Who runs this city, anyway?

Things are starting to get a little scary around here.

Lately, bicyclists have gotten a lot of support from the city council, from the passage of the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights — currently under review by the LADOT, which seems to be where good ideas go to die — to the repeal of the bike licensing program, which, after years of dormancy, had been revived by a few precincts of the LAPD.

Yet as Stephen Box pointed out recently, our elected officials don’t seem to have a lot of authority here in Los Angeles.

Council members repeatedly make motions instructing various city officials to take action. Then those motions are promptly ignored. Consider one of the examples Box cites:

Councilman Ed Reyes of Council District 1 introduced a motion that simply called on the Department of Planning to create a pilot project in his district consisting of a public workshop so that residents, bicyclists, businesses and others could weigh in on bicycle projects such as Bicycle Boulevards, Road Diets and Bike Stations. The input from his district which includes northeast Los Angeles, Dodger Stadium, Chinatown and MacArthur Park, would then be incorporated into the City’s Bicycle Plan.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

I challenge you to scour the proposed new Bicycle Master Plan to find one Bicycle Boulevard, Road Diet or Bike Station, though. Or any indication that such a workshop ever took place.

Another example he cites is Council President Eric Garcetti’s request for a pilot project to explore the use of sharrows on Los Angeles streets.

I just happened to be in attendance at the Transportation Committee meeting when the representative from the LADOT Bikeways department was asked for an update. And yes, she said the delay was due to liability concerns — that they were researching what kind of paint to use, so that cyclists wouldn’t risk slipping on wet paint.

Never mind that sharrows have been in place for years in San Francisco, and countless other cities around the world that get far more rain than Los Angeles. Or that they could just pick up the phone and ask UCLA what kind of paint they use, since I roll over sharrows every time I ride through the campus.

And no, I haven’t slipped yet.

Now they’ve delayed the sharrows project for another year. Maybe the council should let the Department of DIY take a shot at it.

Then there was the recent council meeting during which a number of cyclists — myself included — responded to the LAPD blaming the victim in the recent Hummer incident.

The council responded by drafting a motion, signed by a third of the council members, asking the LAPD to report back on “recent bicycle incidents recent bicycle incidents and conflicts between bicyclists and motorists, as well as efforts to increase police officer training related to bicycling activities and applicable regulations and laws.”

The LAPD responded by absolving themselves of any errors in the Hummer case, and concluding that the cyclist hit the Hummer — even though that meant the injured rider defied the laws of physics by backing into the vehicle at high speed, then being thrown forward as a result of the impact. Then, supported by that some representative of the LADOT, they informed the council that cyclists ride in a dangerous manner, and failed to provide information on any other incidents or conflicts.

And they got away with it.

They also seem to be getting away with failing to address the second part of that motion, as well. As you may recall, I attended the recent meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee to point out that the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition had developed the Law Officer’s Guide to Bicycle Safety, in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In other words, a national standard for educating police officers about bike laws and investigating cycling accidents, freely available to any police organization.

The committee responded by voting unanimously to look into the MassBike program. One member even took it on himself to reach out to the LAPD, LADOT and the mayor’s office in support of the program.

Today, he received a response from that same LADOT representative, stating that LAPD is “aware” of the MassBike program, and “possibly have implemented some of it into their training.” But that because of budget restraints, it was almost impossible to retrain and staff for such a project now.

If Los Angeles can’t afford a $15 CD containing the full program, or provide a two-hour, self-administered training session without extensive retraining and re-staffing, this city is in a lot worse shape than I thought.

I mean, I’ll pitch in the 15 bucks.

But how we could possibly afford two whole hours of a police academy instructor’s time is beyond me. Maybe the city could request some more bailout funds, or use some of that Measure R funding they’ve promised for bike and pedestrian projects.

And clearly, they could use some help, because they aren’t even sure who is allowed to use a crosswalk in this city.

But all this brings up a bigger question.

If the city council doesn’t have the authority to compel the departments that supposedly work for them — such as the LADOT and LAPD — to respond, who does?

And if the council isn’t running this city, who is?


Maybe the solution to biking infrastructure is just better signage. A letter writer in Salt Lake City suggests better planning to help eliminate conflicts between buses and cyclists. The Washington Post hosted a live chat with a local sheriff on the rules of the road. Milwaukee hosts a bike ride to honor wounded warriors. A bicycling Brit pulls a shotgun on a constable, then runs off into the bushes. Finally, a Philadelphia writer ponders how to make the city a cyclist’s paradise, and says riding on the sidewalk is mostly not legal.

One comment

  1. ubrayj02 says:

    Ah, yes, now we get to the crux of the matter. I had the chance to attend the Board of Transportation Commissioners meeting this past Thursday morning at 10 a.m. in room 1070 of City Hall. Rita Robinson showed up to “report” and mentioned that she “… let the council know …” that she “… didn’t care about what they think”.

    The department heads work for the mayor. The mayor doesn’t give a shit. End of story.

    Prior to charter reform, L.A.’s mayor used to a hood ornament on city government. Now, he’s a cardboard cutout (but with actual power to wield over department heads).

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