Sometimes it seems like the standard mantra of L.A. cyclists.
Ask the city’s bike riders who’s responsible for miserable state of L.A. cycling and the horrible lack of infrastructure in what should be one of the world’s best cities for biking, and chances are, you’ll hear one name come up far more than once.
After all, it’s an easy case to make. As LADOT’s Senior Bicycle Coordinator, she’s the highest-ranking bike official in the city bureaucracy. And she’s been on the job since the adoption of the still unimplemented 1996 bike plan.
A period during which the city striped a grand total of 46 miles of bike lanes — a whopping average of just 3.3 miles a year — only 28 miles of which were included in the ’96 plan. That compares to New York, which has created 200 miles of bike lanes in the last two years alone, and continues to stripe at a rate of 50 miles a year.
Just one problem, though. Love her or hate her — and I’ve heard from a number of people in both camps — she’s not the one responsible for the city’s continued failure to make room on the streets for bikes.
The simple fact is, even though she’s the city’s top bike official, her position just isn’t that important in the LADOT hierarchy. She has no authority over the engineers who design the city’s streets and no real power to move any project forward.
In fact, LADOT considers the Bikeways Department she heads so unimportant that it doesn’t even show up on their own flowchart. It took master bike wonk Josef Bray-Ali to ferret out just how far down it truly ranks in the department’s structure.
Any project she recommends has to be planned and designed by the department’s notoriously car-centric engineering staff, and approved — or more likely, modified or killed — by someone higher up the food chain.
The simple fact is, even New York DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan or Long Beach Mobility Coordinator Charlie Gandy would probably be unable to accomplish anything within LADOT as it currently stands. Especially in the same low-level position Mowery holds.
From the outside, it’s impossible to tell if she’s the anti-bike obstructionist some people think she is. Or if she’s been fighting a 14-year losing battle on behalf of bikeways as others contend.
But considering that she was the driving force behind the City Council’s all-but-forgotten anti-harassment ordinance — remember that one? — it might be the latter.
Or at least somewhere in between.
So if Mowery’s not the one ultimately responsible for the city’s failure to support cycling, who is?
Meet John Fisher.
It would be easy to point the finger at LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson. As head of the department for nearly three years, she’s the one in charge.
In theory, at least.
Despite rave reviews for her role in reforming the Bureau of Sanitation before coming to LADOT, she has, by all indications, been unable to bring much needed change to the Department of Transportation.
Robinson’s problem, it would appear, is the same one Mowery faces.
She’s not an engineer.
So while she can give all the direction she wants, it’s ultimately up to the engineering staff to design the streets, and tell her what is — and isn’t — possible.
And the top engineer, and second in charge at LADOT, is John Fisher.
Now, don’t misunderstand. By all accounts, Fisher is a highly respected traffic engineer, recently featured in an interview with the Atlantic. But you only have to look at the streets of the L.A. to detect a significant pro-car bias in the 11 years he’s held his position, despite his protests to the contrary.
Why did my name become associated with this issue as Umberto Brayj suggests? To what did I respond “no”? I do not supervise the Bikeway Section. But I certainly support a bikeway network and well-developed bikeway amenities. I was the one who sponsored San Francisco’s experiment with sharrows and pushed to have it adopted by the California Traffic Control Devices Committee. I also supported Long Beach’s experiment with the green lane. Further, I was also personally involved in developing State guidelines to ensure that bicycles can be detected at intersections and that there is sufficient signal timing to accommodate them.–John Fisher
Of course, it’s one thing to support sharrows in San Francisco and quite another to paint them on the streets of his own city. I also haven’t seen any green lanes in Los Angeles; but then, it’s a big city, right?
Though I’d have to suspect that if Fisher really supported a bikeways network like he claims, we’d have one by now. And L.A. cyclists wouldn’t feel like they had to beat their heads against the wall just to get a few sharrows painted.
As Joe Linton, one of the city’s leading bike activists, put it in a response to Fisher’s comments:
It’s laughable that you’re suggesting that you’ve shown bike leadership by stating your role in projects located in San Francisco and Long Beach. If you’re into these sorts of projects, then implement them in the city where you work – Los Angeles.
It’s also telling that you call bikeways “amenities.” Amenities are things that are nice to have, but not really necessary. Bike and pedestrian facilities need to be treated as an integral part of a safe transportation system… not as amenities.
Most deceptive of all is your implication that you’re not responsible for bikeway projects because you “do not supervise the Bikeway [sic] Section.” Do you really think that Streetsblog readers are so unsophisticated that we don’t know that to implement on-street bike lanes, the Bikeways Section must get approvals from the operations folks that you supervise? It’s your operations engineers who say “no” to implementing on-street bike projects. This includes your staffer Ken Firoozmand who last year lied about LADOT’s plans to kill the Reseda Boulevard bike lanes. You have ultimate say over bikeways on L.A.’s roads, and for your tenure at LADOT, you’ve failed to create streets that are safe and convenient for bicycling and walking.
Or as the previously mentioned Mr. Bray-Ali put it:
When it comes time to install bike lanes by narrowing lanes, removing travel lanes, traffic calming, you guys jump around with “CEQA lawsuits” and “crosswalks are dangerous” talk. Menacing council staff with “policies” that don’t even exist…
The “Department of No”, the “Department of Yes, We Can’t” – these are nicknames you guys have earned through your actions. Why fight with the citizens you serve? Does the Institute for Transportation Engineers swear you guys into some sort of brotherhood from which there is no escape?
…The city has not a single street standard that reflects anything other than how much traffic to move through it. If Fisher were serious about any of this, which he absolutely is not, he’d be moving even half as fast as the NYCDOT, who painted 200 miles of bike facilities in 2 years…LADOT did just under 2 miles last year.
Fisher is the one name every bicyclists should learn and use; he’s the man who keeps your wife, sister, girlfriend and mother absolutely shocked that you ride a bike every day, as he regularly stonewalls bike-friendly projects that would get large numbers of people on their bikes. And, as someone who has a senior role, and has had a senior role for a long, long time, in an organization that controls streets that kill a number of people nearly equal to the homicide rate, I’d go so far as to say he’s a man with a large amount of blood on his hands.
So is John Fisher the one responsible for the department’s overwhelming focus on automotive throughput and the massive failure to implement the 1996 bike plan — let alone virtually anything else to support bicycling in Los Angeles, including the woefully watered-down first draft of the new bike plan intended to replace it?
The jury’s still out.
But it doesn’t look good.
If Mr. Fisher really supports bicycling, this would be a good time to step up and prove it. And get some paint on the street, pronto.
And if not, it’s long past time for the mayor to step in and do something about it.
Correction: As I have long said, if anyone finds an error in anything I’ve written, I am happy to correct it. As Alex Thompson points out, LADOT does not have an official #2 position — they have two. In the newly revised proposed L.A. bike plan, both Amir Sedadi and John E. Fisher are listed as Assistant General Manager, directly below Rita Robinson. However, as Thompson points, Sedadi is in charge of parking in the City of Los Angeles, and therefore unlikely to have any authority over biking infrastructure; Fisher is and remains the highest-ranking engineer within the department.
Speaking of sharrows, LADOT’s blog explains the what and why’s. LAPD will soon give higher priority to car vs. bike collisions. How to lock your bike to keep all or part of it from being stolen. Culver City’s two-year bike and pedestrian plan outreach ends this weekend. LAist says cyclists want action, not words, from the mayor. Pasadena’s famed Fork in the Road is finito. Green LA Girl tells you how to trade in your old bike on a new ride and turn an old jogging stroller into a bike trailer. The AIDS/LifeCycle ride will arrive in L.A. on Saturday. Some cyclists stop for red lights, and maybe the rest should. The Race Across America — a non-stop competitive ride across the continent — kicked off on Tuesday for women, Wednesday for men. Tucson police offer a free, voluntary website to register your bike in case of theft; not a bad idea for the LAPD to consider. D.C.’s new Pennsylvania Ave. bike lanes take space from cyclists to give back to angry drivers. Scotland needs to increase spending on bicycling projects, or risk missing their target of a 10% boost in ridership. Volunteer speed gun operators in the UK are startled by a naked cyclist; maybe he was just a few days early. A Canadian cyclist gets clotheslined by fishing line strung over a mountain bike path. An Aussie study shows that investing in a new bicycle network would deliver $3.88 for every dollar invested; thanks to the Trickster for the heads-up.
Finally, courtesy of our friends at Cyclelicious, having an angry dog on your wheel is bad enough, now imagine being chased by a bear — which can probably run faster than you can ride. Also from Cyclelicious, a look at former L.A. D.A. Gil Garcetti’s new book Paris: Women and Bicycles; you might know his son Eric.