What stands in the way of better streets in Los Angeles?
Is it a wall of bureaucratic double speak? Our on-again, off-again, “budgetary considerations” that crop up only when an idea runs against the political whims of our elites?
I have read through countless Plans hatched by the City of Los Angeles. Each plan calls out undefined things like “character”, “pedestrian -friendly”, and “safe”. It took me half a decade to figure out what kept LA’s plans for our streets from living up to their promises.
For a lot of things, it all comes down to the City of LA’s “Transportation Element” of our General Plan and our CEQA Thresholds for Transportation (click on “Transportation” to download the .pdf I am referring to).
In both of these documents, the streets we use are defined & classified, and measures for their performance are laid out. It is through these documents that the path of least legal (and thus financial) resistance is to design and build nearly every street in Los Angeles as if it were basically a wide-open country road. Homes and schools, businesses, old-folks homes, parks, neighbors feeling safe, property values, noise, safety – none of these things count in our Mobility Element nor in our CEQA Thresholds for Transportation.
So what does count?
Obscure car-only measures like “Vehicle Miles Travelled” (VMT), “Average Daily Trips” (ADT), Level of Service (LOS), and volume of cars divided by the maximum design car capacity of a street. These documents, which are the legal framework for street design in Los Angeles, read more like a plumber’s guidebook to making a car-only sewer pipe. How many gallons of effluent an hour? This toilet has a lot of crap moving through it, so we’ll just make the pipe there bigger!
There are no easy, legal, ways around these rules … until now.
The City of LA has seen, in recent years, a big chunk senior civil servants pushed out of their jobs due to our massive budget deficit – leaving a fresh crop of young planners and engineers running departments like the Transportation or City Planning. These “kids” (they are not really kids) are not die-hard mid-20th century car-only types.
This fresh perspective is reinforced by Mayor Villaraigosa’s appointment of his former Deputy of Transportation, Jaime de la Vega, to the top position at the LADOT and a push from City Planning from folks like Claire Bowen.
Together, several city departments have put together a plan to boldly re-make Los Angeles legal framework for designing and building our streets. It doesn’t rely on the old “father knows best” approach past generations took when they crammed our car-only system onto every street in the city.
Instead, the format is open, internet connected, multilingual (Thank you Google Translate!), with everything about our streets on the table.
What sort of things do you value about your city? Is it the car-only nature of your area, or do you want something else for your city?
The project is being called “LA/2B” – a play on the words “Los Angeles to be”, I think. You can log in using Facebook, or create a profile on the site, and start reading, commenting on, and suggesting ideas for Los Angeles’ streets, and our future.
You can read more about the specifics of LA/2B on the project’s web-site.