SGV Connect 102 Interview : Damien Newton Interviews PasDOT Head Laura Cornejo

Damien Newton (Damien): I’m here with Laura Cornejo with Pasadena Department of Transportation.. you guys have been regulars in our weekly newsletter that we produce, but we haven’t really done a check in with the story based in the city in a little bit. So ,we wanted to fix that today with us with this podcast because there is a fair amount of things that have gone on since the last time.

So, welcome to the podcast thanks for being with us today.

Laura Cornejo (Laura): Thank you for having me.

Damien: Back in July, we were talking about the Safe Systems approach to transportation in Pasadena. We’ve talked a lot about Vision 0 at Streetsblog and I was hoping you could explain how those two planning concepts were similar what the differences are. I was hoping we can start with what an overview of what that project is and why now is the time to do it.

Laura:  The city never formally adopted Vision 0. I’ve been with the City for about three years, and when I came here that was one of the first thing I asked. I learned the city had never formally adopted Vision Zero, but it had many programs that were in line with it: capital improvement projects, coordination with the Police Department, traffic safety and making the streets more pedestrian friendly.

Over the pandemic we were tracking trends really closely, and our trends were not in a very different from what other neighboring jurisdictions were like. What really caught our attention was that in 2021 there were 8 traffic-related fatalities and 6 of those eight were pedestrians. At the end of the day any fatality is just unacceptable. But what it brought to mind that our streets need to be a lot safer for the most vulnerable.

To me, one of the most vulnerable individuals is a pedestrian:someone is walking with their children, a grandmother, someone who is walking with their pet…That’s why we needed a more formalized program that would make our streets safer for everyone.

Damien: So, Safe Systems is an effort to take a lot of what you’ve been doing already and coordinating it a little better to to produce better outcomes for the city.

Laura: Yes, but it’s also about making new efforts. When the DOT has been doing a lot of things that has focused on making our streets safer. The Safe Systems approach really does in my mind a couple things: one is it provides a more holistic approach and a more coordinated approach.

We had different components of this program, but never something that was a year-long effort, never something when we were looking at it holistically…we were looking at the impacts of each different project, but nothing that was really intermeshed. And we’re going to start focusing on new efforts and new programs that  we’re going to start focusing on that we might otherwise not have pushed to the forefront as quickly as we intend to.

Damien: Is there some examples of some programs that you can point to the you’re doing now that are different or projects that are different now than they would have been before Safe Systems or is it new enough now that the things that you’ve been working on up till now are the are sorted in a different category.

Laura: For us it’s been a slow transition. We’ve slowly started to doing a couple of these projects, for example more projects and demonstrations. To build a project with hard infrastructure can take years because of cost. One of the things that we started to do is have demonstrations and show how they would operate before investing in the hard infrastructure.

That has allowed us to do a couple of projects and test it out and make sure we’re achieving the results we were looking for. Is it really making the intersection safer? Is it really making the street safer? Is it making the community safer?

Two, it allows the community to have buy-in and feel comfortable with the infrastructure. While everyone wants safe streets, change is always difficult. To be able to implement it with temporary features is really a great way to demonstrate both how this can be effective, but also get community and business buy it. So one thing we’re doing now is having demonstrations and pilots before we actually put in the hard infrastructure.

Another example is the city has long had a policy for speed humps in order as a tool for traffic calming. But there are certain streets where we haven’t been able implement it because it it impedes or ability for First Responders to get to where they need to go to.

So we’ve worked without Fire Department and we’ve developed guidelines to be able to pilot speed tables. Little things like that will allow us to tweak and make small changes that make our streets safer.

Last, we’ve always had active participation for active transportation and bike safety campaigns, but they’ve always been a year maybe two a year.

This year, we’re going to have a comprehensive, multi-faceted, year-long educational awareness campaigns that will really speak to different audiences about having out streets be safer, and what every single person can do to make our streets safer.

Damien: One of the programs that we caught our attention that we talked about in our newsletter a couple months ago was the roadside memorial project that that you were doing. We’re seeing something similar in LA right now with the the Halos. You’re doing it a little differently. Of course ghost bikes have always been a sort of a community-based response.

I think some people find some people maybe they don’t really talk about transportation all day, find these to be a little grim I’m not in that camp, I think it is fantastic fantastic that cities are doing something like this more efficiently for several reasons. But…could you explain the theories behind that program and what the the benefits are, not just to the the families that have a memorial for their loved ones but also for that community at large.

Laura: I have to give credit to a Aiden Tam’s parents for a approaching us with the request. That’s really where formalizing a program came from. It’s important to humanize the data in order to be able to communicate the significance of traffic safety. It’s easy to put out data. It’s easy to say, “Watch your right turns,” or “make sure pedestrians cross first.” We can say “there were 8 fatalities, 6 of them pedestrian fatalities,” “everyone should share the road”, but the moment you put a name to it, you put a face behind that data, it humanizes it. For a lot of people, it stops being about a number and it starts being about a family member, or someone they know who could very well have been in that position.

So for us, it was really raise awareness and education. What we learned through this process is that for some families, it helps with the healing and the grieving process. If there’s a way we can honor the individual by making our streets safer, than everyone has won something at the end of the day. We’re really grateful to the Tam family and really grateful that the City Council agreed to fund this program.

Damien: There is a story today in Pasadena Now about the allocation request for Metro for nineteen different rail projects. This is money that was set aside for the expansion of the 710 that isn’t happening. So 19 is a lot of projects…so good job getting together and getting it out…that’s great. Can you tell us how long it might be before we see some of these projects move from the paper to the ground.

Laura: Absolutely. The city was allocated about $230 several years ago to go towards a grade separation at California. This is Measure R funding that was related to the 710 planning effort. During our initial work on the grade separation we realized that the cost was well beyond the funding allocation. Second, the impacts during construction were such where we weren’t finding a lot of community support for grade separation.

We did a little bit more digging. We looked at the intersection and we realized that there are definite ways but also official ways for us to improve the intersection but also move the 230 million dollars along the entire corridor. So we identified 19 projects that aligned with the criteria for the project funding. It will be considered by City Council. The top 11 projects that we identified are to improve mobilIty, intersection improvements, bicycle infrastructure…all of that is in the top 11 project list aimed at making the corridor safer and more efficient. Moving cars, moving people moving, moving bikes.

Council will consider that project list this month, and the Metro Board will be considering it in October.

In terms of timing, we have projects that are ready to go on the moment we get the green light. They are shovel ready. There are some that are different planning stages were more outreach will be needed, or some design work will be needed.

All of them are feasible, implementable and we are looking forward to moving on every single one of those projects and getting them implemented.

Damien: That pretty much wraps up the the basic questions I had. If there’s something that you want to add or some really great project you want to highlight; now is a great time to do it. We always like to make sure that people we’re interviewing get a chance to talk about what they want to talk about. If there’s anything you want to add that’s great.

Laura: We will be taking forward to our Transportation Advisory Commission our draft pedestrian plan for their consideration. Shortly thereafter we will present our plan to the city council for adoption. We identified 10 corridors throughout the city as priority opportunity corridors where we will really look into investing additional resources into making those corridors safer, more pedestrian friendly, more walkable. I am looking forward to having a formal pedestrian plan to guide how we’re going to invest resources.

Damien: Thank you for your time today. Of course, Pasadena has got like four newspapers and a lot of other areas in the San Gabriel Valley don’t. But there’s always interesting stuff going on.

Laura: Yes, it’s always interesting. If you have a slow news day you know who to call.

Damien: So, I do this Weekly Newsletter, link to how to subscribe in the text of the podcast, thanks to Pasadena now I think I must have a Pasadena story every week. They find something in the staff reports and then write a story about it. Or something comes up at a committee or someone talk to them in the neighborhood committee meeting or something like that.

It seems like they’ve got transportation story, not just “there was a crash”, but something more proactive. And not just when there’s something controversial going on like some of the road died stories 2 or 3 years ago, or “car free Rose Bowl.” They do a great job bringing them. So, shout out to Pasadena Now! And of course we will be sure to check in again soon.