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Plenty of Hurdles Still Remain for Progressive South Figueroa Corridor Project

The proposed My Figueroa

(Not sure what the My Figueroa project is?  Check out this story from last year?)

Less than a month ago, it seemed as though the progressive South Figueroa Corridor Project, known as the My Figueroa project, was on the ropes.  No agency was stepping up to take it from the CRA and Streetsblog was pleading for someone, anyone, to take it on.

What a difference a month makes.  LADOT General Manager Jaime De La Vega can be heard calling the project a "legacy project," and the Architect Newspaper is declaring a "Figueroa Comeback" now that LADOT is taking control of the project's future.  The South Figueroa Corridor Project was a project of the Community Redevelopment Agency, funded by a state grant, which saw some of the most progressive local transportation consultants team with Gehl Architects, the legendary Danish transportation planning firm.

In early 2011, the team unveiled the project in a pair of meetings along the corridor that were packed with transportation advocates and community members.  When the CRA's closed their doors earlier this year, the fate of the My Figueroa project was in doubt.

The project covers three miles of South Figueroa from 41st Street to Seventh Street as well as a half mile of 11st Street between Figueroa and Broadway, a half mile of Martin Luther King (MLK) Boulevard just south of Exposition Park, and a half mile of Bill Robertson Boulevard from into Exposition Park starting at MLK Boulevard.

Despite the happy news that the project might be back on track, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before the project becomes reality, and advocates can't let up just yet.  This article breaks down some of the places where advocates might still need to apply pressure to make sure the South Figueroa Corridor Project goes from pretty posterboard to Los Angeles' most Livable street.

The Project Timeline

The biggest remaining concern is the timeline for the project.  The state funding comes from Proposition 1B that funds the project from initial outreach through design expires early in 2015.  LADOT must complete the project by the end of 2014 to qualify for reimbursements from the state funding.  While the Architect Newspaper announced that LADOT would be completing and environmental study of the corridor with a group of projects in the Bike Plan, LADOT is backing away from that claim.

"The article misquoted me in saying that it's already a done deal that we are bundling the MyFig project with our 40 mile bike lane EIR," explains LADOT Bikeways engineer Tim Fremaux.  "The fact is that we are still evaluating doing so and are assessing the costs of various options for clearing the project environmentally. If we do decide to bundle the projects, we expect the EIR to be completed by the end of 2012."

In the best case scenario, the final design, final public outreach and construction will all have to happen in a two year window from the end of this year to the end of 2014.  By completing the environmental clearance so late in the year, there's also a risk that a new mayor might not have the same view of this "legacy project" as De La Vega and Antonio Villaraigosa do.

"Good, Better, Best"

When the project team presented the project posters in January of 2011, they presented three different visions, "Good," "Better" and "Best."  Each vision offered progressively more progressive roadway design for South Figueroa.  Click on the links and see a graphic representation for each type of plan for South Figeuroa.

Rather than match each of the roadway designs against each other in a sort of test of L.A.'s progressiveness, the consultants reccomended different treatments for different areas of the roadway.  In the area near Staples center and the rest of the AEG and L.A. Live, where tens of thousands of pedestrians take to the street hundreds of times a year, a different treatment is planned than in residential areas that are well-used by locals versis areas where few people walk.  For through traffic, a separated bike lane and transit only lane are planned for the entire route.

Here, the concern is that LADOT and the City might try to take the easy way out, and just do the whole street as "Good."  While "Good" would still be an amazing street design, the consultant team promised more and Los Angeles deserves more.

Wait, Is That a Separated Bike Lane?

The consultant team promises a truly separated bike lane for the length of the project.  Parked cars, trees, pedestrian space, or even a trolley car could separate the bicycle lane from the mixed use travel lane.  Los Angeles has never installed a truly separated lane on a roadway.  The comfort level for installing this kind of treatment is low, so cyclists need to keep up the pressure that this is a needed step.

In a way, LADOT has raised expectations with the installation of a pair of green lanes, both the "buffered bike lane" on Spring Street and the conflict zone bike lane on 1st Street in Boyle Heights.  That bar is further raised by the promise of the My Figueroa team fifteen months ago.  A bus-only (bike ok!) doesn't fulfill the promise that the Community Redevelopment Agency made to us last year.

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