Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Metro repeats the TOD mistakes of the past

LA's cyclists just got snubbed by the Metro again, this time at the Metro's Westlake/MacArthur Park Transit Oriented Development (TOD) which broke ground on Monday, promising safe and affordable housing, economic development, improvements to the subway station and nearby streets, sidewalks, curbs and gutters, street trees and underground utilities. Whew! Where will all of this goodness end?

Missing from the long list of elements, including 172 units of housing and 30,000 sq. feet of retail is any hint of accommodation for cyclists. No Bike-Room, no Bike-Repair, no Bike-Share, no Bike-Shop, no Bike-Lockers, no ride-your-bike-home if you live here, ride-your-bike-to-the-station if you take the Metro, no ride-your-bike-to-the-stores if you shop here, nothing.

The basic tenets of TOD projects are simple. 1) Accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians. 2) Connectivity and traffic calming. 3) Balanced mix of housing, shops, schools, public services. 4) Parking Management strategies to reduce land allocation to automobile parking. 5)  An environment that is convenient, comfortable, and secure with features including common space, washrooms, vendors and Wayfinding and multi-modal navigational tools.

It's very simple.  With a budget of $45 million there is no excuse for the Metro to fall so short and yet, once again, it does. Phase I of the MacArthur Park Metro Apartments project promises 100 automobile parking spaces for the Metro passengers alone. This in addition to the parking provided for the tenants and the merchants and the shoppers. Yet, nothing for the cyclists?

This significant failure is disturbing for several reasons:

1) It furthers demonstrates the need to overhaul the Metro, to engage in a bit of silo-shaking and to get the Metro's Real Property Management, Operations, Planning and Executive Departments in sync. The Real Estate department repeatedly enters into uninspired relationships and leaves it to Operations to make it happen, a scenario that recently failed miserably at the Metro's Hollywood & Vine project. The Metro's Bike Manager is in the Planning Department but based on the implementation of bike facilities Hollywood & Western or on the Eastside Extension, it's evident that Planning is far from relevant. Through it all, the Executive Department rides herd on departments who love press conferences and ribbon cuttings but who play hot-potato with the street level responsibilities and accountability.

Metro: Bike Parking is the standard. Put out a new press release, this time replacing "100 parking spaces for Metro customers" with "Secure Bike Parking for 100 Cyclists!"

2) It demonstrates the need for the Metro to get in touch with the community. This neighborhood, as much if not more than others, needs safe and secure bike parking. To fail to recognize the demographics of MacArthur Park is downright cavalier. To fail to understand the needs of the neighborhood is simply irresponsible. Dan Koeppel, in his insightful Bicycling Magazine "Invisible Riders" article, takes the reader on a journey into the lives of cyclists who simply ride to stay alive, to earn money, and to support their families. These days we call them the Workforce Cyclists. Koeppel visited with them in MacArthur Park as he researched his article. They die on the streets in numbers greater than any other demographic. They ride bikes that are the key to their economic survival. They need safe and secure bike parking.

Metro: Know your neighborhood. Revise those Phase I plans and make sure there is a home for cyclists at the Westlake/MacArthur TOD, both casual and membership.

3) It demonstrates the need for the Metro to develop standards. Somehow, real estate deals get brokered, developers partner up, plans get drawn, contractors get hired, materials get purchased, projects get built and somewhere long after the ribbon cutting, the Metro's Bike Planning department comes wandering along asking "Is there any room left for the cyclists?" First and foremost, any Metro projects need to include cyclists and pedestrians as the premiere user groups, not motorists. From the beginning, there must be standards for accommodations that specify ingress, egress, storage for casual, membership, and long-term bike parking, and security standards that include basic Crime Prevention Trough Environmental Design (CPTED) standards.

Metro: Develop and Implement design standards. Lose the ineffective one-sheet and develop robust design standards and requirements that apply to all Metro projects.

4) It demonstrates a need for the Metro to account for its choice of partners. MacArthur Park Metro Apartments is a joint venture between Metro, McCormack Baron Salazar, Los Angeles Housing Partnership and Polis Builders. McCormack Baron Salazar also developed the Hollywood & Western TOD project with the Metro, a project that still has 50% vacancy on the ground floor five years after completion. The recent brouhaha over the homeless encampment, the lack of supervision and maintenance, the empty Metro Bike facility and the missing bicycle racks leave one wondering "What does it take to ruin a relationship with the Metro?" Perhaps its not the choice of partners but instead the lack of oversight, either way, surely the hope of the future is not more of the same.

Metro: Develop and Implement oversight standards for property management. Real Estate to Planning to Operations to Partners to Executive, there must be some accountability.

5) It demonstrates clearly the need for the Metro to take responsibility for its impact on our communities. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is responsible for much, much more that transportation. The Metro's every move sends a ripple through our communities with tremendous land use impact. It is imperative that the Metro accept this huge responsibility and use its financial gravitational pull to draw the many agencies, authorities, departments, developers, and constituent groups into its sphere of influence so that we collectively work together to not only move people but to add character and substance and value to the places we enjoy at the ends of our journeys.

Metro: Be a good Steward! You own the land, you move the people, you control the money, and you have the authority. With all of this power comes equal, if not greater, responsibility.

This is an incredible opportunity for the Metro to establish a commitment to greatness, to pause and to reevaluate the Westlake/MacArthur TOD, and to reconsider the omission of cyclists in the planning mix. It's a small but significant adjustment that sets the tone for the future. Opportunity taken, we're established a standard for excellence; opportunity passed, we've cast the die for mediocrity.

It's up to the Metro.


Aric said...

It is not just the Metro, but the City Planning Commission that has failed miserably yet again. Metro leadership and City Planning Commission are all largely appointees of the Mayor and continue to demonstrate the Mayor's lack of vision for this City.

According to your most recent post about City requirements for bicycle facilities this new Metro facility is in violation of the law (>10,000 sq ft of non-residential space). It seems like someone could/should come in and sue to have the plans modified and the necessary bicycle facilities put in place.

Better yet, it is long since time for the City leadership to show some vision and integrity.

Eric B said...

My guess is that the architects and planners did a scoping at the site to understand the context. They drove there, discovered how hard it was to park, and decided that the area had a huge deficit of automobile parking. While they were cruising the block looking for auto parking, they undoubtedly missed the tens if not hundreds of so-called "invisible cyclists" riding on the sidewalk past them.

All of those architects would fail any current university design studio with that lack of observation (and attention to detail). While the blame surely falls on Metro first, there's enough to go around to almost everyone involved.

Michael MacDonald said...

It is always interesting to me how quickly architects get blamed for the decision making of their clients. In this case, the decision maker is Metro with their partners (the developer), and they are working off of requirements from city zoning code. It's possible that the architect missed recommending bike parking during programming, but the likelihood is that it wasn't required by the planning department (when it should have been), and Metro decided not to accommodate it because they carry unfair assumptions about the activities associated with bike storage rather than recognizing it as an inclusive measure to ensure equal access for all types of users.

Was an Environmental Impact Report not required for the development? I'm surprised that an EIR didn't require bike parking.