BPIT Bashup

Well, yesterday’s Bike Plan Implementation Team meeting devolved into “interesting times,” to say the least.

Well before we could get to the second agenda item, two of the Angry Young Man contingent began double-teaming Claire Bowin of Planning and the DOT engineers over their bundling of road treatments that were required under CEQA to undergo an EIR into “packages” of 30 to 40 miles each for group review. (“CEQA” is the “California Environmental Quality Act,” passed in 1970 at the behest of the Angry Young Man–and Woman–activists of that time to hold back rampant car-oriented overdevelopment, ie sprawl.)

Bike path and freeway, Los Angeles
One’s clean and cheap, one’s expensive and dirty, both need EIR
Now the question is, “Why should something so obviously beneficial to the environment be subjected to a Environmental Impact Report?”

The answer, of course, is that it’s not obvious to everyone in the city–especially those who fear that road diets (lane removals) will increase congestion and possibly increase pollution from cars forced to idle in traffic longer.

As Claire and several other City people pointed out, San Francisco’s bike plan was stalled for four years because of a lawsuit brought by one disgruntled motorhead on just this basis. So from Planning’s point of view, they’re trying to get all their ducks in a row to forestall lawsuits.

I agree with them. Just as in driving, oftentimes hurrying mindlessly ahead gets you stuck in a jam of your own making an intersection or two down the road. (In fact, studies show that driving too fast is as much at fault in creating traffic jams as driving too slowly, given the same level of traffic–this is why road diets, which slow maximum traffic speeds down, often result in faster point-to-point travel for drivers as well as cyclists!)

Generating an EIR gives you something to throw at the NIMBYs who always turn up.

But not all roads need a CEQA review. Only those above a specified threshold of LOS (“Level of Service”) do. In other words, roads (like the Pigeon’s own North Figueroa) that carry far fewer cars than they are designed to do, are exempt.

The next suggestion, of course, was then to raise the threshold, but that’s not something under Planning’s or the DOT’s authority. Folks, nag your city council members on that one!

But don’t be so quick to condemn CEQA for slowing down bike lanes here and there, as was happening at the meeting. The Big Developer community (which is a dominant force in LA politics) would love to see it gone–so they could put giant malls and parking structures everywhere they could be shoehorned in. And when they ask for traffic mitigation measures at the taxpayers’ expense, as they love to do, they won’t be talking bike lanes.

One good thing that came out of the City’s being thrown on the defensive was a firm and positive statement from senior engineer Kang Hu that DOT was in the process of changing the definition of Level of Service from “motor vehicle” to “passenger” throughput–what he called “multi-modal level of service.” Not how many cars go through, but how many people a given road configuration will carry, be they in cars, on buses…or riding bicycles.

This repeated what DOT’s outreach guy Bruce Gillmann told me when I interviewed him and Michelle Mowery a few weeks ago.

It can’t be done like turning a switch. It’s coming, though…meanwhile, as the city folk strove vainly to express over the noise and interruptions, we shouldn’t wait till then to start work. The CEQA/EIR process, ungainly though it is, gets work started.

I know it’s hard to be patient. But it takes time: Portland began twenty years ago, and bike projects there faced derision and opposition too–and still do, though much less. I’ve been in this game off and on for forty years, and I’ll tell you: slow as things are happening now, they are happening far faster now than they have been for a generation.

Not, however, as fast as they are happening in Long Beach! (Yes, you bet I’m jealous….)

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  1. Carlton Glüb
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Isn’t it the developers that have to pay for traffic mitigations? To that end, UCLA’s Juan Matute is working on an ordinance that would expand the cities definition of mitigations to include bike lanes and bus-only lanes.

  2. Posted May 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m a thousand percent for that Matute ordinance! Do you know whether ti’s to be presented to the city? Is he working with, say, LACBC on this, to get more citizen power behind it? Sounds really promising. Bike infra is cheap, and so are developers when ti comes to the public good.

    (BTW, developers often find ways around paying for mitigation–such as getting it back in tax breaks etc. also, that’s a fairly new paradigm.)

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