The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is hosting its Designing Cities 2018 conference in downtown L.A. this week. This morning, Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the gathering of transportation professionals.
Garcetti delivered brief opening remarks and then took interview questions from Chief Design Officer and former L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne.
Garcetti puts a good spin on what he calls L.A.'s "transportation renaissance." The mayor pointed to successes in passing Measure M, the countywide transportation sales tax, and hosting the extraordinarily successful open streets event, CicLAvia. He billed Metro's transit ridership decline as "less than other parts of the country."
Garcetti touted "1,200 Vision Zero improvements," though even the international press holds up L.A.'s largely-toothless Vision Zero efforts as an example of the United States' failure to address its traffic violence. An Angeleno is killed in a traffic crash every 40 hours. Under Garcetti, this has gotten worse, though this is due to multiple factors, some of which are outside Garcetti's control.
The mayor seemed most excited when speaking on technology's benefit to transportation. Garcetti said he wants to "make L.A. the transportation technology capital of the world" and expressed a hope that transportation tech would replace the "car city" image that people associate with Los Angeles. Garcetti described e-scooters as "just so damned fun" and touted their "great potential" for mobility and for helping build out bike infrastructure. He went on about high-tech VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) drone helicopters that could deliver people cheaply and safely to downtown helipads.
While Garcetti spoke, bicyclists lined up to form a people-protected bike lane on 7th Street in front of the InterContinental hotel, where the conference is being held. Using a tactic that seems to have originated in the Bay Area, people formed a human barrier between cars and the unprotected bike lane. Protestors held signs expressing frustration with the lack of Vision Zero progress and the slowed rate of bike facility implementation.
Protestors also hung a large banner citing increased traffic deaths under Vision Zero, and urging the city to go beyond lip service.
Garcetti gets criticism from both sides over his streets initiatives.
Since encountering an aggressively spite-filled and litigious backlash that resulted in the city undoing Playa Del Rey safety improvements, the city Transportation Department (LADOT) canceled several road diet projects planned under Vision Zero. Though this morning's demonstration focused on Garcetti, many of our city councilmembers bear a great deal of responsibility for canceled safety measures. Garcetti does not appear to have used his considerable influence to help councilmembers to better embrace Vision Zero.
From his statements, it seems clear that Garcetti gets the importance of safer streets, but the on-the-ground situation tells another story. L.A. streets remain heavily car-centric and deadly, especially for vulnerable road users on foot and on bike.