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Fourteen Artists Named for the Crenshaw Line; What Can We Expect to See From Them?

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Middlebrook’s rich mosaics depict themes of connectivity among diverse populations and between humans and the Earth. (click to enlarge) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Crenshaw Boulevard may be chaotic to navigate due to the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line at the moment, but good things appear to be in the works. The Source reported Wednesday that the new stations will be graced with works from a diverse mix of 14 artists.

If you’ve ridden any of the rail lines, you’ve probably noticed that the stations are unique and play host to artwork that is intended to ground the stations in or make some connection with the surrounding community. This is because 0.5 percent of rail construction project costs are put towards the creation and installation of original artwork at each station.

The formal linking of art with transit began in the 1970s, according to a best practices report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). After the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) offered its support for high quality art and design in federally-funded transit projects and the National Endowment for the Arts published a case study of federal design projects, then-President Jimmy Carter asked the DOT to take a step further and support projects that contributed to the architectural and cultural heritage of local communities. As a result, in 1978, Boston, Atlanta, and Baltimore received official support from the Design, Art and Architecture program for permanent public art projects. Boston’s Art on the Line program, which grew out of that initiative, helped set the standard for the integration of public art in transit systems around the country.

I Dreamed I Could Fly

I Dreamed I Could Fly, by Jonathan Borofsky (1993), unfortunately always conjures 9/11 for me.

The 0.5% of construction costs that Metro allocates for art projects is the minimum required by the Federal Transit Authority (the maximum is 5%), and smaller than the national average APTA cites as being between 1% and 2%. But, since 1989, that 0.5% has allowed the Metro Art program to commission over 250 artists for temporary or permanent projects at transit stations.

The projects range from the beautiful Festival of Masks Parade mural by Frank Romero at Wilshire/Normandie, to the intriguing About Place, About Face installation of 27 larger-than-life faces of area residents by Rob Nielson at the Pico-Aliso station, to the downright puzzling and possibly disturbing I Dreamed I Could Fly installation of what appears to be people falling from the sky by Jonathan Borofsky at Wilshire/Vermont (at right). See the full art guide, here.

Putting art in transit stations, says APTA, encourages ridership, improves perceptions of transit, conveys a sense of customer care, enhances community livability, improves customer experiences, improves organizational identity for transit agencies, deters vandalism, and increases safety and security. Which are all fantastic arguments for integrating art at key (and, generally, heavily neglected) bus stops, I might add, but I digress.

In selecting the finalists for the Crenshaw Line, The Source reports that the selection panel assessed how the proposed works would relate to the sites and surrounding communities, while also engaging and enhancing the transit rider’s experience along the line. The final works will take a variety of forms — the artists all work in a variety of media — and be fortified by glass, tile, stainless steel, mosaics, or porcelain enamel.

So, whose work can you look forward to seeing and what kind of work have they done in the past? Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Legislative Update: Raise the Gas Tax? Cap and Trade, HOT Lanes

bikeatCapitollabel2Bills have started moving through committees in both houses of the California legislature as the hearing season starts.

For those of you just joining us, we try to provide a regular roundup of legislation of interest to livable streets advocates. Highlights from the current session are included the bills below. Let us know if we missed anything in the comments.

Mandatory Helmet Law Dropped: As we wrote about last week, Senator Carol Liu rewrote her S.B. 192 to ask for a study of helmet use and helmet laws, instead of requiring all bike riders to wear helmets and high-visibility clothing. The new bill is currently set for a hearing in the Transportation and Housing Committee in two weeks.

Proposal to Raise the Gas Tax: Brave Senator Jim Beall finally broached the Subject That Will Not Be Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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“Level of Service” Planning Is Not Dead Yet

To see a higher-res version of the image, click ##http://www.ci.santa-ana.ca.us/pwa/WarnerAveImprovements.asp##here.##

To see a higher-res version of the image, click here.

This is what happens when transportation planning focuses on moving cars instead of creating spaces for people.

At the same time that California is aggressively moving to ditch the Level of Service standard that has forced transportation and planning projects to measure and mitigate their impact on car traffic, some projects evaluated under that car-centric system still lumber on at the city and municipality level.

This explains how the City of Santa Ana in Orange County is one step away from approving a massive road widening project on one mile of Warner Avenue through the heart of the city. The plan would widen the already four-lane surface street to six lanes, add planted medians and bicycle lanes, and add ADA accessible street crossings.

The project is being completed to “improve traffic flow and improve safety,” according to the city. Worst of all, it is presented as a solution  based on complete streets principles. Again, this is what happens when even well-intentioned cities make transportation decisions based first on how it will impact car traffic.

While it is encouraging that the city is committed to increasing its downtown bike network, there is an inherent contradiction between improving traffic flow, i.e. increasing the speed of traffic, and making the street safer for people who walk or bicycle. Speed is a contributing factor in one-third of fatal traffic crashes nationwide. Fast-moving cars on a six-lane street make a daunting obstacle for pedestrians to cross, no matter how nice the planted median is.

The cost of the project is a cool $55 million, 20 percent of which the city already has in hand. Some of that money comes from Orange County’s transportation bond, Measure M, which handcuffs how municipalities can spend the money.

For the 37 families that will be displaced by the widening, the cost is much higher. Danny Cortes’ family lives at one of the homes Santa Ana plans to purchase for the project. When Cortes learned about the project at community meetings in 2012, his house wasn’t on the list of properties that would be purchased for the project. Only after checking the city’s website in January did he learn that his family would likely be evicted from the place they have called home for over a decade, when the homeowner cashes out.

“It is hard to just leave the place because you have to, when there’s no other option,” Cortes said.

Cortes has been working with Santa Ana Active Streets (SAAS)**, a nonprofit coalition of advocacy groups who push for complete street and smart growth solutions for regional transportation problems. In a document submitted to the city as public testimony, SAAS notes that despite the addition of a bike lane and ADA-compliant street crossings, this plan is not one that will make life safer for street users.

While the proposed bike lane is a much needed asset to create a comprehensive bicycle network in the City, adding bike lanes doesn’t mean the streets will be safer for bicyclists. At Santa Ana Active Streets’ Active Transportation Leadership Program workshop on February 21, 2015, Alta Planning + Design’s Senior Planner Bryan Jones said: “The mere act of adding bike lanes and sidewalks does not make a roadway safe; it has to do with the greater design.”

Santa Ana is not a city of people who are opposed to progressive transportation or have a knee jerk reaction to fighting non-automobile transportation options.  Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Boxer and Inhofe Say Transportation Bill Almost Ready, Funding Still TBD

Two leading Washington lawmakers assured reporters Wednesday that a long-term transportation bill is coming, but provided little in the way of details.

Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, respectively, held a press conference Wednesday featuring a line-up of construction and labor leaders demanding “action on transportation.” The event is shown in the above video in its entirety.

Inhofe told reporters a draft six-year bill is almost ready. Just six weeks remain before the current extension of MAP-21 expires, and the Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money in July — potentially threatening the construction season.

A critical hurdle for lawmakers is settling on a funding source to replace the declining gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993. Just yesterday a bipartisan group from the House asked Congress to raise it.

But little was said about funding at the press conference. Boxer said while she is supportive, there isn’t much appetite for an increase in taxes on gasoline or crude oil. “I will do almost anything to fill that trust fund,” she said.

Boxer said she would be “dropping a bill” with Rand Paul to generate revenues by “repatriating” overseas profits on U.S. corporations hiding out overseas to avoid taxes.

“I’m hopeful that this type of reform can bring us together and unite us,” she said. The Hill reports lawmakers are divided on whether to make that 5 percent tax on corporate profits overseas voluntary or mandatory. Paul and Boxer say the repatriation tax bill could bring $2 trillion in revenue.

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My Interview with Tamika Butler: Equity and Social Justice Are Rallying Cries for LACBC’s New Leader

Tamika Butler, new Executive Director of the LACBC, at her desk at LACBC headquarters on Spring Street.

When the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition announced its new Executive Director last December, the early reviews were somewhat mixed. Those close to the hiring process were confident they had the right mix, and many backers of the organization took to social media to embrace the new face of bike advocacy in Los Angeles, Tamika Butler.

But others weren’t so sure. Butler was a relative unknown in the bicycling world, despite a track record of accomplishment at the Liberty Hill Foundation and the Young Invincibles. She even came with a law degree and bar certification. But for those expecting a familiar face, the arrival of someone new to the advocacy scene in the region’s top position was a surprise.

A couple of months later, however, it already feels to a lot of people that she’s always been a part of the local scene.

That said, Butler brings something new to the table. She places the struggle for safe and fun bicycling options into the larger struggle for equity for all communities, especially financially disadvantaged communities of color.

Even though we’re people on bikes, we still live in this world with these other factors, and we still have to bring them into the conversation.”

At the end of our interview, we talk about how a small news item in Santa Monica might be a game-changer for the whole region. I’m going to make you listen (or scroll) to the end to get there. But in another way, LACBC has already changed the game by bringing in a powerful voice for inclusion and equity to the fore in conversations about bicycling and transportation.

And that’s a good thing.

After the jump is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation from a couple of weeks ago. Below is the audio.


Read more…

Streetsblog NYC
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Streetsblog Retains BlankSlate to Strengthen Our Bottom Line

Earlier this year, I wrote about the imperative for Streetsblog to generate more revenue from our website. With so many unsold impressions, ads were a clear opportunity to put Streetsblog’s sizable reach to use strengthening our bottom line. Today I’m pleased to announce that we’ve retained BlankSlate to help us sell ads and make good on that potential.

BlankSlate is an experienced shop that works with several other publishers similar in size to Streetsblog, in addition to owning and operating the Brooklyn real estate site Brownstoner. Their team will be selling ads and setting up ad networks on Streetsblog, and you’ve probably noticed the new ad zones on the site this week. BlankSlate has also set up filters to prevent automotive and fossil fuel industry advertisements from appearing on Streetsblog, which should keep many heads from exploding.

Streetsblog is a 501(c)3 non-profit, and we continue to rely on reader contributions and foundation support to fund our work. Ads are the third leg of the stool, and we’re excited to be working with BlankSlate to build a durable publishing operation.

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At What Point Could this Have Been Stopped?: Community Celebrates Exide’s Closure, Seeks Full Accounting from New DTSC Director

At the informational meeting on the closure of Exide Technologies' Vernon facility, Roberto Cabrales of Communities for a Better Environment asks the politicians and their staff on hand where they were over the last decade the community spent asked for their support in getting the plant shut down. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

At the informational meeting on the closure of Exide Technologies’ Vernon facility, Roberto Cabrales of Communities for a Better Environment asks the politicians on hand where they were over the last decade when the community needed them to enforce environmental regulations or aid in getting the plant shut down. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“We won, folks. We won!” Monsignor John Moretta addressed the crowd that had gathered at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to hear about the process by which the closure of Exide Technologies’ embattled lead-acid battery recycling facility would begin. “Siempre adelante. Siempre adelante.” [Always moving forward.]

To a degree, the conversation that took place last Thursday regarding the closure of the Vernon plant did genuinely feel like a step forward. A small one, to be sure, but a step forward nonetheless.

For one, Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Director Barbara Lee was on hand to speak with the community. That alone was unusual, in that, in the many years the community has spent demanding their health be protected, the director of the department had never made such a clear effort to engage stakeholders both formally and informally.* But so was the level of candor with which she addressed those in the audience.

“Many of you are very angry and many of you have been harmed in a number of ways. And you feel that the department has failed you,” she began. “I want to start by saying I’m very sorry.”

Then, in a solemn sotto voce, she ticked off a long list of ways in which the department had gotten it wrong.

“[Exide] should not have operated without a formal permit for decades…We should have acted sooner;” “We didn’t watch them the way we should have done over many years;” “We failed to see and failed to say when enough was enough;” and, “We haven’t worked well with co-regulators…for many years.”

She was referring to the impressive level of negligence on the part of the DTSC and other relevant authorities that allowed Exide (and its predecessors) to operate without a formal permit and largely with impunity for decades. As we recently charted here, Exide has repeatedly violated air quality and other standards by improperly storing lead-acid batteries, contaminating a drainage channel with lead, failing to clean up public areas it contaminated around the plant, spilling approximately 1136 lbs. of lead into the watershed (between 2003 and 2006), exceeding airborne lead emissions multiple times (including during the period it was closed for upgrades last year), not repairing degraded pipes carrying up to 310,000 gallons of contaminant-laden wastewater a day, and, most recently, storing “contaminated sludge in tanks that [it] is not authorized to operate,” failing to sufficiently protect against spills of hazardous waste, and “fail[ing] to minimize the possibility of any unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous wastes or hazardous waste constituents to air, soil, or surface water.” (For the full slate of inspection reports and a thorough overview of Exide’s misdeeds, see Tony Barboza’s excellent report for the L.A. Times, here.)

We didn’t listen to you,” Lee concluded, “but I am here to listen to you today.”

Instead of asking attendees to take her word for it, she ran down a list of the changes she had made to the way the DTSC operated since she had taken over the department last November. She had committed to the recommendations resulting from an audit of the department’s permitting process, which included the need for a speedier review process and the clearing out of backlogged applications. She appointed new division chiefs to the Enforcement and Permitting offices, as well as a new deputy director for Enforcement. And she put together a 45-person team to work on the Exide case, had inspectors on site every day, and would both be adjusting the standards by which they judged future operating permit applications and consulting with communities as part of that process.

With regard to current goings-on at the Vernon plant — where between 6 and 8 truckloads of hazardous waste are being packed up and shipped out to a facility in Muncie, Indiana, per day — Lee said Exide was tasked with ensuring that waste was fully wrapped and sealed (so it couldn’t leak from trucks, as it had in the past, below), trucks were washed before they left the site, and trucks were not idling in or moving through residential communities during the 60 days Exide estimated it would take to remove the waste 2000+ miles away (see Exide’s plan, here).

Hazardous waste stored in open trailers were observed to have leaked waste into puddles of water beneath them in 2013. (DTSC)

Hazardous waste stored in open trailers were observed to have leaked waste into puddles of water beneath them in 2013. (Source: DTSC)

When it came time for the plant itself to be dismantled, Lee said, the structures would likely be both power washed and wrapped so they were wet, covered, and less likely to send toxic dust into the air when taken down.

Although the DTSC was still waiting for Exide to complete and submit its final plans for the closure and post-closure clean ups — it must do so by May 15 — Lee reiterated she would hold both Exide and the DTSC to high standards to protect the community. And the lessons learned from this case would be applied to other cases going forward.

The 200 or so attendees on hand seemed to take her at her word. Many that got up to speak thanked her for her sincerity and what appeared to be her genuine interest in engaging with community members.

But it didn’t mean all was forgiven. Read more…

Streetsblog.net
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The Stakes Are High for Transit as Congress Dithers Over Transpo Funds

A “stand up for transportation” rally in Philly this morning. Photo: @thegreengrass

“Stand up for transportation” rallies are happening right now all over the country, demanding Congress put an end to the uncertainty surrounding federal transportation funding.

In Washington, some Republican lawmakers are pushing the opposite tack — an approach known as “devolution” that would create more uncertainty by basically wiping out the federal gas tax, leaving states to figure out how to adapt. The fallout would disrupt some bad road projects, but it would hit transit agencies the hardest. Eliminating federal transit funds would blow a huge hole in transit budgets, cutting off 43 percent of agencies’ capital funding, the American Public Transportation Association estimates.

At Transportation for America, Stephen Lee Davis explains why the “devolution” idea won’t appeal to states either:

Read more…

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Metro Takes Another Step Forward in Effort to Build and Preserve Affordable Housing at Transit Hubs

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites. Source: Metro

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Click to enlarge. See the original, here, on p. 24. Source: Metro

In case you haven’t heard, we’re in a bit of an affordable housing crunch.

According to the L.A. Times, “the city recently estimated that 82,000 additional affordable units will be needed by 2021.”

Non-profit developers have been aware of this problem for some time. Approximately 8000 families applied for the 184 units of affordable housing that the East L.A. Community Corporation has built in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles recently. 1500 families vied for a spot in the 60-unit residence on Whittier Bl. built by the Retirement Housing Foundation last March. And RHF was expecting as many as 2500 applications for the affordable, 78-unit senior residence set to open next door. More than 1000 families applied to live in a 90-unit residence in Macarthur Park built by McCormack Baron Salazar on land owned by Metro. And these figures likely don’t include the folks who are desperate for housing but do not earn the minimum amount required to qualify for consideration.

But even as the need for affordable housing grows, the city’s ability to provide and maintain it has declined significantly. Since 2008, funding for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) has dropped from $108 million to approximately $26 million. And, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s vocal support for affordable housing, no new funds were allocated to the AHTF in the last budget. While L.A. will likely receive some of the (anticipated) $130 million in funds set aside for affordable housing from the first year of cap-and-trade, the funds will first need to be divvied up among municipalities across the state.

Which is why it was heartening to see the Metro Board move forward on its plans to set aside at least 35% of units built on Metro-owned land for affordable housing and to establish a fund to assist non-profit developers in building or preserving affordable housing on privately-owned land near transit.

It’s not a panacea, as discussion of the 30-page staff report assessing the viability of the plan made clear. And there is much left to be done in the way of hammering out funding structures and sources for the loan fund or the criteria for discounts on Metro-owned land to entice developers to build affordable units. But it is a step in the right direction. Read more…

Streetsblog SF
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Chiu Bill Would Let Muni Cameras Ticket Drivers Cruising in Transit Lanes

Los Angeles editor’s note: This Streetsblog S.F. story seems applicable to L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard new peak-hour bus-only lanes. The “Wilshire BRT” lanes project fully opens next Tuesday, April 7. Eastern portions of the project have been open since 2013, but major bus speed improvements appear elusive, because cars do not always respect the peak-hour restrictions. Part of the problem may be enforcement. How can L.A. speed up buses on Wilshire Boulevard? Should Metro perhaps try to tag on to the San Francisco camera enforcement bill? 

Muni could get greater authority to ticket drivers violating transit lanes like this one at Third and Howard Streets under a new bill proposed by Assemblymember David Chiu. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Assemblymember David Chiu has proposed a bill to give Muni greater authority to keep transit-only lanes and bus stops clear of cars using the enforcement cameras that are now on every bus.

Assemblymember David Chiu today with his successor, D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen (right), Supervisor Scott Wiener, and SFTRU’s Thea Selby. Photo: Aaron Bialick

AB 1287 would allow Muni to issue citations to drivers who delay transit riders by cruising down transit-only lanes, parking in bus stops, and blocking intersections. It would also make the camera enforcement program permanent, as it’s currently a pilot program due to expire at the end of the year.

It’s the first transportation bill at the state level from Chiu, who was elected to the State Assembly in November after serving as District 3 Supervisor.

Camera enforcement “is about making dedicated space for buses work as well as possible,” Chiu said at a press conference today. “We all know that Muni is simply too slow, with an average speed of 8 mph. Transit-only lanes are critical to letting Muni do more than just crawl through our congested streets. For bus-only lanes to work, they can’t have cars double-parked or driving in them.”

Currently, Muni can only use cameras to ticket drivers who park in transit lanes, as spelled out by the bill that established the pilot program in 2007. Moving violations must be enforced by the SFPD, and drivers who park in bus stops and transit lanes, or block intersections, can only be cited by police or parking control officers on the scene.

Chiu’s bill would allow the SFMTA to send out tickets for moving violations captured on camera. Drivers caught cruising in a bus lane would get a $110 parking citation — which costs less than a moving violation.

Read more…