Thu, Aug

LADOT to CalTrans Engineer: You’re Outta Here

INVITATION ONLY … OR ELSE - If your boss asked to sit in on a meeting you were having with your staff, would you tell him to get out? Of course not! Or if you were a CEO of startup, and one of your major investors stopped by unexpectedly at a staff meeting, would you chastise them for not RSVPing? No, you’d give them your chair, your praise, your coffee, and your briefcase if they asked for it.

But here in the City of LA we’re experts in the art of foot-in-mouth. We’d turn away the boss and tell the investor to call first next time, and send him packing.

Case and point: at a workshop for LADOT engineers to learn best practices from the Netherlands, LADOT staff turned away a CalTrans employee who controls LADOT funding.

Dale Benson, the Senior Transportation Engineer in CalTrans District 7's Local Assistance section, and Rock Miller, the award winning consultant who designed Long Beach's innovative bike facilities, were turned away from the Think Bike LA workshops. The Think Bike LA workshops connected Dutch cycling experts with bike-challenged LADOT engineers to help them draft concept bike facilities to solve bike issues.

Benson administers bicycle funding and pedestrian funding for CalTrans District 7, which includes millions in federal and state funding that goes to LA biking and walking projects.  Miller is the Vice President of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) - the dominant national organization of transportation professionals - and has been praised by Charlie Gandy [link] of Long Beach as "Long Beach, California’s consulting traffic engineering genius."

Benson and Miller have so far declined to comment.  However, LACBC Planning and Policy Director Alexis Lantz, the beloved Kill Radio DJ Paul "Chickenleather", and a third source, who asked to remain anonymous, have confirmed that Benson and Miller were excluded.  DJ Paul was also excluded.

Rumors are circulating that Metro Transportation Planning Manager Tony Jusay was also excluded.

Lantz said "Michelle [Mowery] sort of pushed everyone out of the room that wasn't part of the teams."  

Lantz emphasized that Benson, Miller and others were not on the three teams of twelve invited to participate in the workshops.  DJ Paul confirmed Mowery's involvement saying "Ms. Mowery asked us to leave."  Mowery, who works in Bikeways at LADOT, is the Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Los Angeles.

It was the anonymous source that provided the play by play.  The source reported that Benson entered the room and was confronted by Mowery.  Benson asked to observe, and emphasizing that he didn't expect to participate:

Benson: I just want to observe and watch the groups working.

Mowery: This is a closed thing.

Benson: Well who made that decision?  Who do I need to speak with?

Mowery: You can talk to the mayor's office . . . don't make this difficult for me.

The source said that it seemed like "Mowery was going to call security."  Benson, who is known to be very soft spoken, never raised his voice.

Historically, the City of LA has struggled to compete for Metro and CalTrans funds.  In the recent call for projects, the LADOT Bikeways only secured one on-street bikeways project.  That project received only 20% of the funding that LADOT Bikeways requested.

DJ Paul brought levity to the situation recounting a minutes long ordeal to get his camera battery charged, where ultimately he prevailed by trading use of his bike pump for use of a City Hall power outlet.  He said of the whole situation "it may have been a blessing because it made me work that much harder."

Ultimately DJ Paul ran into one of the workshop teams at lunch.  Bikeways Transportation Engineer Nate Baird invited him along, saying, according to Paul, "I don't see a problem with that."

Neither do I!

LA’s Department of Transportation may have the right to toss a Senior CalTrans engineer out of its bike party but the question is … is it prudent? It’s way past time for LADOT to go to work on its less-than-friendly public image.

(Dr. Alex Thompson is the President of Bikeside and the Community Director of the Mar Vista Community Council. He thinks Think Bike is a great concept, but loathes that LADOT staff acted disgracefully. He welcomes comments at [email protected] !) -cw

Tags: Think Bike LA, LADOT, bike issues, bike workshops, CalTrans

Vol 9 Issue 77
Pub: Sept 27, 2011