The start of the Downtown Connector at the intersection of National Blvd. and Wesley St. The bicycle friendly street contains Sharrows, signage, narrow roads, and some traffic calming.
Following the decline of the studios in the 1960′s and 1970′s, Culver City had to reinvent itself. In the 1990′s, the city once commonly referred to as “The Heart of Screenland” undertook an aggressive campaign to revitalize their Downtown area that was mostly successful in attracting businesses and tourists to bolster the city’s economy. Today, nearly 40,000 people call Culver City home, and it’s widely thought of as a safe place to live and a good place to raise children.
Despite its reputation for embracing New Urbanism (in 2007 the New York Times called the city a “nascent Chelsea”), Culver City had never embraced transportation planning for cyclists and pedestrian. In fact, when the City approached the L.A. County Public Health Department about a PLACE Grant, it had never had either a bicycling or pedestrian element in its Master Plan. While critics of the plan, including some of the people that helped create it, complain that the plan isn’t as progressive or specific as it should be, for a city that was literally starting with no foundation or advocacy community, to create change this is a crucial first step.
The lack of a bicycle and pedestrian plan of any sort was a major reason Culver City was awarded the PLACE grant, because in many ways it is a city that is doing well. Obesity statistics, especially those for grade-school age children are lower than the national average. In addition, Walk Score, an organization that looks at waklability on a national scale recently ranked Culver City as a “very walkable” community.
As any parent of a toddler can tell you, you have to learn to walk before you can run. When it comes to planning for people-powered transportation, Culver City is walking, and the fruits of that walk are a brand new Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.
Or, as Ron Durgin, President and Co-Founder of Sustainable Streets and a member of the master plan’s citizen advisory committee, put it, “These are the broad strokes they’re going to need to move forward.”
It’s long been accepted that auto-dependency leads to poor air quality, as pollutants spewing from tailpipes have been blamed for a laundry list of human ills including many lung conditions (such as asthma) and neurological disorders (such as autism.) However, modern public health experts are looking at the ills of car dependency in a new light, noting that areas with poor sidewalks tend to have higher obesity, that there is a correlation between a drop in children walking and biking to school and an increase in childhood obesity and that cities with more bike lanes have healthier overall populations. Some research even points to improved mental health for those who take regular walks or bike rides.
With $320,000 in public health money in-hand, the City embarked on a three-year process to create its first Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which serves as both a collection of projects that the city hopes to complete in the next five years and a vision for a Culver City that encourages walking and cycling in a very real way.
“The City of Culver City is extremely grateful to the LA County Department of Public Health’s PLACE program for providing us with grant funding. The County made it possible for us to create the City’s first Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan (BPMP)’” writes Culver City Mayor Michael O’Leary. ”The process of developing the BPMP engaged the community like never before in bicycle and pedestrian issues. The resulting documents will help shape the City for years to come by communicating clear goals and by identifying priorities for improvements in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. We are dedicated to providing educational, encouragement and enforcement efforts in the future.”
Bikes in front of Joxer Daly's Irish Pub on Bike to Work Day. Photo:LACBC
The mayor’s support of walking and cycling extends to his life outside public service. During Bike to Work Day, the restaurant and bar he owns had a special happy hour for any commuter who arrived on bicycle.
We’ve already discussed how the city’s public process created the “Downtown Connector” project that gave birth to well-marked bike routes to connect the future Expo Station to Downtown Culver City (and east Culver City residents to their schools and parks) and led to the creation of the Culver City Bicycle Coalition. Now we’ll examine the plan itself.
In addition to five public meetings, Culver City and their project consultants also conducted a series of bicycle and pedestrian counts to inform their project process. To examine a bicycle and pedestrian plan such as this, there are several things we have to examine. The first is whether the plan is putting in infrastructure in places that make sense. Second, we have to look at whether the projects themselves make sense. Last, because this is a smaller city that is basically surrounded by the mammoth City of Los Angeles, we need to see whether or not their infrastructure plans are in sync with those of their neighbors.
“They were kind of going together in the same process,” explains Culver City’s John Rivera, the PLACE Grant Coordinator for Culver City. ”The L.A. plan was adopted about four months after ours. We used Alta Planning that was the consultant used by L.A. City for their plan. We kept track of them, we looked at their maps as they were proceeding. We tried to make sure that each of our bikeways met up with an L.A. bikeway.” Read more…