Interview with New BAC Chair Jay Slater

I had the great pleasure last week of getting to speak with Jay Slater, the newly elected Chair of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC).  In February, during the BAC’s previous meeting, the BAC held their bi-annual election and voted in Jay as their new Chair.

The BAC has their next meeting this coming Tuesday night, at 7 PM, at Hollywood City Hall.  As always, BAC meetings are open to the public.  You can read the BAC agenda here, as well as the Bike Program and Bikeways Engineering reports submitted to the BAC.

In the speech he gave prior to the election, Jay emphasized the shortcomings of the BAC in years past and proposed a model of what the BAC needs to become in the future.  Below the fold Jay and I discuss what he plans for the BAC, the importance of getting the new adopted LA Bike Plan done right, his campaign to create a BAC liaison program, and his efforts to raise the profile of the BAC and their online visibility.

LA Bike Plan Celebration 035

Newly elected LA BAC Chair Jay Slater speaking at the LA Bike Plan adoption celebration last month


Christopher Kidd:
Jay, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.  Congratulations on your election to the Chair of the BAC.  To start off, you had spoken prior to your election about the need to make the BAC into a relevant body again.  Could you elaborate on that, and how you see the BAC addressing this?

Jay Slater:
Sure.  I have an ambitious vision for my term as Chair to create a new role for the Bicycle Advisory Committee.  My primary focus over the next two years is to raise the profile of the BAC so that whenever a project occurs, whether it involves the LA Bike Plan or any other issue that could impact bicyclists in LA, people will immediately say “we need to get the BAC involved”.  One of the ways we can accomplish this is to make the BAC one of the primary sources of expertise and capability in implementing the new LA Bike Plan.  We’ll do this by designating BAC members as liaisons to specific departments and agencies that impact bicycling in LA.  If I can achieve all this in two years, I’ll feel pretty successful.

Christopher Kidd:
You mention the new LA Bike Plan a lot.  Is that your primary focus with the BAC?

Jay Slater:
I have to say, right off the bat, that I will not watch another bike plan go by without implementation.  Everything we’re doing at the BAC is about making sure that the new bike plan gets built out and gets built safely.  Los Angeles had two great bike plans in the 1977 backbone bike plan and the 1996 bike plan.  They both had great visions for the City, but neither of them got built.  We’re not going to sit by, after all the years of hard work that everyone has put into it, and let this plan fail like in years past.

Christopher Kidd:
What are some changes you envision for the BAC to help them become a central force in implementing the LA Bike Plan?  You had mentioned earlier the idea of “liaisons” for government departments and agencies.  Could you elaborate further on that?

Jay Slater:
The liaison program is something that we’re going to introduce at the April BAC meeting and I’ve already sent around a document to all the BAC members outlining the liaison role.

I envision two distinct roles for each BAC member.  First, each BAC member is supposed to represent all things related to bicycling in the council district from which they’ve been appointed.    We need to be well informed and closely involved with our council person & council staff, with homeowners’ associations, with chambers of commerce, and with Neighborhood Councils.  Each of us are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between City departments, the bicycling community, and the communities in their districts.  We can have a large impact on what projects get prioritized and when they get built.

But BAC members will be taking on a second role with the liaison program.  There are a number of departments and agencies which impact bicyclists, and issues that are important to bicyclists, in Los Angeles that the BAC should be working with directly.  We’ve so far identified 11 different departments and agencies that will have a BAC member assigned to work with them on bicycle-related projects.  This BAC liaison will also become versed in how their assigned department works and how they can help projects get built.  The BAC will be able to help troubleshoot projects and become an authoritative source of knowledge for bicyclists in Los Angeles.

I’ve worked closely with Interim LADOT GM Amir Sedadi, City Planning’s Claire Bowen, Bike Planning & Outreach’s Michelle Mowery, Bikeways Engineering’s Paul Meshkin, and many City Council representatives in designing the liaison program.  Everyone I’ve spoken with at the City has been really receptive towards the liaison program and see it as a really great opportunity to improve how things are done.

Christopher Kidd:
Do you see this liaison program working closely with the Bike Plan Implementation Team?

Jay Slater:
Exactly.  We’re going to have one liaison specifically for the BPIT, but we may bring in others depending on the meeting.  We’ll obviously want to bring in the BAC member in whose district the project is proposed, but the BAC will also want to bring in liaisons for any other department or agency that may need to be involved – like Caltrans or the Bureau of Street Services.

Christopher Kidd:
One common criticism of the BAC I’ve heard in the past from the bike community is that they never know what the BAC is doing.  Are you going to address the BAC’s lack of publicity as BAC Chair?

Jay Slater:
I’m certainly going to try to raise the profile of the BAC, but only so far as it improves our effectiveness in getting the LA Bike Plan built.  Publicity for publicity’s sake isn’t a priority for the BAC.  The role of the BAC is doing the gruntwork of bike planning and implementation; the way that we get publicity is by doing a good job.

I do admit that we’ve had trouble in getting information out to people in the past.  Right now we’re relying on other blogs, like yours and Biking in LA, to do our outreach for us.  In the coming months the BAC will be working on setting up our own website to get information out to the bicycling public.  We’re going to post our agendas, our minutes, the reports that City departments submit to us, and provide other useful information for bicyclists in Los Angeles.

Christopher Kidd:
Another complaint I’ve heard is that BAC meetings aren’t held often enough (the BAC meets every two months), and that it’s hard for the BAC to have an impact when it meets so infrequently.  Are you planning to change this as Chair?

Jay Slater:
First of all, I’m a big believer in democracy.  Since the BAC is made up of 19 members, they get to vote on whether they want to meet more regularly.  I won’t ever try to force my ideas on other people and I will abide by the full BAC’s decisions.

Part of what I envision for the liaison program is that BAC members will get to be more intimately involved in government functions outside of BAC meetings.  Too often in the past, departments would submit reports of what they already did in the two months since the last BAC meeting and the BAC wouldn’t be able to exert much control over the process.  But when a liaison works closely with each department, the BAC will be a part of the process before the report gets to the full BAC every two months.

Christopher Kidd:
Jay, thank you for speaking with me.  Best of luck as BAC Chair and I’ll see you on Tuesday night.

Jay Slater:
Thanks.  And don’t forget: The BAC meets this Tuesday night at 7PM at Hollywood City Hall and it is open to the public.

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