The Ship Is Turning

New Bike Lanes on 7th Street
New Road Diet on LA’s 7th Street
When I interviewed Michelle Mowery last year, she said, referring to the much-maligned LADOT where she is Senior Bicycle Projects Coordinatoor, that “…We are a very big animal, we are the Queen Mary, and we’ve just begun the turn.”

I’ve heard others in the department use the same metaphor, and I don’t think it’s just PR. I’ve seen and heard things that let me hope it’s true–my favorite being a blatant, public commitment to Multi-Modal Level of Service analyses for streets, which would calculate throughput of people by all modes of transport before and after a proposed change in street configuration–that is, whether they move by cars, buses, Metro rail, on foot, or using bikes.

Right now the department counts only cars. But they are moving toward a more realistic as well as fair analytical framework.

The Bike Plan Implementation Team meetings are another. Contentious though they are, the city has stuck with them (though it is true that they are run by the Planning Department, not LADOT–but Planning has had its issues too, in the not-so-distant past). There’s nothing I’ve heard of of like them in any other US city: meetings with senior administrative and political staff where anyone can walk in and have an influence on policy decisions.

There’s the enthusiasm about celebrating the “generational change” nearly every staffer I’ve interviewed has mentioned–the retirement of old-school traffic engineers and their 1950s mindsets, freeing the staff to broaden the city’s outlook on traffic and see streets as something more than just sluiceways for cars. (It was LADOT’s Kang Hu who published the numbers, in support of the coming rush hour bus/bike lanes on Wilshire, showing that Metro’s Rapids already carry more passengers up and down the corridor than all the private cars clogging it do put together.)

And now, wonder of wonders, a road diet on a major street–yes, that photo up there shows Seventh Street between Downtown and Mid-city, four car lanes reduced to three with a two way left turn channel, and a pair of nice fat bike lanes, mostly out of the door zone.

And the work was started a month ahead of schedule. The first segment will run from Catalina to Figueroa, and is almost finished. I ride Seventh all the time, and it is a much more comfortable ride now–and there doesn’t appear to be any more car congestion than before. In fact, there seems to be a little less. (Which often happens with road diets–drivers move a little more slowly but they don’t stop nearly as often behind left turners, so they get from A to B more quickly as well as more safely.)

Will the city keep this up? I hope so, and I even dare to think so. It looks as though the ship is turning after all.

It’s about damn time. Let’s keep an eye on the compass, of course. But let’s enjoy the ride as well.

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3 Comments

  1. Will Bramhill
    Posted August 25, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    I wish you more luck than we are having in the UK. Our supertanker has been turning for ten years at least — yet we still get this: http://bit.ly/owu4RC

    We’re just 116 miles across the North Sea from the Netherlands yet our planners and engineers refuse to learn from Holland. Is it that the car lobby is just too strong (in which case you’re sunk too), or plain ignorance?

  2. Jim Cooper
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Here is what I think.
    I have no numbers, or scientific evidence, so it may not be right, but I’ll give it a go.
    I have been a bicycle rider for 63 years and a car driver for 51 years. I have a passion for both. I love cars and bicycles. I also love typewriters, sewing machines and old cameras, so it’s clear I have a thing about mechanical devices.
    Anyway- A bicycle freindly place enhances my recreational automobile experiance if more people are riding bicycles. As a bicycle rider, car driver, down hill/x-country skier, snowshoer, snowmobiler, I learned long ago how to share the space and I am always aware of my place in that space.
    From my point of view, more bicycles and an infrastructure that supports cycling helps us all. Really, what is the problem?

    Have fun- Coop

  3. Posted September 1, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I remember working with the LA DOT back in 2006 on an academic exercise in collaborative governance. The objective was to bring representatives from several Los Angeles neighborhoods together with DOT officials in a structured series of four facilitated sessions.
    Previously, we at USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development had worked with Street Services, and the outcome as expected was positive: mutual understanding, expressions of greater trust, and tangible outcomes (neighborhood service plans).
    DOT was a different story, however. Under then-chief Gloria Jeffs, DOT came to the table half-committed to the process and bringing the old-school engineers mindset. With neighborhood reps on one side, and wary DOT staffers (including John Fisher, then #2 I think) on the other, it was surprisingly difficult to find common ground.
    Maybe not surprisingly: DOT was overburdened and traffic counts were a sore point for communities skeptical of high-density development. From stop signs to traffic studies, the hurdles were clear.
    But the real hurdle was culture: DOT was simply unable to come to the exercise prepared to find common ground and commit to creating space for mutual understanding (let alone trust-building). The four session concluded without a signed agreement (as in the first exercise) and, well, we were back to battling it out.
    I agree that real change will (and may have) come to the department via new leadership and turnover. If the early retirement program (RIP) was good for anything, it was to accelerate the shift to those more prepared to commit to building trust with communities.

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  1. […] diet needs your help, while 7th Street cyclists get a separated bike lane. Bicycle Fixation says the ship is turning at LADOT and it’s about time. Oh, and the Hudson Troll Hole is back, too. Help name the North Figueroa […]

  2. By Streetsblog Los Angeles » Today’s Headlines on August 26, 2011 at 8:37 am

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