How We Can Make L.A.'s Bike Plan a Reality: An Interview With Bill Rosendahl

Councilmember Bill Rosendahl celebrated the passage of the bike plan on the steps of City Hall this morning.
Los Angeles' much lauded new bike plan has been officially ratified into action. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the measure this morning on the steps of City Hall. It's a great moment for cycling advocates everywhere--even Lance Armstrong spoke out on behalf of the plan. But building 1,680 miles of bicycle infrastructure in the middle of a city budget crisis is no small task. And the bike plan wouldn't be the first well-intentioned plan in recent history to go by the wayside...ahem, Million Trees L.A. Initiative, ahem.

I spoke with L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who chairs the city's Transportation Committee, about how things are shaping up to actually implement our newly ratified plan.

Rosendahl said the next five years will see a three-staged approach to implementing the bike plan. To begin, the city will focus on building a strategic network of functional cycling routes that will form the so-called 600-mile "Backbone Bikeway Network." Next, the city plans to expand that network on a neighborhood scale. Finally, a more scenic "green" network of lanes will be built alongside various canals and naturally beautiful areas.

Sounds perfect! When do we start?

Not anytime in the immediate future, says Rosendahl. Few routes have been formally agreed upon and perhaps the only Backbone-type route that's shovel ready is the Expo Bike Lane--which is currently stalled in the face of a lawsuit by the Cheviot Hills Homeowner Association.

Rosendahl said initial reports that L.A. would up its bike lane quota to 40 miles per year was spoken in haste.

"I'm saying 200 miles in 5 year. We're already well into 2011."

That may sound like bad news, but Rosendahl says there isn't anything to fear.

"Knowing you have planning and transit on the same wavelength sends a message that L.A. is ready. We can lead the whole world in this regard.

"If we can lay things out in year one, we can really step things up by year 3 and 4. We have some real concrete opportunity with money to do things the right way."

Los Angeles gets about $1.75 million per year from Measure R for bicycle improvements and can apply for up to $2 million annually from the state Transportation Development Act. Metro could additionally provide between $3-$15 annually for bicycle infrastructure projects.

"We know we have a funding source. We're in the position to do this right," he reiterated.

Rosendahl says because the city has found religion when it comes to listening to cyclists, instead of just building lanes that are politically convenient, the city bureaucracy has a much better idea how to figure out what "right" is.

"We'll start with the no-brainers. I obviously like Olympic Boulevard because it's wide. But I personally don't ride a bike. I'm going to defer to the expertise of cyclists like Alex Thompson who do. Because if they don't like it, no one is going to."

Especially homeowners, who may not like the plans no matter how well they're designed. In Los Angeles, a plan so extensive it covers 1,680 miles of territory is bound to run into a NIMBY homeowner association or two...or ten.

"Homeowners have to realize homes are precious, but cycling is too," says Rosendahl. "We talk about the epidemic of childhood obesity in our city. This plan could have a major role in ending that. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a culture change. We'll deal with the homeowner groups with the hope we can find consensus."

Rosendahl pledges he won't allow the bike plan to go the way of the Million Tree L.A. Initiative. "I will keep this issue alive in our committee."

But he's going to need plenty of help to keep this plan alive. Cycling advocates need to continue to show up to hearings and provide the expertise needed to make this plan happen the right way. And casual cycling enthusiasts and fans of green development need to lend their vocal support when the inevitable homeowner bickering begins.

In a rare moment, the city seems to have the public's ear when it comes to making this plan happen. That's too good an opportunity to get lazy with.

Photo via Councilmember Bill Rosendahl's Flickr

The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the Cailfornia Endowment.

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