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Previewing This Week’s New Urbanism Film Festival

This week the annual New Urbanism Film Festival returns to Los Angeles. The grand opening is Thursday night! There are plenty of screenings, plus walking tours, storytelling, and more. Event details at NUFF website.

Below are five recommended film screenings that Streetsblog L.A. readers should check out.

1. The festival’s Thursday opening night features the U.S. premiere of The Art of Recovery. It is a documentary about the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. After a destructive earthquake, Christchurch rebuilt and reactivated its downtown using art as tactical urbanism. The Art of Recovery screens October 6 at 8 p.m.  The film is followed by a panel discussion on how L.A. urbanists are using creativity to engage communities.

2. Friday night’s double feature focuses on active transportation in Los Angeles. At 7:30 p.m., NUFF screens short films on active transportation, including Streetfilms take on Santa Monica bikeability, DTLA Street Futures, interpretive dance in Metro stations, and more. At 9:30, there is the full-length “Carless in L.A.” where filmmaker Katie Rogers goes 80 days without a car.

3. Saturday’s noon screening is Accidental Parkland, which explores the ravines that run through the city of Toronto, forming corridors of nature and active transportation. Read more…


We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Zoning and the World Is Getting Worse

Downtown L.A. in 1906 Broadway looking north from Sixth Street

Downtown L.A. in 1906 Broadway looking north from Sixth Street. All built before zoning and planning laws. Photo via Wikimedia.

This week marks a noteworthy anniversary. The first city-scale zoning law in the United States was enacted on July 25, 1916, in New York City. The New York Times tells the story in an article titled Zoning Arrived 100 Years Ago. It Changed New York City Forever. According to the Times, the law:

aimed to prevent an increase of the congestion of streets and subway and streetcar traffic in sections where the business population is already too great for the sidewalks and transit facilities.

The Times attributes a reduction of density in Manhattan to the 1916 Zoning Resolution, citing a population density decrease from 164 people per acre in 1910 down to 109 people per acre in 2010. For the record, there were earlier laws that effectively did some zoning.

I am not here to wish zoning a happy birthday.

I come to bury zoning, not to praise it.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I confess that as someone who never formally studied zoning, I tend to lump various aspects of zoning and planning together.

This week a few articles further piqued my interest. Yesterday’s Bloomberg article titled Zoning Has Had a Good 100 Years. Enough Already characterizes some early zoning as “an affluent guy justifying the legal exclusion of less-affluent people from his neighborhood.” Further:

Over the past few years, zoning has been blamed, mainly by economists bearing substantial empirical evidence, for an ever-growing litany of ills. The charge that zoning is used to keep poor people and minorities out of wealthy suburbs has been around for decades. But recent research has also blamed it for increasing income segregation, reducing economic mobility, and depressing economic growth nationwide.

A lot of planning has regressive intentions. As the Bloomberg article mentions, much of it is inherently conservative, in the sense of preserving a status quo. This seems rooted in the sometimes-parodied dynamic that people move into a neighborhood that they have chosen for its present features. Then they proceed to oppose any changes to their neighborhood.

A lot of planning has progressive intentions, such as the separation of uses: keeping homes away from the pollution and noise of industry.

Despite some good intentions, I think that too many of society’s wrong-headed ideologies have become deeply embedded in zoning. These include racism, classism, and car culture.

Zoning, from early on through the present, is about keeping people of color on the other side of the tracks.  Read more…


Lancaster’s Livability: An Interview with Planning Director Brian Ludicke

Thursday Farmers Market on closed-to-cars Lancaster Boulevard

Thursday Farmers Market on closed-to-cars Lancaster Boulevard in downtown Lancaster. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The city of Lancaster, population 160,000, is the fifth most populous city in L.A. County. It occupies about one hundred square miles in the Antelope Valley, separated from the L.A. Basin by the San Gabriel Mountains. Lancaster is at the northern terminus of Metrolink’s Antelope Valley line, a two-hour train ride from downtown Los Angeles.

Though it is arguably more commonly associated with people getting out of the city into the suburbs, Lancaster is among a handful of Los Angeles County cities that are leading efforts to re-imagine and retrofit car-oriented streets to be safer, healthier, livable, and multi-modal.   

Lancaster Planning Director Brian Ludicke

Lancaster Planning Director Brian Ludicke.

Brian Ludicke is the city of Lancaster’s Planning Director, a position he has held since 2001. Prior to that he served in various Lancaster planning positions since 1984. Ludicke’s Lancaster roots go back to 1958, when he and his parents moved there. He graduated from Antelope Valley High School and Antelope Valley Community College, and holds a BS in Urban Planning from Cal Poly Pomona.

This interview took place at Lancaster City Hall on June 2, 2016.

SBLA: We met at Chuck Marohn’s talk in Pasadena. What appeals to you about Strong Towns’ outlook?

Brian Ludicke: Several years back we had a person in the city who was working on his master’s degree. He asked if I had information on how much sprawl costs. Instinctively, we know that it’s more expensive to maintain sprawl. The city had tried several years earlier to come up with a way of clarifying this. In the attempt to help him on that, the search engine kicked up one of Chuck’s blogs. That led me to the site and I was absolutely enthralled.

Here was a guy who I felt I could relate to. I’ve only had that experience a couple times in my professional career. One was when I heard [Congress for New Urbanism founder] Andrés Duany talk back in 1991.

Reading Chuck’s stuff, I said, “this guy is talking about the very things we’re dealing with.” We’re talking about 2010-2011 here. The city had just gone through its downtown revitalization effort. We had done a lot of work trying to understand street design. We had just focused on what made a better environment.

What Chuck brought into the discussion was: what’s the real purpose of a street? If the purpose of a street is to be a platform for wealth, what you’re doing here is more than just making a nice place to be. What is the benefit of that to the surrounding property and to the city?

There are more now, but at that time, Chuck was one of the few people who said that there’s a very real municipal revenue issue here. You have a lot of municipalities that are going broke. They’re going broke because [of] the very things that you’ve intuitively understood, which is that this infrastructure is far too expensive to maintain for what you’re getting back for it.

That tied to something that Dan Burden had said when we were doing our Master Plan of Trails and Bikeways. He made a statement that you as a city should never make an investment that doesn’t return you a high yield. You can no longer afford to just make poor investments. You can never again invest in infrastructure that degrades the property around it.

I can look at where we’ve done that. Where we’ve widened streets, where the whole idea was to save people 30 seconds of time, but what it did is it started just degrading the property along it.

On Lancaster Boulevard you can see the results of widening. Lancaster Boulevard, west of here, was a street that went from a two-lane street to a four-lane street. The city made it better, easier to drive down. Speeds slowly picked up. What you can see there today are places where, slowly, not everybody, but slowly over time they’ve erected walls and fences and things to separate their front yards from that street.

Lancaster Boulevard west of downtown Lancaster

Lancaster Boulevard, west of downtown Lancaster.

The city is going to right-size that street back to two lanes, one lane in each direction. It’s going to be interesting to see if this process reverses. But you can see the loss of the value. That’s a specific example where, in the attempt to design a street for the sole purpose of moving as much traffic as fast as possible, we ended up degrading perfectly good areas along either side of it.

Along with that, what are some of the issues that the city of Lancaster is facing?

I think the biggest issue is that we have a development pattern that is dominated by low density, scattered, single-family residential development. Unlike a denser, more developed city that may have single-family that connects to other stuff, we tend to have these isolated, separate-from-each-other areas. The infrastructure [needed] to string that together is expensive to maintain.

We inherited the county of Los Angeles’ master plan of highways. Their master plan is very simple. You’ve seen it in the San Fernando Valley with more development in it. It’s basically every mile street is a hundred foot right of way, and every half-mile street is eighty, or we made it eighty-four.

The goal of that was to create this large-scale grid. Then everything would develop inside it. You can see that pattern out on the outlying areas to the east and west of the city. That’s what we thought was the proper way to be doing things because, as a former city manager once said, that’s what every planned community does, so that’s what we should be doing. We did it with the best of intentions. You don’t want people to have to sit in congestion. They didn’t come here to live in congestion. You wanted to be able to get quickly safely everywhere.


Many of Lancaster’s streets have been optimized for fast moving car traffic, often to detriment of cyclists and pedestrians.

That street pattern not only carries with it a long term financial burden, but we are reaping the rewards in terms of what I would call outright carnage on our streets.

We had, last year, 23 people killed in vehicle collisions. That’s a combination of people killed in cars, pedestrians, people on bikes. That may not sound like a large number, but on a basis of how many people per 100,000 in your city are getting killed every year, our number is like 14. Compare that to other major cities. I have a son in San Francisco; theirs is 3.5. Las Vegas, no walker’s paradise, is only seven. Atlanta, which is a pretty sprawled metropolitan area, is like nine. Even L.A.’s is [6.27] and the mayor said this was too many.

A lot of the reason for that goes back to speed and the perception that it’s safe to go fast. We’ve tried to design that for years through all parts of our city.  Read more…


L.A.’s Urban Future: More Places Where I Want to Sit

L.A. needs more places where people want to sit. Image via PPS

L.A. needs more places where people just sit. Image via PPS

I sometimes dream about a different Los Angeles; not the sprawling congested city, but an L.A. that is a series of walkable villages, like for example Santa Monica. They would be full of life and economic vitality, with corner stores, markets, coffee shops, plazas and parks. And they would all be connected by rail lines; streetcars that can whisk us away to anywhere we want to be, with no delays, traffic jams, etc. As we look out the streetcar’s window on our way to the next village, we’d notice the city changing… The higher central city with shops and apartment buildings becomes a more quiet residential area, with smaller apartment blocks, then row-houses, then duplexes, then single family houses, and then the streetcar goes through a park, with gardens and fields!

On the way back, the reverse happens. Along the way, we have seen people walking, chatting in the streets, kids playing in the park, people gardening, bicycling – and even some people driving.

This is not the way many perceive L.A. But it is probably not too different an experience one might have had in L.A. a couple generations ago.

Christopher Hawthorne speaks about L.A. in a useful metaphor: as a First and a Second Los Angeles, and he now sees a third Los Angeles emerging. The First Los Angeles stretches roughly from the city’s first population boom in the 1880s through 1940. That L.A. was what I described above. L.A. rapidly expanded at an exponential pace along a major transit network, and innovative civic architecture was built along the way.

L.A. once had the largest streetcar transit network in the U.S. It was, at one point, all owned by Henry Huntington. Huntington used streetcars to shuttle people to his various real estate developments. Yes, before we built the suburban sprawl we know today, L.A. built up streetcar suburbs: denser nodes around the stations of our streetcar network. These are the places we still love today: Santa Monica, Long Beach, Redondo Beach, Glendale, Burbank etc.

The weather here is always perfect, and in this unique climate we developed both walkable communities, and innovative residential projects, for example the great garden courts of Wyvernwood, Village Green and Lincoln Place.

But it was the Second Los Angeles, in Hawthorn’s lingo, covering the period from 1940 to the turn of the millennium, which is giving us such an urban design hangover today.

The intention was good. We mass produced houses that afforded unprecedented economic access to home ownership for the middle class. In the process, we turned a complete transportation system over to the automobile, and we eventually generated never before seen environmental problems and sprawl.

In doing this we redefined the meaning of urban design.

There are many definitions for urban design. One in particular says that “urban design creates the outdoor living rooms for our public lives.”

The suburbia we built after WWII was not meant to support our public lives.

Suburbia is intended as a privatized, car-dominated landscape. Open space was to be privatized, divided up to each house, one at a time into the backyard. Of course, there were political motives then, too. This was a time when communism was seen as the great threat to society, and a group of people gathering in the streets could easily be mistaken as the beginning of a communist conspiracy.

In suburbia, the streets were no longer spaces for us to spend time outside our cars. The street’s new and exclusive purpose was to get from private place to private place, in a vehicle. This was the time when crossing a street as a pedestrian, thus interfering with traffic, was first deemed an offense. Jaywalking did not exist until then.

A website that describes our malaise with our urban spaces in the car age is entitled “Places where I don’t want to sit.” That almost says it all. Think about the public spaces we live in, our streets, our parking lots, our little parks that are created as token open space in the leftover land outside our buildings; they are all spaces where it’s not pleasant to sit.

However, amidst of all of this, a Third Los Angeles is now beginning to emerge.

At a quick glance, there is a lot of good news in recent years:  Read more…

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Groundswell Video: Rojas On Planning – Imagine, Investigate, Construct, Reflect


There is a new video out this week from Groundswell, a project of multi-faceted bike activists Joe Biel and Elly Blue. Streetsblog USA profiled Groundswell last month. They’ve created a series of engaging and entertaining videos that explore the intersections of equity, community and cycling.

“The idea behind Groundswell was to recontextualize bicycling as a social movement and also to look at all the different people that have been excluded from that,” Biel told SBUSA. “It is often people at a ground level that are the ones that create social change around bicycling movements.”

This week’s short video focuses on Los Angeles’ James Rojas. Streetsblog Los Angeles readers are likely familiar with James Rojas as he has contributed numerous articles, and his interactive planning workshops have been chronicled at SBLA: from Pacoima to Highland Park to Boyle Heights.

Building Stories: City Planning With James Rojas profiles Rojas community planning sessions where participants use toys, games, sticks, and various doodads to create dioramas and tell what kind of community they would like to see. Using everyday objects, Rojas invites everyday people to participate in visioning and planning. Rojas’ simple techniques allow untrained non-experts – children, the elderly, and other overlooked peoples – to have a voice in community planning.

Watch Groundswell’s excellent earlier videos on Black Women Bike, Take Back the Streets, and Toward Equitable Bicycle Advocacy. Also check Groundswell’s website for additional videos coming soon.


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…