Friday, November 22, 2013

Meeting the Vice Chancellor

Keith Parker is a calm and collected man. He must be. As Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations, many issues come to his door every day. The high art of Community Relations is not advanced by excitement and agitation. 

Cover of UCLA Extension Catalogue, Woody Pirtle
UCLA loves Bicycles (1): Cover of UCLA Extension Catalog
And yet, we came to the 15th floor with a large bag of agitation and a sense of injustice. We wanted to hear that yes, something needs to be done about improving access to campus without a car. We wanted him to recognize the scandalous way in which cyclists find themselves thrown into the path of fast moving traffic around campus. Dismay and despair about the lack of non-motorized connections to UCLA drives us crazy. Good luck with that, he seemed to say. We are worked up about the lack of vision to offer healthy options for the commute to campus, about the missed opportunities that come to UCLA with the EXPO Line. For him our anger makes it barely to the bottom of his priorities: It would be nice to get involved here, but sadly, it has nothing to do with the core mission of the University: The creation, dissemination, preservation and application of knowledge for the betterment of our global society.

UCLA loves Bicycles (2): Banner from the UCLA Health Homepage

Point taken. Cycling towards academic excellence is probably a precarious proposition. But I was surprised that our partners across the table seemed content to outsource the benefits of active modes to a transient and un-funded group of cyclists like ourselves. Why would UCLA not take a position that explicitly encourages healthy, active and green modes for the commute to campus? To raise more green commuters, you need more than a blog. You need to engage local agencies so they provide better facilities around campus. And then you articulate disappointment when Councilmember Koretz just steps away from the commitment to study bike lanes on Westwood Blvd. Advice about how to reach out, how to negotiate and how to make lemons into lemonade has been well received, but this baby is too big for a crew of well-intentioned activists who need to get on with their academic lives. Remember, we too have to study and to work, to teach, to read, to write and to do research. Do you really expect us to remedy what your institution has overlooked for decades? Would it be so difficult to interpret current guidance about how the campus is to act within its local community to include an explicit emphasis on healthy and active modes? 

Yes, this reference to the academic core mission was pretty pathetic. No one can conduct and facilitate community relations while staring at the priorities of a research university. We were talking to right Vice Chancellor, yes, but he answered as if it said "research" on his door. We better clarify that.

UCLA loves Bicycles (3): Bruin Bikes
Perhaps they would if they could. A very vocal minority of homeowners who have forced Koretz's hand on Westwood Blvd. Perhaps they also have the Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations on speed-dial. Perhaps the reluctance on the 15th floor to recognize the benefits of cycling and to work actively towards better infrastructure has something to do with the same vocal minority of homeowners. They call when parking or congestion affects their residence, - but the woman on a bike, whom is she to call when a driver almost hits her, doors her, when the cratered roadways around campus throw her? Try (310) 794 6823 and ask for Mr Parker or Mrs Brannon. There comes a point when the university has to decide if it wants to stay quiet when local politicians make bad decisions. This point is not quite here, but it is close. Then facilities for those who want and need to get to campus without a car will no longer be only "nice to do." 

It surely was good to have this conversation. Thanks to all. As a follow-up, the Vice Chancellor will arrange a meeting for us with Koretz's transportation deputy. We also sensed that public health initiatives, for instance the healthy campus initiative or the school of public health, could become important partners for our concerns. We were impressed by Renee Fortier, who contributed and moderated very effectively. But we also felt that the campus leadership has barely started to consider the negative impacts of car-dependency. 

As we left the meeting, at the intersection of Westwood and Wilshire, we saw the new majestic on-ramps for the 405 in the distance, built for many million dollars, with UCLA drivers in mind. They owe us a whole lot of bike lanes, don't they? 

Keith Parker, Felicia Brannon (Government and Community Relations), Dave Karwaski, Renee Fortier (Transportation Services), Lana Martin (Graduate Student), Dylan Smith (Graduate Student), Hyeran Lee (Bicycle Coalition at UCLA), Michael Cahn (UCLA Bicycle Academy)

1 comment:

Velocipedus said...


Date: Mon, Jun 9, 2014 at 5:00 PM
Subject: Thank You for Supporting Bike Lanes
To: Carmen Healey
Cc: Darryn Harris , Felicia Brannon , Keith Parker , Phillip Bonacich

Dear Carmen,

I understand from the minutes of the Westwood Community Council of 18 March 2014 that UCLA has taken a supportive position on bike-lanes on Westwood Blvd between Wellworth and Le Conte. I write on behalf of the UCLA Bicycle Academy to thank you for this important commitment. It is excellent news that our great university understands that our roads need to accommodate all modes safely, and that support for healthy and sustainable transport options is an integral part of a healthy and sustainable campus. Thank you very much!

Let me add that as bicycle advocates we find ourselves often in a precarious position. Many of us are experienced bicycle drivers, comfortable with an assertive style of on-road bicycle-driving in traffic which does not really need bike lanes. We are therefore not advocating for our own personal needs, but for all those anxious, discouraged, frightened would-be-cyclists, who are still sitting in traffic, polluting and stressing, but who may give the bicycle a try once they see a line of paint on the asphalt. Again, on behalf of all those not-yet-cyclists, a very big Thank You.

As the public outreach about these bike lanes on Westwood moves forward, we are on stand-by to participate with our expertise. Please keep us posted.

Dr Michael Cahn
Secretary, UCLA Bicycle Academy