The Los Angeles Bike Plan finally goes to City Council today [PDF agenda] nearly two years after the update process kicked off. A new plan was long in the making; the previous plan was adopted more than twenty years ago and largely never implemented. So when the city embarked on the update, the cycling community had reason to be wary. They suspected a process that would be window-dressed to appear inclusive and a draft plan that only tipped the hat to bike planning innovations.
And they were right. The update process was roundly criticized for its lack of inclusion and the first draft disparaged by bike advocates for picking up on few of the out-of-the-box practices that were already in use elsewhere. Advocates could, and did, point to Long Beach as a leader in laying down lanes, and for city-supported facilities such as bike stations.
Under the scrutiny of a handful of very committed bike activists who took the struggle for a better bike plan to City Council, and to the streets with a remarkable display of DIY bike planning, the Department of Transportation evolved both the process and the draft. The department even runs a very respectable LA DOT Bike Blog and has been responsive to input from the cycling community.
But it also meant that the department had to return to the drawing board, which extended the update process to much criticism. As it dragged on, more cities took the lead. New York rolled out an ambitious bike lane program that included many miles of lanes and truly groundbreaking (to this New Yorker) efforts like closing a street in Times Square to traffic. (That city also implemented new policies that allowed riders to bring bikes into buildings – eliminating bike security as a key riders’ concern.) Cyclists pointed out that Portland has experimented with unmistakable, green ‘bike boxes’ that allow cyclists a priority position at the head of ALL traffic lanes at an intersection. Not for nothing, advocates said, did Portland lead the nation in the percentage of trips undertaken by bike (about 5%).
By the metric of getting folks on bikes, Los Angeles has failed. It trails nearly every big city in the United States (at less than 1%) and was put to shame by some European cities that encouraged and protected cyclists and which were rewarded by removing that many more cars from the roadway.
By the metric of infrastructure, the city comes up short too. And largely that’s due to past inaction. A bike plan backed by little political will for implementation. Budget pressures that continually tamp down expectations for cycling facilities or programs. And of course a lack of vision. In sum, it was the longtime retrograde posture by officials in Los Angeles that left the city trailing, and which, against past inaction as in relief, the new plan is a pleasant surprise.
If you can’t attend today’s joint Transportation Committee – Planning and Land Use Management Committee meeting, where backs will be slapped for a job fairly well done, you can listen in via the city’s councilphone site or call in to (213) 621-CITY. We’ll provide an update on the joint committees meeting after we digest the podcast!