The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and Los Angeles County Bike Coalition (LACBC) are ahead of schedule with their April Fool’s jokes. The two organizations, which are partnering in studying sharrows, rather than implementing them, announced new pursuits today that have my eyes crossed.
LADOT announced that it has opened an LADOT Bike Blog, staffed by USC Planning student Chris Kidd. Barely a second passed before LA Streetsblog editor Damien Newton welcomed the blog to his blog roll.
Just a question Damien: why the hell are you adding LADOT’s Bike Blog to your blog roll? I can’t think of a bigger enemy to pedestrians and cyclists anywhere in Los Angeles than the entrenched interests at LADOT. So it really begs the question, what exactly gets you on LA Streetsblog’s blog roll? Is AAA going to have a spot on there? How about Car & Driver?
Damien writes balanced pieces, which means he is always careful to pose to opposing viewpoints in his pieces. I really don’t see how there is any reasonable pro-bike viewpoint in which this blog can be treated as anything other than an attempt to manipulate the message by LADOT. Damien tries, calling the blog “a labor of love by an intern working with both the public relation’s office and LADOT Bikeways.” Unaccompanied by any significant change in DOT’s position on bikes, why would we think that this is a genuine effort? It’s the public relations department – it’s their job to keep people from getting angry so that LADOT can do things the LADOT way. Damien, pull the blog from you blog roll.
Elsewhere, LACBC announced that they won a grant in collaboration with the South Bay Bicycle Coalition (SBBC) to write a regional South Bay Bicycle Master Plan. Is LACBC a planning agency? A planning consultant outfit? When did LACBC and other advocacy organizations like SBBC start pursuing grant money for planning efforts? Is LACBC qualified to execute this grant, and is it a good idea for bike advocates to be taking these grants? Does anyone even ask these questions?
Grants like this are normally executed by planning agencies or planning consultants. Typically these planning agencies employ qualified urban planners, people with masters degrees in urban planning, to design and write such plans. Like David Pulsipher or Adrian Leung who work for Alta Planning – the planning consultants who did the work on the LA Bike Plan and are now working on Culver City’s plan and the LA County Plan. These are first tier employees at places like Alta – they’re not supervising anyone. Usually a grant work will be overseen by a planner with not only a graduate degree but decades of experience and additional planning certification like the AICP.
Last I checked LACBC staff don’t meet these standards. Is LACBC qualified to execute this grant? I wonder, how do real planning consultants feel about orgs like LACBC picking up grants that could go to them? Particularly because organizations like LACBC don’t pay taxes, while planning consultancies do.
The bigger question is whether it’s a good idea for advocacy organizations like LACBC to be taking funding for projects like these. LACBC represents itself as an organization fighting for change on behalf of cyclists. At the same time, a majority of LACBC’s funding comes from government sources, including Metro, Burbank, SCAG, and in the past (and still in some ways) LADOT.
This leads to serious and real conflicts of interest. I stayed out of the sharrows campaign because it was LACBC’s campaign, and I respected that, but when DOT said sharrows are slippery, and asked to study them, I nearly jumped out of my chair screaming “bullshit!” LACBC should have called LADOT on that, and taken a hard stand, insisting that installation begin immediately, without study. Instead, Michelle Mowery brokered a deal whereby LADOT and LACBC would both receive funding to study sharrows. LACBC kept quiet and took the grant. What are grants made of? They’re made of money. What do we call it when someone takes money to change in order to keep quiet? Oh sure, they made a little noise, but not nearly so much as was warranted, and in the end, LACBC was perfectly willing to take part in the study.
What I can’t decide is whether it’s worse that LACBC has a price, or that the price is so LOW. For a barely five figure sum LACBC consented to DOT’s lethargic timeline for sharrow installation. In doing so, they were outmaneuvered politically, and likely DOT will find more ways to delay. If LACBC’s price were higher, at least they’d be creating more jobs for starving bike advocates (who aren’t necessarily qualified to do the sharrow study) and could likely force DOT to compromise more. As it is, if DOT survives the budget crisis intact, you can bet they’ll delay again. In the meantime more blood will be spilled.
I don’t really care if LACBC wants to move into urban planning, and out of advocacy, but you can’t do both. Actually, you can, but it’s corrupt. At the very least, it would be nice if LACBC would clarify it’s role to the public, so we all know the specific conflicts of interests that LACBC has that we should be aware of, as well as what LACBC’s mission is.
I gave $500 to LACBC in 2007, and not a day goes by that I don’t regret it.