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L.A. bus and bike lane measure will cost $3.1 billion, a new report says. Backers cry foul

A bicyclist rides in a protected bike lane on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista in 2021.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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With L.A.’s city election less than three weeks away, the top budget official at City Hall said Measure HLA, the ballot proposal to install hundreds of miles of transportation improvements, would cost the city at least $3.1 billion over the next decade.

City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo said projects required as part of Measure HLA, a proposal on the March 5 ballot, would create new financial obligations without delivering additional transportation funds.

Szabo provided his analysis in a new 12-page written report, which served as an update of a previous, lower estimate issued last year. Appearing before the City Council on Friday, Szabo said that if the measure passes, city leaders will need to determine whether some construction projects should be shelved to make way for the bike lanes and sidewalk improvements that would be required.

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If the proposal passes, “you will be asked to make offsetting decisions, and potentially not fund other projects and priorities to meet the mandates of this measure,” he said.

Szabo’s report drew a furious response from Streets for All, the advocacy group that created Measure HLA, a proposal to force city leaders to complete transportation projects laid out in the city’s Mobility Plan, a planning document approved by the council in 2015.

The citizen-sponsored ballot measure would mandate that L.A. implement its own street plan to add bike lanes and pedestrian- and transit-friendly improvements.

Feb. 21, 2024

Streets for All, in an email blast, called the report a “last-minute electioneering ploy.” Michael Schneider, who is running the Yes on HLA campaign, also told the council that the city’s budget analyst was “playing political games.”

“All we ask is that the CAO stop using taxpayer money to play politics before an election, and let the voters decide if they want to implement the plan ... to make our streets safer,” he said.

Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who has endorsed HLA, voiced her own frustrations with the analysis, saying the city is doing too little to address the rising number of traffic deaths. Those fatalities now exceed the number of homicides, according to statistics from last year.

“This situation right here is particularly why I voted no on the budget,” she said. “Because when I think about public safety, safe street infrastructure is public safety. Yet we are here dissecting every single thing in this report. We didn’t dissect that $1 billion we just gave in [police] raises.”

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HLA supporters have spent weeks assailing Szabo’s previous cost estimates for the measure. Szabo, in a financial impact statement prepared for voters last year, said HLA could cost more than $2.5 billion.

Proponents of Measure HLA have strongly disputed that figure, saying it included more than $1 billion in sidewalk repairs that are not required as part of the ballot proposal. They described Szabo’s other cost figures as overinflated, saying he relied on “Rolls Royce” versions of transportation projects, instead of less expensive alternatives.

Szabo has defended his office’s numbers as “conservative estimates.” On Friday, he said his latest report did not account for the rise in construction costs that typically occurs over time. Had those been included, the cost of the traffic improvements would have exceeded $4 billion, he said.

Measure HLA would mandate the installation of transportation upgrades on corridors that are targeted for improvements in the Mobility Plan. If city crews conduct repairs on at least one-eighth of a mile of one of those streets, then any Mobility Plan upgrade envisioned for that stretch would need to be incorporated into the road work.

Proponents of Measure HLA have said it would bring bus and bike lanes to Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. On the Eastside, they said, the city would add protected bike lanes to Soto Street and Whittier Boulevard. In Hollywood, unprotected bike lanes would be installed on Santa Monica Boulevard, HLA supporters said.

In his report, Szabo estimated the bicycle upgrades required as part of Measure HLA would cost about $1.1 billion, while sidewalk upgrades would cost an additional $2 billion. On top of that, community outreach could consume as much as $80 million, according to the report.

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Councilmember Bob Blumenfield took aim at Szabo’s findings, saying he wrongly assumed that construction projects contained in the Mobility Plan would need to be finished by 2035. The report, he said, “creates a wholly artificial 10-year horizon, which seems to inflate the cost.”

Szabo said he selected the 10-year timeline because the Mobility Plan was supposed to run through 2035. If the work takes more than a decade, the overall cost of those transportation projects will increase, he said.

Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez, who has endorsed HLA, also took aim at the report, saying the city’s handling of the issue had become “incredibly politicized.”

“I have a lot of questions, but I’m not going to ask them,” he said during Friday’s meeting. “Because I think it feeds into, in my opinion, a flawed approach.”

Richard Serrano, a write-in candidate for City Council in the central San Fernando Valley, offered a different take, telling council members that Pacoima already has too much traffic congestion.

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“We don’t have room for bicycle lanes that one person might ride down once a day,” he said. “We need the mobility, and we need it for cars.”

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