Pity the poor motorist. At the Westwood Recreation Center tonight, we learned that the eastbound Wilshire on-ramp to the northbound I-405 would close for (count ’em!) 90 days. For 405-proximate residents west of UCLA there was plenty of pain too. They learned that the convenient Montana ramps would go away forever. What of our fate, dear cyclists? Metro had little to offer us too.
We attended this meeting because we wanted to ask Metro and Caltrans why there have been no safety provisions provided to those who ride a bicycle under the 405 in the years that this $1-billion project has been underway. We wanted to know, for example, why Caltrans tolerates poor conditions for cyclists despite that agency’s Deputy Directive DD-64-R1. It is a policy guidance document that goes into considerable detail about how to provide for cyclist safety at every step of a project like this one.
While we received few answers, we did gain a new understanding about the purpose of this meeting: it’s not about communication but rather an opportunity for Metro to season the new ranks. A trial-by-fire in front of a hostile audience, as it were, that gives newer hands some necessary experience with a PowerPoint while witnessing more experienced hands handle the blowback. The tyros will have their own hazing at a future meeting so it’s best to be prepared.
So here is the junior communications rep with standard PowerPoint in hand. Immediately following in act II is Kasey Shuda, an experienced community relations staffer who knows how to deflect the catcalls. And last we have the usual suspects: aggrieved parties stirring in their folding chairs fruitlessly seeking some salve for their wounds.
Good luck with that. These meetings are in effect a staged draft environmental impact report complete with live-action comment-and-response. It’s environmental kabuki theater, if you like. Still we played our part, always naive, because we wanted some answers about rider safety.
Now, we’ve read Deputy Directive DD-64-R1. We know that Caltrans (a partner agency on this project) has a “duty to provide for the safety and mobility needs” of all road users and that employees must “maximize safety and mobility for all users in all transportation products and activities…through each project’s life cycle.” In fact, the Chief Deputy Director’s responsibility is to make sure that Caltrans managers are “trained to provide for the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users.” Could it be more clear? More from DD-64-R1:
Here are a few more requirements from DD-64-R1. None have found their way into this I-405 project, by the way:
- Deputy Directors: “Provide tools and establish processes to identify and address the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users early and continuously throughout planning and project development activities” and “ensure regular maintenance and operations activities meet the safety and mobility needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in construction and maintenance work zones….”
- District Directors: “Ensure bicycle, pedestrian, and transit needs are identified in district system planning products; addressed during project initiation; and that projects are designed, constructed, operated, and maintained using current standards.”
- Deputy District Directors: “Ensure bicycle, pedestrian, and transit user needs are addressed and deficiencies identified during system and corridor planning, project initiation, scoping, and programming”; “Ensure projects are planned, designed, constructed, operated, and maintained consistent with project type and funding program to provide for the safety and mobility needs of all users with legal access to a transportation facility”; and “Implement current design standards that meet the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in design, construction and maintenance work zones, encroachment permit work, and in system operations.”
- Construction Project Management Chief: “Provide[s] guidance on project design, operation, and maintenance of work zones to safely accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users”; “Ensure[s] the transportation system and facilities are planned, constructed, operated, and maintained consistent with project type and funding program to maximize safety and mobility for all users with legal access”; and “Promote[s] and incorporate[s], on an ongoing basis, guidance, procedures, and product reviews that maximize bicycle, pedestrian, and transit safety and mobility.”
With DD-64-R1 in mind we wanted to know what we could expect as the I-405 project goes forward. Who is responsible, for example, for the faded striping, dearth of bicycle lanes and zero safety signage around conflict points at Pico, Olympic, Ohio or Wilshire? To whom do we turn for improvements? Is it Metro, Caltrans or LA DOT or all of them?
Metro Rivals the State Department for Non-Answer Answers
Frankly, we didn’t expect much. Heck, we’d be disingenuous if we didn’t admit that the real reason we attended tonight was to listen to non-answers. There’s a certain finesse that’s required, after all. Like sleight-of-hand. Yet still we were nonplussed when Metro Construction Relations manager Kasey Shuda responded to present-day safety-related construction concerns with a well-meaning suggestion that we “get involved early in the process” if we’re to suggest bike-friendly improvements; and that we should “read the EIR” because that’s where we could have commented on the project.
We appreciate those pro-tips but, you know, cyclists did get involved very early with specific suggestions and we did comment on the project’s draft EIR. So thanks for that.
But what of these dangerous conditions? Kasey said we should take our complaints to LA DOT, which has jurisdiction over these problem intersections. Even though it’s a Metro lead-agency project? We asked, “If I call DOT tomorrow, won’t they just send me back to Metro?” Casey replied, “Sure they will.” OK then!
There was one revealing aspect of her reply, however. After enumerating a list of problems like faded striping, a lack of shared-road signs and a dearth of bike lanes through chaotic intersections, we also noted that a sand-bucket bollard has blocked part of the only Class II bike lane on any segment (on the eastbound side of Ohio). To that problem – and that problem alone – Kasey said, “We’ll see if we can address that.” All those other issues? Forget about it!
We Must Demand More from Metro
While there is some pleasure in having our cynical expectations confirmed like that, we’re particularly dispirited that cyclists seem to be simply kicked to the curb on safety issues. And not just at this meeting but going back all the way to the project’s inception.
We leafed through twenty-five Metro community presentations going back to 2009 and found exactly one slide that addresses riders’ needs and it is from August 2010. At these community meetings, where the focus is on motorists and neighbors, we riders go entirely unmentioned as a stakeholder group.
You’d think that those who choose to ride a bicycle rather than add another car to the Carmageddon mix would be celebrated by Metro. After all, their slogan says, ‘Plan ahead, adjust your travel times, share the ride.’ Taking to the saddle is very much in the spirit of accommodating to Metro’s concerns, but Metro does scant accommodating to ours.
To leaven the pain, we’ll leave you with this little bit of Metro goodness for a laugh:
Metro and Caltrans, in collaboration with the City of Los Angeles, are partners for this project with a shared perspective for success. The combined expertise of these agencies, with Metro as the contracting entity and Caltrans providing technical review, is structured for optimum performance and earliest possible delivery of a completed project.
We’re not through trying to improve I-405 crossing conditions. We’ll keep you updated as we track down the responsible agency to pinpoint exactly who bears responsibility for our safety. But do temper your expectations: cyclists don’t have much place in Metro’s vision for the I-405 corridor.