If you didn’t get a chance to attend today’s Westside COG meeting (and I know you didn’t because Better Bike was the only stakeholder in the house) you really missed a special meeting. Not because the COG made any substantive progress on pro-bike planning (it didn’t), or because they broke any new policy ground (ditto), but because you missed one heck of an all-you-can-eat lunch at the Veterans Administration! Poached Salmon, stuffed chicken, and all the sides; fresh spinach with diced red union, bacon, and egg; and a mouth-watering dessert table. Gratis. If this is the grunt’s MRE fare, why then I’m ready to enlist! Maybe the star treatment today is because the County (host to today’s bi-monthly COG board meeting) is fighting DC to keep the VA property off the auction block and want’s some local government love?On today’s bike agenda was a staff update concerning the COG’s largely staff-driven bike coordination effort (read more in the report to the board - PDF). ‘Staff-driven’ in practical terms that the COG’s only staffer spins this particular plate while keeping other plates spinning too. The COG board itself just gets the updates…And asks for little more.
For the bike advocate, there’s not much promise here. With the board only putatively behind it, the destination is clear. And with one person short of a tandem stoking the effort, progress is slow. One can’t expect miracles, and on this score the COG does deliver: no bike planning miracles are performed.
Terrain already covered: this spring the COG kicked off an initiative to coordinate bike safety awareness across the Westside, and invited cycling advocates to meet with the staffer. We talked ordinances, signage, gaps in bike networks between cities, etc. Voluminous input was distilled to two proposals: linkage gaps and safety awareness. Let’s call it a focused agenda.
From those meetings a ‘gap map’ is being prepared. Deliverables besides the map include a lot of language about policy and practices coordination, but nothing concrete that improves the cycling experience. (See the staff report.)
From today’s meeting we learned not only is the initiative too nebulous at this stage to begin to think about what implementation would look like, but any kind of outcome is so contingent:
- Gaps filled if there’s agreement by member cities on the gaps;
- Gaps identified if there’s a map;
- A map that’s contingent whether an intern can be hired;
- Intern hiring contingent on COG approving funding;
- Funding contingent on the COG nod to authorize a proposal.
At this meeting the COG took the initial step of giving the OK to the proposal. We’ve got a long way to go. (Watch for our substantive take on the process in an upcoming letter to COG posted on Better Bike.)
Beyond the proverbial ‘free lunch,’ a few things did make this meeting interesting:
LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl may be our region’s most prominent pro-bike voice. He hailed LA’s bike planning progress and noted (to blank stares) that 200 miles of bike lane will be laid. He said his city just shepherded an anti-harassment ordinance through Council and urged other COG cities to do so too. Then he spoke like a kid about his recent experience on a bike – his first time in 30 years – and urged his colleagues to try it too. The response was nothing but room tone, suggesting he might be a solo rider.
Next, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky hailed ‘Carmageddon’ for scaring Angelenos away from normal weekend activities by offering eye-opening drops in crime in addition to empty streets. To nods he said in delight,
“The absence of cars – you had birds chirping, kids playing…people loved it!…In eleven months it all happens again!”
Without the “constant drone” of cars, he added, the city seemed to come alive.
Indeed! Yet the Supervisor was silent for the bike discussion. He seems to not connect the obvious dots to link, silence, bird chirping, and kids playing to the broader effort to get people out of cars. The “drone” of traffic has a fix: reducing traffic by discouraging auto use.
Why cry wolf about ‘carmageddon’ when policymakers can simply enact policies and provide incentives to get people on a bike? Our Supervisor seems to think that ‘carmageddon’ is the better answer.
But the most eye-opening moment concerned process, not anecdotes. COG staffer Maria Rychlicki introduced the bike agenda item by begging support from the COG board. (That is, support for exploring an opportunity to fund an intern to develop a map for an initiative already abbreviated to fit a narrowed agenda.) Maria wheedled support from the thusly:
“It’s with some regret that I ask that staff develop a proposal for an intern on an intern’s salary to get the map finalized…We look for your support to authorize staff to come back to you for a few thousand dollars – hoping that we’re looking at less than $5,000 – and we won’t do anything until we bring it back to you.”
What rankles is the low-balling of anything that benefits the cycling community. Not only in this COG, but in Beverly Hills too, where mention of the need for some $200 bike racks triggers a reflexive response like “That’s money….”
Well, ‘money’ is a city parking fund that’s more than $2 million in the hole for accommodating motorists and encouraging more driving. ‘Money’ is plowing tens of thousands of dollars per space at our more than a dozen parking structures… and then give away that parking for free. ‘Money’ is $130,000 per year, cash-on-barrel, to a fancy hotel so that they can pay minimum wage to gardeners to maintain the adjacent park built for them by the taxpayers. That’s money.
We cyclists are legitimate road users entitled to safe travel on public thoroughfares, but that’s a difficult message to get across to people in nice suits dining on Salmon and spinach. When COG funding for transportation planning amounts to about what the COG will pay for printing and postage, I think we can call that low-balling the effort.
Here’s another anecdote. Bill Rosendahl had earlier urged others in the COG “leadership” to show some bike mojo in their own cities. First to speak up was our own Beverly Hills Councilman Willie Brien, a physician who probably knows something about the health benefit of active transportation. In response to Rosendahl’s plea for bike infrastructure, he quipped, “My biggest fear is getting the bill!”
For $200 bike racks? For decals applied to existing racks? The latter is the extent to date of new bike accommodations in Beverly Hills. A cyclist knocking on the door of city hall is like the Dickens character begging gruel: “Please sir, can I have some more?”
The COG next meets in September when they’ll again have an opportunity to mull the merits of funding an infrastructure map. That’s before someday deciding on whether to actually deliver on the intangible deliverables outlined in the staff report. Stay tuned!