Power to the People

Atrium, CalTrans Building
In the CalTrans Building
Yesterday, I made my regular run to South Pasadena (where I chanced upon Pigeon mechanic John on a break from assembling Christiana cargo trikes), then wandered down Figueroa to downtown for a meeting of the Bike Plan Implementation Team, aka BPIT. (And hey, where were you? You were invited!)

It’s always a pleasure to stroll the Art Deco spaces of City Hall amid a warmth of brass and wood and the intricate filigree of a building made to please the eye and soothe the soul.

Today I rolled back into downtown to wander a cold maze of cubicles in the ultramodern CalTrans building that squats like a giant robot over First Street, and where LADOT hunkers down at keyboards and drafting tables. Though superficially similar activities take place in either building, the atmospheres are strikingly different.

City Hall, home of the Planning Department, is where we (collectively, and often through our proxies) decide what has to be done; LADOT (as far as matters involving transportation) is where we figure out how the hell to do them.

When Planning says (usually in response to nagging from you and me) that “We need a bike lane here,” LADOT (in response to nagging from Planning) has to draw the pictures that become the paint that defines the lane…which often means moving other lanes for lesser vehicles around.

At BPIT yesterday we covered issues of design, funding, and community outreach, concentrating primarily on bike lanes for 7th Street from Koreatown to the City Center, and on extending the Venice Boulevard bike lanes from Crenshaw to Main Street. Venice is particularly difficult as it keeps changing width as well as character every so often, ranging from 55 to 90 feet wide and serving every type of neighborhood, from pure residential, to small retail, to warehousing and light industrial. Quite a challenge!

At LADOT today I was interviewing Bikeways Senior Project Coordinator Michelle Mowery and Bruce Gillman of its Public Information Office. I have an assignment from Cycling Mobility magazine to write up the past and future of the present bike plan, wrangled over by disparate elements of the cycling community here in LA, and finally adopted early this year. It’s been interesting talking with folks from the City, from the NGOs, and from the streets about said wrangling, and today it was my turn to hear what the often-derided LADOT had to say about the evolution of the plan.

One thing everyone I’ve spoken with has agreed on: the growth of cycling into a constituency, a large number of people with a common interest and an involvement in city government through voting and complaining, is what has made the city council members take notice. They, in turn, have driven the administrative bureaucracies to take concrete (no pun intended) actions that will make it easier to ride a bicycle in Los Angeles.

So don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t pay to get involved. The involvement of hundreds of often rambunctious activists, and the mere visible presence of thousands of cyclists on the streets, are what has changed the Master Bicycle Plan from dusty notebooks on a gray metal shelf to a network of thousands of city employees working to make sure you have room to ride on the streets you pay for.

So get involved, get out there on your bike, be visible, make some noise. It works.

The Bicycle Kitchen, the Bike Oven, Bikerowave, LACBC, Bikeside, Midnight Ridazz–these are just a few of the groups that the folks I cornered named as forces for change. There are many more, And then there are all of you.

Our people. Which is anyone on a bicycle in LA’s streets.

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