There we all were last night: in the Boys and Girls Club gymnasium at 2630 Pasadena Avenue in Lincoln Heights. The late summer sun driving through the windows, washing out the nearly invisible slideshow being projected on a white brick wall. The speaker from the Bureau of Streets Services droning on in bureaucratic language, her voice echoing off the rafters, bouncing down to the audience as a mumbling drone.
When she was done speaking we were asked to get up and fill out 3M Post-It notes with our suggestions and stick them to some poster boards arranged in a semi circle in front of us.
Hey, I want to totally redecorate your house! I’ve made the following plans (which you can’t really see) and I’ve just spoken about them (in language nobody understands and which you couldn’t really hear anyway). How about you put some Post-Its up on these boards for me with your recommendations. You have 10 minutes. Go!
Next, we will vote on which over-priced decorative sidewalk plaques you want installed, which trees you want planted, and which decorative light posts you want installed. What is this? A complicated question about turning movements for bikes and cars at numerous intersections? Well, I advise you to somehow put that on a Post-It and I’m sure we’ll get to it. Later. Maybe. Probably not. Just be positive, okay? Look, we’re “improving” things!
A few years ago, as the North Figueroa Street bike lane and road diet was roiling through Gil Cedillo’s staged “town hall” meetings on its way to an unjust and untimely death, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation snuck in a road diet on nearby Pasadena Avenue. The political impact of the Pasadena Avenue road diet (which only affected a few blocks of Pasadena Avenue) was negligible to non-existent. This is because, like most streets in LA, Pasadena Avenue has a massive oversupply of space for cars. This oversupply of space actually makes car delays worse while encouraging some terrible driver behavior.
Pasadena Avenue is a classic “stroad” – a street-road hybrid that is the dominant street design across the United States. Stroads feature highway-like designs, to enable the fastest possible motorist speeds, yet also pass through the densest, most built-up, intersection- and turning-movement congested portions of our cities. Imagine a rural highway. Now place a red light every 500 to 1,000 feet. Line that rural highway with tens of thousands of residents, hundreds of businesses and buildings set up for a walkable business base. Add dozens of driveways, crosswalks. Maybe add a park or two, and a couple of schools. Hopefully, you can see how this setup, highway-like car movements mixed with busy city life, is pretty dumb. Something usually gives, and in Los Angeles the highway-like car movement won out, the small businesses and residents lost.
With no prompting from the community, and with the extra road width the road diet on Pasadena Avenue gave him, Councilman Cedillo has ordered city staff to make plans for decorative sidewalk paving, street tree removal, decorative street lighting, and some classic Los Angeles disappearing bike lanes on a portion of Pasadena Avenue. The design speed for motorists in-between intersections on Pasadena Avenue will remain at their stroad-like maximum. Problematic intersections, pinch points along the route, will be ignored when it comes to bike lanes and will be addressed with expensive half-measures for pedestrians.
I can only guess what the plan has cost the tax payer at this point, but with streetscape plans and road design work at the stage I saw at last nights meeting, I think we’re already past the $100,000 mark. The total project cost is somewhere around $2,500,000 ($2.5 million).
So based on what I saw last night, what would I change about the project? Where to begin …
- Project scope: the project leap-frogs over one of the nastiest intersections in the community, 5-points, where Daly, Pasadena, and Avenue 26 come together. Just re-humanizing this intersection properly is worth $2.5 million and would help locals lives more than the half-measure plans already drawn up.
- Automobile design speeds: I still see 12’+ car lanes between red lights and intersections in the project plans. I still see the insane left turn onto Workman from Pasadena Avenue untouched. This “safety” project will not slow car drivers down to safe urban speeds between red lights (20 mph or less).
- Disappearing bike lanes: at the scariest pinch-points on Pasadena Avenue, the bike lanes simply disappear. Between Avenue 28 to the 5-Points (heading south) a car lane should be eliminated – instead, the bike lane just vanishes and “sharrows” are to be painted (these are the stroad of bike lanes) as cars gun it from the Avenue 28 light into two lanes of traffic heading towards 5-points. The bike lane should continue down Pasadena Avenue, and hang a right at 5-points as Pasadena makes its way down to the Broadway viaduct heading into Chinatown. At Pasadena and Workman heading north east, the bike lane disappears and left-turning cars heading south and two merging lanes of traffic going north east converge. This is a nightmare now. It will be more of a nightmare once “arroyo stones” are placed in the painted median and cyclists have nowhere to go. Continuing north east on Pasadena, after passing the Heritage Square train station, the bike lanes disappear on their way past Figueroa – a broken link to a large population biking for transportation.
- No amenity for left turning cyclists: bike riders heading to work or school need to make turns. There is nothing in the plans, particularly near East Avenue 35 where bollards will “protect” the bike lane, to indicate to cyclists how to make a left on their way to school at Hillside Elementary. Bike lane bollards will similarly prevent easy and safe left turns into the Heritage Square train station.
- Wasteful decorations: why spend hundreds of thousands on lights and sidewalks when you can’t maintain what we’ve already got? I’d prefer to see more broken sidewalks fixed in the surrounding neighborhood rather than one super shiny, patterned, bronze-plaqued, strip of sidewalk with high priced fancy light posts. Save the deluxe treatment for a time when it will do some good. Right now, we need the basics. Who will walk on this fancy sidewalk when all the surrounding sidewalks are broken?
- Flashing crosswalks where a passive speed control will do: at East Avenue 33 instead of spending all that money on flashing crosswalks, how about spending a lot less and narrowing roadway width, adding some visual cues, doing some passive design to influence motorist behavior? There are many acceptable shared-use and placemaking principles being ignored by the project staff in order to maintain a rural highway standard on Pasadena Avenue.
- Project ignores pedestrian access to Heritage Square Station: the project posters I saw included no added crossing point for pedestrians at Carlota, no road narrowing at French Street. Again, no passive design that would make crossing the street to the station feel and look safe.
- No non-city bike parking or amenities: let’s say that city staff’s wildest dreams come true and people start using this pre-broken bike lane to get to school and the train station, etc. Where will they park their bikes? When they go shopping in Lincoln Heights, where will they park their bikes? There is no concerted effort to coordinate with the BID, Metro, the Boys and Girls Club, nor the school district to install quality bike parking along this corridor at destinations cyclists will need access to. A few staple racks placed at city hall’s discretion on the sidewalks isn’t cutting it.
- Project Timeline: Instead of shrinking the improvements down into bite-sized chunks, we’re going for full bloat here. $2.5 million where $250,000 would do. As a result, Cedillo’s doing all this planning in order to beg Metro for money to implement these plans … by the summer of 2017. An election year! What a surprise! His plans to install diagonal parking on Figueroa also had a similar timeline. Instead of going for the bloated corpse style of plan, why not try and use a couple of grand to make portions of Pasadena Avenue work for the neighborhood? A proper plaza at Workman and Pasadena Avenue with that left turn pocket onto Workman eliminated would go a long way. Spend the big money on the big problems: tackle the 5-points.
- Pre-baked Planning: Cedillo has no planning experience worth mentioning and no respect for the idea of consensus or community vision. In the end, no matter the consequences, he gets paid to do this and he doesn’t really care whether things work out on a daily basis or not. His chief concern is only whether something will look good on a campaign mailer or in a news article. We are little people. If we don’t go along with his plans, we are ignored. If we do go along, we have to keep our mouths shut and be happy with what Uncle Gil gives us. The bottom line ism “Shut up! Be grateful you’re even getting this!” We were brought into a community meeting and asked to choose which of the two bronze plaques we liked best. That is a disrespectful waste of our time and staff time. It turns us into antagonists because we can plainly see that none of the paid city staff in the room has the power to change anything about the plans popping out of Cedillo’s Easy Bake Oven.
The application for $2.5 million will be submitted to Metro sometime in December of this year. We’ll see about that. Cedillo’s staff promise a construction completion date by the summer of 2017. Again, we’ll see.