Thursday, April 30, 2009

CityWatchLA - Fast Times in the San Fernando Valley

CityWatch, May 1, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 35

LA's Transportation Commission just approved three more speed limit increases in the San Fernando Valley, this time for Roscoe Boulevard, Sherman Way, and Tampa Avenue.

The proposals were on the Board's consent agenda, meaning they would have passed without discussion but for the fact that a member of the community showed up to object.

Two of the newest Commissioners, Jaime J. Rodriguez and Grace E. Yoo, both voted against the proposed speed limit proposals, indicating they would like more information.

Stephanie M. Rodriguez, John Frierson, and Board President George E. Moss all voted for the proposed increases which left D. Malcolm Carson in position to defeat the proposals or to affirm the increases.

Carson gave a fairly comprehensive speech agreeing with the many objections to the speed limit increases including the need to consider the safety of pedestrians and cyclists when raising speed limits. He also agreed that LA should consider other mitigation techniques such as road diets, traffic calming, and other complete streets tolls, all of which looked like he was going to vote against the proposals.

Then he reversed his position saying so much time had been invested in the proposals that he didn't want to stand in the way, an explanation he also used last time when he approved another round of speed limit proposals in the West Valley.

The fact that two of the commissioners would want more information on the State's "Speed Trap" law, the need to reconcile the speed limit with the prevailing speed in order to use radar and laser, and other options for facilitating compliance with the 85% rule should speak volumes in terms of the need for a public conversation on speed limits in our communities.

Department of Transportation’s Assistant GM, John Fisher, instead defers on the community's desire to get involved in the establishment of speed limits by saying "As we all know, the setting of radar-enforceable speed limits can become a very emotional issue."

The recent spike in pedestrian deaths on the streets of LA indicates that fear is a very rational response and the LADOT's failing to consider the people who live on the affected streets, walk on the affected streets and ride bikes on the affected streets is a failure to serve the needs of the community.

Deputy City Attorney Shelley Smith demonstrated the need for public participation when she advised the new Commissioners on the proposed speed limits. Smith positions the speed limit increases as a simple vote for or against radar enforcement. She has been contradicted on this point in the past by then-Commissioner Andrea Alarcon and this time by Commissioner Carson but Smith continues. Having prepared the Municipal Code amendments that are on the table, one might question her objectivity when advising the Board on how to vote.

The discussion over speed limit increases should never turn into a debate over the use of radar or laser speed limit enforcement. In fact, this entire debate is borne from a desire to put the most effective law enforcement tools in the hands of the LAPD. At issue is the hasty, uninspired and lazy rush to simply raise the speed limits rather than to explore the other options.

Here are the issues:

1) The community must be involved from the beginning of the process. Speed limit certifications are expiring every year. The community should know what is coming up and how many streets are currently expired and not eligible for radar/laser enforcement. (some have been expired for years so to refer to people who fight the speed limit
increases as obstructionists is disingenuous)

2) The process should always start with a conversation of the full tool-box of mitigation tools, from bulb-outs to safety islands, diagonal parking to bike lanes, speed tables to stop signs, traffic calming to road diets. These options must be explored first and in every instance, speed limit increases must be positioned as a last resort and with the full participation of the community.

This past year the City of Los Angeles approved approximately 20 speed limit increases and is prepared to process another dozen.

Meanwhile traffic engineers, law enforcement agencies and communities throughout the state are working to revise the "speed trap" law and to give local communities more control over their streets.

It's time for the people of the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Country in the world to work together to take a leadership role in developing Safe Streets for everybody. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

EHNC Declares East Hollywood a "Pedestrian Oriented Community"

Feet First Campaign kicks off East Hollywood SoleMates™ Project

The East Hollywood Neighborhood Council has set the standard for Los Angeles by declaring East Hollywood a "Pedestrian Oriented Community" and committing to an ambitious five-step "SoleMates™" program that will engage the community, establish a standard and fund the improvements.

David Bell, President of EHNC board, said "We're excited to declare East Hollywood a Pedestrian Oriented Community and we're looking forward to working with our neighbors to make our vision of a walkable, livable community a reality."

East Hollywood is transit rich and has three Metro Rail stations within its boundaries. At the same time it is park poor with the least parkland of any Los Angeles neighborhood council. its boundaries are Hollywood Boulevard to the north, the 101 Freeway to the south, Western Ave. to the west and Hoover to the east.

With 54 thousand stakeholders, East Hollywood is one of the densest communities in LA and with over 100 languages spoken it is definitely one of the most diverse. Locals are proud of the rich variety of restaurants, theaters, clubs and galleries that make up East Hollywood.

East Hollywood is one of the youngest Neighborhood Councils in Los Angeles, having just celebrated its 2nd anniversary, but it has a rich legacy of leadership positions on everything to communications to land use to policy.

The EHNC used a music video as part of its certification process and was a pioneer in social media with YouTube videos, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook all complementing the more traditional styles of communication.

Last year, East Hollywood was the first Neighborhood Council to endorse the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and two months ago, they took thousands of people to the streets with ArtCycle, a street fair that included guided bicycle tours of the art galleries in the neighborhood.

The SoleMates™ project is an innovative approach to developing walkable, ridable, livable communities that put people first and positions access and mobility as basic human rights that serve as the foundation for a complete and sustainable community.

For more information, contact Stephen Box at 323.962.6540 or

Download the SoleMates Project in pdf here.

CityWatchLA - Bike Path to Blight Path … and No One to Blame

CityWatch, Apr 28, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 34

The Orange Line Bike Path is 14 miles of bureaucratic "no-man's land"  and a jurisdictional "hot-potato" that has departments and agencies  scrambling for cover as the City's Transportation Committee asks "Hey! How did the Bike Path turn into a homeless encampment?"

Critics long ago warned that building a bike path with a fence on one   side, a wall on the other and surrounding it with bushes and trees   that grow up and out would result in an environment that is unsafe   for pedestrians and cyclists but hospitable to those who favor seclusion and a place to hide.

Those warnings were ignored and the predictions came true. The Orange Line Bike Path is now so overgrown that in some areas such as Van  Nuys, it is populated with homeless encampments. Making things worse is the close proximity of a recycling center and two liquor stores.  All very convenient for the campers but at the expense of the pedestrians, the cyclists and the local residents.

Two months ago, the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council convened a meeting   to address the situation, a meeting so well attended by agency and department reps that it seemed certain that the Bike Path was to be  cleaned up and reclaimed. Such was not the case.

This past week, the Transportation Committee jumped into the fray and convened a meeting to determine what went wrong and who is going to   fix it. The LADOT took the hot seat and explained the difficulty in supervising maintenance contracts and of working with the Metro and Rec & Parks and how the abundant overgrown landscaping wasn't their fault.

The LAPD was represented, Councilman Cardenas was represented and the Neighborhood Prosecutor, Tamar Galatzan also  appeared but nobody could explain who was in charge, who had authority and who had a plan.

Councilman Alarcon cut to the chase at one point in the "Who's  responsible?" debate and said simply "If it's LA's Bike Path then we  should take care of it!"

That should have been the point at which everybody stepped up but  instead we were treated to another round of "Yes, We Can't!"

Unfortunately, the Groupthink that prevents agencies and departments   from being "negative" and just calling it as they see it is still in   play and the LADOT, the Metro, the LAPD, the LASD, the Neighborhood   Prosecutor, the BOSS, LAHSA, the Councilmembers and anyone else with   a piece of the Bike Path are still having polite meetings where they dance about and explain why they're not responsible.

The Orange Line Bike Path has been around for a little over three  years. It was designed and built by the Metro and the LADOT Bikeways Department was there through the entire process. In fact the LADOT is so proud of the Orange Line that they have a presentation they take  to conferences taking credit for its success. Somewhere along the way, the responsibility for the Orange Line was formally transferred  to the LADOT which, based on results, dropped the ball.

Perhaps it's time to call in the DWP and have them cut down the  forest, relandscape with drought tolerant plants and create a 14 mile long demonstration garden on water conservation. Maybe we could plow it all under and plant a 14 mile long Victory  
Garden and use the wide stretches for a Farmer's Market.

Whatever we do, it is imperative that the LADOT stop paying its contractors until they execute their contracts.

It is also imperative that the LAPD clarify with dispatch and the  patrol officers that the Orange Line Bike Path is not the  responsibility of the Sheriff but is the responsibility of the LAPD.

If the Van Nuys area is to be cleaned up, it would also be wise to have the Neighborhood Prosecutor work with the ABC to address the two  liquor stores that cater to the "campers" and who are a blight on the  community.

As long as blight is on the radar, the recycling center has had a negative impact on the area and yet it continues to operate. It's time for us to work together to make our abatement programs work for  the neighborhood.

Most of all, we've got to get over our fear of raising the standards and offending other departments. We've got to evaluate performance  based on results, not on bureaucratic endurance. We've got to stop   settling for mediocrity and we've got to reach for greatness.

The Orange Line Bike Path is either a monument to our mediocrity or   it’s an opportunity to demonstrate our greatness. Either way, it's our   call. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at


LADOT - The Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Within the  LADOT is the Bikeways Division, responsible for the Orange Line and  other bikeways facilities.

Metro - The Countywide Metropolitan Transit Authority. They are the  major operator of bus and rail service in Los Angeles County. 

LAPD - The Los Angeles Police Department . They are responsible for the Bike Path. When calling 911 from a cell phone remember that it goes to the CHP. Program 213-928-8206 or 213-928-8208 into your cell phone so that you can get to LAPD dispatch quickly.

LASD - The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. They are a County Agency under contract to provide services to the Metro. They patrol the Metro Stations, they are responsible for the busway and they respond if there is an incident on a bus. They are not responsible for the Bike Path.

BOSS - LA's Bureau of Street Services. They are responsible for the 6500 miles of streets within Los Angeles. They pick up the abandoned furniture and they factor into this scenario on the Orange Line because of the homeless encampments and the amount of furniture that must sometimes be removed. You can reach them by calling 311. 

LAHSA - The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is a joint powers authority representing both the City of LA and the County of LA. You can access social services by calling 211.

Rec & Parks - The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks is sometimes mentioned when discussing bike paths because bike paths are often considered recreational facilities. In fact the LADOT fought all the way to the State Supreme Court to have bike paths declared recreational facilities so that the City would not be liable for injuries resulting from design or maintenance negligence. (Prokop vs. City of Los Angeles) LA prevailed and bike paths are now funded with transportation funding but then declared recreationa facilities. Meanwhile, Rec & Parks has little to do with bikeway facilities except when Bikeways was looking for someone to handle the Orange Line maintenance.

ABC - The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control issues and regulates liquor licenses. If the two liquor stores along the Orange Line Bike Path in Van Nuys are contributing to the problems, it must be documented and the ABC will consider this when evaluating the licenses. If the LAPD and the Neighborhood Prosecutor aren't documenting the incidents and their relation to the liquor stores, the ABC can't do its job. The local ABC agent must be involved in the Orange Line Task Force.

VNNC - The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council meets every month and on May 13, the full Board will convene to address the issues of the  community. Expect to see reps from the offices of Padilla and Cardenas and Villaraigosa as well as Bikeways, the LAPD, the Metro, the City Attorney's office and anyone else with a piece of the Orange Line Bike Path.

CityWatchLA - Break for Taxi Parkers Stirs a Hornet’s Nest

CityWatch, Apr 28, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 34

LA's City Council, taking another swing at the hornet's nest, has directed the LA Department of Transportation to work on a plan to soften neighborhood parking prohibitions for taxi cabs.

While at first glance it seems like a great and green idea to support our Taxi Cab industry, any revisions to the LA Municipal Code restricting commercial vehicles in neighborhoods surely warrants a thorough analysis and a conversation with the community.

Therein lies the rub.

The dust from the fray over the City Council's recent revision of parking rates, hours and enforcement has barely settled and they're at it again. All with no Neighborhood Council engagement.

We live in a city where 18 wheelers regularly park overnight in violation of prohibitions but the political will for enforcement is lacking. After all, they're engaged in the business of moving goods and that's good for LA!

We live in a city where motor-homes get parked on side streets and quiet neighborhoods quickly turn into campgrounds, all in violation of prohibitions. Again, all that's missing is the political will to enforce the code and to tackle homelessness with some real solutions, not a blind eye.

We live in a city where detached trailers used for advertising litter the curb lane and clutter the streets, yet our leadership can't find a way to solve the problem. Whether it's respect for the 1st amendment or simply fear of litigation, the community is still left without the support it deserves.

It's in this context that the City Council's recent actions to modify neighborhood parking regulations are especially cavalier.

It remains to be seen if there is any merit in the proposal. But at a minimum, any proposals should come with the full engagement and participation of the neighborhood councils.

Until then, the City should enforce the Municipal Code fairly and equitably. Item comes before the Transportation Committee again on Wednesday, May 6. LADOT Report here. Ron Kaye commentary. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Friday, April 24, 2009

CityWatchLA - Echo Park Ghost Rider

CityWatch, Apr 24, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 33

Jesus Castillo moved from Sonora, Mexico to Echo Park in search of the American Dream. He was 44. He didn't own a car. In fact he didn't have a drivers license. He simply rode his bike everywhere.

He lived in Echo Park and he was a day laborer, taking work when he could and where he could. Through it all, he rode his bike everywhere.

A week ago, late at night, he was riding south on Glendale Boulevard when he was hit from behind by a motorist who, according to witnesses, was swerving. He was killed just under the Sunset crossing of Glendale Boulevard. The police arrested the motorist within hours and charged him with vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving. The motorist had a suspended license and was driving the car belonging to his mother.

The parents of Jesus Castillo are in town, having traveled from Sonora to visit the spot where there son was run down from behind and left to die in the streets by a drunk driver.

Cyclists responded to the news with shock and with outrage and with hard questions.

What are we doing to get drunk drivers off the streets? What are we doing to get drivers with suspended licenses out of the driver's seat? How do we get those convicted of drunk drivers into diversion programs that have a real impact?

Last week's Office of Traffic Safety Conference in San Francisco addressed this very subject and highlighted the need to support law enforcement with innovations in the judicial programs so that the cycle of abuse can be stopped.

The Honorable Richard Vlavianos of San Joaquin showcased a DUI Court program that addressed high risk, multiple offenders and has a documented 50 percent increase in compliance rates and an 80 percent reduction in recidivism among the high risk offenders.

What's it going to take for the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Country in the world to step up and make public safety on our streets a priority?

As for the cyclists, they ride this Friday at 8 pm with a Ghost Bike. It's a tradition in the cycling community around the world that when a cyclist is killed by a motorist, a white bike is placed at the location to memorialize the tragic and unnecessary loss of life.

Let's work together to make sure this is the last Ghost Bike placed in our community. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Orange Line Camp Grounds

LA City Council's Transportation Committee meets today to review the Orange Line Bike Path, also known as the Orange Line Campgrounds.

The Bike Path has long been a popular homeless encampment, especially in the Van Nuys area where the overgrown bushes, the liquor stores at each end and the recycling center all work together to create the perfect environment.

Things came to a head a couple of months ago and everybody who had a piece of the jurisdictional Gordian Knot visited the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council to assure the community that they were "All over it!"

It turns out that the LADOT had a contractor who was responsible for maintenance on the Bike Path but that the contractor had been remiss. The contractor got busy, put an edge line on some of the bushes leaving behind a well trimmed and trash free homeless encampment that was soon occupied by happy campers.

Since then...

We rode the Orange Line this past Saturday and this is what we found:

1) a car missed the turn (wb just west of Sepulveda) and drove onto the bike path, taking out the signs which are still on the ground. The shopping cart survived the incident.

2) the path has a dirt edge line that creeps well into the path indicating that it has not been cleaned in ages.

3) the large bushes that provide the homeless shelter have NEVER been cut back. The Orange Line Campground is occupied. The recent maintenance work resulted in a neatly trimmed Campground with an edge line along the bike path, completely missing the point. The bushes, the liquor stores and the recycling center make this a very popular Campground.

4) the lights don't come on until 8pm

5) the broken sprinkler control with the open cage and leaking water doesn't speak well for any supervision.

6) the body on the bike path (passed out) and the difficulty in calling in the incident on the Orange Line Bike Path indicates a need to clarify AGAIN the jurisdictional issues for the Bike Path. LAPD dispatch can't take the call quickly without an address, dispatch wants to give the call to the Sheriff, the LAPD Sgt. that I flagged down said the LAPD doesn't have jurisdiction until 50' from the Orange Line. Capt Jordan of the LASD says that the Bike Path is City, the Busway is Metro.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CityWatchLA - Zero Deaths, Everyone Counts

CityWatch, Apr 21, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 32

California's Office of Traffic Safety, the department that administers traffic safety grants, recently convened a statewide Summit and, for the first time, invited bike activists to participate. I was honored to receive a "scholarship" to the conference in San Francisco.

Given the recent spike in pedestrians deaths in Los Angeles coupled with the City's current financial woes, I fully expected to encounter a full contingent of City Council and DOT representatives, all with grant proposals in hand and all asking "What can we do?" But such was not the case.

What I encountered was 750 people from around the state, ranging from law enforcement officers to traffic engineers to public health advocates, all marching under the banner of "Toward zero deaths, every 1 counts" and all committed to working together to not just lowering the number of deaths on our streets but to eliminating them altogether.

The uniqueness of this conference was apparent at registration when I was handed a flyer that reminded guests "do not leave service revolvers unattended in the guest rooms." It continued at the opening session when the call to order included a moment of silence for those law enforcement officers and road maintenance workers who had been killed this past year while working to make our streets and highways safer for everybody.

During the conference I had breakfast with a Police Officer from Vernon, population 100, who wanted to know how he could address the safety of the "workforce" cyclists who work in Vernon and ride the sidewalks, often after dark, and who don't know the rules of the road.

I had lunch with a Police Officer from San Francisco and heard first hand how they were able to establish a working relationship with the cycling community, all while making safety a priority and somehow accommodating a Critical Mass ride that regularly draws thousands of cyclists to the streets.

I had dinner with traffic engineers who punched holes in the "crosswalk removal" studies and the "false sense of security" mythology that is so often referenced as the LADOT reevaluates and removes our crosswalks.

Through it all we heard of the current trend in traffic safety which is to focus on surviving the collision, a scenario that leaves the pedestrians and cyclists on the street as vulnerable or more vulnerable than ever. While the mileage death rate is at its lowest point since it began being measured, speed-related fatalities are on the rise.

Tom Vanderbilt, author of "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), drove home the point that our greatest opportunity for improving safety lies in modifying motorist behavior in order to prevent the collisions, not in simply engineering to survive them.

As the conference progressed and the speakers offered solutions from all directions it became apparent that there is no simple answer but that there are a multitude of approaches and our greatest opportunity is to simply lay down some priorities and to work together to make them happen.

To that end I am pleased to announce that pedestrian and cyclist safety is one of the eight areas of focus for the Office of Traffic Safety, that the OTS is keeping track of the numbers and that the OTS mission is to effectively and efficiently administer traffic safety grants that reduce traffic deaths, injuries, and economic losses.

The hard questions for the City of Los Angeles is these:
  • What are LA's priorities for safety on the streets?
  • Does LA evaluate pedestrian, cyclist and motorist safety?
  • Is LA going after the funding that will support efforts to make our streets safer for everybody?
(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Friday, April 17, 2009

CityWatchLA - Speed on LA’s Streets: Who’s in Charge?

CityWatch, Apr 17, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 31

Got a speedy response from Councilman Greig Smith on my CityWatch article on speed limits and speed being a killer. His thoughts:

“I appreciate your concern about speed limit engineering studies. What is missing in your article is that we are REQUIRED by state law to readjust our speed limits every few years to properly reflect the average speed. If that is not done, or if the city CHOOSES to ignore that study, the city MAY NOT use radar on those streets. Considering that the most reliable ticket for speed is done by radar tracking, to not comply means that will be little or no enforcement on those streets. I have been to Sacramento to try and get he law changed for years. The legislature refuses to make changes to the law. I have always argued that this process automatically raises speeds each time you do it, until you reach a level of speed that is the maximum cars can travel on a road, regardless of what is safe.

I don't know if your were unaware of this law, or you purposely over looked it so you can blame the City Council for this, when it is clearly out of our control. Either way I believe a correction is warranted.”

Councilman, 12th District

Councilman Smith is correct when he points out that my article failed to mention the state law addressing the establishment of speed limits and the use of radar/laser speed limit enforcement. The omission was not because I am unaware of the law nor was it because I wanted to blame the City Council for the law but simply because I have written about the law so many times that this time I left it out.

Nevertheless, here is a recap of the relevant "speed trap" law. California State law specifies that in order to use radar/laser speed limit enforcement, the speed limit of a street must be set based on a survey of unobstructed traffic during non-peak hours and the speed limit is to be set at the 85% mark. This speed limit survey is to be conducted every 5-7 years and if the speed limit certification lapses, law enforcement officers can't use radar/laser to enforce the speed limit.

Councilman Smith, in my opinion, is incorrect when he claims "it is clearly out of our control."

This is Los Angeles, the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Country in the world. Nothing is out of our control if we work together to make it happen.

1) John Fisher, the Assistant General Manager of the Department of Transportation, sits on the California Traffic Control Devices Committee which has been reviewing the "speed trap" law and the conditions for surveying and establishing speed limits. Communities throughout the state have expressed their frustration with the status quo. Is the City of Los Angeles doing all it can to encourage Fisher to fight for change?

2) Councilman Dennis Zine recently introduced a City Council Resolution calling for a revision to the "speed trap" law and the City Council approved it. Was this a simple gesture to appease community activists opposed to the recent wave of speed limit increases or was this the battle cry of a City Council prepared to fight for a change to State Law?

3) Assemblyman Paul Krekorian has introduced the "Safe Streets Bill" (AB776) that will allow local governments, through a public process, to consider pedestrian safety when reviewing local speed limits, not just the rising speed of passing motorists. Has the City Council taken a position on the "Safe Streets Bill" and are we prepared to go to Sacramento to support Krekorian?

4) While Fisher works the CTCD committee for changes and Zine takes that resolution on the road and Krekorian fights in the Assembly, the City of Los Angeles has a full tool-box of engineering solutions at its disposal including bulb-outs, road diets, refuge islands and other traffic calming devices that would put safety first.

The brutal reality is this, we are in the midst of a crisis. Our streets are crowded, our streets are dangerous and they're getting faster and faster, not safer. The presumption that motorists will drive at a prevailing speed that is safe is simply flawed. That speed may feel safe for the motorist safely inside a vehicle engineered for speed but that doesn't take into account the more vulnerable pedestrian or cyclist on the street.

The City of Los Angeles maintains speed limit certification on 700 street segments. Some of these surveys have been expired for years and some of the surveys rely on old data collected long ago. Why the rush to increase the speed limits when we have so many opportunities to work together to make our streets safer for everybody.

I spoke to Councilman Smith and he indicated that he has lobbied and testified in Sacramento in an effort to have the "speed trap" law revised so that local authorities have more control of their streets. He went so far as to call it "a stupid law" and said he is willing to continue the battle.

In response to my suggestion for traffic calming measures, he acknowledged that our streets are engineered for speed but countered that he thinks more law enforcement is the best opportunity to make our streets safer for everybody. He added that there is a real need for education, "especially in our multi-cultural environment with so many interpretations of the rules of the road."

He concluded our conversation by pitching another solution to the current crisis on the streets and that is to simply combine the City's grants programs under one Grants Department so that we can go after law enforcement money, education money, engineering money and do it effectively and efficiently. Currently each City Department conducts their own grants programs, some effectively and some ineffectively, but ultimately resulting in the City falling far short of our "Fair Share."

The opportunity is ours. I'm calling for a moratorium on speed limit increases. It's time for us to decide if we're going to work together to make Los Angeles the City of Great Streets or if we're going to continue to let people die in our crosswalks. It's our call. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and is a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at

Friday, April 10, 2009

CityWatchLA - Inside the Crosswalk Sting at Deadly Intersection

CityWatch, Apr 10, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 29

Watching the LAPD conduct a crosswalk sting operation is like watching the home team win the big game, over and over again. Last week, Capt. Trotter of Valley traffic responded to the recent spike in pedestrian deaths by deploying a team of traffic officers to the intersection of Reseda and Dearborn on the west side of Cal State Northridge.

Sgt. Justice ran the operation which consisted of plainclothes officers crossing the street in the crosswalk while a dozen officers stood by in squad cars and on motorcycles to cite the motorists who fail to yield the road to the pedestrians.

Senior Lead Officer Del Valle was the first LAPD "decoy" to cross the street and on his first pass three motorists blew past him, earning citations from the motorcycle officers who raced into the congested street with lights, sirens and loudspeakers full bore.

Within minutes, all officers were busy writing tickets and the decoys had a chance to rest while waiting for the supporting team to reposition.

The intersection of Reseda and Dearborn has residential on one side and CSUN on the other. In both directions on Reseda there are abundant restaurants, coffee shops and businesses that draw a heavy pedestrian crowd, all supported by crosswalks that challenge the primacy of the motor vehicle.

The crosswalk sting drew immediate attention from neighbors, the merchants and students with many stopping by to thank the LAPD and to share their own "ped vs. motorist" horror stories.

As for the motorists, their responses ranged from "there was no ped" to "I didn't see the ped" to " I thought the other cars were stopping to turn" to "I just followed the other cars." These excuses prompted Capt. Trotter to explain "When a motorist sees other cars slow down or stop, they must assume there's a pedestrian in the area, even if they can't see one, and they must slow down and be prepared to yield."

The impact of the sting was dramatic to watch, especially when the motorcycle officers rode into the traffic with one arm in the air like cowboys herding cattle and pulling over up to four motorists at a time.

Sgt. Justice was asked how other neighborhoods could advocate for a similar operation in their community but his response was less than encouraging. "The LAPD doesn't respond to public pressure but uses data to determine where to deploy our forces."

In other words, LA's vision for safe streets is based on reacting to the unnecessary death of our most vulnerable before we act to make our streets walkable, ridable and livable.

If you'd like to work with the LAPD to make our streets safer, take a walk to your local police station and invite the Captain to go for a walk.

Unfortunately, getting a police escort is the only safe way to cross the street these days. Let's work together to change that. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. )

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

CityWatchLA - The Valley on Speed

CityWatch, Apr 10, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 28

Our City's leadership, elbow firmly on the pulse of the community, is considering LADOT/LAPD proposals to increase speed limits on several Valley streets.

As neighborhoods throughout LA recoil in shock at the recent wave of pedestrian deaths, our City Council Transportation Committee continues to ignore the simple fact that speed kills.

On Wednesday afternoon, Committee Chair Wendy Greuel and Councilmembers LaBonge, Rosendahl, Parks and Alarcon, will decide if the speed limits on Victory Blvd., DeSoto Ave., Balboa Blvd., and Zelzah Ave., should be increased. Zelzah Ave. was recently in the news as the location where Victoria Santos, 60, stepped into the crosswalk with a green light, only to be struck and killed by a motorist in a pickup truck.

Lassen's speed limit was increased by City Council action last year along with streets throughout the Valley.

Zelzah's speed limit was almost increased last year but an uproar from the community resulted in the proposal getting pulled at the last minute.

The speed limit proposals seem to come in small batches of up to six streets, usually spread out so that only one or two increases occur within any Neighborhood Council area. In spite of this low impact approach to increasing the speed limits throughout the Valley, NC's have gone to great lengths to oppose the increases. Woodland Hills-Warner Center NC has appealed to the LAPD, the LADOT, the Transportation Commission and the Transportation Committee, all in an effort to prevent the speed limits in their community from being raised.

The City Council put their relationship with the Neighborhood Councils in perspective when it ignored the wishes of the people and raised the speed limit on Mulholland.

As for the upcoming increases, the LADOT and the LAPD argue that their hands are tied, that State law treats all cities alike, from Mayberry to Los Angeles, and that if we are to certify our streets for radar and lasar speed limit enforcement, we must raise the limits.

Los Angeles is the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world. For our leadership to claim helplessness is to argue for mediocrity.

People are dying in our crosswalks. Our streets aren't safe for our most vulnerable of loved ones. Now is the time for our leadership to work with the Neighborbood Councils to make our city safer, not faster!

Councilman Zine has introduced a resolution calling for a revision to the law governing the establishment of speed limits. It won't go anywhere until the City Council joins him in making this resolution a priority.

Friday, April 03, 2009

CityWatchLA - Pain on LA’s Deathwalks Turns Epidemic

CityWatch, Apr 3, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 27

If you want to kill somebody in Los Angeles … and get away with it … jump into a car and run them down while they're in a crosswalk. Chances are that the authorities will scratch their heads, do a study and then remove the offending crosswalk and/or raise the speed limit and you'll end up getting an apology for any road hazards that interfered with your journey.

Three months ago, at 6:35 in the morning, 58-year-old Gwendolyn Coleman stood at the corner of 5th and Flower in Downtown and waited for the light to turn green. As she crossed the street, a DASH bus turned left onto Flower and struck Coleman who died at the scene. The bus operator explained that he did not see her because of a blind spot.

Three weeks ago, at 6:40 in the morning, 60 year-old Victoria Santos stood at the corner of Lassen and Zelzah in the Valley and waited for the light to turn green. As she stepped into the crosswalk, an eastbound motorist on Lassen turned right on the red and struck Santos who died at the scene. The motorist explained that he stopped
at the limit line, looked and didn't see anybody and then proceeded. The police have determined that the death was the fault of the victim.

This past Sunday, at three in the morning, 19-year-old Adrianna Bachan was in the crosswalk at Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover when she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.

Later that night, 56-year-old Agapito Gaspar Nicholas was in the crosswalk at Figueroa and Avenue 51 in Highland Park when he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.

This past Tuesday night, at 6:25 in the evening, Alina Sheyman and Maria Velasquez, both in their 70's, were killed in the crosswalk of Fountain & La Brea when a left turning car hit another car and caused it to spin out of control, killing the two women. (This intersection is the border of Los Angeles and West Hollywood.) The motorists were released.

Through it all, the primacy of the motor vehicle remains unchallenged while pedestrians are killed on a regular basis. Adding insult to injury … or death, speed limits are being raised and crosswalks are being removed, both of which discourage pedestrians and communicate clearly that the streets of Los Angeles streets aren't made for walking.

From the NoHo Arts District to Woodland Hills, crosswalks get targeted for removal, first with a sign that indicates "This marked crosswalk at this location is proposed to be removed as part of a traffic safety improvement." The logic behind the crosswalk removal is that they give pedestrians a false sense of security.

Instead of posting "Abandon all hope..." signs throughout the City, imagine what would happen if we worked together to create that elusive "sense of security" instead of simply denying any grounds for its existence.

Incredible community capital is repeatedly wasted in debating the logic, the law and the engineering behind the speed limit increase proposals and the city's policy for the removal of crosswalks.

Law enforcement authorities argue that the same "speed trap" laws apply to everyone, from small towns in the High Sierras to Los Angeles, and that their hands are tied as far as the establishment of speed limits. Somehow this argument falls short of addressing the fact that Los Angeles is the largest city in the state and that it
has the most significant traffic congestion in the nation.

Our City's leadership has failed in their mandate to make safety on our streets a priority by not addressing this situation with an aggressive context specific solution.

Meanwhile, traffic engineers argue for the removal of crosswalks in Los Angeles, pointing to a study performed several decades ago in San Diego that indicates that less traffic fatalities occur without a crosswalk than with a crosswalk.

The LADOT performed its own study some time ago and repeated the results, all of which is the foundation for the City's policy to reevaluate existing crosswalks periodically and to remove them when resurfacing and restriping streets.

While it's true that the studies demonstrate a reduction in traffic fatalities at locations that had crosswalks removed, the City is unable to determine how much of that is due to a simple reduction in the number of pedestrians crossing the street.

Also, LA's study failed to include incidents that involved turning vehicles, yet that is the dangerous and common situation that took the lives of the aforementioned of Coleman, Santos, Shayman and Velasquez. Hardly conclusive and hardly satisfactory.

The real opportunity here is for the City of Los Angeles to move from a reactive approach to traffic safety and to develop a vision for public safety that goes beyond writing speeding tickets and restricting pedestrians and actually includes a full complement of traffic solutions and puts a premium on the safety of everybody on the streets.

It's not too late for us to honor Gwendolyn Coleman by working together to make 5th and Flower a pedestrian oriented intersection.

It's not too late for us to create "ped zones" around CSUN and USC and other schools that guarantee that they are the safest places for pedestrians instead of the most dangerous.

It's not too late for us to create a full tool box of traffic calming solutions and to move speed limit increases to the end of the list of options after road diets, traffic calming and significant safety engineering that provides a safe and level playing field for pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit passengers in their daily joust with motorists.

Need we ask the question: How many more Gwendolyn Colemans have to die? (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch.)

CityWatchLA - Cyclists and Other Road Hazards

CityWatch, Apr 3, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 27

This past Sunday, the operator of a large, articulating Metro Local bus pulled up behind a cyclist riding in the Sunset Boulevard bike lane, honked his horn twice, and then accelerated, veering to the right into the approaching bus stop, and forcing the cyclist to the curb. The cyclist was infuriated and confronted the bus operator who responded by explaining to the cyclist and then again to his passengers that the solid line indicates a bike lane but that the dashed line on the approach to the corner indicates a “bus zone” and that cyclists must stop and give way to buses.

Based on this incident, it appears that there is a disconnect between the California Vehicle Code (CVC) that governs all other road users and the Metro’s policies and practices for using the same roads.

CVC 27001(a) specifies "The driver of a motor vehicle, when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation, shall give audible warning with his horn." The Metro, on the other hand, instructs its operators to sound the horn for “cyclists and other road hazards.”

Passing a cyclist is no cause to honk, in fact it distracts the cyclist at the worst possible moment, in this case as the operator is about to illegally and unsafely force the cyclist from the road.

Further, characterizing cyclists as “road hazards” only serves to reinforce the “might is right” bias that is so dangerous on our streets.

CVC 21750 specifies that “the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle…”

When a motorist pulls in front of a cyclist, especially in a long articulating bus that comes to rest at an angle with the back end still in the bike lane, the cyclist is forced to suddenly stop and choose the curb, the back of the bus or the traffic lane and none of them are good choices. Getting cut off by a right-turning vehicle is one of the most dangerous of scenarios for a cyclist and is often referred to as the “right-hook.”

As for this incident, a complaint was logged and an email was sent to Metro Customer Service, Metro Management and the Metro Board’s Chair, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

To date, there has been no response.

A similar incident occurred a couple of weeks ago when Will Campbell, an intrepid bike commuter and technophile, was riding in the bike lane on Venice Boulevard, only to end up curbed by the operator of a bus on the 333 line. Campbell always travels with two cameras, one of them mounted on his handlebars, and he posted a video of the incident on his blog.

What a difference a video makes.

In Campbell’s case, an email was sent from customerrelations@metro.netThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it indicating that “This matter will be thoroughly investigated and the appropriate corrective measures taken.”

Of course, if it’s the Metro’s policies and training that are at odds with safe cycling, there’s nothing to investigate and there are no corrective measures to take.

At the end of the day, cyclists and bus operators should be able to share the road effectively and safely. Both average the same cross-town speeds (14.5 mph) both spend most of their travel time in the curb lane and it’s no challenge to simply avoid each other, rather than squeezing and jockeying for position.

Cyclists who complement their ride with the Metro can navigate the city with speed that is competitive to other modes. Whether it’s jumping on the Orange Line to get across the Valley or riding the Red Line to short-cut the Cahuenga Pass, sometimes the Metro can make all the difference.

Likewise, Metro passengers with bikes are able to travel farther and quicker, closing service gaps and riding to routes with shorter headways.

These are challenging times at the Metro. A new CEO, Art Leahy, is taking the helm and the Board Chairman, Antonio Villaraigosa, has just named LA City Councilman Jose Huizar and Department of Transportation GM Rita Robinson as Board Directors.

While all eyes are focused on the Metro’s billion dollar funding issues and on long term planning, it’s important to remember that our streets are filled with pedestrians, cyclists, mass transit passengers and motorists, and that they are humans and that they are vulnerable and that they need to get home safely.

Our streets are the new “public space” and our ability to share that space is one of our greatest opportunities for revitalizing and redefining our communities. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and a contributor to CityWatch.)