Pico-Olympic: The 10% Solution

March 31, 2009

One thing you seldom see in Los Angeles is bold action from elected officials.

You might see it in the private sector — especially from corporate jerks vying for the title of the city’s biggest bunghole. But from the government, no so much. At least not since the city’s last great mayor.

That’s why I was stunned to get up one day around 18 months ago, and discover this in my morning paper — an exceptionally bold, if flawed, plan to reconfigure Olympic and Pico Boulevards into near one-way streets through much of the Westside. (Note that the story was written by the much-missed Steve Hymon, one of the latest victims in the slow decline of the once great L.A. Times.)

As anyone would expect with such a radical transformation of city streets, local residents and business owners had some legitimate concerns. And as usual, rather than sit down with the concerned parties — or the city council, for that matter — and negotiate out a solution that could work to everyone’s benefit, the mayor responded in typical L.A. fashion.

He tried to ram it down the city’s throat.

And in typical L.A. fashion, a lawsuit ensued. As a result, the brakes were applied, just as they are countless times every day by frustrated drivers stuck endless Westside traffic.

The sad part is, it could have been a great plan. Had the mayor and his minions looked at the plan as more than just a means of increasing traffic flow and reducing commute times, these streets could have become tremendous assets for the city.

But nowhere in this plan was there any suggestion of creating livable streets that would improve the neighborhoods they pass through. No mention of walkable streetscapes or any measures to accommodate cyclists. No beautification plans that would draw people to the area, increase property values and create new business opportunities.

Nothing to address the concerns of business people over the loss of street parking, or resident’s worry over difficulty getting in and out of their homes. Let alone concerns that the plan could backfire and actually increase traffic and congestion by drawing even more drivers are drawn to these streets.

Now, after repeatedly scaling back the once-bold plan, the Department of Public Transportation is holding hearings on what’s left of it. Which basically consists of three lanes in each direction, with a turn lane in the middle, prioritizing traffic in the direction of traffic flow, and eliminating street-side parking at rush hour.

Which may succeed in improving traffic flow somewhat. But continues the focus on vehicular throughput that the city has employed for the last 60 years — the same failed focus that got us into this mess in the first place.

And squanders a rare opportunity to do something that could truly transform L.A. streets for decades to come.

So the question is, do we settle for a mere fraction of the original plan — which itself was just a fraction of what it could, and should, have been?

Or insist that they go back to the drawing board, until they come up with a complete solution that works for everyone — cyclists, pedestrians, transit users, residents and business owners alike.

And not just drivers looking for a faster route from here to there.

Thanks to Damien Newton of LA Streetsblog for the complete refresher course on the Pico-Olympic plan. And for most of the links I’ve used on this post, as well.

One week after being invaded by drunken, rampaging cyclists and the cops who love them, Hollywood once again finds itself infested — this time by mopeds. New York cyclists need better PR; evidently, they need better bike locks, as well. Louisville cyclists get a new Downtown bike center with their stimulus dollars. It looks like Colorado will get a new bike safety bill this year, despite the objections of the bike-hating sheriff. Green LA Girl profiles the founder of the Bikex Database. The best-named bike shop in town gets a new home, with plans for a “soft-opening” party this weekend. And finally, my brother and his dogs survive wind chill factors of -50 degrees Fahrenheit to arrive safely in Nome.

Today’s post, which was written on my new bike. Sort of.

March 30, 2009

I’ve spent the last few weeks immersed in bike porn.

Bicycling Magazine’s annual Buyer’s Guide has been on my desk, tempting me to spend a few minutes — or a few hours — fantasizing about one bike or another. Which, as a happily married man, is the about only type of fantasy I’m allowed these days.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with my bike.

But there’s always something a little faster, a little smoother, a little crisper cornering, a little cooler. And I find myself thinking that maybe if I just had a couple good months, I might just be able to swing something that would make me the envy of every Lycra-clad rider I leave gasping in my dust.

But then my aging laptop gave one gasp, and collapsed into nothing more than a very expensive titanium paperweight.

Facing a couple of client deadlines that couldn’t be pushed back, I had no choice but to rush out and get a new one, so I could be back to work later that day.

Since my computer’s slow, steady decline had kept me from upgrading for some time, it turned out that that my printer and scanner were now obsolete, no longer compatible with the new operating system. Along with a few vital programs that had to be updated before I could use them, or the files I’d created with them.

So that few hours to get up and running stretched out for the better part of a week — though I did at least manage to get my work done.

But my priorities suddenly shifted to finding a way to pay off my still-sizzling credit cards. And that dream bike became a dream deferred, at least for this year.

On the other hand, amid all the work and technical issues, I did manage to get out for one good ride last week, and savor the near-perfect spring weather.

And my bike, if not quite as cool as some that I passed — or as a few that somehow managed to pass me — still acquitted itself quite nicely.

America’s 18-year old cycling phenom wins his first world championship, while New York cyclists hold their own late-night, brakeless fixie crit. Bicycling presents the best gear for cyclists on a budget. A rider-less bike causes a traffic tie-up on the 10 near Palm Springs. Police say a Topeka cyclist had the right-of-way, but he’s still in critical condition in a local hospital. What do you want to bet it wasn’t their bike? And finally, if you wrote something brilliant recently and wondered why I didn’t link to it, please forgive me — all my bookmarks are lost somewhere deep inside a dead laptop.

This time, bikers don’t make a difference

March 26, 2009

With all the excitement over last week’s Hollywood C.R.A.N.K. MOB fiasco, you might have missed the fact that we had an election this week.

I mention that because most people evidently had no idea. According to Zach at LAist, only 24,039 people voted, in a district of over 390,000 registered voters.

That’s a turnout of just 6.16%. Which means only one out of every 16 people bothered to vote, in district that includes much of the Westside.

One out of 16.

Of course, local elections have a historically low turnout, but a large part of the blame has to fall on the short lead time. Many voters, myself included, only found out about this election when we received our sample ballots less than three weeks ago, making us scramble to learn who was running — let alone where they stood on the issues.

As in the recent election for L.A.’s 5th Council District, I asked each of the candidates to tell us where they stood on bicycling and transportation issues. Of the 8 candidates, only three responded.

We’ll ascribe that to the short lead time, rather than assuming they just didn’t give a damn.

We can also blame that for the relatively small number of people who read those statements. Yet despite the fact that the first of these statements only went up five days before the election, they still resulted in one of the busiest weekends, and the two days that followed, since I started this site — thanks in large part to mentions by Zach, as well as Damien at LA Streetsblog.

So, despite the recent comment by Ubrayj, there’s no reason to believe that cyclists played a significant role in deciding this election, unlike that council race.

Yet two of the three candidates who did respond, Curren Price and Nachum Shifren, are moving on to the general election, along with Cindy Varela Henderson.

Since they both offered to address specific issues, I’ll be contacting them again with questions about liability reforms for Class 1 bikeways, and updating California’s outdated biking regulations. So if you have any issues you’d like them to address, send ‘em my way via the comment section below.

And maybe this time, we’ll have enough time to actually make a difference.

But let me leave you with one thought.

Just imagine the impact we could have if those 800+ C.R.A.N.K. Mobbers had been riding to the polls to cast their votes, instead.


In case you missed it: After reports of cyclists being intentionally doored, hit by police cars and pulled to the ground from moving vehicles last Saturday, I was reminded of this 2008 incident during a popular training ride in Tucson. On a related note, I stumbled on a blog by another, less famous cycling lawyer. The Anonymous Cyclist continues his excellent Monday Mechanic series, this time focusing on bike repair costs, and hinting that a quaffable bribe may make a difference. Celebrity cycling injuries strike Lance and Matt. My favorite footwear drops in price. A New York cyclist complains about bike-bomb sniffing dogs on the Staten Island Ferry, while a blogging Brit notes that bike culture has spread to London — in part due to a “grinding campaign” to recognize cyclists “as proper human beings made of fragile tissue and bone.”

This is why cyclists need to vote

March 24, 2009

Let’s go back in time a bit.

Back in the dark ages, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was still in high school, I edited the school newspaper.

One day, our staff photographer noticed a police officer approach a car stopped in front of the school and begin to search of the vehicle, without permission or probable cause. So he grabbed his camera, ran outside and started taking photos.

The officer, no doubt aware of the illegality of the search, threatened to arrest him and confiscate his film. So he put the camera way and slunk back to class as the officer continued his fruitless search.

But rabble-rouser that I was, even at such a tender age, I was damned if that would be the end of it.

The next day, I placed a phone call the state headquarters of the ACLU. And soon we were represented, pro bono, by a lawyer who leapt at the chance to protect our 1st Amendment rights.

The result was a written statement from the chief of police apologizing for the officers actions. He went on to add that even student journalists were legitimate members of the press and had every right to take photos of the officer’s actions; and further, that since it had taken place in plain view on a public street, anyone with a camera had a 1st Amendment right to do so.

In other words, we won.

Now fast forward a few decades.

A fellow blogger and friend crosses the street to take photos of a police officer conducting what was probably an illegal search of a cyclist, and finds himself handcuffed and eventually ticketed for a moving violation — even though he was on foot and crossing in the crosswalk, with the light.

It happened during Saturday’s C.R.A.N.K. MOB event, when the citizenry of Hollywood panicked upon being invaded by a horde of bicyclists, and the police responded in force.

Now, I’m not a fan of these rolling raves.

While I’m a whole-hearted supporter of the right to ride, even in large, semi-spontaneous groups, I believe we need to be considerate of other people — whether that means maintaining a reasonable level of sobriety, keeping the noise level down so residents can sleep, or allowing drivers to get where they are going without undue interference.

Because when you ride with no consideration for the rights of other users of the road — in other words, exactly the way too many drivers do — you become the problem, not the solution.

As Los Angeles Cyclist put it:

…Unfortunately, I was in the back half of the group, so by the time we got toward the Ralph’s which was our destination, someone who had arrived earlier had apparently decided not to pay for his items, and caused the police to be dispatched. (Apparently one of the ride organizers helped apprehend the thief. WELL DONE SIR.)

Lots of police were dispatched.

Who, by strategically blocking intersections directed the group out of West Hollywood and up toward actual Hollywood.

Then we headed East on Hollywood Blvd., which was pretty much a total fiasco.

Poorly corked/run intersections, irate motorists, cyclists not used to riding in groups, made for a BIG mess. I tried to time the intersections so I entered them on a green light, but with a group of close to 1,000 cyclists, some of the motorists were getting impatient, especially if they’d waited through the previous few lights and were trying to make a left turn.

So the police may have had good reason to break up the ride. Unfortunately, a few seem to have crossed the line, by breaking the law in order to enforce it.

LA Cyclist goes on to describe a young woman who was intentionally doored by an officer, in a highly questionable use of force. If a civilian hit a cyclist with his door in such a manner, he could be charged with a felony; yet an officer used exactly the same dangerous technique to apprehend a scofflaw for the heinous crime of failing to stop quickly enough after running a red light.

That same officer, evidently feeling a need to protect homeland security from the dangers of two-wheeled citizens, wanted to know if the cyclists patiently waiting to be ticketed were anarchists. No, seriously.

Meanwhile, Alex spent 20 minutes in handcuffs because a police officer claimed he crossed the intersection while the red hand was flashing — not because he was attempting to take photos of the officer while he searched a cyclist after a minor traffic stop, something that would be illegal if done to a motorist. This despite the fact that the courts have held that bloggers have the same 1st Amendment rights as any member of the mainstream press.

And the other cyclist was ticketed for an offense that both the city council and chief of police have agreed should not be enforced.

As Zach Behrens points out on LAist, the use of cuffs is at an officer’s discretion. Yet it can hardly be argued that any officer should feel threatened by a camera, or the person using it.

Or as Damien Newton put it:

Handcuffing someone for not having a bike license?  For crossing the street against a flashing red hand?  What country am I living in?

Senate District 26 Candidate Statements: Saundra Davis

March 20, 2009

Here is the third response submitted by one of the eight candidates for the March 24th primary for California Senate District 26, from Saundra Davis. Since she requested comments, you can click on the link her name to visit her website, then click the “contact” tab for her email address.

Saundra Davis

Mrs. Davis is very supportive of bike riders’ issues.  She often addresses issues regarding the environment, air quality and road conditions. Now that you apply those concerns to your group, it is even more vivid. Of course if there are specific issues you would like to address or if there are suggestions that you wish to apprise Mrs. Davis of, it would be helpful to hear from you. Mrs. Davis would love to know what those concerns are and what ideas you have that would address the issues. It is her desire to listen and become more informed about specific issues by you the experts.

Senate District 26 Candidate Statements: Curren Price

March 19, 2009

As I indicated yesterday, I’ve offered each of the eight candidates in the primary for California Senate District 26 an opportunity to address the cycling community through this blog. So far, only two candidates has accepted my offer. This statement is from Curren Price; you can see the first statement, from Nachum Shifren below.

Curren Price

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you my views related to cycling and, among other things, the role that it plays in improving air quality, health, traffic congestion and the overall environmental quality of life in the 26th Senate District.

cp-photo-webAs you likely know, the 26th Senate District is one of the most ethnically, economically and environmentally diverse districts in the state of California. Stretching from Culver City to Koreatown, Silverlake to Larchmont, Cheviot Hills to South Los Angeles, the 26th District is home to many of the environmental treasures in the County of Los Angeles including the Baldwin Hills Conservancy/Parklands and Griffith Park.  While these parks provide a refuge for many Angelenos with their bike paths and walking trails they are also surrounded by some of the most congested freeways and roads in the LA County basin. As a result the 26th District faces tremendous environmental challenges related to air quality and the resulting health impacts from air pollution.

Air pollution doesn’t discriminate and the air quality of the 26th District is impacted by LAX, the ports and equally detrimental the District’s proximity to the 10, 405, 110 and 105 freeways. The harmful effects are felt throughout the district from Culver City to South LA. A lack of investment in mass transit, infrastructure and Class One BikeWays, coupled with the “love affair” that Angelenos have with their cars and a jobs housing imbalance which has residents commuting on average between 15-20 miles roundtrip each day has contributed to the district’s inability to realize higher air quality standards. These reasons, among others, is why transit, transportation and air quality are at the top of my environmental agenda, why I have earned the endorsement of the California League of Conservation Voters and why I will continue to support increased investment in mass transit as well as alternatives such as cycling, full enforcement of the Clean Air Act, incentives for cleaner technologies and penalties for gross polluters.  

These issues are more than “niche” issues. Having represented largely urban areas throughout my tenure in public service both on the Inglewood City Council and in the state legislature, I view these as environmental justice issues which impact everything from healthcare to education and our workforce. Young people who can’t cycle or exercise outdoors are not only likely to have higher rates of asthma and obesity but to underperform in school.  Cost-prohibitive gas prices, 40 mile trips to and from work and lack of mass transit options limit working and middle class employment options. And, to resolve these challenges we must identify ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by investing more resources in transit, creating live/work spaces to increase the jobs/housing balances, reducing fixed-route services and moving to door-to-door services by the MTA and encouraging employers (public and private) to incentivize their workforce towards carpooling, cycling, telecommuting and using mass transit.

However, this is only half of the battle. Whether one cycles for business, for pleasure or for the environment, cyclists and, more correctly, support for cyclists plays a crucial role in creating a more livable 26th Senate District. Improvements and expansion of Class One Bikeways via increased public/private partnership funding and incentives for those who build bike-friendly developments supported by ancillary City street improvements are among the priorities I would have in developing a cycling/environmental agenda. A continuous Class One Bikeway along the Exposition Light Rail Line which extends through the 26th District is another.  And, cyclist-safety is the last component which we must prioritize to protect cyclists and underscore the viability of cycling en masse as a means to reducing air pollution and improving our environment.

I grew up riding my bike in the 26th District in South LA, Leimert Park and the Crenshaw District. I did it for pleasure. As state Senator, I would like to support a climate which allows cyclists to choose their own reason and create an environment which makes it possible. If you have ideas on how this can be achieved, please email me at info@currenpricejr.com or visit my website at www.currenpricejr.com for more information.

Thank you.

Curren Price

Assemblymember 51st District  

Senate District 26 Candidate Statements: Nachum Shifren

March 18, 2009
Here is the first response from one the candidates for the March 24th primary for California Senate District 26, submitted by Rabbi Nachum Shifren. 

I promised each candidate that I would post their comments without comment or edits, however, I feel compelled to make one correction:  In his comments, Rabbi Shifren thanks me for my endorsement; I have not, and will not, endorse any of the candidates in this election, in order to provide a fair and unbiased forum for all the candidates to state their views.

Also, Rabbi Shifren has asked if it would be possible to meet with cyclists prior to the election to discuss his views. If anyone is planning a meeting or event and would like to hear from the candidates, I will be happy to invite him and the other candidates on your behalf.

Nachum Shifren

Dear Ted

Let me say at the outset that I am a 3-time triathlon participant, 3-time marathon runner, innumerable 10-k’s, have been a surfer and lifeguard since 1962.
Let me speak frankly: I am angry at the abuse and peril thrown at cyclists, some of our best citizens. We need to make more cycling  accessible , not limit or obstruct it! The traffic has become unbearable. Not one of the politicians supports augmenting bike lanes or developing new ones. I will, to the best of my ability upon election, commit to this endeavor.
I will never capitulate to the automobile! I have traveled and lived all over the world, and never have I seen a society so indolent or addicted to the automobile, even at the price of our health and our economic development!
Ted, you and all cyclists will have a friend in Sacramento who cares about raising the consciousness of physical fitness of our youth, attacking the congestion on our roads through greater biking alternatives, and removing the stranglehold of the autos in our communities and workplaces.
I am grateful for your endorsement and hope we can meet in the future to implement some of the ideas I’ve expressed.
Call me anytime if I can be of  help.
Here’s to clear skies above and a an inspirational road ahead!
Rabbi Shifren


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