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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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San Fernando Valley Prioritizes Freeways, Then Bemoans Lack of Transit

The Daily News cites a dearth of "major Measure R projects" in the San Fernando Valley. Does Measure R's portion of the $1.3 billion-dollar 5 Freeway widening projects count as a major project? Image via Caltrans

The Daily News says there are no “major Measure R projects” in the San Fernando Valley, other than the Orange Line Extension. Does Measure R’s portion of the $1.3 billion-dollar 5 Freeway widening projects count as a major project? Nearly $1 billion goes to improvements in the SFV. Image via Caltrans brochure [PDF]

This seems to be the week that the news is that nothing happened in the San Fernando Valley. Last Thursday, SBLA reported that Metro Orange Line speed improvements are not happening yet. On Sunday, the Daily News ran a piece by Dakota Smith entitled, Lack of new San Fernando Valley rail lines draws complaints. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Valley clearly has been shortchanged by Measure R,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents parts of the Valley and serves on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board.

Narrowly approved by voters, Measure R launched a flurry of construction projects and helped raise federal dollars to pay for new rail lines. The sales tax is expected to raise about $38 billion over 30 years.

With the exception of a new Orange Line busway extension, which opened in 2012, no major Measure R projects have broken ground in the Valley. Instead, studies are being conducted on a rail or bus line along Van Nuys Boulevard. A new Sepulveda Pass transit line is in the early planning stages.

Metro's $B capital program, including Valley freeway improvements. Image via Metro

Metro’s $14 billion capital program, including Valley freeway improvements. Image via Metro

Clearly the article is about transit investment, but I’d like to debunk this “[Except for the Orange Line,] no major Measure R projects have broken ground in the Valley” a bit. Perhaps the editors removed the word “transit,” making the sentence inaccurate?

Measure R has a reputation for being money for rail construction but, as many SBLA readers know, Metro rail capital is only 35 percent of the overall estimated $40 billion. Wholly 20 percent of Measure R goes to freeways. Metro is providing $1.5 billion to pay for 5 Freeway widening in L.A. County. Specifically, in the San Fernando Valley, according to Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero, Measure R contributes $271.5 million for the 5 Freeway improvements from the 134 to the 170, which total over $700 million.

According to Sotero, in addition to that $271.5 million, Measure R provides $90.8 million for the $161 million project improving the to the interchange between the 5 and 14 freeways.

Measure R is building transportation infrastructure in the Valley, just not so much transit infrastructure.  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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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…

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Krekorian and Garcetti Tout Metro’s New 405 Freeway Express Bus Service

Cutting the ribbon on new Valley-Westside bus service. Left to right: Metro CEO Art Leahy, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and SFV Metro Service Council Chair Michael Cano. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Cutting the ribbon on new Valley-Westside bus service. Left to right: Metro CEO Art Leahy, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and SFV Metro Service Council Chair Michael Cano. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Starting this Sunday, Metro is introducing its new Valley-Westside Express bus line that takes advantage of the recently-widened 405 Freeway’s new high-occupancy vehicle lanes. The new line runs from Pacoima to Westwood, with stops at the Van Nuys Metrolink Station and the Metro Orange Line’s Van Nuys and Sepulveda stations. The full map of the new service is after the jump below.

Metro Board members celebrated the new service at a press event this morning at the Metro Orange Line Sepulveda station.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian proclaimed that the new service will make it “easier, faster, and more convenient” to travel between Los Angeles communities. Krekorian also pledged that this is “just one step of many for the Valley” and that he is committed to making the Metro Orange Line run faster and adding to its capacity, and “increas[ing] rail in the San Fernando Valley.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recalled riding the RTD bus to West L.A. when he was growing up in the Valley. Garcetti touted the time savings on the new line, which is anticipated to save 20 minutes compared to current Metro bus service.  Read more…

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Connecting Communities Through Art and Bikes: The Pacoima Mural Ride

Artist Manny Velazquez shares the story behind the Danny Trejo mural in Pacoima. Photo Erick Huerta

Artist Manny Velazquez shares the story behind the Danny Trejo mural in Pacoima. Photo Erick Huerta

Weaving together history and art with bicycles, the Pacoima Mural Ride guided participants on a people’s tour of some of the treasures found in the San Fernando Valley (SFV), this past Saturday. The ride introduced cyclists from every corner of Los Angeles to the community spaces, cafes, and murals that tell the history of the community, even as new chapters are added with each new mural that is painted.

Organized by the cyclist collective Bikesanas del Valle, the ride highlighted a mix of murals painted within the last few years, all emphasizing the different aspects and rich history of the community. Manny Velazquez was one of the artists who was part of the ride and shared some of the history of mural art in the SFV.

Velazquez, who has been active in the community since the 1970s, bridged the history with the present as he talked about some of the murals he has painted and the other murals we visited along Van Nuys Blvd, which has become known as Mural Mile. He explained that the majority of murals painted in the last few years have all been accomplished through fundraising or by the artist paying out-of-pocket.

The do-it-yourself spirit can been seen at almost every mural and even brought together an all-women collective called “HOODsisters,” adding the voices of some of the women that also live and contribute in this community.

A member of the HOODSisters collectives shares the inspiration behind the "Honoring Our Origins" mural

Member of the HOODSisters collective shares the inspiration behind the “Honoring Our Origins” mural. Photo: Erick Huerta

Artists in the Valley don’t have the same kind of support networks that other artists in Los Angeles do in terms of getting funding through grants. Despite the lack of institutional support, artists like Kristy Sandoval and Rah Azul have relied on community support to fundraise for painting supplies and helping paint the mural itself. Read more…

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Metro July Meeting Re-Cap: Subway, SRTP, Active Transpo, and More

Councilmember Paul Krekorian (at podium) leads San Fernando Valley rail supporters rally this morning for Orange Line upgrades. Yesterday the Metro Board approved a motion that directs the agency to take a closer look at converting the Orange Line from BRT to light rail. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Councilmember Paul Krekorian (at podium) leads a San Fernando Valley rail supporters press event this morning. Yesterday, Metro approved a motion to take a closer look at converting the Orange Line from BRT to light rail. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s July Board of Directors meeting took place yesterday. As usual, it was four-plus hours long, with plenty of implications for the future of livability and transportation for the region. SBLA re-caps the meeting below.

Mayor Garcetti Assumes Board Chair

Yesterday’s meeting was Mayor Eric Garcetti’s first as the new chair of Metro’s Board of Directors. Garcetti opened with some remarks outlining his priorities for his Metro chair tenure. After giving the obligatory nod to disliking L.A. traffic, Garcetti assured that his transportation priorities are regional, not ending at L.A. City borders. His greatest enthusiasm is for innovation, especially using technology to make our transportation systems smarter. He affirmed that Los Angeles’ transportation future will be multi-modal.

More on Garcetti’s Metro vision: The Source, Daily News

Contract Approved for Purple Line Subway Construction

The biggest and most contentious item on the agenda was approval of the $1.6 billion contract for 3.9 miles of Purple Line subway construction under Wilshire Boulevard from Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard. As recommended by Metro staff, the board awarded the contract to the “STS” contractor team of Skanska, Traylor and Shea. The STS bid was nearly $200 million more expensive than a competing bid by Dragados, leading some board members to question the selection process. Construction will likely begin this year, and the line is anticipated to open in 2023.

More on the Subway Contract: L.A. Times, The Source

Short Range Transportation Plan Approved

Metro approved its 10-year, $88 billion Short Range Transportation Plan more-or-less as initially proposed. Metro staff asserted that the SRTP is less a new plan and more a sort of progress report on the agency’s Long Range Transportation Plan. The perception is, though, that the SRTP is a sort of early casting call for projects to get in line for a possible 2016 transportation funding ballot measure. Speakers before the board urged more funding for active transportation, building the 710 Freeway tunnel, converting the Orange Line from BRT to rail, and extending the Gold Line eastward.

Read more…

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Metro Raising Parking Rates for NoHo and Universal; Most Parking Still Free

Parking lot at Metro's Universal City Red Line Station. Most spaces are free to the driver, but several hundred monthly permit spaces will see a rate increase this July.

Parking lot at Metro’s Universal City Red Line Station. Most spaces remain free to the driver, but several hundred San Fernando Valley monthly permit spaces will see a rate increase this July. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

As of July 1st 2014, Metro will raise monthly permit parking rates for two of its most popular and most sold-out parking lots. Metro’s North Hollywood Red Line Station monthly parking permit will go from $39 to $59. Universal City Station monthly parking permits will go from $39 to $55.

SBLA has been critical of Metro’s ineffective and fiscally-irresponsible parking policies. These increases are a worthwhile small step in the right direction. The increases help Metro make parking available to people who need it, while lessening parking cost burdens on the vast majority of Metro’s riders whose trips do not begin with driving.

As of July 2014, Metro will increase monthly parking permit rates for two popular San Fernando Valley Red Line Stations. Screenshot parkmetro.com

As of July 2014, Metro will increase monthly parking permit rates for two popular San Fernando Valley Red Line Stations. Screenshot parkmetro.com this morning

The majority of parking at these Metro stations remains free.

At least free to drivers.

Well, free to those drivers who show up by 6:30am or so.  Read more…

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San Fernando Votes To Move Forward With Pacoima Wash Bikeway

Salvador Valentin, of Bikesan@s del Valle collective, and his son Isaac testify in support of the Pacoima Wash Bikeway. The San Fernando City Council approved moving forward with pursuing state funding for the project.

Salvador Valentin, of Bikesan@s del Valle collective, and his son Isaac testify in support of the Pacoima Wash Bikeway. The San Fernando City Council approved moving forward with pursuing state funding for the project.

Last night, the city of San Fernando moved a step closer to constructing a new bike path along the Pacoima Wash. The city council voted unanimously, 5-0, in favor of seeking California state Active Transportation Program (ATP) funding. If everything goes smoothly, the Pacoima Wash Bikeway would open to the public in early 2017.

The bike path will extend the full 1.6-mile length of the Pacoima Wash within the City of San Fernando, from roughly San Fernando Road to Foothill Boulevard. It will also connect with the city’s existing rail-with-trail bike path that runs between San Fernando Road and the Metrolink railroad tracks. That bike path is currently being extended eastward, with construction underway within the city of Los Angeles.

The Pacoima Wash is a tributary of the Los Angeles River. It runs more-or-less north-south through the San Fernando Valley, through the city of San Fernando and neighborhoods within the city of Los Angeles including Sylmar, Pacoima, and Arleta, where it joins the Tujunga Wash. Like many southland creeks, the Pacoima Wash is encased in concrete and fenced off.

In 2000, the city of San Fernando adopted a plan for parks and bicycle and pedestrian paths along the Pacoima Wash. The city sought and obtained project funding from Metro’s 2007 Call for Projects. In 2008, the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful obtained County Public Health PLACE grant funding to extend Pacoima greenway planning to San Fernando’s adjacent city of L.A. neighborhoods. Pacoima Beautiful spearheaded the planning process for the Pacoima Wash Vision Plan, which calls for a 2.6-mile bikeway connecting with the Angeles National Forest.

There are two new small Pacoima Wash parks already underway, both collaborations between cities and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA.) The city of San Fernando’s 8th Street Park is complete and ready for its grand opening, anticipated very soon. Nearby downstream, in the city of L.A.’s Pacoima neighborhood, El Dorado Park is funded and currently being designed.

Things appeared to be moving along well, albeit slowly, for Pacoima Wash revitalization. Then Metro pulled back its funding, requiring that San Fernando instead apply for state ATP funding. This triggered the need for a new vote at the San Fernando City Council, where elected officials and staff are almost all new since the 2007 Metro funding was obtained. Read more…

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Vroom! Speed Limit Increases Head Back to City Council, But Do They Have To?


View 2 7 12 speed limits in a larger map

A trio of speed limit proposals head to the City Council Transportation Committee tomorrow.  The proposals total 5.4 miles of city streets that would see a limit increase. Half of those miles would see a dramatic increase from 35 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour. The areas due for an increase are:

A team of advocates including representatives from Los Angeles Walks, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Ridazz, an online general assembly of concerned cyclists, is planning to lobby the Committee to hold back the limit increases.  Councilmen have begrudgingly passed similar increases in the past in an effort to support LAPD traffic enforcement.

“In order for Los Angeles to truly become a bicycle friendly city, the city needs put a moratorium on speed limit increases and address managing speeds by evaluating how our roadways are engineered. Roadway design & engineering influence travel speeds and we need to implement solutions on our roadways that are going to create safer streets that encourage good driving behavior instead of rewarding speeding by constantly increasing the speed limit,” argues Alexis Lantz with the LACBC.
State law requires that speed limits be set to the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic in order for police to use radar to enforce the limits.  Efforts to overhaul the law have consistently run into roadblocks for speeding traffic advocates such as the AAA and California Highway Patrol.   However, a law passed last year allows cities to “round down” if they believe that increased limits would create a dangerous environment.  All of these proposals were authored in 2010, a full year before A.B. 529 was signed into law.

Read more…