Plenty of Hurdles Still Remain for Progressive South Figueroa Corridor Project

The proposed My Figueroa

(Not sure what the My Figueroa project is?  Check out this story from last year?)

Less than a month ago, it seemed as though the progressive South Figueroa Corridor Project, known as the My Figueroa project, was on the ropes.  No agency was stepping up to take it from the CRA and Streetsblog was pleading for someone, anyone, to take it on.

What a difference a month makes.  LADOT General Manager Jaime De La Vega can be heard calling the project a “legacy project,” and the Architect Newspaper is declaring a “Figueroa Comeback” now that LADOT is taking control of the project’s future.  The South Figueroa Corridor Project was a project of the Community Redevelopment Agency, funded by a state grant, which saw some of the most progressive local transportation consultants team with Gehl Architects, the legendary Danish transportation planning firm.

In early 2011, the team unveiled the project in a pair of meetings along the corridor that were packed with transportation advocates and community members.  When the CRA’s closed their doors earlier this year, the fate of the My Figueroa project was in doubt.

The project covers three miles of South Figueroa from 41st Street to Seventh Street as well as a half mile of 11st Street between Figueroa and Broadway, a half mile of Martin Luther King (MLK) Boulevard just south of Exposition Park, and a half mile of Bill Robertson Boulevard from into Exposition Park starting at MLK Boulevard.

Despite the happy news that the project might be back on track, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before the project becomes reality, and advocates can’t let up just yet.  This article breaks down some of the places where advocates might still need to apply pressure to make sure the South Figueroa Corridor Project goes from pretty posterboard to Los Angeles’ most Livable street.

The Project Timeline

The biggest remaining concern is the timeline for the project.  The state funding comes from Proposition 1B that funds the project from initial outreach through design expires early in 2015.  LADOT must complete the project by the end of 2014 to qualify for reimbursements from the state funding.  While the Architect Newspaper announced that LADOT would be completing and environmental study of the corridor with a group of projects in the Bike Plan, LADOT is backing away from that claim.

“The article misquoted me in saying that it’s already a done deal that we are bundling the MyFig project with our 40 mile bike lane EIR,” explains LADOT Bikeways engineer Tim Fremaux.  “The fact is that we are still evaluating doing so and are assessing the costs of various options for clearing the project environmentally. If we do decide to bundle the projects, we expect the EIR to be completed by the end of 2012.”

In the best case scenario, the final design, final public outreach and construction will all have to happen in a two year window from the end of this year to the end of 2014.  By completing the environmental clearance so late in the year, there’s also a risk that a new mayor might not have the same view of this “legacy project” as De La Vega and Antonio Villaraigosa do.

“Good, Better, Best”

When the project team presented the project posters in January of 2011, they presented three different visions, “Good,” “Better” and “Best.”  Each vision offered progressively more progressive roadway design for South Figueroa.  Click on the links and see a graphic representation for each type of plan for South Figeuroa.

Rather than match each of the roadway designs against each other in a sort of test of L.A.’s progressiveness, the consultants reccomended different treatments for different areas of the roadway.  In the area near Staples center and the rest of the AEG and L.A. Live, where tens of thousands of pedestrians take to the street hundreds of times a year, a different treatment is planned than in residential areas that are well-used by locals versis areas where few people walk.  For through traffic, a separated bike lane and transit only lane are planned for the entire route.

Here, the concern is that LADOT and the City might try to take the easy way out, and just do the whole street as “Good.”  While “Good” would still be an amazing street design, the consultant team promised more and Los Angeles deserves more.

Wait, Is That a Separated Bike Lane?

The consultant team promises a truly separated bike lane for the length of the project.  Parked cars, trees, pedestrian space, or even a trolley car could separate the bicycle lane from the mixed use travel lane.  Los Angeles has never installed a truly separated lane on a roadway.  The comfort level for installing this kind of treatment is low, so cyclists need to keep up the pressure that this is a needed step.

In a way, LADOT has raised expectations with the installation of a pair of green lanes, both the “buffered bike lane” on Spring Street and the conflict zone bike lane on 1st Street in Boyle Heights.  That bar is further raised by the promise of the My Figueroa team fifteen months ago.  A bus-only (bike ok!) doesn’t fulfill the promise that the Community Redevelopment Agency made to us last year.

11 thoughts on Plenty of Hurdles Still Remain for Progressive South Figueroa Corridor Project

  1. this would be great.  For a moment I was psyched with a vision of fig as a 30 mile bike superhighway from the ocean to the foothills/mountains but there are probably better north/south corridors that don’t run so close to the car freeways.

  2. The above link to the Architects Newspaper shows a plan for streetscapes improvements that, at the top right corner ot it, shows a 8′ wide buffer strip which includes a bus stop platform, bus shelters and bike racks.

    http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6012

    This is exactly what I am trying to get included for every nearside bus stop on the upcoming San Fernando Rapidways project for either Sepulveda Blvd or Van Nuys Blvd. Only the buffer strip would extend past the crosswalk to enable a cyclist to make a right turn at the intersection, connecting them to the cross street bike lane without having to stop. Which would also provide a barrier for the cyclist to keep right turning vehicles away from them.

    LADOT follows the CAHDM which states that you should not put a bike lane between the curb and parked cars. So, my San Fernando Valley Rapidways project idea would have a bike lane to the left of parked cars and then become a bike path as the cyclist is directed to the right of the buffer strip.

    Here’s a video made by Mark Wagebuur that shows a bike lane morphing into a bike path in order to go around a bus stops in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

  3. Not only does the Caltrans Highway Design Manual say a bike lane shouldn’t go between the curb and parked cars, it absolutely prohibits such installations.  The requirement (in topic 1003.2) is one of the bold-print “minimum safety design criteria” that Streets and Highways Code section 891 makes mandatory for local agencies constructing bikeways.The Legislature is considering AB 819, which would provide a procedure for experimenting with bikeway designs that deviate from the mandatory requirements, analogous to that already existing for traffic control devices, but without such authority, it’s wise that LADOT chooses to follow the existing state law; doing otherwise jeopardizes their engineers’ professional licenses and the city’s design immunity.

  4. If pedestrian space (or parked cars) separates the bike lane from mixed-use lanes, then what will keep pedestrians from wandering willy-nilly in front of oncoming bikes (as they do on the beach bike path in Santa Monica/Venice)? Will we have to ride at 5-10mph whenever pedestrians are nearby?

    If a railed vehicle separates the bike lane from mixed use lanes, how will bikes cross into the mixed use lanes to make a left turn without catching a wheel on the tracks? If parked cars separates the bike lane from mixed use lanes, will there be a door-zone buffer next to the cars?

    In my experience, traffic engineers often install infrastructure without regard for dangerous or inconvenient bike facilities. When you call them on it, they just shrug their shoulders and claim that safe and convenient infrastructure is “impossible”.

  5. There needs to be a bike lane wide enough for two people to ride side by side exclusive of the area that a vehicle car door could open into. Making sure that there is room enough to sit side-by-side is done for motor vehicles such as buses, cars, trucks and even motorcycles have room to ride side by side with 10’+ wide lanes. Pedestrians are granted a sidewalk wide enough to walk side-by-side. Why should people on bicycles be treated any different?

    The Architect Newspaper has a streetscape plan improvement displayed that has a protected bike lane width of 4′ 6″ and a gutter width of 18″. That’s not wide enough, the bike lane should be at least 5′ wide.

  6. If they made the “bike lane” at the level of the sidewalk and called it a shared use path, I bet they could get away from the Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

    Or not.

    You know, whatever man. We are all slaves to “the system” anyway.

  7. The California MUTCD controls the “street” – but the City of LA controls the “sidewalk”. If the City reduces the width of the the “street” and increases the width of the “sidewalk” and then installs a special bike path on the “sidewalk” – can’t we just take all these CA MUTCD concerns and stuff them back into the same dark cabinet they stay in the rest of the year?

    Seriously, do you think this reclassification of space is going to be on the losing side of a court case or something? That is what all this CA MUTCD whinging is about – the fear somebody gonna get a butt hurt and sue.

    Call it a sidewalk shared use path, make the pavement green cement with bikes inlaid into it, and keep utilities, trash cans, newspaper boxes, etc. out of it. The state law ain’t got nothing on this one, AM I RITE?

  8. What I’m advocating to be done is to have a bicyclist move from a bike lane into a bike path on the near side of the intersection. This would be done by way of a 8-foot wide buffer. In other words, the street would be narrowed as the intersection is approached and the bicyclist would be away from traffic behind a bus stop buffer. This is similar to the Orange Line Bike Path as it runs west of White Oak Blvd. The bike path runs parallel to the street with a buffer in between them.

    The major difference is that a bike lane on the street connects to the bike path and then after the intersection the cyclist is riding on a bike lane again. Where as a bike rider on the Orange Line Bike Path segments that are disconnected by a cross street reconnect to the path by way of a crosswalk.

    Following the Caltrans Highway Design Manual rules about bike path dimensions the space between the bus stop buffer and the original curb would have to be five feet wide for the bike path and have a two foot wide buffer that is grade separated. Part of that buffer could be the gutter pan.

    The bus shelter on the bus stop would have to be set back at least a foot from the buffer of the bike path according to the Caltrans HDM recommendations.

  9. StreetsBlog San Francisco has a article posted today about the new protected bike lanes on JFK Dr in Golden Gate Park that places the bike lane between parked cars and the curb. I asked how did the city of San Francisco overcome the rule against doing this in the Caltrans Highway Design Manual?

    ubrayj02,  I like your grade separation idea for the bike lane, but it is a lot more expensive. That should be another way to overcome the bike lane rule though.

  10. Its not the CAMUTCD that is the problem for the LADOT, its the Caltrans Highway Design Manual that has the rule that states under section 1003.2 that you cannot place a bike lane between parked cars and the curb.

    http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/oppd/hdm/pdf/english/chp1000.pdf

    The Caltrans HDM also states that a one way bike path has to be five feet wide with a two foot wide buffer on each side of it that is grade separated. So you would need at least nine feet of space to put a bike path in.

  11. Dennis, I guess what I am trying to say is that the LA River Bike Path is a “shared use bike path” that doesn’t always comply with those CA MUTCD and Caltrans Design Manual as presented, so why can’t this be a “shared use bike path” on the sidewalk.

    The sidewalk is the one domain where the state DOES NOT have the authority to regulate the use of bikes – as evidenced by the numerous conflicting and non-uniform bike use laws depending on which city you ride in.

    See? Make this a “shared use path” that is basically a special sort of sidewalk and you have legal room to do this type of thing without dealing with the Class I Bike Path designation. As regards the quality of the facility itself, we’ll need to be on top of the designers to make sure it doesn’t suck – but the LA bike community works very hard to do that already, and would do so in any case.

    This is my perspective on how the “Best” option offered up by Gehl Architects can be bureaucratically, and legally, possible.

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