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.