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Move L.A.’s South L.A. Forum Asks if Transit Can Deliver Shared Prosperity

Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St.

A man takes shelter in the shade of a telephone pole at a bus stop on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St. in South L.A., on a hot summer day. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riding my bike the 15 miles between my apartment and a Move L.A. forum on the future of transit at Southwest College on a dreary Saturday morning while battling the tail end of a stubborn respiratory infection was not among the brightest ideas I had ever had, I reflected as it began to drizzle and my hacking started getting the best of me.

But I hadn’t wanted to take the bus (buses, as, technically, I would have had to have taken two). Between the walking and the waiting for lines that run less frequently early on Saturday mornings, my door-to-door journey would probably come out at about two hours — half the time it took me to ride the route.

And the scenes I passed at bus stops on my way down the length of Vermont were not exactly selling bus riding to me.

The many, many folks crowding narrow sidewalks at unprotected bus stops looked rather miserable in the areas where rain was falling. Most yanked hats down over their ears, snuggled deeper into jackets, held newspapers or other random things over their heads to fend off the drizzle, and huddled over their kids to keep them dry. There are actual bus “shelters,” but they are few and far between, generally filthy and overflowing with trash, and offer little protection from the elements.

I even found myself dodging wet, frustrated people who had stepped out into the street to make the long-distance squint up Vermont that only regular bus riders can, searching in vain for a flash of orange. Others called out to ask if I had happened to pass a bus on its way to pick them up.

The state of the bus system in L.A. is not spectacular, in other words, despite the fact that it is responsible for ferrying 3/4 of all Metro transit riders (approximately 30 million people) back and forth per month.

But discussion of the bus situation was notably absent from the discussion on the future of transportation that unfolded over nearly five hours the morning of January 8.

Aside from the remarks of Southwest College alum Leticia Conley, who complained that some students’ ability to access education could be harmed by having to rely on buses that only ran once an hour, most of the discussion focused on rail.

The dotted blue lines represent Move L.A.'s proposal for expanded rail lines throughout L.A. County.

The dotted blue lines represent Move L.A.’s proposal for expanded rail lines throughout L.A. County.

In some ways, the oversight was by design. Besides gathering together leaders from the African-American community to talk about opportunities to make investments in transit translate into investments in the development of South L.A., the larger goal of the forum was to build support for putting a proposal for “Measure R2″ on the 2016 ballot. Read more…

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Streetsblog Talks Bike Share on KCRW 7pm Tonight

wwlaStreetsblog writer Joe Linton appears on KCRW’s Which Way L.A. tonight at 7p.m.

Host Warren Olney interviews Linton and city of Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait about bike share programs.

Metro is currently receiving bids for a 1000-bike downtown Los Angeles bike share system billed as a 2-year pilot. If all goes as expected, bikes will be on L.A. streets about a year from now. If it is successful downtown, then the system is expected to be expanded to various locales throughout L.A. County. Read SBLA’s recent preview article on Metro regional bike share.

The Orange County cities of Anaheim and Fullerton both recently pulled the plug on their unsuccessful small-scale trial bike share systems.

The interview will be broadcast at 89.9 on the F.M. dial and at the KCRW website. We will provide a direct link to the interview in tomorrow’s “Today’s Headlines” post.

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CA Active Transportation Program Funding Unchanged for Next Two Years

This Complete Streets plan in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in 2014. Image: Wallace Robers & Todd, via City of Albany

The Complete Streets plan for San Pablo Avenue in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in the 2014 allocation. Image: Wallace Roberts & Todd, via City of Albany

Although Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed FY 2015 budget showed a decrease in the line item for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), Caltrans Budget Chief Steven Keck assured the California Transportation Commission at its meeting last week that the change was technical and the funding level would be the same as last year’s.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty later confirmed that “as of today going forward, our plan is: no change in the ATP budget.”

While the funding is not being cut from 2014 levels, there is still concern that the need to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists is far greater than the funding provided in the ATP.

And the commissioners seem to agree.

Commissioner Yvonne Burke expressed surprise that there wasn’t more of a fuss kicked up at the meeting. Commissioner Carl Guardino was the only speaker who called attention to the program’s paltry funding, noting that the need for it “greatly outstrips the amount of funding available.”

The ATP allocates most of the state’s funding targeted at increasing walking and bicycling. It was created by statute [PDF] in 2013, combining state and federal funding for bicycle infrastructure, Safe Routes to Schools, and other similar funds into a single pot. In its first two-year cycle, it awarded a total of a little over $350 million for 267 projects throughout the state.

Tracing the sources of money in the ATP can be tricky. Early budget proposals typically incorporate some uncertainty about funding levels, since calculating the state’s revenues from taxes can be an inaccurate science. Other budgetary practices, like last year’s repayment of $9 million that had been borrowed from the ATP’s precursor, the Bicycle Transportation Account, further muddy the waters.

Whatever the reasons for it, the confusion over an issue as simple as “how much money will the state be spending on walking and bicycling infrastructure” adds to the impression that Caltrans is not a very transparent organization.

At last week’s meeting, commission staff presented and discussed draft revisions to the program guidelines [PDF] for the second two-year cycle of funding, set to begin in June.

Read more…

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Finally Given a Platform, Boyle Heights Speaks Out on Metro’s Mariachi Plaza and Affordable Housing Plans

Irwin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irwin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Accused of smirking her way through Metro’s heated community meeting on the fate of Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights by an agitated attendee, a clearly flustered Jenna Hornstock (Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning) had had enough.

“It’s hard to stand up and say, ‘We screwed up!’” she said of feeling like she had been on an apology tour since last November, when Metro bypassed the community engagement process and announced they were seeking to grant Exclusive Negotiated Agreements (ENA) to proposals for Mariachi Plaza and affordable housing projects at 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto.

Agreeing that the community had indeed been overlooked, Hornstock declared to the packed house at Puente Learning Center that she was not smirking. Rather, she was trying her best to absorb the pain and heartfelt concerns of residents who feared being displaced — both culturally and economically — from their community.

But as residents continued to hammer her about the fact that implementing federal housing guidelines — the calculation of rents using the Area Median Income of L.A. County ($81,500) and the use of federal funds to build the sites — would harm the community by both pricing out area residents and opening up the applicant pool to folks from outside the area, she couldn’t help but throw up her hands.

“I don’t know what we should be doing,” she said citing the very real economic dilemma affordable housing proponents and projects face. “If developers can’t fund projects, they won’t build them.”

That dilemma is precisely why people seemingly counterintuitively cry “gentrification” when told affordable transit-oriented housing projects are coming to their communities.

In the case of Boyle Heights, for example, the median income is $33,325 — far below L.A. County’s median. And because it is the median and not the average, the number of households earning less than $40,000 per year is nearly three times that of those above the threshold.

Screen grab from the L.A. Times' neighborhood guide indicating ~16,500 homes are below $40,00 per year. Source L.A. Times.

Screen grab from the L.A. Times’ neighborhood guide indicating ~16,500 households in Boyle Heights earn below $40,000 per year. Source L.A. Times.

The majority of Boyle Heights residents would easily meet the first set of qualifications by falling below the maximum income limits set (calculated using percentages of the county AMI) on affordable units.

The problem is, as well over 9,000 households earn below $20,000 a year, a great many of them will struggle to the meet minimum income limits and the resulting rents developers may set for the apartments (see a sample set of requirements from the East L.A. Community Corporation below). Read more…

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No Pitchforks as LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds Addresses West SFV Forum

LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds speaking at yesterday's forum. All photos Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds speaking at yesterday’s forum. All photos Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

I was a little worried that there might be pitchforks at last night’s transportation town hall. The event was hosted by L.A. City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield and held at the Tarzana Recreation Center.

The main speaker was Seleta Reynolds, the new General Manager of the Los Angeles City Transportation Department (LADOT). I know that Seleta Reynolds has received a lot of praise from us here at SBLA, and from others who are excited about a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented future… but how would she play in the suburban West San Fernando Valley?

I took the Metro Red Line subway, transferred to the Metro Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit, and bicycled the first and last mile. I locked my bike up against a playground fence, no bike parking in evidence.

While I was waiting for the event to begin, I overheard attendees talking about parking problems, and how a planned two-story school seemed too tall. When Councilmember Blumenfield touted the success of the Orange Line, the man next to me, under his breath, proclaimed it to be “a waste of money.” I responded, whispering, that “I rode it to get here.”

Councilmember Blumenfield was refreshingly multimodal in his opening remarks. He decried the West Valley’s transportation challenges, from being stuck on the 101 Freeway to too many buildings surrounded by “a sea of parking” that makes it difficult to walk or bike. His vision for the future would include grade separation for the Metro Orange Line, making the West Valley a place where millenials can “live-work-play,” and following a “more pedestrian-friendly way of planning.”

Reynolds was applauded and started in on a somewhat stock presentation, mostly focused on LADOT’s recently released strategic plan. She spoke of how previous well-intentioned strategies have drained the life out of our streets, and that now we’re thinking creatively about each street and the purpose it needs to serve.

In summarizing her department’s priorities, the GM cited two critical points: “provide choices” and “lead.”

Providing choices is, of course, a multimodal approach. DOT needs to not just move cars, but also to make walking, transit, and bicycling viable and safe.

Her second point, “lead,” is a bit more complicated. Reynolds explains that LADOT doesn’t do freeways — that’s Caltrans. LADOT doesn’t do buses and trains — that’s Metro. LADOT doesn’t even build bridges or curbs, fix potholes, or re-surface streets — that’s the city’s Public Works bureaus. LADOT does, as she puts it, “hold the bag on all these things,” so DOT needs to be a leader in partnering with these agencies to work together to make mobility seamless for people moving through the city.

Reynolds deprecated L.A.’s notoriously confusing parking signs, mentioning that she had heard from an actual rocket scientist who couldn’t figure them out. She also related that even she had already received two parking tickets since arriving in L.A. last August. She didn’t pull any strings; she paid them both. It is in her strategic plan to re-vamp these signs.

I was a little worried that Reynolds’ photos of Downtown L.A.’s Broadway Dress Rehearsal might not resonate with a suburban Tarzana audience. I was wrong. Among the audience questions were two different ones about how the Valley’s Sherman Way could be made more walkable. One asked if Sherman Way could be closed and become a “walk street like in Santa Monica.”

This man asked Seleta Reynolds if DASH service could work more like really effective circulators at Yosemite.

This man asked Seleta Reynolds if DASH service could work more like really effective circulators in Yosemite.

Also among the audience questions were concerns over improving Valley DASH service and providing places to sit at bus stops. Her response to the latter: “I want to make transit reliable, comfortable, and fun – to thank people for making that choice.”  Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Venice Boulevard Resurfaced, Bike Lanes Soon?

Thanks to friend of the blog and L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee Chair Jeff Jacobberger for spotting this and bringing it to the attention of the city of L.A. Transportation Department (LADOT) and SBLA.

Pedestrian walking across the recently-resurfaced Venice Boulevard. All photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Pedestrian walking across the recently-resurfaced not-yet-striped Venice Boulevard. All photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Venice Boulevard was recently resurfaced between Western Avenue and Arlington Avenue. This portion of Venice Boulevard did not have bike lanes before the repaving, but it probably should get them very soon.

These blocks are designated for bike lanes on the city’s approved Bicycle Plan. The city already spent a lot of time and money to design and study extending Venice Boulevard bike lanes as part of its “Year One” bike lane projects list. The Venice Boulevard bike lanes would be extended 3.9 miles from their current terminus at Crenshaw Boulevard all the way to Main Street in downtown Los Angeles. When complete, this will create a 13 mile long bikeway. The existing 9.1-mile Venice Boulevard bike lanes are already the city’s longest.

Cyclist riding Venice Blvd yesterday

Cyclist riding Venice Blvd yesterday

The project would most likely be a road diet (or removing parking.) The road diet could convert four car lanes to three, and add continuous turn pockets and bike lanes. These road diet projects are, of course, safer for everybody – drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Yellow plastic temporary center line markers on Venice Boulevard yesterday

Yellow plastic temporary center line markers on Venice Boulevard yesterday

As of late yesterday, the new smooth surface is very bikeable. People in cars, on bikes, and on foot were all using the resurfaced street. The street has “gone black” (vernacular for resurfaced and not yet striped) and the only hint of any kind of lane markings were the temporary plastic markers delineating the center line.

Note: As this article was about to be published, SBLA received word indirectly that LADOT will extend the Venice Boulevard bike lanes very soon, but apparently not yet east of Arlington (where the above photos were taken.) We’ll update via comments below or a subsequent article as the picture becomes clearer.

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Damaged DTLA Parklet to Be Repaired, Four New L.A. Parklets in 2015

parklet

Last July a drunk driver damaged this parklet on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. The city is working with parklet sponsors, the Historic Core Business Improvement District, to repair it for a March re-opening. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

In July 2014, according to coverage at LAist and CBS, a drunk man made off with his friend’s car and, after clipping a couple of parked cars, smashed into a parklet. That parklet is located in front of Downtown Los Angeles’ L.A. Cafe, on Spring Street between 6th Street and 7th Street. Sadly, since the collision, the parklet has been closed.

The L.A. City Department of Transportation (LADOT) People St program recently announced that the Historic Core Business Improvement District (HCBID), L.A. City Councilmember Jose Huizar, and LADOT have collaborated to devise repair and modification plans for the damaged parklet. According to HCBID executive director Blair Besten, the repairs will cost “into the thousands of dollars.” Besten said that the HCBID and LADOT ”are taking the opportunity to revamp some things about the parklet that we thought could be a better use of space. For example, the [stationary exercise] bikes were underutilized, so we are replacing them with additional seating and bike racks.”

In addition, People St’s Valerie Watson stated that LADOT will be adding “reflective flexible delineators on parklet corners, like the ones you see out on Broadway Dress Rehearsal, for extra nighttime visibility.”

Besten said, “We are excited to get this program back up and running for the neighborhood and hope everyone will be happy with the usability changes we are making.”

In addition to getting the damaged parklet back up to spec, People St announced that four more parklets are on the way, and they are expected to appear on L.A. streets by late 2015.  Read more…

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Are You Supposed to be Here?: Officer Harasses Black Cyclists during MLK Day Parade

Members of the Black Kids on Bikes and their supporters gather for a photo during the MLK Day Parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Members of the Black Kids on Bikes and their supporters gather for a photo during the MLK Day Parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Are you supposed to be in the parade?”

Arms outstretched to halt the glacially-paced forward movement of the group, the LAPD officer stepped in front of long-time South L.A. Real Ryda and one of the area’s best-known cycling elders, William Holloway.

Stunned, we all looked at each other.

Is this man serious?

The Real Rydaz and some of the other low-rider clubs they teamed up with for South L.A.’s King Day parade yesterday specialize in parades. The great energy they bring by performing tricks with their intricately detailed bikes makes them crowd favorites around the city, but especially along King Blvd., where they have a long history with the community. It’s not unusual to hear people chant “Real Rydaz!” from the sidelines as they see the bikes approaching. Or to hear the entire crowd break into song, as they did yesterday, when Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday!” (written to celebrate Dr. King) blared from one of the Rydaz’ speakers.

“Sir, they ride in the parade every year,” I interjected. “Everybody knows them.”

Henry, Helen Myers, a Lady Rider, Shuntain Thomas, and others wait patiently for the parade to move forward. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Henry III, Helen Myers, a Lady Rider, Shuntain Thomas, and others wait patiently for the parade to move forward. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Holloway then began to speak up, as did some of the others, asking what the problem was and declaring that they had been participants in the parade for years.

Now a little less sure of himself, the officer kept looking back and forth between me (the non-African-American) and the Rydaz, as if he wasn’t sure he could take their word for it and I might be the one to provide the real story of what was going on. Read more…

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3 Months After Metro Fare Increase: Revenue Up 7.7%, Ridership Down 4.4%

Metro fare revenue is up 7.7 percent comparing October through December for 2013 vs. 2014. Image via Metro presentation [PDF]

Metro fare revenue is up 7.7 percent, comparing October through December for 2013 vs. 2014. Image via January 2015 Metro Quarterly Financial Update presentation [PDF]

Metro released its latest Quarterly Financial Update [PDF] at this week’s Finance Committee meeting. The report gives an early glance at the impacts of Metro’s mid-September 2014 fare increases.

Financially, the news is good. Comparing the second quarter, October to December, of FY2014-13 vs. FY2014-15, fare revenue is up 7.7 percent.

The picture is not all good, though. Revenue is up; ridership is down.

This week, the agency also released ridership data from December. Compiling monthly ridership data for the same second quarter three-month window as the above revenue data, Metro’s ridership is down 4.4 percent. Though the average is not particularly instructive (November and December are generally low ridership), for those three months, overall Metro system ridership dropped from 30.8 million per month in 2013 to 29.3 million in 2014. See actual monthly data compiled in this spreadsheet.

One interesting post-fare-increase trend within the data is that bus ridership is down quite a bit more than rail ridership. For October, November, and December, bus ridership dropped 5.0 percent. During the same period, rail ridership declined only 2.7 percent.

Overall, Metro buses still carry about 30 million riders per month — three-quarters of Metro ridership. Rail carries about 10 million riders per month — a quarter of overall ridership.

There are lots of overall trends that impact ridership, so it is impossible to attribute all the revenue increases and ridership declines solely to fare increases. The state is seeing upward trends in transit utilization. Metro continues to make “service changes” that amount to cuts to the bus system. Metro spokesperson Marc Littman has emphasized that other factors can impact ridership:

[I]t will take up to six months to really gauge the revenue impacts of the fare changes. And while we expect some temporary drop in ridership, you can’t tag it just to the fare changes. Gas prices today are the lowest since February 2011, the economy is picking up, they latched the gates at half the Metro Rail stations and are cracking down on fare evasion. Too many variables to draw conclusions that it’s all related to the fare changes.

Even with revenue trending upward, departing Metro CEO Art Leahy, at least as of yesterday, was still predicting an impending fiscal crisis could be only a couple years off. With such an ambitious rail expansion program, Leahy had pressed for Metro to approve three successive fare increases. His board only approved the initial 2014 increase. Leahy’s tune has changed slightly, though. Before, he was saying that “we” face a coming deficit. Yesterday, the pronoun changed to “you.”

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CA Budget Details: Active Transportation Gets Less Money

Active Transportation Project applications pile up at Caltrans headquarters on May 21.Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Caltrans received over 770 applications for Active Transportation Projects in May last year.
Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed 2015-16 budget. The 270-page summary [PDF] included a passing reference to $360 million previously allocated for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), as part of state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging more bicycling and walking. But the budget summary offered no details about future funding, nor what allocations for the coming year might be.

The details were released late that afternoon, and they show that the state is not yet taking the commitment to active transportation seriously. The ATP’s allocation for 2015-16 under Brown’s proposed budget is considerably less than the previous year’s funding level.

This is the first step in the budget process. The governor proposes a budget, which then is discussed in the legislature–the first such hearing was held today in the Assembly. In the spring Brown will propose revisions, based on legislative feedback, which will then undergo further discussions and revision. The final budget must be passed by June.

The budget proposal reads like an exercise in bureaucratic obfuscation. You can find the transportation section here [PDF], but good luck figuring it out. With some hand-holding and a lot of consultation with people who know way more than I do, this is what I found buried in the numbers:

  • The overall budget for transportation, almost $16 billion, will increase by $200 million over last year’s budget
  • That doesn’t seem like a lot, given inflation
  • Despite that increase, the proposed 2015-16 ATP allocation from state funds will decrease by twenty percent over the 2014 allocation, from $43 million to $34 million
  • In addition, the proposed 2015-16 ATP allocation from federal funds will decrease by five percent over 2014, from $95 million to $90 million

There are caveats and many questions remaining. For example, the aforementioned $360 million to the ATP in the budget summary was for three years’ worth of funding. The next round of ATP funding will also be for a multi-year program, but how that fits with the numbers in the current budget is not clear. It’s also not clear yet whether the next round of ATP funding will be for two years or three years.

The initial round of ATP funding, allocated in May, received 770 applications that requested about $1 billion in funding. Only 265 of those projects got funded. Sure, they probably weren’t all perfect applications, but likely many of them were, and 34 percent is still a small portion of projects to fund. It is clear that there is heavy demand for the Active Transportation Program funding.

Yet the proposed budget shows no commitment to expanding the ATP, and little commitment to keeping its funding at the same level, despite the climate change goals articulated in the governor’s recent speeches, and despite the clear connection between increased bicycling and walking trips and reduced fuel use and emissions.

Calls to the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans have not yet produced any answers to the remaining questions. Stay tuned as we dig further.

Meanwhile the California Transportation Commission is set to approve revised guidelines for the second round of ATP funding. It held one workshop last week in Los Angeles [PDF], and the draft guidelines [PDF] will likely be approved at the commission’s next meeting on January 22 in Sacramento.

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