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L.A. City Council Approves $1.4 Billion Sidewalk Repair Program

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltarrrrr/6382328885/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Waltarr/Flickr##

L.A. city sidewalk repairs will soon get underway as part of the new legally mandated Safe Sidewalks L.A. program. photo: Flickr/Waltarr

Today, the Los Angeles City Council approved the final touches to get its $1.4 billion sidewalk repair program going. This unprecedented L.A. city investment in sidewalk repair is due to the class action lawsuit Willits v. City of Los Angeles, concerning making the public right-of-way accessible to people with disabilities. The $1.4 billion will be spent over ten years beginning this current fiscal year.

The city program is essentially the fix-and-release model, outlined in 2015 and approved by joint committees last March. Under fix-and-release, the city will do extensive repair of broken sidewalks, then turn over sidewalk maintenance responsibility to property owners. L.A.’s fix-and-release program has drawbacks—including concerns over equity and street tree health—but today’s approval nonetheless gets needed sidewalk repair construction underway.

Today’s council action included approving several interlocked items (more detailed summaries are available on the meeting agenda):

  • Adopt ordinance to return sidewalk repair to property owners, and related programs (council file 14-0163-S10)
  • Set up Sidewalk Repair Incentive and Cost-Sharing Rebate Program (council file 14-0163-S3)
  • Designate specific departments to be responsible for various aspects of sidewalk repair (council file 14-0163-S11)
  • Direct Bureau of Street Services Urban Forestry Division to report on tree removal and replacement (council file 15-0467-S6)
  • Direct Bureau of Street Services to report on hiring additional tree pruning crews (council file 15-0467-S3)

Read more…

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SBLA Editor Joe Linton Featured in Guardian UK Tour of US Car Capitals

Screen shot of today's Guardian article

Screen shot of today’s Guardian article

In September, I had the pleasure of bicycling around Los Angeles with Guardian journalist Nick Van Mead. The reporter was on a tour of three of the United States’ car capitals – Detroit, Houston, and Los Angeles – to understand how car-centric places are moving into a healthier, more multi-modal future.

Today, Van Mead’s article America’s road trip: will the US ever kick the car habit? was published at the Guardian.

Sitting at Relámpago Wheelery, Jimmy Lizama and I related to Van Mead how bicycling in L.A. has come a long way and how we still have a long way to go. Then Van Mead and I rode the 7th Street bike lanes into downtown L.A., checked out pedestrian improvements on Broadway, green bike lanes on Spring Street, and protected bike lanes on Los Angeles Street, and rode back on the L.A. River bike path.

I told Van Mead that I was concerned that some reporters drop into L.A. and report tired stories more or less saying “Whoa! Who Knew It!?! There Are Actually Bicyclists in L.A.!!!” I have seen quite a few stories like this, dating back to a 1999 National Public Radio piece. It seems like it is one of my roles to tell reporters that walking and bicycling in L.A. really is not new or news. I like the way Newsweek quoted me on this: “People have been walking in L.A. since before Columbus discovered America.” Unfortunately neither the Guardian nor Newsweek could resist quoting the tired counterpoint from that misleading Missing Persons song.

I was glad to see Van Mead relay my conviction that governmental planning and transportation professionals are “only just catching up with how groups of Angelenos have been using their streets for years.” I find that many people look at L.A. today and read it as: people are bicycling more because there is, finally, some bicycle infrastructure. I tend to read it the opposite way. People have been bicycling for a long time. Bicycling has visibly increased in L.A., especially around 2000-2010, while the city did next to nothing for bikes. Now, finally, L.A. is implementing bike infrastructure to catch up with people already bicycling.

My point underscores what L.A. County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler states in the article:

If this is the number of people cycling without very good infrastructure, then you will really see that jump when we have better lanes.

L.A. City Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds rounds out the article, speaking on the other side of the equation. Read more…

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Review of “Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles”

Sidewalking

This past April, author and former Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin penned a New York Times op-ed shining a national spotlight on the potential future of an inter-modal Los Angeles. Ulin noted recent developments such as the Mobility Plan 2035 and the then-upcoming completion of the Expo line extension to suggest Los Angeles may evolve as a city widely accommodating to drivers, walkers, transit-riders, and cyclists alike.

In the meantime, however, Angeleno pedestrians must make do with the current Los Angeles as Ulin does in his recent book: Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles.

For the transportation and urban planning enthusiasts or readers of Streetsblog fascinated with urban theory, I wholeheartedly recommend Sidewalking for a quick and entertaining read. Sidewalking follows Ulin as he experiences Los Angeles from the sidewalk within a blend of personal experiences and pop-cultural, literary, historical, and urban theory ruminations to investigate and interrogate Los Angeles’s urban structure and psyche.

Sidewalking, however, is just 133 pages long and by no means intended as a comprehensive or exhaustive overview of Los Angeles pedestrianism. Each of Ulin’s chapters are self-contained and separate, darting from explorations of how mappers and photographers represent Los Angeles to charting the origins, history, and interactions of the Mid-Wilshire Park Mile.

In this sense, Ulin avoids the common trap of seeking uniformity or definitions for a space as complex and diverse as Los Angeles, rather seeing the city as an amorphous, ever-changing entity shaped by its architecture and engaged use, intertwined within his own personal experiences.

It’s more useful, or legitimate to think of L.A. in terms of its smaller narratives…the city as a collage, as mash-up, in which our personal experience becomes a way to adapt, to normalize, to make the streets accessible to us.

In a way, the scattered structure of the book is reminiscent of Ulin’s Los Angeles: a collection of small, interspersed with personal memories rather then a centralized concrete narrative.

While Ulin’s speculative posits can be slightly overwhelming for those unacquainted to Los Angeles, and perhaps too engrossed, (he devotes a whole chapter to inquiry into the Grove Entertainment Complex’s intended purpose, actual occupied uses, and place in Los Angeles urban formation) they in turn demonstrate an admirable and persistent curiosity for exploring the intricate truths and realities of a multi-faceted Los Angeles.

Ulin’s complex and detailed personal insights into Los Angeles’s nature and “urban psyche” are smoothly articulated in Sidewalking, and I suspect fascinating to people who walk Los Angeles. Like Ulin, L.A.’s pedestrians constantly seek to understand a Los Angeles from a more intimate perspective. One we just don’t get looking through a windshield.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonin also expressed concern about the building’s height.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#DamienTalksSGV 13 – Amber Hawkes and a New Wayfinding Campaign

For more information, click ##http://www.glendaleca.gov/Home/Components/News/News/2943/16?backlist=%2fgovernment%2fdepartments%2fcommunity-development##here.##

For more information, click here.

Welcome back to #DamienTalksSGV. This week, we are discussing a best practice from outside the SGV, a new pedestrian wayfinding signage campaign in Glendale.The campaign combines traditional wayfinding with a call to action to get involved with Glendale’s process to develop a news pedestrian safety plan.

Damien Talks SGV logoOutreach for the campaign includes the signs, a social media campaign and outreach through traditional venues. Interestingly, the signs include information not just on how to be involved in the plan, but an invitation to join the conversation online by posting with the hastag #GlendaleWalks.

If you want to contact Amber Hawkes, who is overseeing the campaign on behalf of the city of Glendale, email her: ahawkes[at]heredesignla.com.

When #DamienTalks returns in July, we will return to the “two interview” format with regular discussions with staff and volunteers with BikeSGV. We are also booking conversations with Metro Board Members and executives with Foothill Transit and the Gold Line Foothill Construction Authority to discuss the upcoming vote on extending and increasing Metro’s transit sales tax. What will it mean to the San Gabriel Valley and its communities? We’ll have a lot of different viewpoints in the lead up to the election.

#DamienTalks is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of Downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit foothilltransit.org. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

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Los Angeles Sidewalk Repair Program Could Restore City’s Public Stage

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltarrrrr/6382328885/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Waltarr/Flickr##

Photo: Los Angeles’ new sidewalk repair policy program will fix root-damaged sidewalks, then release sidewalks, making property owners responsible for future upkeep. Photo: Flickr/Waltarr

Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with improvisations.
– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of  Great American Cities 

In 1961, Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of American Cities revolutionized urban planning policy with a pertinent lasting legacy for urban planners. Jacob’s condemnation of the then-popular “orthodox urbanism” policies opposed the pragmatic modernity ideals of mid 20th century American planners with the notion that cities could be livable, sustainable, and enjoyable, supported by an artful “ballet” of social interactions supplemented by mixed-use planning and a supportive community structure. The stage of this ballet, to Jacobs, is the sidewalk – an integral and ubiquitous piece of urban infrastructure that connects city residents, community leaders, businesses, and property owners alike to a common shared public space.

While many variables are necessary for a vibrant, healthy, and walkable city, one obvious necessary factor are accessible and safe sidewalks – something that the city of Los Angeles hasn’t particularly been known for. Writing in Access Magazine in 2010, Donald Shoup estimated that 4,600 of the city’s 10,750 miles of sidewalks were in some need of repair. Shoup noted that between 2000 and 2008 the city averaged only 67 miles of sidewalk repair a year.

Despite a welcome but modest recent city-owned sidewalk repair program, the rate of sidewalk repair has not changed much in recent years. A 2015 Los Angeles Times analysis found that 40 percent of sidewalk damage complaint cases received no repairs, and that the city estimated nearly 5,000 miles of sidewalks were in need of replacement.

Until this year, the city was considered responsible for most sidewalk repairs. A 1973 ordinance gave the city responsibility for sidewalk damage caused by tree root growth, the primary cause of sidewalk disrepair. According to Shoup, at that time federal funding for sidewalk repair was readily available. Federal funds dried up decades ago and Los Angeles sidewalks have deteriorated into disrepair without significant dedicated revenue or consistent financial support.

However, a string of legal rulings forced the city to face its sidewalk disrepair and neglect. In 2002, the landmark Barden v. City of Sacramento ruled that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) applied to public sidewalks. That decision led to the unprecedented Willits vs. City of Los Angeles settlement in 2014. The settlement terms require L.A. to spend $1.3 billion (the largest settlement of its kind) over thirty years to repair sidewalks that impede movement and access.

Confronted with the Willits settlement, city officials developed and approved a citywide sidewalk repair policy [PDF] last March, which dedicates sidewalk repair funding and attempts to ensure long term maintenance through a “fix-and-release” strategy. After initial repairs, the fix-and-release shifts sidewalk repair responsibility to property owners. Before this transfer of responsibility the city will coordinate a one-time repair to all root-damaged city sidewalks, with a 20-year warranty for residential properties and a 5-year warranty for commercial and industrial properties. Following the warranty, property owners will be responsible for sidewalk repair, consistent with California state law. To accelerate the one-time repair, the city will offer sidewalk repair rebates [PDF] for residential and commercial properties.

The “fix-and-release” policy appears promising in the short-term by finally addressing Los Angeles’s massive sidewalk repair backlog. However, the transfer of sidewalk repair responsibility from the city to property owners raises many questions regarding the future sustainability, effectiveness, and efficiency of sidewalk repair.  Read more…

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Metro Not Quite Ready for First/Last Mile Funding for Purple Line Phase 2

Will Metro pay attention to its own Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]?

Will Metro pay attention to its own Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]?

Just when the Metro board was on the verge of adopting a policy to incorporate first/last mile, including bike and walk, connections into “the planning, design, and construction of all [Metro] transit projects,” Metro staff postponed including first/last mile connections to the second phase of Purple Line subway expansion.

The issue before the board was Metro’s new Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]. The ATSP theoretically builds on a number of Metro bike-and-walk-friendly policies, including the agency’s First/Last Mile Strategic Plan and Complete Streets Policy. Livability advocates, with champions on the Metro board prominently including Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, have pushed for Metro to follow up these good-sounding policies with Metro funding commitments to truly get first/last mile facilities on the ground. After the 2014 passage of the Metro Complete Streets Policy, Bonin pushed the agency to follow up with a walk/bike funding plan.

Metro dragged its heels on the funding plan, publishing schedules designed to complete the funding document right after the November sales tax ballot measure. So Metro would finally have a walk/bike funding plan right after it sets the course for the next 50 years of Metro funding.

Pressure from Bonin and others accelerated the schedule for the funding plan, now called the ATSP. Today the Metro board approved its ATSP, a month in advance of June’s planned approval of a sales tax expenditure plan.

The ATSP, similar to the plans that preceded it, also sounds good. There are plenty of graphs and diagrams about how great walking and bicycling are. What is new in the ATSP (page 59) is overall cost estimates for building out a Los Angeles County Active Transportation Network. There is no commitment on Metro’s part to pay these costs, but at least there is an official agency estimate for how much someone should pay to support active transportation.

Accompanying today’s adoption of the ATSP were two multi-part motions regarding Metro implementation:  Read more…

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Councilmember Jose Huizar Promotes a More Bikeable Downtown L.A.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar is excited about the future of bicycling in downtown Los Angeles. At a press event yesterday, Huizar took a test spin on one of Metro’s bike-share bikes. SBLA Streetsie-winner Huizar sees bike-share as one key feature of “a snowball effect” virtuous cycle for central Los Angeles: more bikes on the street will trigger more safety-in-numbers, which will prompt more city investment in bikeways, which will lead to even more bicycling.

Metro’s 1000+bike 60+station bike-share system is coming to downtown “this June – though it might slip,” according to Huizar.

Huizar recently announced that protected bike lanes will be coming to downtown’s Spring and Main Streets. These improvements are part of an umbrella “DTLA Forward” initiative for a more walkable, bikeable, livable downtown Los Angeles. DTLA Forward includes these two bikeways, pedestrian head-start signals, green alleys, street trees, and a handful of other worthwhile (but not quite transformative) downtown initiatives, plus a (quite transformative) “Your Downtown L.A. Vision Plan” [PDF]. The Vision Plan, created under the auspices of the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council with support from the So. Cal. Association of Governments (SCAG), calls for all downtown streets to be complete streets.

Spring and Main Street currently feature a couplet of buffered bike lanes. The Spring Street lane was the city’s first (somewhat controversial) green bike lane, and now its first partially-green pavement bike lane. The protected bike lanes are expected to be implemented in late 2016, after a handful of community outreach meetings.  Read more…

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Some Benefits and Some Drawbacks Of L.A. City’s Sidewalk Repair Plan

Tree-root-damaged sidewalks should be repaired.

The city of Los Angeles should begin repairing tree-root-damaged sidewalks by late 2016. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At a joint meeting yesterday, the L.A. City Council’s public works and budget committees approved the outlines of how Los Angeles will spend $1.4 billion to repair its damaged sidewalks.

The sidewalk repair funding is due to the city settling Willits v. City of Los Angeles, a class action lawsuit over L.A.’s failure to make the public pedestrian right-of-way accessible to disabled people. The $1.4 billion will be spent over ten years.

The plan still needs the approval of the full city council, but with nine of fifteen councilmembers on committees already approving, that should be a formality.

The plan approved yesterday is essentially the “fix-and-release” plan proposed in 2015, with a series of 23 amendments outlined in a February 2016 letter [PDF] by councilmembers Paul Krekorian, Joe Buscaino, Mike Bonin, and Nury Martinez. The Los Angeles Times and NBC4 reported on the specifics of yesterday’s approval.

Though a lot of the fine grain details are yet to be worked out, there is a lot to like about the newly approved sidewalk repair plan. But there are also some worrisome aspects to it.

First the good news:

  • Something will get done. According to Budget chairperson Paul Krekorian, approving this plan now puts the city on track for Fiscal Year 2016-2017 expenditures, which starts in July. The settlement commits the city to $31 million in sidewalk repairs for each of the first five years of the ten-year program. If all goes well, the city could start spending money to fix sidewalks before the end of this calendar year.
  • With work getting underway, and progress open to public and legal scrutiny, there will be continued opportunities to shape the program.
  • The committee’s amendments – incorporating issues from tree canopy to rainwater runoff to Vision Zero – bring attention to numerous related issues that should be addressed during sidewalk repair.

And the bad news:  Read more…

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DTLA Pedestrians Get Expanded Head Start Signals

Red light plus walk signal means a leading pedestrian interval. Photos by Joe LInton/Streetsblog L.A.

Red light plus walk signal means a Leading Pedestrian Interval. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Downtown L.A. is getting a little safer for walking with some new traffic signals that give pedestrians a head start. Officially, these are called “Leading Pedestrian Intervals.” The concept is that when pedestrians get the walk signal a few seconds before drivers get a green light, they can walk into the intersection and be more visible, and therefore safer.

The new signals are part of an initiative by Los Angeles City Councilmember and livability champion José Huizar. Huizar and LADOT incorporated them as a feature in street improvements that are accompanying Metro’s Regional Connector construction. Huizar, via a press release, touted the new signals: “Complete Streets improvements, like Pedestrian Headstart Signals, make our streets safer for pedestrians while encouraging foot traffic in Downtown Los Angeles’s increasingly dynamic urban environment.”

In 2014, the L.A. Transportation Department (LADOT) installed Leading Pedestrian Intervals on Broadway at 3rd and 4th Streets.

Over the last two weekends, LADOT added over a dozen new head start signals, bringing the total to 16 downtown L.A. intersections, all in the Historic Core and Civic Center areas. Leading Pedestrian Intervals are currently installed at these intersections:  Read more…