Michelle Mowery said that LA did not get the same robust Bike Plan process as Portland in part because Portland is “very white” and LA is “a very diverse, disjointed city.” Mowery, LA DOT’s Bicycle Coordinator, made her assertion Wednesday in LA City Council Transportation Committee. Here’s the transcript with Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s question and Mowery’s response:
BILL ROSENDAHL: Alta Planning is reportedly one of the finest consulting groups in the world for bike planning. How is it that the City of Los Angeles kicked off the Draft Bike Plan process with Alta but did not incorporate the robust Bike Plan process that Portland used/is using to develop their own Bike Plan? For example in Portland Alta maintained eleven working groups, and they used community bike rides to engage and survey.
MICHELLE MOWERY: With all due respect the City of Portland is 450,000 people. It’s a homogeneous community that is very white, and very progressive with respect to transportation. They have a trolley system that works very well, as well as their transit overall. We are a very diverse, disjointed city of 4 million people. They are 30 years ahead of us in the development of their, well, they’re not quite 30, they’re more like 20 years ahead of us in the development of their bikeway. So we’re a step behind Portland in what we’re trying to do. Granted, several of us would like to see a lot of changes in the city happen very quickly, but again we have a very diverse city with a lot of needs.
Ok, let’s start from the beginning: Mowery doesn’t even answer the question. The question, rephrased, is why did LA not get the same intensive process in revising the bike plan that Portland did, given that we used the same consultant? Mowery never answers that question, and instead makes throwaway remarks about why LA is behind Portland in bike friendliness. Mowery does mention that Portland is far ahead of Los Angeles in terms of being bike friendly. You might interpret that as an answer to the question, in that a less bike friendly place will have less to talk about, and less people to talk to. Mowery never makes that connection directly, and even if she did, it’s still not an answer. Frankly, given that she saw these questions 2 days ahead of time, and that she has been working on this plan for 2 years now, she should have an answer.
The real answer is probably that we didn’t spend enough money. Or, rather, we didn’t spend enough money on community outreach. LA contracted with Alta to update our bike plan for $450,000 . . . but most of that money went into things other than community outreach. For example, instead of having a quality community outreach process, we spent a ton of the money on a technical handbook which we could have easily got from San Francisco at a 5-finger discount
Instead of mentioning the 450,000 bucks LA spent on a terrible plan, she focused on the 450,000 people of Portland and how that compares to LA’s 4,000,000. I don’t see how LA being larger than Portland should mean that Portland would have a larger outreach process than LA? MTA believes that LA has a 2.5% mode share for bikes, and Portland has roughly 9%. That means that, in absolute terms, there are more trips made by bicycle in Los Angeles, than in Portland, because LA exceeds Portland in population by a factor of 9, but lags in mode share by less than a factor of 4.
What possible connection can racial diversity have to it? By saying that Portland is homogeneous and LA diverse, Mowery seems to be making an argument that diverse places are inherently slower to adopt bicycles, or inherently dysfunctional politically. It’s not clear to me, but it smacks of a freshman political science major selling a bad theory. I can think of two examples of racially diverse cities that are politically functional (at least as compares to LA), and are making huge strides toward bike friendliness.
Those are the 1st and 3nd largest cities in the US, with LA being the 2nd largest. They’re both world class cities with cultural and racial diversity up the wazoo. They are, very much, LA’s peers. Therefore, the argument that Portland is ahead of us because of it’s alleged homogeneity falls flat. And it still doesn’t explain why the outreach process for LA’s bike plan update was so lack luster.
It all comes back to, why highlight Portland’s WHITENESS? The homogeneity argument isn’t convincing, but at least it’s color neutral. I don’t really think it has anything to do with bikes at all.
You can hear the meeting audio here, with the Bike Plan report beginning around 20:20, the question and Very White answer at 40:28 (and you can also hear me briefly take Mowery to task at 58:01.)
(I just read through my piece here looking for errors and I thought it came off a little bit Vulcan = detached, unemotional, logical. So I just wanted to add a note here and say that I’m outraged at the way Mowery handled this question, and I think it’s a truly vile way to discuss an issue, and I’m mad about it. So hopefully that informs the tone, adjusting it to an Angry Vulcan tone.)