CityWatch, June 5, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 45
The City Council took another swing at LA's antiquated bike licensing program, taking the House of Molasses one step closer to a complete repeal of the controversial law.
Cyclists have long complained that the Bike Licensing program was ineffective, pointing out that the licenses weren't actually available and that a database of registered bicycle owners wasn't actually maintained.
Critics went further pointing out that the law was so poorly written as to require anyone riding a bike through LA from a neighboring community to purchase a bike license and that the fine of $160 for riding a bike without a license exceeded LA's authority under state law. Through it all, the LA Department of Transportation and the LA Police Department maintained a contract with Ilium Strategic Marketing & Design for a program educating the public on "the need to register their bicycles." Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent in recent years promoting a program that doesn't even exist!
The issue came to a head last year when the LAPD pulled a group of cyclists over and began citing them for riding their bikes on the streets of LA without bike licenses. The cyclists charged that the citations were a form of harassment, that the LAPD pulled them over and then had to search the book until they could find an infraction.
The editor of Los Angeles Magazine was on that ride and he detailed the incident and the "retaliatory tickets" in a feature article in the January edition of the magazine.
This was the proverbial last straw and cyclists organized a "Storm the Bastille" ride and over 100 cyclists filled the City Council's Transportation Committee chambers and charged the LAPD with bias based policing, detailed the absurdity of the bike license program and called for its repeal.
The LAWeekly was there for the meeting and wrote of the event quoting Rhode Bloch who at one point referred to the LADOT's Bikeways Department asking "Have they never spoken to a cyclist?" [Link]
Streetsblog wrote of the event finding the showdown between Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger and Councilman Bill Rosendahl to be one of the highlights of an emotional and energetic committee meeting.
Through it all, the LAPD stood their ground!
The cyclists persevered, charging that the process itself was the punishment, that cyclists either take the ticket and pay $160 (in person!) or take a day off from work to fight the ticket. Either option was unacceptable, especially since their only crime was to challenge the primacy of the motor vehicle by daring to ride a bike on the streets of LA in front of the LAPD.
For nine months the controversy has simmered and this past Tuesday the Council motion calling for an ordinance repealing the law finally made its way to the full City Council. Phew!
In spite of the fact that the Councilmembers all agreed on the need to repeal LAMC 26.01, they took the time to engage in a bit of pontificating that left audience members shaking their heads.
Councilman LaBonge jumped to his feet and immediately shifted the debate "to the children" and pointed out that if a child was hit by a car while riding to school, how would we know the identity of the child? While this doesn't really address the complaint that the LAPD was writing $160 tickets to adults, all of whom carried ID, he raises a good point.
But the bike license solution is hardly an effective solution to the "child identity" dilemma, especially since kids borrow bikes, become separated from their bikes and sometimes ... gasp ... even walk to school which leaves us waiting for the LaBonge shoe license proposal.
Councilman Zine stepped up to regale the audience of his glory days on the beat and of the times in which he was able to return stolen bikes to their owners, all because of the bike license program.
Unfortunately much has changed since those days and the defunct bike licensing program is no match for the many techniques that today's cyclists employ to deal with bike theft. I was reminded of Rhode Bloch's exclamation at the Transpo committee. "Have they never spoken to a cyclist?"
Cyclists these days use a variety of techniques for "marking" bikes so that they can be identified and reclaimedby their owners. In fact while the LAPD is still relying on a cigar box filled with receipts and index cards, cyclists employ a variety of online resources to support safe cycling in the City of LA. Imagine if the City Council were to actually work with the cycling community!
Cyclists can register their bike at stolenbikeregistry.com list their stolen bike on totalbike.com post or text incidents with motorists on BikeX post locations of crashes, hazards and thefts at Bikewise, email in Metro incidents to Metro@illuminateLA.com or hit-and-run incidents to HitAndRun@gmail.com
All of this speaks volumes about the strained relationship between our City's leadership and the cycling community.
As for the DIY movement in the cycling community, Bicycling Magazine recently highlighted the exploits of LA's Department of DIY and the recent short lived Fletcher Bridge bike lane improvements that were installed in the middle of the night and at no cost to the City of LA.
The LADOT responded with uncharacteristic swiftness and the offending bike lane was painted black and the supporting signage was removed. Bicycling magazine quoted the LADOT Bikeways Coordinator as saying the DIY incident "lost goodwill."
Rosendahl took some time during the bike license debate to address LA's relationship with the cycling community and he asked the same LADOT Bikeways Coordinator about the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, a document that he has been championing since the horrendous Mandeville Canyon incident of last year that left two cyclists broken and bleeding, purportedly at the hands of a motorist who found their lane positioning offensive.
The Bikeways Coordinator responded that the Cyclists' Bill of Rights was still under review because there were a few items that gave them some concern and they were reviewing the document with the help of the City Attorney. This is the same document that opens by claiming "Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear." One can only wonder if it's the "travel safely" or the "free of fear" that gives the LADOT staff cause for concern.
Rosendahl pressed on and went after the City's long overdue Bike Plan. When he asked the LADOT how many miles of BIKE PATHS there are in Los Angeles, the LADOT sidestepped the specific question and instead responded "About 5% of the City's roadway network has a bikeways facility on it."
(There are 6,500 miles of roadway in Los Angeles. There are 51 miles of BIKE PATH and there are 142 miles of BIKE LANE.)
At the end of the day, the long, slow and cumbersome repeal of the City's Bike License law drove home the simple message that if the City of Los Angeles is going to become a bike-friendly city, it will be a Department of DIY project.
“Cyclists across LA have until June 12 to review and offer suggestions to city planning officials on proposed new bike lanes that would traverse the city.” Complete LA Times report here .
(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net)