Editorial: Mayor Garcetti, Time to Get Serious About the Climate Crisis

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti - photo via mayor's website
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti - photo via mayor's website

Congratulations, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti! You’re now the leader of the world’s climate mayors. Streetsblog L.A. would like to join the L.A. Times and livability advocates in reminding you that climate action begins at home.

The Guardian quoted Garcetti speaking about his new role:

This will be my priority as the new chair, to deliver a Green New Deal in the face of the climate emergency and to make the 2020s the decade of human action.

This will be the defining decade not only of our lives, but of life itself for human beings on this planet. I have no doubt that we can and will get it right, because human beings have this stubborn desire to survive.

The Times has an excellent editorial today, touting Garcetti’s C40 predecessor Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s dramatic street transformations in Paris, “showing what is possible when a major city commits to fight climate change on the ground.” Then urging Garcetti to “do something similar in Los Angeles.”

…for example, build bus-only lanes, protected bike lanes and safer streets. He could set a powerful example for the entire world by starting to transform a city famous for its cars (and the traffic and pollution and greenhouse gases they bring) into one that people can navigate without them. […]

Slashing emissions enough to meet the group’s climate goals will require persuading people to drive less. That means building a mass transit system that is fast, convenient and comfortable, and streets that are safe for walking, biking and scootering.

[…] It doesn’t take a lot of money to install bus-only lanes and protected bike lanes. What it does take is a lot of political will to convince skeptical Angelenos that transforming the transportation system is not only vital to slowing the effects of climate change, but it could make Los Angeles a cleaner, greener, more livable city.

L.A. livability Twitter weighed in, reiterating and adding to the Times‘ advice.

I’ll weigh in with ten specific initiatives that Mayor Garcetti can do to show that he is taking the climate emergency seriously.

1. Take Transit, Bike, and Walk

I remember early CicLAvia events where then-Councilmember Garcetti and then-Mayor Villaraigosa circulated in the midst of the event, interacting with Angelenos. During the second CicLAvia, Garcetti attended, skipped the press event opening, and rode the route by bike. This needs to happen more frequently. Mayor Garcetti should spend at least one day each week outside his car. This should include riding the bus, train, walking, or bicycling. These activities should be frequent enough that Angelenos commonly see them on social media, and hopefully mainstream media.

If Angelenos are going to trust their mayor’s climate efforts are sincere, then they should see the mayor himself walking his talk. This will have the added benefit of making it clearer to Garcetti what the conditions are like on the ground. Those buses and trains really are crowded, those sidewalks are damaged, and those bikeways are lacking.

Garcetti is really good with optics. He knows how to cultivate his image. His busing, bicycling, and walking are the optics needed to show he truly stands for the climate agenda that he touts.

2. Bus Only Lanes – Build Them

Bus-only lanes tend to fall in the cracks between L.A. County Metro and L.A. City Department of Transportation (LADOT), with both entities pointing the finger at each other for not getting the job done. The Mayor needs to bring to bear his leadership to get these groups to work together to speed up buses.

Working with bus lane efforts underway, the Mayor should identify a dozen-plus bus lane projects, and an implementation schedule – say four new bus lanes each year. Like the two-mile-long Flower Street bus lane, new segments could be relatively quick pilots – a half-mile here, a mile there – designed to address congestion that is currently impeding buses.

3. Bus Only Lanes – Enforce Them

A big part of the success on Flower Street has been baking LAPD enforcement into new bus-only lanes. A lack of enforcement weakens existing bus lanes on Wilshire. Garcetti needs to direct his LAPD and LADOT to monitor and encourage drivers to stay clear of new and existing bus-only lanes.

Bonus points for state legislation allowing Southern California to add enforcement cameras on our buses, the way San Francisco does.

4. Bus Electrification – Make it Happen 

Garcetti is a self-professed fan of vehicle electrification, which he has pushed for at Metro and LADOT. Metro has tepidly and reluctantly accepted a far-off electrification goal, while warning of impending doom, dragging its heels, and buying lots of new fossil fuel (CNG) buses. Garcetti is in a prime position to get Metro to truly embrace the clean electric future, and to make urban bus electrification a cornerstone of a national Green New Deal. As environmental justice and clean energy groups have urged, this electrification needs to prioritize low-income communities of color, both for clean air benefits and for jobs.

Metro will premiere all electric buses on its Orange Line BRT in 2020. Garcetti needs to ensure that this is a big visible success, and to use it as a springboard for advancing electrification locally.

5. All-Door Boarding – Make it Happen

All-door boarding speeds up buses and even saves money. Garcetti has supported Metro’s efforts to scratch the surface of all-door boarding’s potential. If Garcetti is serious about the climate, he needs to lead the nascent charge to expand all-door boarding to all Metro transit.

6. Expand CicLAvia and Car-Free Spaces

Garcetti has definitely attended, supported, and funded open streets programs. He often states that he wants to make CicLAvia monthly. In 2015, Garcetti pledged to make L.A. City open streets events monthly beginning in 2017.

Many cities including Bogotá, Mexico City, and Guadalajara do their ciclovías weekly all year long. Medellín hosts several each week.

Garcetti should look to fund and announce major CicLAvia expansion right away – and should pilot frequent (at least weekly) recurring open streets seasons – perhaps every Sunday for two to three months – in park-poor areas.

7. Take Vision Zero Seriously

Making streets safe for walking and bicycling continues to be a fundamental climate crisis issue. Mayor Garcetti has given lip service to Vision Zero, while failing to fund or implement it. It is time for him to spend some political capital implementing measures that slow down deadly scofflaw speeding drivers.

Mayor Garcetti needs to fund Vision Zero, and to support its implementation, even where it means taking some blowback from drivers.

8. Set Bikeway Implementation Goals

Annual bikeway implementation has been dismal under Garcetti. The previous mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, established some bicycle facility momentum by issuing a mayoral directive setting an annual mileage goal for LADOT. Garcetti’s LADOT “celebrates” victory each year, with very little to show on the ground, puffed-up numbers, and “upcoming” and “designed” bikeways that never show up.

If Garcetti is serious about climate, he should issue a directive committing his LADOT to 80 or 100 new bikeway miles every year. (Villaraigosa’s LADOT did 80 miles/year under today’s double-counting scheme.) Ideally, this should include some commitment to high-quality facilities – perhaps at least half the mileage should be protected bike lanes and/or road diets. A broad numeric goal would likely mean some new low-hanging fruit bikeways (some of which may not be highly strategic or effective), but should result in safer streets, a more connected bikeway network, and a demonstration of the mayor’s commitment to fostering climate-friendly modes.

9. Build Protected Bike Lanes

Angelenos – on bikes, walking, on transit, in cars – need to get used to the sight of protected bike lanes. Mayor Garcetti needs to commit to building plenty of miles of protected bike lanes – in neighborhoods throughout the city. The mayor should convert existing buffered bikeways to protected ones, and should plan and build new protected bike lanes.

10. Prioritize Equity in All Initiatives

Climate disruption disproportionately impacts lower-income communities of color. These communities need to be primary beneficiaries of efforts to curb the climate crisis. From Vision Zero to a Green New Deal to transit electrification to tree planting, the mayor and the city need to listen to L.A.’s low-income communities to design programs that learn from those communities’ experiences, treat them with respect, and prioritize their health, well-being, and quality of life.

 

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