An open letter to the L.A. City Council — what do you want your legacy to be?

It’s really not that hard a question.

Do you want to leave this city better than you found it when your time on the council is over? Or do you want to continue down the same failed path that has brought L.A. gridlocked streets and declining neighborhoods?

Either way, your vote on Wednesday for or against the 10% set-aside for biking and pedestrian projects in the local return portion of Measure R should be clear.

You can vote to continue the same car-oriented culture that threatens to destroy our city, while leavening it with just enough expensive transit projects to maybe, almost keep up with anticipated growth. Or you can take a seemingly small shift in direction that will set L.A. on a pathway to less congestion, better health and improved livability.

It’s your call.

You can question — as Councilmember Smith did last week — whether enough people walk and bike to justify the expenditure.

Or you can accept the results of the U.S. Department of Transportation study that says 27.3% of all Americans over the age of 16 rode a bike at least once in 2002 — before the recent boom in cycling. Or maybe the statistics cited by Bikes Belong that say 16% of American adults ride a bike in any given month.

That’s a lot more than 10%. And that’s just bikes.

Any guess how many able-bodied Americans walk during the course of their day?

It’s not like this city doesn’t have hundreds, if not thousands, of shovel-ready projects waiting for funding. Just ask the council’s representative from LADOT how many projects included in the 1996 bike plan still haven’t been built. All that’s lacking is a commitment to build them and the funding to do it.

And you can take care of both before this day is over.

In fact, biking and pedestrian projects are remarkably affordable. You could build every project recommended in the new bike plan for a fraction of what it will cost to extend the subway to Westwood. Or the $450 million currently being invested to gain a little short-term traffic relief on the 405 Freeway over the Sepulveda Pass.

Or have you forgotten how nice it used to be to drive on the 105 and 215 Freeways before increased demand overwhelmed the increase in capacity?

On the other hand, maybe you think driving is good for business.

I suspect the merchants on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade or Old Town Pasadena would argue otherwise, with their highly profitable clientele drawn almost exclusively by the walkability of those areas. Even the businesses on busy Hollywood Boulevard benefit far more from the crowds who wander down the sidewalks as opposed to those who drive past on the crowded street.

Now imagine what it would be like if it didn’t take an unpleasant drive on frequently gridlocked streets just to get there.

In fact, cities across the country are shifting from drive-through mode to walkable, bikeable, complete streetscapes. Even New York City has discovered the benefits of closing Broadway to vehicular traffic, making it one of the most popular destinations in the city.

Speaking of New York, that city — one of the most crowded and built-out in the nation — recently tripled the number of bike lanes on its streets. So much for the argument that L.A. is too built-out for bike projects.

That also answers the question of whether people will actually use those bike and pedestrian facilities if they’re built. Because New York — which, unlike Los Angeles, actually counts the number of bicyclists who ride on its streets, so they don’t have to guess — saw a 28% increase in ridership last year alone.

Or consider the crowded, crooked streets of New Orleans, where a new bike lane on St. Claude Avenue resulted in a 44% increase in male bicyclists. And a 133% increase in women riders.

If you build it, they will come. And every rider on a bike represents one car that isn’t on the streets. Isn’t that something Los Angeles could clearly benefit from?

How you vote today is up to you.

But few decisions you will ever make in your political career will have a greater impact on the future livability of this city.

Or on the legacy you’ll leave behind.

I had planned to speak in support of the 10% Measure R set-aside for biking and pedestrian projects at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, but a bout with bronchitis will keep me confined to home — and off my bike — for the next few days. So I’ll let this do my talking for me. Come back later for links and other interesting items.

4 comments

  1. The Trickster says:

    Well said, however I think you may have meant ‘induced demand’ instead of ‘increased demand’ here.

    “Or have you forgotten how nice it used to be to drive on the 105 and 215 Freeways before increased demand overwhelmed the increase in capacity?”

    Then again, the whole concept of induced demand is quite useful for this argument anyway:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand

    I always find it bizarre that motorways/freeways are apparently the only product/service that people “don’t” (if you listen to the asphalt addicted) use more of if it is available.

  2. Chewie says:

    I’d say one of the best models to look at may be Belmont Shore in Long Beach. They painted those sharrows with green stripes on one of the most popular shopping streets in the city (2nd Street). That couldn’t have cost much. It’s basically just some paint and signage.

    This is a precedent that’s happening in a city that’s in the same county and has a similar urban form to LA.

    LA, you can’t have such underdeveloped bike infrastructure and call yourself a “green city” or a healthy city. Long Beach is taking you to school.

  3. John says:

    Great letter. Have you considered submitting it as an Op-Ed to the L.A. Times? They might not run it, but . . . you never know.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks John. I hadn’t thought about that, but I’ll give it a little consideration. With a little modification, it might work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

fifteen − fifteen =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: