LADOT GM De La Vega on Better Data, Multi-Modalism and, Yes, Pedi-Cabs

We’re two for two in getting strong, substantial responses to a Streetsblog reader questionaire.  First Sargent David Krumer talked about the improved relationship between cyclists and the LAPD and now the new LADOT General Manager takes time to answer your questions on multi-modalism, data collection, budget issues and more.

While I didn’t expect De La Vega to wax poetic about cars, you would have to be insane to do that in a Streetsblog interview, I was surprised that he admitted there were areas where LADOT and the city needs to do better while also declaring that “LADOT will continue its leadership role in supporting the evolution of Los Angeles from an auto-centric to a multi-modal city.”

Personally, I found the answers to questions 4, 7, and 9 to be the most illuminating.  Let us know what you think in the comments section.

1. What is the total amount of the City of LA transportation budget?  What percentage of that is going towards walking and bicycling projects?

For fiscal year 2011-2012, the adopted city budget includes funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects from three sources of funds (1990 Proposition C half-cent transportation sales tax, 2008 Measure R half-cent transportation sales tax, and state 1/4-cent transportation sales tax).

The city has budgeted $12.8 million (9.8%) of the $129.8 million available from these three sources for bicycle and pedestrian projects.  For comparison, 6.1% of city residents bike or walk to work or work from home (Southern California Association of Governments, May 2011; data for 2010).

2. What would the city of Los Angeles’ mode share ideally be for you and how will you work towards achieving this?

3. It can be argued that LA’s current mode split is not sustainable economically or spatially, especially with rising gas prices, rising population, a number of people owning multiple cars, and many owning SUV type automobiles. If you agree LA’s current mode split will not  be sustainable in the future how will you use your responsibilities as LADOT General Manager to work towards a more sustainable mode split?

[Combined answer for #2 and #3]

Because of the historical development of land use patterns in the region, LA is very auto-centric.  This will not change overnight.  The challenge for Los Angeles is to expand the overall capacity of the transportation system and create viable alternatives to driving.  This includes: expanding the rail system (which is faster and more reliable than bus); maintaining a robust bus system (because rail will not connect every neighborhood in the near-term); making policy decisions that make transit more effective (such as the city’s transit priority system and bus lanes); and facilitating development patterns (transit oriented development) so that people have choices and can take transit, cycle, or walk instead of driving.

LADOT will continue its leadership role in supporting the evolution of Los Angeles from an auto-centric to a multi-modal city.  This includes: operating the second largest bus service in Los Angeles County (after MTA); continuing to partner with MTA to make its bus service more efficient (e.g. priority signals and bus lanes); implementing the city’s Bicycle Plan; improving pedestrian safety; supporting development of MTA’s rail and busway program; and working with Department of City Planning on new transit oriented plans.

4. Do you plan on measuring something other than car volumes on LA streets in a systematic and comprehensive way? We are data blind and shitty anecdote heavy when it comes to public debate about transportation in LA.

I agree that better data collection and analysis is needed.  Our goal is to collect multi-modal data on how people and goods move in the city, but we are constrained by limits in how data is collected.  For vehicular counts, we can extrapolate information from our traffic signal system and conduct automated studies of traffic volumes.  Transit volumes (vehicles and passengers) are available for the respective operators, including LADOT and MTA.  Bicycle and pedestrian counts depend on manual counting and are labor intensive.  We are partnering with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition to collect updated bicycle data.

We also are using accident data to inform our priorities and funding recommendations.  For example, the state and UC Berkeley established a new GIS-based tool that shows crashes near public schools statewide.  We are using this data to prioritize our recommendations to City Council in applying for federal “Safe Routes to School” discretionary grants.

5. Mr. de la Vega – Would you support an ordinance that says, in effect “The speed limit for any portion of any street that is not less than 50% residential shall not exceed 20 mph. Such maximum speed limit shall be enforced by all available means, including but not limited to the introduction of traffic calming measures to bring such streets in compliance.”

I am supportive of traffic calming measures in general for local streets as designated in the city’s General Plan, though the current city budget does not provide resources for citywide implementation.  The city considers changes to the 25 mph residential speed limit on a case by case basis consistent with state law.  I would support lower residential speed limits on local streets if supported by the neighborhood as well as a state-required engineering and traffic survey.

Background: The California Vehicle Code Sec. 22352(a)(2)(A) describes the prima facie speed limit in a residential district as 25 mph unless changed as authorized in the CVC.  CVC 22538(a) allows the city to adopt a speed limit between 25 and 60 mph (in five mph increments) by ordinance if an engineering and traffic survey concludes that 65 mph is “more than is reasonable or safe”.  CVC 22538.4(a)(1) allows the city to lower the speed limit to 15 or 20 mph if an engineering and traffic survey is completed.  In residential districts, the speed limit may be further reduced to 15 or 25 mph near schools.

6. How can an effective leader who drives a hummer actually understand and help those that don’t drive at all.  Are you too wrapped up in car culture?

My professional career since the 1990′s has focused largely on improving public transit.

This includes expansion and innovation in the region’s bus service (e.g. federal consent decree and Rapid Bus development and expansion), developing new rail and busway projects (Orange Line, Wilshire BRT, Exposition, Crenshaw-LAX, Westside subway extension, etc.), and securing funding to build, operate, and maintain the transit system, including passage of Measure R, the countywide half-cent transportation sales tax in 2008.  Measure R guarantees at least 65% of funding goes to transit projects and operations.

7. What can be done to accelerate the implementation of the City’s landmark bike plan?

First, funding.  The City Council and Mayor already set aside at least 5% of the city’s Measure R local return funding for bicycle projects.  In addition, Mayor Villaraigosa successfully pushed MTA to increase the percentage of discretionary grant funds for bicycles from 7% to 15%.  Bicycle advocates should work at the local (Council and Mayor), regional (MTA), state, and federal level to push for additional bike funding.

Second, staffing.  Bicycle advocates should work with the Council and Mayor to push for more bike plan implementation staff.  In the short-term, this will be constrained by the city’s overall budget challenges.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, political support.  Bicycle advocates should work with the Council and Mayor to demonstrate community support for bike lanes and other bike facilities.

8. How do you determine who gets the final say over a street configuration on a residential street that is also used as a through-way?  Do the residents who live on the street get a weighted say in the matter or do the people who use the street for work and school commutes get the weighted say?

The street configuration is determined by the city’s General Plan as recommended by the Department of City Planning and LADOT and as adopted by the City Planning Commission (CPC), City Council, and Mayor.  Each city street receives a designation in the Transportation Element and respective Community Plan (land use element of the General Plan):

  • Local Streets – Intended to carry primarily local, residential traffic
  • Collector Streets – Designed for a mix of local travel with some through travel
  • Secondary and Major Streets – Intended to accommodate through traffic.

All members of the public may participate through public workshops as the plans are being developed and through public hearings during the plan review and approval process.  There is no formal “weighted say” in the process.  The CPC, Council, and Mayor consider public input and the technical advice of city staff during the approval process.

9. Have you heard, or participated in, any discussions about reforming what triggers a CEQA review so that it doesn’t focus so heavily on moving car traffic?

LADOT will be moving toward a multi-modal methodology that considers the impacts of a project on all modes of transportation.  In many cases, project deliberations will revolve around a policy decision, i.e. one mode of transportation may benefit while another does not, that will be decided by the Mayor and Council.

The recent discussion about peak-hour only curb bus lanes on Wilshire Boulevard illustrates this point.  Technical analysis by LADOT and MTA showed two major findings.  For transit, 29,000 bus riders during peak hours would save 10.1 minutes end-to-end.  For mixed flow, 24,000 persons in 20,000 vehicles would see end-to-end travel times increase 10.7 minutes with delays averaging 11 seconds per intersection where significant impacts were identified.  Because more people ride the bus than drive in this corridor and the travel time impacts are similar, there is a net benefit to implementing the bus lanes.

10. In 2008, there was some discussion of legalizing and regulating bicycle taxis, aka pedicabs.  Any chance those discussions will move forward again?

I support piloting pedicabs where supported by the community.  The city’s citizen Transportation Commission has a subcommittee reviewing this issue.