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Report: “Multi-Modal Level of Service” Metrics Not Quite Up to the Challenge

UCLA researchers found that new Multi-Modal Level of Service metrics are not so great for measuring what's helpful for people walking and bicycling. Photo via Flickr user pranavbhatt

UCLA researchers found that Multi-Modal Level of Service methodologies are not so great for evaluating what’s good for people walking and bicycling. Photo via Flickr user pranavbhatt

Livability proponents celebrate that car-centric Level of Service (LOS) is finally on its way out, at least in California.Wouldn’t it be great if there was a similar bike- or walk-centric metric that could be used instead? UCLA Lewis Center and Institute for Transportation Studies researchers have studied some of the published metrics for evaluating how well streets serve pedestrians and cyclists. The researchers’ conclusion: in all of the bike and ped metrics they reviewed, there is no silver bullet. Moreover, adapting LOS doesn’t look like a fruitful approach.

Level of Service is a standard, simplistic engineering measure that uses car throughput to assign streets a letter grade from A to F. For nearly 60 years, LOS has been the predominant way that planners and engineers quantify streets. LOS guides policy and investment, justifying making streets wider and more car-centric. Because LOS only considers cars, LOS justifies widening roadways, adding turn lanes, and other so-called improvements that degrade conditions for people using bikes, their feet, or transit. To remedy this, transportation professionals have created new metrics designed to grade other modes. These include Pedestrian Level of Service (PLOS) and Bicycle Level of Service (BLOS), both of which are components of Multi-Modal Level of Service (MMLOS.)

There are some inherent problems with adapting a car-centric measure like LOS to bicycling and walking. Where people driving tend to see other cars as obstacles, pedestrians often prefer to walk where other people are out walking. Cyclists experience a safety in numbers effect, where LOS tends to just find congestion in numbers.

Though there are now many metrics from various parts of the world, UCLA researchers Madeline Brozen and Herbie Huff focused primarily on the following three metrics:

  • Multi-Modal Level of Service, included in the 2010 Highway Capacity Manual (HCM), the official federal evaluation tool developed by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Environmental Quality Index (BEQI and PEQI), developed by the San Francisco Department of Public Health
  • Urban Street Design Guidelines performance measures, developed by the city of Charlotte, North Carolina

Huff and Brozen used these tools to score sections of streets in the city of Santa Monica. They subsequently evaluated the sensitivity of the tools by comparing scores for existing condition to scores for potential improvements, including bike lanes, road diets, medians, etc.

In comparing existing sites to multiple potential improvements, the models showed “little variation,” with none of the improvements appearing ideal or raising the score to an “A.” Therefore, the models were ineffective for deciding between potential designs.  Read more…

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Councilmember Cedillo Adds Stop Sign In Response To Fatal Hit-and-Run

New stop sign at Avenue 50 and San Marcos Place in Highland Park. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

New stop sign at Avenue 50 and San Marcos Place in Highland Park. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

On September 14, a hit-and-run driver killed 57-year-old Gloria Ortiz. Ms. Ortiz was walking in a crosswalk in the Northeast Los Angeles community of Highland Park. The hit-and-run crime took place at the intersection of Avenue 50 and San Marcos Place, adjacent to Aldama Street Elementary School. According to KTLA5, witnesses stated that the driver “just ran her over, didn’t even turn back.”

Local residents joke darkly that speeding drivers think Avenue 50 is the name of the speed limit, not the street.

Councilmember Cedillo speaking yesterday in front of Aldama Elementary School. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Councilmember Cedillo speaking yesterday in front of Aldama Elementary School. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Less than a month later, yesterday, community leaders joined Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo and Transportation Department (LADOT) head Seleta Reynolds to highlight city efforts to make Avenue 50 safer. New stop signs were added to the intersection where Ortiz was killed. The existing somewhat-worn continental crosswalk was freshly re-painted, actually freshly re-thermoplastic-ed. @HLP90042 posted before and after photos at Twitter.

Councilmember Cedillo, who has dragged his heels on safety improvements approved for nearby North Figueroa, spoke on his commitment to “street safety, particularly around schools and where people gather.”

General Manager Reynolds emphasized that “the biggest predictor of fatalities on a street is speed, and the biggest factor in speed on your street is design” and reiterated her department’s commitment to making “safety our number one priority.”

Local resident Monica Alcaraz, president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, praised the city’s quick response in adding the stop sign. She described walking to Aldama School as being safe when she was younger. Today, walking her daughter to the school, she fears for their safety. Alcaraz stated that Avenue 50 is dangerous when parents are making illegal U-turns and double-parking at school drop-off and pick-up times, and, then, when the students aren’t around, Avenue 50 is dangerous because so many drivers speed. Alcaraz urged LAPD to spend more time on traffic enforcement there to prevent future tragedies.

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Happy Walk To School Day! Share Your Stories

Today, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell walks

Today, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell celebrated Walk to School Day with the students of Ramona Elementary School in East Hollywood. Photo via O’Farrell Facebook page

It’s Walktober, and today is International Walk to School Day! The L.A. City Department of Transportation (LADOT) set up a helpful Los Angeles Walk to School Day website with supportive tips, a map of participating schools, and other great stuff. 85 schools are participating in this second annual citywide Walk to School Day LA with 66 of them participating today.

In 2013, over three-fifths (61%) of the organizers indicated that they thought their students got more physical activity on the day of their Walk to School Day event than on a typical day. Over three quarters (77%) indicated that difficult intersection crossings or heavy traffic traveling at high speeds make children feel unsafe walking to school. Nearly half or participants (44%) reported a lack of traffic safety skills as a reason that children feel unsafe.

How was your family’s walk to school today? If you did or didn’t walk, tell us about why or why not? Share photos, links, etc. via the comments below.

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SCAG Staff Release ATP Bike/Ped Project Funding Recommendations

Rendering of one of the ascend-able arches and the soccer field Councilmember Huizar is pushing for below. Source: 6th St. Viaduct Replacement.

Recommendations have been released for the latest round of Active Transportation Program funding. Included in the recommendations are pedestrian and bicycle components of the Sixth Street Bridge replacement project, rendered here. Source: 6th St. Viaduct Replacement.

The first year of the state’s new Active Transportation Funding (ATP) program is drawing to a close. ATP is the main source of funding for walking and bicycling projects and programs in L.A. County.

In the past, L.A. County bike and ped projects were primarily funded by Metro’s Call for Projects. Changes at the federal level reduced this funding, and gave control over it mostly to the state, but also partially to regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). For the 6-county Los Angeles metropolitan region, the MPO is the Southern California Association of Governments, known as “SCAG.”

Projects vying for the statewide competitive ATP grants were announced and approved in August. Those that did not succeed at the state level would have one last chance at the regional level.

This week SCAG staff released its recommendations. The final set of projects is expected to be approved by the agency’s Transportation Committee when it meets this Thursday. View the agenda [PDF].

There are no big surprises in the recommendations. SCAG appears to have adhered the state ranking, so the next few projects in line are recommended to receive funding. See the full SCAG list [PDF], some highlighted L.A. County projects appear after the jump.  Read more…

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An Underwhelming Sidewalk Repair Day at L.A. City Hall

A little less conversation, a little more action please
All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
- song performed by Elvis Presley (words by Billy Strange, Mac Davis)

Elvis did not necessarily have Los Angeles sidewalks in mind when he asked for less conversation and more action, but that is certainly what I had in mind at this week’s sidewalk repair session. Billed as “L.A. Sidewalk Day” it was, in fact, just a joint meeting of the Los Angeles City Council’s Public Works and Budget committees.

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Tuesday was LA Sidewalk Day! Image via city meeting video website

Five councilmembers — Paul Krekorian, Joe Buscaino, Mike Bonin, Gil Cedillo, and Paul Koretz — plus lots of testimony from the city’s fiscal watchdog agency shot-caller City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana. The made-for-the-media day also included cameos by City Attorneys, Bureau of Street Services, and some public testimony.

Los Angeles faces a guestimated $1.5 billion sidewalk repair backlog. I say “guestimated” because the city does not actually keep track of the full extent of sidewalk repair needs. The assembled city family present at Sidewalk Day were not quite certain where the source of an oft-quoted statistic that 40% of city sidewalks need repairs. Bureau of Street Services Assistant General Manager Ron Olive stated that he thinks the figure is from a very limited late-1990s survey, but Olive testified “I’ve been looking for that survey and I just can’t find it.”

Last year’s city budget allocated $10 million for sidewalk repair, but the City Council debated until April, nine months after the budget year started, on how to spend it. Disappointingly, they decided to only repair sidewalks on city-owned properties.

When the budget year ended on June 30, the city had only spent $3 million of the $10 million; completing sidewalk repairs at the L.A. Convention Center, parks, libraries and a few other city facilities. The unspent $7 million rolled over into the current fiscal year, which includes an additional $20 million for sidewalk repair.

The city is now deciding how to spend $27 million this year.

Some councilmembers have called for spending limited sidewalk repair dollars to target specific areas: lawsuit locations, 50/50 programs, innovative paving materials, even Mayor Garcetti’s Great Streets initiative. For better or for worse, though, it was pretty clear that the current $27 million will continue last year’s program of repairing only city facility sidewalks.

CAO Santana testified that, so far, there are 87 city facilities identified that need sidewalk repair, and that the total cost of just city property repair is expected to be greater than $27 million. Committee chairs Krekorian and Buscaino favor a city-facility-first approach; Buscaino stated that the city “needs to lead by example.”

So what was the final outcome of Sidewalk Day? Wait another couple months for city staff to report back with recommendations on how to spend this year’s wholly-inadequate $27 million, and how to implement a long-term sidewalk repair program. Yawn.

At least Councilmember Jose Huizar provided cake on Complete Streets Day.

Read more…

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Editorial: Respect Your Advisory Committee, Build a Safer Hyperion Bridge

Members of the Glendale Hyperion Bridge Community Advisory Committee, city staff, and elected officials walk the bridge during their final meeting on August 7. Photo: Don Ward

Members of the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge project Community Advisory Committee, city staff, and elected officials walk the bridge during their final meeting on August 7. Photo: Don Ward

There has been quite a bit of proverbial water under the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. Under a great deal of community displeasure in 2013, the city of Los Angeles set aside an outdated bridge retrofit plan and formed an advisory committee to decide the future of the historic span.

The 9-member Glendale-Hyperion Viaduct Improvement Project Community Advisory Committee is a broad cross-section of the local communities. It includes representatives from nearby elected city bodies: the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council, Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, and the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. Rounding it out are folks representing historic preservation, parents from local schools, and concerned non-profits: Friends of the L.A. River, the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, L.A. Walks, and the Los Feliz Improvement Association.

The committee has been meeting roughly every other month since December 2013. It reviewed design options and technical studies, and discussed how the bridge could best serve the diverse future transportation needs of all adjacent neighborhoods. The available technical studies focus on delays to car traffic, with no thorough evaluation of safety, health, or environmental outcomes. Even using these stacked-deck car-centric studies, bridge bike lanes and sidewalks not only appear feasible, but perform better than the existing bridge configuration.

At the committee’s final meeting on August 7, they were unable to come to a full consensus on a final recommendation for the configuration of the bridge.

So, as folks do in democracies, they took a vote.

The final vote was 6 to 3 in favor of the “Option 3″ road diet configuration. Option 3 reduces one car travel lane, resulting in three car lanes (one northbound, two southbound), two bike lanes, and sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. The Community Advisory Committee completed their task; their advice to the city is to include two sidewalks and two bike lanes on the new bridge.

Option 3 is a compromise. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Faulty Pedestrian Detour at Expo Phase 2 Construction

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Signs offering mixed messages at this pedestrian detour on Venice Boulevard at Culver Boulevard. Image via @topomodesto Twitter

Yesterday, Michael MacDonald @topomodesto tweeted two images that highlight L.A.’s lack of accomodation for pedestrians.

The photos were taken on eastbound Venice Boulevard at Culver Boulevard, one block west of the Metro Expo Line Culver City Station. Expo Phase 2 construction has blocked pedestrians from walking on Venice Boulevard’s south sidewalk. This sidewalk is where people would walk between downtown Culver City and the current Expo Line terminus. Instead, detour “cross here” signs direct pedestrians to scramble across Venice Stroad Blvd. Unfortunately, though, crossing Venice at this intersection is illegal. There’s a No Ped Crossing sign visible in MacDonald’s photo above.

It looks like the message to L.A.’s pedestrians is “just go away.”

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Same location on Venice Boulevard, view looking east. The under-construction Exposition Rail bridge is visible in the distance. Photo via @topomodesto Twitter

SBLA is excited for Expo 2 to open! It is disappointing, though, to see that, even when Los Angeles is constructing livability enhancements, the city cuts off pedestrian (and, often, bicycle) access. Two steps forward, one step back.

Perhaps Councilmember Huizar’s motion for better walking accommodations during construction will help. What I’d like to see: the political will to, at least now and then, make it less convenient to drive, and more convenient to walk, bike, and ride transit. Copenhagen did this during their Metro construction, and bicycling increased while driving declined.

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Glendale-Hyperion Bridge Traffic Projections Favor Bike Lanes Option

Now you see me. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Cyclist riding towards Silver Lake on the Glendale Hyperion Bridge. L.A. City analysis predicts that bike lanes are feasible as part of the planned bridge retrofit project. Photo: Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As the saga of the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge retrofit project continues, it becomes clearer that, even under the city’s car traffic growth assumptions, it will be viable to add bike lanes to the new project and to keep two sidewalks.

The story thus far: In 1927 the City of Los Angeles completed the Victory Memorial Viaduct spanning the not-yet-concreted Los Angeles River. The historic bridge is, today, better known as the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, because it facilitates the merging of Glendale Boulevard and Hyperion Avenue.

Over a decade ago, funding became available for bridge retrofit projects. Glendale-Hyperion was just too lucrative for bridge consultants to pass up. The historic viaduct is technically a six-bridge complex, so it is eligible for six times more money than an ordinary bridge. In 2013, city staff and their consultants pressed for a wrongheadedly dangerously high-speed highway-scale design. Cyclists, pedestrians, and local leaders organized visible vocal opposition to the city’s proposal. What had looked like a done deal began to appear shaky.

To its credit, the city responded by forming a Citizens Advisory Committee. Earlier this year, the city returned to the committee with multi-modal design options, including bike lanes, sidewalks, and crosswalks.

In a recent presentation [PDF] to the advisory committee, the city showed the results of its technical studies analyzing how various potential bridge configurations can be expected to perform.

Graph showing car traffic volumes 2001-2014 on the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. Image via L.A. City Presentation - page x

Graph showing car traffic volumes 2001-2014 on the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. Image via L.A. City Citizen Advisory Committee Presentation [PDF - see page 4]

The graph above shows past car traffic volumes measured on the bridge.

Even according to the city’s characterization, “traffic volumes have been flat since 2001.” During this period, nationwide per capita car mileage declined. Nationwide overall total car miles driven also declined. Locally, car traffic on the Hyperion portion of the bridge, the lower green and purple lines on the above graph, also declined. But call it flat for now.

The city’s experts used “historic data” and other factors to predict the bridge’s car traffic in 2040. With car traffic flat for over a decade, one might assume that future car volumes would continue their observed flat trajectory. No. The city’s fortune tellers predict a worst-case scenario showing 1 percent annual growth. Apparently, in the 2030s, people are going to drive like they did in the 1980s. As transit planner Jarrett Walker states, “This isn’t prediction or projection. This is denial.”

These sorts of predictions generally justify widening roadways which squeezes out space for pedestrians and cyclists.

The city ran its car traffic prediction models. Models based on “Level of Service,” in which the words “safety,” “walk,” and “bicycle” do not appear. LOS models keep predicting that widening freeways will reduce surface street traffic and improve air quality. Though the State of California is in the process abandoning LOS, it remains in wide use.

Even with an imaginary 1 percent annual car traffic growth for the next 25 years, a 3-lane road diet option performs slightly better than all other scenarios studied, including the bridge’s current 4-lane configuration. Right now on Hyperion, there are four car lanes, two in each direction. A road diet would eliminate one southbound northbound car lane, and add bike lanes.  Read more…

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Metro Committee OKs Dismal Walk/Bike Plan Now, Funding Report Later

Active transportation supporters at Metro's Planning and Programming Committee on

Active transportation supporters hold up #metrofundwalkbike messages at this week’s Metro’s Planning and Programming Committee. Metro’s board did not increase funding for active transportation in its Short Range Transportation Plan, but director Mike Bonin introduced a motion which, if passed, would direct Metro to develop an Active Transportation Finance Strategy. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

More than fifty people showed up at this week’s Metro Planning and Programming Committee to urge the Metro board to support active transportation. Metro’s proposed $88.2 billion, ten-year Short Range Transportation Plan (SRTP) includes only $500 million for active transportation funding. Though walking and bicycling make up nearly 20 percent of L.A. County trips, Metro allocates less than one percent of its budget to those modes.

Aware of active transportation advocates’ mobilization, Metro staff’s slide show [pdf] attempted to make active transportation funding sound more plentiful than it actually is. Metro staff’s presentation suggests that the agency is supporting walking and bicycling through agency funding for categories including Signal Synchronization and Transit Capital. By totaling Metro’s committed $500 million, plus a hodgepodge of eligible Metro, state, and local funds, the staff presentation showed “up to $1.17 billion” in potential funding for bicycling and walking.

Though it is unlikely that the actual funding total will end up anything near this “up to” potential, the asserted $1.17 billion still would represent only 1.3 percent of the overall $88.2 billion plan. This is nowhere near the roughly $18 billion that active transportation would receive if Metro’s allocations were based on the current 20 percent modal share. Ideally, funding shouldn’t be limited to the existing mode share, but could be aspirational. Metro values expanding its rail infrastructure, presumably aspiring that more rail investment will create more rail ridership. Metro’s fiscal commitment shouldn’t necessarily be to maintain the existing 20 percent active transportation mode share, but to fund expansion of safe walking and bicycling facilities in order to increase levels of active transportation.

The committee did respond to active transportation demands, but not by increasing the dismal amount of funding in its SRTP. Instead, Metro board member Mike Bonin put forth a motion [PDF] (full text after the jump) that directs Metro to study active transportation and come up with a funding strategy. Safe Routes to School praised the board’s leadership embodied in the Bonin motion; Santa Monica Spoke called it a “good start.” The motion directs Metro to complete its Active Transportation Funding Strategy and report back to the board in October 2014.

Hopefully that funding strategy will not be chock full of “up to” dollars, but will actually represent an acknowledgement by Metro that safe and convenient places to walk and bike are integral to the agency’s regional transportation system.

As expected, the committee approved the agency’s SRTP, without approving any additional dollars for active transportation. The SRTP is expected to be approved by the full board next week.

Metro is considering a possible future transportation funding ballot measure. Past measures have primarily drawn from projects and budgets already approved in the agency’s Short- and Long-Range Plans. Though active transportation has been repeatedly shortchanged in Metro’s past plans and past ballot measures, if advocates keep up this timely pressure, dedicated bicycle and pedestrian funding could be a significant part of a future ballot measure.

County ballot measure funding or not, active transportation continues to grow. Will Metro’s October report address pedestrians’ and cyclists’ concerns?

Read more…

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40% of Proceeds from ExpressLanes Going to Active Transportation

Thanks to funds collected by Metro's ExpressLanes, funding to convert this bridge and other parts of the Dominguez Channel will be converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path.and the service road that has now been funded to be converted into a similar path. This portion along the channel is currently closed. Carson and County Flood Control will work together to open it to the public for bicyclists and pedestrians. Photo: Lauren Grabowski

Thanks to funds collected by Metro’s ExpressLanes, funding to convert this bridge and other parts of the Dominguez Channel will be converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path.and the service road that has now been funded to be converted into a similar path. This portion along the channel is currently closed. Carson and County Flood Control will work together to open it to the public. Photo: Lauren Grabowski

While much of the attention on yesterday’s Metro Board committee hearings was on the showdown over active transportation in the Short Range Transportation Plan, some good news emerged in the Congestion Reduction Committee tasked with overseeing Metro’s ExpressLanes Program.

Over $26 million in funds collected by variable toll lanes on the I-10 and I-110 were programmed, pending Board approval, for projects that include a Downtown Los Angeles Bike Share program, a Union Station Bike Hub, MyFigueroa outreach/marketing, and active transportation projects in El Monte, Carson, Monterey Park, Baldwin Park, and other parts of the county. The rest of the programmed funds will go towards improvements in station access to the express bus services, improvements to the ExpressLanes themselves, and even a Dodger Stadium Express bus service for the South Bay area.

The Metro staff report, including a two-page table breaking down the funded and un-funded applications, can be found here.

At yesterday’s committee meeting, there was some questioning of the funded program list. John Fasana, Duarte City Councilmember and long-time Metro Board Member, questioned the staff recommendation to fund new ticketing machines for Metrolink trains. The project scored a 75, higher than some of the active transportation projects and all of the highway projects, yet the committee ruled that it did not meet corridor-connection funding criteria.

In the end, the final funded project list won the committee’s full backing — a big win for active transportation advocates. While only 0.6% of the Metro’s multi-billion-dollar Short Range Transportation Plan funding will go towards supporting active transportation, roughly 40% of this much smaller pot will.

There are two other takeaways from this report and the Metro action: Read more…