CityWatch, July 8, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 54
RETHINKING LA - For two decades, the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has distributed federal, state, and local transportation funds through a competitive “Call for Projects” process that typically elicits two responses; great proposals from the communities surrounding LA and a “deer-in-the-headlights” look of surprise from the LADOT.
This year is no different and the LADOT’s failure to compete is demonstrated by the ongoing expectation that the City of LA, representing 40% of the people in the funding area, will qualify for only 25% of the funding dispensed through the competitive process.
Several years ago, Wendy Greuel, in her capacity as Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, took the LADOT to task for its feigned naiveté and it’s “We had no idea!” excuse as it claimed to be caught off guard by the funding deadlines.
Amid protests from community members, including a group of 15 cyclists who criticized the LADOT for excluding the public from the project selection process, Greuel discovered that the City of LA had no Transportation Strategic Plan. Funding proposals were based on short-term planning with no long-term regional vision to balance and guide the process.
Since then, the LADOT has seen a changing of the guard in the Transportation Committee and within its own ranks, allowing it to slip quietly back into a familiar routine of “We had no idea!” and the churning of old rejected project proposals that continue to yield the same poor results.
As surrounding communities embrace the Complete Streets mandate, implementing transportation innovations that increase capacity and throughput while taming traffic and increasing safety, LA continues to squeeze funding by using its “Fair Share” strategy.
In the current cycle, Long Beach has proposed a $22 million Complete Streets project that will include water reclamation features, traffic calming, pedestrian enhancements and bicycling improvements. Los Angeles, on the other hand, fought to exclude the Complete Streets standard from its recently approved Bike Plan.
Santa Monica applied for $2.5 million for a bike share program with 250 bikes at 25 docking stations located at transit stations and activity nodes, supported by marketing and outreach campaigns. Los Angeles, by contrast, continues to fumble simple bike rack installation on city owned property.
Burbank applied for $1.2 million for a Bicycle Boulevard that connects Burbank to Glendale, encouraging cycling for local trips. Los Angeles, demonstrating its timidity, excluded the Bicycle Boulevard engineering standard from its highly touted Bike Plan, choosing instead the softer non-commitment of the Bike Friendly streets.
Demonstrating a knack for avoiding the streets, the LADOT has proposed a project that will spend almost $600K promoting car-free day, begging the question “Why not simple focus on creating more walkable, rideable, transit friendly streets so people have options?”
Lest anyone wonder what those options are, the LADOT has proposed the development of a $742,625 interactive Board Game that will “inform the pre-construction and installation of Bicycle Friendly streets in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles.”
A Board Game?
If the LADOT and its Interdepartmental Task Force is lacking in ideas and inspiration for long-term transportation planning, it could chat with the folks who walk on the broken sidewalks, ride on the congested streets, stand on dirty sunbeaten streets waiting for mass transit, and pay the maintenance and repair bills caused by potholes.
In fact, Greuel agreed that the people of LA deserve to be involved in the process, pointing out that even the City Council had been excluded. She introduced a motion directing the LADOT to allow the City Council to participate in the prioritization of funding proposals.
Since then, the City Council has directed the LADOT to reach out to the neighborhood councils as they develop and prioritize the transportation projects that are submitted in the “Call for Projects” competitive funding pool.
All of which has resulted in yet another “deer-in-the-headlights” response from the LADOT and a hastily assembled list of transportation proposals that demonstrate a lack of long term planning, a failure to connect with the community, and an inability to compete with neighboring communities who continue to outperform in funding and on the streets.
Two years ago, Greuel declared that “LA could become the Silicon Valley of transportation innovation.” She moved on and Councilman Bill Rosendahl took over the Transportation Committee, declaring “the LADOT must solicit project ideas from the city's Neighborhood Councils.”
That was then and this is now.
As the communities surrounding Los Angeles innovate and implement, the LADOT continues to ignore the community, instead turning to Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers for inspiration, turning LA’s Transportation Strategic Plan into a modern version of Jeopardy, Risk, and Monopoly.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)