Magnolia, Preemption, and Broadway Provide Early Tests for Mayor’s Climate Directive

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Mayor Eric Garcetti earned headlines earlier this week when he unveiled and signed a Climate Directive to kick off a “Decade of Action” to fight the global climate crisis. The directive listed many ways the city will battle the ongoing climate crisis by encouraging renewable energy and prioritizing travel beyond the single-occupancy vehicle.

Fortunately, there have been several stories in the news just this week where Garcetti can show his commitment to fighting climate change in a more real way than signing an executive directive.

The first way the Climate Mayor can quickly make a mark would be canceling the road widening of Magnolia Boulevard.

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As you can see from the above clip from the directive, Garcetti is requiring that departments create protocols to do the exact opposite of what was done to create the wasteful and politically unpopular Magnolia Boulevard Road Widening Project.

The project would widen a half mile of Magnolia Boulevard by reducing the size of the sidewalk, which makes sense because the study supporting the project is based on a “Level of Service” study that prioritizes vehicle speed over any other metric. Level of Service has been replaced at the state and city level by the “VMT” (Vehicle Miles Traveled) approach referenced above.

The easiest thing for the Mayor to do would be to cancel the project and order a new study for Magnolia Boulevard based on VMT, which would doubtless reverse any planning that reduces the size of a sidewalk. Not only would this move save Magnolia Boulevard and spare the Bureau of Engineering some embarrassment, it would be politically popular.

At a hearing held by the NoHo Neighborhood Council on Monday, the council voted to oppose the project, and only one member of the public spoke up to support it. Of course, technically a mayor can’t just cancel a project, but they can require more studies and apply for extensions to use any outside funds. Canceling ,or delaying the Magnolia Boulevard Road widening so that other alternatives can be studied, is the low-hanging fruit of this list, but would still send an important message that this time, he’s serious about changing the way Los Angeles does business.

The second move that Garcetti can make right now is getting behind Councilmember Jose Huizar’s plan to make Broadway L.A.’s first car-free street. Broadway already has a thriving pedestrian culture, transit friendly bump outs and some of the city’s best bicycling infrastructure. Following the success, and popularity, of San Francisco’s car-free Market Street, Garcetti and Huizar should move quickly to plan, study, and hopefully approve and build this project now.

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Garcetti and Huizar have never been political allies. After Huizar supported Garcetti’s opponent in his first Mayor’s race, Garcetti removed Huizar from the Metro Board of Directors. Later, when Garcetti signed the city’s Vision Zero Initiative on the streets of Boyle Heights in Huizar’s district, the Councilmember was, and I still can’t believe I’m typing this, meeting with the rock band Motorhead. Garcetti also kept Huizar’s office out of the loop when the city earned funding for the Great Streets makeover of Cesar Chavez.

And yesterday, when the media was covering Huizar’s proposal to make Broadway a car-free street, Garcetti’s name was not on the release or in the reports.

While Garcetti’s order doesn’t mention car-free streets, I can’t think of a better way to “activate” a street to non-motorized uses than to keep the automobile off of it. I also can’t think of a better way to position oneself for their next campaign than to mend fences with a political rival and get behind a project that would attract nationwide attention.

Lastly, Garcetti should urge LADOT to go beyond its plan to tinker with signal timing to improve Expo’s on-time performance and instead produce a plan and budget to give Metro rail signal priority in the City of Los Angeles.

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At yesterday’s meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee, LADOT’s Dan Mitchell made a case that signal preemption has not been studied. He argued preemption could make things dangerous or confusing for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers along the rail corridors where trains are guaranteed a green light.

LADOT agreed to study preemption for Expo in Los Angeles after a motion by Committee Chair Mike Bonin. However, clarity from the Mayor’s Office that preemption is a strategy to improve Expo performance would be a welcome move.

On Tuesday, I wrote on Streetsblog that Garcetti is running out of time to do something truly memorable for Los Angeles. Above are three things that can be done quickly, and relatively easily. If he’s not willing to make these relatively easy moves, what hope can we have that this Decade of Action is going to last longer than Monday’s press conference?

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