COG Puts Bikes on Agenda

The Westside Council of Governments (COG) is a voluntary cooperative effort to exchange information and coordinate policy across the cities of West Hollywood, Culver City, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Beverly Hills. The board formed two standing committees of interest – Transportation and Sustainability – but these committees haven’t coordinated on transportation solutions at all. The Sustainability committee’s workplan identifies both greenhouse gas reduction and ‘sustainable transportation’ as work items, but bikes or cyclists appear nowhere on it.

Things may change now that the first bike-related item has made it to the COG agenda. After a February meeting of the committees, the COG appears ready to move forward with discussions concerning a ‘COG bicycle program’ at its next May 10th board meeting [agenda]. (The effort may have evolved from Better Bike Beverly Hills prodding of the COG in the Fall and Spring.)

Here’s the kicker: the ‘bicycle program’ is being framed as purely a ‘safety’ effort. From the staff report to be presented on March 10th to the COG:

COG bike statement“It was recommended that the issue not be defined as a coordinating bicycle paths/lanes and other infrastructure across jurisdictional boundaries….It was recommended that the issue be defined as ‘Bicycle Safety Awareness,’ with education being the core focus. A Bicycle Safety Awareness program could build upon existing programs, such as bicycle transit centers, or developing programs, such as bicycle training ‘campuses.’ The COG member jurisdictions could have shared messaging, such as ‘Complete Streets,’ serving pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, cars, trucks and transit riders.”

Well, the obvious problem here is restrictive scoping. By limiting the purview of the effort to safety, it takes off the table the very necessary (and COG-appropriate) task of actually coordinating bike planning in favor of awareness and messaging. What’s particularly troubling is that without including infrastructure and other key aspects of circulation such as signage, ‘safety’ becomes primarily a rider’s responsibility.

Displacing the focus from infrastructure and planning to safety education lets the COG off cheap. And it’s the meta-message that has us concerned: the COG cares more about addressing the issue than remedying the problems. That won’t produce safer streets for cyclists.

Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown highlights the limited scope in an email to supporters in which he suggests that member cities could coordinate on sidewalk-riding. Now, there is good reason to coordinate cities’ policies: while in one city it’s no offense, in another you may face a stiff fine – or even a misdemeanor. (In Beverly Hills it’s prohibited in the business district, which the LA Dot Bike Blog finds is too nebulous to define with any certainty. “Play it safe and stay on the street,” it concludes.)

But coordinating policy doesn’t address the underlying conditions that existing ordinance makes possible. Moreover, an emphasis on education highlights the responsibilities of riders instead of the responsibility of cities to create conditions to keep us safe. McKeown is a cyclist himself and he notes that we sometimes take to the sidewalk “to escape motorized mayhem.” I’m sure has the interests of our cyclist community at heart, but it seems that the bicycle program has been narrowed sufficiently to cause no member city any discomfort.

COG is missing an opportunity to encourage member cities to identify and embrace bike-friendly planning principles. If not the COG, what body then would establish some sort of a regional guidelines or at least call out those – like Beverly Hills – that haven’t gone as far as other members to ensure cyclist safety?
Perhaps the ‘awareness’ and ‘messaging’ to which the staff report refers is a pragmatic concession to reality: the COG may take no effective action to encourage all members to plan for cyclists. Then let’s call it that so we can demand that they do better.
The draft ‘Bicycle Safety Awareness’ plan could be presented at the May 20th COG meeting [info]. Show up and be heard. And don’t forget the March 10th meeting upcoming this Thursday [agenda].

Background: The COG is a $200,000+ organization that meets in even-numbered months, with the upcoming meeting on March 10th. The annual meeting comes in June. Don’t miss it!

From the Westside Cities Council of Governments preamble:

“The Westside Cities Council of Governments is an agency voluntarily established by its Members…for the purpose of enabling its Members to engage in regional and cooperative planning and coordination of government services and responsibilities so as to assist the Members in the conduct of their affairs…and [to] provide a regional organization for the review of federal, state, and regional projects and studies which involve the use of federal, state and regional funds, in various forms.” Note that it compels no action, plans or “strategies” but rather functions for “voluntary cooperation among cities for the collective benefit of cities in the Westside area.”