Friday, March 28, 2008

Dodgers...Yay! Public Process...Boo!(Updated)

I went to the City Council hearing earlier today hoping to change some minds about the resolution to extend free parking for hybrids that happened to get a sticker from the state. I was armed with arguments ranging from the high cost of free parking, after all, the city could raise another $116,000 by moving this proposal and remove roughly 75,000 miles of VMT from city streets and basic economics, if the state isn't giving out hybrid stickers any more this program isn't going to encourage anyone to buy a hybrid.

Since the parking-hybrid resolution was first on the agenda after some ceremonial stuff, I made sure to be there promptly, even if it meant skipping breakfast. You may note, Streetsblog had three stories put up writing didn't suffer from my advocacy.

I filled out my speaker's card just before the scheduled start time at 10:00 and stood in the back, all of the seating was reserved for people being honored and city employees.

After an hour and a half, including a moving 45 minute ceremony honoring the outgoing city clerk (no complaints from me for that) and a 45 minute commercial for the LA Dodgers the council approved 12 of the 13 items on the agenda by consent. No debate. No public comment. I realize that "public hearings for these items had been held," but I wasn't aware that mugging for pictures with Dodgers executives was more important than hearing from the public before passing 12 binding resolutions. Heck, I missed the big overhead clock that Metro uses to cut speakers off.

The worst part of the story, Councilman Rosendahl, the only councilmember to speak against this proposal in committee after four speakers rose to question it, was busy getting his picture taken when the vote was actually tallied. I tried, but couldn't get a picture of it because security told me I couldn't stand in the center aisle and take a picture.

But hey, at least Tom LaBonge got a baseball autographed by Don Newsom to replace the one he lost as a kid.

UPDATE: Thanks to Councilmember Rosendahl for forcing the council to revisit the issue last week. Hopefully we'll be able to get enough comments in to kill this program once and for all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My testimony on Metro's Long Range Plan

I didn't have time to make it perfect, but this is the draft of what I testified last night at the West Hollywood Metro Long Range Plan meeting:

Good evening, my name is Damien Newton and I am a resident of Los Angeles.

Tonight I’m here not to testify in favor of a favorite project, but to present Metro with what I imagine when I think of the future of transportation.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the "ribbon cutting" for the shared street project at Bimini Place. The community has taken control of their local streets and put in permeable sidewalks, macadamia nut trees, traffic calming devices, street art and decorated benches along widened sidewalks. What does this have to do with Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan? The Shared Street Project was funded in large part by a grant from Metro.

Bimini Street is my vision for Los Angeles. A place where all users of the transportation system have access to the street, not just cars and trucks.

To realize this vision, Metro needs to allocate more funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects. Currently, the long range plan calls for spending less than 1% of funds on bike/ped projects while roads and highways receive 25% of the budget for expansion projects. For comparison purposes, the great state of New Jersey spends about 1% of its transportation budget for highway expansion reserving the rest for transit, fix-it projects and retrofitting streets to make them more accessible to the community.

First and foremost, an increase in funds could be used to finally make LA County roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Every time a transportation agency makes a new long term plan, they call for a decrease in cyclist/pedestrian deaths. If you go to LA Streetsblog and run a search for "SCAG" you can see how we’ve been doing in reducing pedestrian crashes and deaths. In short, since 2000, the number of deaths and crashes has basically remained static in LA County.

There’s a lot of ways to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. The most obvious way is to slow down traffic, but that would require the political will and guts to tell the residents of the Car Culture Capital that their lifestyle is not sustainable. Look, with oil prices hitting the roof and the amount of space to build more highways coming to an end someone’s going to have to break the news to the populace eventually. The more money we waste on highway projects the harder it’s going to be to break the death grip car culture has had on our way of life.

LA County also needs to complete our bike network. On my way home from Bimini, I stumbled upon a bike path at second street that was two blocks long. A couple of blocks later I stumbled on the bike path at Beverly which I road west for two blocks until the shoulder and sidewalk completely vanished next to the Wilshire Country Club. This is just one example of a dysfunctional bike network, and if we want LA County to have a world-class transportation network, we’re going to need to fix the bike network.

Metro’s policies on bike/ped projects seems a little skewed. When Metro puts out a call for projects, it always includes this line, "Construction of a bikeway and/or pedestrian path is prohibited unless the bikeway or pedestrian path is designed so that the sponsor can demonstrate that it will not have to be relocated or removed to allow for construction or operation of a future transportation project." Metro needs to change this language and realize that a street that moves hundreds of pedestrians is actually more efficient than one that moves hundreds of car passengers (or transit passengers for that matter).

In conclusion, if Metro shares my vision of a future with less cars and more people on the street then it needs to allocate the money now to fix our streets. I guarantee you we can find ways to spend it and make our communities more livable and less polluted.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hats off to the BRU

I know just typing the letters "BRU" will drive up blog hits, but I wanted to take a second to give my personal opinion on something cool that happened yesterday at the City Council Transportation Committee Hearing.

The BRU brought a handful of high school students with them to testify on behalf of the bus-only lane on Wilshire. Each student had hand-written notes or testimony and spoke about the benefit a succesful bus-only project would have for the west side and as a model for the rest of Los Angeles.

I think it's great to get high schoolers involved in the public process, and I wasn't the only one. Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, who had a long meeting, beamed at the students the entire time and couldn't help give the occasional "thumbs up." I wish I had my camera out a little faster.

Anyway, hats off to the BRU for helping to get some future activists involved in the public process and for letting them get their feet wet on a less-than-controversial issue.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A weekend behind the camera

What are Joe and Nick Talking About?

Well, our weekend of shooting Street Films is over, and we've got enough footage to keep LA Streetsblog rolling in footage for weeks. Thanks to Nick Whitaker and Street Films as well as all those who took the time to chat with us. We have enough footage, b-roll and interviews to keep us flush with Street Films for a couple of months...if feedback and reaction is good enough, we'll have Nick back out soon to shoot more films.

Check back at soon for more information and for the first LA.streetsfilms.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Congratulations Fred "Metro Rider" Camino!

You are the winner of the pick the tagline contest for Streetsblog! Your award? One The Open Planning Project T-shirt. I'll have it for you later in the week and we'll figure out how to get it to you.

Anyone who is reading this post and wondering, "where the heck is the transportation policy?" should head on over to LA.STREETSBLOG.ORG