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Complete Streets Today: The Challenges of Swimming in the Mainstream

Is getting around Los Angeles without a car as “alternative” as it was just four years ago?

Is getting around Los Angeles without a car as “alternative” as it was just four years ago?

Join us in writing the next chapters of complete streets history by registering now for the 2015 UCLA Complete Streets conference on Thursday, May 14.

Join me on a brief journey back in time to the first time the UCLA School of Public Affairs hosted a conference about Complete Streets. The year was 2011 and mobility and streets in the region looked quite a bit different. The Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan was recently adopted, and very little of it had been implemented. There was no Expo Line; Metro had neither a complete streets policy nor a first-last mile plan. There were no parklets or plazas. There were no pedestrian staff at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

And in these regards, Los Angeles was not unique: San Francisco was still locked in their bike plan lawsuit, the Washington D.C bike share system had just been installed, Citibike was a glimmer in Janette Sadik-Khan’s eye, and Chicago didn’t have a single mile of protected bikeway. Suffice it to say, while many of us in the transportation field wished for this future; it was hard to see it coming just four years ago.

UCLA Complete Streets 2013 JSK

Janette Sadik-Khan chats with UCLA Professor Martin Wachs at the 2013 UCLA Complete Streets event.

In 2011, complete streets appeared to be more of a movement among bicycle and pedestrian advocates, working inside and outside government to try and find some space for people to use “alternative” modes. We were even still using the word “alternative,” as if riding a bicycle to a friends house were equivalent to listening to the Sex Pistols in the 1970s.

So where are we now? Why does UCLA continue to host a conference on this topic and what is different this year compared to 2011, 2012 and 2013? In short: this is a rapidly evolving field and just in our 2 year absence, a lot has changed. For example, a big change on many minds is the elimination of Level of Service (LOS) as a threshold for traffic impacts; we’ll have a speaker from the California Office of Planning and Research along with an example from Pasadena, a city that has already adopted their new non-LOS measure. This is a conference theme: the increasing extent to which biking and walking are being integrated into mobility planning, rather than being siloed in one-off plans conducted by boutique shops.

UCLA Complete Streets 2013 Shoup

UCLA Professor Donald Shoup parks himself on a couch and checks his email.

What are the changes, opportunities, and challenges that come along with this new-found integration into larger conversations about transportation and mobility? Notably, a change in language; thankfully, we now discuss how to provide transportation “options” rather than “alternative” modes.

The day’s agenda will challenge attendees to think about including complete streets as part and parcel of mobility planning. We’ll provide the forum, space and speakers for thinking about this and some examples. Our three broad panel topics are process, equity and the media. The breakout sessions allow for people to get a deep dive into issues of the future; moving away from LOS, thinking about goods movement considerations and pedestrian issues for our aging society. Overall, the day celebrates the transition of complete streets from the margins to the mainstream, and asks us to consider the challenges of operating at this higher level.

If that teaser doesn’t spark your interest, then perhaps our stellar speakers and their presentation topics will. Please join us.

Register for the day and guarantee your seat at the keynote address with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx at the Historic Union Station Ticket Hall.

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Smart Growth America Rates L.A. Metro Complete Streets Policy in Top Ten

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Cover of Smart Growth America’s report The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2014. Image via SGA

Smart Growth America just released its report ranking The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2014.  Streetsblog USA reviewed the report here.

Of 70 new Complete Streets policies adopted in 2014, only two were in California: L.A. Metro and San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG.) Metro’s policy received the honor of being tied for the #10 spot with a score of 86.4 out of 100, the highest of any metro region in California.

Complete Street Policies only examines new policies adopted in 2014. Since A.B. 1358 was approved in 2008, California has mandated that all municipalities incorporate Complete Streets policies along with updates to the transportation portions of general plans. Many California cities had already complied with A.B. 1358’s deadline of January 2014.

So, even though L.A. is scoring in the top ten, it doesn’t mean that other California cities don’t have similar or better policies.

The National Complete Streets Coalition scored newly adopted Complete Streets policies on how clearly they articulate defined aspects of complete streets. For example, policies are judged on how direct or indirect their vision and intent is, whether they articulate the inclusion of all users and modes, whether the policies apply to new construction only or to all projects, and whether they clearly articulate any exceptions, among other aspects. A full scoring criteria list can be found on page 19 of the document [PDF].

Read more…

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San Diego Sued for Putting in a Bike Lane

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Before (above) and after (below) a road diet and new bike lane on Fifth Avenue. The street still has two travel lanes after the road diet. Top: Google Streetview. Bottom: from a tweet from Councilmember Todd Gloria

A lawsuit filed last week in San Diego [PDF] claims that the city did an inadequate CEQA analysis for a recent road diet and new bike lane on a stretch of Fifth Avenue.

The city’s Bicycle Master Plan calls for a bike lane on that section of the street, and lists it as a priority project. A recently completed water main repair there, followed by repaving, gave the impetus to restripe it and, in the process, the city removed one lane of traffic and added a wide, buffered bike lane.

Fifth Avenue is part of a north-south duo of one-way streets that connect downtown San Diego to Balboa Park through San Diego’s urban core. Together, they comprise one of the main corridors for bike access to downtown, with other parallel routes interrupted by steep canyons. They are also part of a planned “downtown loop” [PDF] which is being set up in anticipation of the bike share launch, now scheduled for next month.

The section that is subject to the lawsuit is between Laurel and Upas streets, a nine-block segment that connects to Balboa Park, the zoo, and several museums, just north of the downtown bike loop. Although from the photos above there is clearly plenty of room on the street, at peak times it can get congested.

For some people, that is an argument for a road diet, which can slow down and smooth traffic, allowing bicyclists to ride with at least some illusion of safety. But for others, the congestion is an argument to leave the bad design in place.

The lawsuit was filed by Leo Wilson on behalf of the Bankers Hill Community Association–not to be confused with the Bankers Hill Community Group, which currently celebrates the new bike lanes on its website. The suit claims that the bike plan calls for narrowing traffic lanes to squeeze in a bike lane while preserving all three existing lanes, and that removing a lane should require a new CEQA analysis.

The city won’t comment on pending litigation, but the lawsuit quotes San Diego Senior Traffic Engineer Brian Genovese as saying that the new striping is exempt from CEQA because the project is included in the adopted bicycle plan.

It’s depressingly reminiscent of the 2006 lawsuit against San Francisco’s bike plan, which caused the city to delay putting in any bike facilities, including bike racks, for four years while it completed an expensive Environmental Impact Report that came to the same conclusions the city had reached without the report: that bike facilities do not create a significant environmental impact.

This lawsuit makes claims similar to those in the San Francisco suit, saying that traffic congestion will worsen, and that vehicles will be diverted to other local streets.

Unfortunately, the state’s Office of Planning and Research has not yet completed its guidance on S.B. 743, under which vehicle congestion will be removed from the list of environmental impacts that need analysis.

The city is trying to do what the state mandated in its Complete Streets Act [PDF] that requires cities to “plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, seniors, movers of commercial goods, and users of public transportation, in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan.”

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Metro Moving Forward With Flawed Complete Streets Policy

Cover of proposed Metro Complete Streets Policy, approved by Metro's Sustainability Committee today. Image via Metro, full report here.

Cover of proposed Metro Complete Streets Policy, approved by Metro’s Sustainability Committee today. Image via Metro, full report [PDF]

At today’s meeting, the Metro board of directors Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee approved the agency’s proposed Complete Streets Policy [PDF]. The committee approval sends the policy to the full board for anticipated approval at its meeting next Thursday, October 23.

Complete streets policies, broadly, mandate that all streets need to accommodate people using all modes of travel, including walking, bicycling, transit, and driving.

Metro staff in giving their presentation [PDF], expressed that the bulk of regional complete streets implementation occurs outside Metro’s jurisdiction. For the most part, street configurations are the jurisdiction of individual cities.

Metro staff identified two key areas where they assert that Metro has its greatest influence over complete streets implementation:

  • Corridor Planning: Metro is a lead agency in building various projects, most prominently rail, but also highways and other facilities.
  • Transportation Funding: Metro passes funding along to cities (and others) to build projects – including via the Call for Projects.

Seven public speakers, including L.A. County Bicycle Coalition’s Eric Bruins and Safe Routes To School National Partnership’s Jessica Meaney, expressed support for complete streets goals, and criticism of the draft policy. Comments focused on lack of enforceability, equity, performance metrics, as well as overall vagueness. For more details on criticisms expressed, read the Los Angeles County Active Transportation Collaborative comment letter at SRTS.

Sustainability committee members including Duarte City Councilmember John Fasana and L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin’s Transportation Deputy Paul Backstrom portrayed the new policy as “a step in the right direction,” while suggesting that some improvements will need to be made to it over time. The committee approved the policy, and requested that staff return later with proposed metrics.

In recent years, Metro has incorporated commendable complete streets facilities as part of some of its projects; examples include multi-use bike/walk paths along portions of the Metro Orange and Expo Lines. Though these bike and walk facilities are well-used, Metro does not include them in all projects, and tends to invest much greater funding in providing free parking for cars than it does in ensuring safe and convenient walking and bicycling access to its stations.

Metro recently adopted its First Last Mile Strategic Plan. Many Metro projects, though, continue to be rail- and car-focused, with first/last mile bike and pedestrian facilities being poorly-funded afterthoughts unevenly tacked on much later.

What’s in Metro’s proposed Complete Streets policy?  Read more…

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Protected Bike Lanes Bill Passes CA Senate Transportation Committee

The “Protected Bikeways Act,” A.B. 1193, passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Thursday on a 10-0 vote, despite opposition from some quarters. The bill must still be approved by the full Senate and Governor Jerry Brown.

All in all, the Rosemead Boulevard Project looks great, and is a great place for bicycling.

A protected bike lane in Temple City. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would compel Caltrans to create guidelines for protected bike lanes, a type of facility that is not currently allowed under California law.

A second measure in the bill would give local jurisdictions — cities and counties — the freedom to follow Caltrans standards for bicycle infrastructure or to choose some other guidance. Currently all bicycle infrastructure in California must adhere to Caltrans standards, whether it’s built on state highways or local streets. There are a few limited exceptions to this, generally through cumbersome experimental processes, but overall Caltrans’ antiquated standards have limited implementation of infrastructure that has proven safe in other states and other countries.

“This comes down to an issue of local control,” said Ting. “Cities have control over every aspect of their streets except when it comes to bikes.”

Supporters at the hearing included representatives from Napa County, the city of San Jose, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

Read more…

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Just How Great Will Those Great Streets Initiative Sites Become?

Mayor Garcetti announced six Great Streets, including Figueroa pictured here, that will become more accessible to wheelchairs, pedestrians, strollers and bicycles. photo Flying Pigeon L.A.

North Figueroa Street is on Mayor Garcetti’s new Great Streets Initiative list. Photo: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Yesterday and today, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the sites for his Great Streets Initiative. The mayor’s Streets initiative now has an initial budget of $800,000. SBLA previewed six of these Great Streets announced during Garcetti’s State of the City address. The full list now includes 15 street segments, one per City Council District. Here is how Garcetti describes Great Streets:

We’ll saturate your street with services. We’ll make your street accessible to pedestrians, wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles–not just cars. We’ll create an environment where new neighborhood businesses can flourish. We’ll pave the streets and make them green streets — clean and lush with plant life, local art, and people-focused plazas.

Below is the list, from yesterday’s L.A. Times article:

District 1: North Figueroa Street between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60
District 2: Lankershim Boulevard between Chandler and Victory boulevards
District 3: Sherman Way between Wilbur and Lindley avenues
District 4: Western Avenue between Melrose Avenue and 3rd Street
District 5: Westwood Boulevard between Le Conte Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard
District 6: Van Nuys Boulevard between Victory Boulevard and Oxnard Street
District 7: Van Nuys Boulevard between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and San Fernando Road
District 8: Crenshaw Boulevard between 78th Street and Florence Avenue
District 9: Central Avenue between MLK Boulevard and Vernon Avenue
District 10: Pico Boulevard between Hauser Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue
District 11: Venice Boulevard between Beethoven Street and Inglewood Boulevard
District 12: Reseda Boulevard between Plummer Street and Parthenia Avenue
District 13: Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue & Gower Street
District 14: Cesar Chavez Avenue between Evergreen Avenue and St. Louis Street
District 15: Gaffey Street between 15th Street & the 110 Freeway


View Great Streets Initiative in a larger map

The street mileage is listed here. The total mileage is 12.4 miles.

I want to be excited about any effort to make streets more livable, more walkable, and more bikeable, but frankly the initiative feels a little timid. One step forward for every dozen-plus steps backward.

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Dangerous by Design: CA Has Second-Highest Fatality Rate for Older Peds

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 11.27.49 AMSmart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition released their Dangerous by Design 2014 [PDF] report today, showing that California has the nation’s second-highest pedestrian fatality rate for older pedestrians (age 65 and older).

The report highlights the ways car-centric design in US cities makes streets dangerous for walking, and ranks major metropolitan areas using the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), the ratio of annual fatality rates to the percentage of people who walk to work. California was ranked 17th on the PDI, with pedestrians deaths making up 19 percent of the state’s total traffic fatalities.

California’s elderly pedestrian fatality rate, at 5.03 fatalities per 100,000 people (compared to 3.19 nationally), is second only to Hawaii, followed by New York. Nationwide, older adults account for 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities, while only making up 12.6 percent of the population.

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MyFigueroa Achieves Consensus, Auto Group Withdraws Appeal

MyFigueroa multi-feature design for new bus platforms on Figueroa Street. Agreements this week enable this project to move forward with construction anticipated to begin in early 2015.

MyFigueroa multi-feature design for new bus platforms on Figueroa Street. Agreements this week enable this project to move forward with construction anticipated to begin in early 2015. image: MyFigueroa.com

This week, stakeholders hammered out an agreement that allows the MyFigueroa project to finally move from design to on-the-ground implementation.

MyFigueroa will arguably be Los Angeles’ premiere “complete street.” The three project streets will be inclusive: welcoming to pedestrians, transit riders, cyclists, and drivers.

This is great news for Los Angeles livability. Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District (BID) head Steve Gibson describes it as “good for the district, for the bike community, and for the city.”

Mayor Garcetti, one of MyFigueroa’s stalwart proponents, described this week’s victory as follows:

I’m excited that our work to bring stakeholders together to air and address concerns has cleared the way for MyFigueroa to finally move forward. This is a critical initiative for Downtown, South L.A. and especially the corridor in between, and the result will be a better mobility balance and a higher quality of life. This is a prime example of our Back to Basics agenda for Los Angeles, which is focused on the core building blocks that strengthen neighborhoods. I want to thank Councilmember Price for working with us to convene stakeholders and resolve their concerns, and our dialogue with the community will be ongoing.

City Councilmember Curren Price, who represents the area, further stated:

Because of the conversations that were held between the City and stakeholders we will now have a groundbreaking project in the New Ninth that all members of the community will support, without compromising the integrity of the project.

It hasn’t been easy making big changes in one of the city’s most iconic corridors. Figueroa is already a thriving place with many world class features: sports venues, entertainment centers, and longstanding cultural, religious, and educational institutions. There are great historic landmark buildings, and notable new development. Figueroa is home to businesses and residents. Heavy traffic, wide streets, proximity to the the 110 Freeway, and proliferation of parking lots/structures seem to keep the Figueroa Corridor from being a truly thriving walkable place. In recent times, many of the great destinations along Figueroa Street have tended to turn inward — away from the noise and congestion of Figueroa Street.

With transit connections to Metro’s Red, Purple, and Expo Lines, Figueroa is well-positioned to be the place where Los Angeles takes a big step into a multi-modal livable future. Figueroa leaders saw this, and, nearly a decade ago, started a process to bring it into being. Two local BIDs worked with the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to pursue funding for what would become MyFigueroa.    

The MyFigueroa project will be Los Angeles’ first large-scale “complete streets” makeover. It creates a street that’s truly welcoming and safe for everyone. The project features widened sidewalks, wayfinding, landscaping, pedestrian-scale lighting, improved bus stops, and the city’s first protected bikeway or cycle track.

MyFigueroa weathered a somewhat difficult midstream hand-off when the state dissolved the CRA. The Los Angeles City Department of Transportation (LADOT) picked up the reigns and became the lead city agency. MyFig later stalled due to a legal appeal filed by the Shammas Auto GroupAt a March 2014 meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, it appeared that a newly-established stakeholder working group, convened by Mayor Garcetti and City Councilmembers Curren Price and Jose Huizar, was nearing a consensus that would allow MyFigueroa to proceed.

This week, the working group bore fruit.

In a letter dated April 30 2014, the Shammas Auto Group’s attorney wrote:

[T]he Shammas Auto Group […] hereby withdraws all his previously filed appeals related to the above-referenced [Figueroa Streetscape] project.

From the city staff report, it’s clear that a great deal of work went into making this happen. Representatives from the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the LADOT have been busy.

Read more…

Streetsblog SF
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Oakland Proposes Parking-Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Avenue

Bikes and buses jockey for position along Telegraph Avenue in Temescal. Planners say protected bike lanes are “likely” options on most of Telegraph in Oakland — except for this stretch. Photo: David Jaeger / Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

The City of Oakland has released preliminary design options [PDF] for a redesign of Telegraph Avenue, which include parking-protected bike lanes, improvements to speed up AC Transit lines, and pedestrian safety upgrades. Planners will hold open house meetings to collect input on the design options starting next week.

“We’re very excited they’ve released a lot of different options,” said Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay. “It’s a very robust set of choices and allows people to make an informed decision on the best ones.”

This is the first time Telegraph is being revisited for a redesign since it was taken out of the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit route that begins construction this fall. The proposal to extend BRT on Telegraph to Berkeley was dropped after merchants fought to preserve car parking.

The Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets Implementation Plan looks at the stretch from 57th Street to 20th Street, a few blocks short of Telegraph’s end at Broadway in downtown Oakland, where the Latham Square pilot plaza was prematurely removed. Under some of the proposals, much of Telegraph could get parking-protected bike lanes (a.k.a. “cycle tracks”) by re-purposing traffic lanes and preserving parking lanes.

Oakland’s project website notes that “despite the lack of bike facilities, Telegraph Avenue is one of the most heavily traveled routes for cyclists, with over 1,200 daily cyclists.”

Bike East Bay is “super delighted to see proposed cycle tracks for a good segment of the street, and think there are some good options as well through the section with the freeway underpass,” said Campbell.

Read more…

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TransForm to Host Third Transportation Choices Summit in Sacramento

TransFormLogoTransForm, an organization that advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth, and affordable housing throughout California, will host its third annual summit next week to discuss the state’s transportation priorities. The Transportation Choices Summit will take place in Sacramento on Tuesday, April 22, and feature speakers from advocacy organizations including the Greenlining Institute, Move LA, and Safe Routes to Schools, as well as state legislators and representatives from state agencies.

The summit’s agenda includes panel discussions on opportunities and challenges in 2014, including cap-and-trade funds and Caltrans reform. Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), the keynote speaker, will discuss the connection between climate change and equity issues. De Leon authored S.B. 535, passed in 2012, which requires that at least 10 percent of funds earmarked for greenhouse gas reduction go directly to disadvantaged communities, and that 25 percent of them be spent in a way that benefits those communities.

Other highlights from the conference include a breakout session on increasing funding for walking and bicycling, led by Jeanie Ward-Waller, the California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. Another session will feature Kate White, Deputy Secretary of Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination at the California State Transportation Agency, who will talk about Caltrans reform with TransForm Executive Director Stuart Cohen. You can see the other speakers listed on the agenda [PDF].

Two related events will bookend the summit: On Monday, the day before the summit, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates Executive Director Jim Brown will lead summit attendees on two local bike tours. One will showcase the innovative bicycle master plan in West Sacramento. The other will focus on issues around new infill housing in the city.

On Wednesday, after the summit, Transportation Choices Advocacy Day will bring advocates and volunteers to the offices of legislators to talk about biking, walking, transit, and affordable, accessible housing near transit. This event is free and all are invited, but pre-registration is required.