Pilot Programs v Standards, the Quest for Complete Streets

6_16_09_complete_streets.jpgNot a street in L.A.

Earlier today, the City Council Planning Committee heard how the City is addressing the state mandate to bring "Complete Streets" planning to Los Angeles.  For those of you who don’t remember, last fall Governor Schwarzenegger signed A.B. 1358 into law which required municipalities to construct streets that are safe and accessible for all users when municipalities redo their general transportation elements.

While the city isn’t planning to update our general transportation plan anytime soon, despite claims from the City Council otherwise, the Planning Department was able to respond to Councilman Ed Reyes and the rest of the committee by claiming that everything is fine.  The city is well on it’s way to be a leader in complete streets.  You can read their full report here.

In their report, they do point to many laudable pilot programs as proof that the city is really serious about making bicycling and walking a priority in their planning.  Most of these are a step in the right direction, for example: the Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay, the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan, and the standards for Downtown Streets.  However, they also listed the Bicycle Plan as proof that they’re moving forward.  Even though I was listening to the hearing on my laptop, I could almost hear the LACBC’s Doroty Le’s eyes roll when she described the claims that the plan "would make L.A. one of the most bicycle friendly streets in America" as "overstated."

Joe Linton, who wrote about this issue at the Green L.A. Transportation Working Group Blog, also testified that while it’s great that the city is moving forward with a series of great pilot programs; the City should focus on re-working it’s street design to better accomodate everyone that uses it, not just the cars but bicycles, pedestrians and, yes, even horse people.

I tend to agree with Linton that these select few great projects prove the rule that in general our transportation planning is extremely car-centric.  But what do you think?  Is the city’s path to creating a transportation grid that works for all users going to come about because of a series of progressive pilot programs that show the way or because of an overhaul of the way we do design our streets?

  • Thanks for your coverage, Damien. The pilots are indeed laudable… but we want it all!!!

    I also did a quick report from the meeting here: http://glatwg.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/complete-streets-report-from-plum-committee/

  • I think that pilot programs are a neat way to show off what is possible BUT without change in the General Plan, and concrete policies that call for a different regime of roadway measurement and design, we’re right back to where we started once the pilot project is complete.

    A great way to start working on this problem is to keep up the fight, but to ask officials to change the “Monitor and Evaluate” portion of the Transportation (or Mobility) section of the General Plan.

    This is the part of the plan that has actual teeth, and in LA it sets out how our city’s managers will be informed by their staff about the performance of our streets. Right now, they get ad hoc reports on car throughput (like a waste water plant report). We need a comprehensive system that measures crashes and injuries, air quality, noise, retail sale income, the use that people make of the right-of-way, neighborhood protection plans, etc.

    In other words: we need BETTER STANDARDS! I’ve got a list, and I know there are a few items other would liek to add. The discussion (in the backrooms) need to focus on standards and not Yea or Nay votes on this vague idea of “complete streets”.

  • Brent

    The closest thing to a complete streets build out I’ve seen in SoCal is, ironically, a commercial development — The Americana, in Glendale. It has just about everything I imagine a pleasant neighborhood might have: shops, restaurants, condos, walking, fountains, even a little tram. Of course, it may be too kitschy and ersatz for some, but I don’t know that we’d go far wrong if we could emulate some of its design principles. Here’s hoping L.A. takes great strides in this direction!

  • DJB

    I have a hunch that this is an issue where planning’s emphasis on the environment and public participation will be at odds with each other.

    The issue of “complete streets” comes down to getting large numbers of people to not just accept the idea of making room for bikes and sidewalks in streets, but also to actively demand it of their politicians.

    Taking space away from cars and giving it to other transportation modes is not an easy sell in LA or most parts of America. How do you change that? How do you get average Joes and Janes to read stuff like this blog (or anything)? How do you convince people to take a leap of faith and risk making car traffic worse so that we can have a transportation system that doesn’t just depend on one mode?

    I don’t know . . . But I just signed up for Greenpeace, maybe that’ll help :)

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    “Not a street in LA”

    That caption had me cracking up!!!

  • Signing up for Greenpeace will most certainly NOT help you in this situation.

    There is already a mass of pissed off people in LA working to create “Complete Streets” – which would include standards for roadways that measure the effects those roads have on the lives of people and the civic sphere.

    Currently, the City of LA only measures car throughput (how many cars, how fast, etc.) on its roads. There is no other regime of road measurement the city uses to assess its streets BUT such measurement is easy and cheap to implement. Measuring the road different;y will affect the entire road planning and design process – and is part of what will guarantee us complete streets.

  • Damien,

    I love your work out in LA but I don’t know how complete a street that is for cyclist. The textured brick surface of that lane would make it uncomfortable if not dangerous for a cyclists to ride.

    Peace (but not Greenpeace, at least not for this).

  • DJB

    Umberto –
    I think the point I was driving at was that there is a need for a much broader level of environmental consciousness generally. This extends to issues like complete streets as well as to topics such as energy, habitat protection, etc.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to write off an entire environmental organization, or to dismiss the good will of people who are sympathetic to your cause.

    If this issue is going to go from esoteric to mainstream, you’re going to need to reach out to a broad cross-section of people, and it won’t be enough to stop with one region.

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