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Vision Zero 101: Bike Lanes are not Parking Spaces

Parking enforcement often parks in the bike lane. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

LADOT’s parking enforcement officers often park in the bike lane, forcing cyclists into a busy traffic lane or onto the sidewalk. When asked about this practice on August 15, the parking enforcement officer whose car is pictured above declined to answer. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Tap tap tap.

The traffic officer looked up from his phone.

When he rolled down his window, I smiled and asked politely about his having parked in the bike lane on Los Angeles Street.

There was a long pause.

“And?” he raised his eyebrows.

Having only expected some, not total, disdain, I stuttered my way through my concerns about safety.

The lanes along Los Angeles St. between 1st and Aliso Streets are regularly blocked, usually by official vehicles that sit there all day, I gestured to the line of cars parked ahead of him, including an LAPD cruiser. The presence of the cars in the bike lane, I explained, meant that cyclists were forced to move into what could be a very fast-moving traffic lane on an often busy street.

He offered no response. Just judgmental eyebrows of silence.

I switched tacks and stuttered my way through a suggestion that, perhaps as parking enforcement, he might be able to help mitigate these problems by enforcing the codes. Vulnerable folks needed his help, I pleaded.

More silence. More eyebrows.

Finally, he muttered, “I have police business,” rolled up his window, and went back to his phone. A minute later, he exited the car and strolled leisurely toward the detention center.

Well, I thought. This was one of the less productive exchanges I’ve had in a while.

A parking enforcement vehicle occupies the southbound bike lane on Los Angeles St. in July. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A parking enforcement vehicle sits alone in the southbound bike lane on Los Angeles St. in July. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

* * *

Unless I witness an incident where someone’s safety has been compromised, I am generally not someone who enjoys claiming “bicycle rights!” Probably because doing so reminds me of that Portlandia clip of Fred Armisen obnoxiously barging his way through town.

But there is something about the parking habits of Los Angeles’ finest and other city agents on this street that is troubling to me.

A police cruiser occupies the southbound bike lane on Los Angeles St. in July. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A police cruiser occupies the southbound bike lane on Los Angeles St. in July. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As I noted here, when I first wrote about this a few months ago, the blatant disregard of city codes in the very section of downtown where the folks that are tasked with generating, implementing, and enforcing our city’s rules spend much of their day doesn’t bode well for how rules might be enforced and adhered to in other parts of the city.

And the treatment of the bike lanes as non-vital infrastructure by city officials encourages regular folks to do the same elsewhere. I frequently run into drivers who create dangerous conditions on busy streets by being just conscientious enough to pull over to use their cellphone, but not so conscientious that they exit the bike lane to do so. Similarly, valets and their clients often treat the bike lane as the proper place to hand off the car. Conditions at Mohawk Bend, for example (a bar on Sunset Blvd. in Silver Lake), are particularly hazardous for cyclists at night, as the bar is located at a dangerous curve where traffic tends to pick up speed and the drivers darting in and out of the bike lane often do so without warning or fling their doors wide open unexpectedly.

Now, with the passage of the Mobility Plan 2035 (which will guide the implementation of more bike infrastructure, among other things) and the signing of a mayoral directive committing city departments to uphold Vision Zero (the effort to reduce traffic fatalities to zero by the year 2025), the question of how law enforcement, parking enforcement, and even Homeland Security (below) treat bike lanes becomes all the more urgent.

Homeland Security parks in the bike lane just north of Temple on Los Angeles St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Homeland Security parks in the bike lane just north of Temple on Los Angeles St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

There is not a lot of point in overhauling the city’s mobility network and laying down costly infrastructure if city agents don’t value the safety of those trying to use it.

And people do indeed need to use that infrastructure.

In the communities that I cover — South L.A. and Boyle Heights, two lower-income communities of color — the vast majority of the cyclists I see are riding out of necessity. They do not have the luxury of being able to drive when conditions feel unsafe. They still have to get back and forth to work or school, and they have a right to be able to do so safely. Just like everyone else.

Nope, still not a fluke.

A Google Maps view from March of 2015 captures the parking habits of some of L.A.’s finest, which apparently also include the disregard of parking restrictions around fire hydrants.

Given that the Steering Committee for Vision Zero will be jointly led by the L.A. Department of Transportation and the LAPD — the very departments whose officers are tasked with enforcing parking and traffic codes — now seems like a really good time for the agents of both to show Angelenos they are aware that there is a difference between a bike lane and a parking space, and that they are willing to uphold it.

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Garcetti Signs Vision Zero Directive to End L.A. Traffic Deaths by 2025

Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler speaks on Los Angeles' new Vision Zero policy at today's signing ceremony in Boyle Heights. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler speaks on Los Angeles’ new Vision Zero policy at today’s signing ceremony in Boyle Heights. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Today, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a directive [PDF] that commits city departments to Vision Zero. Specifically, the City of Los Angeles is committed to reducing traffic fatalities to zero by the year 2025.

A little over a year ago, it was difficult to find Los Angeles agency staff, elected officials, or even individuals who were conversant on Vision Zero. In case readers are unfamiliar with Vision Zero, here is a description from the newly-formed Los Angeles Vision Zero Alliance:

Vision Zero is a worldwide movement, started in Sweden, to eliminate all traffic deaths. While traditional traffic safety campaigns have focused on changing human behavior to reduce accident risks, Vision Zero takes a fundamentally different approach by instead putting the responsibility on government to manage the streets using evidence-based strategies to prevent fatalities and serious injuries. Vision Zero is data-driven, outcome-focused, and collaborative across agencies and departments.

Today’s directive follows on the heels of, and broadens, other recent L.A. City Vision Zero declarations. Last September, the Department of Transportation (LADOT) adopted Vision Zero as part of its departmental strategic plan. In April, Garcetti released an ambitious Sustainability “pLAn” that included Vision Zero. Earlier this month, the L.A. City Council approved Mobility Plan 2035; that approval made Vision Zero the adopted citywide policy for Los Angeles.

Prior to today, Vision Zero was largely confined to LADOT and City Planning (DCP). With this new directive, Garcetti broadens the city agencies responsible for implementing Vision Zero. In addition to LADOT and DCP, Garcetti explicitly names the Police, Fire, Public Works, and Water & Power departments to participate in an internal city of L.A. Vision Zero Steering Committee. In addition, the city will host a broader Vision Zero Task Force, to include city representatives, plus L.A. Unified School District, L.A. County Department of Public Health, Metro, non-profit advocates, and others.  Read more…

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Highlights From Metro CEO Phil Washington Speaking At Zócalo

Metro CEO Phil Washington speaking in May 2015. Photo: Joe Linton, Streetsblog L.A.

Metro CEO Phil Washington speaking in May 2015. Photo: Joe Linton, Streetsblog L.A.

Last night, Zócalo hosted a conversation with Metro CEO Phil Washington, just over three months into his new post. Washington was interviewed by Conan Nolan of NBC television, and responded to questions from the audience. Video, audio, and a recap of the event are available at Zócalo.

Zócalo is a non-profit that focuses on the humanities and an idea exchange. Metro is a sponsor of Zócalo in Los Angeles.

Washington didn’t make any major surprise announcements last night, but below are some highlights that shed light on some of the CEO’s priorities:

Focus on P3: Washington consistently went to public-private partnerships (P3) as one his favorite tools for delivering projects. Washington explained Denver’s successful Eagle P3 project, where Washington’s RTD partnered with private sector partners to develop, operate and maintain multiple rail lines including an airport connection. Washington stated that the partnership model accelerated the project timeline, and saved $300 million in a $2.2 billion project budget.

Core Infrastructure: Washington spoke strongly on the need to remedy today’s infrastructure crises, claiming that the current generation has “not taken care of our assets.” He stressed the broad range of benefits for both mobility and the economy of investing in transportation expansion and maintenance.

Bucking Conventional Views: Responding to questions, Washington expressed some views that differ from prevailing views at Metro: Read more…

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Scramble Crosswalks Ready for Their Star Turn in Hollywood

Chicago's first pedestrian scramble, or "Barnes Dance", at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. Photo: Chicago's first pedestrian scramble, or "Barnes Dance", at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. KEVIN ZOLKIEWICZ/FLICKR via ##http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2014/11/03/40143/los-angeles-ponders-diagonal-crosswalks-what-are-t/##Airtalk/KPCC##

Chicago’s first pedestrian scramble, or “Barnes Dance”, at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. Photo: KEVIN ZOLKIEWICZ/FLICKR via Airtalk/KPCC

Responding to community concerns that the high volume of pedestrian traffic at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue was creating an unsafe crossing, City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the Department of Transportation recently announced that a “pedestrian scramble” will be installed by the end of the year.

The pedestrian scramble, aka The Barnes Dance, is basically an intersection which has a “pedestrian only” phase in its signal timing. During this time, pedestrians are not just limited to crossing east-west or north-south, but can actually cross to the opposite corner by cutting straight through the middle of the street.

Los Angeles already has a few pedestrian scramble intersections near the college campuses of USC and UCLA. In addition, Pasadena and Beverly Hills have installed scrambles at high-volume intersections. If you’re not familiar with the scrambles, check out the below video by Streetfilms celebrating Los Angeles’ scrambles that was filmed in 2008.

“Hollywood and Highland is our red carpet entrance for people from around the world who come to experience Los Angeles’ center stage,” said Seleta Reynolds, LADOT General Manager. “The new intersection design will prioritize the safety and comfort of people walking. We plan to implement this change in consultation with the community and will evaluate the before and after effects.”

In addition to residents, workers, and tourists who may arrive by car or are staying in one of the local hotels, Hollywood and Highland is also home to a busy Red Line Metro rail station and a handful of local bus routes.  Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Safer Shorter Crossings in Silver Lake and Echo Park

Improved intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Occidental Boulevard. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog  L.A. except as noted.

Improved intersection at Sunset and Occidental Boulevards. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A., except as noted.

Sometimes neighborhood livability and walkability do not need to wait for multi-million dollar infrastructure streetscape re-vamps. Sometimes all it takes is paint. Or, as in the case of these streets, longer-lasting thermoplastic striping that doubles as “paint.”

Thanks to tips from friends of the blog, Ryan Johnson and Jessica Meaney, I recently visited two central Los Angeles intersections that the city Department of Transportation (LADOT) has re-worked for increased safety and walkability.

In both cases, streets had and have a stop sign, as well as right turns at angles greater than 90-degrees, further smoothed by gradually curving sidewalks. In the past, LADOT’s striping allowed for relatively dangerous and high-speed right turns. These weren’t quite suburban slip-lanes, but they were nearing that. Drivers could whip around the curve, endangering themselves and others.

Conversion of slip lane into plaza - graphic via SF Better Streets

Diagram showing similar conversion of slip lane into a plaza. This isn’t the exact situation as the L.A. examples, but the problems and improvements are similar. Graphic via SF Better Streets

At both locations, LADOT added a striped curb extension to help drivers to make a full stop before making a full 90-degree right turn. This makes driving safer by improving visibility and reducing speed. It also has the benefit of shortening the crossing distance for pedestrians.

The intersection of Occidental and Sunset Boulevards is in the L.A. neighborhood of Silver Lake, a block east of Silver Lake Boulevard. The re-striping was done in 2014, according to Johnson.

Conditions after at Sunset and Occidental. The stop sign has been moved from the sidewalk parkway out into the street.

Conditions after at Sunset and Occidental. The stop sign has been moved from the sidewalk parkway out into the street.

The intersection of Echo Park and Park Avenues is at the northeast corner of Echo Park (the park) in Echo Park (the neighborhood.)

Recent curb extension added at Echo Park and Park Aveneues.

Recent curb extension added at the intersection of Echo Park Avenue and Park Avenue.

Read more…

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Streetsblog Talks Mobility Plan On KCRW’s Which Way L.A.? Tonight At 7pm

Tune in to Which Way L.A.? tonight for a discussion of L.A. newly approved Mobility Plan.

Tune in to Which Way L.A.? tonight for a discussion of L.A.’s newly approved Mobility Plan.

From 7 to 8 p.m. tonight, tune in to KCRW radio 89.9 FM to hear Streetsblog L.A. Editor Joe Linton weighing in on the recent L.A. City Council approval of Mobility Plan 2035.

Mobility Plan 2035 envisions a multimodal transportation future, with enhanced facilities for walking, bicycling, driving, and riding transit. It sets an important Vision Zero policy target to eliminate all traffic fatalities in the city by 2035. The plan has numerous shortcomings, including continued road-widening, substandard crosswalks, and little in the way of actual assured implementation. Nonetheless, it has generated a backlash among car-focused Angelenos, who claim they are planning to go to court to undo its approval.

Click here to listen to the program.

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The Butterfly Effect: Privileging Form (and Speedy Implementation) over Function Yields Semi-Obsolete Street Furniture in Boyle Heights

A butterfly bike rack perches on 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A butterfly bike rack perches on 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When the butterflies, flowers, and decorative benches first started popping up along 1st Street in Boyle Heights last year, reviews were mixed.

Okay…

That’s not really true — the reviews I heard were largely not that great.

Particularly from business owners that had been given some advance notice — but no choice and no recourse — about what would be appearing outside their front doors.

A large yellow butterfly stakes out space in front of Espacio 1839. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A very large yellow butterfly stakes out space in front of Espacio 1839. Staff there said they had originally been told they would be getting a flower bike rack. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

After the large ficus trees that had destroyed the street’s sidewalks had been ripped out, the sidewalks repaired, and new trees planted, the colorful bike racks that appeared soon after were a bit incongruous with the new landscape.

The reference to the natural world served to point out just how devoid of greenery the street now was.

The arrival of bike racks mimicking elements of the natural world served to point out the lack of nature along the street. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The arrival of bike racks mimicking elements of the natural world served to point out the lack of nature along the street. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

And while complaints did tend to highlight how garish the yellow butterflies were, the kicker, for many, was that the new racks and furniture were poorly placed and not particularly functional.

Some people didn’t know what they were or preferred relying on parking signs.

The parking sign pole is preferred by some to the butterfly rack outside Espacio 1839. Source: Espacio 1839 instagram

The parking sign pole is preferred by some to the butterfly rack outside Espacio 1839. Source: Espacio 1839 Instagram

Others (myself included) found the racks hard to use — the awkward shape of the butterfly and the shortness of the flower coupled with the roundness of its center make them both complicated to lock up against, depending on the type of bike you have, how you lock your bike (I take off my back wheel), or whether another bike is already locked to it.

The flowers, especially this one at a little sitting area at Bailey (behind Mariachi Plaza) are kind of adorable in a setting like this. But not that easy to lock up your bike to. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The flowers, especially this one at a little sitting area at Bailey (behind Mariachi Plaza), are kind of adorable in a setting like this. But they’re not that easy to lock up your bike to. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But the thing that made the least sense was the placement of the furniture. Read more…

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L.A. City Council Approves New Mobility Plan, Including Vision Zero

City Council Planning Committee Chair Jose Huizar speaking in favor of Mobility Plan approval today. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

City Council Planning Committee Chair Jose Huizar speaking in favor of Mobility Plan approval today. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

After a lengthy and contentious debate, the full Los Angeles City Council approved the city’s new Mobility Plan, the Transportation Element of the city’s General Plan. Mobility Plan 2035 replaces the city’s former transportation plan in effect since 1999. The final vote was 12 in favor, with only Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Gil Cedillo opposing.

The approved plan places a high priority on traffic safety, including making Vision Zero official citywide policy. L.A. is now committed to “decrease transportation-related fatality rate to zero by 2035.”

Public testimony was limited to 20 minutes, and was heavily in favor of plan approval.

A number of councilmembers offered amending motions that would have removed specific bikeway components from the plan:

  • Councilmember Koretz continued to press til the last moment to remove Westwood Boulevard from the bikeway network. Ultimately, he forced a vote, which lost with only three councilmembers in support.
  • Councilmember Gil Cedillo continued to press for pretty much all future Council District 1 bikeways to be removed from the plan, as his staff had proposed in committee last week. When Cedillo questioned Department of City Planning staff about these modifications, they responded that a change of that magnitude was likely to trigger additional environmental studies.
  • Councilmember Curren Price proposed removing Central Avenue from the bikeway network
  • Councilmember David Ryu proposed removing 4th Street from the bikeway network.

Other than the Koretz motion, which was voted down, the rest of the proposed amendments will be heard later, in a joint meeting of the Planning and Transportation committees anticipated in September.

Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Mike Bonin showed strong livability leadership in ensuring committee and council approval, and staving off piecemeal amendments. Ultimately, Huizar and Bonin were able to shepherd plan approval with only two council amendments. In committee, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson added that the plan would include equity in implementation. Today, Councilmember Ryu added that plan implementation would consider public safety and community input in implementation. Read more…

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At-Grade Crossings along Metro Blue Line Will See $30 Mil in Pedestrian Safety Improvements

The Blue Line slices its way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Tracks for the Metro Blue Line (at left) slice their way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. For much of that trajectory, the Blue Line shares a ROW with Union Pacific Railroad. The fact that pedestrians must cross four sets of tracks at many intersections makes the crossings more dangerous. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“In the interest of time,” Greg Kildare, Executive Director of Metro’s Enterprise Risk, Safety, and Asset Management team, began his address to the Board on July 23, “I will just say that staff believes that the [Metro Blue Line] pedestrian gating project is an extremely important safety improvement to our oldest rail line and consistent with [Metro CEO] Mr. Washington’s vision of reinvestment in our aging infrastructure, the state of good repair, and a safety-first orientation. That concludes my presentation.”

Agreeing that the upgrades were “long overdue,” the Board approved the installation of $30,175,000 worth of Pedestrian Active Grade Crossing Improvements at the 27 intersections the Blue Line shares a right-of-way (ROW) with Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) without hesitation or discussion.

The improvements are indeed long overdue.

Between 2002 and 2012, 13 of the 18 non-suicide* fatalities along the Blue Line happened between Vernon Ave. and Imperial Hwy. in South Los Angeles. [*Suicide is a significant issue along the Blue Line — at least 30 of the nearly 80 pedestrian fatalities along the line over the last two decades were confirmed suicides.]

The wide openness of the at-grade crossings through that stretch, inadequate pedestrian infrastructure, and lack of barriers at a number of the intersections — particularly on the UPRR side — create dangerous conditions for pedestrians. None of which is helped by the fact that the tracks run adjacent to several major parks and through the middle of a housing development, meaning that families and kids might make the long trek across the tracks several times a day.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 48th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Because the freight trains that use the UPRR tracks run infrequently and move so slowly — often inching forward, backing up, stopping, and inching forward again — a train can appear to be more of a nuisance than a hazard.

Multiple trains on the tracks can throw off a pedestrian’s calculations of which side a train is coming from, how fast it is moving, or how quickly the pedestrian feels they can get across the tracks. Or, as in the case of middle-schooler Gilberto Reynaga, killed in 1999 when he clambered over a freight train stopped at the intersection only to be hit by a passing Blue Line train at 55th and Long Beach Ave., there is a potential for people to be confused by the train the signals apply to and believe they are safe when they are not.

A family with small children moves across the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A family with small children first zigs to the right to access the curb cut, get around the signals, and cross the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Even when people obey the signals, their journey from narrow pedestrian island to narrow pedestrian island can be lengthened by having to zig-zag their way across the tracks (above and below). Read more…

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Phil Washington’s Metro Re-Org Imports Denver Leadership

Metro Interim CEO Stephanie Wiggins urges congress to Stand Up 4 Transportation this morning's rally in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Then-Metro Interim CEO Stephanie Wiggins speaks at a StandUp4Transportation rally last April. CEO Phil Washington appointed Wiggins as Deputy CEO. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

In a July 23 memo [PDF] to Metro staff, new CEO Phil Washington outlined his initial foray into Metro restructuring, including leadership changes at many key posts. In May, Washington left his post as head of Denver RTD to lead Metro. Washington now brings former Denver colleagues to staff three high-level Metro leadership positions.

The memo [PDF] details the follow specific changes:

  • Stephanie Wiggins is now Deputy Chief Executive Officer (DCEO.) Wiggins was the interim CEO serving after Art Leahy’s departure until Phil Washington’s arrival. Wiggins has been at Metro for seven years, and was Metro’s lead on implementing its ExpressLanes program.
  • Rick Clarke (Richard F. Clarke) takes over as Executive Director of Engineering and Construction, which Washington is renaming “Program Management.” Since 2010, Clarke worked under Washington as Assistant General Manager of Capital Programs at the Denver RTD.
  • Elba Higueros is Metro’s new Chief Policy Officer. Higueros has been at Metro since 2003, and was a Transportation Planning Manager working in Congestion Reduction for the past 3 years primarily on the ExpressLanes program.
  • Alex Wiggins is Metro’s new Executive Director of Security. Wiggins was Vice President of Security Services for Transit Safety and Security Solutions where he was responsible for security on Denver RTD’s successful public-private partnership (P3) Gold Line light rail project.
  • Pauletta Tonilas is Metro’s new Chief Communications Officer. Tonilas also comes from Denver RTD where she serves as Senior Manager of Public Relations and Public Information. She is credited with shepherding Denver’s passage of a transportation sales tax measure to fund Denver RTD’s FasTracks rail expansion.
  • Washington created a new of Office of Extraordinary Innovation. While that sounds like hoverboards, it actually starts with a new strategic plan and a focus on public-private partnerships. The new Innovation Office is highlighted in this article at The Source.
  • There are a few other miscellaneous internal changes mentioned in the memo. Asset Management (responsible for the agency’s much referenced bus and rail system’s “state of good repair”) moves from the Operations Department to Risk and Safety Management Department. Metro will also increase annual safety training for operators.

As far as SBLA can discern, Metro staffers formerly in these positions, including Bryan Pennington and Ann Kerman, remain at the agency. Deputy Executive Officer for Communications Ann Kerman resumes her actual deputy status, though she was effectively acting head since Noelia Rodriguez’ departure. The outline of Washington’s restructuring was initially summarized via Twitter by Laura Nelson of the L.A. Times.