BPIT 5/3/11 Agenda: Biting the Bullet on Environmental Review

(Ed. Note: I, Christopher Kidd, will be taking the Comprehensive Exam for my masters’ program at USC all of this week and into the next week. As such, I will not be available to respond on the LADOT Bike Blog until “The Comp” is over.  I’m not ignoring you, I swear.)

(Quick update: The original agenda shared here mistakenly had May 5th as the BPIT meeting date. It’s been corrected to say May 3rd.)

The next BPIT meeting on May 3rd is fast approaching, and some significant changes are in the air. Here’s the agenda. There will be project updates for the BPIT to hear (such as 7th Street, Venice Boulevard, and the streets around NBC/Universal and further discussion about programs listed in the Bike Plan), but the big news comes with the innocuous-sounding title of “Package 1”.

“Package 1” means a lot of things, but it can be summed up as this: The City is earnestly and seriously taking responsibility for implementing the Bike Plan. Package 1 includes Bike lanes in Priority 1 of the 5 Year Implementation Strategy and the projects around NBC Universal expansion that require environmental review.

Package 1

In meetings this month with myriad City departments, it was determined that the street reconfigurations required for many of the bike lane projects in the 5 Year Implementation Strategy would trigger the thresholds in the City’s CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) guidelines for environmental review. Most of these thresholds center around traffic impacts as a result of potential travel lane removal or parking removal.

Taking Responsibility

Rather than kick the can down the road to a later date, the City is going to bite the bullet right now. “Package 1” will be the first of five packages which will give environmental clearance to every bike lane project needing review in the 5 Year Implementation Strategy. Many of the bike lanes in the 1996 Bike Plan were listed as “experimental corridors”, meaning that they too would have needed environmental review before implementation. Needless to say, almost none of them were built, with lack of environmental clearance as one of their biggest stumbling blocks.

“Packaging” for Environmental Review

On the advice of the City Attorney, the City will “package” together most of the projects from Priority 1 and the projects from the NBC Universal expansion. The City will be able to save a large amount of time and money by placing all of the projects in a single bundle rather than reviewing them individually. Some projects–due to their impacts–will require a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), some may only require a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). The City will only know for certain after an Environmental Assessment is conducted. As such, the sooner the City starts, the better.

Drawbacks

The downside, of course, is that an EIR usually takes 12 – 18 months to complete. We understand that even more indefinite waiting for most of the bike lanes in the first year isn’t exactly ideal. However, environmental clearance will ensure that projects can withstand legal challenges down the road.

Bright Spots

Despite this less-than-sterling news, there are some benefits that go along with this approach. Environmental review comes with strong requirements for public notice and taking comments on projects under review. The City plans to conduct community outreach to gather buy-in for upcoming projects in tandem with the review process.

The City is also gearing up to send these “Packages” out for review as quickly as possible: the BPIT will soon discuss which projects from Priority 2 will be a part of  “Package 2” in order to prepare for the next round of environmental review. The hope is to begin review on Package 2 projects in a few months, and to begin review on Package 3 a few months after that.

Finally, there are still projects in the Bike Plan that don’t trigger the CEQA thresholds for environmental review. This means that the City and the BPIT will still be able to work on implementing Bicycle Friendly Streets and bike lane projects with low impacts (like 7th Street) while Package 1 is being reviewed.

Still Much to be Done

The contents of “Package 1” are still not set, and there are still some hurdles left to clear before it can be sent out for environmental review. The input of the LA bike community will be essential for completing this work. The best place for you to make that input heard is at the BPIT meeting (May 3rd, 2:00 PM, City Hall Room 721) or on the LADOT Bike Blog.

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