An open letter to the L.A. City Council — let’s move forward, not retreat to our auto-centric past

Dear Council Members,

It was just three years ago that CD11 Councilmember Bill Rosendahl famously stood before his fellow council members and declared that “The culture of the car is going to end now!”

True to his word, the City of Los Angeles has made remarkable progress in the last 24 months, rapidly expanding rail lines, moving forward on the long-promised Subway to the Sea — or Brentwood, anyway — and most improbably, being named a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community.

Although pedestrians seem to be lost in the process, as the city continues to remove crosswalks as it build others.

But now the city is threatening to backslide into the same old car-focused past that has repeatedly driven the many communities that make up our city into decline over the last half-dozen decades.

A new proposed bond measure promises to repair our crumbling streets, yet contains not one word committing to improvements for anything but motor vehicles, returning us to the bad old days of automotive hegemony that CM Rosendahl had promised was in the past.

On the surface, it seems like a good idea, though not everyone agrees; some are quite vocal in their opposition for a number of reason.

Yet no one can deny that our streets are crumbling. Too many L.A. streets now resemble the cobblestones of Europe, as a broken patchwork of pavement causes collisions and needless costs for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike.

And fixing them now makes sense, sparing Angelenos the estimated $750 a year in added repair costs, not to mention the untold cost to repair countless broken bikes — and broken bones — suffered by cyclists who hit potholes or swerve dangerously to avoid them.

Historic low interest rates mean the city can borrow the money at favorable rates, and repave the streets now at a fraction of the cost it would cost in decades to come. And since the bond will be funded by a relatively insignificant increase in property taxes, the work can be done without adding to the city’s debt burden.

The problem, as always, is in the details.

Or the lack of them, as far too much as been left out of this measure.

Like a commitment to implementing bikeways contained in the city’s new bike plan as those streets are repaved, dramatically cutting the cost of implementation since those streets would need to be repainted anyway. And potentially cutting the time to build out the bike plan from 30 years to perhaps half of that, or less.

Worse, there is absolutely nothing in this massive bond issue that promises to repair the city’s broken sidewalks, estimated to cost $1 billion to $1.5 billion. Leaving a massive obstacle to creating more livable and walkable communities, while failing to give people an incentive to get out of their cars and off our highly congested streets.

My own wife has been injured twice as a result of tripping over broken sidewalks, suffering first a broken foot, followed by wrenched knee that continues to cause her problems to this day. How many others have been similarly injured, or simply stopped walking in their own neighborhoods because it’s simply not worth the risk?

Clearly, this will not be an easy measure to pass.

It will require a two-thirds majority, something very difficult to achieve as the recent failure of Measure J demonstrated, despite getting over 66.1% of the vote.

Which means you’ll need every vote you can get for passage, including the support of bicyclists and pedestrians. And right now, we have no incentive to support it — let alone vote yes in May.

In fact, as far as I’m concerned, this is dead in the water unless significant changes are made.

The city needs to make a firm commitment to building out the bike plan as streets are repaired, and rebuilding our streets using best practices that benefit all road users — based on the new mobility plan currently being finalized, rather than the outdated version it will replace.

It also needs to include provisions to fix our sidewalks. After all, while most Los Angeles residents are drivers, we’re all pedestrians at one time or another. And this will never be the great city it can and should be until we are free to walk when and where we want, safely and enjoyably.

Let’s also not fall into the old trap of treating infrastructure as separate elements; streets and sidewalks and crosswalks should be rebuilt as a single Complete Street designed to move people, not vehicles, and bring renewed life to all our communities. And they should incorporate Safe Routes to Schools, while providing necessary access for the disabled.

Granted, CD12 Councilmember Mitch Englander has promised that much of this will addressed down the road.

But with all due respect, you’ll excuse us if we don’t settle for promises than can be broken down the line. These matters need to be included in the ballot measure, locked in as part of the bond issue.

This morning’s City Council session will be visited, not by three ghosts, but by a phalanx of impassioned bicycling, pedestrian and safety advocates determined to fix this bond measure before it goes to the ballot in order to win their support, and the support of countless like-minded Angelenos such as myself.

Listen to them.

Then act on the suggestions they make.

The success of this bond measure, the livability of our city and the safety of its residents depends on it.

Sincerely,

Ted Rogers
Bikinginla.com

4 comments

  1. [...] Advocates Rally for Progressive Measures in Road Repair Bond Proposal (Biking in L.A.) [...]

  2. My accident in November was on a street with abundant potholes and abandoned railroad tracks in downtown LA. Two broken fingers.

  3. Dan says:

    A complete street must also include accessible bus infrastructure and bus only lanes as well. The reconstruction of LA streets provides the opportunity to promote both active transportation AND mass transportation. Bus riders, bicyclists and pedestrians unite!

  4. […] also faced opposition from various other groups, including bicycle and pedestrian advocates who considered the proposal dead in the water unless it incorporated a complete streets approach that would benefit all road users, as well as […]

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