Thursday, December 18, 2008

CityWatchLA - Getting LA Moving - A DIY Proposition!

CityWatch, Dec 19, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 102

LA’s Mayor is a funny guy with a wicked sense of humor. First he says it's time for a change over at the Department of Transportation and then he appoints Rita Robinson as the General Manager. Robinson has a long legacy with the City of Los Angeles, having served as the interim GM of Transportation, the interim GM of Housing, and in departments such as Community Development, City Administrative and Recreation & Parks. Robinson left her most recent post as the General Manager of the Department of Sanitation, bringing her unique blend of sameness to the Department of Transportation.

Right out of the gate, Robinson's presence was felt as she turned up at press conferences and smiled, turned up at Commission hearings and smiled, sat in Committee meetings and smiled and, on special occasions, showed up at City Council to bless the proceedings with a smile. Through it all, she managed to avoid any of the troublesome shifts in policy, vision, process and culture that would have actually resulted in a significant impact in the way DOT functions, but was instead able to wrap "more of the same" in a huge friendly smile.

Mayor Villaraigosa then tricked us with the Million Pothole Campaign. You know, the one where the City of LA fills a million potholes. It turns out that a "pothole" isn't actually a hole in the ground but is a unit of measurement. Like a bushel or a boatload. It must be one of those crazy European metric innovations he picked up on one of his jaunts to "anywhere but LA." All totaled, the City of LA poured a million units of asphalt, filling a metric boatload of holes in the ground but as for how many, we're still looking for a Texas Instruments calculator with "pothole" on one of the buttons.

LA's Safe Routes to School program was good for a giggle when it was discovered that the program was not so much about moving children as it was about moving money. Unfortunately, the joke was on LA as the traffic turned out to be two-way and the City of LA lost approximately a million dollars in SRTS funding this year.

In the "Just Kidding!" category was the Pico/Olympic traffic plan, notable not so much for its engineering merits but for the manner in which the Mayor and Robinson steamrolled the community, ensuring instant opposition and an economic stimulus package that immediately benefited the ranks of the City's consultants and attorneys.

Fresh from this stinging rebuke from the Westside communities, Robinson responded to calls for a Memorandum of Understanding between the DOT and Neighborhood Councils by flatly rejecting the idea, claiming "It's simply unnecessary. After all we already communicate." Councilman Alarcon called for a report on the MOU and the DOT responded with a report that failed to mention the MOU. Alarcon again asked for a report on the MOU, this time giving November due date. Robinson apparently misunderstood as the due date has come and gone with not a whimper out of the DOT.

Meanwhile, the DOT has addressed the problem of speeding motorists by simply raising the speed limit. Poof! Now they're driving legally. With the increased speed limits including Reseda Boulevard (50 mph alongside a bike lane) and Mulholland Drive (40 mph, prompting locals to call for skull & crossbones signage) locals were sure the efforts were a joke but this time the DOT was serious. Very serious. Turns out the revised speed limits were a key strategy in maintaining radar and laser speed enforcement which results in a significant source of revenue for the city. While other transportation authorities are espousing 30-35 as the optimum speed for capacity, through-put and safety, our leadership evaluates speeds based on the optimum revenue capacity. Look who's laughing now!

Through it all there was the talk. Lots of talk.

Wendy Greuel, Chair of the City Council's Transportation Committee, was on the road with the City's Transportation Strategic Plan. Well, actually, the plans for the Plan as there still isn't a Plan but there is much talk about the plans for the consultants and the plans for the funding and the plans for the parameters of the development of the final Plan. To Greuel's credit, she recognized the vacuum that represented the City's vision for transportation and has attempted to fill it, but at the end of the year, perhaps it's time to get everybody a pair of Nikes!

As for getting it done, Denny Zane's well attended and wildly stimulating Let's Get LA Moving conference brought together a Who's Who of transportation experts, gurus, savants and innovators, all focused on the mission of getting LA moving. This event was just one of the many "What's it gonna take?" happenings that were part of the groundswell of community support that led to the successful Measure R campaign. Through it all, Zane, Assemblyman Mike Feuer, Professor Shoup, County Supervisor Zev, and a host of politocos took to the streets, engaging neighborhood councils, demonstrating that when it truly matters, success depends on a relationship with the community.

Not to be outdone, the local DIY Transportation Team passed up the lure of billions of dollars of funding and simply took paint and sweat and a few friends and went to work improving the streets of the Eastside. Sharrows (shared lane) markings have turned up courtesy of Capt. Sharrows and the Fletcher Bridge received bike lanes and supporting signage, all courtesy of the DIY team. Apparently it's true, if you want it done right, DIY! The LADOT responded with uncharacteristic speed and confiscated the offending signage, removed the bike lanes and sharrows, and returned the streets to their original state of mediocrity.

While the paint and signage quickly disappeared, the debate over the integration of cyclists and motorists continued, coming to a head on July 4th as Dr. Christopher Thompson allegedly used his car to take out two cyclists on Mandeville Canyon Road in the road rage incident heard around the world. Shock at the incident brought attention to the nascent Cyclists' Bill of Rights, a document that went on to pick up endorsements from Neighborhood Councils, Advisory Committees and the Los Angeles City Council.

Through it all, it took a tragic incident in Chatsworth to remind us that the people of Los Angeles are at their best when things are worst. September's crash between a Metrolink train and a freight train left 25 people dead and 135 injured in the worst passenger rail disaster in modern Southern Californian history. in the midst of the wreckage, the Chatsworth and Porter Ranch Neighborhood Councils rose to the occasion and rallied the community to support and serve the victims of the crash and the emergency crews working around the clock to free those still trapped.

This was a humbling moment for us all as we were confronted with our mortality and the fact that it's crazy out there for everybody, regardless of how we travel. Whether we walk, ride a bike, drive a car, ride a bus or take the train, we must come together and work together to fund and implement innovative transportation solutions that move us safely and effectively throughout Los Angeles.

That's my wish for the Holidays! See you on the Streets! (Stephen Box is a transportation activist and writes for CityWatch.)


Anonymous said...

Great column! Full of the vigor and vinegar I've come to expect from Mr. Box. Los Angeles and its denizens do deserve better - much better - than the third rate policies enacted in our name in pretty much any policy arena. Though mediocrity rules here and always has, you have to give credit to the Council for policy innovation in billboard regulation (don't count 'em), homelessness ("Spread 'em!"), and renter displacement ("So sad...").
Unlike NYC and nearly every first, second, or third tier European city, our city has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the present by a rag-tag band of DIY proto-anarchists undertaking safety measures for pedestrians. At least when NYC busts protesters and bicycle activists for no reason, they lay off the cavity searches. Yet another LA policing policy innovation.

Damien Newton said...

NYPD may lay off the cavity searches, they just knock you off your bike then add resisting arrest to your charge. The great changes that are going on in NY haven't trickled down to the former high-school football players with a sidearm club known as the NYPD.

But, great article Steve.

ingipet said...

Photo credit - Ingrid Peterson.