New California Bill Will Let L.A. Squeeze in More Bike Lanes, Sans Environmental Review

Although they're hard to hear over the impassioned roar of cycling advocates at L.A. City Hall, some local homeowners and car drivers are freaking out over AB 2245, a feel-good state bill pitched by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) as a fast track to a greener Los Angeles County.

Jim O'Sullivan, president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association, says of the moment he accidentally discovered the bill: "I just went ballistic."

That's because, if approved by Governor Jerry Brown, it will exempt any new bike lane that doesn't interfere with street parking...

... from undergoing an environmental review (EIR), as would be otherwise mandated under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Assemblyman Smyth, its author, argues that bike lanes are as environmentally friendly as an infrastructure project can get -- so why would they ever need a so-called "environmental" review?

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Because of his squeaky-green reasoning, AB 2245 is the sole survivor out of three last-minute attempts by the Legislature to unravel CEQA -- the only one that got past fierce California environmentalists and made it to Gov. Brown's desk during this home stretch. (In case you're in the dark, right now is gutting-and-amending time in Sacramento. That's because the last possible moment for state politicians to approve their bills for this session will be Friday, Aug. 31, at midnight.)

While Smyth is correct in a very literal sense -- yeah, OK, bikes are awesome for the environment -- CEQA is in place to ensure that a project be closely examined for its potential impacts on human society, such as traffic flow and overall quality of life.

And the particular type of bike lanes that will get a free pass under AB 2245 -- those that don't require street widening, just restriping -- tend to have an especially huge impact on all those other evil people on the road.

You know, the 99 percent of us who don't (or can't) bike to work.

It's pretty simple: The more space L.A. sets aside on its roads for bicycles, the less space there will be for cars to flow freely. This could become a real problem on streets like Westwood or Hoover, which barely move at rush hour as is.

But the bill is ultra-convenient for the L.A. Department of Transportation, currently faced with installing a daunting 1,680 miles worth of bike lane, as promised to the cycling zealots by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011. At LADOT's current bike-lane construction rate of 40 miles per year, however, the mayor will be 93 years old before his promise comes true.

So Assemblyman Smyth offered a quick fix: Why not whiz right past that pesky EIR stage, straight to the road diet?

His plan would likewise be a huge help for the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's own political bicycle ambitions, Smyth explains in his bill analysis:

"The County of Los Angeles just recently approved an ambitious plan to add 832 miles of new bikeways. Many of these will be of the Class II variety where simple restriping is all that is needed to connect communities for nonmotorized travel."

O'Sullivan, however, feels that bike lanes are already getting jammed through the public-input process, even without a fast-track from Sacramento.

Hancock Park resident and L.A. City Hall watchdog Jack Humphreville agrees. The only community outreach that the city has done for the lanes so far, he says, is to conduct low-profile meetings at which "they're preaching to us. They're not taking our input."

So, although Smyth's bill would require less exhaustive "traffic and safety impact assessments" to be conducted in place of EIRs, O'Sullivan doubts they'll address any real issues -- such as existing highway congestion and the displacement of cars onto smaller streets in packed neighborhoods like his own.

Remove EIRS from the equation altogether, says Humphreville, and "we won't have the ability to get any idea of what the traffic impact [of bike lanes] will be in our neighborhood. It's sort of a slam, bam, thank you ma'am."

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]


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