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Pop-Up Plaza Enhances Art Walk, Hints at What Could Be in Leimert

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The blocking off 43rd Pl. in Leimert Park created space for people to play this past Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As we watched the group led by female elders drumming their way toward us, Rashida, a vendor of wonderful-smelling body scrubs, leaned over and said, “You can’t get this anywhere else in L.A.!”

She’s so right.

For the last four years, the monthly art walk in Leimert Park has brought together community, culture, art, and African heritage in a truly unique way.

Few places in the city, if any, feel so vibrant and warm as Leimert does on the last Sunday of the month.

Which is why the Pop-Up Plaza event at this art walk was so exciting — it offered a glimpse into the future of what Leimert Park Village could be if 43rd Place (the street running along the base of the village) were to be closed to cars and converted into a plaza.

The idea of making that conversion is one that many in the community have been kicking around for some time.

With the birth of the 20/20 Vision initiative — the strategy to drive the economic development of Leimert Park Village and its creative district in tandem with the arrival of the Metro station — the potential value of creating a plaza space has come more sharply into focus. So much so that the community is currently in the process of putting together a People St. application in the hopes of making that happen sooner rather than later.

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Drummers serenade a woman as they move around Leimert Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Speak to anyone who has been coming to the area for years, and you will hear stories of the incredible street life Leimert once hosted: chess games up and down the sidewalk, spontaneous poetry performances, live jazz blasting, and a strong sense of community.

The loss of Richard Fulton and his coffee house and jazz emporium, which had played host to much of that joyful noise, helped push that culture into hibernation.

On days like this past Sunday, however, when several generations of Leimert residents and aficionados turn out in droves to celebrate art, music, community, and unity, that culture feels tangible and ready to be revived. It is just looking for a home base.

A plaza might be a good place to start.

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Women serenade the plaza with gospel and love. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In addition to the existing arts spaces and businesses, the opening of new gallery Papillion (on Degnan), the construction of artist Mark Bradford’s art and community space (on the corner of Degnan and 43rd Pl.), and the renovation of the Vision Theater (still underway), offer the possibility of a packed calendar of events that can draw crowds to spend the afternoon or evening in the area.

Read more…

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March Transpo Committee Recap: SRTS, Counts, Parking and Commish Bayne

Yesterday’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee meeting featured a number of livability issues that deserve more in-depth attention: Safe Routes to School, bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts, parking privatization, and more. SBLA will do a brief re-cap, and will track and report on these issues more in the future.

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Map of the Top 50 LAUSD Schools with most need for safer routes to school. From LADOT SRTS Fact Sheet. Click to view entire fact sheet.

The Top 50 List You Don’t Really Want Your School On: Department of Transportation (LADOT) staff reported on progress made in the city’s Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program. In the past, for a number of reasons, the city of L.A. has been unsuccessful at receiving its fair share of SRTS grant funding. LADOT’s two new pedestrian coordinators have done a lot of work to begin to remedy this: building relationships with LAUSD and using actual data to determine which schools make sense to prioritize. This Transportation Committee meeting was the first broad public vetting of the city’s new data-driven list of 50 schools with “greatest need.” The 50-school list will be used to target some city applications for the upcoming state Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant cycle.

Advocates from about a half-dozen non-profits commented on this item, urging two main requests: more LADOT resources be directed toward SRTS, and SRTS efforts be more open and collaborative.

Committee members expressed some concerns (see below) over the criteria behind the 50 school ranking, but accepted it, pending full council approval. They requested that LADOT return to the committee in 60 days (after this ATP cycle submission) to further examine the criteria.

Most Likely to be Undercounted and Undervalued: City councilmembers requested that LADOT review their traffic count methodology to include bicycle and pedestrian data. LADOT staff responded with a draft policy, including an annual count, which moves forward to a vote of the full city council. It’s unclear whether city counts will augment or replace those currently conducted by L.A. County Bicycle Coalition volunteers, though the Bike Coalition’s Eric Bruins voiced support for city counts, stating that the Coalition “wants to get out of this business.” Read more…

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More Eyes on the Street: 2nd Street Protected Bike Lane Damaged in Crash

Photo: Sahra Sulaiman

Compare and Contrast. Photo: Sahra Sulaiman

Some time in the last couple of days, the 2nd Street protected bike lane was damaged when a car crashed through the pylons into the side of the 2nd Street Tunnel heading into Downtown Los Angeles. Sahra Sulaiman snapped this picture yesterday and reports that at least three of the barrier pylons were removed, a trail of debris was left behind, and even a tire can be seen in the picture.

LADOT is aware of the crash and immediately put in an order for the pylons to be replaced. As Jon Kirk Mukri often complains, there is a backlog of LADOT road projects so there is no timeline on when the pylons might reappear. They might be there already. It might take weeks.

There are no details released to the public on the crash. This could mean that it has not been reported.

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Your Q and A with Jon Kirk Mukri

You asked, he answered. Moments after going on hiatus for the holidays, I received an email from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation with answers from the “Reader Q and A” with interim LADOT General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri.

Jon Kirk Mukri took over as interim general manager on December 1, taking over for Jaime De La Vega. There is no timeline for a permanent replacement to be announced, but for the time being the department appears to be in good condition. Mukri also serves as General Manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

While there’s not a ton of new information to be gleaned from the answers that we didn’t learn from his presentation to the City Council Transportation Committee, some of the internal management decisions at LADOT and Rec. and Parks points to Mukri staying in the LADOT G.M.’s chair for more than just a couple of weeks or months. After all, it took New York City less than two months to replace Janette Sadik-Khan and Jaime De La Vega’s departure was announced well before new New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio even took office.

1) As we understand it, you’re general manager at two departments. How does that work on a day to day basis?

Although I will be assisting on issues with the Department of Recreation and Parks I am focused on things here at DOT.  Michael Shull has been the General Manager of Recreation and Parks.  Read more…

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A Look at Parklets from the L.A. Forum: L.A. Interrupted

(The following article appeared in the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design Fall 2013 Newsletter, available here. For information on how to join the forum, click here. In addition to other benefits, members receive a paper copy of the newsletter in the mail. – DN)

City leaders and neighborhood advocates gathered on York Boulevard Saturday for the grand opening of the first Los Angeles parklet. Kris Fortin/LA Streetsblog

Last February, urban designers, architects, landscape architects, politicians, and bike activists flocked downtown to attend a ribbon cutting for two parklets on Spring Street. The opening was half spectacle and half entreaty for new types of public interaction in Downtown L.A. (DTLA), a neighborhood that feels the tension between burgeoning – even booming – new development and the very real proximity to Skid Row.

The small parks, each 6 feet by 40 feet (the size of two parking spaces) and located between 6th and 7th streets, seemingly appeared overnight. Fashioned with planters, benches, and exercise bikes, they were ready to engage downtown residents, workers, homeless and tourists alike. With their playful, brightly hued design, the mini-parks offer a micro-spectacle, sparking a pedestrians’ curiosity, creating an event on the street. Yet their purpose runs deeper than simply eye-catching display; the parklets, part of a larger city initiative, attempt to redefine how Angelenos interact and view urban design and public spaces.

On a morning in late March, I met with Valerie Watson, assistant pedestrian coordinator for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). We sat in one of the parklets at a galvanized-steel bar planted with low-maintenance and drought-tolerant plants. Proposed to te city council in 2011 and appointed this year, Watson’s position at LADOT seems contrary to the dominant car culture identity of L.A.

Watson is part of the team at LADOT shaking things up in the city and changing the car-pedestrian paradigm. Outgoing mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s agenda – likely to be continued by incoming mayor Eric Garcetti, who took office on July 1 – to develop a network of bike lanes, build fifty pocket parks, and increase pedestrian safety has hit a few roadblocks as the city finds itself caught between the needs of drivers and those of the walking public. Read more…

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Wendy in a Wheelchair: Awakening to the State of LA’s Sidewalks

Wendy in her wheelchair. All pictures by Roger Rudick

Wendy, my girlfriend, is a skilled rock climber with eight years experience. Unfortunately, sometimes rocks just break.

On July 6, she was climbing Mount Emerson, near Bishop, when an anchor ripped free–she fell nearly 100 feet onto a granite ledge. She’s spent much of her recuperation at my home in downtown Los Angeles. And that’s meant months of pushing Wendy in a wheelchair.

I love living in the Arts District. And Wendy, who resides in Orange County, enjoys visiting. Every time we turn around, there’s a new cafe or art gallery. The people here are friendly, smart and eclectic. It’s one of LA’s pedestrian meccas.

That said, the broken sidewalks near my home were always an eyesore and an inconvenience, but, until her fall, I didn’t fully appreciate to what extent the elderly and the disabled are just cut off by them. To add insult to injury, around the time of Wendy’s accident, I received a newsletter from the Bureau of Street Services, boasting about repaving Alameda, the thoroughfare on which I live. No bike lanes were added and, for the most part, its sidewalks are still in shambles.

Sidewalk on Alameda–impassable for wheelchairs

““You can’t fix the street and ignore the sidewalks. Sidewalk access is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Paula Pearlman, Executive Director of the Disability Rights Legal Center, based at Loyola Law School. “The city is not doing what it’s supposed to do.” Last year the City of Los Angeles settled lawsuits worth some $85 million to force it to add wheelchair ramps in various locations. LA’s Bureau of Street Services refused to comment, citing “ongoing litigation,” but reports are that 42 percent of LA’s 10,750 miles of walkways need repairs, to the tune of over $1 billion. Read more…

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We Can Tell You How to Get, How to Get to People St

The People St program seeks to bring more plazas, such as the one above in Silver Lake, parklets and bike corrals through the city by encouraging partnerships with community groups.

“Thank you for liberating our streets,” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin greeted LADOT staff last week. While LADOT staff may not be used to a hero’s welcome, Assistant General Manager Dan Mitchell and Assistant Pedestrian Coordinator Valerie Watson weren’t there to present a typical transportation project, or even to talk about why some five-lane street in The Valley needs to have its speed limit increased.

They were there to talk about People St.

For those that missed it, People St is a new LADOT program, which will be formally launched next week, to partner with community groups to create more bike corrals (L.A. has 2), Parklets (L.A. has 3) and pedestrian plazas (just one…and it has polka dots). Mitchell and Watson were there to ask the City Council to approve a timeline for an application process.

In other words, People St isn’t just a flashy website. It’s a real program that’s going to create more space for humans on a small portion of the thousands of underused miles of streets in Los Angeles. The first application process will begin on March 1. The next one will begin October 1 with future cycles beginning on October 1 in future years. While the second application process is beginning, the city will actually begin installing the first People St programs.

The full proposed timeline is available below.

Once approved by the full Council next week, community groups will be able to propose their own parklet, plaza and bike corral locations and work with the city to make them happen. Some local advocacy groups are already working on their own People St projects. For example, the Los Angeles Eco-Village is already planning for a new plaza located near their Bimini St compound.

“Communities that know their neighborhoods best propose project locations and are responsible for long-term maintenance,” explains Watson. Costs will be split between the city and the community partners for construction.

Currently, the People St website is informational. An expansion of the website is planned for early next year. On March 1, 2014 the city plans that the site will be a two-way portal for people to learn about the program and for the city to collect project ideas from community groups and businesses. Read more…

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Getting Closer and Closer to Broadway’s Dress Rehearsal.

…make that 2014.  Dress Rehearsal rendering via Bringing Back Broadway

This summer, the city and the “Bringing Back Broadway” coalition announced an exciting program to recreate the physical layout of the historic theatre district on Broadway between 1st and 11th Streets. Phase I, or the appropriately named “dress rehearsal” involved the creation of semi-permanent infrastructure to create plazas, barrier planters, and other traffic calming and pedestrian enhancement obligations.

Enthusiasm was high, and the Bringing Back Broadway website boasted that the dress rehearsal would begin in November of 2013 (aka, last month). A promised road diet, transit plaza for the future streetcar and other amenities would be far behind. For a full breakdown of everything that’s planned, revisit this July 2 article on Streetsblog.

Ok, so obviously the November 2013 goal was missed, but the project is still moving forward and all participants, downtown businesses, LADOT, City Councilmembers and residents remain enthusiastic.

At tomorrow’s Transportation Committee hearing, the City Council will take the first step in making sure the future enhancements are properly maintained by authorizing contracts with the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), the Fashion District BID and the Downtown Center BID. Each of the contracts are for two years, with a possible renewal for a third year and are not to exceed $350,000 for the two-year term. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street…L.A.’s First Protected Bike Lane

1st protected bike lane

Surprise! Photo: Jessica Meaney

Last night, Los Angeles got its first protected bike lane last night when a series of plastic dividers went up in the Second Street Tunnel between Figueroa and Hill Street.

Currently, the physical separators are only up in the tunnel despite bike lanes existing on either side. In total, the bike lanes extend from North Spring Street, home of the famous sorta-green buffered bike lane, through the tunnel to Glendale Boulevard. A portion of the lanes in Downtown Los Angeles are buffered lanes, matching up with the Northbound buffered lanes on Main Street and Southbound ones on Spring.

The bike markings also connects with existing Sharrows on 2nd street from Alameda to Spring Street.

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Jon Kirk Mukri Chats with City Council on LADOT Staff and Multi-Modalism

On his third day in the office, Interim LADOT General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri appeared in front of the City Council Transportation Committee to discuss the future of the Department.

After an opening statement that included several nods to multi-modalism, Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin cut right to the chase, asking Mukri how he would assuage the concerns of transportation reformers worried that the change in leadership at LADOT would lead to backtracking on the city’s direction the last couple of years.

“What’s gone on in the City of L.A. in the last two and three years is remarkable,” Mukri responded. “I can walk a mile and get on the subway and be in Downtown in 20 minutes. To drive is 40 minutes.”

“If we’re going to get rid of gridlock, we have to get cars off the road.”

After discussing his own transportation choices, he commutes by train from the San Fernando Valley and uses DASH Buses or walks to move through the Downtown, Mukri did give a few specific changes he wants to see during his tenure, no matter how long or short it might be.

Top on his list is seeing a greater investment in what he termed point-of-contact employees, the people on the street who are most likely to interact with residents. This doesn’t just mean more LADOT police and meter readers, but more crossing guards and other safety officers.

To do that, the city needs to allocate more funding to LADOT, a department that has hemorrhaged staff in recent years. Mukri noted that many funds collected by the Department, such as parking meter revenue, goes into the general fund and not to the department. If the Department were allowed to recapture those funds, it could do much more and would do more to improve moral and LADOT’s image.

Not to mention improve mobility and safety around the city.

Perhaps to contrast himself with the previous general manager, Mukri was effusive with praise for LADOT staff, engineers and executives.  Read more…