Saturday, October 25, 2008

CityWatchLA - Transportation Talks One Game, Plays Another

CityWatch, Oct 24, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 86

By Stephen Box

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Rita Robinson’s Transportation Department has no intention of letting the neighborhood councils and the public into City Hall’s decision-making inner circle. Not even as the advisors the City Charter mandates them to be.

The alternate conclusion would be that there just aren’t enough bright bulbs in the Department to connect the dots: City Charter to City Department to Neighborhood Council.

That DOT’s interest in the public’s voice is as shallow as a one-ply tissue came into focus again this past Wednesday. The LADOT staff went before the City Council's Transportation Committee to deliver a report on the prioritization of transportation projects and programs. They also gave a demonstration of the LADOT's contempt for Neighborhood Councils.

During a discussion of funding strategies, a member of the public pointed out that the LADOT's process consists of working with the Mayor's office, the Council offices and Bureaus of Engineering, Street Lighting and Street services to determine the City's priorities. The LADOT makes no effort to actually work with the public in spite of the fact that applications typically get better ratings if there is community support for the project. Examples were offered such as SAFETEA-LU, Metro's Call for Projects, Safe Routes to School and BTA funding, all of which are specific in recognizing community support as a rating factor.

Rosendahl commented that consulting the community seems like a "no-brainer" and referred to his Westside Regional Transportation Committee as a model of community engagement.

Committee Chair Greuel commented that in the past the City has obtained funding for projects, only to find out too late that a particular project was unpopular in the community. Bad projects with no local support result in lost funding.

Councilman Alarcon simply asked "Where's the buy-in?"

Greuel repeated the question to Michael Uyeno, asking "Does the DOT involve the Neighborhood Councils in the process of prioritizing projects for funding?"

Uyeno paused. "In the past we have looked to the Council offices to deal with the Neighborhood Councils. There are so many! I assume the Council offices know the issues."

Through this entire exchange, the LADOT's leadership's behavior communicated clearly their position on Neighborhood Councils.

LADOT's General Manager, Rita Robinson was unresponsive, sitting silently in the audience. Haripal Vir, head of LADOT's funding department, followed suit, sitting silently in the front row. Assistant GM Amir Sedadi was in sync, also sitting silently in the front row. Next to Ms. Robinson, also silent, sat the LADOT's Neighborhood Council Liaison. (How easy must that job be? "Did you talk to the NC's today? No? Excellent! Keep it up!")

LADOT's leadership demonstrated the lack of responsiveness that Neighborhood Councils have learned to expect.

Against this background of silence, Jim Clarke, Intergovernmental Federal Relations for the Mayor's office, jumped up and walked over, saying to the members of the public, "I'm going to work with you. Here is my email. I'd like to meet with your Neighborhood Council on transportation funding opportunities." That is how it's done!

It is acutely apparent … even to some former LADOT supporters … that the Neighborhood Councils will have a working relationship with the LADOT when the NC's insist on it and then fight to make it happen, not a moment sooner.

(Stephen Box is a transportation activist and a CityWatch Contributor. He can be reached at:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CityWatchLA - Another Crash at the Hazeltine Avenue Raceway

CityWatch, Oct 21, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 85

Different Kind of Toll Road
By Stephen Box

At 9 pm on Tuesday a week ago, residents of Hazeltine Avenue in Valley Glen raced from their homes in response the sound of a crashing vehicle on the street.

They found wrecked parked cars, collateral damage left in the wake of a speeding southbound motorist who lost control of his vehicle in this quiet residential neighborhood. A pickup truck was hit so hard, its rear axle came loose. It was pushed into the Hummer that was parked in front.

All of this took place in the same location where a hit and run driver took Michael Duffin's life three weeks ago as he left his parked car and attempted to cross the street to his home. CityWatch story.

As local residents searched for victims, one neighbor ran down the street to the front yard where the speeding motorist's vehicle sat, only to find it empty. The driver had fled on foot, abandoning the vehicle.

When the dust had settled, several dozen neighbors stood surveying the debris and wrecked vehicles on their street. It became apparent that this is a neighborhood under siege as one woman commented, "There is no way my kids are gonna walk to school now!"

If we are to be a City of Greatness, it starts with reclaiming our streets, our public space, and working together to ensure that people can enjoy their neighborhoods without living in fear.

(Stephen Box is a cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

CityWatchLA - LA’s Transpo Department Leaves $1 Million Unspent Bucks on the Table--Now Lost

CityWatch, Oct 17, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 84

By Stephen Box

The City of Los Angeles lost approximately a $1 million in Safe Routes to School funding, simply by failing to execute the funded projects.

During the 2000 and 2001 cycles of the SRTS program, approximately $3 million was awarded to LA but the LADOT left one/third "on the table" meaning that it wasn't spent and that it's lost, not just to LA but to all applicants throughout the state. Money that could be spent somewhere, making it safer for children to walk and ride a bicycle to school.

All totaled the LADOT has qualified 31 projects in the last seven cycles of the SRTS funding program for a total value of approximately $11 million. Of those 31 projects, 11 have been completed. Of the remaining 20 projects, 10 projects are "underway" while five have simply been "initiated" and the remaining five show "no activity."

Through it all, the LADOT has taken an interesting tack, claiming that the City of Los Angeles should be getting awarded more money, simply because it's their "fair share" of the State SRTS pool. All this while failing to demonstrate a commitment to completing the projects and putting the awarded money to work in our communities, where it belongs.

In July, LADOT reported to the City's Transportation Committee and indicated that it works closely with the City Council offices on the selection of the projects but gave no indication that they had spoken to Neighborhood Councils or involved the public in the process. The Department report was heavy on a "Fair Share" complaint, arguing that the money should be allocated based on population rather than on project merit or on performance.

Imagine that, funding based on performance! The LADOT prefers the "Fair Share" approach.

In spite of the LADOT's commitment to keeping the dialogue limited to the funding aspect of the SRTS program, the public appeared and argued that the Neighborhood Councils had not been involved in the process and that there was no opportunity for the community to get involved in promoting projects.

Councilmembers Alarcon, Greuel and Rosendahl all gave the LADOT directions to include more projects that promote cycling as an option for kids to get to school and to involve the community in the process of selecting projects and working together to promote those projects. Committee Chair Greuel pointed out that something as simple as bicycle parking at schools would go a long way to promoting cycling as a viable option for kids.

LADOT's General Manager has continued with the "Fair Share" battle cry, appearing before the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition a couple of weeks ago and referring to the huge size of LA and the small size of the SRTS funds, all the time failing to note the large number of projects that have not been completed or the absolute absence of community involvement in selecting those projects.

Through it all, it's important that we keep in mind that this isn't about the LADOT, this isn't about the Transportation Committee, this isn't about SRTS funding, it's about creating a community where kids are safe walking and riding a bike to school.

Councilwoman Greuel reminds us, in her most recent newsletter, that it's simply not safe out there for kids. "In 2006 alone, 192 children Citywide were injured while arriving at or departing from school."

Dr. Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogatá, claims "Cars are to children today what wolves were to them in the Middle Ages. Is that the best we can do after 5000 years of urban history?" Penalosa is credited with transforming Bogata into a model city by raising the standard for greatness saying "the measure of a great city is not its buildings or freeways but whether a child is safe walking or riding a bicycle."

It's up to us as community leaders to "Partner in Greatness" by fighting to ensure that our children are safe and free of fear.

It starts with us working together to promote innovative SRTS projects that improve our communities and it continues with us judging the LADOT based on performance. Often harsh but always fair!

(Stephen Box is a cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

CityWatchLA - The Sound of Death on LA’s Streets…and No One is Listening

CityWatch, Oct 10, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 82

LA Traffic
By Stephen Box

Two weeks ago, in the early evening of a warm Friday night, Michael Duffin parked his car on Hazeltine Avenue, across the street from his home in Valley Glen, a quiet residential community in the south Valley of Los Angeles.

He pulled up behind two of his neighbors who had just parked on the street and who were standing next to their cars engaged in a conversation.

Hazeltine Avenue, in the half-mile stretch between Oxnard and Burbank, is a dimly lit street with parking on both sides, one lane of travel in each direction and a median strip to accommodate left turns. It has no crosswalks, no stop signs, no signals, no speed bumps, nothing to slow down the traffic that flows unimpeded through the neighborhood. Duffin exited his car holding a bag from Burger King and began to cross Hazeltine mid-block between Hatteras and Emelita.

He made it two-thirds of the way and was in the northbound lane when a car traveling in excess of 60 mph hit him, throwing him 80 yards up the street. He landed at the corner of Hazeltine and Emelita.

He never saw it coming. His neighbors across the street never saw it coming. They reported hearing the sound of an impact “like a car hitting another car. It was loud and it was solid. We looked and then we saw Michael lying in the street.”

The driver of the car never stopped. Michael Duffin was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Michael was not alone. Two hours later Jose Silva left a sporting event at Cathedral High School in Chinatown and began to cross the street when he was struck by a speeding car as it ran a red light, hitting him with such force that he was thrown forward and then hit again by the same car. The driver of the car never stopped. Jose was pronounced dead at the scene.

Unfortunately, these incidents aren’t unusual or even uncommon. In fact they’re barely news. In the days that followed, a motorist racing down La Cienega at 125 mph crashed head-on into a mini-van, killing himself and severely injuring the two occupants of the other vehicle.

On Victory Boulevard, a motorist traveling at 90 mph lost control and hit a tree so hard that a front wheel broke off and flew into the bedroom of a nearby home. The motorist was killed. The occupants of the home were unharmed.

Our streets are engineered to move traffic. They are filled with high-performance vehicles operated by low-performance motorists. In terms of lives lost, only cancer and heart disease have a higher toll than traffic.

Recent debates over speed limit increases in order to provide for radar enforcement fail to address the fact that our streets are engineered for speed and our neighborhoods are under siege.

A decade ago, a motion was introduced to the Los Angeles City Council, recognizing that with the continuing growth of the City “traffic problems such as excessive speed, commuter shortcuts and spillover from commercial developments are becoming increasing serious in residential neighborhoods and are adversely affecting the quality of life more than ever before.” The motion went so far as to call for traffic-calming measures including “speed hump installation, narrowing of paved roadways and the installation of speed-limit signs and other measures designed to discourage unnecessary traffic in residential neighborhoods and reduce the speed of vehicles traveling through them.”

It concluded by calling on the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to protect residents “from traffic flows that are excessive or inappropriate for their neighborhoods” and to create a Neighborhood Calming Section.

Since then, there have been many innovations in traffic calming techniques including roundabouts, ped scrambles, pelican crossings, bulb-outs, safety islands and shared streets.

Since then, community members are becoming more emphatic about reclaiming their streets, about creating neighborhoods where kids can walk to school, where streets are crossable and where the quality of life is more important than maintaining “alternate routes.”

Since then, community members have become more active and educated and committed to promoting innovations in transportation and not just those who have traveled to Europe. One only has to visit West Hollywood to see bicycle boxes and pelican crossings, roundabouts and safety islands that make one slow down just to watch, in envy, as environmental solutions provide equality for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and mass transit passengers.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the LADOT is busy installing ped scrambles in ten different locations throughout the City. Ped Scrambles are all-walk phases of an intersection that provide pedestrians with the option of crossing the intersection diagonally.

While the LADOT is to be applauded for its implementation of the ped scramble, members of the community are left wondering how this all came about with no contact with the community. It’s not that the idea is bad, it’s just that the community might have some insight as to the best intersections, based on first hand experience.

All of which brings us to the real opportunity for innovation in transportation in Los Angeles and that is to engage the community in the process.

Its local community members that know which Franklin Avenue valets are racing through which side streets at midnight. They’ve got a proposed solution, if anyone is ready to listen.

It’s local community members that have Woonerf plans already drawn up, all in an effort to reduce the speed of the cut-through traffic on their residential street, if anyone is ready to listen.

It’s local cyclists who can tell you that there are 34 streetlights burned out or missing on the Cahuenga Pass, making dodging the uneven manhole covers and potholes difficult at night, if anyone is ready to listen.

It’s local bus passengers that can tell you which intersections are tough for bus connections and great for ped scrambles, if anyone is ready to listen.

It’s local pedestrians who can tell you which streets are simply not crossable on foot, if anyone is ready to listen.

The people of Los Angeles deserve more from the LADOT than an email address and the opportunity to submit questions, if properly formatted and vetted by committee, board and then chair.

The people of Los Angeles deserve the right to participate in the vision for their community … from the beginning, and that includes our plans for how we move, how we get about and how we share our public space.

It’s time for the LADOT and people of Los Angeles to partner in making our streets great places for walking, for riding, for living and for sharing, for all modes of travel. For making them safe for the Michael Duffins and Jose Silvas. And the hundreds of other who will follow to their sad ends if the LADOT doesn’t engage the community and take action now.

(Stephen Box is a cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

Thursday, October 09, 2008

CityWatchLA - An MOU with the Transpo Department a Must

CityWatch, October 2008

NCs and the DOT
By Stephen Box

Proponents of an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the LA Department of Transportation and the Neighborhood Councils need only look to the City Council for inspiration and reassurance that a document codifying an agreement to work together is not only wise, but necessary. Two years ago, at about the same time that earlier incarnation of a Neighborhood Council MOU with the LADOT sat unsigned and collecting dust, the City Council noted that during the Metro's Call for Projects process, "inadequate outreach was done, which did not allow the Council sufficient time to analyze and thoroughly review the City's proposed project submission list. In the future, it is critical that internal coordination occur to ensure that there is consensus on all projects that are submitted for funding and that Metro's submission deadline is met."

The City Council then acted to "ensure adequate Council input and review," a standard that seems reasonable and responsible.

A few months later, as the LADOT presented the proposed projects to the Transportation Committee, 15 members of the cycling community showed up and protested, pointing out that the entire process had taken place without the community being involved. The proposed projects, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, had been assembled with no public support and were being submitted for approval without little time for public review.

The LADOT countered by explaining that the Metro Call for Projects had come up so suddenly that they had to scramble to assemble the projects for submittal. The 2007 Call was the first since 2001 and the DOT simply had no time to prepare.

It was at this point that the simple question was asked; "Doesn't the LADOT have a comprehensive plan or a vision for LA's Transportation?"

Crickets chirped.

The General Manager of the LADOT acknowledged that the preparation of the transportation projects was based on funding opportunities, not on a Strategic Transportation Plan. This explained why the public was excluded from the process. There was no process. It all came to light when the community insisted on getting involved.

We've come a long way since then. The Department of Transportation has a new General Manager. The City Council has held a single-topic session to focus on creating a Strategic Transportation Plan.

However, as for the community, the NC's continue to watch from the sidelines. Sometimes, if the NC's are quick, they can ask questions and perhaps even offer advice!

Ultimately, if the situation is to improve, it is up to the NC's to make the same demands that the City Council made, a process to ensure adequate Neighborhood Council input and review and a working group to oversee the relationship. A demand that the LADOT obey the City Charter and provide notification to NCs in sufficient time for them to consider the issues and provide the advice they are mandated to give.

History indicates: An NC MOU with the DOT is a must. If it's good enough for the City Council, it's good enough for the Neighborhood Councils.