Fashion Trends: opaque heel dragging is the new hotness at City Hall

Almost 6 months after the passage of LA’s 2010 Bike Plan (passed in 2011), City Planning will report to City Council on progress thus far.  Specifically, tomorrow, they will report to the Transportation Committee (and for some reason, DOT Bikeways will not report.)

What Council will hear will be a lot of rah rah cheerleading about how much progress has been made, exaggeration of supporting facts, and lots of (BS) excuses for failures. Case and point is this bit of City Hall doublespeak (pdf) regarding the Bike Plan Implementation Team – a team of staff from bike-critical departments and citizen stakeholders which was created by the bike plan:

The BPIT has served as a valuable forum for dialogue among staff, cycling advocates, and the public on the implementation of the 2010 Bicycle Plan. While the BPIT is a work in progress, future meetings will continue to underscore the importance of partnering with the cycling community . . .

This paragraph gives one the impression that the BPIT is a valued resource for City staff, and that they’ll continue to put energy to it. Immediately above it, in the same report, staff outline why they will stop the monthly BPIT meetings, making the meeting a quarterly formality.

The City Hall perspective is completely out of touch with reality: the reality of the streets, and the reality of their inaction. What would their report say if they were in touch with reality?

Here’s what I would report:

After a brief honeymoon period following the bike plan’s passage, advocates and staff returned to their innate positions of conflict. City staff, sometimes called civil servants, did the best to prove that their first service was to themselves and the protection of an inept Bikeways department. Consequently failures occurred across the board. The City failed to meet its first target for almost 50 miles of bikeways in Fiscal Year 2010-11, falling short by (best estimates) 20 miles, and making a liar out of the Mayor, who promised the cycling community fast progress. The City renewed a huge 5 year safety and education contract to bike safety program Safe Moves, which has failed the City of Los Angeles for years. And the City dropped the ball on CicLAvia, double billing and double dipping by charging CicLAvia twice for traffic engineering studies – once for the 10/10/10 CicLAvia, and again for the 4/10/11 CicLAvia.

How’d it happen?

Opaque heel dragging is the new black:

In the bad old days opaque heel dragging was the fashion in this city. City staff proudly showed off each season’s new innovations in stonewalling and citizen deception.

But after the adoption of the bike plan, that all changed. Openness, transparency and good communication became popular like hippy dresses worn over jeans. Everyone bike related at City Hall was showing off their new, healthy relationship with the public. “Oh, did you see that new report that LADOT Bike Blog posted? It shared information! So cuute!” “That willingness to disagree politely that Bikeways tried out the other day was so refreshing – that dour ‘we’re always right’ outfit they had been wearing was so 2010.”

Then came the BPIT meetings.

Max Berson at BPIT
"Training for BPIT"

The meetings were rough and tumble and everyone didn’t get what they wanted – but that was the point. Staff knew that the public was unhappy, but they needed to know why. Enter the BPIT. The public wanted things to move faster but they needed to learn what the obstacles were. Enter the BPIT. BPIT meetings were, or could have been, the opportunity to find those things out. They were not supposed to be cruise ship vacations with no hangovers – they were supposed to be a way to exchange information, including the important, but painful, info that advocates were not happy with the sluggish pace.

But after one two many crushingly boring meetings with unrestrained ramblings from whomever took the floor (can we get a talking stick please?), and the great TMI-flowchart explaining why nothing gets done, no one wanted anything to do with it. The process was broken and no effort was made to fix it. Advocates said the process was broken and stopped inviting city staff to their swanky cocktail parties. The Mayor, or someone working for him, decided “if it IS broke, still don’t fix it”, made the BPIT a quarterly formality, and hung a “No Visitors” sign at City Hall’s entrance.

Now, opaque heel dragging is the hotness. Walk past City Planning or DOT and you’ll the hushed tones: “I can’t believe they shared information with the outsiders, that’s so done with, don’t they know that?” and “didn’t you just love how they shut down those BPIT meetings, that was so adorable.”

On the other hand, walk past the Eco Village, Bike Kitchen or any other bike hangout and you can expect to hear a lot of forehead slapping. “How could we be so stupid. Of course it was going to go back to the old ways, it’s their nature!  Why did we ever believe them?”

What does it mean?

We don’t know yet what the bad effects, but we can try to read the signs. So far progress on the bike plan has been touch and go. Things appear to move forward, and then get hung up. The 4th St Bike Boulevard project is a great example. I’m not 4th St junkie but just observe the process – it’s been hung up on standing water issues, traffic signal issues, and everything else for years. In a larger sense that’s exactly what’s happening to the city’s momentum on bikes.

The City fell short of it’s stated goals for bikeways additions in Fiscal Year 2010-2011. They came up short on education and reapproved an uninspiring contract with Safe Moves. They double billed on CicLAvia and failed to step up and make sure that the July CicLAvia took place.

Across the board bike projects that should have been discussed and on their way to implementation months ago – can anyone say “Venice Blvd in South LA and DTLA”? – are be stalled out. The City is sticking all kinds of projects into the EIR process without advocate input – with the result that bike projects are being delayed 12 months to a year and a half, whenever they actually get into the EIR process. The City has gone for low hanging bike fruit and is running out, and they’re already behind schedule.  The chance that the Mayor achieves anything he promised gets slimmer by the day.

What can we do?

I don’t know, but I am done with fighting over process. If the City wants to have an inclusive process and work with bike activists and advocates, great, let’s see results. If the City want to exclude bike activists, great, let’s see results. That’s all I care about anymore: results.

If we’re excluded from the process, I’ll lob policy grenades in public until we get results. If we’re included in the process, I’ll press fervently in private until we get results.  We know how to do both, we’re good at both, and I really have no strong preference for either.

For the next 6 months we’ll probably be doing this:

City staff fail utterly.  Advocates scream bloody murder.  Electeds are confused.  Repeat until exhausted.

Alex Thompson

Bikerowave co-founder, Cyclists' Bill of Rights co-author, President of Bikeside, and Math Phd. HULK SMASH straight from Michigan!

3 thoughts on “Fashion Trends: opaque heel dragging is the new hotness at City Hall

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *