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Streetsies 2010: It Was the Worst of Times

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In many ways, 2010 was just business as usual for the all-dominating car-culture.  Politicians and the police continue to say stupid things.  Cyclists and pedestrians are still getting run down in the street with near impunity.  The Metro Board of Directors still manages to muck things up, even when the whole county overwhelmingly backed a transit tax just two years ago.  2010: It was the Worst of Times

Dumbest Thing Said by a Politician

2010 Streetsie Award Winner: Governor proposes double-decking the 405

There were a lot of dumb things written and said by politicians this year, but this statement by the Governor, implying that the multi-billion dollar expansion of the 405 is a nice first step, takes the case.

“This is why it is so important because we have this bumper-to-bumper traffic to go and build an extra lane and build out the 405 freeway,” Schwarzenegger said at a news conference at a Caltrans construction yard along Mulholland Drive. “And hopefully, eventually, we will build on top of the 405 Freeway because I think we need another freeway on top of the existing one.”

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who also serves as a Board Member for the Expo Construction Authority and Metro, lashed out that the grade-crossings for the Expo Line in South Los Angeles doom the area to "second class status" in an op/ed for the Business Journal.  Reasonable people can disagree on whether or not the grade crossings in South L.A. are good or bad for the area; but Ridley-Thomas' op/ed is especially weird when you consider that two months later he told the New York Times that Expo is an important piece in redeveloping South L.A.

Greig Smith was certainly a visible presence on the pages of Streetsblog and he ended the year on a somewhat weird note.  In response to a question about the "anti-harassment ordinance" penned by Bill Rosendahl's office, Smith wrote a statement basically saying the motion was a stupid waste of time, but he would vote for it.  Earlier in the year, while railing against a bicycle and pedestrian set-aside from Measure R funds, Smith argued that the set-aside was a waste because "10% of people don't bike."  Of course, 100% of people walk, but that's apparently another issue.

In the Daily News, City Councilman Tom LaBonge wrote a great piece promoting transit expansion.  However, instead of focusing on promoting the Measure R projects that might get done in the forseeable future, LaBonge promoted his own route for a red line extension into the Valley.  While it's not a bad idea in its own right, it's so unlikely that Metro is going to undertake any major subway expansion projects besides those funded in Measure R that he might as well have said that he wanted to genetically engineer flying monkeys to carry us over traffic.

But the worst thing said by a city official was when the Mayor's office let the taxi driver that caused his bike crash off the hook.  Streetsblog didn't cover the statement, so it's not a candidate for a Streetsie, but this "it was just an accident" mentality is one of the reasons that our streets remain so unsafe.

Villaraigosa thinks that the driver “wasn’t careful,” moving in front of him without using his signal, mayoral spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said. But he does not think any charges should be filed.

“The taxi driver could have exercised more caution but what he did was not on purpose and it wasn’t illegal,” she said. “He just wasn’t proceeding with caution.”

Worst Sign That the Cops Don't Get It

2010 Streetsie Award Winner: CHP Officer pens misinformation column on bike riding for local paper.  Gets defensive and condescending in even worse follow-up column.

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This category is ugly.  You might the feeling that the LAPD is at least trying to do the right thing by cyclists with their efforts to encourage cyclists to lock their bikes properly, and a P.S.A. campaign designed to encourage drivers to watch the road.  The controversial LAPD/LACM rides seem to be efforts in the right direction, even if they came as a result of officers harassing and kicking at cyclists in a May Critical Mass ride.  But that doesn't mean that the 10,000 person law enforcement department always gets it right.  Nor does it mean that other agencies around the region are following the LAPD's example.

Consider that these bloopers aren't even close to the most frustrating ones, even though they both excuse fatally bad driving:

”He was just driving down the street and unfortunately, did not see the girls,” Bustos said. “The girls, when they were crossing the street, we don’t know if they saw the car.” (Driver kills one girl, maims another, and there's no charge.)

“They agreed that it’s 50-50,” Mankarios said. “He violated the vehicle code, but in essence had she stopped, he would have gone right through and in front of her.”  (The victim was under no legal obligation to stop.)

No, the worst example of police confusion goes to California Highway Patrol Officer Al Perez who used his weekly syndicated column to attack a father who dared yell at a driver who endangered his son while crossing the street on a bike in a crosswalk.  That doesn't sound so bad when compared to excusing deadly behavior.  After cyclists and lawyers pointed out that Perez didn't know what he was talking about, Perez penned another column repeating the incorrect assertions made in the first one in a much more condescending manner.  Ignorance and arrogance, a deadly combination.

An honorable mention has to go to the Long Beach Police Department who seem intent on cracking down on group rides in their city.  First they broke up a Critical Mass and confsicated bicycles for failure to have a bike license, a seizure that is not allowed by state law.  Then they harassed and broke up another ride that had the goal of raising funds for those people wrongly ticketed and harassed on the first ride.  A hundred Charlie Gandy's can't make up for a police department that is clearly establishing itself as anti-bike if the bike owners don't behave in a certain way.

NIMBY of the Year

2010 Streetsie Award Winner: The Beverly Hills NUMBY's

Pretty much everyone that's fighting a transit project in Los Angeles is doing so because of fears that an at-grade train will mess up traffic and imperil their children.  However, there was one group that was fighting to keep a train from running underneath their town, the Beverly Hills NUMBY crowd.  The Not-Under-My-Back-Yard team raised the specter of an earthquake creating sinkholes underneath their schools and homes, just like what happened in that Tommy Lee Jones movie about the volcano underneath Los Angeles.  Armed with a lawyer and a boatload of mis-information, the NUMBY's have hired a lawyer and threatened the entire Westside Subway project unless Metro builds the subway next to a fault line underneath Santa Monica Boulevard.  As you would expect from any fact-free, hysterical campaign, they seem to have found an ally with Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky who penned a Metro Board motion urging staff to look at alternative routes for the subway.

You also have to tip your cap at the "Condo Canyon" group that successfully got "their" portion of the Wilshire BRT route removed from the final plan.  It was a great example of a group of well-connected people trumping the greater good of the entire region.  Naturally, they got a major assist from Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky.

The Condo Canyon group was so successful they inspired other NIMBY's to spring up to fight the BRT project in their area.  The Brentwood NIMBY group was a lot less successful than their brothers in the Canyon.  However, because Yaroslavsky got the Metro Board to change the project to favor his politically connected friends in Westwood, a new environmental study will be presented to the Board in a couple of months.  Fight on, Brentwood!  I'm sure you can convince him that bus-only lanes in your community is a bad idea too!

All of this probably makes Neighbors for Smart Rail jealous.  They're lawsuit against the environmental documents for Phase II of the Expo Line appears to be headed to a legal defeat which would leave them with limited options other than more appeals.  If only this weren't the only transit project that Yaroslavsky actually supports in his district.  Curses!

Biggest WTF?

2010 Streetsie Award Winner: Rita Robinson laments her lack of magical powers in changing the city.

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Leave it to LADOT to give us the year's verbal low-light.  After the city was energized by the appearance of Janette Sadik-Khan, LADOT General Manager reminded us that L.A. is not New York when she compared New York's new found pedestrian and bicycle friendliness as "magic." It's not magic, it's good planning.

I guess it's not the worst thing in the world that she stepped down as LADOT General Manager for a job with the county.  Speaking of the LADOT, they're shocking inability to give a firm "yes" when asked at a City Council hearing if the Department could spend a paltry $3 million per year on bicycle and pedestrian projects was revealing.

Maybe the reason that LADOT couldn't think of enough bike/ped projects was that they refuse to cover the expenses of sending a representative to the city's official Bicycle Advisory Committee.  Good show!

And it was certainly a head-slapper when the Bureau of Street Services paved over the Sharrows pilot program on Westholme Avenue.  But that wasn't nearly as insulting to Westside cyclists as the newest "throw it at the wall and see if it sticks" lawsuit by opponents of the Expo Line.  A group of homeowners have filed suit against the Expo Bike Path in an effort to gum things up for the rail line by forcing a broader environmental review.

Meanwhile, the black eye that won't go away for Metro continues to fester.  If those fare gate machines were supposed to Keep Us Safe from Terrorists, what does it say that over two years after they were "partially installed" that they haven't been activated?

The Mayor used a "balance the budget" website to stump for his plan to privatize Los Angeles' parking garages and street parking.  The balance the budget game was an interesting attempt to get people to think about what kind of cuts the city should make.  There was only one problem.  It was impossible to balance the budget in the game without leasing all, or some, of the city-owned parking spaces.

Last but not least, really AEG?  You're really going to build a new NFL football stadium and not need any new parking in the area?  I guess if you can win a national urban planning award for designing L.A. Live, you begin to think you can do anything.

Worst Media Coverage

2010 Streetsie Award Winner: Times mocks opponents of freeway widenings with soft, condescending language

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Hysteria over the Subway to the Sea environmental studies showing a scant reduction in traffic over the current conditions was met with a near universal meltdown in the mainstream press.  Our "alternative weekly" stuck up for the poor car commuters who won't see "much benefit" from the project with the embarrassing story, "$9 Billion Subway-to-Sea Rip-off."

But the worst of the worst has to come from the Los Angeles Times and their mocking, condescending editorial cheerleading for the I-710 Tunnel Project.  In addition to ignoring all of the impacts that this kind of project will have for the region, they completely dismiss the idea that increased highways result in increased congestion.  Of course, the Times is probably right when it implies that people who argue that large freeways induce traffic are victims of "bizarre thoughts."  That's why L.A.'s massive freeway system has so little congestion at rush hour.

Some other lowlights include:

Best Example of a Highway Project That Is a Waste of Money

2010 Streetsie Award Winner: Mammoth Widening of the 405

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Living on the Westside, it's hard to think of a highway project that makes less sense than another widening of the I-405.  Really?  It makes sense to anyone to spend $4.5 billion to create years of congestion and confusion just to add a couple of carpool lanes to one of the most congested highways in America?  That really makes sense to anyone in this day and age?

Meanwhile, up in the northern part of the county, the politicians don't just want to expand highway capacity, they want to actually turn a two lane road into a six lane highway to basically move more trucks through the area.  Won't they be surprised that when they roll out the welcome mat for truck traffic, that the traffic actually comes in record numbers.

Meanwhile, advocacy for the 710 Tunnel Project continues unabated.  There was some good news for opponents in 2011.  It appears that Supervisor Ara Najarian's efforts to get a true cost estimate for the project are going to come to fruition.  Given that estimates for the build range between $1 billion and $11 billion, it seems that the Board should have an idea before wasting spending millions of dollars for an environmental review.

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