How We Roll, Monday, August 10; CicLAvia edition & more

Here is our gallery of pics in a separate post. Thanks again for coming out and we’ll see you at the next CicLAvia in the fall!

At-grade crossings along Blue Line will see $30 million in pedestrian improvements (Streetsblog LA)

A Metro rendering of the new pedestrian gates to be installed at 27 Blue Line intersections.

A Metro rendering of the new pedestrian gates to be installed at 27 Blue Line intersections.

Good to see this getting some press. The Metro Board last month approved the project which will add pedestrian swing gates to all four corners of 27 intersections along the stretch of tracks where the Blue Line’s two tracks sit adjacent to Union Pacific’s two freight tracks.

As Sahra Sulaiman writes:

The improvements are indeed long overdue.

Between 2002 and 2012, 13 of the 18 non-suicide* fatalities along the Blue Line happened between Vernon Ave. and Imperial Hwy. in South Los Angeles. [*Suicide is a significant issue along the Blue Line — at least 30 of the nearly 80 pedestrian fatalities along the line over the last two decades were confirmed suicides.]

The wide openness of the at-grade crossings through that stretch, inadequate pedestrian infrastructure, and lack of barriers at a number of the intersections — particularly on the UPRR side — create dangerous conditions for pedestrians. None of which is helped by the fact that the tracks run adjacent to several major parks and through the middle of a housing development, meaning that families and kids might make the long trek across the tracks several times a day.

This is a lengthy post and I encourage you to read it. Sahra obviously put a lot of time into compiling the information and making sense of it and she explains how wrangling between Metro, Union Pacific and the California Public Utilities Commission (the state agency that regulates transit rail lines) contributed to delays in launching the project.

We also wrote about the pedestrian environment at some Blue Line stations in 2010 and found some issues, particularly involving the space allocated for pedestrians.

More pedestrian gates will be added as part of the project. Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

More pedestrian swing gates and crossing will be added as part of the project. Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

Why the time is right to re-examine the L.A. freeway (L.A. Times) 

LAT architecture and urban planning critic Christopher Hawthorne pens a very interesting essay explaining a series of stories that he will soon be writing on our freeway system. In fact, he’s already written one — a tough critique of the 405 Sepulveda Pass project.

One key excerpt from the new essay:

Increasingly the fundamental task Los Angeles faces is one of re-urbanization — of infill development, of reanimating or repairing the public realm. At the heart of that task is an understanding that the most successful kinds of spaces in the city are the ones where a broad range of activities has a chance to play out.

In this emerging Los Angeles, the freeway is an outlier, a hulking support system for an aging, if not outdated, set of beliefs. The freeways were built to allow the region to stretch outward; the movement that counts now is in the opposite direction, as the city doubles back on itself, looking to develop more densely areas where it built lightly before.

He has lots more to say about the mono-culture that is the freeway — the only thing you can do there is drive — and our emerging transit system. It should be an interesting series and it’s great that the region’s largest media outlet is asking tough questions about it. 

I’ve always thought the problem with the freeway system is that it works a little too well. While certainly frequently clogged, there are many times you can get anywhere very quickly on our freeways. Perhaps that’s one reason we have been so slow to seek alternatives to the freeway.

Obviously, the series will be closely watched at Metro, which serves as Los Angeles County’s primary transportation planning agency. That means Metro funds road and transit projects alike, meaning too that there will be an inevitable tension between those two funding priorities. As I wrote last week (see the final item in that post), we’ll see how that tension plays out in Metro’s work-in-progress long-range plan update and potential 2016 ballot measure.

Self-driving cars would make L.A. the greatest city (Bloomberg News) 

The yang to the above article’s yin. Writer Justin Fox says that what’s cool about our region is that it’s really a collection of urban villages. The problem: getting from one to another because of traffic, in particular peak hour traffic. Except:

That’s why, although LA’s big recent investments in public transit are welcome (“Los Angeles is building new subways!” enthused Doctorow), they aren’t really the ticket. Because of where I tend to stay during visits to LA (I spent this week at the Orlando Hotel on West 3rd Street), I’ve had this fantasy that when the LA county transit authority has completed the long-delayed Metro Purple Line, which stretches westward from downtown along Wilshire Boulevard, I would be able to rely entirely on public transit.  The problem with this idea is that (a) I’ll be at least 70 when the Purple Line is done and (b) being able to go back and forth along Wilshire Boulevard isn’t really all that exciting, come to think of it. Hub-and-spoke transit networks are never going to entirely fit how life is lived in LA.

This is why Fox is enthused about self-driving cars. He can put his time stuck in traffic to good use although he believes self-driving cars may help reduce some congestion by driving more closely together at higher speeds.

My three cents: I’ll believe it when I see it. Actually, I’m not entirely sure I want to be strapped in a self-driving car among hundreds other self-driving cars flying down a freeway at high speed.

One other point, shared in this article and by Christopher Hawthorne in the LAT: everyone — including me — agrees that cars will be a huge part of our future transit network. As I’ve said before, I don’t see that changing as long as 99.99 percent of the homes in our county sit adjacent to roads. But that’s no excuse for not having alternatives, for not finding ways to expand human-powered transportation. Nor is it an excuse for requiring everyone to have a car to get around because there are many among us who can’t drive for reasons of age, health, economics, etc.

Which leads us to…

L.A. maps out sweeping transportation overhaul (L.A. Times) 

A good overview by City Hall scribe David Zahniser on the city of L.A.’s mobility plan — the document that lays out the city’s priorities in the coming years. And the priorities? More bike lanes and bus lanes and, perhaps, more traffic due to the loss of car lanes.

One note here: our region has seen many big plans — however well intended — that were never fulfilled due to funding, politics or shifting priorities. Officials have cautioned that approval of the plan by the City Council doesn’t mean that everything will happen or has funding. And some parts of the plan will need further study.

As for the article, it does a good job of representing the different points of view, from those who feel like the plan would expand transportation options to those who feel it will lead to more traffic and provoke a backlash. It will be interesting to see how things play out, particularly with any conversion of car lanes to bus/bike lanes. I’m often asked why we build rail instead of build more bus lanes and my answer is that bus lanes have never proven to be politically popular when push comes to shove. The L.A. plan should be an excellent barometer of that.

 

4 replies

  1. “The freeways were built to allow the region to stretch outward; the movement that counts now is in the opposite direction, as the city doubles back on itself, looking to develop more densely areas where it built lightly before.”

    And to add more perspective to this is that dense, re-urbanization development is not just happening in urban cores of DTLA, but is happening in many hotspots all over LA County. The Westside is a perfect example of rapid change as the influx of Millennials who want to live, work, shop, and play all nearby have vastly changed the once sleepy-towns into areas of higher density apartment complexes, low-rise condos, and hipster shops. One can say the same thing to places like Echo Park, Silverlake, Koreatown, Burbank, along Ventura Blvd., Long Beach, etc. etc.

    For those that are interested, this is an interesting read

    MILLENNIALS PREFER CITIES TO SUBURBS, SUBWAYS TO DRIVEWAYS
    http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/millennials-prefer-cities-to-suburbs-subways-to-driveways.html

    Of course, if that is the case, this is an issue for Metro to consider on how much people are willing to pay for transit. If people are moving closer and closer together where they want to have their living, work, shop, live and play all nearby (i.e. I live AND work in Culver City as opposed to I live in SFV and work in Culver City) at what point does “pay the same price whether you travel 2 miles or 20 miles” fare model has any sustainability?

  2. If you ask me, building these rails at-grade has to be one of the stupidest things Metro has done along with the honor system. People who built these did it this way because they just wanted to relive the nostalgia of the 1950s when streetcars were the norm. They failed to take into consideration that LA has changed dramatically in terms of number of automobiles and population since then.

    Metro needs to think 20-30 years down the line and what changes are expected to LA.

    • I don’t think nostalgia had anything to do with decision to build at-grade. It’s really a funding issue — at-grade is less expensive than building tunnels and/or bridges. To boot, funding is usually difficult to obtain whether a project is locally funded or has federal assistance.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • I have to agree with Steve on this one. I’d rather some at grade than nothing at all, besides there’s always opportunity to improve on whats already there. The system is fairly new…. anything can happen