Zev Reader Questionnaire Part 2: Walking, Biking, the SGV and All the Rest

Parts two and three of your questionnaire with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky focused mainly on what I’m referring to as “People Powered Transportation” (the Alliance for Walking and Bicycling’s chosen term for traveling without a car and not by transit) and a separate section with two tongue-and-cheek questions.  Sadly, he didn’t take my bait and announce his candidacy for Mayor.

Photo of Zev Yaroslavsky by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

There’s some interesting news in this section.  First, he announces a motion for Metro to pilot a Bike Share Program at the next Metro Board meeting.  I’m not sure how I missed that in the committee agendas.  Second, he discusses the need to fix and connect the pedestrian trail that runs next to the Marvin Braude bike trail.  Third, he discusses the need to create bike connections between the Westside and Valley.

But perhaps most impressively, Yaroslavsky becomes the first person to jump off the scripted questions and adds a couple of paragraphs on people powered transportation.  However, since he mentioned his passion for running, it gives us the excuse to use this picture again.

A big Streetsblog “Thank You” to the Supervisor for giving us such well thought-out answers.  Readers, stay tuned for our next questionnaire with Deputy Mayor for Transportation Borja Leon.

“People Powered Transportation”

First, a few words on “people powered transportation.”

I admit that I’m not a big bike rider. But, as a lifelong runner, I know our streets can be unfriendly (or worse) for those of us who use them for fitness and, in the case of cyclists, for transportation as well. So before diving into your questions, let me say for the record that I welcome Los Angeles’ growing bicycle movement.

I applaud the popular CicLAvia events that have tapped into our pent-up cravings to enjoy our neighborhoods in ways far more personal than speeding through them in cars. Indeed, we need more of these kinds of civic experiences, which bring us closer to each other, no matter what our ages, sizes or colors. On a policy level, as you’ll see below, I’m committed to incorporating the infrastructure needs of cyclists and pedestrians into transit projects, community developments and onto the streets themselves. Whether we’re talking about measurable benefits to our health or carbon footprint, we all gain from actions that encourage alternatives to driving and ease our communal stress levels, as Carmageddon weekend so thoroughly demonstrated. As we increasingly share the road, however, we must also become smarter about the law and our responsibilities to each other. Let’s all be safe.

Now, with that said, let’s roll…

5) The recently-released LA County Bike Plan exhibits a disappointing fealty to highway design standards. These standards, which require very wide lanes, make it all but impossible to build bicycle lanes on the county’s urban streets. What is your position on how we can make our streets more livable? Will LA County step up and start using more progressive urban street standards at anytime in the near future?

A: On a case by case basis, district by district, we must evaluate which roads and streets can and should accommodate bicycle lanes. In my district, which extends from Atwater to the Ventura County line, several cross-canyon roadways are popular with cyclists but have no designated lanes. Some of these roadways may, in fact, be wide enough to accommodate such markings. I’m proposing that the county’s Department of Public Works evaluate each canyon roadway and determine where separate bicycle lanes can be designated.

In terms of overall policy on how we make our streets more livable, we must create a transportation system that breaks with dated, auto-centric models and encourages bicycling, walking and public transit. Currently, less than 1% of county residents commute to work on a bicycle. One way to boost that number is to make it easier on them. Given the health and environmental benefits, we must keep pace with today’s realities and provide more options and opportunities for both recreational and commuting cyclists. The cities of Santa Monica and Long Beach, for example, are embarking on a Bike Share program, partially funded by Metro’s Call for Projects. Why stop there? This should be a countywide initiative that is interconnected with our rail system. This already is being done with great success in London, Montreal, Toronto, Denver and Des Moines. San Francisco will launch their program next spring. It’s time for Los Angeles to get onboard.

I’ve introduced a motion asking my Metro Board colleagues to create a pilot bike share program at our rail stations and this proposal will be considered at the August 4th Metro board meeting.

To start, we need to make sure the money is there for such worthy efforts. Although Metro allocates funds for the expansion of bicycle networks through its Call for Projects program, the amount is too small for the demand. Forward thinking cities throughout the county want this money but we can’t deliver. Metro, the county and its 88 cities need to make funding for cycling infrastructure a higher priority than it has been.

6) Where do you see an opportunity to implement traffic calming, bicycle facilities, and pedestrian safety improvements in your district?

A: We have a unique opportunity with the passage of Measure R—the ½-cent sales tax initiative passed by the voters in 2008—to expand bikeway networks and facilities throughout the county. In my district alone, two new designated bikeways are being built—one along the Orange Line extension on Canoga Avenue, and the other along the Exposition Light Rail line from Downtown L.A. to Santa Monica. These will add some 15 miles of bikeways and parallel walkways.

Interconnected to bus and rail lines, they’ll make bicycle commuting easier and safer. In every corner of the county, we must take advantage of Measure R resources because cyclists do not, after all, stop or start their rides at the border of individual political districts.

That said, one of the issues I’m determined to fix is the portion of our coastline that has a gap in the popular pedestrian path that parallels the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bicycle Path. This gap, which creates dangerous conditions for cyclists and pedestrians, exists in parts of the pathway between Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades. My office is presently identifying funding that will allow us to fix this dangerous gap.

I also see plenty of opportunity to create amenities for cyclists and pedestrians when new developments are proposed. In my district, for example, a Universal Studios residential project next to the L.A. River includes plans for a bicycle network that would connect internal portions of the property while also linking the studio and the proposed community to a Red Line station at Lankershim Boulevard. Bicycle lockers and showers for Universal employees would be provided to encourage people to walk or bike to work. Although these are important first steps, I’m committed to working with Universal and other major stakeholders to do much more, given the property’s proximity to the L.A. River.

These efforts would include funding regional bike path studies that could one day
lead to a world class bike path along the entire course of the river.

7) How are you or your staff working to change the policy DNA that keeps our streets hostile to bicycles and pedestrians?

The DNA is changing right now. More bike paths and pedestrian walkways are being built or proposed in Los Angeles County than at any other time. What’s more, Metro has taken steps to make riding public transportation easier and more accessible for cyclists. This includes removing seats from trains to accommodate bicycles, providing more lockers at stations, creating bike rooms at key stations and adding bike racks to buses. Still, we must do more.

In November 2009, as a member of the Board of Supervisors, I authored a motion directing county officials to develop a series of so-called “healthy design features” for newly constructed residential and commercial developments throughout unincorporated Los Angeles County. The goal is to promote cycling, walking and other outdoor physical activities at a time when public health is at risk because of soaring obesity rates. As a result, we’ve been working with the Department of Regional Planning to develop an ordinance that would, among other things: require better, wider sidewalks; provide more bicycle parking, lockers and showers within developments; prioritize pedestrian and bicycle facilities in new projects; improve bicycle and pedestrian connectivity; promote farmer’s markets, and encourage the development of community gardens. The ordinance will soon come to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.

Advocacy from the cycling community is helping educate policy makers. The more we create new cycling “facts on the ground,” the more of a constituency we build to advocate for even more robust cycling infrastructure in our county.

8) When was the last time you rode a bike?

July 4th

Tongue-in-Cheek

9) Sometimes your comments seem to imply the San Gabriel Valley is still cow pastures and orange groves. You do know there are people out there?

A: The historic conflict between the San Gabriel Valley and the City of Los Angeles over transit funding does not stem from any mistaken belief that the SGV doesn’t have legitimate mass transit needs. The SGV is one of the largest subregions of the metropolitan L.A. area. However, it also has three significant functioning public transit systems: the Pasadena Gold Line light rail, Metrolink inter-city railroad, and the El Monte busway; and in addition, that region is served by no less than five freeways.

In contrast, the Westside of Los Angeles, a robust jobs and employment center, has absolutely no mass transit lines and only two chronically congested freeways. This is not an equitable distribution of the region’s resources by any measure.

The Westside is finally getting into the mass transit game with the current construction of the Exposition Light Rail line to Santa Monica and the proposed subway extension to West L.A. The Foothill Gold Line’s eastern extension has similarly been approved by Metro as part of the Long Range Transportation Plan and is under construction. Both of these regions should share in the Measure R largesse; both deserve it. My hope is that we can put the conflicts between the two regions behind us and move forward together to serve the needs of our mutual constituencies.

10) I’m not saying you have any plans to ever run for Mayor, but if you were Mayor for Los Angeles what would be the first thing the city would do to improve mobility?

A: The Mayor of the nation’s second largest city has a powerful megaphone in Washington, as Mayor Villaraigosa has demonstrated. His 30/10 plan to accelerate Measure R projects has gotten some serious traction in recent weeks as evidenced by the bipartisan embrace of the America Fast Forward plan on Capitol Hill. In this regard, the Mayor has set the bar quite high for his successor.

The first priority for any mayor of Los Angeles must be to extend the Wilshire subway to the West Los Angeles V.A. The traffic logjam on the east/west thoroughfares between Santa Monica, downtown and points east are legendary. The gridlock, especially between the 405 and the ocean, degrades the quality of life, especially for those from throughout the county who commute long distances and long hours each day to get to work in the job rich, western part of our county.

It also makes residents of the area virtual prisoners in their own neighborhoods. Finally, it fundamentally threatens L.A.’s economic vitality in that this economically important part of our region increasingly finds itself isolated in a sea of traffic in which it is practically drowning.