Tuesday, June 23, 2009

CityWatchLA - Hey! I’m Walkin’ Here!

CityWatch, June 23, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 50

Los Angeles took a small step toward becoming a pedestrian oriented city as a result of last week's "Pedestrian Safety" conference held across the street from City Hall at the Caltrans Castle.

Hosted by the local folks at Caltrans and sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the Caltrans State Division of Design, the conference was designed to help state and local transportation professionals address pedestrian safety issues through design and engineering solutions. Caltrans Director Doug Failing wasted no words as he set the course for the two day journey, declaring to the assembly of engineers, planners, public works administrators and community activists that his commitment to street use was "All modes, all methods." Short on words, long on impact.

There were moments of silence during the conference, such as when the speakers pointed out that California State Law doesn't just suggest that local authorities support pedestrian activity, nor does it simply require that they support pedestrian activity. The State of California actually specifies that "all levels of government" work to increase levels of walking and pedestrian travel. The stunned look on the game faces of the professionals who have spent entire careers moving cars was worth the price of admission.

There were also moments of lively interaction as debates broke out over jaywalking, crosswalks and the often referenced "false sense of security" that is touted as an excuse to remove marked crosswalks in Los Angeles.

All of these debates clearly illustrated that the "science" of engineering and planning is driven by philosophy and political will. To that end, a community needs to clarify its goals and use the tools to make them a reality.

A bit of revelation, a bit of revolution and the attendees were divided up into teams and turned loose on the streets of Los Angeles for a field trip where they were called on to assess the situation, apply the principles from the conference, and then to make recommendations.

Some teams were made up of representatives from the same agency and other teams were made up of representatives from different communities. While the "sameness" of some teams allowed them to reach consensus quickly, it was the "diverse" teams that had robust discourse and a much more detailed list of recommendations for improving the studied intersections.

This bit of discovery ended up becoming one of the workshop recommendations, that agencies incorporate robust design input from the beginning, all based on a commitment to include bicycling and pedestrian facilities into "all transportation projects."

Unfortunately, the studied intersections did not support the ambition and hope that multi-agency improvements would benefit from greater team input.

The first study intersection was recently "improved" by the City of Los Angeles and included potential partners such as the Metro and Caltrans. Several teams reviewed Los Angeles Ave. as it approaches the 101 and it didn't take long for them to come up with 25 basic recommendations for bringing the intersection up to standards.

The second study intersection was recently "improved" as the result of the Gold Line Extension and this was an especially distressing experience. When the many agencies involved in the Gold Line Extension put that much money on the streets and then ask pedestrians to cross the tracks twice in order to maintain their course, it is evident that pedestrians are still simply an afterthought.

What's it going to take for the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Country in the world get in line with Federal and State Law and make our streets safe and accommodating for everybody, especially those who are the most vulnerable, the pedestrians?

Tough questions, solid recommendations, great expectations.

"See you on the Streets!"

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net)(Photo credit: LA.StreetsBlog.org) ◘

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