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No Pitchforks as LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds Addresses West SFV Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyclist riding Venice Blvd yesterday

Cyclist riding Venice Blvd yesterday

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

Yellow plastic temporary center line markers on Venice Boulevard yesterday

Yellow plastic temporary center line markers on Venice Boulevard yesterday

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

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

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

parklet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Work Underway On Three New LADOT People St Plazas

North Hollywood goes green. People St plaza painting underway in new plaza, on the west side of Lankershim Boulevard just north of Magnolia Boulevard. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

One North Hollywood alley goes green. People St painting underway in new plaza, located on the west side of Lankershim Boulevard, just north of Magnolia Boulevard. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Los Angeles is reclaiming some car space to allocate it to walking and hanging out. Work is underway on three new plazas, located in Pacoima, North Hollywood, and South Los Angeles’ Leimert Park.

The plazas are the work of the city Transportation Department’s (LADOT) People St program. Under People St, community organizations apply to host city-built plaza, parklet, and bike corral projects. Based on city resources and project readiness, the city selects a limited number of projects to proceed each year.

2015 People St plaza and parklet awardees were approved and announced last July and are as follows:

  • North Hollywood – One block alley west of Lankershim Boulevard just north of Magnolia Boulevard – sponsored by the NoHo Business Improvement District
  • Pacoima – Bradley Avenue north of Van Nuys Boulevard to alley – sponsored by Pacoima Beautiful (see previous coverage here)
  • Leimert Park Village – 43rd Place from Degnan Boulevard to Leimert Boulevard – sponsored by Institute for Maximum Human Potential (see recent coverage here)

In order to save costs while getting lots of work done, LADOT is installing all three plazas at once this week. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: LADOT Express Bus Service to Beverly Hills

Michael Fleming has been advocating for LADOT’s Commuter Express bus service to add a stop to service Beverly Hills for years. When LADOT gave him the best New Year’s present of all, a bus stop just blocks from his office, he excitedly snapped this picture to share with the world.

Photo: Michael Fleming

Photo: Michael Fleming

Commuter Express #534 will now be stopping at Olympic Blvd. and Beverly Drive on its existing east-west route. The stop already served the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus and Metro buses. However, the new stop allows easy access for Beverly Hills’ residents who want a quick trip to Downtown Los Angeles. Learn more about the line at its webpage.

Trial runs of the new service were considered successful earlier this week, but so far not many people know the stop has been added outside of those who already visit the bus stop or are regular watchers of the LADOT transit services website. Maybe the media in Beverly Hills can help spread the word if they’re not too busy maligning bicyclists trying to make the streets safer.

Note: Michael Fleming is executive director of the David Bohnett Foundation, a major sponsor of Streetsblog Los Angeles.

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Continental Crosswalks Appear at Barrington and National

Nearly two months ago, on November 12, Mayor Eric Garcetti stood with Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Joe Buscaino and Controller Ron Galerpin at the road repaving project at Barrington Avenue and National Boulevard. The Mayor announced that, thanks to new revenue, the city would now be repaving 200 additional miles of roadway, above and beyond its regular repaving budget every year.

Photo: Damien Newton

Photo: Damien Newton

Garcetti also promised, in response to a question posed by me on behalf of Streetsblog, that the city would look at ways to streamline the process on getting paint on the ground after a road is repaved. Earlier in the same press conference, Buscaino told horror stories of how it could take weeks to get the road repainted leading to confused travelers and unsafe conditions.

This might not sound like the most difficult goal, but it requires coordination both between city departments, including Transportation (LADOT) and Public Works’ Bureau of Street Services (BSS), and outside agencies such as Big Blue Bus and Metro.

Sadly, even by the most generous of estimates, the poster-project for the new way of doing things took a slow route to repainting. The intersection of Barrington and National was repaved in mid-November 2014. It was repainted in 2015.

In mid-December I inquired to the Mayor’s office on why the intersection had not been repainted yet. They responded that even though the intersection at National and Barrington had been begun to be repaved in mid-November, the repaving phase of the project hadn’t been completed until early December.

Even if we accept that rationale, it still took a month to get the street repainted.  Read more…

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Glendale-Hyperion Bridge Political Contortions Forcing Unsafe Compromise Design

Los Angeles' latest "Option 1A" propsal for the Glendale Hyperion Bridge would preserve two sidewalks. Detail - click for full page.

Los Angeles’ latest “Option 1A” proposal for the Glendale Hyperion Bridge would preserve two sidewalks but not include the planned bike lanes. Detail – click for full page.

Last night, the Citizens Advisory Committee for the design of the new Glendale-Hyperion Bridge met to discuss the city’s latest proposal.

L.A.’s historic Glendale-Hyperion Bridge opened in 1927. It connects the Los Angeles communities of Silver Lake and Atwater Village. About ten years ago, city plans to renovate the bridge got underway. In 2013, the city proposed a dangerously high-speed highway-scale bridge design. Communities objected to the proposal. The city went back to the drawing board, and formed an Advisory Committee tasked with reviewing various possible configurations, and coming up with a better plan for the new bridge.

In August, the committee voted to move forward with Option 3 which includes bike lanes and sidewalks, and a road diet. Four existing car lanes would be reduced down to three lanes.  L.A. City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who represents the area on one side of the bridge, rejected the committee’s selection in favor of one that preserved four traffic lanes.

Given the width of the bridge, there is not quite enough room for two sidewalks, two bike lanes, and four car lanes. LaBonge’s insistence on preserving four car lanes meant that either bike lanes or a sidewalk would be eliminated.

The project stewed internally for a few months.

At last night’s meeting, attended by LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds and City Engineer Gary Moore, LADOT presented a new design – called Option 1A. The new option is an attempt to preserve both sidewalks while meeting LaBonge’s insistence on four car lanes. This eliminates the bike lanes. Preserving both sidewalks (via either Option 1A or Option 3) is important. As it would be prohibitively costly to go back and add sidewalks at a later date. Lanes, whether for bicycles or cars, can be reconfigured relatively inexpensively.

The city’s Option 1A cross section labels the bridge sidewalks as “shared use path[s].” Advisory Committee members Deborah Murphy (L.A. Walks), Don Ward (Los Feliz Neighborhood Council), and Eric Bruins (L.A. County Bicycle Coalition) all commented that these are just sidewalks, not designed for shared use. For most of the bridge, Option 1A shows an 8-foot sidewalk. Under Waverly Drive, the sidewalk narrows to 5.5 feet. The bridge is sloped, which means most cyclists will travel at fairly high speeds downhill. With limited width, limited sight lines, and significant speed differences between people walking and bicycling, Bruins characterized Option 1A as a “recipe for disaster.” Read more…

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Orange Line BRT Speed Improvements Caught In Inter-Agency Delays

Metro Orange Line Stop in North Hollywood.  Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisyarzab/##Chris Yarzab##

Metro Orange Line passengers are waiting for improvements on the way. Photo:Chris Yarzab

I was hoping to write a couple of happy stories this week about the Metro Orange Line. The San Fernando Valley’s highly-regarded workhorse Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) opened in 2005. Lately, a new pedestrian tunnel and faster bus speeds seemed imminent. These facilities would save time for the Orange Line’s 30,000 daily riders.

Earlier this week, I reported that the tunnel, which I like, but L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne does not, is under construction. The construction site is not so friendly for pedestrians. Also, per Metro’s clarification, the heavily-used surface crosswalk across Lankershim Boulevard is being moved to a less convenient location. The crosswalk was at the south side of Chandler Boulevard North; in the future (and during construction, now) it will be on the north side of Chandler North. This means pedestrians will need to cross Lankershim and Chandler North, instead of just Lankershim. Perhaps, in front of the Metro station, pedestrian prioritization is called for. Perhaps include crosswalks at all the legs of the intersection? Maybe a pedestrian scramble? But that’s another story.

Today, I am disappointed to report that the bus speed improvements that appeared to be imminent seem instead to have fallen into a limbo of inter-agency delay between Metro and the Los Angeles City Transportation Department (LADOT).

The Orange Line BRT runs on its own busway: basically a bus-only street built on former railroad right-of-way. The busway runs generally east-west and, at signalized intersections, crosses numerous north-south streets. In its first few months of operation, the Orange Line ran faster than it does today. There were a handful of car-bus collisions on the route, reportedly due to drivers failing to obey traffic signals. The excuse that has been repeated is that the drivers were not used to seeing any traffic on that long-abandoned right-of-way.

After these collisions, Orange Line bus speeds were reduced. Today Orange Line buses slow to 10 mph when crossing intersections.

Now that, at least, local drivers are more aware of the presence of Orange Line buses, there is movement afoot to improve the Orange Line by bringing its buses back up to speed. 

As both the Los Angeles City Councilmember representing neighborhoods along the Orange Line and a Metro Boardmember, Paul Krekorian is uniquely situated to champion Metro Orange Line improvements. With Council colleague Bob Blumenfeld, Krekorian authored council motion 14-1352 [PDF], which instructs LADOT to work with Metro to figure out how to improve Orange Line service, including increasing speeds.

The Krekorian motion was heard at the October 22 meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee. During the Orange Line motion discussion (audio - at 0:40.), the following exchange took place:

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian: Well, maybe we can make this very easy then. Is it the city’s position that Metro can unilaterally change the speeds at intersection crossing points on the Orange Line without approval of the city?

Bill Shao, Senior Transportation Engineer, LADOT: Yes, it is.

Krekorian: Great. Less need to collaborate then, I guess. [laughter]

Shao: We – the city – we have to understand what the new speeds at crossings are so that we can align our signals to their needs.

Krekorian: Which actually becomes a bigger issue but that’s an issue that can happen after these changes take place.

Shao: That’s correct.

Krekorian: Great.

For many years, LADOT resisted increasing speeds on the Metro Orange Line BRT, as it would mean that some people in cars will sometimes experience minor delays in crossing the Orange Line. Shao’s October testimony was the first clear message that LADOT is fully on board, and now the ball is in Metro’s court to improve Orange Line speeds. My hunch is that this change can be attributed to Seleta Reynolds’ leadership.

At the October committee meeting, Metro Interim Executive Officer Jon Hillmer said that Metro was planning to increase Orange Line bus intersection speeds from 10 mph to 25 mph, which Metro expects will save cross-Valley commuters 4-8 minutes per trip. The next day, I reported that Metro Orange Line speed improvements appeared to be coming soon.

Last week, I inquired of LADOT and Metro regarding the timeline for these Orange Line speed improvements. Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero responded that he would check but that they “may be the bailiwick of LADOT.”

Read more…

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L.A. Council Approves Call for Projects List with Cedillo Snub Intact

Rendering of the proposed buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street. Image: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Rendering of the planned buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street. Yesterdays’ Council vote signals a further step away from a North Figueroa that would be safer for all. Image: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved the list of projects [PDF] that the city plans to submit for Metro Call for Projects funding. Overall, the Call list includes a lot of great projects that reflect that many L.A. City elected officials and the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT) are truly pursuing greater livability and safety.

Unfortunately, the list also includes the ”North Figueroa Great Streets Corridor,” City Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s proposal to add diagonal parking to North Figueroa Street instead of bike lanes.

At yesterday’s meeting, more than half a dozen speakers urged the Council not to pursue Cedillo’s North Figueroa proposal. Speakers included a North Figueroa business owner, local residents, and livability advocates. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Alek Bartrosouf testified that, “It is important to ensure that as we build Great Streets across the City of Los Angeles that these streets are designed for the safety of all who travel them, and that the planning process is open and inclusive of all voices.”

The LACBC further clarified concerns in their comment letter [PDF] which urged Council President Herb Wesson to re-scope the North Figueroa project to align with the inclusive vision in the city’s bike and mobility plans.

Cedillo’s response to the public was telling. He characterized speakers as having “one percent dictate for 99 percent.” He portrayed complete streets supporters as bullies, proclaiming, “We will not be bullied.” Ultimately, Cedillo defended his North Figueroa project in Orwellian livability rhetoric, stating it includes a “multi-modal approach” and puts “safety first and foremost.”

The City Council, which generally defers to the councilmember who represents the district where a project is located, approved the Call for Projects list unanimously.

Yesterday’s vote gives LADOT staff the go-ahead to seek funding for Cedillo’s project. The project will compete with other applications for Metro funding. If project funding is approved by Metro in mid-2015, funding would be programmed beginning in FY 2019-2020. The project scope could be modified during design and environmental review processes.

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NoHo Ped Tunnel Construction Underway, To Connect Orange and Red Lines

Diagram of North Hollywood Station Underpass project. The new tunnel connect the NoHo Red Line subway station with the Orange Line BRT station across the street. Image via Metro

Diagram of North Hollywood Station Underpass project. The new tunnel will connect the NoHo Red Line subway station with the Orange Line BRT station across the street. Image via Metro Fact Sheet [PDF]

Construction is underway for a new tunnel that will make it easier for riders to transfer between Metro’s Orange and Red Lines. Per Metro’s fact sheet [PDF], the new tunnel, officially the North Hollywood Station Underpass project, is expected to be completed in Spring 2016. Riders are already detouring around the pedestrian-unfriendly construction site barriers.

The North Hollywood Station Underpass is a $22 million capital project, funded in part by a $10 million U.S. Department of Transportation Bus Facility Fund grant. According to a Board report [PDF], Metro estimates that the project will save riders approximately 44 seconds as they transfer between the Red Line subway and the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

According to the Metro project page, once the tunnel opens, “pedestrian traffic will be deterred from crossing Lankershim.” I hope this doesn’t mean that the surface crosswalk at Chandler Boulevard North will be removed. If this is the case, so much for the 44-second savings, as bus-to-bus connecting passengers will have to walk further to get to another surface crosswalk, or go down into the station and then come back up to the surface to catch the Orange Line.

Eliminating the existing crosswalk would also be inconvenient and possibly dangerous for cyclists heading west from the Burbank-Chandler bikeway onto the Orange Line bikeway. Like too many Southern California livability projects, instead of creating the kind of redundancy that is found in local car transportation systems, it sounds like one walkway will open and another will be closed. 

(Updated 4:45pm – Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero requested that SBLA note that the crosswalk across Lankershim at Chandler North will “remain permanently to facilitate pedestrian/bicyclist crossings.”)

Diagram of the xxxxxxx

Diagram of the North Hollywood Station Underpass. In the foreground are the existing escalators, stairs, and tri-color arched shade structures at the NoHo Red Line Station. Diagonally through the middle are the Red Line tracks running below Lankershim Boulevard. In the upper right are the existing Orange Line station (not pictured) and new tunnel, escalators, stairs, and elevator. Image from Metro

The tunnel will connect to the mezzanine level of the North Hollywood Red Line Station, next to the existing elevator that connects the mezzanine with the train platform.  Read more…