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Editorial: My Unsolicited Advice for City Councilmember David Ryu

Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu. Photo via ryuforcouncil.com

Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu. Photo via ryuforcouncil.com

It’s July. It’s a new budget year for government agencies, where there is some turnover: some new faces, new officers, and new committees.

L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is the new chair of the Metro Board of Directors, replacing L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The Los Angeles City Council has two new members. Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson replaces Bernard Parks, representing L.A.’s 8th Council District [map] in South Los Angeles. Councilmember David Ryu replaces Tom LaBonge, representing L.A.’s 4th Council District (CD4) [map] which extends from Van Nuys to Griffith Park to Miracle Mile.

The new L.A. City Council committee assignments [PDF] were announced yesterday. There are a lot of Streetsblog issues before a wide range of committees, from Public Safety to Parks to Budget, but the two committees that SBLA tends to follow most closely are Transportation and Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM.) Both of these committees’ chairs continue to be chaired by the same excellent livability leaders, Mike Bonin and Jose Huizar, respectively. The make-up of the committees have shifted in positive directions, in part merely due to Parks and LaBonge leaving. Though they occasionally supported worthwhile initiatives, neither Parks nor LaBonge consistently supported the needs of Angelenos who get around via transit, walk, and bike.

The new Transportation Committee will be: Mike Bonin (chair), Jose Huizar, Paul Koretz, Nury Martinez, and David Ryu. New members Huizar and Martinez, with Bonin, give the committee a progressive forward-thinking majority, likely to embrace a healthy balance of transportation modes. Ryu does not have a track record here, but cannot possibly be worse than LaBonge. And perhaps Koretz will some day make the connection that the transportation sector is responsible for about half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, reductions of which he has championed.

The new PLUM Committee will be: Jose Huizar (chair), Gil Cedillo, Mitch Englander, Felipe Fuentes, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson. Returning chair Huizar has an excellent livability leadership track record at PLUM. Councilmember Englander has a good, if slightly-mixed, record. Though he represents arguably the most suburban council district, and was first introduced to Streetsblog readers in 2012 as the villain of the Wilbur Avenue Road Diet controversy, more recently he has been very good, including championing the Reseda Boulevard protected bike lanes. Fuentes and Harris-Dawson are both very likely to champion community-minded planning that goes beyond just accommodating driving.

SBLA will likely have suggestions for new Metro Chair Ridley-Thomas and new Councilmember Harris-Dawson in the near future… but today I present my unsolicited advice for Los Angeles Councilmember David Ryu. First off, congratulations to honorable Councilmember Ryu! Perhaps you already know all this stuff, and I look forward to actually getting to speak with you, but here are five of my recommendations to help make CD4 streets great, safe, healthy, vibrant places and to improve the lives of people who live, work and breathe in Los Angeles.

1. Question Tom LaBonge’s priorities

In a crowded field, you won on your merits… but it helped that you are a city hall outsider, without ties to LaBonge. Though some of the media perceived LaBonge as a cyclist, because he infrequently hosted bike rides and spoke at press conferences for bike-friendly events, most Angelenos who get around every day by bike and by foot were very frustrated with him.

Tom LaBonge supported a 20th century transportation system long after much of L.A. had moved away from it. LaBonge favored cars, freeways, parking, and the policies that make them proliferate. I don’t expect cars to go away tomorrow, but LaBonge’s policies result in place-less gridlock that does not serve anyone well. If you will just question the policies that LaBonge supported reflexively, it will go a long way to advancing livability in our city.

2. Support safer, multi-modal streets, especially in the most population-dense and transit-oriented parts of your district

One size fits all solutions are unlikely to serve your district well. You know that CD4, like Los Angeles, is a big diverse place. Read more…

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Transportation Committee Questions LAPD’s 8,000+ Annual Ped Tickets

Don't assume that you actually have 19 seconds to cross this intersection. Pedestrian countdown signal via Systemic Failure

Don’t assume that you actually have 19 seconds to cross this intersection. Pedestrian countdown signal via Systemic Failure

This afternoon the Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee discussed a motion questioning the effectiveness of LAPD’s “jaywalking” enforcement. The pedestrian enforcement motion, 15-0546, was authored by City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who chairs the committee.

LAPD reported that there was no way to provide the analysis requested in the motion, but did provide some pedestrian enforcement statistics. In 2014 LAPD issued 8,068 citations for pedestrians who entered the crosswalk after the walk signal had ended, typically during the countdown. LAPD reported a recent increase in “in-crosswalk” fatalities, which numbered 27, 26, 34, and 35 in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. When questioned by Councilmember Bonin, the police representative did not have information regarding who was determined to be at fault for these fatalities.

Councilmember Bonin pursued a number of lines of inquiry about LAPD’s pedestrian safety priorities, strategies, and effectiveness, but repeatedly came up against limited LAPD data.

Fellow committee members Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian expressed support for pedestrian safety, but generally focused their comments and questions on drivers’ ability to make turns at intersections.

Department of Transportation (LADOT) General Manager Seleta Reynolds also testified, stating that there is a near-universal lack of understanding on crosswalk laws, which have not kept pace with the recent technology, especially countdown signals. Reynolds reported on recent timing changes at the federal level, dangers to seniors and other slower moving people, and stressed that LADOT and LAPD were partnering on a city Vision Zero steering committee, which is in the process of crunching data to inform enforcement strategies.

Committee chair Bonin concluded the hearing directing LAPD and LADOT to return to the Transportation Committee in 60 days. LAPD was directed to return with additional data on fatality causes, areas targeted, and impacts of current practices. LADOT was directed to report back on possible legislative changes and adjustments to signal timing.

With change needed in state law, and no clear consensus yet on an effective enforcement strategy, it doesn’t look like there’s any quick fix to, as Bonin characterized, L.A.’s countdown signals “literally giving a mixed signal.”

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Metro CEO Phil Washington Speaks on Career Pathways in Transportation

This morning, Metro joined the L.A. County Community College District’s press event announcing a $15 million California Career Pathways Trust (CCPT) grant from the California Department of Education. The state education funding goes to L.A. County community colleges for career and technical education, internships, and training.

While the LACCD programs may not be the sort of topic that readers turn to Streetsblog for, the grant will greatly benefit students that are key to Los Angeles’ future. And Streetsblog readers can get a better look at Metro’s impressive new CEO Phil Washington based on his remarks, in the above video. Washington, who grew up in low-income housing on the south side of Chicago, sounds impressive in emphasizing his agency’s roles (alongside industry’s roles) in improving the lives of youth and low-income communities. It appears that Metro boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker, who frequently emphasizes Metro contractor responsibility in benefiting local residents, will have an ally in CEO Washington.

Metro CEO Phil Washington at this morning's LACCD press event. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro CEO Phil Washington at this morning’s LACCD press event. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

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Donald Shoup Interview, Part 2: Pasadena, Ventura, Mexico City, A.B. 744

Joe Linton and Donald Shoup. Photo: Streetsblog L.A.

Joe Linton and Donald Shoup. Photo: Streetsblog L.A.

Donald Shoup, parking’s one and only rock star, is retiring from UCLA this year. Tomorrow, the college is sending him off with a fundraiser retirement dinner atop parking structure number 32. You can attend, and hobnob with Shoup himself, by donating to the Shoup Fellowship fund for future UCLA planning students.

Below is part two of my big exit interview with Don Shoup. Part one is here. The interview took place at the UCLA Faculty Center on Friday, May 15, the day after UCLA’s Complete Streets Forum, where Professor Shoup had been impressed with a presentation on the soon-to-be phased out car congestion metric, Level of Service.

Joe Linton: Many progressives want people to do the right thing for the right reason. If you look at New York City and how healthy people are, it’s because they walk. They’re not healthier because they’re choosing some healthy option. They’re healthy because the neighborhood around them was built for walking. I think you’ve managed to avoid that pitfall. 

Don Shoup: When it comes to public policy, doing the right thing is more important than doing it for the right reason. The best way to get people to do what’s right collectively is to make it the best thing for them to do individually. You have to give individuals a personal incentive to do what’s right for society.

When it comes to parking, you have to figure out how to stop giving everyone incentives to do what’s wrong for society. Removing subsidies for parking is one of the best ways to convince people to walk, bike, or ride the bus rather than drive solo.

For example, employer-paid parking is an invitation to drive to work alone. Parking cash out is a policy that makes it individually rational to consider all the alternatives to driving to work alone. I studied employers who began to offer commuters the option to choose the cash value of free parking rather than the parking itself. At these firms, 17 percent of the solo drivers shifted to carpooling, biking, walking, or riding the bus to work.

For many people, the only reason to do anything is that it’s best for them individually. And I think that’s why planners have to be more realistic about devising policies so the stakeholders will say, “I see what you mean – that’ll help me.” I think expecting people to do the right thing for the right reason leads to a lot of failure in public policy.

Most people who ride a bike do so because they enjoy it and want the exercise, not because it’s a sacrifice for humanity. But many people don’t mind driving or even like to drive, and parking subsidies increase the incentive to drive.

In my retirement, I want to live the way hobbits did; they spent all their time visiting all their friends who lived within a half a day’s walk. And if you are lucky, you can live almost that way in L.A. I live near campus and usually don’t leave Westwood. When I do go to other places like West Hollywood, Culver City, or Pasadena, I see there’s a whole other ecosystem going on in each neighborhood. There are a lot of little villages and you can have a wonderful life without traveling far from them. I’ve even seen real estate ads for houses saying “Park on Friday, walk all weekend.”

Because of traffic congestion I think more people are leading their lives in their own villages. But I do think we can greatly reduce traffic congestion. I’m a big fan of congestion pricing – which I think is the only thing that will reduce congestion.

Linton: Where do you see congestion pricing taking hold in Los Angeles?

Shoup: It already has taken hold – the High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes on the Harbor Freeway. Solo drivers can use the ExpressLanes if they pay. The tolls adjust up and down to prevent the lanes from getting congested.

Linton: What’s interesting to me is that it was working really well as we were emerging from the down economy – the speeds were actually averaging above the speed limit – which they were proud of – those scofflaw motorists. This year and late last year, as the economy has picked up, they’re increasingly closing those lanes. They’re too packed.

Shoup: Yes. It’s because there is a cap on the congestion toll – $1.40 per mile. They now run up against that cap often. The price cap was politically necessary to begin with but there’s no reason to have a cap now, especially because the toll revenue provides many amenities on and alongside the freeway. Better lighting, better bus stops, and more frequent bus service.

Linton: Bike-share, too

Shoup: That’s right. So what’s the objection to raising the tolls now? The ExpressLane tolls provide about $2.3 million a month to run the extra bus service, bike-sharing, better bus stops, and things like that. If that’s what the tolls are providing, what’s the problem with raising the price for solo drivers when the freeway gets congested?

Linton: Where else do you think L.A. can expand congestion pricing? Additional freeway lanes? Other applications?

Shoup: They didn’t need to add lanes to the El Monte Busway and the Harbor Freeway for congestion pricing. I think we should convert more HOV lanes to HOT lanes. On the 405, we just spent a billion dollars to put in one new HOV lane. It took five years of construction with nightmarish traffic – and just think of the carbon emissions that created. It would be more sensible to convert one free lane to a HOT lane.

After the Level of Service talk [at the prior day’s Complete Streets forum] a consultant from Orange County asked “if they don’t use Level of Service metrics, how will they know where to build new freeways, new capacity?” I said if you have a congested freeway, you could try converting free lanes into HOT lanes rather than build more free lanes. I think Orange County made a bad choice in expanding freeways and keeping them free.

If we manage freeways better – the lanes that we have – we wouldn’t need any more. And they would provide revenue.

We ought to have signs on the bike stands, in the buses, and at bus stops saying “paid for by the ExpressLanes revenue.” People will see the toll revenue at work. The revenue goes to specific places for specific things. If we didn’t have the congestion tolls, we wouldn’t have these bicycles, this bus, this new street furniture, or something like that.

Variable parking prices are like congestion tolls, except instead of aiming for the right speed on the road you aim for the right occupancy rate for on-street parking –one or two open spaces on every block. It’s a lot easier to charge for parking than it is to charge congestion tolls. But most cities have the same price for curb parking all day long, or no price at all.

Linton: Have cities done a good job of adopting your recommendation to use parking meter revenue for improvements on metered blocks?

Shoup: Pasadena is a great example of using parking meter revenue to improve an area. You are probably too young to remember what Colorado Boulevard in Old Pasadena was like before the parking meters. It used to be a skid row.

There were wonderful buildings in terrible condition. Much of it had been urban renewed. The city tore out three blocks of Old Pasadena on Colorado Boulevard for an enclosed mall. Look at it from the air. What we think of as Old Pasadena is only what’s left of Old Pasadena – before freeways and redevelopment removed most of it.

Most of the buildings were empty above the ground floor. The rest of them were pawn shops, porn theaters, and tattoo parlors – there’s nothing wrong with that but it shouldn’t be your only land use. The city wanted to put in parking meters. The merchants said “no way – it’ll chase away the few customers we have – down to this enclosed mall you subsidized.” They argued for a couple of years. Finally the city said “if we put in the parking meters, we’ll spend all of the revenue for added public services on the metered streets. We’ll rebuild all the sidewalks and clean up the alleys.” The merchants said “why didn’t you tell us that before? Let’s run the meters until midnight. Let’s run ‘em on Sunday.” They were so excited when they knew they would get the revenue instead of going into the city general fund.

Linton: Revenue return is just one of the three main parking reforms that you recommend for cities. Explain those.

Shoup: I recommend three basic policies:  Read more…

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Don’t Miss Part 1 of Joe’s Interview with Donald Shoup

Over the weekend, Joe Linton provided the perfect long-weekend reading for Livable Streets Junkies, an interview with the parking rock star Donald Shoup. The retiring professor had so much to say at his Streetsblog exit interview, that we’re splitting the piece into two parts. Part II will run on Thursday or Friday of this week.

Selfie with Don Shoup. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Selfie with Don Shoup. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Past experience has taught us that Saturday stories, even when we’re covering the Mayor of Los Angeles being forced off his bicycle, can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of a new work week. So if you missed Joe’s story, scroll down and take a couple of minutes. Or, click here.

If you’re just joining us, Shoup has a legion of followers who proudly call themselves Shoupistas. Shoup is retiring from UCLA this year. The college is sending him off with a fundraiser retirement dinner atop parking structure number 32 on Saturday, May 30. You can attend, and hobnob with Shoup himself, by donating to the Shoup Fellowship fund for future UCLA planning students.

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Donald Shoup Interview, Part 1: Adaptive Reuse, Parking Cash-Out, Teaching

Selfie with Don Shoup. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Selfie with Don Shoup. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Donald Shoup is one of my heroes. He’s the authority on parking: how it shapes cities, how it enables driving, and how cities can fix the problems that parking policies create. He has a legion of followers who proudly call themselves Shoupistas. Shoup is retiring from UCLA this year. The college is sending him off with a fundraiser retirement dinner atop parking structure number 32 on Saturday May 30. You can attend, and hobnob with Shoup himself, by donating to the Shoup Fellowship fund for future UCLA planning students.

Below is part one of my interview with Don Shoup. The interview took place at the UCLA Faculty Center on Friday, May 15, the day after UCLA’s Complete Streets Forum, where Professor Shoup had been impressed with a presentation on the soon-to-be phased out traffic congestion metric, Level of Service.

Joe Linton: For many years, as a cyclist and bicycle activist, I didn’t really think about parking. I thought “I don’t park – it’s not my issue.” But then Beth Steckler, my boss at Livable Places, recommended that I read The High Cost of Free Parking. I did, and it really opened my eyes. It’s one of the few books that has really changed the way I look at cities.

Don Shoup: I think that most people are not interested in parking itself. So I’ve tried to convince them that parking is important for what really interests them, which may be affordable housing or climate change or traffic congestion or fuel consumption or accidents or health or whatever.

And I think that’s why people are beginning to pay attention to parking – because they can see it’s perhaps the easiest way to make improvements in what they’re concerned about.

Whatever the concern, I think the most politically feasible and most cost-effective way to advance the cause is often to fix parking.

I don’t expect many people to be interested in parking per se. Most academics have neglected parking because it has such a low status.

In universities, no matter how much we talk about justice and equality, there are strict status hierarchies. International affairs are the most overarching topic. And then national affairs are very important. State government seems provincial. Local government is totally parochial. And then in local government, what’s the lowest status thing you could talk about? That would be parking.

So I’ve been a bottom feeder, but found a lot of food down there.

And there’s so much to see if you just look at it very carefully. I think if you look at anything carefully you will find that it’s fascinating.

I am happy to think that you and others are seeing the connection between parking what you’re now interested in– the Level of Service metric for traffic congestion

Most of us are not interested in measuring the Level of Service at intersections. Nevertheless, at the Complete Streets forum yesterday, Chris Ganson, from the California Office of Planning and Research, explained why inappropriate LOS measures prevent infill development and why theyinstead encourage suburban low-density development.

Linton: I call it zombie engineering. Though it’s not just engineering, it’s also planning, design. There are so many practices and policies and rules that say we have to do the car stuff first and foremost, that they end up with a life of their own. You can get rid of Level of Service, and the next thing is going to be financing or something else. It just feels like a multi-tentacled monster — cut one off, and there are still a hundred more rules saying you have to accommodate car stuff first.

Shoup: Yes, that’s true. So long as the tentacles don’t regenerate, it is worth cutting them off.

I think part of the problem with zombie urban planning is that many people, including me, don’t have a strong visual understanding of the effects of something like Level of Service measures or parking requirements.

I was in Vancouver a couple weeks ago. I hadn’t been there for forty years. It was fascinating to see it looking a bit like Hong Kong, except …well, far better-looking. There are a lot of new high rises downtown – condos, apartment buildings, and office buildings. They have very wide sidewalks and not that much traffic congestion and [on] almost every block there will be a high rise. And you like it without knowing exactly why. 

Read more…

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Planning and Programming Committee Recommends Metro Board Take Next Steps on Rail-to-River ATC

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

On October 23, 2014, the Metro Board of Directors voted to adopt the Rail to River Intermediate Active Transportation Corridor (ATC) Feasibility Study and directed staff to identify funding for full implementation of the project. The Board also authorized $2,850,000 be put towards facilitating the environmental, design, alternative route analysis, and outreach work required for the project to move forward and requested the staff report back in May of 2015.

At this past Wednesday’s Planning and Programming Committee meeting, the committee filed the requested report detailing recommendations that the Board take the next steps of applying for grants from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant (TIGER) program and the state Active Transportation Program (ATP). To facilitate the application process, staff also requested the Board authorize an allocation of $10.8 million in hard match funds in time to make the grant programs’ June 1 and June 5 deadlines.

The report suggests the Rail-to-River project has the potential to be very competitive.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), it will eventually 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.

First proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, it has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

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 visuals included in last year’s feasibility study divide the project into two phases (to be implemented concurrently). The central segment runs along Metro’s ROW on Slauson, eventually connecting with the Crenshaw line, to the west, and possibly the river, on the east.

But it isn’t going to come all that cheaply. Read more…

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Public Works Board Approves Sidewalk Deficient Glendale-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

Public Works to Glendale-Hyperion Bridge pedestrians: drop dead.  Bridge committee, city staff, and officials walking there in 2014. Photo: Don Ward

In a hearing at City Hall this morning, the mayor-appointed Board of Public Works unanimously approved proceeding with the city Bureau of Engineering’s (BOE) recommendation to eliminate one of two sidewalks on its Glendale-Hyperion Bridge retrofit project. The latest version, announced earlier this week, has not changed significantly since 2013 when BOE pushed a similar unsafe design, leading to a backlash, and the formation of an advisory committee to re-think the dangerous design.

Despite both traffic studies and the advisory committee favoring full safe sidewalks, Los Angeles City staff have continued to recommend a design that keeps the bridge unsafe for drivers and fails to accommodate pedestrian traffic.

Councilmember Tom LaBonge attended the hearing to dig his heels in against elimination of a single car lane. Ironically, he also pressed for automated enforcement cameras to be added to the bridge to solve speeding problems.

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell was considered to be more open to a less car-centric design, but today his staff stated that the council office had “heard loud and clear” that their constituents don’t want fewer car lanes and further that the road diet Option 3, the option that had sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, “had never been a viable option.”

More than 40 stakeholders showed up to testify in favor of full sidewalks on the bridge. Nonetheless, the BOE, using discredited Level of Service (LOS) metrics and different traffic studies than what had been shared with the project advisory committee, held sway saying that fewer car lanes would trigger a full environmental review. BOE recommended that the current four car lanes would need to remain in place in order for the city to skirt full environmental review by just approving its current Mitgated Negative Declaration (MND). Read more…

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Move L.A. Interviews Incoming Metro CEO Phil Washington

Metro’s new CEO Phil Washington just started work this past Monday May 11. Below is a recent Phil Washington interview conducted by Gloria Ohland, who serves as Policy and Communications Director for Move L.A.

Metro CEO Phil Washington. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro CEO Phil Washington. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At Move L.A.’s 7th Annual Transportation Conversation L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti talked at some length about L.A.’s transformation into an example of what a new American city looks like — that we are building the “first truly modern city in the world” — and that the build-out of L.A.’s transit system has been a powerful lever for making people think differently about L.A. New Metro CEO Phillip Washington, who assumed his post Monday, says the same thing about Denver, the metro region he hails from, which like Los Angeles passed a sales tax measure that is paying for the build-out of their transit system.

The 8-county Denver metro region passed the FasTracks sales tax initiative with 58 percent of the vote in 2004, and there are now six rail lines under construction. L.A. County voters passed Measure R in 2008 with 67.22 percent of the vote (a two-thirds super-majority vote is required for local funding measures in California) and we have five lines, including two subways, under construction.

Washington credits Denver’s FasTracks initiative as catalyzing “all the growth that is occurring in Denver,” which is often cited as one of the top draws for millennials, one of the hottest real estate markets in the U.S., and a place that, in the words of a recent Denver Post story: “Is a far cry from the Denver of the 1980s, when the city was choking on a brown cloud of pollution and struggling with a decaying downtown and a sputtering economy.”

Mayor Garcetti lobbied Phil Washington to come to Metro because there’s probably no one else who could be so well-suited in terms of his job experience: Denver is the only other metropolitan region that has been able to largely self-finance the construction of so much transportation infrastructure: 100+ miles of light rail, bus rapid transit, and 57 stations in Denver, compared to 100+ miles of light rail, subway, and bus rapid transit and almost 100 stations in Los Angeles. Washington is someone who understands the importance of using local money to leverage federal funding, and the importance of pressing Congress for new federal financing tools — low-interest loan and bond programs — that provide more opportunities for leveraging.

Washington grew up using transit in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the South Side of Chicago. He joined the Army at 18 and stayed there for 24 years to become a Command Sergeant Major, the highest non-commissioned officer rank. He left the Army for the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) in 2000 and became the agency’s general manager 10 years later. That’s when he earned national attention for essentially saving the agency from near-disaster when the cost of construction materials for the transit build-out skyrocketed due to global demand in the mid-2000s and then the 2008 financial crisis caused FasTracks sales tax revenues to drop off sharply.

He helped make the decision not to put another tax increase on the 2010 or 2012 ballot in Denver, instead using alternative funding and financing sources and launching the first “P3” in this country in modern times to help get the agency back on track. The P3 is a public private partnership to build/operate/finance/operate/maintain four rail lines as well as a big maintenance facility. Under his leadership RTD is also credited with the celebrated re-development of Denver’s Union Station, built in 1881 and reopened last year as a multi-modal transit center that accommodates local and regional rail and bus, shuttles, taxis — a total of 16 different modes of transit. There are restaurants, retail, bars and a hotel in the station, which is located in the thriving LoDo (Lower Downtown) neighborhood at one end of the celebrated 16th Street Transit Mall. Union Station is surrounded by 3,500 new residential units and 1.5 million square feet of office.

Washington is also credited with creating the Community Workforce Initiative Now (WIN) program to train and employ thousands of people who live in communities affected by major infrastructure projects — for which he was honored as a “Champion of Change” by the White House. The WIN program is similar to L.A. Metro’s Construction Careers Program and Project Labor Agreements, which ensure that 40 percent of those hired to build L.A.’s transportation projects are people who live in low-income communities and that another 10 percent of all those hired are considered as “disadvantaged” because they have been chronically unemployed, for example, or are veterans of the Iraq war.

Washington seems well-liked all-around: by RTD staff, labor, the engineering and construction companies, developers, the smart growth crowd and the general public. I talked with him prior to his departure from Denver’s RTD.

As you know we are in the midst of discussions about whether to put another sales tax measure on the ballot next year, and a recent Metro poll suggests very strong public support. What’s your opinion?

One of my first orders of business is to sit down with each board member to understand their objectives and priorities and to develop a tactical plan based on what I hear. If the board supports the idea of a new sales tax measure, I know how to do it.

We did it in Denver in 2004 and our success was largely due to our ability to bring people together. One of the truly great things that happened is that the Metro Mayors Caucus — a nonpartisan group of 40 mayors who voluntarily come together to address complex regional issues like air pollution — unanimously supported the measure. The transit build-out has been a Metro Mayors Caucus priority since the very beginning, and they also worked with the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority on issuing bonds to finance affordable multi-family housing at stations along the rail lines.

What are some of the key lessons learned about winning the ballot measure in Denver?

I believe the specificity of the plan was key — not just with the mayors but also the general public. A very detailed plan is a must. We tried going to the ballot in 1997 and failed partly because we weren’t specific about how the money would be spent, and it took us 7 years to get back to the ballot.  Read more…

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A Tale of Two Future Bridges: New Bike/Ped Crossing on L.A. River, Fewer Sidewalks on Glendale-Hyperion

A person crossing would have to come down from the bridge on the right to the red car bridge on the left to cross the bridge. Would anyone do this and add 12 minutes to their trip in the real world?

Under the two plans announced today, a person crossing would have to come down from the bridge on the right to the red car bridge on the left to cross. Would anyone do this and add 12 minutes to their trip in the real world?

It was sort of a surreal moment. Even as Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell stood at the podium discussing the benefits of a planned new bicycle and pedestrian crossing over the L.A. River, the Bureau of Public Works released its recommendation (PDF) that the new Glendale-Hyperion Bridge would actually have fewer feet devoted to safe sidewalks than the current bridge.

LaBonge and O’Farrell at this morning’s press event. Both pics by Damien Newton

What was supposed to be a light press conference announcing the opening of a permanent bridge project using existing support structures from an old Red Car bridge across the L.A. River turned somewhat sour for many of the community and traffic safety advocates in attendance when the Bureau announced their plans for the bridge on their website. News traveled quickly among the crowd, and the reporters present suddenly found themselves with dozens of sources for a meatier story than a made-for-bike-week announcement of new infrastructure.

In the fall of 2013, news broke that when the Glendale-Hyperion complex of bridges that connect Atwater Village and Silver Lake would be retrofitted to make them earthquake-proof, local advocates immediately noticed problems with the new design on the street portion of the bridge. Despite appearing on the city’s bicycle plan, the road redesign called for widening the existing car lanes, installing “crash barriers” in the middle of the bridge, removing a sidewalk, and adding no bike lanes.

After an explosion of public comment and a community forum which turned into a Livable Streets rally, O’Farrell, announced a citizen’s advisory committee would be formed. The Mayor’s office submitted a request for an extension to the grant. The old timeline would have precluded any major changes to the proposed road design.

Earlier today, the Bureau of Engineering released its analysis of four different designs for the new bridge, concluding that to make space for a pair of bike lanes on the new bridge, the best option was to take out one of the two sidewalks.

At the podium this morning, O’Farrell painted as rosy a picture as possible, discussing the importance of river crossings for all mode users and some of the improvements the new Hyperion Bridge will have over the existing one, including marked crosswalks and bicycle lanes. He even struck a populist tone, declaring his support for “protected bicycle lanes” on Hyperion and across the city.

But that wasn’t enough for many of the safety advocates in the audience. A press release from L.A. Walks noted that any bicyclist or pedestrian on Glendale Boulevard wanting to cross the river on the “Red Car Bridge” would need to travel twelve minutes out of their way–and are thus far more likely to use the limited sidewalk or just walk on the shoulder even without a sidewalk.

“The City of Los Angeles promotes the fact that we have moved past our auto-centric history and want to be ‘A Safe City,’ as it states in the Mayor’s Great Streets for Los Angeles Strategic Plan,” says Deborah Murphy. “We cannot achieve this goal if we can’t provide the most basic of provisions for pedestrians–a simple sidewalk on both sides of the bridge.” Read more…