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What Should Downtown L.A. Do to Get Ready for Bike Share?

New bike lanes on 3rd Street in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

New bike lanes on 3rd Street in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro regional bike share is coming soon. If all goes as planned, a year from now, downtown Los Angeles will have system on the ground. It will include about 1,000 bikes at 65 docking stations. The system will extend from Union Station to USC. For more detail, see SBLA’s earlier preview.

It’s not too early to ask Streetsblog L.A. readers — are Downtown Los Angeles streets ready to make bike share a big success? If not, what changes should L.A.’s Transportation Department (LADOT) prioritize in the coming months?

Let’s start by celebrating. Downtown has come a long ways in the last half a decade.

Back on October 10, 2010, there was this event called CicLAvia that flooded central Los Angeles streets with bicycles. At that time, there were no bike facilities in downtown Los Angeles.

In fact, there still were no bikeways downtown through July 2011. In August 2011, the 7th Street bike lanes arrived, dipping their toes across the 110 Freeway into downtown.

Green pavement bike lanes soon followed on Spring Street. Then, buffered bike lanes on Los Angeles Street and First Street.

In 2012, Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar and LADOT announced the coming Downtown L.A. Bikeway Network. Other than a few facilities that the city spent a lot of time and money to study (Cesar Chavez Avenue and Venice Boulevard), the downtown network was built out. And then some — downtown now boasts one of the most complete bikeway networks in the city. 

It’s not Wilmington, but downtown is a great place to bike. Even when LAPD vehicles park in some of the lanes some of the time.

Downtown’s increased bikeability is a subject of some controversy. Read more…

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People St Opens First Project with Plaza in North Hollywood

Councilmember Paul Krekorian speaks at the People St opening in North Hollywood. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/LADOTPeopleSt##LADOT People St/Twitter##

Councilmember Paul Krekorian speaks at the People St opening in North Hollywood. Photo: LADOT People St/Twitter

What was once an empty alley near the busy intersection of Magnolia and Lankershim Boulevards in the heart of the North Hollywood Arts District is now a public plaza with tables, chairs, green polka dots on the pavement, and sun shade.

Enjoying the plaza. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/LADOTPeopleSt##LADOT People St/Twitter##

Enjoying the plaza. Photo: LADOT People St/Twitter

The plaza, the second of its kind and the first completed project in LADOT’s People St Program, cost only $57,000.

“L.A. is the densest urban area in the nation, so we are getting creative to reclaim underused spaces that can be transformed into places for Angelenos to eat, shop, and spend time with their friends and families,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

“The People St initiative allows community groups — who know their neighborhoods the best — to partner with City Hall to create great public spaces that make our communities more livable and prosperous.”

For those just joining us, People St is a program where LADOT works with a community partner to take an under-utilized section of street and turn it into a plaza, parklet, or bike corral. The city works with the partner on design and permitting, but the cost and maintenance of the project is covered by the local group. In this case, the partner was the North Hollywood Business Improvement District (BID).

Aaron Aulenta, with the North Hollywood BID, reports that working with LADOT was a relatively easy and conflict-free process. LADOT even provided some flexibility when the BID wanted a different color scheme than was outlined in the “toolbox” that the department gives to successful applicants. The BID wanted a green and yellow scheme that looks more like the plaza in Silver Lake than was allowed in the toolkit. Read more…

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News Bits From Metro Board February Committee Meetings

Metro's FY2015-16 budget is expected to exceed $2 billion for the first time. Graph from Metro [PDF]

Metro’s FY2015-16 budget is expected to exceed $2 billion in capital expenditures for the first time ever. Graph from Metro [PDF]

The Metro board of directors will meet next week, Thursday February 26. This week, the agency hosted its regular series of board committee meetings, where most of the negotiations occur. Here are eight things gleaned from this week’s meetings:

1. Utility Relocation Threatens Rail Tunnel Construction Delays

For downtown L.A.’s upcoming 2-mile long Regional Connector light rail subway, the ground was broken, and demolition is underway. But, wait! Metro is still working on the “pre-construction” relocation of utilities. Shocker: it turns out that there are lots of unknown things, mostly abandoned utility infrastructure, buried beneath downtown’s hundred-plus-year-old streets. Metro reports that they are still expecting 2020 completion, but are 3 to 5 months behind on utility relocation. And that is just the prep work that needs to completed before real tunnel construction can get underway.

Metro staff alluded to further details coming to the Metro board in April. It is not clear, but it could mean approving more money for Regional Connector pre-construction. 

And speaking of more money for the pre-construction phase (which is not always a bad thing – especially if it means paying now to avoid paying more later), next week the board is considering [PDF] adding $20.8 million to the $115 million pre-construction contract that is getting things ready for the second phase of the Purple Line Subway extension. Maybe newer Century City streets hide fewer buried infrastructure hazards than downtown does.

2. Metro Looks to Joint Development, Focused on Affordable Housing

SBLA expects to publish more on this soon, but the staff report [PDF] is out on Mayor Garcetti’s motion pushing for Metro to step up its role in joint development of transit-oriented affordable housing. Some of the news is good: Metro lawyers are okay with encouraging affordable housing by discounting property the agency owns. Some of the resistance is predictable: Metro staff opened with a comment about the difficulty of providing enough transit-user (free) parking at these sites.  Read more…

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A Wonky Debate Over Metro Regional vs. Sub-Regional Funding

Metro's map of subregions and regional facilities. Source: Metro handout [PDF]

Metro’s map of subregions and regional facilities. Source: Metro handout [PDF]

There is an item that was bounced around at the Metro Board last month regarding freeway projects and whether they are “regional” or “subregional” facilities. Lakewood City Councilmember and Metro Boardmember Diane DuBois is pushing for L.A. freeway-widening projects to be classified as “regional” rather than “subregional” projects. Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin raised some issues over this re-classification. The final decision is likely to come back to the Metro Board for a showdown in April. 

All of this is pretty wonky. It does have implications on transportation funding priorities, including how transit projects compete with highway projects over scarce flexible Metro dollars.

In Metro’s 2001 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), Metro divided L.A. County nine sub-regions (map above):

  1. Arroyo Verdugo (Glendale, Burbank, and adjacent areas)
  2. Central Los Angeles
  3. Gateway Cities (Long Beach, and most of South East L.A. County)
  4. Las Virgenes / Malibu
  5. North Los Angeles County
  6. San Fernando Valley
  7. San Gabriel Valley
  8. South Bay
  9. Westside Cities

These sub-regions were mainly used for long term planning, but, since the 2008 Measure R transportation sales tax, the sub-regions have also been woven into the way Metro funds projects.

After Measure R passed, Metro adopted what’s called its Measure R Cost Containment Policy (the full formal name is the Unified Cost Management Process and Policy for Measure R Projects.) That policy bills itself as a “new step-by-step cost management process will require the MTA Board to review and consider approval of project cost estimates against funding resources at key milestone points throughout the environmental, design, and construction phases of the Measure R transit and highway projects.” These transit and highway projects, are, of course, often multi-billion dollar projects. Examples include $2.8 billion to extend the Purple Line subway four miles, and $3.3 billion to widen about 70 miles of the 5 Freeway. Multi-billion dollar projects are prone to massive cost overruns.

So, according to the cost containment policy, when a Metro Measure R project’s costs increase above what has been approved, the agency looks to take specific measures to either lower the costs or get money to cover the overruns. The policy specifies that cost overruns will be met through the following sources in the following order:

  1. Value Engineering and or scope reductions;
  2. New local agency funding resources;
  3. Shorter segmentation;
  4. Other cost reductions within the same transit or highway corridor;
  5. Other cost reductions within the same sub-region;
  6. Countywide transit cost reductions or other funds will be sought using pre-established priorities.

These are jargony. The crux of the matter is that item 5 (and, to an extent, items 2 and 4) means that when projects exceed their budgets, costs will be covered within the sub-region. One project’s overruns will reduce the budget for other projects in the same sub-region where the project is located.

In January, the Metro board established a special set of regional projects immune to the sub-regional cost overrun procedure. All airports, sea-ports, and Union Station are classified as “regional” projects (see map above), because theoretically everyone in the county benefits from, for example, LAX and Port of Long Beach improvements. For these regional projects “cost increases to Measure R funded projects… are exempt from the corridor and subregional cost reduction requirements. Cost increases regarding these projects will be addressed from the regional programs share.”

Metro boardmember, and Lakewood City Councilmember, Diane Dubois, along with boardmembers Don Knabe and Ara Najarian, introduced a motion [PDF] that would essentially classify “[i]nterstates, freeways or highways” as regional projects, hence “highway sub-regional funding will not be subject to the Unified Cost Management Process and Policy.” Though the motion requested that Metro staff analyze and report back, it clearly specified that highways would become exempt from the cost containment process in the meantime.  Read more…

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LA City Council Gets Tough on Hit-and-Run Crimes: New Rewards and Alerts

L.A. City Councilmember Mitch Englander (center, at podium) touts the city's efforts to stem hit-and-run crimes at this morning's press conference. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

L.A. City Councilmember Mitch Englander (at podium) touts the city’s efforts to stem hit-and-run crimes at this morning’s press conference. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Today, the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve two new city programs that aim to stem the tide of hit-and-run crimes. According to Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander, hit-and-run crashes killed 27 people in Los Angeles in 2014, and 80 percent of recent hit-and-run crimes remain unsolved.

The city’s hit-and-run efforts were previewed at a press event this morning hosted by Councilmembers Englander and Joe Buscaino, with representatives of the police (LAPD) and transportation (LADOT) departments, and Finish the Ride’s Damian Kevitt.

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jose Vazquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run in 2013. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The two new programs approved today include:

1 – New Public Alert System “Yellow Alerts” for Hit-and-Run Crimes

Established via council motion 14-0444, the LAPD will now publicize hit-and-run crimes via a new alert system. The alerts will be distributed via LAPD social media, including Nixle, Twitter, and Facebook, to enlist the public’s help in apprehending suspects who flee the scene of hit-and-run crimes.

Alerts will be dependent on the severity of the crime, and will be targeted to areas in and near the LAPD division where the crime took place. They will, of course, be limited by the information available, such as the license plate, vehicle, and description of perpetrator.

A similar alert system in Denver, Colorado, has improved conviction rates for hit-and-run crimes there. From the text of the motion [PDF]:

Medina [Hit-and-Run] Alerts have been in place in the City of Denver for two years and in the City of Aurora for one, and are issued in severe or fatal hit-and-run collisions when a description of the vehicle involved is available. Medina Alerts enable authorities to quickly broadcast information about a hit-and-run collision to the public on highway signs and through the media. In Denver, the city has also partnered with cab drivers and others who spend their working hours on the road, and alerts them when a collision occurs. Denver has issued 17 Medina Alerts since enacting their program; 13 of these cases have been solved.

2 – Standing Rewards for Information Leading to Hit-and-Run Convictions

Established via council motion 13-0025-S1, the city will now offer rewards to individuals who come forward with information that leads to the conviction of hit-and-run crimes. Councilmember Buscaino describes this as an attempt to “change the culture of driving away” from a crash.  Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Cars Running the Red at Venice and Robertson

Expo super-fan Gökhan Esirgen sends along the above video of cars running the red light at the newly-reconstructed intersection of Venice Blvd. and Robertson Blvd. Esirgen writes, “Note that this is not a seldom event — it happens for about five seconds in almost every cycle during rush hour and it’s typical of this intersection now. A pedestrian who looks at the signal but not the cars would be hit.”

Streetsblog editorial board member Jonathan Weiss forwarded the message to staff at LADOT. Before the afternoon was out, Jay Greenstein with Councilmember Paul Koretz’s office responded that engineers with LADOT are re-examining the intersection and LAPD’s enforcement division was notified.

We’ll keep an eye of our own on the intersection to see if there are any new, more positive, changes in the coming weeks and months.

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Friday Fun: Caltrans Blows Up a Boulder!

blowinguprock

Who doesn’t want to watch (safely) exploding rocks? (Screengrab)

A video released today by Caltrans shows a work crew blasting apart a boulder that threatened to fall onto Highway 101 near Crescent City. Who doesn’t want to watch rocks exploding? With all safety precautions in place, of course.

Caltrans has been under pressure to change its bureaucratic, outdated culture since the 2013 creation of an agency to oversee it (the California State Transportation Agency, or CalSTA) and the publication of a damning report last year. Since then, the department has made many strides in the right directions, from publishing a new mission statement, to endorsing less constricting guidelines for street design, to creating the new position of Director of Sustainability.

The department also been attempting to communicate better with the public and the media, producing a newsletter, Mile Marker, about its achievements, as well as semi-regular  “News Flash” announcements.

The latest News Flash is pure fun: Caltrans work crews decided to blow up a rock, and we get to watch.

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Bay Area’s New “Vital Signs” Website Tracks Transportation Stats

Data lovers can now nerd out on a new website that collects Bay Area transportation data and puts it into customizable maps and charts to play with.

MTC’s new Vital Signs website provides data on bicycle commute rates and other transportation states for the Bay Area. Image: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

Vital Signs is part of an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to make its performance measures and data more accessible to the public. It also lays the groundwork to measure the effects of Plan Bay Area, which was adopted in July 2013 after a state law mandated each region to produce a plan for smart growth oriented around transit.

The first rollout of the interactive website includes transportation data from a variety of sources, including the US Census. Land use data is scheduled to be added in March, followed in June by stats on the economy and the environment including job creation, housing affordability, emissions, fuel sales, and traffic injuries, according to Dave Vautin, a senior planner at MTC who is managing the project.

“This project is about transparency,” said Vautin. “We’ve opened up the data so anyone can do an analysis, mixing and matching data in about forty issue areas.”

Currently, users can inspect and play with data on commute mode, congestion, transit ridership, vehicle miles traveled, and pavement and road conditions.

Read more…

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President Obama’s Proposed FY15-16 Budget: $330M for L.A. Subways

Today's announcement means that Angelenos should be able to ride the Wilshire Subway to La Cienega in 2023. Image: Metro website

The presidential budget proposal gives a boost to relatively-timely construction of the Metro Purple Line into Beverly Hills and Century City. Image: Metro website

U.S. President Barack Obama released his administration’s proposed FY 2015-16 budget which includes $330 million in New Starts funding planned for subways in Los Angeles:

  • $115 million for the Regional Connector
  • $115 million for Phase I of the Westside Subway Extension (Purple Line from Western to La Cienega)
  • $100 million for Phase II of the Westside Subway Extension (Purple Line from La Cienega to Avenue of the Stars)

The Regional Connector and Purple Line Phase I monies are more-or-less expected, as part of the federal government generally committing to finish construction projects already underway. The Regional Connector broke ground in October 2014, and is anticipated to be completed in 2020. The Purple Line extension Phase I broke ground in November 2014, and is anticipated to be completed in 2023.

The big news is $100 million for Phase II of the Purple Line. According to Metro’s most recent (late 2014) project fact sheet [PDF], the 2.6-mile Westside Subway Extension Phase II was expected to begin construction in 2019 and be completed in 2026. The extension will add two new stations: Rodeo/Wilshire in Beverly Hills and Avenue of the Stars in Century City. The fact sheet lists pre-construction activities taking place from 2017-2018. It is unclear whether the federal funding might move up this schedule.

  Read more…

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Youth Rise Above Heckling to Win Concession for Community on Metro Projects at Neighborhood Council Meeting

Irvin Plata from YouthBuild Boyle Heights gives the thumbs up after a victory at the neighborhood council Wednesday night. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irvin Plata gives the thumbs up as Canek Pena-Vargas (at left), Site Coordinator at YouthBuild Boyle Heights, debriefs with students after a victory at the neighborhood council Wednesday night. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“They’re not even from Boyle Heights!” heckled an agitated Teresa Marquez before the handful of youth from YouthBuild Boyle Heights that had nervously stepped up to speak at the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council (BHNC) regarding the fate of Metro-owned properties Wednesday night had even had a chance to make their comments.

Another woman, Yolanda Gonzalez, also jumped up to argue against listening to the youth, proclaiming angrily that they were too busy with ethnic studies to know anything about civic processes or economic development.

The women — both property owners known for being vocal in community politics (Marquez is also a member of Metro’s Design Review Advisory Committee for the Boyle Heights sites currently slated for development) — couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I spoke in Genaro Francisco Ulloa’s economics classes at YouthBuild last week, I found a group of young people who were highly engaged in questions of how economic development and public policy intersect in lower-income communities like theirs. Some even mustered up the courage to take a stab at speaking out at the January 22nd Metro-run meeting. Their discussion of how the social fabric of the area could be undermined by the erasure of important cultural markers and the displacement of existing residents and businesses was some of the most poignant testimony of the night.

Since that meeting on the 22nd, the youth had been working with their teachers and Joel Garcia and Cesia Domingo Lunez of the Boyle Heights Youth & Arts Stakeholders Committee to come up with a set of testimonies and concrete demands to present to representatives of the BHNC, Metro, and developers regarding the plans for the Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights.

It was crucial to speak up Wednesday night, they felt, because the BHNC was about to vote on whether to recommend Metro grant a “phased” or “interim” ENA (Exclusive Negotiated Agreement) to the developers looking to build affordable housing at 1st and Soto and Cesar Chavez and Soto.

They recognized that the phased-ENA approach — a new effort by Metro that would set aside a 3-month window for intensive community outreach and the incorporation of feedback into site plans before the full ENA is granted — was a step in the right direction. But they didn’t think it went far enough, given how outreach around plans for Mariachi Plaza — one of the most important sites in the community — had been completely neglected.

To that end, they had a few demands. They asked that Metro both extend the “interim” phase of the ENA to 6 months and revamp its current advisory committee process, which tends to rely heavily on the usual suspects and is not particularly transparent. They also asked that part of that revamping include hiring a local community group to do outreach to ensure that all sectors of the community — especially youth — were represented as well as “afforded the time needed to understand how these projects will impact their lives.” [The full list can be found here.] Read more…