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More Housing, Less Sprawl: Tackling Los Angeles’ Affordable Housing Crisis through Smart Growth

It is no secret that Southern California is currently facing one of the worst housing crises it has faced in more than half a century.

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:##http://endinggridlock.org/blog/congratulations-to-las-next-mayor-eric-garcetti##Angelenos Against Gridlock##

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:Angelenos Against Gridlock

That’s the point Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti drove home Wednesday at the Los Angeles Business Council’s annual Mayoral Housing, Transportation, and Jobs summit.

While it isn’t a revelation to most that it’s getting harder and harder to be poor or even middle class and afford to live in Los Angeles County – especially in westside cities like Santa Monica – it was refreshing to hear Garcetti address the root cause of this crisis: a lack of new housing being built.

But even more refreshing was to hear Garcetti, who currently chairs Metro’s Board of Directors, talk about making sure new housing – especially units affordable to low and middle-income residents – gets built next to the region’s expanding transit system.

At the summit, Garcetti announced his plan to increase L.A.’s housing stock by 100,000 new units by 2021. At the same time, he announced his intention to bring a motion before the Metro board to “analyze affordable housing preservation and construction around our transit system, from using MTA-owned land and targeting transit-pass programs.”

Does that mean we may see some of those sprawling surface parking lots redeveloped into places where middle- and low-income residents – many of whom rely on public transit for their daily commute – can live?

Studies have shown that lower-income residents will leave their cars at home 50 percent more often if they live within a quarter mile of reliable public transit.

Placing affordable housing near transit is a major tool in combating these issues, which is one reason why State Senator Darryl Steinberg fought for a generous portion of the California’s cap-and-trade money to be used to subsidize transit-oriented development.

The reality is, Garcetti said, that without growth, especially near transit, the region’s problems will only get worse. While the housing crisis may be evocative of the post-war era, regional leaders seem to realize that sprawl – the answer to our mid-century housing crisis – is not the answer today. (In case you didn’t already realize it, sprawl is really bad for people, the environment, and the economy.) Read more…

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CA Environmental Groups Grade Legislators

Screen shot 2014-10-31 at 11.08.28 AM

The California League of Conservation Voters scorecard is available here.

It’s scorecard season in California. Advocacy groups are giving grades to legislators based on how they voted on bills in the last year’s sessions, and releasing the scores just in time to influence next week’s election.

The California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) and the Sierra Club both scored legislators according to how they voted on environmental issues, some of them germane to transportation.

The Sierra Club’s scorecard headline is: 2014: Environmental Power Unifies and Wins.

The CLCV added an additional score this year, dinging fifteen Assemblymembers who signed a letter to the California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols begging her to postpone the application of cap-and-trade to fuels in January.

“Considering the severity and scope of the assault on AB 32, CLCV takes the historic step — the first time in more than forty years of scoring the Legislature – of negatively scoring the signatories to the letters as if they had cast a vote against AB 32 implementation,” said the League in a press release. ”We take this unprecedented action to make it clear to lawmakers that their public support or opposition to state laws that tackle climate change will be part of their permanent record of environmental performance we share with our members, other environmental advocates, and the media.”

Read more…

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New Chamber of Commerce Excited About Great Streets on Venice Blvd.

Bonin bus stop

Mike Bonin hops on the Venice Rapid for his morning commute. This uncharacteristically damp morning isn’t the best background, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before Venice can truly be considered a Great Street. Photo: Damien Newton

Mike Bonin is not someone who is known for thinking small.

“There’s a universe of opportunities,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin, of the proposed “Great Street” on Venice Boulevard. “But it’s important that this not be ‘Mike’s project,’ or the ‘Mayor’s project,’ or the ‘DOT’s Project,’ but the people’s project.”

Bonin was speaking excitedly about the “Great Streets” designation granted to Venice Boulevard between Inglewood Boulevard on the east and Beethoven Street on the west. Great Streets is an initiative to take a section of street in each of the fifteen City Council Districts and turn them into great places to walk, bike, sit outside, or just be…just exist.

While Bonin prefers the phrase “universe of opportunities” to describe everything that can be done, Mayor Eric Garcetti uses the term “urban-acupuncture” to illustrate the idea that these streets will be slimmed down to car traffic and opened up for other uses. Think of streets with trees for shade, modern crosswalks, clean and wide sidewalks, even just appropriately placed park benches and trash cans.

“A small burst of energy can transform a community,” Garcetti is fond of saying.

“One small change, especially if the community is behind it, can get things rolling,” Bonin echoes.

So what will Venice Boulevard look like after it has been changed to a Great Street? And when will Venice, or any of the other 14 Great Streets, actually start to see improvements?

There is not a good answer to the second question. Nobody seems to know when street improvements are going to come.

As for the first one…

“I have some ideas, but it’s really up to the community,” Bonin promises.

During the 2013 election, Bonin offered a vision of a Venice Boulevard teeming with small businesses and a walkable community during our candidates’ forum. But when pressed in our Great Streets interview, he kept going back to the idea that this was the community’s decision.

Not his.

Not Garcetti’s.

The community’s. Read more…

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Motion to Move Forward on Rail-to-River Bikeway Project up for Vote Thursday

The tracks at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

The ROW which would form part of the Western Segment of the proposed Rail-to-River bikeway. Photo taken at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

In a motion before the Metro Executive Management Committee last Thursday morning, County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas cited the successful “transformation of unused or abandoned rail right-of-ways into pedestrian access and bicycle routes” around the country and here in L.A. as support for his call that the Board direct Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy to move forward on the recommendations found in the 212-page feasibility study on the proposed Rail-to-River Bikeway.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), the project would connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.

The proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents the section of the corridor that Metro could move on planning for immediately. Phase 2 (at right) would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to determine which routes were most appropriate and negotiate with BNSF to purchase a section of the ROW. (Source: Feasibility Study)

The active transportation corridor (ATC) project, first proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

So, it was not surprising to see Ridley-Thomas ask that, when the full Board meets this Thursday, October 23, at 9 a.m., it approve his motion directing Leahy to identify and seek funds from Measure R, Cap and Trade, and other sources to facilitate the environmental, design, and outreach efforts recommended by the Feasibility Report.

Even though Ridley-Thomas’ strong support for the project was expected, the motion to move it forward still made me sit up a little straighter.

When I attended the two public meetings held on the corridor project, representatives from both Metro and Alta Planning + Design (consultants on the project) were firm in their suggestions that we not get our hopes up too high. There was no funding attached to the project, they said, and they were only looking at questions of feasibility. These were also the reasons, I was told, for the limited outreach and engagement of the neighbors that live along the corridor.

Not to mention that including the community might have brought other problems with it. 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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Cartoon Tuesday: Neighborhood Council Meeting Bike Lane Bingo

Bike Lane Bingo card by Nathan Lucero

Bike Lane Bingo card by Nathan Lucero

It’s not quite a cartoon, but it is a clever, sad, ironic laugh. Friend of the blog Nathan Lucero posted his Bike Lane meeting bingo card at the Figueroa for All Facebook group.

Not all neighborhood councils are the same; many have been very supportive of facilities for bicycling and walking. It does seem like there is, more often than not, a few complainers who trot out tired excuses for opposing these safety projects. Lucero’s card specifically references the sad, ironic struggle to make North Figueroa safer, in the face of Councilmember Cedillo’s flip-flop, a story you can read here, here, and here. The meetings are still happening as Cedillo’s staff are still pressing for crappy alternative bike routes to keep North Figueroa car-centric and dangerous.

So far, there is only one bingo card, so everyone will be calling bingo at the same moment. Read more…

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LADOT’s Bold New Strategic Vision: Eliminate L.A. Traffic Deaths By 2025

Cover of LADOT's bold new strategic plan. View full document here.

Cover of LADOT’s bold new strategic plan. View full document here.

Today, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) released its new strategic plan, entitled Great Streets for Los Angeles.

First, we’ll editorialize enthusiastically: this plan is excellent.

And very much needed in Los Angeles.

LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds characterizes it as a “plan [that] requires us to do our jobs in a fundamentally different way.”

There have long been holistic thinkers at LADOT, but they’ve been in the minority, squeezing in opportunistic improvements in the midst of a departmental culture that prioritized car convenience. In the past half-dozen years, under the leadership of previous General Manager Jaime de la Vega and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LADOT has warmed up to a broader mission that balances the needs of all road users.

But today’s plan is a quantum leap forward.

Front and center in the new plan is Vision Zero.

For the uninitiated, Vision Zero is a transportation planning, law enforcement, and planning project started in Sweden in 1997. The goal is simple: eradicate traffic fatalities. Any traffic fatality is one too many. Every decision involving transportation, from how wide a road should be to how to target traffic enforcement efforts, must meet the goal of making the streets safer for all road users.

From LADOT's plan: eliminate traffic fatalities by 2025

From LADOT’s plan: eliminate traffic fatalities by 2025

LADOT is thinking big — the departmental plan is to “eliminate traffic fatalities in Los Angeles by 2025.”

Under Vision Zero, L.A. joins San Francisco, New York City, and many other great cities around the world in the push to eliminate traffic fatalities. By embracing Vision Zero as its first and most prominent goal, LADOT is finally saying “enough is enough.” Safety will now be the first priority in transportation decisions going forward.

“There’s a reason it’s the first thing you see when you get into the meat of the plan,” says Reynolds of Vision Zero. “Changing the way we talk about [safety in transportation], and changing the way we think about it, and changing the way that we approach our everyday work to refocus around this — that’s the thing that really is most inspiring and exciting to me.”

“To see LADOT commit to ending traffic deaths in our lifetime is a dream come true,” writes Deborah Murphy, the founder and president of Los Angeles Walks. “L.A. Walks is determined that the Vision Zero campaign will engage more city departments, including LAPD, public works, city planning and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, to ensure the successful implementation of the campaign and assure the improved safety of our streets.”

While it is great to see LADOT take a lead on Vision Zero, it is doubly encouraging to see the department heeding Murphy’s advice — the plan identifies city agencies as partners. Reynolds further states that “external partners are also implicit in our success.” That means you, Streetsblog readers.

There’s plenty more in the plan that Streetsblog readers will love. Read more…

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Thanks For a Great Reception for LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds Last Night!

Happy Birthday Seleta Reynolds (left)! Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Candles on Big Man Bakes cupcakes to wish a warm happy birthday to Seleta Reynolds (right.) Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last night’s capacity crowd reception honored the city of Los Angeles Transportation Department’s new General Manager Seleta Reynolds. Not only is Reynolds a champion for safety and for great places, but she even committed to scheduling this reception though it coincided with her birthday.

A big thanks to all the folks responsible for making last night’s reception a big success:

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Meet Seleta Reynolds, the Safe Streets Advocate Running LADOT

Seleta Reynolds speaks at the ribbon cutting for the "Dressed Rehearsal" on Broadway. Photo: LADOT

Seleta Reynolds speaks at the ribbon cutting for the “Dress Rehearsal” on Broadway. Photo: LADOT

(If you want to skip the article and the editing and just listen to our half-hour conversation, click here. – DN)

If you spend some time with the newly minted General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, you would think she was an LADOT lifer not a recent transplant from the San Francisco MTA.

She can speak eloquently of the “great heart” that Los Angeles’ people have, belying the image projected by Hollywood.

Dressed in a suit and bike helmet, she points out road hazards on her bike commute to work, weaves around every pothole, manhole, and cracked street with the knowledge of a regular.

She can even recite DOT history going back years, thanks in part to her avid interest in reading Streetsblog.

It’s not until you visit her office that you remember Seleta Reynolds has been on the job at LADOT for roughly a month. The walls are nearly barren. A map of her first project at Fehr and Peers, the Morro Street Bicycle Boulevard in San Luis Obispo, had arrived the day before our interview.

But you don’t need blank walls to tell you that Reynolds is a true breath of fresh air to a department that, in the past, has primarily prioritized a perceived need to drive quickly. Reynolds talked about community and community building in response to questions about the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, equity in transportation funding, relationships with the City Council, and building a bicycle share system that will work in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Region.

And it’s these new ideas, and a new commitment to an LADOT that is people-focused, that has advocates, and our political leadership, so excited. When announcing her nomination to head LADOT, Mayor Eric Garcetti referred to her as the “ideal field marshal in our war against traffic.” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin was just as illustrative in an email response for this story, “Seleta is a rock star – a game-changer – who will lead the charge to get Los Angeles moving again.”

I could write a full story on each of the eight topics we covered last Tuesday, but instead I’ve broken up the audio into more manageable three- or four-minute segments with a short summary. This can all be found after the jump. Read more…

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Five Things I Learned at This Week’s L.A. Transportation Committee

Here are the top five things I learned listening in to this week’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee meeting. The public meeting took place Wednesday, August 27, at Los Angeles City Hall. If you’re nimble and/or having trouble sleeping, catch the full audio here.

1. Seleta Reynolds Hearts Car Share

In discussion of the city’s anemic car share program, new Transportation Department (LADOT) General Manager Seleta Reynolds described herself as a “long-time fan of car share and a frequent user of it.” Reynolds bemoaned the lack of a viable car share option in her new Silver Lake neighborhood.

Hertz car share didn't work out so well for Los Angeles. Image via Flickr user tom-margie

Hertz car share didn’t work out so well for Los Angeles. Image via Flickr user tom-margie

The GM announced an “immediate expansion” of the city’s provisions to enable basic car sharing planned for this September, with a more robust expansion, likely including point-to-point options, coming at some unspecified later date. Reynolds stated that she favors a system that would include multiple providers. This should prevent issues like those associated with the failures like the city’s selected vendor Hertz becoming unresponsive.

To be continued. I too dig car share, and am happy Reynolds is on it.

2. Protected Bike Lanes This Year – Or Probably Not

In public testimony (audio at 01:05 here) about Los Angeles some day maybe perhaps one day you know possibly getting around to implementing those newfangled protected bike lanes that are all the rage in other cities, LADOT Bikeways’ Michelle Mowery stated:

MyFig is certainly one of these [protected bike lanes]. We’re also looking at Los Angeles Street right now. We believe we will have that on the ground within this next fiscal year.

When SBLA tweeted the good news, LADOT Bike Program took to the Twittersphere to let folks know that no protected bike lanes are coming this year, but that My Figueroa construction will happen soon. SBLA will dig more into this story. Did Mowery mean “a Los Angeles street” or “Los Angeles Street?” Could it be part of longer-term plans for Union Station? In any case, I am looking forward to protected bike lanes arriving on these shores. Ones not inside tunnels, that is.

3. Streetsblog Hearts Great New Traffic Metrics

Spoiler alert: wonky acronyms ahead. I knew that changes in California’s traffic modeling was big news, with the state ditching its car-centric car-only car-always Level of Service (LOS) measures for evaluating California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) environmental impacts, and instead using Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)

It was great to hear it from LADOT Assistant General Manager Jay Kim.

Read more…