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L.A. City Council Passes Bicycle Master Plan, Now the Hard Work Begins

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Detail of the Backbone Bikeway Network, a proposal created by cyclists and incorporated into the city's bicycle master plan | Image via the L.A. Bike Working Group

Editor's Note: This is the first post by Matthew Fleischer to appear on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Look out for the L.A. Vitamin Report, which is about quality of life issues, a few times every week. The series is brought to you by Spot.Us

This afternoon marked a fairly historic moment in the city of Los Angeles' efforts to transform itself into a greener, human-friendly city. By a 12-0 vote, the Los Angeles City Council approved a measure to ratify a comprehensive bicycle plan for the city of Los Angeles.

This isn't first time the city has attempted a bike plan--but it is the first time they've adopted a competent one, back by politicians, transit officials, and cycling activists alike.

Included in the city council's measure that would ultimately create 1,680 miles of bicycle infrastructure is a plan to build the Backbone Bikeway Network: 600 miles of interconnected cycling lanes that would allow riders to safely traverse the city from Eagle Rock to Crenshaw to Venice and beyond. It's a monumental step for our notoriously car-centric city--a city that also has a history of abject planning failure and happens to be caught in a massive budget deficit.

And therein lies the problem.

As exciting as today's vote was, and as happy as cycling activists will surely be when Mayor Villaraigosa signs the measure into law--as all indications are he will on Wednesday--a brilliant plan is no guarantee that this thing actually gets built. Here's just a small sample of the kind of obstacles building cycling infrastructure in Los Angeles have come up against in the past.

Efforts to create a bike path along the Arroyo Seco are now entering their second decade. What began as a vision to create a nearly 13-mile path connecting Pasadena with Downtown Los Angeles, has now been scaled back to a little over 1,300 feet from Ave. 26 to San Fernando. The project has a budget of slightly over $1 million--which officials aren't sure is enough--and is tentatively expected to be finished sometime in 2013. Yes, you read that right: $1 million and upwards of 12 years of planning to build a quarter-mile foot bike path.

Obviously the Arroyo Seco Bikeway is an extreme example of the kind of bureaucratic bungling that can infect a well-intentioned plan like the Backbone Bikeway Network. But even well-planned, politically connected projects can get caught up in the LA civic planning bog.

The Expo Bike Path--a key spur of the Backbone Bikeway Network--is currently mired in legal woes, after the Cheviot Hills Homeowner Association filed a lawsuit over the path, demanding an environmental review. Nevermind the path is set to be built alongside the far more invasive Expo Rail line, which is currently in construction and already has an EIR. Homeowners want a new--and costly--EIR for the bike path.

The point of bringing all this up isn't to say that building a comprehensive web of bikeways in Los Angeles is impossible. Because it isn't. This city enjoys a huge well of available transit funds from Measure R, as well the newly built political support for cycling from virtually every department in the city. Mayor Villaraigosa is saying all the right things, promising to implement an aggressive 5-year-plan to build 40 miles of new bike paths per year--up from 10 under previous plans.

That said, lying in wait are hordes of NIMBYs, shady contractors, and, undoubtedly, selfish bureaucrats clambering to get funds directed to their districts.

Now is not the time for cycling activists to be passive. Yes, LA is on the verge of passing an historic plan. But a monumental effort is going to be required to realize this dream.

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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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