Tuesday, November 30, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Politics of Community Gardens

CityWatch, Nov 30, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 95

Cities in crisis tend to look at community gardens as a solution, an opportunity to feed those in need, particularly low-income and traditionally underrepresented families. In addition to improving nutrition by increasing access to fresh produce, community gardens have a positive economic, social, and educational impact on the neighborhood, resulting in stronger communities and a cleaner, greener city. But not in Los Angeles.

The City of Los Angeles tends to look at the seven community gardens operated by the Department of Rec and Parks as liabilities, prompting its shortsighted proposal to increase user fees that will take the rental of a 10-by-20-foot plot from $25 to $120 as of January 1, 2011.

The Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino is one of the largest community gardens operated on City of LA property with approximately 800 garden plots on 20 acres of land. Garden farmers recently turned out in mass to protest the rate hikes, arguing that the impact on the seniors citizens "is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip."

The Wattles Farm in Hollywood is one of the oldest community gardens operated on City of LA property with approximately 300 garden plots on just over 4 acres of land. Farmers point out that in addition to maintaining over 200 varieties of fruit trees and a 100-year-old grove of avocado trees, they have improved public safety, bringing security to a neighborhood that was prone to vandalism and trespassing.

The 75 community gardens in the greater Los Angeles area vary dramatically in style, in purpose, and in impact on the surrounding neighborhood. "Guerrilla Gardens" sprout on orphaned public land, created anonymously by guerrilla gardeners who clean the area, cultivate the soil, plant low-maintenance ground cover and engage neighbors in an effort to create community.

"Educational Gardens" on school property are practical tools that engage students in real world lessons that range from science to sociology to economics to nutrition to administration. 200 students at North Hollywood High School work year-round on seven acres of urban farm, home to the Cocoxochitl Flower Farm, a vineyard, an orchard, rose gardens, chickens, rabbits, one 300 pound pig and over 5,000 dahlias. The students sell their harvest at the nearby Hollywood Farmer's Market.

"Public Safety Gardens" reclaim abandoned lots and bring the community together with a common purpose that results in a safer neighborhood. Property values go up when the chain link fencing comes down.

"Social Gardens" offer people of different walks and skills the opportunity to share in a common goal, resulting in a pollination of cultures and the establishment of relationships that transcend traditional boundaries. Good for the garden, great for the neighborhood.

"Victory Gardens" offer low-income neighborhoods an opportunity to put healthy food on the table during tough economic times in the same tradition as during WWII when America produced 40% of its produce in back yard gardens. A minimal investment in community gardens has a maximum economic impact on the community and contributes to self-reliance.

Community Gardens occur in neighborhoods throughout LA County, some rich, some poor, some edible, some decorative, some public, some private, some meditative, some celebrative. They vary as much as the people that farm them. The one thing they have in common is that they are dirt cheap do-it-yourself solutions that enrich the lives of everybody and require only minimal support from the city.

Community Gardens are the type of land-use phenomenon that the City of Los Angeles should be promoting, not discouraging. Any minimal financial benefit to be realized by increasing the community garden fees pales in comparison to the benefits that a community garden brings to the neighborhood and to the city.

The City of LA's current assault on community gardening is just the latest in a long series of shortsighted budget solutions that consist of increasing the cost of living in Los Angeles while simultaneously reducing the benefits.

Now is the time to support the people of Los Angeles as they reclaim land, grow food, educate youth, connect people, and encourage healthy lifestyles. The City of LA's "penny wise, dollar foolish" behavior must stop and its long term investment in the people of LA must start with the gardens that feed those with the greatest need.

(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.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

CityWatchLA - When Politicians Die They Get Buildings Named After Them-- When Kids Die …

CityWatch, Nov 19, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 92

The City of Los Angeles honors civic leaders and local heroes by naming buildings in their honor, but crosswalks are reserved for the children who die trying to cross the street. This is hardly the mark of a Great City.

Marvin Braude served the City of Los Angeles as a City Councilman for thirty-two years, a significant contribution that was memorialized with the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, the Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park and the Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center. John Ferraro served the City of Los Angeles for five decades and his thirty-five year tenure as a City Councilman is the longest of any member. His contribution to the City of Los Angeles was memorialized when the landmark Department of Water and Power's General Office Building was renamed the John Ferraro Building.

Demariya Grant was a nine-year-old who simply wanted to cross the street but was struck and killed by a hit-and-run motorist, prompting the City of Los Angeles to memorialize the incident with the "Demariya Grant Memorial Crosswalk" on Rodeo Road between Rodeo Lane and Farmdale Avenue near Dorsey High School.

Jason Quarker was struck and killed while crossing Jefferson on his way to the 6th Avenue Elementary School, prompting the City of Los Angeles to memorialize his sacrifice with the "Jason Quarker Memorial Crosswalk" at 6th and Jefferson.

Two weeks ago, Emely Aleman, 12, and Angela Rodriguez, 10, were struck by a motorist as they attempted to cross Laurel Canyon Boulevard, a tragedy that resulted in the death of Emely and critical injuries to Angela. The City of Los Angeles will memorialize the incident with the "expedited installation of a traffic signal" that was originally scheduled for 2012.

The City acknowledges municipal liability for the streets of Los Angeles if it knows of the dangerous conditions and does nothing to mitigate them. For example, the City Attorney pays out on vehicle damages caused by potholes if the claimant shows that the city had knowledge of the pothole and failed to act in a timely manner.

The "prior knowledge" and "timely manner" conditions would seem to apply comprehensively to the streets of Los Angeles citywide. It's no secret that the streets of Los Angeles are filled with fast and dangerous traffic, a simple fact that is supported by traffic statistics. The LAPD loses more police officers in vehicle crashes than to gunshots, yet the LAPD still wear bullet-proof vests instead of helmets.

Emely and Angela attempted to cross Laurel Canyon Boulevard at an intersection that has a long legacy as a dangerous location. Pedestrians have been struck three times this year and a cyclist was killed last year by a hit-and-run motorist, all at Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Archwood Street.

Speed limits that can't be enforced, streets that can't be crossed, and traffic signal improvements that are prioritized based on deaths are all symptoms of a systemic failure to prioritize public safety.

As the NoHo community petitions City Hall for help in managing the traffic in their neighborhood, the LA Department of Transportation drifts without a General Manager. Two Assistant General Managers grapple with five divisions that operate with silo independence, resulting in budget overruns, performance failures, and anticipated funding forfeitures.

LA's Department of Transportation has been taken to task for removing crosswalks in an attempt to reduce motorist/pedestrian conflict, a strategy that has been mocked as the equivalent of reducing forest fires by chopping down the trees. Critics claim that the LADOT's antiquated traffic strategies fail at every level and that the "bigger, wider, faster" strategy for moving motor vehicles has not only failed to relieve congestion but has also resulted in local neighborhood streets under siege.

It's time for the City of Los Angeles to honor civic leaders who champion public safety by confronting the dangerous conditions on the streets of Los Angeles.

It's time for the City of Los Angeles to honor the lost lives of the children who die on the streets by making it a priority to control the traffic that terrorizes our communities.

When the Mayor gets done with the press conferences celebrating LAPD Chief Charlie Beck's 1st anniversary as LA's top cop, it is imperative that he focus on the real opportunity to make Los Angeles a safer city, one where children can safely walk to school and then return home at night to their families. That is the mark of a Great City.

(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.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Politics of Speed

Emely Aleman, 12, and Angela Rodriguez, 10, were struck by a motorist as they attempted to cross Laurel Canyon Boulevard, a tragedy that resulted in the death of Emely and critical injuries to Angela.

The community immediately responded with outrage, calling the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Archwood a dangerous location with a long legacy of traffic collisions that include three other incidents this year where pedestrians attempting to cross the street were hit by motorists.

Community members immediately circulated a petition and demanded that the City of Los Angeles install a traffic signal. Councilman Paul Krekorian promptly responded and indicated that he will be working with LAUSD Boardmember Tamar Galatzan to expedite the installation process.

The rush to solve the problem of dangerous traffic on Laurel Canyon has resulted in a solution that fails to scratch the surface and, in fact, fails to correctly identify the underlying problems.

The local community is to be commended for taking responsibility for public safety but it is incumbent on the City of Los Angeles to support the community with the full spectrum of professional traffic safety and transportation engineering solutions, complemented by a vigorous funding campaign.

The speed limit on Laurel Canyon is completely unenforceable by the LAPD who use radar and laser for speed limit enforcement but are restricted from streets that have expired speed limit surveys. Laurel Canyon, from Ventura Boulevard to Hubbard Street, is 10 miles of open speedway, and motorists have been uncitable since October 21, 2009.

Traffic calming techniques such as a road diets, bulbouts, raised median strips, safety refuge islands, speed tables, and other traffic calming techniques would both increase capacity and throughput while managing speed and enhancing safety for all modes.

Yet, these strategies were never introduced into the conversation nor was the local community engaged in the process of embracing solutions that would impact the entire boulevard.

The Highway Safety Improvement Project (HSIP) funding program has $72 million available to communities such as NoHo, specifically to fund projects that will improve safety on the streets of local neighborhoods. The City of LA has proposed a list of 33 projects for the current funding cycle, the bulk of which are signal phasing projects and traffic signal installations.

The HSIP funding program is competitive and Los Angeles is up against other communities within the LA and Ventura County areas. LA's signal phasing and traffic lights will be competing against innovations such as in-pavement crosswalk illumination, road diets, traffic calming, speed feedback signs, traffic circles, mini-roundabouts, and pedestrian prioritized signal phasing. LA will probably fall back on its "fair share" claim to funding when the competition gets tough.

HSIP proposals must be made by municipal authorities such as the City of Los Angeles and the competition is tough. Many of the surrounding communities have proposed projects that come with robust community support. Neighborhood Councils, Homeowners Associations and Community Organizations could be proposing their own safety projects and partnering with the Bureau of Streets Services or their Council Office.

HSIP proposals don't need to be complicated or full of engineering complexities, but can be as simple as an overview of the current environment (sketchs or photographs), collision data which is available from the LAPD, a brief description of the concept or proposal and a pricetag of up to $900,000. The deadline for HSIP proposals is December 9, 2010.

The "rush to judgment" and the knee-jerk proposal to install a traffic signal on Laurel Canyon Boulevard is unfortunate for many reasons including the simple fact that signals can inadvertently cause greater speed differentials, with motorists speeding up to catch greens and then stopping rapidly when they miss them. This diminishes safety.

Moderate and consistent speeds are optimum for capacity, throughput, and safety for all road users. Traffic signals create a false sense of control and demonstrate an adherence to an antiquated paradigm of traffic control that has demonstratedly failed the people of Los Angeles.

Now is the time for LA to connect with robust transportation funding sources, with innovative traffic safety solutions, and with each other by working together to develop streets that are safe for everybody, regardless of the mode of travel.

For more information on the HSIP program and how your community can participate in developing and funding projects that will make the streets of Los Angeles safer, contact Dale Benson.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Politics of Liability

CityWatch, Nov 12, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 90

Community members working to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods encounter many obstacles but none is as insurmountable as City Hall’s arbitrarily imposed threat of municipal liability.

City Council recently convened a joint meeting of the Rules & Elections Committee and the Energy & Environment Committee, opening itself up to concerns over a potential Brown Act violation which was handily sidestepped by issuing a public notice declaring the event a Special Meeting of the City Council. Liability? Protests were summarily dismissed. The single topic meeting addressed several topics including Charter Reform, Citizen Commissions, Representative Government, LADWP Oversight, LADWP Reform and Governance, LADWP Board composition, the creation of the LADWP Inspector General / Ratepayer Advocate position, and a budget to support the Office of Public Accountability.

Current City Council actions related to the upcoming DWP Reform Ballot Measure include stripping the original proposal of its budget commitment and any obligations to perform. The neutering of the Ballot Measure was justified with the explanation that “The City of Los Angeles might get sued! If a promise is made then the city is liable for its performance.”

When City Hall is committed to acting, liability is rarely a concern and legal standards are apparently negotiable.

But when City Hall wants to say “No!” but without the bitter aftertaste, they say yes and smile affirmatively then invoke the well-rehearsed “We’d love to help but concerns over liability prevent us from moving forward.”

When newspaper racks appear overnight and block access to the sidewalk or other street furniture, the public is told that to restrict the distribution of newspapers is to violate the 1st Amendment, opening the City of Los Angeles up to liability.

Community members advocating for traffic calming measures such as roundabouts, bulbouts, and refuge islands, are told that such innovations could confuse motorists, opening the City of Los Angeles up to liability.

Cyclists advocating for the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights experienced rejection, hearing from the LADOT that references to the 1st and 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “fall under the federal purview” and that interfering with the federal government opens the City of Los Angeles up to liability.

Liability is no longer a legal standard in LA, it is simply a tool for imposing insurmountable obstacles on the public while liberating City Hall of a reciprocal commitment to performance.

Los Angeles will be well on its way to becoming a Great City when liability is no longer a political tool but an element of accountability that is used objectively and fairly to ensure the equitable and fair delivery of City Services to the people of Los Angeles.

(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.)

Death Déjà Vu on Pacific Coast Highway

CityWatch, Nov 12, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 90

The City of Los Angeles is preparing to engage in a construction project on Pacific Coast Highway that has cyclists up in arms, claiming that the intermittent lane closure, K-rail placement, and prohibition on cyclists is a violation of the law and a demonstration of poor planning. The project in question is the Bureau of Engineering "Coastal Interseptor Relief Sewer" that runs from Will Rogers State Beach to the City of Santa Monica Border.

Cyclists claim that the proposed traffic mitigation plan violates the law by banning cyclists from PCH and is reminiscent of the Caltrans permitted construction site of five years ago that was the site of the tragic deaths of two cyclists.

At 10 am on October 31, 2005, Scott Bleifer, 41 and Stanislav Ionov, 46 were riding north in the shoulder of PCH when they encountered K-rail that blocked the shoulder, forcing them into the adjacent travel lane at a high speed.

They were then hit from behind and killed by the driver of a catering truck who ran over them and then continued without stopping until farther down the road.

The driver was charged with two counts of felony vehicular manslaughter and two counts of felony hit-and-run in their deaths. He told investigators that he didn't see the cyclists until it was too late to stop.

The flyer that the City released last week details a traffic mitigation plan that includes banning cyclists from PCH at Will Rogers State Beach, requiring them to exit through a construction site in the parking lot and then ride to Santa Monica before returning to PCH.

Cyclists have engaged in animated discussions with both the Pacific Coast Highway Task Force and at the Caltrans Bicycle Advisory Committee, protesting the permitting process of Caltrans and the traffic mitigation plans of the City of LA.

PCH has a long legacy as a congested and conflicted route, not just for cyclists but for pedestrians and for motorists.

In 2008 Caltrans created "Encroachment Permit Protocols" to address this conflict but detractors claim that it demonstrates a motor vehicular bias and fails to support the needs of pedestrians, mass transit passengers and cyclists on PCH.

On a per-mile basis, the fatal crash rate for motorists on the two-mile stretch of PCH running through West Los Angeles is considerably higher than on the twenty-one miles of PCH that runs through Malibu.

If the City of Los Angeles is serious about safety on the streets of LA, it will seize this opportunity and work with the community to make PCH safer for all road users.

(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.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

CityWatchLA - LANCC defends DWP Reform funding

CityWatch, Nov 9, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 89

The Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC) entered the DWP Reform fray, voting unanimously to condemn last week's revision to the City Council’s proposed ballot measure, calling anything short of a fixed funding commitment "a poison pill" that will ensure failure.

At issue are the City Council’s parry-reposte moves that both advance a plan for governance and oversight of LA’s Department of Water and Power while pulling the funding rug out from underneath the yet-unformed Office of Public Accountability.

The Perry/Parks motion of last week would "delete the provision that requires the Office of Public Accountability (OPA) to be set at a minimum or one-tenth-of-one-percent of annual LADWP revenues, and instead require the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), in consultation with the LADWP and other departments necessary, to prepare the budget for the OPA...submitting it to the City Council for approval."

Chuck Ray, Vice-Chair of the Neighborhood Councils DWP Oversight Committee and a member of the DWP’s Ratepayer Advocate Advisory Panel, says "the last minute motion removes the fixed amount of funding...and substitutes the judgment of the CAO, a political appointee. Structured this way, the City Council is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory." Ray pointed out that the budget debate comes down to Independent Oversight vs. Political Oversight.

The LADWP is the largest municipal utility in the United States but it operates without the independent oversight that is common in both the public and private sector. Typically, utilities answer to agencies and regulatory powers that vary in structure but include stakeholders, stockholders, bondholders, ratepayers, and a variety of commissions, boards, committees, and authorities.

Critics contend that the LADWP and its politically appointed Commission operate independently and without oversight, resulting in a consolidation of power that works to advance the interests of the DWP at the expense of the ratepayers in the City of LA.

Efforts to advance LADWP governance and oversight have wide support from both the neighborhood council advocates and city hall insiders.

Jack Humphreville, President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, has long advocated for "a well funded, empowered and truly independent RPA to oversee the operations, finances, and management of DWP on a timely and continuous basis."

Councilman Greig Smith called for an "Inspector General position to independently review and report on the operations, administrative and management actions of the Department of Water."

Council President Eric Garcetti joined in the call for DWP oversight and noted that the City of LA has spent over $1.5 million on consultants in the last year, simply investigating, researching and advising the City Council on specific LADWP issues, but with no comprehensive oversight role.

DWP Interim General Manager Austin Beutner acknowledges the need for oversight but says a Charter Amendment is unnecessary, arguing that "a rate informer, office of public accountability or whatever the vernacular used could actually be formed by actions of the department, together with this council."

City Council is wrapping a year-long discussion of LADWP reform, including Councilwoman Jan Perry's latest motion giving budget authority to the CAO, and moving forward with putting the creation of an Office of Public Accountability on the March 2011 ballot.

Concurrently, a City Hall discussion is taking place on the structure of the LADWP, including opportunities for the public to participate in the governance and oversight of the LADWP Commission and the General Manager.

Meanwhile, over on Hope Street, the LADWP General Manager and Commission are engaged in the development of a non-profit corporation that will operate under contract with the City of Los Angeles, offering oversight and governance, with a Board of Directors that has three business seats, three neighborhood council seats, one labor seat, one non-profit seat, and one environmental seat.

Humphreville compares the two independent RPA proposals by saying "There's no comparison. Anything short of a Charter Amendment with guaranteed funding levels for the RPA's office is a false start with built-in vulnerability."

The next step for the City Council sponsored Charter Amendment is the fine-tuning of the current document in a race to the November 17th deadline, at which point the pro and con arguments will be written.

The next step for the City Council sponsored revisions to the LADWP Commission structure is a vote at the Monday 8th joint meeting of the Rules & Elections committee and the Energy & Environment committee, then on to the City Council for a final recommendation. (the committee meeting may qualify as a full City Council meeting if enough members show up)

The next step for the LADWP sponsored "Corporation for the Office of the Ratepayers Advocate" is a presentation of the proposed by-laws, the model contract, and the names of the proposed directors at the December 7th meeting of the LADWP Commission.

The current board nominees are: Stuart Waldman and Carol Shatz - business seats, Kirsten Eberhard - environmental seat, Jack Humphreville, Chuck Ray, and Tony Wilkinson - neighborhood council seats. There are no current nominees for the open business, labor and non-profit seats.

(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.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

We ARE Traffic!

Driver of 207 orange bus takes a break
in right turning lane to the 101 Fwy,
while traffic is backed up
for an entire block behind it. 
When Metro Bus Operators drive their buses on the busy streets of LA, they are governed by the same CVC rules as other road users plus some additional Metro policies plus the higher standards that come with holding a professional operator's license...EXCEPT when it's break time!

This bus operator stopped in a Hollywood Blvd. red-curbed travel lane on the approach to the 101 Freeway at 5 pm, stacking up right turning traffic for an entire block, all in order to pick up sustenance and nutrition at a 7-11 market.

"We ARE Traffic!"

One would think that the operator of the passing Rapid Bus would find the "break-time" conflict inconvenient. But the popularity of this Hollywood Blvd. break spot demonstrates that the "See Nothing, Say Nothing" code is still in effect.

Equally disturbing is the fact that this happens with such impunity. Does the LAPD have a "See Nothing, Cite Nothing" code in effect?

Most disturbing is the fact that Metro bus operators fend for themselves when it comes time to using the "facilities" or taking a lunch break. (DASH operators have it even worse, taking their breaks on the sidewalk of Hollywood Blvd. or in the back of an idling car.) If the mass transit authorities have no respect for their staff, it's small wonder that they have no respect for the public.

Perhaps its time to set aside the "We are traffic!" banner and remind Metro "We are People!" This applies to bus operators, cyclists, transit passengers, motorists, pedestrians and police officers.

That's when the quality of life on the streets of LA will improve for everybody.

Friday, November 05, 2010

CityWatchLA - Hire Local or Shop for an Import?

CityWatch, Nov 5, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 88

LA's Department of Transportation has been on auto-pilot since Rita Robinson resigned as General Manager, leaving in her wake two Assistant Managers who are both contenders for the open GM position.

City Hall is faced with three options as it prepares to deal with LADOT; hire from within and avoid the time and expense of a national search while pursuing familiarity, hire from the outside and go after a transportation "Rock Star" with a demonstrated track record for innovation, or seize the opportunity to pursue efficiency and fold the LADOT into other city departments.

The murmuring from City Hall reveals a bias in favor of the "inside job" approach to the GM search, focusing on the two LADOT Assistant Managers, one in charge of Operations and the other in charge of Parking.

John Fisher of Transportation Operations is a nationally recognized transportation engineer who began his career with the City of LA six years before the creation of LA's Department of Transportation. He is known as "the historian" and authored “Transportation Topics and Tales: Milestones in Transportation History in Southern California." (pdf link)

Amir Sedadi of Parking Management is a veteran of both Los Angeles and Pasadena parking operations and is the heir apparent, having spent significant time at Robinson's side as she visited the Transportation Commission, the Transportation Committee, and the City Council.

Both Fisher and Sedadi are veterans of LADOT controversy, leading some to favor a national search that would target people such as Janette Sadik-Khan of New York, Tim Papandreou of San Francisco, and Gil Peñalosa, of Bogotá, Colombia.

As the LADOT hot-seat sits empty, one thing is certain; the decision over whether to go with the sure thing, gamble on a long-shot, or simply fold 'em must be made with the input and participation of the community or the road rage will move from the streets of LA to City Hall. Again!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Cyclists' Bill of Rights - Good News and Bad News

Friday, November the 5th, is a classic "Good News, Bad News" for cyclists.

It's Good News for cyclists who want the City Council to issue a resolution in support of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights along with a resolution establishing a Complete Streets policy for transportation projects.

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights was written by the Bike Writers Collective and it has gone around the world, sometimes imitated and often endorsed! It was featured in the Wall Street Journal and the London Telegraph, it was endorsed by LA's City Council, it was modified and adopted by LA's Equestrian Advisory Committee, LA's Horse Council, a local Harley Owners' Group, cyclists in Florida, and by a group of activists in the Philipines.

LA's Taxi Cab Riders have a Bill of Rights, Taxpayers have a Bill of Rights, Patients have a Bill of Rights, the Police have a Bill of Rights, Transit riders have a Bill of Rights, and cyclists are now one step closer to getting the City Council to issue a resolution in support of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights.

The Complete Streets policy initiative is a national, state, and local campaign that brings transportation planners and engineers together in the design, consruction and operation of streets that meet the needs of all users, including cyclists, pedestrians, transit passengers and motorists. The Complete Streets concept has a positive impact on the local economy, on public safety, and on the livability of local streets.

At the federal level, advocates are encouraged that funding and infrastructure discussions are now embracing the Complete Streets philosophy. At the state level, legislation is slowly moving into place that codifies the Complete Streets standard. But at the local level, Mayors and City Councils are capitalizing on the revitalizing power of Complete Streets policies, moving with great agility and agility to bring the vision to local streets.

November 5, 2010 is a Great Day for cyclists because the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and Complete Streets are both on the City Council agenda for endorsement by Resolution.

But it's Bad News for LA's cyclists because it's the City Council in Baltimore, not City Council in Los Angeles, that is holding up the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and Complete Streets as a commitment to supporting cycling as a transportation solution on city streets.

In Los Angeles, we have a City Council directive from 2008 that called on City Planning, the LADOT, Public Works, the LA Bicycle Advisory Committee to consult with the LAPD and the City Attorney on the inclusion of the CBR principles “into the City of Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan and other relevant documents and practices.” That didn’t happen but it must.

In Los Angeles, we have a Bicycle Plan working its way through the Planning Commission and City Council, acknowledging the January 1, 2001 implementation of the California Complete Streets Act but arguing that Los Angeles is not legally required to consider the needs of all modes. LA must account for the needs of all roadway users, not look for loopholes.

It's Good News for cyclists because the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and Complete Streets are both gaining traction. It's Bad News for cyclists in Los Angeles because City Hall is looking for the legal minimum on the delivery of city services and on the support of cyclists on the streets of LA.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

City Planning Embellishes Reality

LA's Department of City Planning is filled with some of the most creative people in town, folks who regularly turn out innovative and imaginative work that entertains, inspires, and stirs passion.

Unfortunately, the work falls under the category of "fiction" because of its limited connection to reality. I offer as an example the Planning Department's staff report on the City of LA's proposed Bike Plan.

City Planning staff reports are like movie trailers, they offer a quick preview of the upcoming proposal so that the Commission can make an educated recommendation in advance of the actual "screening." Seasoned film audiences know that there are three types of trailers;

Teasers that offer a glimpse of what can be expected.

Spoilers that offer up the entire plot and leave nothing to be discovered.

Impostors that offer up an entertaining journey that bears no resemblance to the actual film.

City Planning's Bike Plan staff report falls into the Impostor category, offering the Planning Commission an entertaining and inspiring experience that bears no connection to reality.

1663 miles of Bikeways - the cameo: Planning Staff promise 1663 miles of Bikeways, a claim that includes Bike Paths, Bike Lanes, and Bike Routes. Bike Paths are very expensive off-road facilities that cost more per mile than what the Bureau of Street Services spends to resurface a mile of our streets. Bike Routes are the streets that get a little green sign that says "Bike Route" indicating that the Bikeway mileage has been pumped up. Bike Lanes get a commitment of 56 miles and an additional "speculative" 511 miles which indicates they will end up on the editor's floor. This Bike Plan relies on a cameo appearance by recognizable talent, and then surrounds it with 1663 miles of language that lacks substance and commitment.

Bicycle Boulevards - the knock-off: Planning Staff acknowledges that the public clamors for "innovative bicycle treatments" including Bicycle Boulevards. They are low-density local routes that give priority to cyclists by discouraging cut-through motor vehicle traffic, prioritizing right-of-way, and providing traffic control that supports cyclists at the arterial crossings. Rather than actually include Bicycle Boulevards in the proposed Bike Plan, City Planning offers up "Bike Friendly Streets" as a knock-off substitute, the equivalent of featuring "the other, other Baldwin brother" in Slap Shot IV.

Cyclists' Bill of Rights - the inspiration: Planning Staff acknowledge that the City Council directed the LADOT, Planning, Public Works, the LA Bicycle Advisory Committee, the City Attorney and the LAPD to report back on the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. This City Council directive was ignored. Instead Planning Staff dismisses some principles as redundant while claiming that others are included. This is true in the same sense that the works of Shakespeare are also in the Bike Plan, after all he used the same alphabet and if properly rearranged, one could find A Comedy of Errors.

Backbone Bikeway Network - the theme: Planning Staff acknowledge the work of the LA Bike Working Group in creating the Backbone Bikeway Network which is positioned as a commitment to connectivity. Rather than embrace this theme and use it to connect the City Family in the delivery of City Services, Planning Staff dilutes the Backbone and fails to support cyclists as they commute on the streets to the same destinations as pedestrians, mass transit passengers, and motorists. Instead, it proposes bike tunnels, bike trails, and other last-resort solutions that divide communities rather than connect them.

Complete Streets Act - the surprise ending: Planning Staff acknowledge the powerful cultural shift that has resulted in innovative multi-modal transportation funding and policy. This includes the Complete Streets Act which supports the rights of all those who use the streets, from pedestrians to cyclists to mass transit passengers to motorists. It's only in the small print of the staff report that City Planning reveals its claim of an exemption from the Complete Streets Act. Is there something wrong with the Complete Streets Act? Does City Planning find fault with the complete Streets Act?

The Department of City Planning's Bike Plan Staffing Report is a good read. It's interesting, it's informative, and it's a complete work of fiction.

In the grand scheme of things, LA's proposed Bike Plan is the equivalent of bad script turned into a bad film, supported by a great trailer that merely needs to get an opening night audience in order to recoup its investment. Then, it goes straight into the bargain bin at the 99¢ Store.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Politics of Asphalt

CityWatch, Nov 2, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 87

Those who encounter a pothole on the streets of Los Angeles are advised to call 311 and to report the pothole, as if the location of the pothole is critical information that will assist the City of LA in the delivery of City Services. Nothing could be further from the truth. The City of Los Angeles is well aware of the condition of the 6,500 centerline miles of streets and 800 centerline miles of alleys that make up the largest municipal street system in the nation.

The Bureau of Street Services (BOSS) employs sophisticated data collection to inventory all 69,000 pavement sections in its database. An automated vehicle equipped with a computerized work station collects digital imagery and uses lasers to capture roadway roughness and rutting data. This "pavement distress data" is used to prioritize the different layers of service, from emergency repairs to slurry seals to maintenance overlays to resurfacing to reconstruction.

Then the politicians take over, the asphalt is divided into 15 lots and allocated evenly to the council districts where local gatekeepers release it to his or her constituents, based on those 311 calls. "Thanks for voting! Your pothole is a winner!"

Pothole Politicians have cemented their careers based on their ability to fend off the scourge of the streets, bringing to power Wendy Greuel as the Pothole Queen, Councilmembers Garcetti and Krekorian as the high-tech 311 iPhone App pothole hunters, and the Mayor with his "Operation Pothole" and "Operation Smooth Ride" campaigns.

Through it all, Los Angeles has managed to avoid actually improving its streets and still leads the nation in deteriorated road conditions. Research  estimates that fully 64% of LA's streets are in poor condition, causing LA residents to pay an average of $746 per vehicle in repairs per year as the result of damages from potholes and road debris.

Meanwhile, the City Attorney pays out on claims  to those who can prove that road conditions caused the damages and/or injuries, but only if the victim can prove that the City knew of the road condition and failed to fix it in a timely manner. This is an odd threshold to overcome in light of the fact that LA's potholes have history, they have relationships, and they are as much a part of the community as many of the other landmarks.

Consider the pothole that resides at 4th and Hudson in Council District 4. The area is referred to as the Hudson River (Video) in recognition of the perpetually flooded intersection and the algae covered liability that has caused damages and injuries for years with no relief or remedy from the City of LA.

The Hudson River is caused by an underwater stream that floods the basement of a home on Hudson Avenue. The property owner pumps the water out of the basement and into the street, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The water on Hudson Avenue runs south and pools in a large pothole at the intersection of 4th and Hudson where it brazenly collects victims with not a hint of interference from the City of LA. BOSS staff come and visit, LADOT staff survey the route, supervisors retire, the locals train new city staff, heads are collectively scratched, solutions are proposed, more staff retires, and the years go by.

The tremendous irony to the amazing fortitude of the Hudson River is the fact that 4th Street has long been a claimed by cycling advocates as an optimal location for a demonstration of the Bicycle Boulevard concept, a shared roadway optimized for bicycle traffic.

Bicycle Boulevards are low-density local routes such as 4th street that give priority to cyclists by discouraging cut-through motor vehicle traffic, providing free-flow travel by prioritizing right-of-way, and providing traffic control that supports cyclists at the arterial crossings. Traffic calming techniques are used to inhibit non-local motor vehicle traffic and include roundabouts, chicanes, chokers and diverters.

Advocates have organized bike tours to engage the community and drum up support for the 4th Street Boulevard, a project that has seen three of its advocates go down in the Hudson river. They typically slip on the algae in the submerged pothole, resulting in one shattered elbow, one fractured elbow and one bruised elbow. Still they ride!

Perhaps City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, who is responsible for handling the claims against the city for damages and injuries sustained as the result of poor road conditions, could pick up the phone and dial 311, calling in the pothole at the corner of 4th and Hudson.

Maybe the LAPD Officers who ride escort on the 4th Street Bicycle Boulevard Rides could pick up the phone and call 311, reporting the pothole at the corner of 4th and Hudson.

Surely the LADOT staffmembers who surveyed 4th Street time after time, all in an effort to feign commitment to the 4th Street Bicycle Boulevard (that's the one that failed to make it into the proposed Bike Plan) could at least pick up the phone and dial 311, voting for the pothole at the corner of 4th and Hudson.

If nothing else, the Building and Safety staff who periodically investigate the mystery of the water that appears on Hudson Avenue, rain or shine, could call their buddies at BOSS, tipping them to the pothole at the corner of 4th and Hudson.

While it's fair to suggest that repairing the streets of Los Angeles is a costly proposition, not repairing them can be even costlier. It's estimated that road conditions are a factor in 60% of traffic collisions, typically complementing or causing a failure in human behavior.

Calculate the cost of LAPD's Traffic Officers and the LAFD's Ambulances, and the budgetary impact of deferred street maintenance starts to appear. The cost of kicking the problem down the road is much greater than the cost of investing in LA's streets now.

A Great Streets commitment requires funding but the City of LA lacks the commitment to aggressively pursue the funds, falling short on applications and then failing to spend the money when it qualifies.

LA is currently in danger of losing funds that have already been awarded, $1.5 million in Safe Routes to School funding, $2.5 million in Highway Safety Improvement funding, and $10 million in Federal Surface Transportation Project funding.

For all of the talk from those who have been in charge for years, the Hudson River and the 4th Street Bicycle Boulevard remain the canaries in the mine, the indicator species that reveal LA's failure to perform and the flaws in the system.

Our streets are failing and asphalt is still dispensed as a political favor by those who lack a vision for connectivity and a commitment to a city that works.

(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.)