CC Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan Faces Its First Crisis

by Howard Cohen

Last week’s column reported that Culver City, though perhaps slightly behind
the nationwide curve in moving to create a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly
environment, had made a major stride forward by adopting its Master Plan.

There will soon be a proposal made to the City Council that could represent a giant
leap backward—a proposal to amend the plan that just might jeopardize the city’s
chances of receiving grant money to implement the plan’s vision.

Significant grant money is available for projects only in cities, like ours, that have
adopted a bicycle plan. A state program called the Bicycle Transportation Account
(BTA) provides funds for local projects that improve safety and convenience
for bicycle commuters. Under the auspices of Caltrans, grants this year totaling
over $7 million—from money raised through the Highway User’s Tax Account
and the Transportation Tax Fund—are expected to be available statewide. Cities
are expected to put up at least 10% of the costs of approved projects, with the
remainder coming from the grants.

The grant funds may be used for a variety of projects, including new bikeways
serving major transportation corridors or removing travel barriers to potential
bicycle commuters; secure bicycle parking at employment centers, park-and-ride
lots, and rail and transit terminals; bicycle-carrying facilities on public transit
vehicles; elimination of hazardous conditions on existing bikeways; improvement
and maintenance of bikeways; project planning, design, engineering, and
construction; and right-of-way acquisition.

According to the Caltrans website, “[t]o be eligible for BTA funds, a city or county
must prepare and adopt a Bicycle Transportation Plan (BTP)” that meets statutory
requirements. Those requirements include maps and descriptions of existing and
proposed land use patterns, of existing and proposed bikeways and end-of-trip
bicycle parking facilities, and of connections between bicycle facilities and transit

stops, and “[a] description of the projects proposed in the plan and a listing of their
priorities for implementation.”

When the Master Plan came up for City Council consideration last December,
the Council voted to adopt the Plan after receiving assurances from staff, first,
that the bulk of the funding for projects identified in the Plan would come from
competitive grants rather than the Culver City general fund and, second, that the
Plan was flexible enough to accommodate concerns that might arise about specific
future projects.

We are operating a bit in the dark at this point—details of the proposed amendment
to the Master Plan won’t be revealed until this issue of the Culver City News
goes to press. But there is a concern that any attempt to add more flexibility to
change the plan than the law already provides could jeopardize the city’s ability
to qualify for grant money. Of course, economic and other interests should be
considered before implementing any project in the plan, and projects should be
appropriately adapted to maximize benefits to the city while pursuing the vision of
creating bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly travel. In December, city staff informed
the Council that the plan already allows the Council to make appropriate project-
specific amendments to adapt to the city’s needs. But a Master Plan that is too
flexible loses the character of a plan and become a mere wish list. Sources of grant
money may hesitate to recognize a Master Plan that’s been amended to be more
easily changed as a “plan” at all, and may not be able to provide funds for any of
the projects that the Council only a few months ago deemed worth pursuing.

The City Council will consider the amendment at its March 28 meeting, at City
Hall at 7:00 p.m. Please come out to lend your support to the Master Plan in
its current form. And help make sure that the Council carefully considers the
ramifications of any changes so that the potential for Culver City to receive grant
money is not jeopardized.

[update — consideration of the amendment was postponed and had not been rescheduled as of April 20, 2011]

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