The draft Bike Plan will make cyclists worse off

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.

Follows are our problems (doc, pdf) and fixes (doc, pdf):

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.

Alex Thompson

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

26 thoughts on “The draft Bike Plan will make cyclists worse off

  1. Matt Epstein & Team 2000
    14724 Ventura Blvd
    Sherman Oaks, CA 91403-3501
    (818) 789-7408

    Matt Epstein is the Founder of Team 2000, a real estate company for which he personally brokered 335 real property transactions. In addition to founding Team 2000, Mr. Epstein co-founded 800 Direct, a full service telemarketing and fulfillment company that specialized in handling inbound calls and shipping products for national catalog companies.

    Mr. Epstein is heavily involved in the community, serving as Vice President of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, on the Board of Directors for the Sherman Oaks Hospital and the Grossman Burn Center, and serving on the Board of Directors for the �We Spark� non-profit cancer support center. In addition, Mr. Epstein serves as President of the SOBC-Sherman Oaks Beautification Committee-Joint venture between Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, Sherman Oaks Chamber, Sherman Oaks Bid and Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council. Mr. Epstein is also on the Board for the Sherman Oaks Schools, a charity to raise money for the 5 Sherman Oaks-based public elementary schools.

  2. I’m withholding his contact deets because all I can get are his home address, etc. There is plenty of info online about the guy, but because he’s retired not a lot of easy to get contact info that I feel okay about putting up here.

    Father Spencer Kezios
    Father Kezios has served the Parish of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church for the past 45 years. He retired in 2004 and now holds the position of Pastor Emeritus. In 1967, Saint Nicholas Church moved to Northridge. Father Kezios was instrumental not only in the fundraising for the new church complex but had an active role in the design, architecture and contracting aspects of the entire development. His commitment to development continued throughout his years of service at the parish, and included a senior citizen’s housing complex, a parochial school, and a community center.

    He has also been active in many civic and community affairs. He regards his assignment as Chaplain for the Los Angeles Police Department a special blessing.

  3. I would warn against sending long email rants to these folks. The CPC meeting will be here in a day or two, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to meet and talk with the commissioners.

    Contacting some of these high profile types through their work will be viewed as more of an annoyance than anything else, so keep that in mind.

  4. The notion that we should keep the 1996 Bike Plan profoundly disturbs me. The 1996 plan committed to nothing, had no implementation schedules or details, was full of meaningless “study corridors,” and produced practically no results. There is absolutely nothing in the 1996 plan in the square bounded by La Brea on the West, Franklin to the North, Virgil to the East, and Olympic to the South. That’s a whole lot of Los Angeles – Koreatown, Hollywood, Mid-City, Pico-Union, Miracle Mile, West Adams and a bunch of other neighborhoods that the 1996 plan leaves with nothing. How can you say this is a better option than the 2010 draft which at least has lines going through these neighborhoods that advocates and communities can push for?

    This article criticizes the 2010 draft for not giving low-income communities enough. This is what the 1996 plan gives historic South-Central, i.e. a whole lot of nothing plus a bike path on Slauson:

    I am not saying that this 2010 Bike Plan solves all of our problems, nor am I saying it is perfect. But I will choose it over the 1996 plan any day.

  5. @Herbie – I wholeheartedly agree that the 1996 bike plan is not a great document. It has huge holes – especially in central communities of color.

    It was not “full of study corridors” though. It had and has 300 miles of designated bike lanes that required no further study (and on top of that a handful of study corridors) To throw away a flawed incomplete 1996 plan with 190 miles remaining to be built, in favor of the 2010 draft – which is truly full of study corridors (50 miles approved, 500 miles study)would be a problem.

    I don’t want either the 1996 plan nor the 2010 draft… but a robust plan that will meaningfully improve L.A.’s streets.

  6. Joe, what you are saying is truly misleading. Sure, the 1996 plan contained 300 miles of “designated bike lanes that required no further study.” But do you really think these are still meaningful to anyone in DOT or DCP or any other department in LA City?

    We need only to look at the state of bicycle infrastructure in Los Angeles to see that the 1996 Plan – and its 300 miles of bike lanes – produces nothing.

    For all practical purposes these bike lanes were just lines on a map, in the same exact way that the bike lanes in the 2010 plan are lines on a map. In 1996 they were called “designated” and now they are called something else. In either case the 2010 plan has (way) more of these lines and more details on how to actually implement them and make physical changes.

    If we come out of this three year process with the 1996 plan, we gain nothing. All of the public’s feedback on where they want bikeways and what policies they want to see in the plan will be lost. All the input many advocates put into selecting routes and calling for implementation schedules and calling for policies and changing wording, all of this will be lost. The Backbone Bikeway Network which was developed by Bikeside and BWC folks in public meetings and is now lines on the map – that too will be lost. The 1996 Plan is the true step backwards here.

  7. A clear and constructive criticism of this obviously weak, possibly deceptive plan, with simple straightforward demands. As everyone reading this knows, a major shift in urban transportation is now happening, and no city needs to embrace and support this shift more than LA, with ambitious, genuine and effective plans. We recognize it, the mayor recognizes it, the city recognizes it, but this plan doesn’t seem to recognize it. The swelling mobs of pioneering cyclists in LA are a fiery lot, and I don’t see them looking the other way as the city compromises everyone’s safety and stunts the growth of the principle non-polluting transportation alternative by committing this cowardly act of professional negligence.

  8. @Herbie: Regarding your statements: “Sure, the 1996 plan contained 300 miles of “designated bike lanes that required no further study.” But do you really think these are still meaningful to anyone in DOT or DCP or any other department in LA City?”
    > Yes – these are still meaningful – they’re approved today – they remain approved and implementable until they’re dismantled/overridden. Had they not been approved it would have difficult to win bike lanes on Silver Lake, Sunset, Reseda Blvd… they’re very meaningful – yes! Just because the DOT has dragged its heels on implementation doesn’t mean that these are not meaningful.

    “We need only to look at the state of bicycle infrastructure in Los Angeles to see that the 1996 Plan – and its 300 miles of bike lanes – produces nothing.”
    >> Well, actually we got 37 new bike lanes miles out of 227 planned. This was done without outside funding; it included no EIRs no further study – just implementation. This is lousy but it’s certainly not “nothing” – it includes some key streets including Silver Lake where I ride very often. That it didn’t produce very much doesn’t mean that it should be abandoned (and if we do abandon it, then DOT’s pro-car forces wins… if they delay, then we’ll give up and they won’t have to do anything.)

    “For all practical purposes these bike lanes were just lines on a map, in the same exact way that the bike lanes in the 2010 plan are lines on a map. In 1996 they were called “designated” and now they are called something else. In either case the 2010 plan has (way) more of these lines and more details on how to actually implement them and make physical changes.”
    >>The 2010 draft has more lines, but 9/10ths of the bike lanes say “speculative” which the city now states it won’t do until expensive time-consuming EIRs are performed.

    If we come out of this three year process with the 1996 plan, we gain nothing. All of the public’s feedback on where they want bikeways and what policies they want to see in the plan will be lost. All the input many advocates put into selecting routes and calling for implementation schedules and calling for policies and changing wording, all of this will be lost. The Backbone Bikeway Network which was developed by Bikeside and BWC folks in public meetings and is now lines on the map – that too will be lost. The 1996 Plan is the true step backwards here.
    >> I think that we’ll come out of this with a better plan – one that actually approves more facilities than 1996. If it’s not a step forward, then 1996 remains in place until there’s a better proposal on the table. We don’t need to dismantle 1996 – we need to do better than it.

    What gives you any confidence that the 50 miles of non-speculative bike lanes in the 2010 draft plan will be implemented? Why should we scale back from 190 to 50? If you don’t like 1996, why advocate scrapping it for even less in return??

    The earth is overheating. The city transportation system is broken. Why settle for a sloppy timid plan that moves us backward from an already timid 1996 plan? Better to send this draft back to Planning for more work… We can do better. LA deserves better.

  9. It seems like the bike plan needs to be rehashed every 6-8 years, instead of every 20+. Otherwise we fight over petty things like this, when all we really need is a few specific goals AND accountability.

    Anyone ever heard of a Five Year Plan? It’s how things got done behind the Soviet curtain.

    X number of bike lane miles per year by 2015, or Michelle Meow Meow gets sent to Siberia!

  10. I’d like to see an official endorsement of a Backbone Network in the Bike Plan. I was glad to see some major streets marked as future bike lanes on the maps, but implementation is pushed back until 2015.

    Residential “bicycle friendly streets” are a cute concept, but until it’s safe for workforce cyclists to ride, then you cannot possibly expect it to be safe for kids and families.

    Also, a mention of bike corrals and bike bldvs needs to be in there. These are items that can cause a major cultural shift and need to happen if LA is ever going to become livable.

  11. Thanks for this breakdown! Knowing in a synopsis where the weak points are in the plan is the first step toward providing effective input. I myself will work off these documents in providing comment to the Commission.
    This is also very valuable as a guide to evaluating other city plans and draft plans. In Beverly Hills, for example, the city is showing some interest in evolving the current 5-page bike plan – a cynical document that betrays a total lack of engagement where cycling safety is concerned. Beverly Hills of course has long been a black hole in ped/bike transportation planning on the Westside,
    These bullet points are a useful guide as we suggest improvements. And on that note, BH Transportation Commissioners just appointed three of themselves as an ad hoc bike planning working group. (Ad hoc means that they need not announce meetings nor open them to public participation.) This is not the right way to do business, as your scrutiny of the Palms Blvd. example suggests.
    Let’s hope that the ad hoc committee in BH is a first step in a participatory bike planning process that would sidestep some of the problems that emerged in Los Angeles.
    I fear, though, that it will be more of the same kind of policymaking that produced such a poor ‘bike master plan’ in the first place. This post equips us to demand better – much better – of our elected leaders.

  12. For those interested in submitting testimony but unable to appear, you can compose a succinct letter to the commission and send it by email (TODAY) to Include in your communication:
    -The agenda item (Item #10 Case No. CPC-2009-871-GPA;
    -Reference to the document (ENV-2009-2650-MND)
    -Your position on the issue vis-a-vis the substance of the matter as presented to the Commission (that’s important – see the agenda text below); and,
    -A statement of support for your position (keep it to the facts and avoid hyperbole);

    The single biggest avoidable mistake in public testimony is to talk off-topic or provide information (anecdotal or irrelevant) information to decision-makers. So keep it relevant, focused, and useful. Consider posting it elswehere for others to reference.

    Mark Elliot
    Wiki Honcho
    Better Bike Beverly Hills

    The Commissioners will decide whether to….
    1. Adopt the attached Staff Report as the Commission’s report on the subject;
    2. Adopt the attached findings;
    3. Approve and Recommend that the Mayor approve and the City Council adopt by Resolution the
    Bicycle Plan amending the Transportation Element of the General Plan.
    4. Adopt ENV-2009-2650-MND and the associated findings.
    5. Instruct the Director of Planning to make the necessary changes to the Transportation Element
    upon adoption by the City Council.
    6. Direct the Department of City Planning to file the Notice of Determination (NOD) after City Council
    approval of the project.

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