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More Parking, Fewer Units Could Be Mar Vista Council Prescription for Venice Blvd Housing Project

Rendering of the proposed project at 12444 Venice Blvd. via the Mar Vista Community Council website.

Rendering of the proposed project at 12444 Venice Blvd. via the Mar Vista Community Council website.

Tomorrow night, the Mar Vista Community Council will hear from the public about a proposed mixed-use housing project slated for 12444 Venice Boulevard.

The proposed project would replace an existing strip mall. The proposal is for a new 85-foot tall building with 77 units (seven of which would be affordable) and about 2,100 square feet of ground-floor retail. It would include more bike parking (89 spaces) than vehicle parking (75 spaces) both at ground level and below.

At a recent meeting of the Mar Vista Community Council Land Use Committee, many of the usual concerns about new housing projects were raised. According to Argonaut coverage of the meeting last month, the building height was the primary concern.

A letter [PDF] to the City Planning Department from Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin revealed that some residents were also concerned by the lack of parking.

The question that will be answered Tuesday is whether the Mar Vista Community Council will support this project or if they will call for fewer units and more parking.

“The proposed project only provides 75 parking spaces, despite the fact that it has 77 residential units and over 2,000 square feet of ground floor retail,” Bonin wrote in his letter, dated July 12. “The limited parking will place a tremendous strain on the surrounding residential community.”

According to Bonin’s letter, not only is there not enough parking, but parking should not be at grade, lest it interfere with Venice Boulevard’s transformation into a Great Street. It ignores the negative impact on the walkability of Venice that would come with inviting more cars to the area by adding more parking, underground or not.

Bonin also expressed concern about the building’s height.

“The proposed project is seven stories and 85 feet in height, which is significantly taller than any other building on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista,” Bonin wrote in his letter. “Such a change is material and should be discussed at a public hearing.”

It is unclear if a height reduction would mean a loss of units. The proposed plans for the project include an alternative, shorter building with the same number of units, but with less architectural variety.

Still, the conversation surrounding this project is emblematic of confused priorities. The city of Los Angeles is facing a severe housing shortage that is driving up the cost of housing and forcing moderate and low-income people out of neighborhoods like Mar Vista that only a decade ago were relatively affordable.

An increase in quality jobs in the area combined with stagnation in housing growth has meant that moderate and low-income households are now competing with higher-earning households for the same units.

The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report earlier this year that reiterated that if California is serious about curbing displacement, then the state should be building a lot more housing, including market-rate housing.

While 77 units is a drop in the bucket, it is a much-needed one at a time when families are being forced out of the state because they can’t afford the cost of housing.

From a livable streets perspective, even with at-grade parking, the project would be a huge improvement over the strip mall that currently occupies the site. Bonin is right to celebrate the transformation of Venice Boulevard into a new multi-modal thoroughfare. He is also right to assure that when properties are redeveloped along the new Venice Boulevard, they augment and improve the street life for people–not just cars.

Putting parking underground advances walkability goals. Requiring more parking on the property does not. More parking would likely increase vehicle trips in the area. Underground parking is very expensive. Investing in more parking spaces to store more cars means fewer resources available to house people.

There is a delicate balance to be struck here, with various goals sometimes in conflict. Will the community prioritize parking over housing, as L.A. has too often done in the past? Or can a consensus emerge that truly serves L.A.’s multi-modal future? Attend tomorrow night’s meeting and make your voice heard.

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Eyes on the Street: Motor Avenue’s New Parklets, Celebrate This Thursday

Motor Avenue celebrates two new parklets this week. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Motor Avenue celebrates two new parklets this week. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

This week, the Motor Avenue Improvement Association will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating two great new parklets on Motor Avenue. The festivities will take place on Thursday August 11 at 1 p.m. at 3376 Motor Avenue in Palms. The parklets are part of the city of L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) innovative People St program, where communities can request plazas, parklets, and/or bike corrals.

The southern Parklet on Motor, located in front of the Motor Avenue Community Garden

The southern parklet on Motor, located in front of the Motor Avenue Community Garden

There are two parklets a block apart. There is a smaller parklet on Motor north of National Boulevard, and a larger one just south of National, in front of the Motor Avenue Community Garden. Both parklets have taken on garden themes, with fresh herbs and vegetables growing in parklet planters.

More photos after the jump.  Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Parklet Underway on Motor Avenue

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Under-construction parklet spotted on Motor Avenue in Palms. Photos by Jonathan Weiss/Streetsblog L.A.

Last week, a new parklet opened in downtown L.A.’s South Park. The next People St parklet installation is already underway on Motor Avenue in Palms. The parklet pictured is in front of C&M Cafe at 3272 Motor Avenue, a block south of the Metro Expo Line Phase 2 and the Expo bikeway’s Northvale gap. Motor was improved with a road diet and bike lanes in 2012.

Motor Avenue will be receiving two parklets; the second (and larger) parklet will be at 3370 Motor Avenue.

More early construction photos after the jump.  Read more…

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Open House Showcases Expo Bike Path Gap Closure Options

Last night's Expo Bikeway meeting. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last night’s Expo Bikeway meeting. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

An overflow crowd of more than one hundred people showed up to last night’s Expo Bike Path meeting at the Palms-Rancho Park Branch Library. A representative from Councilmember Paul Koretz welcomed the boisterous crowd before turning the open house over to L.A. City Transportation Department (LADOT) Senior Bicycle Coordinator Michelle Mowery.

The crowd appeared to be about half from L.A.’s bicycling community about half from the adjacent Cheviot Hills neighborhood. Many Cheviot Hills neighbors have actively opposed to both the Metro Expo rail line and the Expo bike path.

Mowery stressed that “no decisions have been made” about how to close the 0.7-mile “Northvale gap” in the Expo bikeway. She stated that the meeting would be just an open house, and requested that all concerns be submitted in writing. As Mowery directed attendees to speak with city staff at an array of poster stations, disparaging comments were uttered by attendees: “this is ridiculous” and “we’re like sitting ducks”  – apparently by neighbors opposed to the bikeway.

In mid-2016, when the completed portions of the Expo bike path open, LADOT plans an “interim detour” sharrowed bike route on Northvale Road from Overland Avenue to Motor Avenue. This route avoids nearby heavily-trafficked streets, but is not great for bicycling as it is rather hilly close to Motor Avenue.

The final gap closure bikeway will run in a relatively flat alignment, just north of the Metro Expo Line tracks. There were three design options presented, described after the jump below. Read more…

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Closing the Exposition Bikeway Northvale Gap, Meeting Next Week

LADOT is responsible for bike lanes and other road markings for this area connecting the Expo Bike Paths in Phase 1 and Phase 2. Recently, the city announced it has no timeline on when this bikeway will be completed.

The Expo Line bike path will soon extend east and west of this 0.7-mile “Northvale Gap.”

When Metro’s 6.6-mile Expo Line opens in mid-2016, the parallel Expo bikeway will open too.

Except where it won’t.

Two stretches of Expo bike path under construction are nearing completion. Unfortunately there is a 0.7-mile gap between them. Next week the city of L.A. will host a meeting to receive input on plans to close the gap, which parallels Northvale Road. Meeting details after the jump.

Here are the two sections of Expo Line bikeway nearing completion:

  1. Venice Boulevard to Motor Avenue: This 1.2-mile stretch includes two components. On the east end, located just south of the 10 Freeway, there will be a 0.7-mile bike path extending from Venice Boulevard (across the street from Culver City Station) to Palms Boulevard/National Boulevard (across from Palms Station). West of Palms Station, the bikeway is on the streets for a half mile. This includes National Boulevard (with a very short stretch of bike lanes) and Motor Avenue.
  2. Overland Avenue to Colorado Avenue: This 3.5-mile stretch is all off-street bike path, extending from Cheviot Hills to downtown Santa Monica. Like the Orange Line and other bike paths, there are a handful of places where cyclists cross perpendicular streets, but both bikes and trains run in the old rail right-of-way. The eastern terminus of the path is at Overland Avenue, near the Westwood Station. The western terminus is at 17th Street Station in Santa Monica, where cyclists can connect with the city of Santa Monica’s bike networks, including bike lanes on 17th Street, Broadway, and Arizona Avenue, and the Michigan Avenue Greenway.

Between those two segments – about 0.7 miles from Motor Avenue to Overland Avenue – is the Northvale Gap.  Read more…

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Make It Mar Vista: Pop Up Bike Lanes and Parklets at Westside Business Festival

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This Saturday, the Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce is hosting “Make It Mar Vista” along Venice Boulevard starting at Centinela Avenue and heading west. The event is the area’s newish small business showcase, highlighting one of the Westside’s more walkable corridors with small shops and locally-owned restaurants.

But this year’s event is also another outreach event for the Mayor’s Great Streets Program on the Westside. Streetsblog has already covered how Councilmember Mike Bonin and Westside community and business leaders have led a multi-faceted public process for Great Streets planning that is unrivaled throughout the city, and Make It Mar Vista is another example of planning beyond the public meeting.

Bonin’s office, the Mayor’s office, the Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce, and the Mar Vista Community Council have all worked together to create a progressive Great Streets plan, which will include a protected bike lane, improved crossings and sidewalks, and possibly even a parklet. Make It Mar Vista will have pop-up versions of the protected bike lane and parklet so residents, businesses, and visitors will get an idea of what the Great Street will look like once the redesign begins.

“Make It Mar Vista is exactly the type of programming we need on the Venice Boulevard Great Street,” said Bonin. “By encouraging people to spend time at our local businesses and experience the street in a new way, Make it Mar Vista helps foster the sense of community that furthers long-term investment in neighborhoods.”

According to event programmers, creating a community feel along the corridor is a shared-goal of Make It Mar Vista and the Great Streets Program.

“What we love best about Small Business Saturday is how it supports the local community,” writes Sara Auerswald, the founding president of the business district.

“These businesses are owned by our friends and neighbors, after all. And this year we’ve made it into a festival on the Great Street with art projects, live entertainment and, of course, the bike lane pop-up.”

Make It Mar Vista is working with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition to highlight the importance of the event. Bicyclists will kick off Make it Mar Vista by riding on the stretch of Venice Blvd designated as one of the Mayor’s 15 Great Streets. This family-friendly bike ride is a flat, 2-mile round trip along Venice Blvd and will be led by LACBC ride marshals and cyclists with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Cyclists, meet at 10 a.m. at the southeast corner of Venice & Inglewood, roll at 10:30 a.m. More on the full program for the event can be found after the jump or at the Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce website.

Read more…

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Why LADOT Won’t Have Its Portion of the Expo Bikeway Done Anytime Soon

LADOT is responsible for bike lanes and other road markings for this area connecting the Expo Bike Paths in Phase 1 and Phase 2. Recently, the city announced it has no timeline on when this bikeway will be completed.

LADOT is responsible for bike lanes and other road markings for this area connecting the Expo Bike Paths in Phase 1 and Phase 2. Recently, the city announced it has no timeline on when this bikeway will be completed. Image: LADOT

I am City Councilmember Paul Koretz’ appointee to the City of Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC).

Former councilmember Jack Weiss (no relation) appointed me in 2006; Paul Koretz kept me on. The BAC charter says, “The purpose of the BAC is to act in an advisory capacity to the Mayor, City Council Members, and the various agencies of the government of the City of Los Angeles in the encouragement and facilitation of the use of the bicycle as regular means of transportation and recreation.”

In 2008, City Council required “Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and the Department of Recreation & Parks (DRP) to jointly staff the BAC, with City Planning staff.” I’ve never seen a DRP representative at our meetings, and LADOT stopped keeping our minutes years ago. So much for that. Every city department is underfunded and understaffed (okay, maybe not LADWP). What I’m reporting here – it would seem – results from the staffing and budget problems.

Since I’m also understaffed (just me here), I’ve chosen to skip one of our bi-monthly BAC subcommittee meetings (where I could listen to staff reports about projects stalled or delayed or cancelled for lack of staff/funding). Instead, I will share my impressions of what my Palms/Cheviot Hills area has gotten from an LADOT Bikeways division relying too heavily on part-timers, short-timers, and interns.

By the way, I personally like most of the city employees. But when things go wrong, they circle the wagons. Many are dedicated civil servants, yet all of them are also working to keep their jobs and their relationships with others in government. That said, I see no point in naming (many) names.

Expo Bike Path

The city of L.A. had Metro funding for the Expo bike path. The path will belong to the respective cities it traverses: Santa Monica, L.A., and Culver City. The responsible politicians promised the bike path would be planned and built contemporaneously with the train. I was not so sure. As a 20-plus year pro-train veteran of the light rail train wars, I warned LADOT of my neighbors’ scorched earth approach to stopping the train and everything associated with it. For instance, “Neighbors for Smart Rail” sued all the way to the California Supreme Court to stop the Expo Line, challenging its environmental clearance. (They were probably technically right. But that’s another story.)

Fortunately, despite the legal challenges, the Expo Construction Authority moved forward with train construction, creating facts on the ground the Court was less likely to undo. But Expo’s approach to the bicycle/pedestrian path was different. The Construction Authority was created to build a train, not a bike path. Sure, they could do both, but, trains!

Unfortunately, when LADOT’s environmental clearance was challenged in court by my litigious neighbors, the bike path was unhitched from the train project. The city had to hire an outside contractor to redo the environmental documents and, by that time, Expo had contracted with Skanka-Rados to build the train alone. That resulted in a more costly, inferior, and indefinitely unfinished bike path. Read more…

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With CicLAvia in the Rearview Mirror, Mar Vista Plans for a Pop-Up Great Street

To see the timeline in higher res, click ##https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ant/pages/743/attachments/original/1438966471/Pilot_Project.png?1438966471##here.##

To see the timeline in higher res, click here.

Despite Great Streets being a signature transportation project of Mayor Eric Garcetti, throughout the city the vision, outreach, and implementation are driven by the enthusiasm of the local City Council offices. Staff in the Mayor’s Office is working closely with each of the fifteen Councilmembers to create a Great Streets program that is locally-driven and Council-approved.

At least that’s the idea.

While local support and local leadership is crucial to any movement that seeks to create major changes, sometimes the Council offices have proven more of a roadblock to change than a partner in creating great streets.

On one hand, Councilmember Mitch Englander, one of the more conservative Councilmembers, has been a surprise, not only for backing the largest protected bike lane in Los Angeles, but for programming that activates Reseda Boulevard as a destination. On the other hand, you have Paul Koretz, considered by many to be a champion environmentalist, and Curren Price, who belatedly got on board with the MyFigueroa! street transformation, working behind the scenes to remove bike facilities from plans for Westwood Boulevard and Central Avenue, respectively.

Nowhere were expectations higher for Great Streets than in the Westside’s CD11 where Councilmember Mike Bonin was the first Councilmember to be elected with a platform for Livable Streets reform. And that’s important, as the Great Streets team in the Mayor’s Office consists of two staffers and a handful of interns and fellows. That’s not per district, that’s for the entire city.

Bonin and a band of neighborhood and business advocates have used the Great Streets Plan for Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista (roughly between the 405 and Lincoln Boulevard) as a sort of Livable Streets master class to educate people about what a street can be if it is reimagined as something new. The presentation of the image boards showing the various Great Street options at both the “usual suspect” locations (Farmers’ Markets, the Mar Vista Community Council, and Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce) and high schools, libraries, coffee shops, and markets allowed a wider range of stakeholders to weigh in on the proposed changes.

The experience in West L.A. with Great Streets is pretty much the opposite of that along Central Avenue in South Los Angeles. There, most residents, business owners, and community advocates only saw plans for a dramatically altered Central Avenue when Sahra Sulaiman showed them printouts while researching a story for Streetsblog. The difference an engaged and enthusiastic Council Office can have is dramatic.

After all of that outreach, Bonin’s office announced last week that a pilot program will be on the ground in the “winter/spring of 2016.” Some of the most popular proposed changes include more mid-block pedestrian crossings, opportunities for public gathering spaces (parklets, plazas, even sidewalk seating), improved bikeways, and more and better street furniture and trash bins.

“Those are some dramatic, exciting improvements, and we’ll need to use some of the space usually reserved for automobile traffic to get it done,” Bonin’s office wrote in an email to participants that was also posted on his website. Read more…

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Dangerous Intersection of Venice and Robertson Gets a Flashing Yellow Signal

Last November, David Lindley was walking across the street at the five point intersection of Venice and South Robertson Boulevard when he was struck and killed. Lindley, an autistic teen who attended nearby Hamilton High School, was mourned by friends and family who vowed to see the intersection fixed.

Three months later, with the construction and reconfigurations complete, a video by longtime Expo Line supporter/watcher Gökhan Esirgen showed that cars turning on to Robertson Boulevard were routinely turning left into the pedestrian path well after receiving a red light. Esirgen noted this wasn’t an unusual occurrence, but a decision to place expediency over the safety of pedestrians that was made with nearly every crossing.

Over six months after Lindley’s tragic death, LADOT recently unveiled its answer to the safety issues created by what one Hamilton High School student described as a “busy, confusing and dangerous” intersection, a flashing yellow arrow warning drivers to be aware of pedestrians. This is the first time the City of Los Angeles has used this traffic control device, but they are common in other parts of the country. Motorists have shown greater likelihood to yield during a flashing yellow arrow than a red one.

A good start, to be sure. Now if only the city would prioritize ticketing cars that turn against the light over pedestrians who are crossing the street safely and efficiently.

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Bike Lanes, Partially Green and Partially Buffered, Appear on Westwood North of Le Conte

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Photo: Juan Matute

Westwood and Le Conte is sort of a magical intersection for me.

In 2008, the city’s first Sharrows appeared just north of Le Conte on Westwood Blvd. In 2010, Westwood and Le Conte teamed up again as the home of “30 seconds of Awesome,” in its scramble crosswalk. Those were both big stories for early Streetsblog L.A.

So I was really excited when Streetsblog L.A. Steering Committee member Juan Matute posted pictures showing that those Sharrows, which were actually the first ones in Los Angeles, were replaced by bike lanes into and out of the UCLA campus. The lanes are occasionally buffered and occasionally green. Sometimes there are Sharrows.

But…wait a second? I thought that a bike lane on Westwood was a controversial topic for the local Councilmember?

The design and upkeep of LeConte and Westwood near and through the campus are the responsibility of UCLA. (More pictures of the lane can be found after the jump.)

But while UCLA is doing all that it can to assure safe commutes for all road users coming to and from campus, the dedication to safe streets ends when the city takes control of the streets again. The Daily Bruin reports that City Councilmember Paul Koretz is doubling down on his opposition to safe streets. Having previously killed even a study of bike lanes on Westwood Boulevard connecting to the Expo Line, Koretz has now removed the possibility of bike lanes in Westwood Village.

So, hats off to UCLA for doing the right thing for its commuters. It’s just too bad that that commitment ends where the City of Los Angeles takes over.

The City will take input on the Mobility Plan 2035, including the Westwood Blvd. bike lane, at a meeting of the City Planning Commission tomorrow, Thursday, May 28th, at 8:30 AM at the Van Nuys City Hall (14410 Sylvan Street, Van Nuys 91401).

Read more…