Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CityWatchLA - LA Transpo’s Inaction Sparks Greig Smith Overreaction

Photo by Joe Linton, LA Streetsblog
CityWatch, Sept 14, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 73

Councilman Smith's recent motion directing neighborhood councils to provide recommendations on bicycle infrastructure before its implementation is either a strategic coup de grace or a triple-scoop of unintended consequences.

The incident that provoked the ire of Smith was innocent enough, a simple Bureau of Street Services street resurfacing project and an equally simple LADOT "road diet" restriping project. Under normal conditions this activity would fall under the category of "improvements" and would be conducted with the approval and gratitude of the local residents.

But such was not the case.

Northridge West residents came home to find Wilbur Avenue resurfaced and with preliminary striping that indicated a loss of travel lanes. This prompted fears of traffic congestion, cut-through traffic, loss of crosswalks and other negative impacts. The LADOT's failure to communicate with the community left a vacuum that saw neighbors protesting on the blogs, to the council, to the press.

The LADOT's failure to act prompted Smith to overreact. (see Smith motion here in pdf)

It's commendable that Smith believes in the neighborhood councils enough to require NC recommendations for any bikeways improvements. But the motion falls short for four reasons:

1) If it was the LADOT's failure to engage the local community in roadway improvements that prompted the motion, then write it so that neighborhood councils must offer recommendations on all "improvements" including speed limit increases, loss of crosswalks, street widenings, street closures, and traffic signalization. Don't limit the NC authority to bikeways facilities, empower neighborhood councils to partner with the LADOT on all issues related to the development of Safe Streets!

2) If it was the LADOT's failure to communicate that caught Smith's attention, then demonstrate a real commitment to communication by embracing one of the two recent NC/LADOT Memorandums of Understanding that have been rejected by LADOT General Managers.

Other departments are somehow able to partner with the neighborhood councils on the delivery of city services but the LADOT has proven to be the most elusive.

3) If it was the LADOT's failure to synchronize with other departments that caused a 30 day window of hasty and ill-advised activity, perhaps the real issue is departmental redundancy and inefficiency.

The BOSS communicates resurfacing plans well in advance with other departments but there are three sections within the LADOT that have to work together to put down a simple bike lane, Operations, Geometrics, and Bikeways.

The fact that they are unable to pull it off is a cry for simplification, not an indictment of road stripes.

4) If it was the LADOT's failure to perform its duties in such a way that the local neighborhood council could simply perform its City Charter mandate to "advise on the delivery of city services" then address the behavior of the LADOT.

BUT the current motion is a small but significant step toward invoking the Federal Voting Rights Act, something the city Attorney has pointed out through the Charter revision process and even after it was approved in 1999.

Positioning the neighborhood councils as a final decision-making authority, something normally reserved for the City Council, could trigger the (un)intended consequences of NC financial disclosures, boundaries based on population, and redefined stakeholder definitions.

The opportunity to impose the illusion of LADOT transparency while redefining the NC system and limiting the implementation of the 1996 Bike Plan may appeal to some, but it is hardly an effective or meaningful action.

In fact, it is a poorly positioned over-reaction to the LADOT's failure to participate as partners with the public in the improvement of the streets of Los Angeles.

Several years ago, USC's School of Policy, Planning, and Development conducted an analysis of LA's neighborhood council system and the resulting relationships with the city departments. LADOT ranked third from the bottom on responsiveness.

Since then, not much has improved. LADOT staff currently travels to Chattanooga, Chicago, and Sacramento to address non-constituents on the wonders of LA's streets, but somehow the trip to Northridge is simply too far.

If the resolution of the Wilbur Avenue restriping brouhaha is to result in meaningful improvements to the delivery of city services, let it start with a City Council directed initiative that requires the LADOT to tear down the silos that prevent them from partnering with Public Works, City Planning, the LAPD and all of the many departments with influence over the streets of LA, including the neighborhood councils.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.) 

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