Friday, October 08, 2010

CityWatchLA - Hey LA, Let’s Sue for Transportation Malpractice!

CityWatch, Oct 8, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 80

The single greatest threat to the status quo of transportation planning and development in the LA area is the Hippocratic Oath, the simple commitment to do no harm. "Primum non nocere."

Imagine if all transportation projects were first screened to eliminate the twin traps of over-treatment and therapeutic nihilism. Consider the benefit to the community if transportation authorities were responsible for the unintended consequences of "the cure." The practitioners of the 405/Sepulveda Pass project would be conducting business in a dramatically different fashion if they had started the journey by taking the Hippocratic Oath. Their current loyalty is to the $1 billion contract that directs the widening of the 405 in order to accommodate a northbound car-pool lane from the 10 freeway to the 101 freeway, not to the community it impacts.

When the "treatment" is completed, three bridges will have been replaced, 27 on-ramps and off- ramps will have been adjusted, and 13 underpasses and structures will have been widened.

When the "patient" awakens, freeway traffic will exit on "improved" off-ramps, entering the local community at freeway speeds. Enhanced integration between the freeway and adjacent streets will support local freeway-alternative traffic congestion. Widened streets with faster traffic will eliminate pedestrian traffic and render mass transit access obsolete.

The practitioners of the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement would be developing a completely different project if they were to apply the simple standard of leaving things better than they found them. The current bridge has features that the proposed bridge lacks, resulting in a project that includes "engineered conflict."

The "patient" has long objected that the proposed bridge fails to plan for all modes of transportation and does not replace the current existing pedestrian walkway. Community members also point out that the proposed bridge fails to address a vision for connectivity, options for the future of Terminal Island. Project Managers dismiss the complaints as unnecessary, pointing out that it's simply a shipping route for trucks.

The Long Beach City Council agrees with the community and had to take formal action, simply to request that existing features be retained in the future. They concur with the Coastal Commission in recognizing that a $1 billion investment in connectivity is a half century commitment to the future of Terminal Island and to restrict that vision is to damn the "patient" to a life of shipping container storage.

Other projects such as the Santa Monica Boulevard Transit Parkway and the Sepulveda Reversible Lane demonstrate that there is no greater power than a funded project. In both cases, the inadvertent identification of a specific element required its inclusion in the final project, regardless of its appropriateness, simply because it was funded as named.

The Santa Monica Boulevard Transit Parkway has 100 yards of dedicated Busway on the eastbound end of the 4.5 mile project, the last vestige of the original $93 million Busway project that proposed a bus lane down the center of Santa Monica Boulevard, from Beverly Hills to the 405. It's there to qualify for the funding, not because it belongs or serves any purpose.

The Sepulveda Reversible Lane has been reduced to 100 yards inside the Mullholland tunnel, the last vestige of an $11.3 million project that proposed reversible lanes from Wilshire Boulevard to Mullholland Boulevard. The project was funded, it has been absorbed into the 405/Sepulveda Pass project, and the reduced reversible element exists simply to qualify for the funding.

These projects demonstrate the need for a new paradigm for transportation planning and development.

1) The community benefit must be required, not negotiated. The W Hollywood Hotel has already experienced its first pedestrian death, caused by a truck driver leaving the facility and running over an old lady in the crosswalk. The negotiated "community benefits" included intersection improvements at all four corners, bulb-outs, ped scrambles, etc. but none of them "penciled out" meaning the developers do this for a living and the community is out-gunned.

2) The project must actually be an improvement, not simply an effort to churn funding. Funded projects that inadvertently include obsolete elements are dead. Improving the community is the objective, not simply funding transportation departments. Design & Build mandates encounter Stall & Defend opposition from the local community because they fail to consider the unintended consequences.

3) The project must leave the community better than before, not as the result of community intervention, but as the result of a simple guiding principle that is in the DNA of the project. The impact to the local community must be a priority and solutions that sever routes, restrict access, and increase cut-through traffic are not solutions, they are problems.

The largest developers in our community are Caltrans, Metro, and the CRA. The most significant amount of public money being spent on development is dedicated to transportation and transportation related projects. The greatest opportunity to improve the quality of life in our neighborhood is through responsible transportation planning and development that is community oriented.

The current struggle for the development and implementation of standards for Transit Oriented Development is left to the community while Metro and its development partners charge ahead.

The current struggle for traffic congestion relief that actually improves conditions instead of simply moving the problem to adjacent streets is left to the community while the Department of Transportation charges ahead.

LA's future as a Great City demands that all transportation development continue with a "do no harm" mandate and that it is supported with real community benefit standards as the foundation for progress, not simply the fallout of long protracted battles with the neighborhood.

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

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