With Friends Like These. . .

The road surface on Fourth Street, battered by speeding SUVs

It is an old truism that false friends can do you more harm than an honest enemy, and that is certainly illustrated right here in Los Angeles, in Council District 4. We have an avowed cyclist, Tom LaBonge, as council member—but what do we have to show for it on the ground?

Not much.

I’ve ridden with LaBonge many times over the decades, beginning when he was former Mayor Richard Riordan’s protegé. I believe LaBonge does love to ride—his way: recreational rides with a police escort clearing the roads at taxpayer expense. That’s not an option available to the rest of us, nor is it a paradigm that will help bring Los Angeles into a cleaner, more efficient, and more prosperous future.

Bicycling—urban transportational bicycling along a well-appointed network of bikeways, where you don’t need a police escort to feel safe—has been demonstrated again and again to clear the air, smooth traffic, improve public health, and boost local retail.

In some dim way LaBonge understands some of this; he actually did support bike lanes along Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake—a whole mile of them, and, I suspect, only because they were the standard mechanism for implementing a road diet and cutting deadly car speeds. He jumped on that bandwagon after a pedestrian was killed while trying to cross the street.

He likewise is said to support a road diet along the stretch of 6th Street through the Miracle Mile—again, because a pedestrian died. (Cyclist deaths don’t seem to touch his soul much—though cyclist votes do, and pleas for them are a regular component of his heavily-guarded bike rides.)

But these bike lanes don’t connect to anything else; they do nothing to provide a safe and comfortable network for the 8-to-80 riders that otherwise are occupying tiny spaces in the big cars clogging LA’s boulevards.

When it has come to several significant pieces of real bicycle infrastructure, LaBonge has stood firmly against them—as long as someone with money opposed it first.

One of my first involvements in bike planning was the Fourth Street Neighborhood Greenway (called by the insufficiently-descriptive term “Bicycle Friendly Street” in LADOT documents)—a proposal that LaBonge originally supported. After a singularly graceless presentation by that selfsame LADOT raised the hackles of a small group of nervous residents, they went running to LaBonge to complain. LaBonge convened a meeting or two (which I attended), where, ironically, the same residents complained about the cut-through traffic that the Neighborhood Greenway’s features would have filtered out! They had gotten the entirely incorrect impression that cars might be banned from Fourth Street—something that was never even dreamed of, let alone considered. Did LaBonge bother to correct their misapprehension?

No. He went straight into pander mode, and turned a win-win project into a lose-lose proposition. The city’s cyclists have lost a clean, safe, and charming route to the west (which more cyclists than drivers use anyway, in spite of Fourth’s potholes), and the neighborhood has kept its shattered road surface (which would have been repaved for the greenway) and its speeding cut-through drivers, which give Fourth an outsized proportion of accidents for such a lightly-traveled street.

Presently, LaBonge is still fighting against bike lanes on North Hollywood’s Lankershim Boulevard. His blithe suggestion is to route cyclists along Vineland, a purely residential street, when the rationale for Lankershim is that cyclists, like anybody else, want access to the shops, offices, and restaurants along the boulevard, where they will make and spend money. Apparently flushing cars through NoHo as fast as possible is more important to LaBonge and his misguided constituents that making cars less necessary along that street (served also by a major Red Line subway stop) and boosting the area’s retail and restaurant trade.

And now we have the Glendale/Hyperion bridge remake. This bridge is on the list of facilities to receive bike lanes in the 2010 Bicycle Master Plan the community fought so hard to achieve. But the latest plans for the bridge not only don’t include bike lanes, they remove one of the current sidewalks, and they reconfigure the bridge as a mini-freeway that will feed thundering traffic down into the presently (but not for long) walkable shopping streets of Glendale Boulevard in Atwater and Hyperion in Silver Lake. It is almost certain that the crash rates at Glenhurst and Rowena (yes, that same Rowena) will rise as the newly sped-up traffic careens down the hump from the bridge’s apex towards them.

All for the sake of pandering to cut-through drivers. Really, why are cyclists a “special interest,” and not cut-through drivers who whine to retain the privilege of speeding through residential neighborhoods and shopping streets? Because drivers are too lazy to detour slightly to the vast, expensive network of car-only roads known as freeways, reserved just for them?

LaBonge also voted for the de-greening of the Spring Street bike lane, in response to the whining of the film production community.

LaBonge works a crowd better than anyone else I’ve ever seen, schmoozes with sublime grace, and wedges himself into every photo opportunity he can find, even in other council members’ districts…even for announcements of bicycle infrastructure. Hey, he was there, in his brightly-colored camera-catching sweater, for the announcement of the Seventh Street road diet!

Yes, he looks like us, and he talks like us, but “Uncle Tom” Labonge serves other masters: the big developers and wealthy self-appointed elites of the city who want to keep the streets their private playgrounds. The election to replace him (he is “termed out”) isn’t scheduled until 2015, so we have time to think long and hard about whom to vote for—and there are five candidates running already. Including LaBonge’s chief of staff, Carolyn Ramsay, who will no doubt be the anointed successor.

Maybe we should even think about running one of our own, someone truly supportive of urban cycling, walkable neighborhoods, and local small businesses.

Are you out there? Show yourself and get our vote!

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5 Comments

  1. Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Oh, my…Tom LaBonge has shafted LA’s cyclists so often that I actually left one casually nasty slapdown from the list in the above article: he spearheaded he removal of thirty-three bike racks from Larchmont Village. Racks that were being used almost all day every day!

    Read about it here:
    http://flyingpigeon-la.com/2013/09/larchmont-revisited/

  2. Aaron
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I’d love to see Tomas O’Grady throw his hat back in the ring. He ran against Labonge in 2011, even earning the LA Times endorsement. He’s got a great record on schools and the environment, and he’s shown great leadership in providing great alternatives to the Hyperion “freeway” project.

  3. David Galvan
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Just a slight jab at your opener:

    ” I believe LaBonge does love to ride—his way: recreational rides with a police escort clearing the roads at taxpayer expense. That’s not an option available to the rest of us, nor is it a paradigm that will help bring Los Angeles into a cleaner, more efficient, and more prosperous future.”

    So. . . we should cancel Ciclavia, then?

  4. Posted October 29, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    David G. that’s a false parallel. CicLAvia–which I supported before it even existed–shows how effective cycling is, socially and economically and in moving people around a city, when street space is dedicated to it. The cops at CicLAvia are just there for crowd control and in case riders get rowdy.

    LaBonge’s rides present cycling as a dangerous activity not to be undertaken for everyday travel, and not deserving of dedicated space.

    Sure LaBonge supported CicLAvia–he’s always been willing ot talk up bicycling when it’s popular. But when you’re trying to create a comprehensive network for everyday travel…I don’t think we can count on him. See the many examples I listed above…and I didn’t list them all.

  5. Posted April 4, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

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2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Rick Risemberg joins about a hundred other riders to plead for bike lanes on Lankershim Blvd, and calls out “Uncle Tom” LaBonge for betraying the bicyclists he claims to support. The Eagle Rock community celebrates the new […]

  2. By Streetsblog Los Angeles » Today’s Headlines on October 29, 2013 at 9:45 am

    […] More and More Cyclists Naming Tom LaBonge by Name As Obstacle to Progress (Orange 20, Flying Pigeon) […]

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