Two months ago, the Bike Plan Implementation Team met at City Hall and walked away with an informal top ten list of cycling infrastructure projects. Since then, Planning and DOT have refused to put their time and energy toward any proposals that are not on the list. When advocates complain to the authorities, they are met with an empty promise of “We can always change it later.”
Now is later.
To be clear, the Bike Plan Implementation Team (BPIT) serves to coordinate efforts among City departments and community stakeholders. Created by the 2011 LA Bike Plan, the BPIT meets on the first Tuesday of every month to decide how the on-paper ideas of the Plan will become the on-the-ground facilities of our streets. Frequent participants include City Planning, LADOT, LA Bike Advisory Committee, LACBC, Council representatives, and Bikeside (obviously). With such a wide variety of voices at the table, you might expect decision-making to be an arduous process. However, as I mentioned, the City has added a measure of concision, by simply short-circuiting the community’s input.
According to many participants who attended the meeting two months ago, community members were not given enough advance notice of the top ten discussion to prepare recommendations. Planning and DOT came to the table with loads of preparation. The conversation that resulted in the final list did not follow a pre-determined procedure. Now, the informal has almost crystallized without the voice of the people being heard. The top priority bike projects for our city are being held hostage without due process.
I’ve created some maps to help you understand the shortcomings of the current top ten. Let’s first take a look at the existing cycling facilities in our city, and those in development. Here is the existing Backbone Network and the “Year Zero” projects. Existing facilities are in blue, and Year Zero is in red. So far, so good. In fact, the Year Zero projects are doing quite a bit to enhance the connectivity and usefulness of the existing network.
(click any of the map images below to visit the fully interactive versions, which include the Valley and South LA)
Now have a look at how the Top Ten projects fit in (they are highlighted in pink). Not bad, but I believe we can do better.
Finally, the streets marked in green are the Bikeside recommendations for priority projects.
Let’s take a closer look at the current top ten and my arguments against some of the projects. In general, we are looking at a series of projects that serve Downtown LA. I know, I know, it’s the only place that people ride bikes. But maybe someday in a crazy future LA, people might ride their bikes to the beach. UCLA students might head to Culver City. People may even one day ride their bikes in the Valley or South LA! Besides their geographical concentration, I have a few specific criticisms of these projects.
Take, for example, the S. Figueroa proposal. This bit smacks of laziness and tunnel vision. First, this street is already designated as a bike route, which means that cyclists already receive some sort of accommodation. Second, while we’re on the topic of redundancy, as well as discussing unnecessary repetition, this project does nothing for connectivity that Hoover and Main Streets aren’t already doing. Finally, it’s entirely opaque to me why we need to connect USC cyclists to a string of car-related businesses, parking lots and finally Staples Center. Oh, I know! I’ll ride my bike from school a half-mile to pick up my car from the Midas service center, hitch the car to the back of my bike, then tow it to a nearby parking lot so that I can empty my wallet even faster while I watch the Lakers! Puh-leez. Given that the security one enjoys when parking her bike near Staples is analogous to what she enjoys dressed in a banana suit while sitting in a cage full of silverbacks, I doubt that riding your bike to the game will catch on anytime soon. My suggestion is to scrap this project in favor of something that actually serves some destinations, and enhances the overall usefulness of the network.
Moving a short way west, we find the absolutely pitiful Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. proposal. This one makes me scratch my head even more than Figueroa. Once again, we see the City departments giving top priority to a project that simply mimics an existing facility not too far away, in this case, W. 39th St. And what in the world are the destinations that this project serves? Getting middle schoolers not even half a mile down the road to the Crenshaw Church for an after school program? Making sure that the waiters from Jerry’s Flying Fox can make it to 7 Kings Liquor before they head home? Perhaps the inscrutable wisdom of our city planners escapes me. Or perhaps this is what it looks like – a worthless project that’s on the table simply to front-load the yearly mileage requirement put forth in the Bike Plan.
The last proposal that I’m going to gripe about is the one on Spring/Main. And I’m not even going to spend much time doing it, because I see the same problems here as elsewhere. These roads are already bicycle facilities, and don’t connect to any “uncharted” territory. Granted, these streets do serve loads of local businesses, but the area is already high-traffic. Improving bicycle facilities in the area most likely won’t increase the throughput at these shops.
What makes our projects so much better, then?
I’ve already discussed why developing Sepulveda between Santa Monica Blvd. and Venice Blvd. is a good idea. Add to that the stretch from Culver Blvd. to Centinela, and cyclists can then access the Westfield Shopping Center from Santa Monica, UCLA, even Downtown. Move to the east and you will see that we suggest extending the Vermont project as far north as Wilshire Blvd. Completing this connection would be a major foot in the door to providing South LA with quality cycling infrastructure, and an alternative to taking the Harbor Freeway to Downtown. Notice also that on the north end, Hollywood and Koreatown gain access to truly useful parts of the Backbone, especially Venice Blvd.
Cruise over the hill and you will see that Sherman Way can provide residents with access to tons of businesses, as well as edging closer to a direct connection between the Valley and Downtown. Endowing Devonshire with a continuous facility should be a no brainer, especially since the remaining portion is less than a mile-and-a-half.
While our recommended stretch of Nordhoff parallels Plummer, it provides a continuous route from one side of CSUN to the other, as well as completing a circuit with Woodley, Devonshire, and Reseda. It may seem pointless to create a big circle for cyclists to ride around, but that’s not how the road will be used. These types of connections have been shown to increase ridership in other cities, and they do so by creating maximum surface area for trips to begin and end with relevant destinations. Finally, Topanga Canyon Blvd. provides great North-South connectivity, joins the rest of the Valley to the western-most spur, and already has funding, design and engineering from Caltrans.
At this stage in the game, it is critical that you, as a member of the cycling community, reach out to your Neighborhood Council, City Council, your favorite bicycle lobby (which is clearly Bikeside, right?), or attend the BPIT meeting, and let the City know what projects should receive priority treatment. Don’t let Planning and DOT wrestle this process away from us. Shatter the crystallized top ten list. Demand due process!