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MyFigueroa Achieves Consensus, Auto Group Withdraws Appeal

MyFigueroa multi-feature design for new bus platforms on Figueroa Street. Agreements this week enable this project to move forward with construction anticipated to begin in early 2015.

MyFigueroa multi-feature design for new bus platforms on Figueroa Street. Agreements this week enable this project to move forward with construction anticipated to begin in early 2015. image: MyFigueroa.com

This week, stakeholders hammered out an agreement that allows the MyFigueroa project to finally move from design to on-the-ground implementation.

MyFigueroa will arguably be Los Angeles’ premiere “complete street.” The three project streets will be inclusive: welcoming to pedestrians, transit riders, cyclists, and drivers.

This is great news for Los Angeles livability. Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District (BID) head Steve Gibson describes it as “good for the district, for the bike community, and for the city.”

Mayor Garcetti, one of MyFigueroa’s stalwart proponents, described this week’s victory as follows:

I’m excited that our work to bring stakeholders together to air and address concerns has cleared the way for MyFigueroa to finally move forward. This is a critical initiative for Downtown, South L.A. and especially the corridor in between, and the result will be a better mobility balance and a higher quality of life. This is a prime example of our Back to Basics agenda for Los Angeles, which is focused on the core building blocks that strengthen neighborhoods. I want to thank Councilmember Price for working with us to convene stakeholders and resolve their concerns, and our dialogue with the community will be ongoing.

City Councilmember Curren Price, who represents the area, further stated:

Because of the conversations that were held between the City and stakeholders we will now have a groundbreaking project in the New Ninth that all members of the community will support, without compromising the integrity of the project.

It hasn’t been easy making big changes in one of the city’s most iconic corridors. Figueroa is already a thriving place with many world class features: sports venues, entertainment centers, and longstanding cultural, religious, and educational institutions. There are great historic landmark buildings, and notable new development. Figueroa is home to businesses and residents. Heavy traffic, wide streets, proximity to the the 110 Freeway, and proliferation of parking lots/structures seem to keep the Figueroa Corridor from being a truly thriving walkable place. In recent times, many of the great destinations along Figueroa Street have tended to turn inward — away from the noise and congestion of Figueroa Street.

With transit connections to Metro’s Red, Purple, and Expo Lines, Figueroa is well-positioned to be the place where Los Angeles takes a big step into a multi-modal livable future. Figueroa leaders saw this, and, nearly a decade ago, started a process to bring it into being. Two local BIDs worked with the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to pursue funding for what would become MyFigueroa.    

The MyFigueroa project will be Los Angeles’ first large-scale “complete streets” makeover. It creates a street that’s truly welcoming and safe for everyone. The project features widened sidewalks, wayfinding, landscaping, pedestrian-scale lighting, improved bus stops, and the city’s first protected bikeway or cycle track.

MyFigueroa weathered a somewhat difficult midstream hand-off when the state dissolved the CRA. The Los Angeles City Department of Transportation (LADOT) picked up the reigns and became the lead city agency. MyFig later stalled due to a legal appeal filed by the Shammas Auto GroupAt a March 2014 meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, it appeared that a newly-established stakeholder working group, convened by Mayor Garcetti and City Councilmembers Curren Price and Jose Huizar, was nearing a consensus that would allow MyFigueroa to proceed.

This week, the working group bore fruit.

In a letter dated April 30 2014, the Shammas Auto Group’s attorney wrote:

[T]he Shammas Auto Group [...] hereby withdraws all his previously filed appeals related to the above-referenced [Figueroa Streetscape] project.

From the city staff report, it’s clear that a great deal of work went into making this happen. Representatives from the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the LADOT have been busy.

Read more…

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CicLAvia Highlights Need for Better Bike Infrastructure for Cycling to Grow as a Transportation Option

Rides at CicLAvia along Wilshire Blvd. (from last year. I took zero pictures this year). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Riders at CicLAvia (2013) along Wilshire Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“Stay to the right!” rang out over the megaphone from a passing police car. “That means you, young lady!”

As CicLAvia came to a close and streets were being re-opened to cars, well-meaning police officers did their best to warn folks on bikes that their two-wheeled utopia was subsisting on borrowed time.

And, while I was flattered that they thought I was young, I was rather flummoxed at the notion that they would have directed me to move from an empty eastbound lane of Wilshire to the right side of the dozen or so cars queuing up to turn right onto Hoover.

Who told them it was a good idea to run cyclists in front of cars turning right? I wondered.

This moment — the instant that the streets re-open to motorized traffic — is both the most informative part of CicLAvia and the most depressing.

It’s informative in that you immediately get a sense of how well-equipped your average person is to navigate traffic on a bike and your average police officer to help them do so. And, it’s depressing because the answer to both of those questions is “not very.”

At Hoover, the officers’ admonitions directing bikes heading east along Wilshire to stay to the far right were entirely counterproductive (and dangerous). Those that took those directions as gospel headed straight for the gutter, hugging the curb as closely as possible. But, because there was no room to ride in the car-occupied lane, many soon moved up onto the narrow sidewalk, where they had to walk their bikes.

All those now-pedestrians crossed through the intersection on foot, creating a tremendous bottleneck along Wilshire. Meanwhile, police continued to direct people to ride to the right of the growing line of cars waiting to turn right, despite the fact that the eastbound lanes remained almost entirely car-free.

Along other sections of Wilshire that had been re-opened to cars, some people chose to ride on the sidewalks, wanting no part of car traffic. Others continued to brave it out in the gutters, slowly battling and weaving their way up hills, sometimes completely oblivious to — or utterly panicked by — the line of cars forming behind them. Still others, apparently lost in the bike-fest bubble, merrily blew through red lights with their children in tow.

This is madness, I thought.

Not necessarily because all these inexperienced people were out on the streets — although that can be problematic, too — but because they were there and they were not protected by better infrastructure.

Earlier in the day, I had been talking with cycling advocate friends about the next steps forward from CicLAvia. Read more…

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City Leaders Shepherding MyFigueroa Stakeholders Toward Consensus

Graphic from Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition's analysis of the past 10 years' traffic injuries and fatalities. Car collisions seriously injured 1453 persons and killed 2. Source: LACBC

Graphic from Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s analysis of the past 10 years’ traffic injuries and fatalities on South Figueroa Street in the MyFigueroa project stretch. Car collisions seriously injured 1453 persons and killed 2. Click graphic to enlarge. Source: LACBC

The long-anticipated MyFigueroa project made another appearance at the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee yesterday. With more than a hundred supporters in attendance, a great deal of staff work, political leadership, and a stakeholder summit process underway, it appears that MyFigueroa may be on track to break ground some day in the not too distant future.

The PLUM committee heard from staff and the public, made requests based on recommendations that came from a stakeholder working group, and pushed the item off for three more weeks.

MyFigueroa is expected to include the city of L.A.’s first significant stretch of protected bike lanes, as well as various improvements to make all road users’ experiences safer and better. The project extends from Downtown L.A. into Exposition Park. In the works since 2008, the project snagged on auto dealership (Shammas Auto Group) opposition in 2013, and has been stalled, churning its way through City Council committees ever since

Yesterday’s PLUM hearing began with a presentation by staff from the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Department of Transportation (LADOT.) Staff responded to L.A. City Councilmember Curren Price’s motion (13-1124) directing staff to analyze “[a]lternatives … to removing traffic lanes on S. Figueroa Street.” My Figueroa proposes removing one southbound travel lane on South Figueroa (from 7th Street to Martin Luther King Blvd) to add two-way protected bikeways. Price and others have expressed interest in a paired couplet of one-way bikeways instead: northbound only on Figueroa Street and southbound only on adjacent Flower Street. DCP and LADOT reported that they had analyzed this Flower couplet possibility, but advised against it, as it would require removing two travel lanes on Flower, resulting in “more traffic bottlenecks” than the MyFigueroa project as planned.

Following the staff presentation, Councilmember Price’s Deputy Chief of Staff Paloma Pérez-McEvoy and Mayor Garcetti’s transportation staffer Marcel Porras stepped to the podium. Pérez-McEvoy and Porras related that, last week, Price, Garcetti and Councilmember Jose Huizar had convened a 4-hour “summit” meeting of Figueroa corridor stakeholders and bike advocates. Pérez-McEvoy expressed that the meeting had gone well, but that there were still some “small” issues including ingress and egress,  traffic impacts, and procedures for closing lanes for filming. Porras reported that the summit was pulled together quickly, had gone well, and that parties were all working together.  Read more…

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MyFigueroa Project Picking Up Key Neighborhood Council Support

MyFigueroa planned improvements on 11th Street leading to Figueroa Street. Image from MyFigueroa website

MyFigueroa planned improvements on 11th Street leading to Figueroa Street. Image from MyFigueroa website

MyFigueroa is picking up some steam as the city’s decision on an appeal of the project’s certification  approaches.

MyFigueroa is the city of L.A.’s innovative downtown complete streets project, in the works since 2008. The project extends from Downtown L.A. (from the 7th and Fig outdoor mall) into South L.A.(to Exposition Park), and features pedestrian, transit, and bicycle improvements, including what will be the city’s first protected bike lane. MyFigueroa was approved by the City Council in 2013,  but an appeal ended up putting the project before the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee in late January 2014, when approval was put on hold for “30 days.” In city-timeline-speak, thirty days is usually equal to two to four months.

The project is expect to return to PLUM any day now, so MyFig proponents have been making the rounds to reaffirm the broad public support that MyFig enjoys. Many Neighborhood Councils have passed resolutions supporting MyFig, but are now weighing in with letters urging prompt approval.

Just last week, MyFig got a boost from the Empowerment Congress North Area Neighborhood Development Council (NANDC.) According to MyFigueroa advocate Michael MacDonald, NANDC voted to approve sending a letter to the city’s PLUM committee at their March 6th meeting. The motion stated that NANDC supports the project as an investment in the community, and, further, urges the city to proceed with the project as designed rather than risk its funding through redesign.

Last night, MyFig was on the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council’s (DLANC) agenda. At the beginning of the meeting the board was presented with an award in honor of their advocacy for complete streets by Councilmember Jose Huizar. Public comment was unanimous in support of MyFig, and the DLANC approved this MyFig support letter by a vote of 16 in favor, none opposed, one abstaining. Here’s a selection from the DLANC letter: Read more…

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MyFigueroa! Needs a Hero as Livable Streets Villains Line Up Against City’s First Cycletracks

Listening to yesterday’s City Council Planning and Land Use Committee over the phone, it felt as though I was listening to a parody of a hearing. What should have been a major moment for the MyFigueroa! project, the city’s most important bicycle and pedestrian project on the books. turned into an almost baffling show of city government at its worst.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 12.29.55 PM

The end result was that the City Council committee requested staff return “in 30 days” with a report answering some questions they’ve already answered many times and to examine streets outside the project area to see if there could be cycletracks put on them. They were supposed to decide whether or not to advance a challenge to the environmental documents prepared by City Planning or a motion by Councilmember Curren Price which requires a new traffic study for the corridor.

As I said. It was baffling.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. My Figueroa! was supposed to be a legacy project for both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his successor. The first separated bike lanes in the city. The first truly complete street. It was supposed to be a wonderful unifying moment for the city and a proud moment for the leaders that made it happen. As recently as last week, it was the centerpiece of the “new” Los Angeles that the city bragged about when seeking partnerships on bicycle projects.

But instead of a wonderful unifying moment, we got a muddled meeting and a sad replay of the old argument about car culture and the need to preserve street space for the private automobile.

In short, yesterday’s meeting was something of a comedy of errors: There was no leadership shown from the City Council Members present, with the possible exception of Councilmember Gil Cedillo helpfully suggesting that the project could move into his district. Staff seemed unprepared for some of the hardest questions, even as the General Manager of City Planning hung out in the back of the room while his staff was getting grilled. While staff from the Mayor’s Office was present, they didn’t take to the podium to speak for the administration.

The Councilmember representing the area, Curren Price, seems to want the project to be built, the $30 million to be spent in his district and no traffic lanes to go away. Accomplishing all three of these things is, unfortunately, not possible.

A lawyer for Darryl Holter’s Shammas Automotive Group suggested a bunch of other streets  (for example Hope and Olive, on the other side of the freeway) that should be studied instead of Figueroa Street for dedicated bike lanes that would be in Curren Price’s district. The owner of these car dealerships is still pretending he supports this project, even as he fights to overturn the environmental documents and threatens a lawsuit.

The lawyer’s suggestion was taken seriously, even though anyone who’s followed this project closely knows that former Councilmember Jan Perry asked for the same study to happen.  The result was that the lack of connectivity between the suggested streets and streets on the west side of the I-110 made them outside the project area. That is, there is no funding on the table to do a MyFigueroa! style road treatment to these streets, even if it were a good idea.

Besides, the grant that paid for the planning and would pay for the implementation is entitled, “Linking South Los Angeles to Downtown: Figueroa Corridor.” It’s unlikely bike lanes on Spring Street would somehow meet the requirements of the grant.

If that’s not enough, the LACBC explains from a planning perspective why MyFigueroa! is the street that makes the most sense for the city’s first true cycletracks.

To top if all off, the Film and Television Industry even showed up to complain that with separated bike lanes they wouldn’t be able to park film trucks on the side of the street anymore. Read more…

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Garcetti Has Skin in the Game on My Figueroa!

Sharrows are one thing, but separated bike lanes are something else. Photo: LADOT

Sharrows are one thing, but separated bike lanes are something else. Photo: LADOT

Earlier this month, the City of Los Angeles wrote to the Green Lane Project, seeking to be a partner city in “Green Lane Project 2″.

If selected, L.A. would be one of six American cities that would work with People for Bikes to receive a suite of technical, financial and strategic resources, opportunities to network with peers on the development of protected lanes (aka cycletracks, aka separated bike lanes), and national recognition as a leader in the rapidly evolving practice of building better bike lanes.

This is a bold move for Los Angeles, but a popular one with city leadership. Mayor Eric Garcetti stands fully behind the application and the potential program. Jose Huizar, the City Councilmember who chairs the City Council Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM) also wrote a letter in support of L.A.’s application.

There’s just one small catch.

In order to show the city’s dedication to building a series of separated bike lanes throughout Downtown Los Angeles and beyond, city staff pointed to the city’s commitment to completing the MyFigueroa! project within this calendar year. While the city promises another mile and a half of protected bike lanes by the end of 2015 in addition, MyFigueroa! is the clear centerpiece of the city’s existing plan for cycletracks.

The document states:

MyFigueroa is significant because it will connect the extensive downtown bicycle network to one of the city’s largest bicycle hubs, the University of Southern California. This cycle track, and its complementary streetscape improvements, will ensure increased ease of movement between the two and greatly improve safety for bicycle riders along the corridor. This will be the most transformational for the city because it will be very visible to both locals and visitors. It provides a needed north-south connection that makes it easier and safer for those living in South Los Angeles to commute to jobs in Downtown. It is also the longest cycle track currently planned for Los Angeles. MyFigueroa will “prove” the cycle track concept in Los Angeles, and will make it easier for cycle tracks to proliferate across the city, our long-term vision.

For those of you just joining us, MyFigueroa! is a plan to bring cycletracks, pedestrian improvements and a road diet to South Figueroa Street between Downtown Los Angeles and South Park near USC. The project is popular with safe street advocates and residents. There is also work being done to modernize the road configuration on some of the streets connecting to South Figueroa, including MLK Boulevard.

However, the environmental documents that clear the project are being challenged by Darryl Holter, owner of the Shammas Auto Group which includes the famous “Felix the Cat” dealership. Some other power players, such as AAA and the California Science Center, wrote letters opposing the road diet. A delay in the project that could come from a new environmental study could endanger the project’s funding, even as the project team is ready to put construction out to bid. Read more…

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The MyFigueroa! Streetscape and Protected Bike Lane Plan Moves Forward as City Council Begins Hearing the Appeal

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 12.29.55 PM

Next week, the Los Angeles City Council will hear the formal appeal of the environmental certification of the MyFigueroa! project brought by Darryl Holter, owner of the Shammas Auto Group. But, even as the Council begins to hear the appeal, the MyFigueroa! team is preparing to put the project out to bids in February and March.

In short, MyFigueroa! is a streetscaping and safety project that would put Figueroa Street on a road diet to make room for the city’s first major cycletracks, or separated bike lanes. Los Angeles recently added some traffic dividers to a buffered bike lane through the 2nd Street tunnel, but repeated car crashes into the tunnel’s wall show that these barriers aren’t sufficient to completely protect cyclists.

Daryl Holter. Image via ##http://larchmontchronicle.com/darryl-holter-executive-moonlights-as-musician/##Larchmont Chronicle##

Darryl Holter. Image via Larchmont Chronicle

At next Tuesday’s meeting (agenda not yet available online) of the City Council Planning and Land Use Committee, Holter’s complaint will be heard by Council Members Gil Cedillo, Mitch Englander, and Chair Jose Huizar. Following that hearing, the City Council Transportation Committee will consider the appeal. Both bodies will make recommendations to the Full Council, who will then vote on whether or not the Planning Department’s certification of the environmental documents was correct. Last August, City Planning ruled that the project will have no significant environmental impact.

For his part, Holter has claimed repeatedly in public that he is not trying to derail the project, but rather ensure that there is a mechanism to remove the project should it have unintended negative impacts. He has asked for traffic studies after the project is completed to determine whether or not the projections are being met. Since nobody opposes this idea, it’s hard to believe that that is all he is looking for. Read more…

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Formal Appeal Filed Against MyFigueroa! Streetscape Project by Auto Dealerships

It’s not quite a series of scribbles by Eli Broad, but the formal appeal of the MyFigueroa! Project, also known as the South Figueroa Streetscape Project, by Darryl Holter of the Shammus Auto Group is so half-baked, it’s hard to believe that anyone would take it seriously.

The two-page hand-written complaint contains no new information or studies, just a repetition of Holter’s clearly stated belief (pages 40-42 of this report) that a road diet, dedicated transit lane, and cycletracks will be bad for his business. By law, Holter’s appeal will eventually be heard by the entire Los Angeles City Council. Council staff confirmed this morning the appeal will first be heard by the Planning and Land Use Committee but could not give a timeline on when the Council would take up the issue.The Department of Planning found in August that the project has no significant impact on businesses in the area, but the Council can overturn that decision.

While Holter’s two page memo hardly seems the basis to overturn an environmental study, he likely has the support of his local Council Member, Curren Price who authored a motion questioning the study on many of the same grounds. And if one needs proof that the Council doesn’t truly understand livable street design and bicycle safety, all he or she has to do is look at the gravelly remains of what was once the city’s signature bicycle safety project running adjacent to City Hall.

MyFigueroa! is a plan to create Los Angeles’ first Complete Street or Living Street. The project area includes four miles of streets that stretch from downtown L.A.  to South Los Angeles: Figueroa Street from 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles to 41st Street, just south of Exposition Park; 11th Street from Figueroa Street east to Broadway in the South Park neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles; and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Figueroa Street west to Vermont Avenue, on the south edge of Exposition Park.

Different parts of the project will see different road improvements. For more details, visit the MyFigueroa! website.

As Streetsblog has noted before, Holter’s opinions aren’t supported by facts when looking at how similar projects have impacted traffic and businesses in other cities. A quick email with other Streetsblog editors found examples of popular road diets. Recent studies show that road diets aren’t bad for business. While some diets have caused an increase in congestion, they uniformly show a clear reduction in vehicle crashes.

In the case of the South Figueroa Streetscape Project, there just happens to be a gigantic freeway running parallel to the street for people who feel inconvenienced by the lack of mixed-use travel lanes.

Read more…

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L.A. Approves Cycle Tracks, But Council Motion Could Derail South Fig. Plans

At long last, it looks like the City of Los Angeles is ready to build some cycle tracks. Earlier this week, the City of Los Angeles certified the environmental documents for the South Figueroa Streetscape Project, known to social media buffs as MyFigueroa! The plan calls for reducing South Figueroa from five mixed-use travel lanes to four and adding cycle tracks, buffered bike lanes, improved sidewalks, better transit access and Continental Crosswalks.

To see a larger version of this project map, click here and go to page 3.

Streetsblog has uploaded the formal recommendation letter from LADOT, Report from City Planning, and the Notice of Determination form.

The project proved somewhat controversial with the local business improvement district bemoaning the loss of some 38 parking spaces along the four and a half mile stretch of road that will be improved with bike lanes. Local businesses, which includes the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) and a slew of car dealerships argued that reducing car access was bad for their business model.

The environmental documents swept aside those concerns. While the city did not try to claim there were no economic impacts for the plan, especially in Level of Service, i.e. how many cars can use the street at a given moment, it did argue those issues were not as important as they might appear.

For example, the city points out that most of the “lost” parking spaces will be at the southern end of the corridor, near USC. The added bicycle access, plus the addition of free and low-cost off street parking in the surrounding buildings will more than make up for any lost parking spaces. In fact, the increased access for bicycles will be a boon for businesses up and down the corridor.

Others raised concerns about traffic on South Figueroa during special events at Staples Center or the Coliseum. LADOT has agreed to create new traffic plans for events in either of those arenas to insure that access to the parking lots is not hindered unduly. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike Lanes and Continental Crosswalks from Wilshire to Cesar Chavez on Figueroa

Photo:Let's Go L.A./twitpic.

An anonymous reader points out that bike lanes are being installed on South Figueroa Street between Wilshire Boulevard and Cesar Chavez, a cool 1.1 mile stretch of road. While he asked for anonymity, he/she did add:

I cycle a lot, but don’t commute. Watching cyclists going north on Fig makes me nervous, so this will probably help. Not sure I’d want to be between the curb and the bus, but it’s better than the way it is now. Now if DOT will tell its DASH bus drivers that the 7th St bike lanes aren’t for passing stopped cars .

For their part, LADOT confirmed the addition of the new lanes and that new Continental Crosswalks are also being painted along the corridor. The new infrastructure is not being painted as part of the MyFigueroa! plan which is still under environmental review.

First person to post a link to a picture of the new lanes in the comments section wins a Streetsblog t-shirt. A map of the newly painted lanes can be found after the jump. Read more…