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LADOT’s New Broadway Pre-Project Report Heralds Data-Driven Evaluation

Cover

Cover of new Broadway Dress Rehearsal report [PDF]

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Transportation Department (LADOT) released a new report entitled Broadway Dress Rehearsal: Pre-Installation Existing Conditions Report 2014 [PDF]. The handsome 82-page report is full of facts, figures and graphs all detailing the “safety, public life, and economic” conditions on Broadway from 2nd Street to 11th Street in downtown Los Angeles. This stretch of street is where the Broadway Dress Rehearsal project was recently completed. The streetscape project removed a traffic lane to make space for plazas which feature outdoor seating and planters.

LADOT’s announcement states that the Broadway report is the first one to use the department’s new “robust methodology for pre- and post-installation evaluation and data collection.” This evaluation process is outlined in a second report entitled Project Evaluation Manual V1.1 [PDF]. LADOT further states, “By using established metrics that illuminate how new public spaces and street design impact the life of the street, we can track trends over time, evaluate project performance, and inform future program direction.” 

LADOT plans to do a corresponding post-installation study in Fall 2015 to compare the conditions before and after the Broadway Dress Rehearsal.

The reports are from LADOT’s innovative People St shop, the folks who are oversee the city’s new plaza, parklet, and bike corral programs.

What does the report say about Broadway? Here are some highlights from LADOT’s announcement:

Pedestrians generally outnumber vehicles on Broadway. There were more people walking along Broadway over the course of just 6 hours than motor vehicles traveling along the corridor over a 24-hour period on the same weekend day.

From 2007 to 2012, 120 intersection and 94 mid-block injury collisions were reported along Broadway (involving people driving, walking, and bicycling).

Pedestrian and bicycle injury collisions have been increasing.

Most mid-block collisions were caused by unsafe lane changes and unsafe speed by drivers.

Vehicular speeds and volumes differ for northbound vs. southbound traffic. Traffic speeds were higher and volumes lower going southbound; traffic speeds were lower and volumes higher northbound.

Excessive driver speeding behavior was observed. Almost one-quarter of drivers were speeding while heading south on Broadway on the weekday studied.

The report is chock-full of great visuals, breaking down all sorts of data, even differentiating the east and west sides of Broadway. There is information on motorists yielding, motorist encroachment on crosswalks, bike and pedestrian counts, speeding, collisions, spending, tax revenue, and even pedestrian group size and posture (standing vs. sitting).

Below are some sample data visualizations:

Counts of people walking and bicycling on Broadway. From Broadway Dress Rehearsal report [PDF]

Counts of people walking and bicycling on Broadway. From Broadway Dress Rehearsal report [PDF]

Read more…

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Kinkisharyo Agreement Reached, Metro Rail Cars To Be Built in Palmdale

Kinkisharyo rail car. Photo from Don Knabe blog

Kinkisharyo rail car. Photo from Don’s Blog

In October, the L.A. Times declared Kinkisharyo’s Palmdale Metro light rail car manufacturing plant “all but dead.” KPCC reported that County Supervisor Mike Antonovich spoke at a rally condemning labor’s legal challenges as “nonsense.” County Supervisor Don Knabe opined that “regulatory red tape” had cost L.A. County jobs.

Apparently, the reports of the death of local rail car manufacturing have been greatly exaggerated.

At a recent Metro meeting, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had hinted that he was looking into this matter.

Today, the mayor announced that an agreement had been reached to allow manufacturing to proceed in Palmdale. Parties to the agreement include Kinkisharyo, Metro, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), and organized labor, including International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union Number Eleven (IBEW 11). As the Metro light rail system expands, its rail cars will be assembled by workers in Palmdale.

The announcement follows a pattern of Garcetti assuming the mantle of a regional leader. The mayor has repeatedly stated that his responsibilities don’t end at L.A. City borders. Whether it is supporting Gold Line extensions east of Los Angeles, or sticking up for architecture in Orange County, Garcetti has made a point of supporting the region.

Portions of Mayor Garcetti’s announcement are after the jump; the full statement is available on Mayor Garcetti’s website.

Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Where Am I?

Eyes on the Street: Where on the Expo Line can you spot this mural? Photo: Damien Newton/Streetsblog L.A.

Eyes on the Street: Where on the Expo Line can you spot this Faith47 mural? Photo: Damien Newton/Streetsblog L.A.

I admit. Usually when I’m on the Expo Line, I’ve got my face buried in my phone or an old Dr. Who book. But last week, I was staring out the window and I noticed a beautiful mural of swans on the side of a building.

Doing a little digging, I discovered the mural has been there since August and was painted by famed Korean muralist Faith47. It’s not just a beautiful mural, it’s also part of a plan to beautify and revitalize a community.

So here’s a quick Eyes on the Street quiz. The first person who can tell me where this mural is wins a Streetsblog t-shirt. Honors system in place, no using the Internet.

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What a Vermont Avenue BRT Line Could Look Like

Future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Vermont Avenue could resemble Eugene, OR's EmX BRT line. Photo: ITDP

Future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Vermont Avenue could resemble the Emerald Express BRT line in Eugene, OR. Photo: ITDP

At this month’s board meeting, Metro staff reported that they are hiring consultants to shepherd two Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects. Today, SBLA previews one of those: Vermont Avenue BRT.

For the uninitiated, what is BRT? Bus Rapid Transit is high-quality bus service running in its own dedicated right-of-way. It comes in a lot of flavors, but generally operates like a rail line. There are two BRT examples locally. The best one is the Metro Orange Line, which runs on bus-only roads in the San Fernando Valley. Arguably the Metro Silver Line is also BRT as it runs mostly in highway toll lanes. Read this Daniel Jacobson editorial about the potential for BRT to play key roles in L.A. County’s transportation networks.

Briefly, the other BRT project will extend from the San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel Valley. Connections would include Burbank Airport, and the Metro Gold, Orange, and Red Lines. SBLA will cover this project more as it progresses.

The two BRT projects were given momentum by a July Metro Board motion [PDF] directing Metro staff to advance these projects, including developing a budget and timelines. The Metro Board re-affirmed the July direction in this October board motion [PDF]. This month, Metro staff stated [audio - item 70 at 3:04] that they are preparing scopes of work and that consultant contracts are expected to be awarded in early 2015. Metro Board chair L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti had pressed for Metro to pursue federal Small Starts funding for these BRTs, but Metro staff sounded pessimistic about that program, due to maximum funding of $250 million for each project.

The Vermont Avenue BRT project route has not been finalized, but it is likely to be similar to the current Metro bus lines on Vermont Avenue. Vermont Avenue is one of the nation’s highest ridership bus corridors, and ridership is second only to Wilshire. The Vermont bus lines extend about 12 miles from the Metro Green Line (at the 105 Freeway) to Sunset Boulevard, including connections with Red, Purple, and Expo Lines. Depending on funding and other constraints, BRT could run on some of all of this corridor, converting to express/Rapid service in unimproved areas.

Other alternatives might be under consideration, but the Vermont line is anticipated to be “center-running” (also known as “median-aligned”) BRT. Center-running BRT has been shown to be faster and safer, compared to running along curbs. For a great explanation, watch this fun Lego-animation video.

Here’s a quick tour of some center-running BRT systems up and running elsewhere:  Read more…

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L.A. Planning Commission Won’t Approve Mobility Plan Before April 2015

Planning Commission

Department of City Planning staffer My La summarizes Mobility Plan 2035 before L.A.’s Planning Commission. The Commission continued the plan until April 2015. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission hosted its initial review of the city’s proposed new transportation plan, called Mobility Plan 2035. The meeting included Department of City Planning (DCP) staff presentations, public testimony, and discussion by planning commissioners. At the end of today’s hearing, the Planning Commission voted to direct planning staff to:

  • incorporate planning commissioner comments into a revised version of the plan
  • create a separate document specifying priorities and implementation strategy
  • return to the Planning Commission in April 2015, when the plan’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is expected to be complete

DCP has made 34 pages of revisions to the draft plan released two weeks ago. Planning staff stated that they expect to post the revisions document later today at the LA2B website.

It is encouraging that among its revisions the plan will use the broadly accepted meaning of Vision Zero, not the partial version proposed in the previous draft. The plan, as currently proposed, includes this goal:

Vision Zero: Decrease transportation-related fatality rate to zero by 2035.

Public testimony included representatives from various business groups, L.A. Chamber of Commerce, Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), the L.A. County Business Federation, and others speaking in support of keeping the plan’s proposed Vehicle Enhanced Network (VEN – profiled here.)

The L.A. County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.) supported the Bicycle Enhanced Network, and the plan’s overall “aspirations.” Los Angeles Walks founder (and Streetsblog L.A. board member) Deborah Murphy suggested that the plan needs to “go further,” including by outlining a clear “strict process” for making streets more livable.

Also testifying were South Los Angeles groups, including TRUST South L.A. and Community Health Councils, which supported the plan’s focus on safer streets.  Read more…

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Speaking with Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ New Sustainability Director

Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ first Assistant Director of Sustainability. Photo: Caltrans

As part of its ongoing work to expand its focus beyond just highways, California’s Department of Transportation, better known as Caltrans, recently created a new position — the Assistant Director of Sustainability. Steven Cliff, the new hire, will oversee the integration of one of the department’s newest goals: “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy.”

Cliff comes from the California Air Resources Board, where he helped develop ways to implement AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, and helped develop the cap-and-trade program. He has a background in global climate science and air quality research at the University of California, Davis, where he held a research faculty position before taking on policy work at the ARB.

Changes at Caltrans

Caltrans’ sustainability goal is part of the department’s newly formulated mission and vision statements. Those statements resulted from months of intensive work in response to outside pressure on the department to face the fact that its car-focused, highway-loving, bureaucratic ways were not serving Californians.

The pressure came from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), the new-ish agency with oversight over Caltrans and several other agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol, that before 2013 answered only to the governor.

One of CalSTA’s first actions was to commission an outside study on the state of affairs at Caltrans.

The resulting report, from the State Smart Transportation Initiative [PDF], ripped into Caltrans, calling it rigid, out of step, and overly risk-averse. The report led to several legislative hearings last year, and led to Caltrans’ endorsement of the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide as an alternative to the department’s own hidebound guidelines, which squelched safer and innovative street designs — especially bicycle infrastructure.

Caltrans dumped its old mission statement, “Improve mobility across California,” for a new one: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.”

In the process it also came up with a new vision statement and formulated ten new goals to help achieve that vision. The newest one, “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy,” Caltrans explains as: “[Making] long-lasting, smart mobility decisions that improve the environment, support a vibrant economy, and build communities, not sprawl” (emphasis added).

Cliff, the new Assistant Director for Sustainability, has the job of leading up the effort to develop the sustainability goal, create objectives for it, and formulate performance measures to evaluate how well those objectives are achieved. When the work is finished, it will help inform the department’s five-year strategic plan, due next spring.

Read more…

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Ten Reasons L.A.’s Mobility Plan Needs to End Road Widening

The Department of City Planning thinks that Beverly Boulevard needs to be 32 feet wider. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Department of City Planning thinks that Beverly Boulevard needs to be 32 feet wider. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The City of Los Angeles is updating its primary transportation plan, something it hasn’t done since 1999. The new Mobility Plan 2035, authored by the City Planning Department (DCP), will be before the city’s Planning Commission tomorrow.

There is some welcome stuff — especially in the vision statements — in the latest draft Mobility Plan. It is better than 1999′s plan. But what gets most stuck in my personal craw is road-widening.

This is 2014. Vehicle miles driven are declining. We’re building five rail lines. We spent a billion dollars widening the 405 Freeway only to experience slower commute times. Greenhouse gas reduction legislation is mandating sustainable communities. And Los Angeles is about to reaffirm its self-destructive policy of continuing to widen the crap out of the majority of our already built-out road network.

Briefly, how street-widening plans work in L.A.: Perhaps 100 years ago, someone (usually the city or developers) built a street. Let’s say said street was and is 50 feet wide. During the post-WWII car-centric planning era, following the latest car-centric traffic engineering standards, DCP decided that the 50-foot wide road should really be 60 feet wide. Someone buys a property on this street with the intention of tearing down the existing building and replacing it with a new one. DCP mandates that when that new building goes up, the developer must pay to widen the street to some or all of that now “missing” 10 feet, typically half of it, sometimes more. So, in this case, the developer loses a 5-foot strip of land which goes toward widening the street. Corner lots, perhaps the most desirable for visibility and foot traffic, often lose two strips of land, one for each street that they front. In theory, all of the properties on the street would be redeveloped and the whole length of the street would be up to the new standard, but that could take hundreds of years.

Civilized nations like Pasadena and even Downtown Los Angeles ended street widening practices a while ago.

Some folks already read this when I opined about it this past May, but one especially heinous example just three blocks from where I live, walk, and bike is Beverly Boulevard. In L.A.’s most population-dense neighborhood, alongside the Metro Red Line subway station, Beverly would be widened from 78 feet to 110 feet. Really. Beverly is just one of many streets that DCP wants to widen.

I urge the Planning Commission to reject the Mobility Plan unless it explicitly ends road widening.

Here are my top ten reasons to end road widening:

1. The City Can’t Afford to Maintain Wider Streets - Wider roads are more expensive for the city to maintain. With gas tax revenues at their lowest inflation-adjusted levels ever, transportation funding is scarce at the federal, state, and local level. The feds resorted to budget gimmicks, including “pension-smoothing,” to make up for huge transportation funding shortfalls. Los Angeles is looking to its own budget gimmicks, including closing parking tax loopholes, to fund street resurfacing, which L.A. already has trouble keeping up with. Though it is apparently on hold, L.A. was also looking to float a $3+ billion road repair bond.

The first thing we should be doing when we find ourselves in a hole like this is to stop digging. Stop the bleeding. Stop the road widening. Though roads seem cheap when the feds or developers pay to build or widen them, excessively unnecessarily wide roads come with excessive maintenance costs. They are ticking fiscal time-bombs for cities. (Thanks to Strong Towns for getting me thinking about this in this way.)

2. Widening Hurts the Local Economy – Street-widening requirements drive up the cost of new development. New housing, retail, etc., is not only required to pay to build a chunk of new street (up to 32 feet wide in the Beverly example above), but that development also loses that strip from what can be developed, meaning a smaller building footprint, so less housing, less retail… not to mention impacts on public projects: less park, less school, less library, less transit station, etc. 

3. Widening Hurts Affordable Housing – A noteworthy subset of item 2 above, shaving that road-widening dedication off of housing parcels drives up the cost of housing. This is especially true in core older neighborhoods where streets are at sane dimensions but not up to the latest car-centric standards. As Mayor Garcetti pushes Metro to step up joint development of affordable housing at transit stations, let’s not dedicate a bunch more of that land to streets when it should go to housing.

Read more…

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Lightly Revised L.A. City Mobility Plan At Planning Commission Thursday

Cover of L.A.'s revised Mobility Plan 2035. Apparently lots of empty transit platforms in L.A.'s future. Image via DCP draft [PDF]

Cover of L.A.’s latest draft Mobility Plan 2035. Apparently Los Angeles’ future includes lots of mostly-empty gray transit platforms, with prominent restrictive signage and surveillance cameras. Image via DCP draft [PDF]

The Los Angeles Department of City Planning (DCP) recently released an updated version of its proposed Mobility Plan 2035, the transportation element of the city’s General Plan. The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposed plan at its meeting this Thursday at 8:30 a.m. [agenda PDF - see item 7]. The revised plan documents are available online via the LA/2B project document page; they include a staff report [PDF], the Mobility Plan, Map Atlas, Complete Streets Guidelines, and Environmental Impact Report.

Though the staff report summarizes a number of changes, the revised plan appears to be very similar to the earlier version, analyzed in earlier SBLA articles. See this March article for overall background.

One new inclusion in the plan is Vision Zero. Well, sort of.

Vision Zero, from Sweden to LA’s Department of Transportation (LADOT), has always meant eliminating all traffic fatalities. Zero dead drivers, passengers, pedestrians, or cyclists. DCP’s new draft Mobility Plan (p.38) re-defines the term as:

Vision Zero: Decrease pedestrian and bicycle fatality rate to zero by 2035.

DCP’s version is more like “Vision 108,” well below the current “Vision 219,” based on 2010 traffic fatalities enumerated in DCP’s Health Atlas (219 overall traffic fatalities, including 100 pedestrians and 11 cyclists.)

People who identify as cyclists and pedestrians certainly welcome the end of bicycling and walking fatalities. Keep that in the plan! 108 annual deaths are better than 219. Unfortunately DCP is re-defining an already widely-used term, taking an all-inclusive safety framework and carving it into a benefit for what is currently a minority slice of road users. This could confuse or mislead the public, and might erode public support for the truly universally-beneficial Vision Zero.

As SBLA noted for the earlier version, the revised documents remain full of mealy-mouthed non-committal language when it comes to describing safety and livability advances, for example:

The Plan builds upon the bike plan framework and goes a step further by proposing fully protected bicycle lanes. (Staff Report, p.19, italics added)

L.A.’s past car-centric road-widening, parking, funding plans don’t just “propose” or “consider” car-centric infrastructure, they very clearly plan it, designate it, and then it gets built. Perhaps some wiggle-room is needed in the volatile current period where travel modes are shifting, new technologies are emerging, and car miles traveled are declining. Unfortunately ambiguous non-committal road designations are likely to mean that car-centric streets will remain the city’s default. While road-widening and speed-limit increases continue, livability and safety projects could continue to face long-drawn-out community dialogue processes. Look no further than the city’s “Year Two” bike lane projects: eight months down the road with zero mileage completed or even finalized.

Other earlier critiques remain applicable. Read more…

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Metro Extends Sheriff Contract 6 Months; What’s In Metro Policing’s Future?

Los Angeles County Sheriffs have, at least anecdotally, had an increased presence on Metro in recent months.

Last Thursday, Metro’s policing contract decision was postponed in favor of a 6-month extension of the current L.A. County Sheriffs Department contract. Photo of Sheriff deputy on Wilshire Bus in September 2014. Photo by Dana Gabbard/Streetsblog L.A.

Last week, the Metro Board of Directors finally took action on its repeatedly-extended, repeatedly-about-to-expire contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

Metro approved a $44.44 million 6-month extension of the $83 million annual contract covering policing for its entire bus and rail transportation networks. This is the eleventh modification of the contract; most of those modifications have been to extend the current contract, which has been in place since 2009.

The extension kicks the ultimate contract decision down the road to a new set of Metro directors, as supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina will be replaced by Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, respectively. There will also be a newly-elected L.A. County Sheriff: former Long Beach police chief Jim McDonnell.

The extension also, for better or for worse, puts some time between contract deliberations and the recent LASD audit. Ostensibly, it gives the LASD six months to fix problems identified by the audit, or perhaps enough time for any heat generated by the audit’s criticism to dissipate.

In April 2014, Metro received the results of its audit of LASD policing work. Both Metro and LASD’s Transit Services Bureau (TSB) wrote official responses to the audit; the agency responses were included as attachments in a June 2014 final report. Though a 4-page board report summarizing the roughly 200-page LASD audit document was soon made available, it took some persistence to obtain the actual public document. Transit advocate Dana Gabbard obtained and posted the audit here. Gabbard also penned this article previewing Metro’s September 4 board meeting to receive and file the audit.

At that September meeting, Metro’s Inspector General staff asserted that the audit, not yet posted to Metro’s website, was publicly available, as anyone could file a public records request to obtain it. The Metro board differed, directing staff to post the full public document online. After that meeting, Metro posted a revised version [PDF].

Though there was media coverage at the time, much of it more-or-less summarized the summaries, rarely going into detail regarding issues raised. Largely missing was LASD TSB’s responses on items where they differed with auditors. Press included:

  • The L.A. Register stated, “Auditors made 50 recommendations to correct or improve deficiencies in nearly every performance area, including staffing, billing, strategic planning, communications, oversight, and achievement of goals.”
  • In July, the L.A. Times ran highlights of audit findings regarding crime statistics, fare evasion, and staffing issues.
  • After the September Board meeting, the Times ran a follow-up article stating, “Their blistering [LASD Audit] report found a host of management and safety problems over the last five years of contracted service” and that “Sheriff’s Department officials [...] are working to correct the issues raised in the audit.”
  • July coverage at County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website outlined that the audit “faulted the Sheriff on a number of fronts, including lack of a community-policing plan for the nation’s third-largest bus and rail system, perennial staff vacancies, tardy responses to citizen complaints, and inadequate records to support its billings” but assured readers that “reforms already are underway.”

Metro staff reporting on the audit have been similarly opaque about audit responses. Here is a chart showing how the agency is complying with audit recommendations:

Metro is about xx percent done address issues raised in their audit of LASD transit policing performance. From Metro Staff Report September 2014

Metro is about 50 percent done addressing issues raised in their audit of LASD transit policing performance. Which 50 percent have been addressed is not indicated. From Metro Staff Report September 2014

The brief September staff report shows various percentages of work completed and in progress, with no supporting documentation indicating which audit items have been completed and which remain.

So, what’s in that audit?  Read more…

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Where Should ‘Barnes Dance’ Diagonal Scramble Crosswalks Go?

LA Gets Diagonal Crosswalks (again) from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Last week, the L.A. Times ran this article announcing that the city of Los Angeles Transportation Department (LADOT) is planning to add new diagonal “scramble” or “Barnes Dance” crosswalks at three pedestrian-heavy Metro-rail adjacent intersections:

  • 7th Street and Flower Street, Downtown Los Angeles
  • Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, Hollywood
  • Aliso Street and Alameda Street, at Union Station, Downtown Los Angeles

Though scramble intersections are working just fine thank you in Pasadena, at USC, and at UCLA, the Times trotted out an unnamed L.A. transportation engineer who, in 1995, said they wouldn’t work here.

This got SBLA thinking: This is a great idea, but LADOT just isn’t going far enough! What other pedestrian-heavy intersections would be great for scramble treatments? Why not MacArthur Park? Wilshire and Vermont? in front of L.A. Trade Tech? And why not go further? Can we close some streets around our rail stations, maybe even around our schools, too – make them only for walking and bicycling? At certain hours? or all the time – like plazas or mini-CicLAvias?

Comment away, dear readers! Where would you put pedestrian scrambles? In L.A. or elsewhere? Where could we go further?