Who’s Paying to Play with Gil Cedillo?

Aside

The challenge of making North Figueroa safe for road users became more formidable when Councilman Gil Cedillo tanked bike lanes there as already planned (and funded). Why? For backstory we looked at election contributions in 2013 to see who pays-to-play with Cedillo. The answer? Real estate firms and unions. What about North Fig locals and transportation advocates? More contributions came from Beverly Hills than all three of Cedillo district’s Northeast Los Angeles zip codes.

Proof that Law Enforcement Needs Pro-Bike Training

Laura Weintraub video headshotHave you been involved in an injury collision only to find that the responding officer didn’t take your story seriously? Or that the report understated your account and you don’t recognize the basic facts of the crash? Or perhaps the officer let the offending motorist off without a citation because, well, you assume the risk of injury when you ride? Ventura County police reservist Laura Weintraub embodies the misconceptions that often make it difficult for us to get a fair shake from public safety.

Laura Weintraub selfieLaura Weintraub is not only a lifestyle blogger and body stylist (left) she’s also evidently an avowed foe of those who choose to bike. In her video ‘cup holder commentary bicyclist edition,’ she tours the suburban streets of Santa Paula in an SUV looking for riders to skewer. What’s her beef? The fashion infraction that is spandex, for one thing. Riders who deign to turn without signaling (as if drivers always signal). Or that riders move too slow for her taste.

But it hardly matters; just don’t get in her way. “Get in your friggin’ lane!” she cries about a rider on a typically wide suburban street where the bike lane unceremoniously comes to an end. At that point it’s a shared lane anyway, right? But why quibble over the fine points of traffic law or road safety.

We wouldn’t quibble because this kind of ignorance is dime-a-dozen. But this Ventura County-based fitness trainer is also an officer reservist with the City of Santa Paula. As a graduate of the Ventura County Police and Sheriff’s Reserve Officer Academy, she’s surpassed her “most physical and mental challenge to date,” she says. Some will quibble: a post to a forum on officer.com describes that training this way: “You run around, do some obstacle courses, do some pushups, stuff like that. It’s on the lower end of the difficulty spectrum.”

But the physical test is not the real challenge anyway. Rather it’s the law enforcement training on offer in this 21-week program. “The reserve academy will help you develop a law enforcement aptitude and furnish considerable police training,” the academy says. “Successful completion of the academy proves to potential law enforcement employers that you have the aptitude for police work and can endure a para-military style academy environment.”

But not all of public safety’s finest have gotten the memo. She seems under-informed about the vehicular code, for example. Here’s a reminder: it’s not only legal to ride our roads (in whatever outfit at whatever speed) on a bicycle, it’s also state policy to actually encourage it. We guess that academy graduates learn about firearms and chemical agents but perhaps don’t learn too much about the most likely kind of encounter with the public: affecting a proper and constructive attitude as a public safety official.

What a Public Safety Attitude Is Not

“I came out today hoping to film for you,” she tells her viewers, “and there’s like no bicyclists around, but I’m hoping that we’ll run over, er, run into some so that I can actually make this video for ya.” She asks her pal in the driver’s seat, “How much would I have to pay you to run one of these over?” Just give me a dollar, he replies.”I’ve got a few” she says.

Funny right? No, not so funny. “As much as I like the sun, I’m definitely moving somewhere where it snows all the time so that I don’t have to put up with these A-holes.” (Well that feeling is mutual.) And then Laura Weintraub closes her ‘cupholder commentary’ with this video still frame:

Laura Weintraub video crashAfter her commentary made the rounds, the police department’s chief disavowed her comments and put her on administrative leave. [UPDATE: The chief announced she's resigned from the reservist position. As @Rakdaddy said, "Too bad she wasn't fired."]

Time to Focus on the Fitness Business Exclusively

We support the chief’s action to put her on leave and have urged both the Police Chief and the Santa Paula Mayor and City Manager to dismiss Ms. Weintraub from reserve duty. The offense? Her less-than-constructive attitude concerning public safety and her disregard for the legitimacy of two-wheeled road users. There is no small number of cyclists who tour the Ojai Valley area, and each of them deserves the presumption of legitimacy. Not to be referred to as “A-holes.”

What’s next for this fitness trainer and public safety officer? Hopefully some quiet time to consider how her perspective makes getting a fair shake difficult for those who share the road with SUVs in suburban towns like hers. And maybe to reconsider how she presents herself.

I must say that there are 2 things I promised to never write about. Religion and politics. I will also abstain from sharing my thoughts about gun control.

Add to that too-small list the making light of running down people who choose to ride a bike for transportation, sport or pleasure. She’s taken down the original video but as news outlets picked up the story, Laura Weintraub’s hate lives on.

Santa Monica Boulevard Update

Santa-Monica-Boulevard-hazard-8If you have been eagerly awaiting a City Council decision on Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes, you may be disappointed (or perhaps heartened) to know that no decision is forthcoming soon. The item originally scheduled for last Tuesday is now rescheduled for this coming Tuesday’s study session and only provides information to Council about an upcoming traffic mitigation study. The next decision will wait until September.

So, is this extended delay good news or bad news? Time will tell. But there is no question that the timeline has indeed slipped. Council was to already have decided a conceptual design by now, with consultants working away on the engineering. (Read more about the project here.) In fact, we concluded the public input process back in January through the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee (a body created by Council) and we had expected by March to know whether bicycle lanes, say, were on offer for tomorrow’s corridor.

Bike Backbone map missing Beverly Hills piece(In the perfect world, of course, bicycle lanes would complete the regional backbone network in which Beverly Hills is a missing link, at right.)

Oh, best laid plans! As it happened, the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee did meet over four sessions concluding in January and heard from many riders that we need those bicycle lanes. In fact, the Blue Ribbon voted to both incrementally expand the corridor and to stripe class II bicycle lanes. Unfortunately the Council didn’t seem to agree, and, as problematic, the scope of the project seems to have narrowed with concerns rising about the cost. A better corridor may be out of our grasp…for decades.

So How Did We Get to This Impasse?

The Council’s discussion about the design of the boulevard was tripped up by alarming cost estimates and renewed concerns about staff management of the project. And that provided an opportunity for a small but vocal segment of the community (almost entirely located within the handful of blocks north of the corridor) to speak out against bicycle lanes at the March meeting.

Aggrieved by the Blue Ribbon outcome and enraged by the cost blowup, folks like those who are aligned with the loosely-organized Beverly Hills North Residents Association set out to mischaracterize the Blue Ribbon process and assert without evidence that state-approved class II bicycle lanes are dangerous. Yes, all the old canards came out: lanes are a hazard to riders; they create blind spots for drivers; and among the silliest of arguments, that bicycle lanes inhibit emergency vehicle access. It was all part of a cynical smokescreen and we transportation advocates called them out for it. Then just recently, a so-called Municipal League official fired his own broadside in an association newsletter.

Santa Monica Boulevard gardens trim line

Wouldn’t you trade a few feet of ragged grass for boulevard bicycle lanes?

But these folks are accustomed to having their way whatever the merit of their claims. They work not by the light of reason but by threats and efforts to intimidate that are lobbed from the shadows.

Here’s a suggestion of how detached from reality are the opponents claims: even though our consultants have steadfastly recommended against striping lanes, NIMBYS continue to call the consultants a stalking horse for the pro-bike community.

The crux of their argument: An incrementally-wider boulevard would sacrifice the historic park. Just how much wider would we need it in order to enhance multimodal mobility, precisely as our city’s plans commend us to do? Just a couple of feet on average. Today the city’s 1.8 mile segment varies between 60-63 feet and our consultants say regularizing it at 64 feet would accommodate lanes.

More, it’s difficult to take seriously the pro-preservation hyperbole. For decades the north curb face has been a mess of broken asphalt, dead grass and utility detritus. Our city has lived with irregular, blocked sidewalks and unsightly bus stops. Not to be snarky, but if we could live with those conditions for a generation, certainly we can live with a new bicycle lane too.

Besides, ‘preservation!’ is a cri de coeur that should fall flat in a city which has not cared much for it to date. Indeed when Council recently considered landmark status for the park, councilmember Krasne’s only question was, “Will this keep us from widening the boulevard?”

Next Step: Liaison Committee

Coming to Council on July 1st in study session is a simple information item: staff will, with agreement from Council, proceed to evaluate traffic mitigation options before considering design alternatives later. Here’s the meat of the staff report:

Staff report excerpt: next stepsCity Council sometimes creates liaison committees in order to work with commissions on difficult questions in a more manageable setting. For this project, Council created a Santa Monica Boulevard liaison committee that will seat Mayor Bosse and councilman Willie Brien (to date the most vocal opponent of boulevard expansion on the Council). We’ll be attending in late August or early September to keep you apprized. It’s a public meeting, so only two elected members of the Council can sit on it under the state’s Brown Act, but anyone can attend.

Whether or not the current pause in the discussion is good news depends on your perspective. Did bicycle lanes have a better chance of getting the Council’s nod early, before costs blew up and northside folks reached for the torches? Will the Loma Vista tragedies prompt a broader discussion about street safety in Beverly Hills? Would a couple more months to lower the temperature allow cooler heads to prevail? We’ll know more when we get to the liaison meeting.

In the meantime, consider the next six weeks or so your summer vacation. It’s been perfect weather for a ride on a cool breeze. But then it’s back to school, folks; not the classroom kind but the organizing kind. We’ll have to work again to enlighten our elected representatives about the real, not distorted, merits of state-approved bicycle lanes.

Misalignment of City Employee & Resident Interests

Aside

The LA Times reported that only 5% of Beverly Hills employees actually live in the city. Seems reasonable: the interests of City Hall staffers are not necessarily aligned with those of residents. And because fewer than 2% – two percent! – of recent new hires live here, that gap will widen. We agree with Mayor Mirisch: let’s ‘hire local.’

The New DUI

Aside

Forget driving while distracted! The FDA informs us that sleep aid users who fill some 55 million prescriptions annually may be taking double the needed dose, calling out Lunestra prescribing practices in particular as being 2x or more than needed. The hazard: next-day “impairment to driving skills, memory, and coordination.” Talk about a wake-up call!

Federal Transportation Bill Inches Forward

Aside

With the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee clearing a bill to reauthorize the federal transportation program, prospects for a new law – the first in seven years – inches forward. The Bike League gives it a B+ for increasing local allocations under the Transportation Alternatives Program – 2% of highways investment (that’s $820 million in 2014) for safety, non-motor transportation investment and environmental improvement. Heck, just getting a bill on to the Senate will be progress. Then we’ll wait to see what the House comes up with. It may not be pretty!

Sunday: CicLAVia Transforms Mid-City With ‘Iconic Wilshire’

Ciclavia Spring 2014

We joined thousands of riders and walkers for this year’s first CicLAvia held April 6th. The mid-city route from Fairfax to Downtown liberated for a day Wilshire Boulevard, one of the more significant public spaces in the region. This slow-roll through an historic corridor (which we recapped back in 2012) was free of cars and free of charge. That makes for the biggest spectacle since Lindsay Lohan’s repeat engagements at the Beverly Hills courthouse.  Along the way we took a walking tour of Mid-City art galleries; visited with a bike repair tent and other bike-minded folks at the Fairfax hub; had a bite to eat at the food trucks stationed at MacArthur Park, followed by a full-belly stroll around; and … Continue reading