stories, experiences and visions of the individuals who make up the community. From the schools, the library, the streets, the transit hubs, the businesses and the churches, people are being asked to "Imagine!"

It is imperative that we as a community can collectively answer the questions "Where do you see LA in 5 years? Where do you want to go? What's your vision for Los Angeles?" It's the sign of a Great City.

5) Los Angeles needs to connect with its legacy. I appreciate Villaraigosa's enthusiasm but he has declared LA the Commercial Capital and the Culture Capital and the Biotech Capital and the Creativity Capital and the Eco-Fashion Capital and the Solar Capital and the Green Technology Capital and the Basketball Capital and the Electric Car Capital. Whew!

When reality sets in, it's apparent that LA is actually the Capital of Homelessness, Unemployment, Traffic Congestion and Air pollution.

We're also vying for titles in Unaffordable Housing, Wage Disparity and Failing Infrastructure. Toss in the fact that the City is in the middle of an economic meltdown and that the City staff is in the midst of an induced exodus and LA's legacy is now the Crisis Capital.

Almost fifty years ago, President-Elect John Kennedy quoted John Winthrop's sermon to the colonists as they prepared to settle in the new world. ""We must always consider," he said, "that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us."

Kennedy warned that history sits in judgment based on the answers to four questions: Were they truly people of courage? Were they truly people of judgment? Were they truly people of integrity? Were they truly people of dedication?

The eyes of all people are upon Los Angeles. It is imperative, now more than ever, that the people of LA connect with their legacy as the Do-It-Yourself Capital and take responsibility for introducing courage, judgment, integrity and dedication into the governance of Los Angeles. After all, it's the sign of a Great City!

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

CityWatchLA - 2009: The Year of the Bike!

CityWatch, Dec 23, 2009Vol 7 Issue 104

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We won some battles, we lost some friends. We grew as a community, we matured as a movement. We celebrated the fun, we embraced the utility, we established common ground. We made friends, we made enemies, but most of all we made progress. We rode with fear, we rode with joy, we rode with the conviction that the streets of Los Angeles belong to the people and we discovered allies of other modes who agree that it's time to take back the streets. It was 2009 and it was "The Year of the Bike!"

Los Angeles Magazine got it started in January when they asked the question "Can Bike Culture Change LA?" They sent an editor to ride the streets of LA and late on a weekend night he witnessed the LAPD pull cyclists over on a deserted street in downtown LA and cite them for not having bike licenses. This incident served as the catalyst for a group ride to the LAPD in which every single bike license was purchased, leaving the LAPD unable to fulfill its bike licensing mandate. Thus galvanized, the cyclists continued to the Transportation Committee and to the Police Commission, arguing that the enforcement of the bike licensing law was punitive and that it demonstrated bias-based policing. It took a while but the cycling community prevailed, a moratorium was declared and the LAPD was directed by Chief Bratton to stop citing cyclists for not having bike licenses. A small victory over a small ordinance but a large leap in cohesive bike activism for the community.

The Metro attempted to limit cyclists on the Metro Rail to two bikes per rail car, quietly navigating the public process and almost making it to the Metro Board before the cycling community engaged, arguing that cyclists with bikes are gap connectors and transportation solutions while the other unregulated "stuff" such as luggage, shopping carts, Christmas trees and baby strollers were allowed with no limitations. Again, the cyclists prevailed and a movement was underway.

The Transportation Committee, first under Wendy Greuel and then under Bill Rosendahl, began holding "themed" Transportation Committee meetings to engage the cycling community and to deal with the many issues that come with a shift in the consciousness of transportation professionals as multi-modal solutions become the norm instead of the exception.

Along the way, the Cyclists' Bill of Rights picked up more endorsement from neighborhood councils, stirring conversations and debates that resulted in robust discussions of mobility, access, public space, safe streets and multi-modal transportation. Assemblyman Paul Krekorian's Safe Streets bill challenged the logic behind the routine increase in speed limits and the "Good for Bikes, Good for Business" campaign picked up steam.

Tragedy struck quickly this year, it struck often and it stirred feelings of vulnerability and rage and fear and resolve.

If getting hit by a car and left in the streets by hit-and-run motorists was a disease, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) would be all over Los Angeles, declaring an epidemic and fighting to find a vaccine. But it's not a disease, it's simply the collateral damage that results from the clash of cultures as pedestrians and cyclists challenge the primacy of the motor vehicle.

Cyclists responded to tragedy by installing ghost bikes at the locations were cyclists were killed by motorists. Painted white, they memorialized the cyclist's name and date of death. As often as not, it was all that we knew about the dead cyclists but we mourned them as family and from that grieving came a resolve and a commitment to stay together.

A father and son on the LA Wheelmen's Grand Tour were hit from behind by a hit-and-run motorist who left the father dead and the son broken and bleeding. A repeat offender in Santa Clarita crossed the line and drove head on into a group of cyclists, leaving one dead and several injured before he left the scene.

300 cyclists lay down on Glendale Blvd. with their bikes for a silent "Die-In" to commemorate the death of Jesus Castillo, hit by a drunk driver and left for dead on Glendale Blvd.

Another motorist on Glendale Blvd. hit a cyclist from behind, leaving him lying in the street. The LAPD didn't find the motorist. It was the cyclist who tracked him down and then presented the evidence to the LAPD. It was the cyclist who pushed the Prosecutor to file charges. It was the cyclist who discovered the hard way, that in LA, justice is a DIY endeavor.

That sense of "We're on our own!" resulted in the establishment of as a tool for collecting anonymous hit and run tips, for mapping incidents with motorists and StolenBikeLA for reporting stolen bikes and enlisting help in their recovery. Add to that Bikely, the bike route mapping service and BikeMetro and it's evident that the real progress in the cycling community is the result of DIY work.

The cycling community's DIY spirit originated in LA's co-op bike shops which now total four with the Bike Kitchen in East Hollywood leading the way for the Bike Oven in Highland Park, the Bikerowave in West LA and the Bikery in the Valley. Along the way, the DIY movement moved past the mechanical, the legal, the educational, and the political actions and took to the streets.

Bicycling Magazine documented LA's unique brand of DIY activism, celebrating the Fletcher Bridge Bike Lanes that appeared in the middle of the night courtesy of LA's Department of DIY. The lanes didn't last long but they accomplished a couple of important things. They prompted the LADOT to respond with lightning speed to remove the guerrilla lanes, demonstrating that when the LADOT really wants to do something, it can act quickly and decisively and effectively. It also resulted in the LADOT's spokesperson going on record and revealing their attitude to cyclists in Los Angeles. "There's no more room!"

Unfunded but unfazed, the Department of DIY continued the good work, embracing Park[ing] Day LA as the occasion to unveil the Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter Community Park at the corner of Wilshire and Vermont, an event that was heralded by the Load(ing)Zone bike ride, resulting in the dispersal of seed bombs that must surely be enjoying the most recent rainfall.

The Department of DIY's most recent "volunteer" improvements to the streets of Los Angeles resulted in the installation of 16 Sharrows (shared lane markings) in the Highland Park area, an overnight action that did what the LADOT has been unable to accomplish in spite of a City Council ordinance, funding from the East Hollywood Council and the clamoring of the community. The LADOT's representative has offered many excuses, including the fact that the paint might be slippery. That must explain why the crosswalks keep disappearing throughout LA. "The paint is slippery!"

Through it all, the City of LA did their part to bring the cycling community together by presenting a Draft Bike Plan so lacking in substance that the cyclists of LA moved past complaining and simply organized the LA Bike Working Group and set out to draft LA's Best Bike Plan. The City's feeble and over-funded effort was the proverbial last straw and it was here that cyclists discovered that it is about more than the Bike Plan, it is about civic enragement turning to civic engagement. This led to the establishment of common ground and the cyclists of LA found allies in neighborhood councils who embraced the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and joined in calling for a Bike Plan that will connect our communities, not just serve as more consultant fodder to litter the planning landscape.

For all of the thrill of the DIY movement, the real cause for celebration in LA came when the system worked, when the courts and the police and the community all worked together to deliver justice, embracing the simple fact that cyclists are people and when a motorist uses a car as a weapon, they have committed a crime.

Dr. Christopher Thompson, the emergency room doctor who used his car as a weapon against two cyclists in order "to teach them a lesson," went on trial and ended up guilty of six felonies and one misdemeanor, held without bail for sentencing and demonstrating once and for all that the system sometimes works. While Dr. Thompson still faces sentencing, the verdict alone was cause for celebration around the world and it gave hope to the cycling community that no longer would "They had it coming!" be accepted as a defense against charges of mayhem on the streets.

Through it all, we learned that riding a bike in LA is not about riding a bike, it's about creating community, it's about opening streets to people, it's about celebrating public space and it's about changing the world. To think, it all started with a simple bike ride!

The year 2009 closed with LA's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa using the word bicycle in a sentence. He said, in an interview with KPCC's Patt Morrison, "In the area of bicycling I've gotta do a better job and the city's gotta do a better job." Finally, something we can agree on!

As we look forward to 2010, the Mayor's words are soft and hardly the substance of a battle cry, but they work. They work for all of us and they work in all endeavors.

"In 2010, we've gotta do a better job!"

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

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.

Friday, December 18, 2009

CityWatchLA - Neighborhood Councils’ Future: Do-It-Yourself and Vote-by-Mail Elections

CityWatch, Dec 18, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 103

Neighborhood councils may soon have the opportunity to opt in for Vote-by-Mail (VBM) services for the upcoming City Clerk-run board elections, but, in a sign of the times to come, NC's will have to find an outside vendor and then will have to pay for the services out of their own budgets.

The City Clerk's Executive Officer, Holly Wolcott, met with a small group of NC reps in a hastily convened meeting and agreed to consider the proposal which is contingent on the City Attorney's favorable opinion, City Clerk's approval, and the ability of the NC's to find an appropriate vendor, all as the first round of elections looms on the horizon. Neighborhood councils have expressed concerns with several elements of the City Clerk's election procedures including the lack of outreach, the single polling location policy, the restriction on VBM voting, the prohibition on volunteers working their own NC election and the delay in the tallying of the ballots.

The City Clerk responded to the most recent round of criticism with a position that is becoming the battle cry of LA's beleaguered city bureaucrats; "We're in the middle of a severe budget crisis and we're losing a significant amount of our staff."

The City Clerk's most recent concession came at the end of a meeting that saw Paul Neuman of Silver Lake and David Riva of PICO taking the City Clerk to task for the bare-bones election procedures that they claim will leave the NC's scratching for participants and hobbled in outreach.

The City Clerk, represented by Wolcott and Isaias Cantu, held firm on their commitment to election procedures that place a higher premium on standardization and uniformity of process, repeating that they can't do things unless they are offered citywide and that "there will be no cafeteria style services for this round of neighborhood council elections."

Russell Brown of Downtown LA NC brought the debate over VBM options to an end by pointing out that the City Clerk and the NC's share a commitment to a robust community participation in the upcoming elections and it is imperative to find a way to support NC's who depend on VBM voting to engage their stakeholders. To that end, he simply proposed that an outside vendor provide VBM services, that the NC's be allowed to contract with the provider, add VBM to their election and then pay for it themselves.

No burden on the City Clerk, no expense to the City Clerk. No fuss, no muss. The NC's find the vendor, creating a VBM option that the individual NC's would pay for themselves.

This was hard to resist and while no progress was made on the other issues, the VBM option may turn out to be a reality for the upcoming elections.

This Do It Yourself solution to one of the sticky concerns with the City Clerk-run elections brought up an interesting question; "What if the NC's simply opted out of the City Clerk elections entirely and hired an outside vendor to conduct their elections according to their own unique standards, traditions and procedures?"

Organizations from AAA to SAG to the Sierra Club conduct board elections all the time with no controversy and the professionals who conduct those elections can surely do the same for the individual NC's who are already responsible for their own outreach and candidate round-up. Why not?

Taking this scenario further, consider a stakeholder data management system that allowed NC's to uniformly "register" stakeholders throughout the year and to use this process to connect as well as to prepare for the elections.

NC's vary greatly in their ability to collect and manage data and it is typically tied to a specific person and/or a specific hard drive, managed in a wide variety of formats and not used to support NC elections. (There might be robust exceptions and, if so, they could serve as a model for data management and stakeholder engagement.)

Given the city's new relationship with Google, imagine a cloud computing data management solution that allowed stakeholders to register, participate, communicate, interact with their NC using technology that is worthy of a Great City!

Another interesting outcome of the meeting the City Clerk was the question; "What does the City Charter say about all of this?" It turns out that the City Charter, which trumps city ordinances in authority, directs the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to "assist neighborhood councils with the election or selection of their officers." Section 901(d)

If the Neighborhood Councils need or want help with the upcoming Board elections, they should speak up and be specific.

If DONE responds with the popular refrain "We don't have the time or the staff." one might argue that DONE's base responsibilities are those that are specified in the City Charter before those that are directed by City Council ordinance.

It is incumbent on DONE to prioritize their efforts and to budget their resources according to those priorities. When in doubt, start with the Charter.

Ultimately, the upcoming NC elections look to be a taste of the future in Los Angeles. City staff will use smaller budgets and thinner staffing to focus on their core responsibilities and the DIY movement will become the norm for the people of LA as they seek to improve the quality of life in their communities.

To that end, set aside the afternoon of January 9th in Hollywood for the first "DIY LA" Grassroots 101 Workshop.

(Stephen Box is a Los Angeles community activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at )

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CityWatchLA - In LA, Santa Rides a Bicycle

Santa rides a bike

CityWatch, Dec 15, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 102

Global warming, animal rights and traffic congestion have prompted Santa Claus and his helpers to give up the traditional sleigh in favor of bicycles as they get an early start spreading good cheer and delivering gifts to Los Angeles.

On the Westside, cyclists from all over the city rode to Venice Beach where they invited the homeless to join them on the "Pedal with Me" bike ride, an invitation that came complete with the gift of a bike.

For a few hours 100 cyclists rode the streets on the social ride organized by the Bikerowave, a bike co-op that simply promises to do two things, make friends and get them on bikes. Bikerowave volunteers worked for months collecting and rebuilding bikes in partnership with United Steps which contends "a bike can be the first step to mobility, perhaps key to landing a job interview, then a job, then a career, then . . . a home."

In Hollywood, theLA Greensters loaded their bikes with gifts collected from the community and rode on the "El NiƱo Toy Ride" which benefited the children at St. Anne's, a resident facility that addresses the needs of young women and their children.

St. Anne's has a long legacy as a social services agency and recently celebrated their 100th anniversary. Unfortunately they have also been victim of these lean times and they have lost some of their traditional sponsors.

This year the children were in danger of celebrating the holidays without gifts until Jeremy Grant heard of their plight and led the Greensters on a bike ride that is going to make a difference in the holidays for the 150 who live at St. Anne's.

On the Eastside, seven different bike rides converged on the Olvera Street Gazebo for the 4th annual Midnight Ridazz All City Toy Ride. Participants rode from Long Beach, Montebello, the Valley, the Westside, NELA, Hollywood and Central LA, all with gifts that went to the East Los Angeles Women's Center.

Each of the seven rides had a unique spoke card and cyclists rode in the rain and then celebrated with an afterparty that went on through the night. Santa would have been proud!

The next time you see a group of cyclists riding on the streets of Los Angeles, pause for a moment and be thankful, for each one of them represents a car that's not in your way. But most of all, give thanks and remember that they may be some of Santa's helpers and they may have something for you!

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Free Parking for Traffic Fighters!

In a priceless display of irony, the 2nd Annual Traffic Fighter Awards are being dispensed at a reception held downtown at 5th and Flower, one of the most congested and car-dominated neighborhoods in LA, and as a special treat to those who book early, there will be "reserved hosted parking" at the City National Plaza.

One would think that the visionaries behind "Building LA's Future: Ending Gridlock in Los Angeles!" who seek to change the world by liberating our city from the auto-centric seige that has us on lock-down would dispense with the free parking and would instead offer mass transit instructions along with assurances that there will be ample and safe bike-parking along with wide sidewalks and a pleasant environment for those who choose to walk.

But no, the admonition to rsvp is given with the warning that parking is limited and there is no guarantee of validation for late responders!

Personally, I'd like to see preferred seating for those who take walk, ride a bike or take mass transit while those who drive are consigned to the cheap seats in addition to paying premium for daring to congest the city center by bringing an automobile downtown. After all, the event is about traffic reduction!

One of the simplest things we, as a community, can agree to do is to simply offer up ped, cycling and mass transit instructions on all invitations in lieu of the traditional automobile parking information. This simple shift in tradition sends a clear message that we are heading in a new direction. Sure there will be resistance, but this is simple, it's inexpensive and it's effective.

Let the pros talk about the multi-billion dollar infrastructure pie in the sky plans for the future, the answer for the present is to change behavior and it starts on the invitation to the next event.

"Please join us, but leave the car at home!"

CityWatchLA - We've got no Vision!

Active Image

CityWatch, Dec 11, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 101

The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council's Sustainability Committee grabbed the future by the horns and took a step toward self-sufficiency by bringing eight planning gurus to town for a "Community Greening" initiative that involved politicos, non-profits, developers, activists and planners, all committed to turning LA's landscape of obstacles into the land of hope.

Led by Ashley Zarella Hand and Veronica Siranosian, the project was funded by a grant from the Center for Communities by Design, supported by the American Institute of Architects.

It consisted of a Dream Team of Urban Planners from all over the country who toured the downtown community, walked with stakeholders, debated, moderated, interviewed, brainstormed and grappled with the hardscape and the softscape … all the while asking the question nobody could answer "What do you want LA to look like in five years?"

For the professionals in the crowd, and there were many, the elements of sustainability are academic and simple, "Environmental, Social, Economic!" But for the neophytes and casual participants, the idea of defining sustainability was wide open and that made the discourse very interesting. What makes a community sustainable and where do we start?

The Sustainable Development Assessment Team (SDAT) offered their preliminary evaluation and recommendations before they left town to return to their homes in Seattle, Portland, New York, Chapel Hill, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma City.

The final and formal results and recommendations of the SDAT initiative will be presented in March 2010 with hard action items that can be accomplished within the scope of the neighborhood councils, including both low-hanging fruit and broader visioning goals.

Ashley noted that the SDAT typically works with Mayoral Commissions and that this was the first time they had partnered with a neighborhood council.

"Our intention is to learn from other successful communities so that we can maximize our assets and connect our stakeholders and revitalize our community.

To do that we must shift from a developer-driven vision to a community-driven vision and this SDAT process is the first step to making that happen downtown."

The SDAT team was led by Walter Sedovic, a rock star planner who engaged and inspired and encouraged the exchange of anecdotes as if they were precious gifts while reminding the project participants that real change requires hard data, often cumbersome and difficult, but critical as a tool for change.

In a landscape surrounded by data collecting assets, he threw down the first partnership challenge saying "Find the data collecting experts and make them part of the team!"

Seattle's Jim Diers, the author of Neighborhood Power: Building Community the Seattle Way, was stunned by the environment of "No!" that he encountered during his visit.

He held nothing back when he yelled "Yes We Can!" and shifted the discourse into the establishment of "Yes!" zones that focused on possibilities and relationships committed to creating a vision for accomplishment rather than the acceptance of "We don't do it that way in Los Angeles."

While the hard recommendations won't arrive for a few months, the SDAT team offered a few observations that were challenging and eye-opening including their puzzlement over a neighborhood council system that creates a structure and then attempts to populate it, as opposed to a system that looks for activity and energy and then supports with training, funding and structure.

Paula Reeves noted that "Paperwork should never become the substitute for real community work and it's sometimes messy, but it's important to keep in mind which one is the process and which one is the vision."

It quickly became apparent that messy was the friend of sustainability as Portland's Robert Yakas recounted tales of guerrilla tactics that brought pilot projects to life, creating a real tangible vision and a focus point for change.

"Pick something, focus on it, engage the people around you and make it happen. It's messy, it's fun and it'll change the world!"

Sara Geddes, also of Portland, echoed his comments and recommended blurring all boundaries, going so far as to introduce the "Zipper" as a replacement.

"In our tour of the downtown community, we noticed so many lines separating communities and projects and people. Blur the lines, replace them with open space that brings people together, create "Zippers" of green space and open space that knit the human fabric of the neighborhoods into a larger community!"

To follow the DLANC DIY journey to sustainability and their pursuit of a community vision for Los Angeles, visit

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.netThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it )

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

CityWatchLA - DWP Festival of Lights 14 - Cyclists 0!

CityWatch, Dec 8, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 100

The 14th annual DWP Festival of Lights has finally stepped over to the green side, hosting 14 pedestrian nights vs. 13 vehicle nights, and slowly adjusting to the inevitable. Apparently it's cheaper to open up the streets to pedestrians than to run shuttles, engage in traffic control and otherwise wrangle the traditional traffic congestion nightmare that was the hallmark of the Griffith Park holiday nightmare of years gone by. The shift in priorities is due to the intrepid advocacy of locals from the Greater Griffith Park NC, the Los Feliz Improvement Association, the Oaks Homeowners Association, the Atwater Village NC, and the many supporters of Griffith Park who have fought year after year for a people powered celebration of the holidays.

As for the cyclists of Los Angeles, there will be the traditional coal in the stocking.

On December 3rd, the Festival of Lights opened with the traditional Bike Night, consisting of two flatbed trucks hauling press down Crystal Springs as the 4th District Councilman and his staff ride the Festival of Lights, all to distract from the simple fact that cyclists are not welcome at the Festival of Lights on Pedestrian nights (makes sense) and on Vehicle nights. (doesn't make sense)

This will be the fourth year that cyclists will protest "Bike Night" and if the turnout is anything like years gone by, the LAPD, DWP, General Services, LADOT, Rec & Parks and Council office staff will easily outnumber the celebrants. Kicking off the Festival of Lights with a whimper, the cyclists plan on being there on Friday, December 18th to open the vehicle night with a shout!

Cyclists have long argued that California's Uniformity Code restricts a municipality from excluding cyclists from streets open to motor vehicles. The irony here is that there are bike lanes through the park but they are decommissioned for the duration of the Festival in order to make more room for cars.

Cyclists also argue that the auto-centric Festival of Lights is an ecological nightmare that shuts down the freeway, clogs up the neighborhood and wreaks havoc on the park environment.

To be fair, great strides have been made in accommodating other modes of transportation with pedestrians, equestrians and even dog-walkers receiving access that has steadily improved each year. The tremendous attendance by these groups indicates there is an audience in favor of reversing the priorities from an auto-centric Festival to a people-centric Festival, and slowly progress is being made.

But as long as the streets are open to motorists yet closed to cyclists, the Department of Water and Power, the Department of Rec and Parks and Councilman Tom LaBonge are guilty of treating cyclists like second class citizens.

This year, cyclists will gather at the Mulholland Fountain at 5pm and will ride at 6pm. They will bring their own music, their own lights and their own Santa.

This Festival of Rights promises to be memorable not just for the cylists but also for the motorists and their passengers who will be suffering through gridlock that typically lasts from 90 minutes to 2 hours.

As the minivans creep along, cyclists will ride through the festival, enjoying the evening air, the lights, the music and the free expression of their rights!

It might even prompt a few to add a bicycle to their holiday wish list!

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

Friday, December 04, 2009

CityWatchLA - Mayor’s Electric Vehicle Dream Blows a Fuse!

CityWatch, Dec 4, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 99

Mayor Villaraigosa selected the LA Auto Show as the backdrop for the announcement of his "Plug-In Infrastructure" scheme that proposes to create a network of electric charging stations throughout Los Angeles, all in anticipation of the onslaught of electric vehicles that he is convinced will be the next expression of LA's love affair with the car.

"The car culture started here, and it’s here that the new generation of vehicles should also begin.” The Mayor bemoaned the fact that LA is typically #1 in traffic congestion and #1 in air pollution.

"We need to find new, cleaner ways to travel,” Villaraigosa intoned … with a sense of discovery.

Then he offered up the details of the latest strategy in his ongoing pursuit of the "Greenest Big City" title, this time banking on a partnership between Edison, the DWP, Nissan, GM, Ford and the neighboring communities of Burbank, Pasadena, Santa Ana and Santa Monica.

This "Plug-In" team would offer electric car owners incentives ranging from tax rebates for home chargers to high-occupancy-vehicle lane access to preferential or free parking.

This news failed to resonate in Hollywood where small business owner Bechir Blagui stands alone, on Hollywood Boulevard, electric community car-share business plan in one hand and electric plug in the other hand, waiting for help in establishing one simple, solitary charging station in front of his business so he can offer locals and tourists alike a sustainable car-share program … and contribute to Mayor V’s grand green plan.

Bechir has turned to the LADOT, the LADWP, Councilman Tom LaBonge and City Council President Eric Garcetti for help but his vision of a charging station on Hollywood Boulevard is still just a dream.

Meanwhile, Garcetti found time to stand as Villaraigosa's wingman for the "Plug-In" press conference where they committed to a network of 500 charging stations consisting of 400 refurbished stations and 100 new stations complemented by the subsidized installation of private charging stations at homes and businesses.

Villaraigosa said "It is crucial to prepare for the expected influx of thousands of electric vehicles."

Garcetti added, "This initiative will bring together regional stakeholders to coordinate efforts that will streamline charging station installations at homes, business, and multi-family residential buildings, explore and expand public charging options, and create incentives for EV drivers."

Critics point out that vehicles, regardless of power source, take up space and LA's new focused support of zero emission vehicles hardly qualifies as a congestion relief solution.

Max Utility explains that there are almost six million registered vehicles in LA County which, at 119 square feet of space each, occupy 25 square miles of space when parked. (For perspective, note that Manhattan Island is just 22 square miles!)

Max concludes by pointing out that the average vehicle spends 95% of its life parked, which leaves all vehicles equal environmental offenders and consumers of valuable real estate in LA, America's capital of congestion.

Somehow lost in the rush to "Plug-In" is the recent report issued by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) which offers up "First Mile, Last Mile" solutions that would encourage people to get out of their cars and onto mass transit.

Recognizing that getting to and from a Transit Hub is an obstacle for many potential transit passengers, SCAG spent $125,000 to come up with solutions that would help people navigate the home-to-transit and transit-to-home journey.

LADOT's GM Rita Robinson and City Planning's GM Gail Goldberg gave a co-presentation at a special combined meeting of the Planning Commission and the Transportation Commission where they unveiled the SCAG report with great fanfare.

The $125,000 ideas included ... brace yourself ... Carpooling, Taxis, Short-Term Car Rental, Folding Bikes, Bike-Share, and Car-Share."

Less than three months ago Villaraigosa, again at a press conference, attacked congestion and air pollution and offered as the remedy a car-share program.

"Providing alternatives to car ownership will help improve the environment and the city's traffic congestion," he told the gathering. Then he cut the ribbon on a partnership between the City of LA and ZipCar, a large car-share company that made a small commitment to place less than two dozen shared vehicles in a city of four million people, all in return for an exclusive relationship and the use of dedicated parking spaces.

The "Car-Share" concept keeps coming up as a congestion relief solution and successful programs in other cities have demonstrated that a single shared car can replace ten privately-owned vehicles and that car-share participants end up driving less than when they owned a vehicle.

Participants enjoy the use of a vehicle when it's needed without the expense of owning, registering, insuring, storing and maintaining a vehicle that will spend most of its life parked and waiting to be driven.

A survey of the USC and UCLA ZipCar programs reveals that the cars are popular and that car-share participants enjoy easy access to a vehicle and reserved parking when they return, all for a simple membership fee and an hourly rate.

Villaraigosa has promoted the benefits of car-share programs. He has promoted the benefits of electric vehicles. He has committed to supporting both car-share programs and electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, citizen Bechir Blagui puts "car-share" and" electric vehicle" together and gets ... well … ignored.

How can the City of Los Angeles ignore the needs of a small business operator, one who simply needs assistance in the process of installing a charging station on Hollywood Blvd. at a parking space dedicated to the use of electric cars? After all, he's simply asking for the assistance that Villaraigosa promises in his press conferences when the microphones are on and the cameras are flashing.

At Tuesday's Auto Show press conference, Villaraigosa promised that city officials would streamline the permitting and inspection process for the new charging stations.

He promised that local building codes and standards would be revised and that the utilities would modify their customer service process to better accommodate the charging stations.

He even went so far as to claim that his "Plug-In" program would lure battery and charging stations to Los Angeles resulting in masses of green jobs while Angelenos reduced their reliance on foreign oil.

Unfortunately he didn't promise to answer the phone when citizen Bechir called for help.

Earlier this year President Barack Obama proclaimed "Small businesses are the lifeblood of cities and towns across the country. Over the last decade, small businesses created 70 percent of new jobs, and they are responsible for half of all jobs in the private sector. They also help enhance the lives of our citizens by improving our quality of life and creating personal wealth. Small businesses will lead the way to prosperity, particularly in today's challenging economic environment."

When Villaraigosa was first inaugurated as Mayor he referred to Los Angeles as the city that best embodies bold dreams. He asked the people of LA to join him in his dream for LA. He called on LA saying "Fellow Angelenos, let's make Los Angeles a city of Purpose! Let's dare to dream! Let's dare to dream together!"

If Villaraigosa is serious about "daring to dream together" it means supporting others in their dreams.

To do that, he'll need to step out of the limelight of the LA Auto Show and onto the streets of Hollywood where he'll meet people who have big dreams … and can help bring his Plug In program to fruition … who simply need the City to do its job.

If he really wants remove the hypocrisy from his promise … really wants to make a difference … he'll grab LaBonge and Garcetti and together they'll power up Bechir's dreams of LA's first electric car-share program on Hollywood Boulevard.

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

CityWatchLA - Neighborhoods Win Input Extension on Bike Plan

CityWatch, Dec 1, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 98

City Planning Department has extended comment period for LA's Draft Bike Plan. This is good for cyclists, great for neighborhoods!

Three weeks after the deadline for public comment on LA's Draft Bike Plan ended, Jane Blumenfeld, City Planning's Acting Deputy Director, reversed position and announced an extension on the public comment period until January 8, 2010. This reversal signifies a victory for the bike activists, the community groups, and the neighborhood councils who rose to the occasion, calling the initial 42-day comment period on the 563 page Draft Bike Plan an insult to the civic engagement process. In the grand scheme of things, it would be easy to dismiss LA's Draft Bike Plan as a simple document that humbly addresses the needs of a niche transportation mode. Hardly the stuff of the LA visionaries who are frothing at the mouth as they position themselves to spend billions of dollars on mega-transit projects, quickly and quietly and fueled by the conviction that they know best. But that would be a mistake.

LA's Draft Bike Plan has the potential to benefit the city as a whole, for cyclists and non-cyclists alike, and the process for developing the plan, as well as the final document, is important for several reasons.

First, LA's Draft Bike Plan has gone a long way toward establishing a reasonable and meaningful minimum standard for public comments on the planning that impacts our communities.

The Department of Transportation and City Planning initially released the Draft Bike Plan with a 42-day comment period, clearly demonstrating a cavalier approach to the public participation process.

With neighborhood councils requiring 60 days just to cycle through a monthly committee meeting and then a monthly board meeting, the chances of NC review were reduced to nil.

Bloggers seized on this failure and issued the challenge. This simple rallying cry brought together bloggers, the NC Action Summit, the Valley Alliance, the LA Bicycle Advisory Committee, the CD11 Transportation Committee, and neighborhood councils from Mar Vista to Silver Lake to Studio City to Mid-City West to Palms to East Hollywood to Encino to others too numerous to list.

Result: a meaningful process for public engagement and a meaningful comment period.

Second, LA's Draft Bike Plan has the capacity to bring a sense of scale to the streets of Los Angeles by addressing them from the perspective of a single human on a bike.

Developing a powerful Bike Plan demands that we look at the city from the ground up, starting with the movement of people instead of adding them as an afterthought.

For too long, the streets of LA have been evaluated simply on their ability to hold more cars and side streets have been evaluated based on their ability to absorb overflow and cut-through traffic. The development of LA's Bike Plan demands that we grapple with the tough questions and decide how people will live and work and socialize and move about the City of Los Angeles.

This discussion positions multi-modal transportation choices as the starting point for LA's Transportation and Planning departments.

Result: streets that are for people, supported by real transportation choices.

Third, LA's Draft Bike Plan is just one of many plans. After all, Los Angeles is a "City of Plans."

There are 35 Community Plans, then there are the Specific Plans, complemented by the Master Plans, supported by Vision Plans, all overlapping and lost in the melee created every time the Mayor and the City Council initiate a Trash Plan, a River Plan, a Sidewalk Plan, a Tree Plan, a Golf Plan or a Lighting Plan.

Toss a couple of mega-plans such as the Harbor Plan or the NBC-Universal Plan in the mix and it's evident that the only people who benefit from this scenario are the consultants who churn plans as if City Hall has unlimited shelf-space, complete with unlimited dust.

The development of LA's Bike Plan comes complete with community calls for integration. It comes with challenges for real implementation, not just as an exercise in required planning but as the first real step in improving the quality of life in our communities.

Result: integrated Community Planning supported by a commitment to implementation.

Finally, LA's Draft Bike Plan is already serving as a reminder that as much as Los Angeles is the land of diversity, it is also the land of Common Ground.

Regardless of geography, culture, language, economics, professions or modes of travel, the people of Los Angeles all share the same desire to travel freely and safely on their streets. Some walk, some ride, some drive, some take mass transit and all will benefit from a robust Bike Plan with a real vision.

After all, cyclists simply want 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 drivers and pedestrians.

They want to patronize local businesses that offer accommodations for cyclists.

They want great routes to schools, jobs, city centers and residential communities and they want a great relationship with law enforcement so that the streets are free of crime. In other words, what's good for cyclists is good for the community.

Result: the establishment of common ground and the development of real community.

INFO: The journey to a better Bike Plan continues and if you'd like to participate, visit to download a copy of the Draft Bike Plan.

Visit to download a copy of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights.

To participate in the development of LA's Best Bike Plan, join the LA Bike Working Group in Hollywood on Saturday, December 12 at 2pm. 1711 Van Ness Avenue, Los Angeles, 90028.

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Photo credit: Photo by Lucyrk in LA via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr