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Posts from the Urban Design Category


Lessons From UCLA’s TransportationCamp

Joshua Schank, Metro's new chief innovation officer, speaking at TransportationCamp at UCLA on Saturday. Photo by Joe Linton/StreetblogLA

Joshua Schank, Metro’s new chief innovation officer, speaking at TransportationCamp at UCLA on Saturday. Photo by Joe Linton/StreetblogLA

What do you get when dozens of transportation professionals, technologists, and others interested in improving urban transportation networks all in one room at UCLA on a Saturday morning? The answer is Los Angeles’ very first TransportationCamp.

While there were no bonfires or arts and crafts, Saturday’s event was different than your usual gathering of transportation professionals. The atmosphere was deliberately casual for the event, billed as an “unconference.”

What does that mean? For one, it means that those who were attending chose the topics that were discussed during the day-long event.

“You don’t have to bring the answers; you just have to bring the questions… and great things will happen,” Juan Matute, associate director of the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, told the crowd.

Since it was started in March 2011 in New York by OpenPlans (Streetsblog’s founding nonprofit), TransportationCamp events have cropped up all over the country.  Transportation Camps are scheduled in New York next month and Washington, D.C. in January.

“This is where [the future of] L.A. transportation is happening,” Matute told the crowd.

Unlike a traditional conference, each session was less a lecture and more a conversation, usually led by the person who suggested the topic earlier in the day.

The format gave people a chance to talk to other conference attendees — including Ashley Hand, LADOT’s transportation technology strategy fellow; Peter Marx, L.A. Mayor’s chief innovative technology officer; and Joshua Schank, Metro’s new chief innovation officer — about the topics most of interest to them. You can read Marx’s impressions of the day here.

Over the course of the day, attendees participated in and facilitated about two dozen different discussions. Topics included autonomous vehicles, measuring “Great Streets,” L.A. County bike-share, identifying and mobilizing Vision Zero stakeholders, the link between land use and quality transit, and a chance to meet Metro’s new innovation officer, among many other things.

A complete list of sessions with links to notes taken during them can be found here, but below are some of our takeaways from TransportationCamp L.A.

Read more…


Technologists and Transportation Professionals Meet at TransportationCamp Los Angeles

TranspoCamp UCLA

Register now for TransportationCamp, October 3rd at UCLA

2015 is an exciting time for transportation innovation in Los Angeles.  We have a rapidly-expanding frequent transit and bicycle network.  Technological innovation has already brought us reliable point-to-point mobility for passengers, real-time transit arrival and traffic incident information, and even “feeding the meter” from a phone.

We see more promise on the horizon as local governments in the Los Angeles area continue to innovate mobility.  The City of Los Angeles and Google currently share traffic information, and Google’s Waze recently announced a pilot program to allow app users to ride with each other.  Cities and Metro will soon launch bikeshare on the westside and in downtown, which promises to augment the transit network and and encourage more people to try our expanding bicycle network.  The City of Los Angeles’s Taxicab Commission is restructuring regulations to enable innovation in a long-stagnant industry.

Read more…


Vision Hyperion: Advocates Sue City Claiming Inadequate Study of Bridge Redesign

Don Ward at today's press conference. Photo: Damien Newton

Don Ward at today’s press conference. Photo: Damien Newton

Flanked by community and safe streets advocates holding signs reading “Save Our Sidewalk” and “Safe Streets 4 All,” Don Ward leaned into a microphone to announce the battle over the redesign of the Glendale-Hyperion series of bridges was not over just because the City Council has given the project a green light.

“This morning, we are announcing legal action to defend the community against the City’s rushed and ill-conceived approval of an unsafe design for the Hyperion Avenue Viaduct,” Ward stated.

“The project approved by the City Council last month fails to provide safe access to everyone who uses the bridge and falls short of the City’s vision of promoting safe, walkable, and bikeable neighborhoods.”

The lawsuit, which will be formally filed on Thursday, challenges the city’s approval of a “Negative Declaration” for the project. Basically, based on studies performed by the City Bureau of Engineering, the City Council stated that the design of the bridge has no impact on the environment or public safety. The approved design of the bridge removes a sidewalk on the south side of the bridge in favor of a pair of bicycle lanes.

The lawsuit, to be filed by the firm of Chatten-Brown & Carstens, challenges the assertion that a sidewalk can be removed without impacting local circulation under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“Here the city, despite the size and complexity of the project, issued a Negative Declaration. That’s only allowed when there are no significant impacts or all impacts have been completely mitigated,” explains Michelle Black, an associate with Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “With the current design, there will be significant impacts to circulation that have not been studied.”

If successful, the lawsuit will force a full environmental study by the city and a serious consideration of several options. Chatten-Brown & Carstens is filing the suit on behalf of Ward and “Angelenos for a Great Hyperion.”

The City Council approved the environmental documents  for the project on June 9 over the objections of community advocates and incoming Councilman David Ryu, who now represents the communities on one side of the bridge.

The rejection was rushed, in part, because of a questionable city staff claim that funding from the state would expire were the city to take the time to complete a full environmental study. Read more…


City Unveils First Serious Draft Plan to Address Sidewalk Repair. Public Is Split.

Following a legal settlement in the summer of 2014, Angelenos have been waiting on the city to finally announce its plan to bring the city’s sidewalks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Over three quarters of a year later, the city has released its draft plan, and the City Council is planning a series of public meetings to bring this plan to the public. The plan is available on the City Clerk’s website and here at Scribd.

Even if the city fixed the cracks, this sidewalk on Alameda is not ADA compliant. No wheelchair could fit past this obstacle course. Photo: Roger Rudick

Even if the city fixed the cracks, this sidewalk on Alameda is not ADA compliant. No wheelchair could fit past this obstacle course. Photo: Roger Rudick

The first of these meetings is a traditional City Council Committee hearing, albeit with two committees in attendance. However, the chairs of the Budget and Finance Committee (Paul Krekorian) and Gangs and Public Works Committee (Joe Buscaino) are already planning a series of public workshops on the plan to be held throughout the city.

“This is a critically important issue for all Angelenos,” said Krekorian in a press statement. “We have an opportunity and obligation to move beyond piecemeal legislation and create a complete program to fix our broken sidewalks. This new report won’t be the final program, but it’s a good way to begin what will be a long, very public discussion. We want to hear from all residents and stakeholders so that we can come up with the best and fairest policy possible.”

As part of its legal settlement last year, the City pledged to spend $1.4 billion over the next three decades to retrofit the city’s sidewalks to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Estimates vary over how many miles of city sidewalks need reconstruction, but there is little doubt that the decrepit and crumbling sidewalk infrastructure, along with a noticeable lack of curb cuts in many parts of the city, are the largest barriers to creating walkable communities.

The plan itself is proving somewhat controversial for what some see as a double standard between how businesses and homeowners are treated.*** Read more…


At the Crossroads: In Order to Create a More Walkable L.A., Start with the Basics.

(Max Podemski is the Planning Director of Pacoima Beauftiful…but you already knew that, right? – DN)

In recent years, the media has been filled with stories about Los Angeles transformation into a more livable and walkable city. This has been spurred by recent developments such as CicLAvia, the expanding transit and bike network, and revitalized older neighborhoods.

To see Max's full presentation, click ## ##(PDF)

To see Max’s full presentation, click here. (PDF)

In many ways, this is not so much the emergence of a “new city” but rather Los Angeles returning to its roots.  Los Angeles did not develop around the automobile but around a massive intra-urban rail network the legacy of which still influences development. The city also has a rich history of walkable, commercial business districts along major boulevards as described in Richard Longstreth’s book “City Center to Regional Mall.

The “good bones” are evident in neighborhoods across Los Angeles.

Many Los Angeles neighborhoods  are laid out on a grid, have a mix of relatively dense housing types, and thoroughfares lined with vintage commercial storefronts. These qualities combined with the city’s Mediterranean climate should make it one of the finest places to walk in the country. So why in so many respects is Los Angeles such a terrible place to be a pedestrian?

The simple answer is that we have engineered our streets to be highways.

Over the decades, they have been widened to the point that the sidewalks are so anemic in some places that telephone poles and other utilities block them. What has made it easy for a person to drive on Sepulveda or Sunset as an alternate to the 405 or 101 has resulted in streets that are incredibly dangerous to pedestrians.

In no area is our streets lack of regard for pedestrians more apparent than in one of the most fundamental features of a walkable street: crosswalks. Read more…


Adequate Wages Needed to Create Truly Sustainable Communities

(Miguel A. Luna is a native of Colombia, an avid reader, and longtime advocate of community playing an active role in city, state and nationwide policies. An urban resident of Los Angeles for over 25 years, he commutes mostly on bike and public transportation after giving up his car in 2005.)

I find myself mulling over what sustainability in our communities means. Its interpretation has run the gamut: at times, it has been generally dismissed as just a buzzword or more specifically looked at as solely improving the physical infrastructure of a city.

Miguel Luna. Photo: ## Linton##

Miguel Luna. Photo: Joe Linton

In Los Angeles, many innovative projects to improve our urban environment have been proposed. Last week, Next City reported on the need for healthy food hubs in industrial Chinatown and Lincoln Heights, while other exciting projects to restore the L.A. River and expand transit are blossoming. This is key, as L.A.’s most urban neighborhoods with the poorest residents have long lacked access to green facilities, like parks or walkable/bikeable streets.

We’ve seen pricey in-fill and transit-oriented development displace low-income communities to more distant areas. New green infrastructure in our neighborhoods does not ensure sustainability alone. Neighborhoods are also about sustaining people and culture too. Economic stability is important for low-income residents presently living in the city’s core and in other communities throughout the city currently being revitalized.

It might seem curious for Streetsblog readers to be hearing from an environmentalist on why we need to raise our city’s minimum wage.

For years, I’ve worked on projects to improve the environment for youth and their families, especially with access to the LA River and bicycle and pedestrian improvements. But I am equally passionate about raising the minimum wage and I am involved because I believe the two issues are very interrelated.

We’ve seen vigorous discussion on the blogosphere about how many neighborhoods’ specific plans (such as the Hollywood Community Plan) and Metro projects (such as Expo Line TOD raising property values significantly) are spurring on gentrification in previously low-income areas.  I am under the belief that one way to curb this, is to provide better wages so families have a chance to stay in the neighborhoods they grew up in, if they choose to.

In order for our communities to enjoy better health and a quality of life, our economic health must also improve. If hardworking parents can’t afford to pay rent, they cannot afford to stay in their neighborhoods and enjoy the new environmental benefits like rail lines, parks, or bike paths with their kids.  Read more…


Opinion – Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How “NIMBYs” Are Not to Blame for the Target Fiasco at Sunset and Western

Editor’s note: Last week, Streetsblog Los Angeles ran an opinion piece from one of our occasional contributors, Alexander Friedman. The piece told Friedman’s side of the story regarding a controversial and currently half-built Target store at the corner of Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Friedman’s piece generated a lot of comments, some insightful, some sympathetic, some angry. We’re happy that it fostered a dialogue about what kind of development makes sense for a more walkable, more livable Hollywood. Another friend of the blog, David Bell, is a lawyer in the suit that Friedman wrote about. Bell approached SBLA requesting that we publish the following article to set the record straight on what was legally at issue with this ill-fated development. SBLA is not taking sides on this issue, but the disputes here highlight some of the difficulties in planning and developing Los Angeles’ walkable future. 

The half-built Target store at the corner of Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The half-built Target store at the corner of Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

A recent Streetsblog post by Alexander Friedman, Opinion – Hollywood’s Biggest Eyesore: Blame Developers? No, Blame NIMBYs, is rife with factual errors and distortions.

As the lawyer for the group called out in the article as the sole cause of the mess at Sunset and Western, I know a little bit about the facts of the case. As a former President of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, I was involved in the approval process of this project from the very beginning. When involved in a pending case – we’re currently in the Court of Appeal – I generally don’t get into these kinds of discussions. But the factual claims in Mr. Friedman’s article are so divorced from reality, and the implications so damaging to my client’s reputation, I felt compelled to respond.

Mr. Friedman begins by describing Target Corporation’s “ambitious plan” to bring the joys of discount shopping to East Hollywood. But Target’s own court filings state that its initial plan was much more in keeping with the law, and that it was “the City’s idea” [read then-Councilman Garcetti] to push for a project requiring eight exceptions to the specific plan that governs that area of Hollywood.

Next Mr. Friedman says that, while the project was met with “some opposition, … most residents supported it.” How exactly does Mr. Friedman know this? Studies? Polls? Any evidence at all? Actually, the certified Neighborhood Council for the area was adamantly opposed to the project as designed. The chair of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council at the time was Steven Whiddon – a former staffer for Mitch O’Farrell, a vocal proponent of the Hollywood Community Plan, and a booster for exactly the type of development Mr. Friedman supports. Hardly a NIMBY.

Mr. Friedman says “the only issue is the overall project height,” and that the height was “slightly above the area’s zoning ordinance.” Actually, the project required eight exceptions from the specific plan, not one, and the height of the project is more than double the specific plan’s limitations.

Interestingly, the specific plan for the area contains a provision which would allow for a project like Target to avoid the height limitation. Mixed-use projects – those which combine residential with commercial components – are allowed to go twice as high as commercial-only projects. By allowing a commercial-only project to double the height limit for the neighborhood, the exceptions granted to this project create a precedent that would nullify this important housing incentive. If upheld, the exceptions would also would set in motion a destructive domino effect that other developers would seek to imitate when the infrastructure for the area (streets, police, fire and emergency services, sewer, etc.) already are beyond capacity.

Mr. Friedman then names my clients and claims that NIMBYs are “infamous for rejecting any and all developments.” But the people I represent are not opposed to all development. These are the same people who fought for the housing incentive to be included in the specific plan. There are numerous projects which have gone up in Hollywood without opposition. More specifically, nobody in the group that I represent or the other community group that challenged Target’s violations of the specific plan ever opposed Target per se. What they opposed was a code-violating, environmentally damaging project. The original proposal by Target for a code compliant project was embraced. Mr. Friedman needs to do more fact checking, and less generalizing.  Read more…


ULI FutureBuild2015 Recap: Peeks at Future Transportation and Parking

Streetsblog L.A. was a media sponsor of yesterday’s Future Build Los Angeles 2015 conference which showcased “trends, people and forces remaking the built environment.” The event was hosted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) L.A. in partnership with VerdeXchange.

Many individual speakers and panelists touched on topics pertinent to Streetsblog. City of Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Rick Cole (currently tied for second in SBLA’s reader poll to pick Art Leahy’s successor – voting ends January 31) touched on the city of Los Angeles’ efforts to become a more “livable, walkable” place, and touted Metro’s ambitious five new rail projects under construction. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia touched on complete streets’ ability to accomplish multiple city goals.

Most streetsbloggy, though were panel discussions on transportation and parking.

ULI FutureBuild 2015 panel on transportation. Left to right: Carter Rubin, Seleta Reynolds, Gabe Klein, and Gail Goldberg. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

ULI FutureBuild 2015 panel on transportation. Left to right: Carter Rubin, Seleta Reynolds, Gabe Klein, and Gail Goldberg. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Transformation of Ground Transportation and Streets: Trends Driving Tomorrow’s Cities 

This panel featured:

  • Gail Goldberg – head of ULI L.A., and former head of L.A. Department of City Planning (DCP)
  • Gabe Klein – entrepreneurial livability rock star, ULI fellow, currently with Bridj
  • Seleta Reynolds – General Manager, L.A. City Transportation Department (LADOT)
  • Carter Rubin, moderator – L.A. mayoral Great Streets program manager and former Streetsblog L.A. intern

Seleta Reynolds prescribed three important tasks to move cities toward more streets as great public spaces:

  1. Get a “new cookbook.” U.S., CA, and L.A. all currently design streets based on what Reynolds called “insane” standards from American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO.) Reynolds urged cities not to use a cookie-cutter approach, and to put more credence in forward-thinking design guidance, including National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO.)
  2. Measure the outcomes that count. Reynolds decried the past decades when pretty much the only metric that mattered was car capacity. She’s happy that car-centric Level of Service (LOS) is on its way out, but urged that we need to count all people using our streets, and to measure outcomes related to economics, health, and the environment. Reynolds told the story of how L.A.’s CicLAvia events were studied and showed to not only dramatically improve air quality on the CicLAvia route streets, but also overall, including nearby streets not on the route.
  3. Become better storytellers. Reynolds spoke about how the public quickly gets lost in the jargon of transportation discussions, mentioning that even seemingly simple concepts like a “left-turn pocket” will often be misunderstood. She stated that lots of transportation professionals have “totally lost the plot” and need to develop skills in communicating with the general public

Gabe Klein focused on how smart technologies are disrupting transportation’s “legacy assets.” Klein told how Uber has exploited the inefficiencies of old-school taxi systems, but that ultimately “the disruptors will quickly be disrupted” with proprietary “sharing” ultimately giving way to peer-to-peer sharing. Klein envisions a future where driverless cars in shared fleets could be active 95 percent of the time, instead of parked 95 percent of the time like current private cars. Klein stressed that Google’s driverless car is a “25 mph urban vehicle” expected to be deployed primarily in shared-use fleets, not individually-owned. Klein speculates that it could result in 85 percent fewer cars on our streets, and could dramatically decrease the need for parking.

During question and answer, both Klein and Reynolds expressed caution in giving too much private sector control of public space. Instead, they stressed that the public needs to incentivize outcomes that improve the quality of life for inhabitants. Partnerships should serve public good, with bike share systems as a worthwhile example of a successful public-private partnership.

Goldberg professed that she loves L.A.’s residential streets, but finds commercial corridors “embarassing.” She announced an exciting new national ULI initiative that will re-think a key street in L.A., though the formal announcement will be coming soon.  Read more…

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New Urbanism Film Fest Preview: American Makeover

L.A.’s New Urbanism Film Festival kicks off tomorrow with an opening reception starting at 7 pm at the ACME Theater in Hollywood. From Thursday through Sunday, #NUFF2014 attendees will enjoy feature-length films and shorts on architecture, urban farming, bicycling, street art, and more. The list of programs are at the NUFF website; select “buy tickets” to view the entire schedule of films. In addition to the film program, there are more events: cycling and walking tours, receptions, awards, etc.

The 2014 New Urbanist Film Festival runs tomorrow through Sunday

The 2014 New Urbanist Film Festival runs tomorrow through Sunday. Image via NUFF

The opening night feature film will be American Makeover. It was made by the same folks who did the teaser trailer video above, and uses some similar graphically appealing storytelling style. The film features lots of livability leaders with which Streetsblog readers may be familiar, including Stefanos Polyzoides, Ellen Dunham-Jones, Robert Bullard, and others.

American Makeover traces four different 10- to 20-minute urbanist success stories:

  • Atlanta, Georgia: Glenwood mixed-use infill development
  • Seaside, Florida: New construction resort community
  • Fresno, California: Downtown revitalization community planning
  • Buffalo, New York: Historic core redevelopment

None of these stories present a precise analogy for Los Angeles, but they’re all interesting and all include some lesson applicable to Southern California. Closest to home is California’s fifth largest city: Fresno. American Makeover presents Fresno’s story as sprawl versus the most valuable farmland in the world. (Los Angeles had that same conflict from the mid-1800s through mid-1900s, too, but our farmland preservation train already left the proverbial station. See also NUFF’s Sunday urban farming programs, though!) The film focuses mostly on Fresno’s successful update of its downtown neighborhoods community plan. This multi-year stakeholder process included multilingual, multigenerational outreach and community meetings, and ultimately resulted in a plan that returns the city’s focus to its neglected core.  Read more…


Interview with Josh Paget, Director of the New Urbanism Film Festival

Joshua Paget, co-founder and Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival

Josh Paget, co-founder and Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival. Photo by John Paget, taken at the Congress for the New Urbanism, Buffalo NY

On Park(ing) Day, I pedaled out to a park(ing) space on La Brea where I met Josh Paget. He is one of the co-founders of and the current Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival. The festival, now in its second year, is coming up November 6-9 at the Acme Theater in Hollywood. Festival details here. Note that, in addition to plenty of great films, it also boasts speakers, walks, rides, etc. Keep up with #NUFF and #NUFF2014 via Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, too. We conducted the following interview via email.  

SBLA: Tell us about yourself. What’s your background? How did you get interested in livability and new urbanism?

Paget: I moved to L.A. to be a stand up comedian. Which is a great way to see the city because you are constantly roaming around town from club to club. And I began asking why some of the places were better than others.

Someone recommended that I read the The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. I got hooked on urbanism from that angle: How does this affect me? I started a book group with my friend Joel Karahadian, and out of that we started the film festival. People always say the book is better than the movie, but we think film festivals are better than book groups, as far as generating conversation.

At Park(ing) Day, we met up at the Mid City West Community Council park(ing) space. Some Neighborhood Councils have been progressive on livability, others not so much. What’s MidCityWest NC like? What initiatives are you excited about there?

I think that everyone on the council recognizes that our neighborhood is very “walkable.” The transportation committee also has a history of being progressive on transportation issues and it still is. We did the park(ing0 day installation. We are pushing a Bicycle Friendly Streets proposal. In fact, during the festival, one of the events is “The Friendly Ride” a group bike ride through MidCityWest showing off their Bicycle Friendly Streets/Neighborhood Greenways proposal.

How do you get around Los Angeles?

I ride a three speed Linus roadster. Or I take the bus. I also have a car but I rarely use it because there’s too much traffic.

Tell us about the New Urbanism Film Festival.

The New Urbanism Film Festival is a four-day festival in Los Angeles that hosts screenings, workshops, and panel discussions on Urbanism. We focus on themes of architecture, bicycling, transportation, and urban design. Our slogan is “better streets, better living.” The hope is that it will be a new way to engage the public in topics of urbanism. We have lots of issues facing us as a city, and we want these conversations to have a baseline and a focus. There’s lots of books on it, there’s festivals, or podcasts, we’re showing films.

What’s your favorite New Urbanism film ever? Why?  Read more…