Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hollywood & Western's TOD - A Neighborhood Betrayed

Any debate over the impact of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) will benefit from a visit to the densely populated and transit heavy neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue. Thai Town to some, Little Armenia to others, this East Hollywood community is one of the most diverse in Los Angeles with over a hundred languages spoken.

TOD communities typically consist of facilities that include both residential and commercial elements (mixed use) which are supported by significant mass transit. They differ from their "urban sprawl" counterparts in that they tend to be denser and more pedestrian friendly. The emphasis on creating and supporting a "complete" community results in a wide range of local services and amenities which reduce the need to travel which in turn accommodates a denser population. At least that's how the philosophy goes.

Anyone who has travelled to any of the "Great Cities" in the world can offer examples of impressive TOD that efficiently supports a vibrant and invigorating community. (I use the term "Great Cities" loosely and define it as any of the wonderful places we have visited, loved and envied! I'm sure you can think of some. If not, you gotta get out more!)

As Los Angeles grapples with its commitment to a "no homeless cars" paradigm (LA leads the nation in homeless people but yet LA County has 7 parking spaces for every motor vehicle. It's good to have priorities!) the debates over parking, traffic, congestion, wear & tear on infrastructure, commute times, development, housing and mass transit are forcing communities to reevaluate and reconsider the TOD concept.

Which brings us to Hollywood & Western. This intersection has it all! Why, it should be the poster child for LA's TOD movement! Home to the Metro's Red Line, host to a half-dozen major bus lines, both Hollywood & Western are major arterials that serve as conduits for significant transit around the clock!

On the southeast corner is the Metro's Red Line Station topped by the "transit village." This station is coming up on its 10th birthday. Occupancy in the 4 floors of affordable housing runs high but as for the ground level commercial spaces, not so much. In fact some of the space has never been occupied. Nevertheless, the development stands as evidence of the partnership between the Metro and the CRA, and their collective commitment to the regeneration and the revitalization of this community.

Across the street, on the northeast corner, is a fortress built by the CRA and featuring senior housing which is typically occupied to capacity. The Hollywest Fortress is a daunting sight from the street, with access on both Hollywood and on Western for the motor vehicles that utilize the ample parking. (both courtyard and underground!) Pedestrians, apparently an afterthought, and cyclists, definitely an afterthought, also frequent the facility which includes Ralphs, Ross and Starbucks as anchor tenants.

On the southwest corner stands the historic Louis B. Mayer building, built in 1928, significantly damaged in the '94 earthquake, but now beautifully restored. LA City Council President Eric Garcetti moved his field office to the 4th floor a couple of years ago and when he visits, he holds court in Louis B. Mayer's old office. In spite of the building's rich legacy, its art deco beauty, its status as LACultural Monument #336 and its auspicious anchor tenant, the "House of Garcetti" sits almost completely vacant, unable to attract any of the business tenants that New Urbanists such as Garcetti tout as the natural result of a commitment to TOD communities.

But at the end of the day, it is the northwest corner of Hollywood & Western that serves as the true test of the TOD concept and the full complement of Metro, CRA and City Council vision, power, support and bottom line impact on the community. This is the corner that hosts the infamous but abandoned "Thai Hot Dog." Formerly a hot dog stand, most recently a Thai restaurant, this boarded up business sits on the high side of the intersection in stark contradiction to the promise of Hollywood & Western.

Granted, this is a vast improvement over the past when the landlord of a building on the south side of the intersection was sentenced by the court to in his own building as punishment for his slumlord crimes. One might even argue that having a politician sitting in Mayer's old office is a step up from the days when the building was used to produce pornography.

There's no doubt that this is no longer the crime-ridden and dangerous neighborhood of days gone by and, quite simply, things are a lot better. But is this the promise of the TOD concept, "It's not as bad as it used to be!"

The Hollywood & Western neighborhood boasts a dozen motels, bearing witness to the tremendous value of the most significant neighborhood "brand" on earth, Hollywood! Once here, these tourists, a captive audience, find themselves requiring the quotidian amenities that should be found in the immediate vicinity of the TOD. Instead, they are basically limited to the merchants found in the "strip mall on steroids."

There are some exceptions to this dismal evaluation. For example, Angel'z restaurant is a great place for breakfast or lunch and there are so many Thai restaurants of note that it would take a couple of vacations to visit them all. Why, we've even got a Sizzler!

But the brutal reality is this, even the Dapper Cadaver closed up and left the neighborhood. The local business with the greatest staying power is "The X Spot," a 24 hour porn shop. As for other offerings, the selection gets better the farther east or west you move, not a strong testament to the significant positive development that we are promised is the residual impact of New Urbanism.

This intersection begs the hard question, does the positive impact of TOD happen naturally or does it require assistance and support? If it requires support, who dropped the ball at Hollywood & Western?

It was public funds that got things going but our leadership failed to push for the finish line. This is consistent with the "legal minimum" standard for performance that we have grown to expect from our City as we are, once again, asked to settle for mediocrity and simple accept "It's not as bad as it used to be!" as the battle cry.

The missed opportunity for this TOD is that it never became the place to be, but instead is simply a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else.

Welcome to our neighborhood!

In a neighborhood that suffers from the lowest ratio of parkland to people of any of the city's council districts, there are empty lots to be found, boarded up or surrounded by chain link fence, but no public space to speak of. Granted, the Metro Station, under the "No Loitering" sign, offers the opportunity to hang out with some of the community's under-challenged youth and the Starbucks across the street offers the opportunity to sit on the narrow sidewalk and engage in the ongoing sunflower seed-spitting contest that never seems to end. But as for open space or green space, not so much!

The courtyard space at the Metro Station is not really "useable space" and it joins the empty commercial space and the secluded bike racks in the "unfulfilled promise" category of TOD.

The Aaron Brothers store has a "fake" door on the Hollywood Blvd. side of its business, demonstrating the lack of commitment to pedestrians that is the hallmark of the Hollywest project. It's no small wonder that one of the anchor tenants, the Shoe Warehouse left them hanging with so much empty and dead space, after all, nobody walks in this neighborhood!

The interior courtyard of the Hollywest Fortress, where cars go to hang out. This would have been a great place to create shared public space for the community but then nobody would be able to look at your car! The underground parking is so large that the facility is rarely close to capacity and is often rented out to production companies who use the space to store crew vehicles.

Periodically, the community will get together for a game or two of Frogger, great fun for the motorists, keeps the peds in shape!

Only in Hollywood! Such a bittersweet moment. No longer will we walk past the Dapper Cadaver, your local source of coffins, autopsy tables and other accoutrements of death. Apparently the "DC" was not so dependent on pedestrian traffic and the move to Sun Valley will allow them to focus on their huge internet audience. Who knew!

The Gershwin Hollywood Hotel and Hostel, partially occupied and partially boarded up as its owners await the development opportunities that seem to simply come and go. Its street side tenants include a publisher, a self-defense studio, a furniture refinisher, a production designer and a clothing designer. Only the self-defense studio is open to the public. The blue space next door is the home of the Blu Monkey, the white space with the security bars is the former home of the Dapper Cadaver.

Auto parts, an anemic mini market, a Thai restaurant and Thai club, another empty shop (green awning) and the neighborhood's merchant of the year, the X Spot, featuring porn around the clock!

On the bright side, the neighborhood is flush with opportunities to eat. Angel's for breakfast, Thai anytime and the Sizzler for those less adventurous!

Motels throughout the neighborhood bear witness to the power of the "Hollywood" brand! If only our leadership believed in it as much as the rest of the world does.

On the House of Garcetti side of the street, the abundant presence of security bars bears witness to the long distance that remains ahead if we are to truly revitalize this community.

Sadly, the large amount of empty space, empty buildings and empty lots indicate that the real opportunity in this neighborhood is for real estate agents. As they stand in the midst of this densely populated community filled with people who crave the services that a TOD promises, one can't help but wonder how they will answer the question "What went wrong?"

For those who might argue that the dismal occupancy rates along Hollywood & Western are simply a sign of the times, I look to other areas of Hollywood and note that business is booming. Space 15 Twenty just opened between Ivar and Cahuenga. With Hennesey + Ingalls as one of the anchors, this development features performance space in its courtyard and actually stimulates pedestrian activity in the neighborhood with the pedestrian alley that connects Ivar to Cahuenga.

Now is the time for the Hollywood & Western community to turn to our leadership and our community partners and to raise the standard and to demand that this neighborhood realize its full potential and become the Transit Oriented Development that is the sign of a Great City.

See you on the Streets!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When Holidays Lights Go Bad

A Million-Light Baby, With Parental Issues
How can an "eco-friendly" festival exclude bicycles?
Min Kang
Issue date: 12/22/08

The Insider

The festivities have begun and it is time again to visit the bright child of Los Angeles, officially known as the 13th Annual Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Griffith Park Light Festival. Whether you like it or not, with its twinkling lights, it attracts Angelenos searching for a unique winter holiday experience with a traditional twist.

The festival sponsored by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) draws large crowds; an estimated 650,000 visitors attended last year. A bold mission to "go green" attached to its glittering surface, the festival could be the poster child for the city's eco-friendly lifestyle. At least that is the objective. The problem is that not everyone can agree that earth-consciousness is what the festival represents.

The Department of Water and Power (DWP) gushes about how the festival has "gone green." To them, this means converting festival lights to Light Emitting Diode Lights or LEDs, using a clean fuel cell for power and expanding the "vehicle-free" nights to two weeks of pedestrians walking through the one-mile route.

During the walking-only nights, it can be a pleasant trip. Fortified against the cold with a delicious warm churro in your mouth, you join other pedestrians out for a leisurely stroll. There is a predominant theme of mischievous elves. Kids gaze intently and point to the lit brontosaurus, while others stand awkwardly in the cold against a dazzling tunnel of light as cameras flash. Music blasting from hidden speakers hit all notes of holiday emotions; from nostalgic carols to sexy saxophones evoking the content end of a night of revelry.

One grandmother dressed as Mrs. Santa hustles the two-step with her grandson as they dance along to the tunes. Couples cuddle in crooked arms and kiss. A troupe of dog owners and a variety of pedigreed dogs reminiscent of "Best in Show" walk briskly past.

Linda Bennett with her red-nosed husband (illuminated Rudolph bulb attached to his nose), a newcomer to the festival, already has made memories. "It is a great family meeting place. My whole family is here, my grandsons. It was my daughter's idea to bring us all together here."

Kim Hughes of the water company's Public Affairs office, says that this is "a gift from the city to the city (residents)." Certainly the DWP is proud of their baby. It is the most visible public relations outlet they have. But this is the artifice of holiday cheer is created by LED lights. And like Cinderella's pumpkin carriage, the magic is only temporary.

After December 7, the festival returns to its car-dominated tradition of gridlock and its generous contribution to global warming. "Never let the cars in, says Richard, a light festival visitor and new father. "The fact that we could walk through is great, rather than smelling the exhaust (from cars)." In previous years, pedestrians have had to walk along the path with motor vehicles.

When Hughes claims that DWP has enjoyed a long-established, strong environmentally-conscious reputation, it reflects the staunch efforts of the department to maintain the image - that the festival represents the same altruism to the environment as in their projects. "The LADWP has always been a leader in environmental stewardship, as it was one of the first utilities in the country to develop a "Green Power" program, a solar program, etc."

In reality, the DWP has reservations about letting the festival be completely car-free. Many of the concerns involve unsupervised children. In a recent Los Angeles Times article "City-Sanctioned Traffic Jam Adding to Global Warming," by Steve Hyman, he suggests that Joe Ramallo of the DWP fears that a pedestrian-friendly festival would encourage solicitors of "unsupervised kids who linger and hang out." Some other concerns veer to the ludicrous, like how pedestrians "could trip over things" or "children may stray too close to the lights."

A serious obstacle to creating a pedestrian-only festival is, ironically, the lack of parking spaces. Pedestrians drive to the festival form their homes and need a place to park their cars. "We try to monitor parking because there's only a certain amount of space," says Hughes. To be precise, there are only 2,200 spaces in the zoo parking lot, by the Merry-Go-Round and its adjacent lots. The festival has to accommodate 2,000-5,000 cars a night. "We're trying to bring in the Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA] public transportation, says Hughes, "but right now there's only one bus (during "vehicle-free" nights) that takes visitors up here until 6:30 p.m." She admits, "The budget is tight," but returns to reassuring plans as she ends her sentence, "and next year we hope to lobby for longer times and more shuttles."

We should understand that the department is working hard for us. That same dedication for the community is the message the department wants ingrained. It is perfectly stated in Ken Lombard's, President of the LADWP Commission, 2002 interview with Business Wire: "The light festival represents an important opportunity to reinforce LADWP's commitment to the communities throughout Los Angeles and the 3.8 million residents we serve by bringing them together to celebrate our history and our City's landmarks in grand holiday fashion." In other words, the department is trying to promote its presence in the community and accommodate as many people as possible. Unfortunately, the goal of "accessibility" conflicts with the goal of "green."

Keep in mind that this is the work of a bureaucracy, a well-oiled machine pumping public relations propaganda. The commitment of accessibility for the masses excludes bicyclists from the 3.8 million Angelenos served. Other than one preview night for bikes, Nov. 28, bicyclists are banned from the light festival. Access has been granted to motorcyclists who speedily wind through spaces between cars. Recently, equestrians and canines have been welcomed, yet bicyclists are excluded. One discontented group of avid bicyclists wants in.

This group, known as the Bike Writers Collective, views the water company's ban on cyclists as being poorly justified. Founder and spokesperson Stephen Box, of steely eyes and a quick tongue, lashes against the DWP's ineptness to reduce congestion. He says, "The light festival is accommodating so many more vehicles that the Interstate 5 shuts down all the way to the 134 Freeway, as a result of the significant traffic congestion." He continues, "One would think then, that in an effort to reduce the congestion, (the DWP) would encourage other modes of transportation like (he makes an emphatic pause) - what do you call this? - a bicycle." Box has no mercy when revealing the fallacy of the water company's reasoning. "But instead what (the DWP does is) take the lane that typically cyclists would use on Crystal Springs Drive and dedicate it to another lane of motor vehicle transportation."

When asked why bicyclists are banned, Hughes unknowingly reveals how water and power encourages congestion without placating bicyclists. "We are concerned with safety, as a two-lane road is converted to three with an emergency lane and two vehicle lanes converted into a one-way route," she says. "Vehicles go through the festival without their headlights on and since we also have barricades, there is a very little safe area for bicycles and we would not want anyone to be injured."

The Bike Writers Collective is skeptical. "This is the same battle cyclists fought when the Griffith Observatory reopened," said Box in a LAist article, "and Recreation and Parks intended to exclude bicycle access."

The Bike Writers see the ban as a violation of California state law which the DWP has no authority to enforce. Box recites the state laws: "California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21 is the uniformity code which restricts the municipality's authority to regulate the movement of cyclists with three exceptions: freeways, sidewalks and bike licenses. CVC 21200 says where motorists go, we go." Three years since its formation, this legislation-savvy group has rallied and petitioned the city council to allow them to exercise rights supported by state law. Some have taken their passion for bicycles and cyclists' rights to articles and blogs to vent the frustrations of their campaign or relate the latest progress made on behalf of bicyclists.

The bicycle activist's most demonstrative act is the annual protest ride through Crystal Springs Drive which they did on Dec. 8, which, ironically, was the opening night for cars to enter the festival. They met at the Mulholland Fountain, dedicated to the legacy of William Mulholland, a paradoxical figure that brought water and expansion to the city while ravaging the Owens Valley and provoking outrage from environmentalists. It is clear that they are no pushovers. This community of bicyclists exudes youthful energy. Some of the cycling comrades are wrapped in stringed LED lights, another plays irreverent holiday tunes that include a parody from South Park, and one is a stern Santa wearing glasses. It is a sight to see.

Though excluding bicyclists may not be the most prominent issue, Box sees that the ban is a consequence of the DWP's refusal to recognize the core problem - severe traffic congestion around Griffith Park. Surveying the intersection between the southwest corner of Los Feliz Boulevard and Crystal Springs/Riverside Drive, Box notes, "This is one of the most congested intersections in our city; this is a treacherous intersection in general. A police officer was killed right over there. As he pulled someone over, he was hit."

In a 2005 study of fatalities and injuries from motor vehicle accidents in Los Angeles County cities, Los Angeles had the most fatalities; 277, and injuries; 42,832, of all other cities in the county. Box asserts, "For us to encourage motor vehicle transportation as a form of recreation and entertainment is absolutely antiquated. It is the complete antithesis of all that (the city) should be doing as a committee, to improve the quality of life in this community."

Despite complaints from residents and bicyclists alike, the light festival pushes safety and environmental concerns aside. It continues to support motor vehicle transportation because it brings in the most visitors. In the LA Times article by Hymon, Councilman Tom LaBonge "thinks cars are part of the deal to allow as many people as possible - including those who cannot walk the route - to see the lights." After all, isn't popularity what maintains legitimacy in the DWP's claim to "dedicated" service? This is the car-centric city. The 2000 census on the means of transportation utilized by Angelinos reveals that nearly 1.2 million people travel by car, truck, or van in Los Angeles.

Box makes a poignant statement of the water company's and the city's attitude: "There's a saying that success has many parents, but failure's an orphan." Water and Power and the city are proud to brag about their light festival that dazzles. As for the other offspring - the traffic jams, heavy smog and ban on bicyclists, both parents refuse to claim responsibility.

For now, the Light Festival carries a heavy burden to uphold the family name - the same "quality" service to the Los Angeles community.

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.)

Cyclists' Bill of Rights - #3 and #12

Last week when the Cyclists' Bill of Rights came before the City Council for endorsement, Councilman Tom LaBonge lumbered to the microphone, objecting to #3 which calls for "the right to the full support of educated law enforcement."

LaBonge felt that it was confrontational to suggest that the LAPD needed to be educated and thought that this item created an adversarial relationship. Given the nature of the one-sided ring of rhetoric that is the City Council, we were unable to simply ask LaBonge "Are you saying that cyclists don't have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement?"

Of course the issue is double moot as 1) the City Council that day voted unanimously in favor of the motion in supporting the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and 2) the ACLU, holding a Judge's ruling in hand, just settled a landmark case that limits the LAPD from conducting illegal stops, searches and seizures.

Jodi Wakefield, the LAPD Captain for the Central Division, disagreed with the Judge's ruling but said "there's nothing wrong with us going back and making sure that our officers clearly understand the Constitution, and all the laws they have to abide by."

It is against this backdrop of Civil Rights violations that cyclists feel the need to stand up and make the simple claim:

"Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement."

In all fairness to the sensitivities of our law enforcement partners, we ain't there yet! And until we get there, we should be working together to make it happen/

Sure we've come a long way since 2000 when 71 cyclists were rounded up at the Democratic Convention, detained for up to two days with 23 women enduring repeated visual body cavity examinations, all of which resulted in approximately three million dollars in settlement to right the wrongs of those in charge.

Sure we were still moving in the right direction in 2007 when cyclists rode to the May Day march, only to get caught up in the melee, all of which resulted in approximately ten million dollars in settlement to right the wrongs of those in charge.

Sure we're all in it together when the cycling community stands up and claims their civil rights, asserting that the 4th Amendment guarantees them "the right to be secure in their persons and property, and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure."

Sure we're partners in community policing when the cycling community stands up and calls for the full support of educated law enforcement.

Sure we're partners when we're at City Hall or in a Committee meeting or when there's a press conference, but late at night, when the street is dark, that's when our Civil Rights get tested and that's when cyclists call for the support of educated law enforcement.

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the country. We should be a Great City, setting the standard for Civil Rights, but instead, LA looks for the minimum and argues for mediocrity.

If it were left to LaBonge, the Cyclists' Bill of Rights would be just another tattered spoke card serving as a reminder of a ride gone by.

As for the cyclists, the Cyclists' Bill of Rights is a living, breathing document that embodies all that is great about riding the streets of Los Angeles.

"See you on the Streets!"

Los Angeles Magazine Rides with LA's Bike Movement!

Matt Segal of Los Angeles Magazine lived the life, riding to the Westside for C.R.A.N.K.MOB, to the Eastside for MidnightRidazz, Centralside for Critical Mass and downtown to Storm the Bastille. Along the way he made a few friends, visited the Kitchen, the Oven and the BikeRoWave. This article in LAMag is the result of that journey.

"As longtime activists push to make the gridlocked city more bicycle friendly a new wave of riders is partying in the streets, challenging city hall, and even taking to the freeways. Is bike culture here to stay?"

Take a gander, give it a read, let us know your opinion on Matt's take on LA's Bike Culture. Most of all, give us your answer to his question:

Is Bike Culture here to stay?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Billboard Company Sponsors Bike Path

Culver Blvd. billboard sends a clear message to cyclists: Get off the bike path and ride on the streets!

The City of Los Angeles, in its infinite benevolence, has long fought to maintain immunity from liability for the Class I "Bike Path" facilities such as the one pictured above, holding that they are trails used for recreational activity and, as such, the user is responsible for any risk or injury.

At a glance, it is evident that this Bike Path is actually a well designed multi-use slalom course, popular with the daredevil baby carriage pushing crowd and probably popular with extreme dogwalkers and cyclists who who like to live on the edge.

Somehow this Billboard was built on this land. It either had a permit or it didn't. If it has a permit, the person who issued this permit should be held accountable for their actions. If it doesn't have a permit, the billboard should be removed, posthaste!

As for the Bike Path, why is it even here? Who in the LADOT approved these plans? Why is it called a Bike Path? It's a multi-use path closed to motor vehicles. It offers little if any support at the many crossings between Corinth and McConnell.

The City Council is meeting today in a special session to consider a moratorium of sorts on Billboards. Why does it take such an uprising from the community to get our City leadership to take a look at foolishness such as that pictured above?

Friday, December 12, 2008

CityWatchLA - City & Cyclists Take a Love-Hate Ride in the Lights

CityWatch, Dec 12, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 100

Soap Box-Video
By Stephen Box

Cyclists demonstrated their love-hate relationship with the City of Los Angeles this past week by staging a protest ride at Griffith Park on Monday night and then a Celebration at City Hall on Tuesday. Monday's protest was the 3rd annual "Festival of RIGHTS!" in which cyclists take the DWP and Councilman Tom LaBonge to task for promoting the Griffith Park Festival of Lights as "Going Green" and then proceeding to ban cyclists from the congested streets filled with idling vehicles. News crews from KABC and Fox joined the cyclists as they gathered at the Mulholland Fountain, adorned themselves in holiday decorations and then rode through the gridlock of the Griffith Park Festival of Lights.

Tuesday's celebration came about as the Councilman Bill Rosendahl initiated motion to endorse the Cyclists' Bill of Rights finally worked its way to the full City Council. The motion was co-sponsored by Council President Eric Garcetti and Transpo Committee Chair Wendy Greuel and was seconded by Councilmen Ed Reyes and Bernard Parks. Cyclists have been taking the CBR around the City for months, picking up endorsements and encouragement, all the while fighting to maintain the integrity of the document, urging for approval "as written, as ridden!" The motion was approved unanimously and the cycling community celebrated.

In both cases, the events simply marked the beginning of the next phase of an ever-developing journey as the cycling community works to establish its place in the community and to establish a relationship based on respect and equality.

Monday night's ride was less about the Festival of Lights and more about the City's authority to restrict cyclists from the streets of Los Angeles. To the credit of the Department of Recreation and Parks, they tried to accommodate the cyclists on Monday night, although their offer was to have the Festival of RIGHTS! protest ride use the bridle trail. Not only is this illegal under LA's Municipal Code and not only does it demonstrate a misunderstanding of the notion of a "protest ride" but it also maintains a position that is the basis for the protest, that the City of Los Angeles has the right to restrict cyclists from the street.

Cyclists have long asserted that State law (CVC 21- the Uniformity Code) restricts the rights of a municipality to ban cyclists from the streets. LaBonge responds that the streets of Griffith Park are private park streets not covered by State law. This made it tough for the Supervising Park Ranger when he threatened to cite the cyclists at the end of the ride because the simple challenge was "under whose authority?" One can't both claim to be free of California Vehicle Code authority and then write tickets for violating the same code.

Ultimately, Sgt. Joyce stood his ground and threatened to write tickets and then to have his armed backup Rangers detain the cyclists while the tickets were being written. This offer was accepted by the cyclists and the stand-off lasted seconds before the Rangers were dismissed and sent home. Sgt. Joyce demonstrated a lack of willingness to enforce the ban with tickets or arrest and he got back in his truck and returned to the Ranger Station followed in the same lane by the remaining cyclists. (many had grown bored by the debate and had taken off in search of holiday cheer)

As for Tuesday's victory in City Hall, it marked a beginning, not an end. The Motion simply endorsed the Bill of Rights, a document that enumerates a dozen rights that are already guaranteed in some manner by Federal, State and local law, policies and directives. The real value of the Cyclist's Bill of Rights is its effectiveness as a catalyst for discussion and that is the opportunity that cyclists seek to pursue.

Through it all, the cycling community has been urging our leadership to endorse the CBR, as an affirmation to cyclists that they ride with rights and to inform the greater community of the nature of those rights.

In both cases, on the streets of Griffith Park and in Council Chambers at City Hall, it is most rewarding to this cyclist to see the cycling community engaged in the process. The discussions, the debates, the desire to improve, the passion, the participation, the perseverance, and the progress all serve to remind us that the journey is its own reward!

"See you on the Streets!"

Mandeville Canyon Road Rage Case Moves Forward

Dr. Thompson, the emergency room physician who stands accused of the Mandeville Canyon road rage incident that left two cyclists seriously injured, appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday for his preliminary hearing and it did not go well for him.

Ron Peterson, one of the two injured cyclists, testified to the July 4th incident in which he and Christian Stoehr were riding downhill in Mandeville Canyon, only to encounter the angry Thompson. Peterson claims that Thompson cut them off and then slammed on his brakes, causing both cyclists to hit the car with Stoehr careening through the air to the ground in front of the car and Peterson going through the back window, leaving his broken teeth mixed in with the broken glass in the back seat and cutting his face so severely that his nose was almost completely detached.

LAPD Officer Rodriguez, one of the first responding police officers at the scene, testified that immediately after the incident, Thompson explained that he had lived in Mandeville Canyon for years and that he was tired of the cyclists and that he slammed on the brakes "to teach them a lesson."

Detective Sharon Azpeitia testified on behalf of injured cyclist Christian Stoehr who is out of the country and on behalf of the physicians who treated the cyclists, introducing evidence of the "permanence of their injuries."

The preliminary hearing is the prosecutor's opportunity to convince the judge that a crime has been committed and that there is sufficient evidence to force the defendant to stand trial.

Defense Attorney Peter Swarth did his best to earn his fee, questioning Peterson on his tires and challenging him on his brakes and their ability to stop his bike. Swarth objected in broad strokes, asking that members of the cycling community in attendance be removed from the court on the off-chance that they might be called to testify in the future. The request was denied. He also went after Rodriguez, questioning his credentials and his contact with the defendants and with the press.

Swarth had an another tough obstacle to overcome when Patrick Watson, a cyclist who rides Mandeville Canyon, took the stand. Watson wasn't involved in the July 4th incident but he gave testimony to an incident that occurred in March of this year, when he and "Josh" were riding down Mandeville Canyon. Watson testified that a car came from behind, forced him off the road, and continued downhill. He maintained his balance, rode through the brush and back onto the road, only to be forced off again by the same motorist, this time actually laying down his bike.

"Josh" pursued the motorist, catching up with him and Watson rode to the front of the car and looked at the driver. The cyclists took the drivers license plate and called the police and reported the incident, giving the license plate and auto make/model and driver description to the police. Nothing came of the police report...until now. The prosecutor gave Watson the opportunity to identify the driver who ran him off the road in March and Watson identified Dr. Thompson.

Swarth went after Watson, challenging the identification as a presumption based on the identification of the car. Watson had identified Thompson's red Infiniti and vanity license plate info in the police report. Swarth asked how Watson can be sure that Thompson was driving. Watson responded "Because I stood in front of the car, looked right at him, and then had to jump out of the way as he accelerated his car at me and drove away."

Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone prevailed and the case will proceed forward with a January 15, 2009 arraignment at the same Airport Courthouse.

The charges against Dr. Thompson are: Count 1 - reckless driving causing specified injuries, Count 2 - Battery with serious bodily injury, Count 3 - reckless driving - misdemeanor.

The first two counts are the direct result of the July incident and the third count is a result of the March incident.

As in the past appearance at the same courthouse, Thompson's entourage did their best to shield him and to escort him quickly off the property at the conclusion of the hearing. A large man blocked the public from the elevator as the group raced to their vehicle, only to be stymied when they had to fumble to get the doors unlocked. Once they were safely behind the tinted windows they found themselves blocked by a motorist who wanted to see what the commotion was all about.

The Hollywood getaway, the suggestions of death threats and the positioning of motorists vs. cyclists all give the situation a soap-opera veneer and they might even be defense strategies but at the end of the day, this is simply a case of one man accused of using a weapon to injure and almost kill two other men.

Video credit: User1

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

CityWatchLA - LADOT on Speed: Don’t Need Public’s Help

CityWatch, Dec 9, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 99

Just when you thought it was safe to cross the street, the LADOT is back in front of the Transportation Commission, asking for speed limit increases on five streets segments in the West Valley.

The proposed speed limit increases are for sections of Mulholland Drive, Corbin Avenue, Saticoy Street, White Oak Avenue and Fallbrook Avenue. These five proposals are part of approximately two dozen speed limit increase proposals that the LADOT is working through the system. At issue is the State mandate that restricts radar enforcement of speed limits to streets that have speed limits that are set based on the 85% percentile criteria, meaning that traffic is evaluated and speeds measured and the speed limit is set so that 85% of the motorists are traveling legally. As Alan Willis, Senior Transportation Engineer for the LADOT explains, "Drivers vote on the speed limit with their gas pedal."

Meanwhile, residents have voiced their opinion in emails, online, at neighborhood council meetings and on the evening news. In the last three months, this process for evaluating and raising the speed limits has become a hot topic for debate.

One resident wrote of the Mulholland proposal "I also object to any thought of any speed increase limit on Mulholland Drive or Topanga Canyon Blvd. This is a Disaster Zone...instead of speed warnings there should be signs showing a skull and crossbones, highlighting the high incidence of horrible crashes that occur here day after day, week after week, and year after year. The sound of police and ambulance sirens is horrifying for all of us in the general vicinity of this most unfortunate intersection....the sound of the collisions at all hours of the day and night is terrifying...and nothing is done to make this place a safer zone for drivers or pedestrians!"

Another protested "With the amount of small children in our subdivision, and young families, WE ARE AN ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN. To increase the speed limit is ASKING FOR DEATH TO OCCUR- PERIOD!!! while another complained "My Tampa Estates neighborhood has been asking the city for help with speeding in our neighborhood for years (literally). And now they want to increase the speed limits? Our neighborhood is off the side streets from Corbin, and when the Orange Line backs up traffic, cars use our street as an Indy 500 detour. Not exactly safe for the young families and seniors living in our area."

The LADOT, in a demonstration of its "soft" skills, sent a letter to the community explaining that "the establishment of speed limits can be an emotional issue." Apparently, working on speed limit proposals for a year while leaving the community out of the process, ignoring the public when they protest and failing to pursue the full spectrum of traffic calming techniques available to transportation professionals evokes an "emotional" response from the community.

The letter, in a subtle dismissal of the "emotional" concerns of the community, proceeds with an explanation that "a rational, objective and defensible determination is necessary to maintain public confidence in the process." Public confidence?

Chip Yost of KTLA covered the issue and pointed out that the current process for surveying streets and setting speed limits leaves something to be desired, hardly the system that inspires the "public confidence in the process" that the LADOT espouses.

Councilman Dennis Zine has responded to the brouhaha over speed limit increases with a City Council resolution calling for a process that would "allow local traffic engineers and transportation authorities to develop and make use of more tools for traffic calming and enforcement."

Transportation Commissioner D. Malcolm Carson has responded to the protests of the community by meeting with the LADOT and the LAPD to establish more rigorous standards for evaluation and for communication.

Meanwhile, the LADOT has these five speed limit increase proposals on the Consent Agenda of the Transportation Commission for the THIRD time, demonstrating a tenaciousness that might be better applied to projects that actually come with community support.

The Transportation Commission meets on Thursday, December 11, at 10:00 am in room 1070 of City Hall.

If you have any comments on the proposed speed limit proposals, email them to me and I'll carry them in and present them during public comment.

"See you on the Streets!"

Thursday, December 04, 2008

CityWatchLA - Hey! I’m Talkin’ Here

CityWatch, Dec 5, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 98

Recent events at City Hall reveal a disturbing trend, one where the City Council speaks and the City Departments nod, smile, and then continue with business as usual, ignoring the directives and instructions of the Councilmembers.

In July, I attended a Transportation Committee meeting and spoke in support of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. I was pleased with the Committee response, the highlight of which was Committee Chair Greuel's instruction to the LA Department of Transportation and Planning staff to include the Cyclists' Bill of Rights in the City's Bicycle Master Plan. In the hallway, following the meeting, I was shocked to hear a consultant working on the Master Plan explain that the work had already been done, that some of the basic principles were already included in the Plan but that the Cyclists' Bill of Rights would not be included "as written." I protested, referring to Greuel's specific instruction but the consultant dismissed it saying "We work for the department, we don't take direction from the City Council." Ouch!

In September, the Education and Neighborhoods Committee took up the issue of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Neighborhood Councils and the Department of Transportation. The DOT had been directed to report on the MOU and instead turned in a report that never actually mentioned an MOU. DOT GM Rita Robinson and Department of Neighborhood Empowerment GM BongHwan Kim appeared and engaged in a dialogue with the Committee. The session concluded with Committee Chair Richard Alarcón directing the DOT to respond again, this time with a definitive departmental report on the development of an MOU and he gave a 60 day deadline. The report was due in November and yet there has been no response.

Last month, the Transportation Committee responded to complaints from the community that the LAPD was citing cyclists for riding without bike licenses and yet was unable to provide cyclists with a system for procuring the licenses. Chief Paysinger stood before the Committee and smiled as Councilman LaBonge, Councilman Rosendahl, Councilman Parks and then Committee Chair Greuel all asked the Chief to simply suspend enforcement until the City Council could review the law and address the public's complaints. The Chief refused. The Committee then responded quite vehemently that the process wasn't working and repeated the request, emphatically. The Chief smiled and politely refused.

Last week, the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee convened, this time operating under the City Council directed new rules of order. In response to complaints that the BAC had gone adrift and was no longer functioning according to its mandate, the City Council had intervened and directed the Department of Recreation and Parks, Department of Public Works, the City Attorney, and the Planning Department to staff and/or support the BAC in its endeavors. This specific directive from the City Council was ignored by each of the departments and the BAC fumbled through the meeting, unclear on their agenda, how to make a motion, when to hold elections and how to operate under the Brown Act, all the while looking around the empty room for the support promised by the City Council. A promise broken when City Staff simply ignored the City Council's direction.

I believe in our City Government. I've got skin in the game. I regularly attend Council and Committee meetings, speaking in support of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, in opposition to proposed speed limit increases, in favor of greater NC participation in the process and on the many issues that are relevant to me and to my community. I encourage others to do the same, all the while professing my belief that it is important for us to participate in the system and to partner with our representatives to improve the quality of life in our communities.

I also believe that our representatives have an obligation to represent. I fully expect our City Councilmembers to respect us by taking the power that we entrust in them and by putting it to work. I fully expect our City Council to speak and then follow up to ensure that their words mean something, after all, they're spoken on our behalf and I'm convinced we're worth it.

Elsewhere in the City, words mean something. When the City Librarian says return the books, failure to comply results in a fine. When the DWP says pay your bill, failure to respond results in a loss of power. When the DOT issues parking tickets, failure to pay results in an impound.

And yet...when our City Council speaks...what's the penalty when our City Departments ignore them?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Missed Connection...The Mythology of the Transit Hub

These are exciting times for Urban Planners. Planning, Land Use and Mobility issues are hot topics in communities throughout the City. Neighborhood Councils debate the causes of traffic and the merits of more vs. less parking and the impact of density on their lives and on the walkability and ridability and livability of their streets. Urban Planners are the new rock star!

Through it all, New Urbanist and Smart Growth proponents pour Kool-Aid for the converts while Shoupistas proudly carry "The High Cost of Free Parking" under their arm as they engage in the great debate over parking, parking revenue and community revitalization.

Through it all, the Metro touts its development as a catalyst for rebirth, regeneration, revival, all the result of the connectivity and activity that is generated when people get out of the single occupant vehicle and frequent transit hubs that subsequently attract businesses that cater to the large numbers of pedestrians, all of whom have quotidian needs that represent a huge economic opportunity.

Examples of this vibrant street life surrounding busy transit hubs abound around the world. Budapest, Munich, London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, New York, Tokyo, Chicago, San Francisco and...

How about Van Nuys?

It's got the numbers. The Orange Line is busy beyond projections and expectations. Van Nuys Boulevard is a heavy transit route. If there is a connection between mass transit and transit hubs and loads of human activity and economic development and mixed use development...surely after the last couple of years, Van Nuys would show some impact!

There's definitely evidence of mixed use...

Domestic Automobiles vs. Imported Automobiles!

New Automobiles vs. Used Automobiles!

Large scale used car dealers vs. Smaller used car dealers!

Auto repairs, Auto accessories...

Seat Covers in English and in Spanish!

Healthy Competition! Good for the Consumer!

Healthy Competition! Good for the Departed!

Healthy Competition! Good for the Incarcerated!

Healthy Competition! Pedestrians against traffic, unsupported by crosswalks...good for the heart rate!

A business on the rise next to a business on the decline...

A business that caters to Winners next to a business that caters to Losers...

Porno and Lingerie at one end of the street, Liquor and Food at the other...

Parking for those who are about to enter into a lease, both short term and permanent.

A vibrant street life supported by a law office and complemented by the hustle bustle inside the State's fortress.

Prime Real Estate lovingly fortified and put to use by the DWP as...another fortress, complete with security perimeter!

More abundant Prime Real Estate, used to store excess Car Dealer inventory! Go Metro!

A big ass parking lot with loads of free parking for the public and a place for bikes to go when they die.

Rustic accommodations for the worker and the more luxurious accommodations for the tourist! "Van Nuys is the place to go!"

Orange Line Buses in such quantity that they tailgate, Rapids and Locals offering North/South connectivity...

Loads of pedestrian activity, all of it motivated by a desire to find the same thing, an escape route, a way out, because, ultimately, for all of the investment and all of the activity and all of the mass transit...there's little reason to be here...unless, of course, you want to buy a car, rent a car, park a car, accessorize a car, tune a car, get bail, get legal representation, get drunk, get hot-and-bothered or just get buried.

Seriously, if the Transit Oriented Development concept is to be put to the test, how about right here, in the center of the Valley, just south of the Civic Center, complete with its Federal, State, County and City facilities. This should be a showcase for development, a place for our City's economic development department to show their stuff, a place for the Metro to turn their "we're good for the neighborhood" powerpoint presentation into a "Wow! This is a great neighborhood!" demonstration.