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Can High-Density Housing Solve Our Regional Housing Crisis? The Answer: It’s Complicated

Southern California Public Radio affiliate KPCC, in partnership with the Milken Institute, assembled a panel of experts Wednesday night to answer the question: can high-density housing solve the housing crisis currently facing L.A. County and California?

Back in 2008, Streetsblog looked at the Solair Development along the Red Line in Koreatown.  ## Solair Transit Oriented?##  Our review was mixed.

Solair at Wilshire/Western in 2007. Photo: Damien Newton

For those who have been following news about the crippling housing supply crisis in our region, it may not come as a surprise that there were no straight-forward answers to this question offered up over the course of the 90-minute discussion (available to watch here in its entirety), moderated by KPCC senior reporter covering housing, Josie Huang.

The five-person panel did, however, generate some interesting possibilities for the future of our region and how to address the skyrocketing rents and home prices that are driving middle- and low-income people out of Southern California and even the state.

Or, in the words of panelist, Larry Gross, the executive director Coalition for Economic Survival, how do we prevent “the people who run Los Angeles [from] being run out of Los Angeles”?

“I don’t think density in itself is neither the solution for affordable housing, nor is it the great evil that will destroy neighborhoods forever. It has to be done well, it has to be located right, designed right, planned out right,” said William Huang, director of housing for the city of Pasadena.

Southern California’s historic aversion to density is clearly part of the problem, according to Professor of Architecture/Urban Design and Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dana Cuff, who was also on the panel.

“One of the reasons housing prices have gone up so much recently has to do with the fact that we can’t sprawl out any further,” said Cuff.

“It used to be that people went out of the city to look for cheaper and cheaper housing,” Cuff said, which has resulted in Southern California having the nation’s highest rates of “extreme commutes,” which means a commute of at least 90 minutes each way.

But as the region densifies, especially along our growing transit system, how can communities make sure that homes are homes built not just for the wealthy, but also for middle- and low-income households, who are more likely to ride transit on a day-to-day basis?

If we develop our transit system in the wrong way, we’ll have higher-income people moving along those transit corridors, who may use transit to commute to work, but not for their regular trips, and you [will] actually see a decline in ridership on the transit system,” said panelist Jeff Schaffer, vice president of Enterprise Community Partners.

“Phil Washington, the new head of Metro, has said if low income people are forced to move further away from transit, then he’s going to be obligated to build transit to get out to them,” he said. A step in the right direction, however, is Metro’s plan to assure that at least 35 percent of all new housing developed on Metro property be affordable.

“We have a lot of ideas in terms of solutions [to the housing affordability problem],” said Schaffer, “whether it’s through design innovation, planning and zoning changes…, a mix of subsidies, incentives, requirements.”

“What we really need is some kind of comprehensive plan that ties all these together and fundamentally, we need a societal commitment that every person in our community deserves a decent, safe, and sanitary place to live,” he said.

If we just leave it to market forces, we’ll see a “dismal performance” in terms of housing production for low-income people, he said. Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Opaque Process Leaves Californians in the Dark about Transportation Funding

bikeatCapitollabel2Amid the swirling madness that is the final few weeks of the California legislative session—all bills must be voted on by September 11, or wait until next year—the question of how to raise, and spend, money on transportation is still very much up in the air. Increasingly, it looks like major decisions will be made behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

Governor Brown called for two “special sessions” to force agreements on major issues the state must confront, or face serious consequences in the near future: transportation and health care. But learning what “special session” means has been a quixotic exercise, as they are rare, and few capitol staffers have a clear understanding of exactly what one entails. This is what Streetsblog has been able to find out:

  • The rules for a special, also known as “extraordinary,” session follow the rules of a regular legislative session, except when they don’t.
  • Special Session committees are formed for each subject in each house, apart from the regular session committees. Members are appointed by the Senate Pro-Tem or the Assembly Speaker.
  • Those committees are a Rules Committee, an Appropriations Committee, and a subject committee—for example, the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
  • The committees are set up to consider bills on their subjects, which can be introduced by any legislator, just like in the regular session.
  • But the usual legislative deadlines don’t apply. That is, a bill doesn’t have to be “in print” for thirty days before it gets a hearing, so it can be introduced up until the last minute. Also, it can go directly from a committee to be voted on the floor of the legislature. It’s not even clear that anything must be decided before September 11, when the regular session ends—except that the lawmakers will be heading back to their districts then, and not likely to willingly stick around in Sacramento for more hearings.
  • Information about the special session committee hearings is hidden deep within the respective legislative websites, harder to find and follow even than the traditionally obtuse regular session information.

So far each subject committee has held only two hearings, and only one of those was for the purpose of discussing legislation. The Assembly committee held a sparsely attended informational hearing this week about improving freight movement, but the only legislator who stayed to listen to testimony was committee chair Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Oakley).

It looks increasingly like there may be no more hearings on any of the proposed bills, although there are quite a few of them pending [PDF]. There are two “spot” bills waiting to be considered by each house right now, each containing only a few vague words about “legislative intent,” signifying nothing. At some point before mid September those bills will be amended after private negotiations between the power players, and involving who-knows-what compromises between the two houses, between the two parties, and among legislator’s pet projects. And then they may be voted on immediately in both houses.

So much for the process. The outcome, at this point, is far from certain. Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Highway Safety Group Tells Pedestrians to Be Safe on Roads Built to Kill Them

Dumb pedestrian.

Dumb pedestrian.

The Governors’ Highway Safety Association wants you to know it’s working really hard on pedestrian and bicycle safety. The coalition of state road safety agencies just put out another report in a series of well-intentioned but a off-base attempts to draw attention to the issue.

In Everyone Walks: Understanding and Addressing Pedestrian Safety, GHSA notes that pedestrian deaths have increased 15 percent since 2009 and recommends a “3 E” approach — engineering, enforcement, and education. Except, forget the engineering part, because GHSA’s members — state highway safety offices — “are tasked with tackling the behavioral side of traffic safety — laws and their enforcement, and education — but do not usually handle infrastructure or engineering,” according to spokesperson Kara Macek. So the 21 recommendations in the report barely touch on infrastructure, arguably the most important factor in making streets safe for everyone.

The recommendations are still wide-ranging, touching on everything from FHWA Section 403 highway safety grants to slow speed zones to the relative merits of overtime pay for traffic cops. But the two E’s left in the “3 E” approach put a heavy emphasis on pedestrian behavior. Case studies include a Philadelphia enforcement campaign that issued 85 percent of its 1,525 warnings to pedestrians. Minnesota warns pedestrians, “Getting smashed at the bar? Don’t get smashed walking home,” and California berates texters with this message:

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Talking Headways Podcast: Remaking California Transportation

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This week on Talking Headways I’m joined by a big roster of guests to talk able about California’s climate legislation and how it will change transportation policy.

Lauren Michelle of Policy in Motion and Kate White, Deputy Secretary for Environmental and Housing at the California State Transportation Agency, give us the lay of the land when it comes to California’s emissions laws and the state’s array of transportation agencies.

Caltrans Sustainability Director Steve Cliff discusses what sustainability means and how it gets misconstrued as just an issue of environmental stewardship. And Eric Sundquist of SSTI also joins us to talk about how Caltrans will reorganize itself to shift its approach to transportation policy.

The last segment touches on funding and what revenue from California’s cap-and-trade system will mean for transportation. Fred Dock, transportation director for the City of Pasadena, guides us through how his city will be able to access funds by thinking outside the box.

Tune in and hear all about how California is turning the ship around — it’s exciting to think about the bright future ahead for the largest state in the nation.

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Today’s Headlines

  • The LAT’s Mobility Plan Maps Are Worth More Than One Look
  • Newspaper, Community, Admits They Don’t Really Pay Attention to What’s Happening (Los Feliz Ledger)
  • Enough with Freaking Out About Car Lanes! Let’s Talk Vision Zero (Biking in L.A.)
  • Forbes Seems to Think Vision Zero Is a Great Thing, “Hopefully This Will Spread”
  • Wait a Second…We Might Get the Hollywood Cap Park Out of an Olympic Games? (LAT)
  • Santa Monica Needs Affordable TOD Just to Maintain Current Stock (Next)
  • Audit Finds Caltrans Employees Playing Golf, Sending Personal Emails on Work Time (SF Gate)
  • Years Ago Metro Changed Its Logo So It Didn’t Confuse People Across the Country (City Lab)
  • El Monte Bike Hub Opens on September 14 (The Source)

Get National Headlines At Streetsblog USA
Get State Headlines At Streetsblog CA
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Louisville Police Officer Strikes Pedestrian During City’s Big Safety Push

Louisville's three-year pedestrian safety campaign is called "Look Alive Louisville." Image: Broken Sidewalk

Louisville’s three-year pedestrian safety campaign is called “Look Alive Louisville.” Image: Broken Sidewalk

Louisville is trying to get a handle on pedestrian safety. An average of 16 pedestrians are killed on the city’s streets annually, and the last few years have been getting worse. The city has received funding from the federal government for a three-year safety campaign dubbed “Look Alive Louisville.”

Branden Klayko at Network blog Broken Sidewalk has been running a series about the initiative. While the objective is admirable, so far the city’s tactics are a mixed bag at best. Law enforcement has been ticketing pedestrians for “jaywalking” and warning them about the dangers of dark clothing. On a more positive note, some of the messaging is aimed at drivers, and Dixie Highway, where 20 percent of collisions involving pedestrians occur, is due for a design “do-over.”

In the midst of the campaign, Klayko reports, an off-duty police office struck a pedestrian — an incident the encapsulates, in some ways, how “Look Alive Louisville” comes up short:

One of five dangerous target intersections being watched by the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) as part of the city’s Look Alive Louisville pedestrian safety campaign is at Fourth Street and Broadway. On Monday night one block west, a pedestrian was struck by an off-duty LMPD officer who failed to yield to the unnamed person crossing Broadway in a crosswalk.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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This Is What Passes for Traffic “Justice” in America

The "mob" was actually a group of people on bikes trying to flag down a motorist who had hit one of their friends and driven off, dragging his bike. Image: <a href="" target="_blank">KGTV San Diego</a>

The “mob” was actually a group of people on bikes trying to flag down a motorist who had hit one of their friends and driven off, dragging his bike. Image: KGTV San Diego

Here’s a great example of how American law enforcement tends to produce perverse results when it comes to traffic collisions.

A cyclist in San Diego was hit by a driver and managed to avoid more serious injury by jumping off his bike. Prior to the incident, the motorist had been honking repeatedly at the group the victim was riding with, according to this report from KGTV San Diego.

Although she struck a person, dragged his bike for blocks, and only stopped when confronted by the victims’ friends, the driver will receive no ticket and face no criminal charges. In fact, one of the friends who chased the driver down may be charged with a misdemeanor for banging on her window and breaking it. In KGTV’s telling, that makes the cyclists a “mob” and the whole incident “a tussle” between them and the driver.

That’s how it goes on American streets: Harming a person with your car carries no penalty but harming someone’s car most definitely does.

Hat tip Shane Phillips


Today’s Headlines

Get National Headlines At Streetsblog USA
Get State Headlines At Streetsblog CA

Via Streetsblog California
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#DamienTalks Episode 15: LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds on Vision Zero

Reynolds speaks at Monday's press conference announcing the City of Los Angeles' commitment to Vision Zero. Photo: LADOT

Reynolds speaks at Monday’s press conference announcing the City of Los Angeles’ commitment to Vision Zero. Photo: LADOT

Today, #DamienTalks with Seleta Reynolds, the General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation about the City of Los Angeles’ recent announcement that L.A. will be a Vision Zero City.

In short, that means that all planning, construction and enforcement decisions that impact the transportation grid will be based on whether or not it helps the city reach a goal of zero traffic deaths.

In addition to being one of the city’s leaders and organizers on this issue, Reynolds has some experience with Vision Zero from her time in the Bay area. We ask her about this experience, what L.A.’s plans are, and the uncomfortable question about law enforcement’s role.

If you’re looking for more, here’s some of Joe Linton’s recent coverage of Vision Zero in Streetsblog Los Angeles: City Announces Vision Zero Strategy, Council Passes Mobility Plan Including Vision Zero, Sustainable City PLAn Includes Vision Zero, LADOT Focuses on Vision Zero in 2014 Annual Report.

We’re always looking for sponsors, show ideas, and feedback. You can contact me at, at twitter @damientypes, online at Streetsblog California or on Facebook at StreetsblogCA.

Thanks for listening. You can download the episode at the Damien Talks homepage on Libsyn.

Streetsblog USA
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Another Tall Tale About Congestion From the Texas Transportation Institute

Crossposted from City Observatory.

Everything is bigger in Texas — which must be why, for the past 30 years, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) has basically cornered the market for telling whoppers about the supposed toll that traffic congestion takes on the nation’s economy. Today, they’re back with a new report, “The Urban Mobility Scorecard,” which purports to measure congestion and its costs in U.S. cities.

The numbers (and from time to time, the methodology) change, but the story remains the same. Traffic is bad, traffic is costing Americans lots of money, and traffic is getting worse. Here’s the press release: “Traffic Gridlock Sets New Records for Traveler Misery: Action Needed to Reduce Traffic Congestion’s Impact on Drivers, Businesses and Local Economies.”

The trouble with TTI’s work is that, to put it bluntly, it’s simply wrong. For one, their core measure of congestion costs — the “travel time index” — only looks at how fast people can travel, and completely ignores how far they have to go. As a result, it makes sprawling cities with fast roads between far-flung destinations look good, while penalizing more compact cities where people actually spend less time — and money — traveling from place to place. These and other problems, discussed below, mean that the TTI report is not a useful guide to policy.

Read more…