Nearly three years ago the newly formed Bike Writers Collective gathered in West LA to hear what Alta Planning and LADOT had to say about making Los Angeles bike friendly. What we heard was “there’s no time for questions” and “there’s no room for bicyclists.” That was the beginning of the bike plan update process, and like so many other advocates, I cut my teeth on that process.
I’m astonished to say that after 32 months of hard work, the draft Bike Plan that Claire Bowin has presented to LA’s cyclists is worse than our current plan. Cyclists will be worse off if this draft plan is adapted. You will find below three suggestions (doc, pdf) to fix the draft bike plan, and nine serious problems (doc, pdf) with the draft. These documents were developed by myself, Bikesider Rach Stevenson, and CicLAvia force Joe Linton. They are not comprehensive, but we think they strike at core flaws we all agree on.
The draft is like glass ornament – shiny, beautiful and utterly fragile. The Mayor and City Planning have touted it as including 1600 miles of bikeways, but you would have to walk between the raindrops to make that a reality. Sure, the draft has hundreds of miles of bike lanes “designated”. But when you get down in the details you find out 511 of those miles fall in the “further study” category – a category that has previously gone by the name “potential” and “infeasible”. Only 56 miles of bike lane are left.
Everywhere you look in the draft are qualifications, conditions, and turns of phrase that rob it of power. Some crippling strokes are obvious, such as the designation of 90% of bike lanes as infeasible. Others are buried in devilish details. For example, the draft sets the minimum car lane width of 11 feet. Most lanes in LA are less than 11 feet, and most cities use a 10 foot or 9 foot standard. By adopting an 11 foot standard, the possibilities for making room for cyclists are dramatically reduced.
It’s important that we fight this draft. The simplest thing you can do is attend the City Planning Commission hearing this Thursday morning. It’s at City Hall in City Council Chambers (rm 340), at 8:30 am.
What’s Needed for a Better Bike Plan
1. Detailed Planning for Enforcement, Education, Encouragement, and Evaluation
A table with a short leg rocks and tilts. A five legged table with one very long leg, and four short ones . . . well, it cannot rightly be referred to as a table. Without greater detail in planning for Enforcement, Education, Encouragement, and Evaluation, the detailed plans for Engineering (infrastructure) will fail. Details for these areas should be fleshed out, and done so with public involvement. Programmatic outlines and schedules should be worked out with community leaders and responsible departments at the table.
2. Add a Chapter on the Backbone Bikeway Network
The Backbone Bikeway Network offers a way to connect our city departments, rehabilitate our boulevards, and provide cyclists safe and efficient ways to cross Los Angeles. The Backbone Bikeway Network was developed in a series of six community meetings, open to all members of the public, which offered the public control over the ultimate product. As such, it is a widely supported plan that represents the wishes of many cyclists.
The draft plan should include a chapter on the Backbone network that is written in collaboration with the cycling community. While many of the streets in the Backbone have been added to the Citywide Bikeway Network, the accompanying principles of departmental connectivity, holistic planning and complete streets, and the plans to fulfill those principles, have been left out. One chapter on the Backbone would provide an orienting vision for the draft plan.
The Backbone focuses on improving those major arterials that cyclist need to cross Los Angeles. It approaches this with a win-win Complete Streets approach, where improvements for cyclists would synergize to improve the environment for pedestrians and businesses. The Backbone would seek to rehabilitate key major boulevards – Santa Monica Blvd, Reseda Blvd, Vermont Avenue, and Sepulveda Blvd, for example – so that they become pedestrian friendly, bike friendly, and retail friendly.
3. Focus on Safe Streets
A worthwhile bike plan will commit the city to making L.A.’s streets safer for bicycling. The current (1996) approved plan in effect today designates 190 additional future miles of bike lane. The 2010 draft commits to ~56 miles of additional future bike lanes.
A focus on Los Angeles streets includes the following changes to the 2010 drafts:
3.1 Draft Bike Plan
3.1.1 The bike plan should include more bike lane mileage than the current plan already in effect. The total committed (not speculative) bike lane mileage should be greater than 190 miles – preferably at least 250 miles of committed bike lanes. (A good start toward this would be to harmonize upward the discrepancies between the draft Bike Plan, the draft Implementation Plan and the approved Downtown Street Standards. Many streets listed in the Implementation Plan as “sufficient width” are in the Bike Plan as “speculative.”)
3.1.2 The bike plan should commit to robust bike-friendly street treatments. While it’s not feasible to detail every location, the plan should at least target implementation beyond the minimum. As currently specified in the draft, all the bike-friendly street facilities could be considered complete if the city installs a couple hundred signs. The city should specify minimum targets for overall bike-friendly streets, using levels shown in the technical documents. For example: 50% Level 5: Traffic diversion, 20% Level 4: Traffic calming, 15% Level 3: Intersection treatments, 10% Level 2: Pavement markings, and 5% Level 1: signage.
3.1.3 All technical standards should support bike facility implementation. Minimum car-lane width should preferably be 9 feet, and certainly not worse than today’s 10-foot standard.
3.2 Draft Implementation Plan
3.2 1 No bike routes should be prioritized in the Implementation Plan. Routes are ineffective, meaningless and in no way a priority. The plan should prioritize meaningful on-street facilities: lanes and robust bike-friendly streets.
3.2.2 The Draft Implementation Plan should not scale back facilities specified in the Draft Bike Plan. For Bike Plan streets designated for lanes, the Implementation Plan should implement them as lanes, not as routes. The current draft Implementation Plan downgrades facilities on Laurel Canyon, Main, Spring, Venice, Western, York and elsewhere.
3.2.3 The Implementation Plan should include more committed on-street bike facilities in population-dense central neighborhoods in early implementation years. For Koreatown, Westlake, East Hollywood, Pico-Union, Adams-Normandie, Downtown, and other central areas, the plan includes very little, mainly a few “speculative” facilities to be studied beginning in Year 4 and Year 5 for possible later implementation.
Nine serious Problems with the Draft Bike Plan
1. Lack of Commitment to On-Street Bike Lanes
The draft plan includes four types of bike facilities: paths, lanes, bike-friendly streets, and routes. To date in L.A., routes are nearly meaningless. Bike paths and bike-friendly streets are relatively expensive, hence implementation is limited not by the plan mileage, but by the city’s success in securing outside grant funding. On-street bike lanes are very cheap; the amount of lane mileage planned represents the city’s commitment to make safe space for bikes on city streets.
The 2009 draft plan commits to just 56 new miles of bike lane on 6500 miles of roads in Los Angeles. In addition to the approved 56 miles of bike lane, the plan has 511 additional miles of proposed/infeasible/study bike lanes referred to as ‘speculative.’ The plan does not detail how these can be implemented. Instead of fully approving the ‘speculative’ lanes, the city anticipates performing expensive environmental review to determine if these speculative lanes can be implemented or not.
The current bike plan (approved in 1996) includes 190 miles of remaining future bike lanes. The 2010 draft plan backpedals on lanes already approved. Any update to the plan should include more bike lanes than the prior version, or it will not be supported by bicyclists. The 2010 draft fails to commit to the facilities most desired and most needed by cyclists (as reported by LADOT).
2. Most Aspects of Bike Planning Neglected
The standard for bicycle planning is excellence in the “Five ‘E’s” – engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement, evaluation. The draft plan has extensive detail on the first E – engineering – in the form of maps and an implementation strategy for infrastructure. However, there is nothing similar for any of the other 4 Es. There are no timetables for enforcement programs, no funding proposals for education, and no detailed program for encouragement strategies. Regarding evaluation, the draft plan only states that DOT will include bicycle counts as part of regular traffic counts. Contrast this with NYC, which has been doing citywide counts for over a decade.
All the infrastructure in the world is unlikely to succeed if it is not accompanied by robust programs in enforcement, education, encouragement, and evaluation. The draft lacks necessary implementation detail for the other Es similar to what has been developed for engineering.
3. Bicycle Friendly Streets are Vague and Non-Committal
Over 650 miles of bikeways in the draft plan are designated as ‘Bicycle Friendly Streets’. Despite accounting for the largest fraction of bikeways in the plan, Bicycle Friendly Streets suffer from the least specificity in the Bike Plan. A range (five levels) of possible treatments is given but with no indication of how many miles of street, let alone which street, will receive which treatment – and how many streets will receive robust facilities and which cursory. Though there are many bike friendly streets already in Los Angeles (that cyclists know of and use daily), simply identifying these streets by adding a sign doesn’t make Los Angeles a safer place to bike, and shouldn’t count as bike plan implementation. Under the current proposal it will.
4. Not Enough Facilities in Low-Income Neighborhoods
In the draft Bike Plan and Implementation Plan, bikeways are inequitably distributed. Bike lanes are more likely in more suburban areas; very few committed (non-speculative) lanes are shown in the urban core. Denser low-income neighborhoods get fewer miles of facilities, despite being places where fewer households own cars and where people are more likely to cycle to work.
5. Questionable Facilities Prioritized in the Implementation Plan
Among the streets prioritized in the draft Implementation Plan are some odd choices. For example, Palms Boulevard in West LA is prioritized as a year 2 project. Between McLaughlin and Walgrove, this street is so steep in places that it’s often difficult to walk up, much less bike.The Implementation Plan prioritizes more than 30 miles of new bike routes, despite bike routes being meaningless, and not requested by cyclists. The choice of streets and types of facilities prioritized demonstrates a disconnect between what planners would choose from a bird’s eye view, and the realities that cyclists are acquainted with. The draft Implementation Plan was developed behind closed doors by DOT & Planning, without public participation, and it shows.
6. Over-commitment to Bike Paths
Fiscally, the draft Implementation Plan prioritizes bike paths over bike lanes and other facilities. Bike paths are off-street facilities like the River Path or the Beach Bike Path. Bike lanes are on-street facilities like the Venice Blvd bike lane, or Sunset Blvd bike lane. While the Implementation Plan calls for 24 miles of bike path vs 256 total miles of bikeways, that 24 miles of bike path will cost $63 million, while the other 232 miles of facilities will cost only $6.3 million. Here are the five big problems with bike paths:
6.1 Cost: As we already mentioned, bike paths are costly. According to the plan, a mile of bike path costs $2.64M to build. By contrast, also according to the FP, a bike lane mile costs $28K to build. Bike paths are 94 times more expensive than bike lanes.
6.2 Nightime: Unless lit, who will ride a bike path at night? Alone, secluded, dark – it is an optimal way to get mugged, and people have been mugged. Even when lit, which adds to the capital cost, the paths are in isolated areas, away from people, without an exit for 1/4 or 1/2 a mile. Effectively, bike paths are useless after dark, which means they cannot serve commuters from October till March. L.A.’s streets, where other types of bikeways are located, are already lit, and they have more eyes and ears watching them than a bike path.
6.3 Policing: Policing bike paths is difficult. Gangs use bike paths as a convenient escape route where LAPD doesn’t regularly patrol. Further, 911 operators/responders will ask for nearest cross streets and are unequipped for incidents on L.A. paths.
6.4 Destinations: Bike paths don’t go where most cyclists need to be. Just like motorists, most cyclists are headed to major destinations located on or near arterials. Therefore they need routes that get them to and from those destinations, and usually bike paths do not function in that capacity.
6.5 Traffic Justice: Collision data for L.A. indicates that the vast majority of bike-involved collisions take place on arterials, not bike paths. Therefore, infrastructure funds and DOT staff attention should be directed to those places, in order to protect those riders who are getting injured and killed.
7. Workforce Cyclists are Neglected:
Probably the largest cycling demographic in Los Angeles is workforce cyclists. They are the working class day laborers, cooks, security guards, janitors, etc. – primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants, who keep Los Angeles moving by pushing the pedals to get to and from work. Dan Koeppel wrote a compelling article detailing this culture, and anyone who lives in LA is familiar with them. Yet, the proposed bike plan ignores their existence, classifying all cyclists according to the three categories given by FHWA – advanced, basic, and children.
For the plan to succeed, it must address the specific needs of workforce cyclists, and that begins with recognition.
8. Minimum Lane Width Standard Inappropriately Anti-Bike:
In the technical standards (on Section 5, page 33) the document sets a minimum car-lane width of 11 feet. The current L.A. City practice is 10 feet, and some bike-friendly cities use a 9-foot minimum. Increasing the minimum car lane width effectively squeezes out bike lanes, making them infeasible. If the bike plan purports to make L.A. better for cycling, then none of the plan’s technical specifics should make bike facility implementation more prohibitive/difficult than it already is.
9. Mid-Process Changes Inhibit Community Feedback:
As multiple draft plan versions have been released since early 2009, the city has revised documents without clear notice, creating a moving target, not conducive to meaningful community review.
While the public was reviewing the most recent facilities maps (released June 2010), Planning staff asserted that the community should instead review an unreleased GIS file. The GIS file was made available upon request, in August 2010. While the public was reviewing the complicated GIS file, a subsequent spreadsheet file was released – merely posted at the city bike plan website, with no notice to the community. It’s unclear when the “final” facilities spreadsheet list was posted, but it appears to have been less than a month prior to public hearings and comment deadlines. Large numbers of discrepancies between multiple changing maps, lists, totals, and actual conditions have made community input difficult.