Packed Auditorium Cheers and Questions the MyFigueroa! Project

Will it be?

(It’s taking a long time to process the video from last night. We’ll have full, cleaner, copies of Gandy and Smith’s presentations and the Q and A. late tonight or tomorrow. – DN)

The February 2011 MyFigueroa! meeting was something of a love-in. The room was packed with advocates who loudly applauded the project both with actual applause and during open comment. Two years ago, the negative comments either mocked the vision of the dreamers from Gehl Architects or expressed anger over the lack of Spanish translation tools in the presentation.

Last night was a different story. The room was still packed, with 200 people people lining the walls and back of the room even before the presentation began. State Senator Currren Price, running to replace Jan Perry in Council District 9, watched the presentations and the question and answer period that followed. Loud applause greeted both the introduction by pro-bike visionary Charlie Gandy and the presentation of the proposal by Melani Smith of Melendrez. The public comment was quite a bit more skeptical.

The Figueroa Corridor Streetscape project (MyFigueroa!) seeks to transform the Figueroa Corridor into a complete, multimodal street that better serves the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders, while still accommodating drivers. The changes include a road diet, new bike lanes, improved sidewalks, zebra crosswalks, space for a streetcar at sometime in the future and even cycletracks along 3 miles of Figueroa Street, Hope Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

When the comment cards are counted, there will likely be a large difference between the feelings of those in the room and the feelings of those that spoke. The room was dotted with advocates, including ones from regional groups such as the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and South L.A. specific ones such as TRUST South L.A. These groups support the project, but were content to let the general audience hold the floor.

The closest remarks to advocacy testimony came from a young man wearing a MOM RIDAZZ vest who asked why the separated bike lanes are regular bike lanes for part of the project area. Nat Gale, from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s transportation team, also spoke in favor of the project.

As is usually the case, some of the criticism was downright silly, such as concerns that the project would lead to increased property value and property speculators in Downtown Los Angeles or that increased car traffic congestion would lead to a decrease in property values or that the project would hinder deliveries to the convention center or L.A. Live. For the record, there’s a street known as L.A. Live Way which has its own ramp access to the I-110 which was built for precisely the purpose of delivering goods to the Convention Center and L.A. Live.

“Figueroa is a regional street.”

Other complaints had more merit, and could be combined into two sections. The first is the concerns that eliminating one mixed-use travel lane on one street for a couple of miles would mess up the entire road network even more so than it is now.

Sitting feet away from me, Damien Goodmon grumbled that the environmental documents and traffic reports for the study are hard to find. He didn’t seem the least bit mollified when a planning department staff person told him the documents were available on the Planning Department’s website but not (yet) anywhere on the MyFigueroa! webpage. Earlier, he argued that a road diet will push more drivers on to the I-110 creating more traffic and pollution for those living close to the freeway in South L.A. and the Crenshaw area.

Another concern is that a project such as this is a bad idea so near the core of the city, where many people still drive. “If I lived near the beach, I would bike all the time,” one man who lives on 11th street testified after Gandy’s presentation about the improvements made to Long Beach’s transportation network. “I see a lot of cars on 11th street. What’s going to happen when two lanes become one?”

Local Issues

But most of the concerns were about specific, hyper-local, issues. What will happen to street trees along Martin Luther King Boulevard (trees may be removed on the south side), will there be sidewalk space available during construction (yes), does the project conform with plans for Gilbert Lindsey Plaza (yes, but we’ll double check), and what about the flyover project proposed for West Adams Boulevard? In each case, the MyFigueroa! team had an answer. Whether the answer satisfied the inquisitor is not known.

One piece of news from last night’s meeting is that the West Adams Flyover Project, which would build a pedestrian bridge near where congestion pricing lanes would dump traffic off the I-110, is not funded for construction despite earlier reports.

The next steps for the project include more outreach as part of the environmental process. Construction of the $20 million street reconfiguration needs to be completed by the end of 2014 or it loses funding.

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