What do two Nobel Laureates know that L.A.’s Mayor doesn’t?

A loaded question, I know.

Earlier this week, I received an email from the UCLA Bicycle Academy calling attention to a recent open letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, along with a petition in support of UCLA’s 2006 Bicycle Master Plan:

The petition asks the Chancellor to ensure the implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan from 2006, which demands improvements on the routes to campus; to address potential conflicts between income from car parking and bicycle encouragement, and to make sure that commuting cyclists are closely involved in all decision making on campus. The UCLA Bicycle Academy would like to see an independent Bicycle Bureau on Campus, with increased authority to support and encourage cycling. Members are currently compiling bicycle accident statistics on the approaches to campus.

Among the initial signers were two Nobel Laureates — Louis Ignarro, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology, and Paul Boyer, awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize for Chemistry as well as the 1998 UCLA Medal. Along with a long list of other respected professors and staff members.

Now contrast that with the City of Los Angeles, which still hasn’t implemented its last bike plan, either.

The one from 1996.

In fact, of the 288 miles of new bike lanes called for in that plan, L.A. has striped just 37 miles. Combined with a handful of new lanes that weren’t in the plan, that means the city has added just 4.5 miles of Class II bike lanes a year.

4.5 miles.

Add to that 13 miles of Class I off-road bike paths — one per year — and one lonely mile of Class III bike routes. This despite research that shows dedicated bike lanes, routes and off-road paths present the lowest risk of cycling injuries.

Yet somehow, they expect us to support the new 2009 Bike Plan that replaces it — a plan that is almost universally considered a significant step back.

And that’s the problem. Because it’s hard to get excited about any plan — good, bad or otherwise — when you have little expectation that it will ever get built.

Of course, I’m not the only one who thinks that. Virtually every response I’ve seen calls for benchmarks for the implementation of the plan, or requires that key measures be completed within a few years.

Which sounds reasonable, until you consider that New York recently built 200 miles of bike lanes in just three years. Or about 140 miles more than L.A. has managed with a 10-year head start.

And that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Even if this plan were to somehow win universal support — something else that’s not likely to happen anytime soon — it will be dead in the water without support from the people who matter and have the power to move it from paper to paint.

Which in this city means L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson. Neither of whom has, to the best of my knowledge, made any commitment to support — let alone implement — the plan once it’s approved.

This despite the fact that it is, in effect, their plan, since it was produced by Alta Planning in conjunction with LADOT. And LADOT reports directly to the mayor.

It’s not like there aren’t some good things in the new plan.

I like idea of a collector system made up of Bike Friendly Streets, although a lot depends on exactly what that term ends up meaning.  And there’s a nifty little bike bridge hidden in the plan that would connect the Ballona Creek bikeway with Playa Vista — something that would have made bike commuting a more viable alternative when I was freelancing there last year.

There’s also a lot of room for improvement. Like considering every street a street that cyclists will ride, and making the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights — as written — an integral part of the plan. And calling for police officers to receive a minimum of eight hours of education in cyclists rights, laws and practical bike training.

Then again, I can’t argue with the cyclist at last month’s West L.A. Bike Plan meeting who said he’d give up everything else in the plan for just one good route from Santa Monica to Downtown.

But none of it matters without a firm commitment from the mayor and LADOT to support, build and fund it — at a fraction of the cost of the of the planned Subway to the Sea. Let alone the other 11 transit projects Mayor Villaraigosa has committed to building in the next 10 years.

So I’ll offer His Honor a challenge. If he’ll commit to supporting the final plan, I will, too. However flawed or incomplete it may end up being.

And I’ll commit to riding it once it’s built.

After all, combined with the other transit plans, this is his opportunity to transform the face of Los Angeles transportation, and leave this city a far more livable place than he found it — along with building a legacy that could provide a stepping stone to higher office.

And it shouldn’t take a Nobel Laureate to see the value in that.


C.I.C.L.E. plans to change the face of biking in NELA. The Daily Trojan says lax police enforcement only encourages a freewheeling attitude among campus cyclists. According to Damien Newton, there’s more at stake in L.A.’s Measure R debate than just bike and pedestrian issues, while Stephen Box say the truth is getting lost in the feeding frenzy. Flying Pigeon thinks about bikes at Habeas Lounge. Cycling Lawyer Bob Mionske discusses legalized injustice in bicycle/car collisions. Evidently, a bike doesn’t make a good getaway vehicle on icy Denver streets. Proof that it’s not just drivers who can be jerks — a hit-and-run a**hole cyclist mows down a five year old boy. What would you do if you saw bike thieves in action? Philadelphia considers mandatory bike registration and confiscating brakeless bikes, while the police crack down on aggressive cyclists after two pedestrians are killed. Finally, car lobbyists blame bike lanes for congestion in downtown Budapest, insisting that cyclists can ride just as easily in the traffic lanes.


  1. Herbie Huff says:

    Speaking of petitions originating out of UCLA, the recently formed UCLA Bicycle Coalition wrote a letter requesting simple changes to the LA Bike Plan. Anyone can read and sign this letter, which advocates for safer routes to the campus.

    Sign here.


  2. TheTricksterNZ says:

    Ted, I’ve got an interesting one for you and to be honest with what I’ve heard from other truckies involved in fatal accidents I’d tend to believe him (the depression, can’t work part):


    Had a particularly bad day down in the capital that day as during morning rush hour a guy got the door prize and pushed under the wheels of another truck.

  3. What a excellent post! I did a of blogging for dummies over on one of the CPA Marketing forums and I believed it was too simple for them, but the quantity of emails I got asking questions just like what you addressed was unbelievable. As young people today we have grown up with computers, but it’s easy to forget that even people just a a couple of years older have not! Really good post! 🙂

  4. Al says:

    Regarding the 6-year old who was hit by a cyclist, this is what is happening up here…no one in the cycling community that I belong to doubt that the guy was an idiot for #1 running the red light (especially at an intersection that’s choked with peds all the time), #2 hitting the kid, #3 running. But the question we all have is, in a similar situation, if the driver was not drunk, would the driver of a motor vehicle be arrested?

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