Op/Ed – Before Garcetti Can Be the Hero, He Needs to Slay the Zombies

To be fair, this does look like an excellent place to be during a zombie attack. Rendering by Rios Clementi Hale Studios via the Daily News

Yesterday’s announcement that a planned pedestrian bridge for most of the corners of Lankershim Boulevard and Universal Hollywood Drive would cost $27 million, instead of the originally announced $19 million, was more bad news for those striving to make Los Angeles’ streets a better place. When Streetsblog last reported on this project, the cost was only $19 million, which seemed an expensive alternative to improving the intersection to facilitate pedestrian traffic.

The project is a bad idea for many reasons: the cost, the reality that too often people choose to ignore pedestrian bridges and the intersections will no longer be timed for pedestrians to cross at street level, the high volume of pedestrians in the area thanks the the Red Line station and bus terminal on two of the corners…the list goes on.

Perhaps a tacit admission that the project is a bad idea, the bridge only connects three of the four corners of the intersection. The fourth corner houses a bus terminal, with thousands of daily passengers. Metro bus passengers going east-west across the Valley need to cross both Campo de Cahuenga and Lankershim to transfer to Line 155 (Burbank/Toluca Lake) from the buses that come from the west on Ventura Boulevard.

Let’s also remember that a pedestrian tunnel, an idea thrown out for being “too expensive” was originally priced at $23 million. I’m not a math expert, but if $23 million was too expensive, how is $27 million a good use of funds? Even if you consider that NBC Universal is pledging to chip in$3.9 million, the project is currently as expensive as the “too expensive” alternative of yesteryear. This is particularly frustrating considering that transit service itself on Lankershim Boulevard is a shade of its former self.

The proposed bridge design serves all three corners of the intersection of Lankershim Boulevard and Campo de Cahuenga. Of course, the intersection has four corners.

True, there’s some politics involved, and a decades-old legal settlement. But, Faramarz Nabavi pointed out in Streetsblog’s story on this project last year, the city and county had room to negotiate away that settlement, but it wasn’t a high enough priority to make the list when it was time to approve the Massive NBC Universal project last year.

This latest disaster points to a larger issue facing Team Garcetti on Day 107. His name is getting dragged down by zombie projects that have been in the works for years. The projects shuffle on even as their original supporters are moved out of office. “Lankershim Pedestrian Bridge” is just the latest man made creation to stagger mindlessly onto the screen joining “Spring Street Green Buffered Bike Lane” and “Hyperion Bridge Redesign”.

If Garcetti wants to be a Livable Streets hero, and Streetsblog believes that he does, he has to be the one to stand up to the zombies and divert the resources into something better. In some cases, it’s easy to see the alternate solution. On Hyperion, get rid of the highway-redesign and put in the bike lanes called for in the Bike Plan and wider sidewalks. On Spring Street, the zombies may have already overrun the preferred road design, but the city claims the new design is a lot cheaper…which means there should be money to implement the design, which the city claims is better than a traditional bike lane, somewhere else before the credits run.

On Lankershim, the case is more difficult. There’s no obvious answer, although a scramble crosswalk and increasing transit service seem like a great idea to some. The legal settlement with NBC Universal makes it harder to do the right thing, but at this point we don’t even know if the city has ever tried to re-work the agreement.

On the other hand, Lankershim might be the easiest zombie to slay because Garcetti’s fingerprints aren’t already on the project. It was Council Member Garcetti who joined with Tom LaBonge to stop the re-painting of the Spring Street Green Buffered Bike Lane that was the prologue to the ongoing Spring Street Debacle of 2013. And while the Hyperion Bridge Redesign was mostly redesigned before he took office, nobody put a gun to his head and forced him to appear in a promotional video for the project.

It’s clear that Eric Garcetti wants to be the Livable Streets Mayor. He can talk the talk, even the throwing in some jargon. His record as a Council Member is one of the strongest ones we’ve seen in recent years, even if he gets partial credit for Spring Street. He’s pushed forth grand proposals including Great Streets and People St. But it’s not enough to be the visionary setting the tone and putting out the big ideas.

The zombie programs are shuffling forward. Will Garcetti help us hold the line, or is he getting out of the way? We’re waiting.