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Why I am voting NO on LA’s Measure HLA

cicLAvia demonstrates that Angelenos love to bike

PLANNING WATCH LA

PLANNING WATCH -  Measure HLA, on the March 5, 2024, Primary Ballot in Los Angeles, is fool’s gold.  It offers a deceptively simple way to solve LA’s traffic congestion, just switch from cars to bicycling and walking.  While more bicycling and walking could help alleviate LA’s tremendous auto-dependency and traffic congestion, it won’t happen through Measure HLA.  This is because the Measure HLA ignores two essential criteria for implementing LA’s Mobility Element.  Bicycling on LA’s streets must be safe, and bicycle paths and lanes must directly connect to each other.

Doomed to Fail:  LA’s Bureau of Street Services maintains the largest street network  in the United States.  This includes 23,000 lane miles of streets and 800 miles of alleys.  Their work program of resurfacing LA’s streets has thousands of entries, including committed resurfacing projects.

A different City department, the Department of Transportation (LADOT), paints street markings, including protected bicycle paths and unprotected bicycle lanes.  For Measure HLA to work, these two siloed City departments must identify which streets have been resurfaced.  Then engineers from LADOT must determine which recently resurfaced streets are also designated in the Mobility Element for bicycle paths and lanes. 

Cost would be $2.5 billion:  So far the City Hall has not prepared an analysis of Measure HLA, but Councilwoman Traci Park has called for each designated City department to prepare an immediate report on the measure.  If done well, these reports would answer two pressing questions: How will LADOT determine which new repaving projects longer than 1/8 of a mile also qualify for a bicycle path or lane segment, and how will these projects be paid for? 

Even if interdepartmental coordination manages to successfully link the Bureau of Street Services’ street resurfacing projects to the Mobility Element’s proposed bicycle paths and lanes, the result would be hundreds of short, disconnected bicycle lanes and paths.  Since they would rarely connect to each other or the LA region’s sparse bicycle network, it is not clear how they would increase bicycling rates.

What is needed.  The City of Los Angeles’s preliminary analysis of Measure HLA determined it would cost over two billion dollars to implement the Mobility Plan.  Since the US is a wealthy country and automobile dependency is a major cause of climate change, cost should not be a problem.

Furthermore, civLAvia demonstrates that when bicycling is safe and continuous, Angelinos love to bike.  CicLavia’s mass bicycling events regularly get 100,000 riders.  This means that if LA’s  bicycle paths and lanes are safe and connected, LA’s bicycling rates could rival Portland and New York City.  There are, however, four barriers standing in the way:

Barrier 1: Biking in LA is not safe.  Los Angeles has few bicycle lanes and even fewer   protected bicycle lanes.  Most bicycle lanes are only lines or sharrows (icons) painted on city streets.  Few bikers are, therefore, willing to cycle in heavy traffic because the city’s sporadic bicycle lane network is so hazardous.

Barrier 2: Biking in LA is not continuous.  In the Los Angeles region biking is also dangerous because bike lanes rarely connect with each other.  Unless you confine yourself to Santa Monica and Pasadena, you will have no choice but to bike in traffic.

Barrier 3: City Hall does not have enough money to implement the bicycle and pedestrian proposals in LA’s Mobility Plan.  Measure HLA would cost $2.5 billion, according to LA’s City Administrative Office.  This funding gap is not a barrier because Los Angeles is a poor city, or the United States is a poor country.  It is because transportation infrastructure is a low budget priority.  It cannot compete with local police departments and US proxy wars in Ukraine and Gaza.  The Council on Foreign Relations calculated that deferred maintenance in local transportation infrastructure, including bicycle lanes, totals more than $2.6 trillion.  In contrast, the U.S. Senate just approved a $95 billion military aid package for the Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel.  If this money were spent domestically, Los Angeles and similar cities could quickly build out their proposed bicycle networks.

Barrier 4:  Angelenos prefer to drive  cars.  According to David Owen, author of Green Metropolis, New Yorkers do not need a car.  As a result, unlike Los Angeles NYC does not have organized residents who oppose turning existing traffic lanes into protected bicycle paths.  Owen also argues the best way to wean residents from cars is to first provide alternatives, such as protected bicycle lanes.  They must become so ubiquitous that driving cars becomes an expensive and time-consuming hassle.

Overcoming the barriers:  These four barriers to implementing the Mobility Element are not easily overcome, but Measure HLA does not even address them.  While it is technically possible to rely on bicycle safety and connectivity to implement the Mobility Element, funding this massive bicycle network will still be a major political challenge.  If it can be overcome, then LA could have a complete network of bicycle paths and lanes.  It could rival other cities and also allow Angelenos to finally ditch their cars.

(Dick Platkin is a retired Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatchLA.  He is a board member of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA). Previous columns are available at the CityWatchLA archives.  Please send questions to [email protected].)