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Are You Bike-Friendly? CD 5 Candidate Paul Koretz Responds

For the March 2013 elections, LACBC asked each of the candidates running for City Council of the City of Los Angeles to respond to our questionnaire so that our members could learn how each candidate proposes to make our streets safe, balanced, and livable. Here are 2013 responses from CD 5 candidate (and current council member) Paul Koretz.

1. Please share a memory involving a bicycle that has had a lasting effect on you (whether or not you were the one on the bicycle).

My fondest memory on a bike was doing the California AIDS Ride in 1996. I hadn’t been on a bike for a long time, and trained to do over 500 miles for charity. (I was told that I was the first elected official to do the ride at the time—don’t know if any have done it since.) It was a great experience, riding with thousands of people who were crazy enough to do such a ride because they cared about people with HIV and AIDS. Most were not great cyclists on the natural, although most had trained more than I, but a wonderful group of people taking on a tough task because they wanted to help those in need.

It was quite a challenge. Some days were extremely hot, and on one of them, I must have been extremely dehydrated. The medical volunteers stopped me at several of the rest stops and tried to convince me to stop for the day (I must have looked like hell) but I was too stubborn. On the last day, I had to ride standing up the whole way, because my backside was too sore to sit. But it was truly a peak experience.

2. The Department of City Planning is in the process of updating the City’s Mobility Element for the first time in decades.  What policies would you prioritize for inclusion in the Mobility Element?  What role do you see bicycling playing in the City’s transportation system, if any?

The Mobility plan that is currently being crafted is a strong look at traffic movements in the City, and I fully support having a smart, long term look at how we plan for the movement of our residents.  Naturally, I think that bicycles must play an integral role in this system, and because of that I have and will continue to push for more comprehensive and far reaching ideas to spread the ridership of bikes in LA.  With the expansion of the Subway to the Sea, and the EXPO Light Rail, the City has taken the position that mass transit is the future of this region—the usage of bicycles as a method to travel in between those systems is key to further reduce the use of cars and accidents.

3. Just a few months ago, Los Angeles was honored as a Bronze-level Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Do you believe the city should pursue a Silver-level designation, and if so, what steps would you take in the first year of your term to move LA up to the Silver level?

As I mentioned previously, I have been one of the most vocal proponents of bicycle routes and pedestrian friendly planning.  In 2010, I authored a MOTION which requested that the Planning Department submit quarterly reports on the Bike Plan’s implementation, and have been an advocate of its development in my own district.  I certainly believe that the city should pursue Silver-level designation, as the Council and Mayor have consistently been pushing for more bike usage as a great alternative to vehicular traffic.  With the expansion of CycLAvia, and the beginning of Bike Nation in the city, we are only at the beginning of a bike friendly LA.

4. In 2011, the City Council unanimously adopted the Bicycle Plan proposing a comprehensive 1,600-mile bikeway network across the City.  What steps would you take to ensure implementation of Bicycle Plan projects in your district?  Are there any specific projects in the Plan you would prioritize?

As I stated earlier, I was the author of a MOTION which requested that the Planning Department report on the status of the bicycle plan regularly.  In addition, I have when appropriate, sped up the implementation of bike paths within my district.  A good example is the recent resurfacing of National Place in West LA and Motor Avenue in Palms, both streets are traffic bearing and were slated to have bike paths placed on them in future years—however because they were recently resurfaced I requested that the Department of Transportation push them up.  However, in both of those cases I made sure that my office consulted with the local Home Owner’s association and the local Neighborhood Council.  I am an advocate of bike paths so long as we implement them intelligently and with the input of local stakeholders.

5. Studies have shown that people on bicycles spend more per month in local business districts than those arriving by other modes.  What steps would you take to ensure that local businesses in your district are able to benefit from better access by bicyclists?

The City Council is currently in discussions with Bike Nation, a company which is pioneering a unique LA focused way to have bike share become a reality in our city.  The start of the plan is likely to start closer to the center of the City, butI will work to have the very next part of this plan open up in my district.  Although the 5th district is known for congestion issues, we also have many wonderful bike friendly communities that would stand to benefit greatly from an implementation plan.  From Westwood to Century City, Encino to Palms, I am confident that Bike Nation will come to my district and aide both pedestrians and local businesses alike by increasing bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

6. The LA Weekly recently wrote a feature story documenting that almost half of traffic collisions in the City of LA are hit-and-runs, according to LAPD records.  Many victims of these traffic crimes are people walking and bicycling.  What steps would you take to reduce the rate of hit-and-run and ensure perpetrators are prosecuted?

One of the hallmarks of my first term in office is the accessibility that constituents have to me.  From the start, I have made sure that my deputies and I go to as many meetings as possible: from Home Owner’s groups to Neighborhood Councils, to Neighborhood Watches and houses of worship from all faiths, including schools and everything in between—because of that I have made problem areas a priority for both the Department of Transportation and the LAPD to oversee.

One of the most walkable communities in my district is the Pico-Robertson area, which on its own is one of the most dense Jewish-Orthodox communities in Los Angeles, and certainly in the United States.  I have worked closely with Captain Evangeline Nathan, Commanding Officer of West LAPD Division and her officers on attending community meetings, logging complaints and ensuring that issues are heard and dealt with.  In Palms and the Melrose/La Brea portions of my district, I work with two other LAPD divisions on similar outreach efforts and visibility in spite of the fact that each of those communities have large vehicular traffic with high pedestrian counts.  No matter what part of my district, from Encino down to Palms, I have made traffic safety—vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle—a high priority, whether that means traffic studies, signal timing changes, re-striping or community meetings.

In Palms, I have asked CalTrans to proceed with a left turn arrow, traffic upgrade, at the intersection of Motor and Venice.  In Pico-Robertson, I have requested and received federal grants to start the implementation process of adding additional traffic signals for increased pedestrian safety.  In the Melrose / La Brea district, I have increased traffic signal times to accommodate the local community’s needs.  In Encino I have directed the Department of Transportation to monitor Ventura and adjacent streets to ensure smoother movement of traffic.  In every corner of my district, I have concentrated on innovation, safety and access.

7. In the event of a collision, the survival of those injured could depend on a prompt emergency response, yet it’s recently been disclosed that response times for the Los Angeles Fire Department frequently exceed national standards. What would you do to address budget and staffing cutbacks affecting the LAFD to ensure a faster response for all those who need emergency assistance?

From my first day in Council, I have been a vocal leader against the defunding or cut back of our LAFD.  In fact, one of my earliest votes in Council was a “No” vote against the scale back of the department—something which I did because “I do not vote for things that kill people”, which is what I said during Council.  This year, I led the fight during the budget deliberations to have the LAFD funded at an extra amount of 40 million dollars—at the same time I have held the leadership’s feet to the fire by openly questioning the methods that they use to analyze timings and statistics (CF : 12-0431-S2 ), months before the issue was brought into the public light by the LA Times piece in November of 2012.

I am a friend and supporter of the LAFD—in my district I made sure that stations which were limited inappropriately were restored to their proper capacity.  Fire Station 58 on Robertson Boulevard was one of the stations most deeply cut, and now they are back up to full staffing—something which I made a priority immediately after I learned that the station had been cut so far back.

I also think we need to break down and analyze each element of a response and figure out how to save time. For instance, 911 calls go directly to LAPD. If they determine it is an LAFD call, then it is transferred there. Having a separate number for fire emergencies could save 30 seconds to a minute per call. There are several changes like that which could save seconds or even minutes. That means some additional lives saved, and nothing is more important than that.

It is important for the Council to continue to work with staff, the leadership and our partners in UFLAC, as well as the residents and community members at large.  As I have stated before, the answer to every question before the Council must be arrived at with care and cooperation from all parties involved.

8. A recent proposal has been floated to assess all property owners to bring streets into a state of good repair.  Do you support the proposed bond measure, and do you believe any changes should be made to the proposal to serve all those who travel on city streets, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users?

At this time, I support the 3 Billion dollar bond measure that was brought forth by Councilmember Mitch Englander in concept.  I am certainly in favor of better streets, and in fact I have ensured that each year the number of resurfaced streets grows in my district, however, I am not a supporter of the bond measure without it first being vetted by our residents, Neighborhood Councils, homeowners associations and other community groups. This is a concept brought forward to respond to our residents, whose most frequent complaint is the terrible condition of our streets. Yet community leaders and residents overall responded in horror to the proposal! We clearly need to lay the groundwork, do the education and vetting and get community buy-in before we move forward.

9. LACBC has formed Neighborhood Bike Ambassador groups in each part of the City to work with local businesses, neighborhood councils, homeowner associations and other stakeholders on bicycle issues. Will you commit to meeting with the local Ambassador group in your district on a regular and ongoing basis? Would you be willing to lead a regularly scheduled bike ride with your constituents?

My staff will be happy to meet with the local Ambassador group in my district.  My own appointee to the City’s Bicycle Commission works closely with me on implementing the city’s bike plan and has met regularly with my constituents on the subject.  Being out of practice and shape, leading a bike ride might not be the right term, but I would join an easy, pretty flat bike ride in the fifth district with my constituents!

10. Would you presently feel safe riding a bike in Los Angeles, and if not, what would it take to make you feel comfortable on our city streets?

Honestly, I probably ride my bike so rarely because I don’t feel safe on commercial streets competing with cars for the same space. I felt very safe on the AIDS Ride because we had our own lane blocked off from San Francisco to West Hollywood. I am keenly aware that we are only scratching the surface on making this City a true bike friendly area.  In order to further that goal, I believe that we must push forward with the Bike Implementation plan, proceed diligently and work with the community at each stage of the plan to move biking in LA forward, coordinate with Bike Nation on a smart network of bike sharing in Los Angeles and continue to stripe more lanes each and every year. I feel the safest on a separate bike path, such as that located at the beach, or the Orange Line, or that which will eventually span the EXPO line. I am fighting hard to make sure the EXPO bike path does get completed.

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