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South L.A. Voices Speak on Link Between the Arts, Recreation, Food, and Social Justice

George Villanueva moderates the Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement Visions and Voices panel at USC featuring Ben Caldwell, Karen Mack, Neelam Sharma, and J.P. Partida. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

George Villanueva moderates the Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement Visions and Voices panel at USC featuring Ben Caldwell, Karen Mack, Neelam Sharma, and J.P. Partida. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Fun in the sun!” Watts resident William Fabian wrote under the prompt “My South L.A. is…” created by organizers of the Visions and Voices panel, “Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement,” at USC last night. The panel was the second in a three-part effort by USC to engage some of the advocates doing work in the South L.A. area while taking stock of its role in the civic and community life of the area as it undergoes expansion.

“Fun in the sun” is generally not what first comes to mind for most people when they think about South L.A., much less Watts. But it helps illustrate why it is so important to hear directly from residents in marginalized communities, particularly communities that have been much maligned in the media.

Urban planners and others seeking to diagnose the problems facing communities like South L.A. sometimes seem to assume that the problem is, in part, one based in a lack of vision of what a functioning community or public space should be. And that “teaching people that their streets can be sites of recreation” is part of the remedy.

Panelists Ben Caldwell (artist and founder of the KAOS Network in Leimert Park), Karen Mack (of city arts organization L.A. Commons), Neelam Sharma (of food justice-oriented Community Services Unlimited, based near USC), and Javier “J.P.” Partida (founder of Los Ryderz Bike Club in Watts), put those notions to rest by making it clear that reclaiming the public space has always been central to their efforts to nurture and celebrate culture, identity, community, health, artistry, and innovation. And that they and others in the community have been doing that work for quite some time.

For Karen Mack, who founded L.A. Commons in 2002, that work involves bringing people together to communicate their experiences via the arts in the public space.

There are many narratives about L.A., she said, but they have tended not to be inclusive. Instead, because the areas that are richest in culture are often the most resource-poor, those voices are generally not heard. By actively engaging those voices and empowering them to speak to each other — as in the case of a mural project where Latino students interviewed African-American business owners about the Crenshaw community both now shared — communities can grow stronger from within. And because the project outputs often include traveling murals, story-telling summits, and/or community walking tours, L.A. Commons offers outsiders opportunities to connect with both the home-crafted narratives and the residents that were responsible for bringing them to life.

Ben Caldwell, filmmaker, artist, ethnographer, local historian, and all-around creative, also believes the arts can be deployed to build more vibrant, healthy, and inclusive communities.

“People think we only have ‘Boyz n the Hood,’” he said, chuckling.

While those youth are indeed present in South L.A., “we see them differently, too.” They are part of the community and have something to contribute, when engaged properly. Read more…

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Safety in Numbers: Biking Is Safest in Nations With the Most People on Bikes

The more people bike in a country generally the safer it is for cycling. This phenomenon is called "safety in numbers." Graph: International Transport Forum via Amsterdamize

Countries with high cycling rates also have low rates of fatalities per distance biked. Graph: International Transport Forum [PDF] via Amsterdamize

The more people get around by bike, the safer it is, according to the “safety in numbers” rule first popularized by researcher Peter Jacobsen.

This chart from the International Transport Forum [PDF] shows how the safety in numbers effect plays out at the national scale. As you can see, biking is safer in the countries where people bike the most.

There was, however, some variation country to country. The report noted that Korea’s cycling fatality rates were greater than what its biking rates would suggest. Researchers speculated that might be due to a rapid recent growth in cycling. Perhaps, they write, “neither cyclists nor other transport participants have had time to assimilate each other’s presence.”

Meanwhile, in some nations with high cycling rates, biking has become even safer over time. That was the case in Denmark, where cycling rates have been high but fairly stable for the last decade, but fatality rates have dropped 40 percent during the same period.

The safety in numbers has been observed at the scale of cities too. Recently, for example, bicycle injury rates in Minneapolis have declined as total ridership has risen. The same trend has played out in New York, as cycling has increased while total injuries and fatalities have not.

Do more people on bikes cause cycling to become safer, or does safer infrastructure attract more people to bike? There’s no conclusive evidence either way, but the answer is probably a mix of both. Safer infrastructure entices more people to ride, and more people riding instill greater awareness on the part of motorists and increase the demand for safer infrastructure.

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Protected Lanes Preview: Boston, Detroit, Indy, Minneapolis, Denver & More

Shelby Street in Indianapolis is a model for that city’s two latest protected bike lane projects.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Spring is three weeks away, and that means it’s time for one of American cities’ newest rituals: announcing the year’s protected bike lane construction plans.

Every few days over the last month, another U.S. city has released plans or announced progress in building protected lanes. Even more excitingly, many are in downtown and commercial areas, which tend to have the highest latent demand for biking. Let’s take a scan from east to west of the projects that popped onto our radar in February alone, to be built in 2015 or 2016:

Boston is “heading toward” a firm plan for protected lanes on the crucial Commonwealth Avenue artery between Boston University Bridge and Brighton, Deputy Transportation Commissioner Jim Gillooly said February 9. In column the day before, the Boston Globe’s Derrick Jackson endorsed the concept on the strength of a trip to Seattle, where he rode a Pronto! Bike Share bicycle down the 2nd Avenue bike lane.

“I did something here I am scared to death to do in Boston,” Jackson wrote. “I bicycled on a weekday in the city’s most bustling business district.”

New York City is on track to upgrade several blocks of Columbus Avenue near Lincoln Square with greater protection, improving connections to the Ninth Avenue protected bike lane in Midtown, after a February 10 thumbs-up from the local community board.

Columbus, Ohio, said February 2 that a 1.4-mile bidirectional protected lane on Summit near the Ohio State University campus is “just the beginning” of plans for biking improvements, thanks to advocacy group Yay Bikes and a receptive city staff.

Detroit is installing southeast Michigan’s first protected lanes this year on a “very short segment” of East Jefferson. Advocacy group Detroit Greenways says it’s “precedent setting and could serve as a model for all of Detroit’s major spoke roads.”

Read more…

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The Enormous Promise of a Carbon Tax-and-Dividend

Absent any foreseeable action from Washington, some states and localities are stepping up with policies that put a price on carbon. And that has a number of exciting implications for cities and sustainable transportation. California is using revenue from its cap-and-trade program, for instance, to subsidize housing near transit.

Enacting a carbon tax in Oregon would require overturning a state ban on spending gas tax revenue on anything except car infrastructure. Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland

In Oregon, advocates are now pushing a carbon tax that would rebate all the money to households. Even without spending the revenue on specific goals, carbon pricing would be a huge boost for walking, biking, and transit, Michael Andersen at Bike Portland explains: 

The group, called Oregon Climate, is pushing a concept called “tax and dividend”: instead of sending the proceeds into government coffers, all of the revenue collected from wholesale fossil-fuel transactions — gasoline to a distributor, coal to a power plant, and so on — would be pooled and divided evenly among Oregonians in the form of checks worth an estimated $500 to $1500 per year.

“This is the most climate-friendly progressive legislature that we’ve had, and maybe the most climate-friendly in the country right now,” Oregon Climate Executive Director Camila Thorndike said in an interview Tuesday. “States across the country have their eyes on Oregon, and we cannot let this opportunity pass by.”

Prices would rise in Oregon for concrete, gasoline, electricity and other fossil-fuel-intensive products. Dan Golden, Oregon Climate’s volunteer policy director, said Tuesday that their proposed tax of $30 per ton of carbon (increasing by $10 each year) would translate into about 27 cents per gallon of gasoline, increasing another 9 cents each year.

Read more…

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Opinion – Hollywood’s Biggest Eyesore: Blame Developers? No, Blame NIMBYs

Unfinished Target construction site at Sunset and Western, as of this morning. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Unfinished Target construction site at Sunset and Western, as of this morning. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Once upon a time, Target had an ambitious plan to build a new shopping center at the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue.

Rendering of what the completed Target would look like. Image via XXXXXX

Rendering of what the completed Target would look like. Image via Larchmont Buzz

The complex would offer a modern, pedestrian-oriented design, with ground-level retail, a plaza and outdoor dining, as well as wide sidewalks and landscaping. Target center would also transform the blighted corner into a vibrant, safe, family-friendly community. While the project was met with some opposition, as such developments typically do, most residents supported it.

The only issue is the overall project height, being slightly above the area’s zoning ordinance. Nevertheless, it was well worth it: the project would bring hundreds of jobs and a major improvement to the area. So, the city council approved it, and the construction commenced shortly thereafter.

But…

The eastern Hollywood area unfortunately also has NIMBYs, including a local group “Citizens Coalition Los Angeles” (CCLA). NIMBYs are infamous for rejecting any & all developments – even if it means improvement – as long as it would be “in their backyard”. So, the lawsuit soon followed – in an attempt to block the project under any pretense. The NIMBYs did succeed, and the judge – as ridiculous as it sounds – blocked the construction that was already well under way.

Well, congratulations, NIMBYs! You won, but you have also created major problems for yourselves. There will be no convenient shopping, dining, or entertainment near you. The area now looks even uglier then before. So, may you enjoy the scenery of unfinished building, naked framework, and dull fences for years to come! May you also enjoy intrusive concrete & cement, with a side order of graffiti! You wanted to stop the project, so you got what you deserve. Nevertheless, I do feel sorry for the developers and everyone else – who did support the project.

Truly, the NIMBYs have dropped to a new low… And because of just a handful of opponents, everybody else will now have to endure an eyesore at Sunset and Western, not mentioning the loss of all the good things that the project would bring. Of course, the local media got into its ultra-liberal frenzy, and published very nearsighted articles blaming the developers and mayor Eric Garcetti. The media didn’t bother researching who was the real culprit behind this sudden work stoppage!  Read more…

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CA Coalition Calls for More Funding, Staffing for Active Transportation

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Increasing funding for the Active Transportation Program could get more people to walk and bike, especially for short trips. Photo of Sunday Streets in Berkeley, by Melanie Curry/Streetsblog.

A coalition of advocacy groups released a petition yesterday calling for California to increase funding for active transportation to help the state meet its climate goals.

The petition calls on the legislature to increase funding for the Active Transportation Program (ATP) by $100 million from its current $120 million per year, integrate green infrastructure and access to parks and green space in the goals of the ATP, and ensure ATP investments provide meaningful benefits to disadvantaged communities.

The coalition points out that nearly 1/5 of all trips in California are made by foot or by bike (this information comes from the National Household Travel Survey, not the U.S. Census, which only counts commute trips). Despite this high mode share, less than two percent of the state transportation budget is spent on the ATP, which brings all active transportation projects under one funding umbrella.

There are currently only four staff assigned to the program (although Caltrans has approximately 19,000 employees). Those staff oversee the 265 projects that received funding in the first cycle of the ATP, and they are working on revising the guidelines for the second round of funding, which will begin at the end of March. The second round will likely double the number of grants, at least under current funding levels.

Even with the minimal investments made in the past, California has seen an increase in walking and bicycling trips. Properly funding the ATP is a no-brainer, according to the coalition. By building infrastructure that encourages people to walk or use their bikes for short trips of less than a mile, the state could make tremendous leaps towards achieving its climate goals by reducing carbon emissions and poor air quality, at the same time reducing congestion for everyone.

“When the ATP was formed in 2013,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, “the whole idea was to consolidate all of the different pots of funding for bike and walking programs and then grow the pot, by adding cap-and-trade funding. That hasn’t happened and, in fact, the funding seems to be mysteriously shrinking.”

“By forming a single stream of funding, and incorporating climate change goals in the legislation,” added Tony Dang of California Walks, “we were positioning the program to receive cap-and-trade funding.” Instead, the only cap-and-trade money made available for active transportation last year was placed under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

“We’ve worked with the Strategic Growth Council to make sure that active transportation is included in their efforts,” said Dang, “but given the amount of money they have, and their mandates for affordable housing, we really don’t think that’s going to be a big enough source of funding, and it won’t be as transformative for walking and biking as we’d hoped it would be.”

ATP staff held a workshop two days ago on its revisions to program guidelines, and way more people wanted to attend than they could accommodate. “It’s clear that this program has a lot of constituents,” said Dang, “and they really need the pot to grow.”

“When you combine all walking and biking trips,” he added, “they account for nearly 20 percent of all the trips taken every day in California. And yet funding for those trips is less than 2 percent of the transportation budget.”

“Californians are clearly not sitting around idle waiting for increased funding, but the state should step up for what people want.”

Read more…

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Talking Headways Podcast: Green Trippin’

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This week Ann Cheng of the California advocacy group Transform joins me to talk about their GreenTRIP program. Ann is a planner and the former mayor of El Cerrito, as well as one of San Francisco Business Times “40 Under Forty” in 2014. On the podcast she discusses how housing developers can build less parking and more housing by giving residents better travel options through GreenTRIP Certification.

If you haven’t heard of GreenTRIP, it’s a certification process that helps developers eschew massively expensive parking spaces in exchange for car trip-reducing alternatives. It’s an awesome program and after hearing more you’ll want to bring it to your town! Especially since they’ve just released GreenTRIP Platinum Certification.

I was super excited to hear about the Garden Village project in Berkeley, which has zero auto parking, a bike fix-it station, free car-share membership, and two bike storage hooks for each of its 77 housing units.

Listen in and let us know what you think in the comments!

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Today’s Headlines

  • Metro Trains Ran 83 Red Lights in Four Years (LAT)
  • CiclaValley Recaps Last Night’s Move L.A. San Fernando Valley Forum
  • Alliance For Community Transit Calls For Affordable TOD (EGP News)
  • How the Metro Blue Line Got Going 25 Years Ago (KCET)
  • Uber Maps How Their Rides Relate To Metro Rail (LAT)
  • Corruption, Crazies, and LAX Transportation Planning (CityWatch)
  • Details Emerging On Metrolink Crash (KPCC)
  • West Hollywood Bike Coalition Posts WeHo Candidates Questionnaires
  • Gruber: Santa Monica Politics Not So Exceptional (Santa Monica Next)
  • Oh The Views From DTLB’s Edison Lofts (LongBeachIze)

Get National Headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Caltrans Report Celebrates Its Support of Active Transportation

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Caltrans Directory Malcolm Dougherty seems to take bicycles seriously. Image: Caltrans, The Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities Report to the California State Legislature, Fiscal Year  2013–14

Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, just released its annual report to the legislature [PDF] on its achievements last year in the area of “non-motorized travel,” and this year the document is more celebratory than it has been in the past.

With good reason. It shows a new side of Caltrans, starting with its cover. Instead of a blurry, weirdly stretched-out photograph of bicycle riders, as on previous reports, this year’s edition features Caltrans Executive Director Malcolm Dougherty standing with his bicycle—and looking like he knows how to ride it.

This new, bike-friendly tone at Caltrans is a welcome change from the past, when the department was  focused on moving cars, and it’s in keeping with other efforts it has been making in the last year. When a report  from the State Smart Transportation Initiative thoroughly drubbed the department for being risk-averse and dysfunctional, its leaders responded by reworking its mission statement, endorsing the principal of more flexible street design guidelines, and creating a new position of Director of Sustainability.

These achievements are celebrated front and center in the new report.

“We are taking a different look at transportation,” said Director Dougherty. “It’s a change in perspective. Before, we saw the need to solve car-oriented transportation problems. Now, we see that there are transportation problems that need to be solved, and multimodal needs have to be considered in those solutions.”

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The cover from the 2011-12 report. “Young child experiencing the joys of nonmotorized transportation,” says its caption. Image: Caltrans

Just saying the department has a new focus, however, isn’t going to change a thing. Dougherty has been traveling the state, meeting with Caltrans district staff to discuss the new mission, its accompanying vision statement, and the objectives and goals that are being developed to go with them. “A fair amount of our employees were already sensitive to and incorporating bicycle and pedestrian concerns into their planning,” he said, “and some of them have stated that they’re glad we’re going in this direction.”

Caltrans still has a long way to go to become a truly multimodal state transportation department. Renaming the report would be a start. “Non-motorized transportation” smacks of Old Engineer Speak, and describing bicycling and walking that way is a little like calling women “nonmen.” Nevertheless, the 2013-2014 Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities report does highlight some real achievements.

Read more…

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What Should Downtown L.A. Do to Get Ready for Bike Share?

New bike lanes on 3rd Street in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

New bike lanes on 3rd Street in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro regional bike share is coming soon. If all goes as planned, a year from now, downtown Los Angeles will have system on the ground. It will include about 1,000 bikes at 65 docking stations. The system will extend from Union Station to USC. For more detail, see SBLA’s earlier preview.

It’s not too early to ask Streetsblog L.A. readers — are Downtown Los Angeles streets ready to make bike share a big success? If not, what changes should L.A.’s Transportation Department (LADOT) prioritize in the coming months?

Let’s start by celebrating. Downtown has come a long ways in the last half a decade.

Back on October 10, 2010, there was this event called CicLAvia that flooded central Los Angeles streets with bicycles. At that time, there were no bike facilities in downtown Los Angeles.

In fact, there still were no bikeways downtown through July 2011. In August 2011, the 7th Street bike lanes arrived, dipping their toes across the 110 Freeway into downtown.

Green pavement bike lanes soon followed on Spring Street. Then, buffered bike lanes on Los Angeles Street and First Street.

In 2012, Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar and LADOT announced the coming Downtown L.A. Bikeway Network. Other than a few facilities that the city spent a lot of time and money to study (Cesar Chavez Avenue and Venice Boulevard), the downtown network was built out. And then some — downtown now boasts one of the most complete bikeway networks in the city. 

It’s not Wilmington, but downtown is a great place to bike. Even when LAPD vehicles park in some of the lanes some of the time.

Downtown’s increased bikeability is a subject of some controversy. Read more…