“We’re Almost There” – Planning Commission Continuance on Bike Plan Scheduled for 12/16

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The Planning Commission convened at 9AM ... and concluded 7 hours later.

(Update: There’s also excellent coverage of the meeting by Joe Linton on Streetsblog and by Ted Rogers at Biking in LA)

To Be Continued…

Today, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to continue their hearing on the 2010 draft LA Bike Plan until December 16th.  In a marathon session, with the Bike Plan alone taking up nearly 4 hours, the LA bicycling community still managed to turn out a large and vocal contingent to make their views heard.  Many different opinions were voiced and much ground was covered.

Topics ranged from EIR standards to the Backbone Network to the 5 Year Funding Strategy to Bicycle Friendly Streets to the culture of City departments to mountain bikes in City parks to the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights to staffing and documentation concerns; discussion covered the variegated landscape of what LA’s bicyclists hold most dear.

While the commissioners were generally positive about the Bike Plan (in closing statements, the audience was told “[it’s] a plan we like very much” and “we’re almost there”), they voted to continue the hearing on the plan until December 16th.  In the meantime, staff will work out the specifics of recent amendments and the Planning Commission will form a sub-committee to work with City staff to make sure their concerns are addressed prior to the next Planning Commission meeting.  A lot of the speakers voiced very valid concerns, and we’re glad that staff is going to be able to better address them before the next meeting of the Planning Commission.  The end result of the Planning Commission meeting is that we’ll have a better bike plan when this process is all over, and it’s hard to take issue with that.

A Long, Long Day

The Planning Commission was slated to start at 8:30 AM this morning, and LADOT Bike Blog was there bright at early with his coffee.  Well known bicycle advocates, such as Stephen Box, Joe Linton, and Gary Kavanagh, were also early risers for the start of the Planning Commission meeting.  Because the Planning Commission chose not to hear agenda items in order, no one was quite sure of when the Bike Plan would be heard.  It turned out to be last.

A Veritable Who’s Who in the Bicycle Community

In addition to the ones listed above, the 30-something attendees for the Bike Plan hearing encompassed nearly all the players in LA’s bike advocacy community.  From the LACBC came Allison Mannos, Alexis Lantz, Aurisha Smolarski, and Bobby Gadda.  From the Bicycle Advisory Committee came Joe Linton, Kent Strumpel, Jeff Jacobberger and Glenn Bailey.  Bikeside LA’s Alex Thompson was there.  Roadblock of Midnight Ridazz was also there, towering over anyone he happened to stand next to.  Herbie Huff of Meek Adjustments.  Bike planning gadfly Dennis Hindman.  Lauren Akhiam of Pacoima Beautiful.  The estimable Sergeant Krumer from LAPD’s bike unit.  Heidi Sickler from the Mayor’s Office, Jill Sourial from CM Reyes’ Office, Carol Armstrong from the Bureau of Engineering (and the LA River Revitalization team), and Gayle Haberman from the LA County Department of Public Health were also in attendance.  We’re surely leaving someone out, so feel free to chime in down in comments if you were there.

Stephen Box

Stephen Box exchanging pleasantries

12:30 Start

After items including animated scoreboards at Loyola Marymount, changes in the zoning for community-care facilities, and two separate specific plans for CRA/LA, the Planning Commission finally moved on to the Bike Plan.  Ken Bernstein, Claire Bowen, Jordann Turner and Jane Choi from City Planning presented the most recent draft along with some help from the LADOT Bike Program’s Michelle Mowery.

After some introductory remarks from Ken and Jordann, Claire got into some of the most recent changes.  In a good-faith effort to accommodate the concerns of the bicycle community, Planning adopted a number of changes to the bike plan.  Since some of these major concerns were brought to City Staff’s attention as recently as this Monday, Planning had to present the changes as an appendix to the current draft of the plan.  The major changes were:

  • Prioritizing low-income communities for new bicycle infrastructure;
  • Removing the category “potential bike lanes” and removing automatic environmental study for those bike lanes;
  • Creating a threshold for when environmental study must be completed for a bike lane project;
  • Changing the 5 Year Funding Strategy to 200 miles of on-street infrastructure over 5 years.  Bike paths would not count towards this commitment;
  • Strengthening the minimum commitment for Bicycle Friendly Streets to at least 2 physical street treatments and signage;
  • Push for modified Street Standards in the Transportation Element of the General Plan that include bike lanes;
  • Pursue a change in zoning to require bicycle parking in multi-family residential zones;
  • Create an implementation team to oversee the 5 Year Funding Strategy

Planning also announced that they had applied for a grant from the SCAG Compass Blueprint program to create a multimodal LOS system that tracks not just car traffic, but pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well.  The merits of the technical design handbook were also touted, which would give the LADOT Bike Program a much expanded toolkit for implementing new and experimental infrastructure for bicyclists.  The presentation was wrapped up by explaining that the new plan would give the City a roadmap for bicycle infrastructure, with the old days of piecemeal implementation behind us.

The Planning Commission had some preliminary questions before public comment got started:

The threshold for triggering environmental study discussed earlier was not defined.  What is Planning considering for this standard going forward?

  • It was explained that Planning would work with LADOT to create a threshold and that they would also look at the best practices of other cities.

Are there any repercussions to not moving the plan forward today?

  • It was explained that there were no repercussions other than the additional staff time need that City Planning hoped they could direct to other projects.  It was also pointed out that certain funding could not be used on new projects listed in the plan until it is adopted.
Dennis Hindman

Bicycle advocates wait their turn to speak

Public Comment:

Public comment saw more than 30 speakers and seemed to be dominated by a few themes:  EIRs, the Bikeside platform, Equestrian concerns, transparency, and guarded optimism.  While there were reports prior to the Planning Commission hearing that the bicycle community was “united” in opposition to the plan, public comment seemed to reflect a full spectrum of support and opposition.  (Ed. Note: Most of staff’s responses to public comment took place after public comment was closed.  We have provided their answers as counterpoint so you don’t have to keep scrolling up and down the page).

“Don’t let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good”

The attitude of those supporting to the Bike Plan was fairly summed up by BAC member Jeff Jacobberger, who succinctly pleaded for the commission to not “let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.  To these supporters, the plan offered enough good points (especially with the recent changes made by Planning) to offset other misgivings they may have.

While they still encouraged the Planning Commission to request changes to the plan, they didn’t think they were drastic enough to send it back to City Planning.  These speakers tended to be very supportive of beefing up the standards for Bicycle Friendly Streets, prioritizing bike lanes for low-income neighborhoods, increasing accountability for project implementation, providing enough staff to actually implement the plan, and achieving better integration of bicycle concerns into the procedures and functions of the City bureaucracy.

Joe Linton, Dennis Hindman

Joe Linton, shortly before speaking

The “Poison Pill”

Another group of speakers, most ably represented by Joe Linton, chose to focus their public comments on environmental study for bike lanes.  Summed up in his Streetsblog article, Joe opposed flagging most bike lanes for environmental study: something he characterized as the “poison pill” of the bike plan.  Speakers objecting to this designation considered environmental review unnecessary for most projects.  Requiring environmental study would make bike lane projects much slower and more expensive.  They also pointed out that bike lane projects recently installed by the LADOT Bike Program without an environmental study would require one under the new plan.

Instead, they advocated for a threshold where streets under a certain ADT would be exempt from environmental study, a system that is used in other California cities.  This seemed to dovetail nicely with Planning’s recent draft change to create a standard for environmental study on projects.  Additionally, staff pointed out that committing to environmental study didn’t necessarily mean having to go through the long and expensive EIR process.  In some cases, projects would receive a negative declaration (ND) or mitigated negative declaration (MND), which are much less expensive and time consuming than an EIR.  It should be noted, however, that a large portion of the bicycle community’s frustration with staff’s recommendations was that there is no metric in place to determine which projects needing study would automatically need an ND, MND, or EIR.  Having that kind of certainty would go a long way towards improving the transparency and goodwill.

Staff also said that they would look to bundle multiple bike lane projects together or attach them to EIRs for adjacent property development in order to get review done in a more timely and cost-effective manner.

Equestrians:

There was also a solid group of equestrians and Griffith Park Section members of the Sierra Club who opposed allowing any mountain bikes on City parks.  Even though mountain biking is currently illegal on dirt paths in the City and the bike plan calls only for a study where mountain biking trails could go, this group was very single-minded in demanding that any reference to mountain biking be removed from the plan.

Transparency:

Another group in public comment stressed the need for more transparency from the departments involved.  Specifically, Roadblock requested the Bureau of Street Services make their resurfacing schedule available online for everyone to see. He also proposed prioritizing the resurfacing schedule towards streets in the bike plan so that bike lanes can be installed at a significantly lower cost.

Herbie Huff of Meek Adjustments also followed the transparency trend, asking City staff to turn over the documents Alta Planning generated prior to the release of the 2009 draft LA Bike Plan.  She claimed that the designation of certain bike lanes as needing environmental review stemmed from the Alta documents and that the bike community deserved to know what they said.

Alex Thompson waits his turn

Alex Thompson waits to speak

Bikeside Platform:

One of the more prevalent themes among speakers was a platform endorsed by Stephen Box and Alex Thompson.  The major topics covered were the Backbone Network, the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, and the Complete Streets Act.  Other sentiments, like having the plan explicitly state that all streets in LA are for bicyclists or changing the term “Bicycle Friendly Street” to “Bicycle Boulevard”, were also voiced.  Most of these speakers urged the Planning Commission to “reject” the plan and to direct staff to start the planning process over in full collaboration with the bicycle community.

Although the Citywide Bikeway Network (CBN) in the draft bike plan borrowed heavily from the Backbone Network (BBN), Bikesiders wanted a full adoption of their Network.  More than just a facilities network, they stressed that it also represented creating connections across departments in the City.  When asked by City staff how the the CBN matched up the BBN, they responded that the two networks are about 80% the same, differences were due to existing bicycle infrastructure, and that the CBN has more mileage than the BBN.

While multiple parts of the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights are adopted in the bike plan, again City Staff chose not to adopt it entirely.  They claimed that some of the rights listed (like free speech and assembly) are already guaranteed under the U.S. constitution, while other rights (like limitless access to mass transit) are outside of City of Los Angeles authority (Metro being a county, not a city, organization).

Bikesiders also claimed that the plan needed to be in full compliance with the Complete Streets Act, state law effective January 1, 2011.  While City staff pointed out that the plan does contain language pertaining to the Complete Streets Act, the bike plan, being an uni-modal aspect of a multi-modal transportation element, is not equipped to tackle the Complete Streets Act on its own and will not violate the statute if passed.

In terms of working with the bicycle community, City staff reported that they received thousands of comments on the bike plan since they began the process in 2008 and they have repeatedly worked directly with advocacy organizations to improve the plan.  They also conducted a series of public hearings and webinars to get community input on the plan.  (If we may editorialize for a moment, we find it somewhat odd that many of the people claiming staff didn’t work enough with the community failed to show up at any of the most recent public hearings.)

Deliberations

Following the completion of public comment, the Planning Commission further questioned staff about the concerns raised by the speakers.  After staff provided their answers to the Planning Commission, the commissioners compiled a list of issues they would like to see further fleshed out.  Specifically, they were:

  • Clarification on the EIR standards for bike lane projects
  • Street standards
  • Oversight of implementation
  • Mountain bikers
  • Maximizing funding for staff and projects
  • How, exactly, will low-income neighborhoods be prioritized for new projects
  • Initiating culture change in the City departments
  • How the plan relates to the Complete Streets Act

Next Steps

Overall, most commissioners seemed pretty pleased with the shape the plan is in.  They constantly thanked City staff for all the time and effort they had put into the plan.  It was “a plan we like very much” and that “we’re almost there” on a plan that’s ready for the City.  The next step for the plan is for City staff to work with the bicycling community and a sub-committee of the Planning Commission on finalizing the language of the recent changes made to the plan.  The plan will be heard before the Planning Commission again on December 16th in the Valley.  If passed, the plan will likely move on to the Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee before moving on to City Council.

Final Thoughts

Although the day was full of stress and frustration on all sides, LADOT Bike Blog is quite pleased with the end result.  The public was heard, the plan will be improved, and it will most likely move through the Planning Commission at the next meeting.  Again, we keep coming back to what Jeff Jacobberger said “don’t the let perfect get in the way of the good”; no plan is ever perfect and no one person will ever be 100% happy with a plan.  Plans always have to balance the needs and desires of myriad parties while also trying to be realistic about how much of the plan can be carried out.  Don’t be discouraged that you didn’t get exactly what you want; be encouraged that the end product is going to be a good one.  When it’s all said and done, the real test of plan is whether it makes life better.  We think the draft bike plan will do that.

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