Late in 2012 the Los Angeles Departments of Transportation and City Planning released their revised Mobility Element plan looking at new ways of moving around the city by using its streets for mobility and beyond. You can see all their recommendations at the LA2B.org site. In January, Los Angeles Walks responded to their Recommendations for a Pedestrian-Enhanced Network with this letter.
The city held two meetings to present the documents, which we attended. They are looking for public comment throughout May, so please read more about how to submit comments or email my.la@lacity dot org
Claire Bowin and My La
Los Angeles Department of City Planning
200 N. Spring Street, Room 667, MS 395
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Re: Comments on Mobility Element EIR Scoping Documents Regarding Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts and Vehicle-Enhanced Networks
Dear Ms. Bowin and Ms. La,
Los Angeles Walks is writing to provide comments on the Scoping Documents of the EIR for the City of Los Angeles’ Mobility Element Update. Los Angeles Walks is a volunteer supported organization dedicated to promoting walking and pedestrian infrastructure in Los Angeles, educating Angelenos and local policymakers concerning the rights and needs of pedestrians of all abilities, and fostering the development of safe and vibrant environments for all pedestrians.
We would like to reiterate our support for the Mobility Element Update, and its embrace of complete street principles, that we shared in our comments submitted in January of 2013. In that letter, we expressed the need for a pedestrian-enhanced network in the Mobility Element. Los Angeles Walks is pleased that the City has developed a concept for Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts.
We are submitting these follow-up comments to share our thoughts on the Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts Guide and on the Vehicle-Enhanced Network Guide. We view the former as a positive step towards building a more walkable Los Angeles and we are providing feedback on expanding the treatments and policies that can enhance the walking experiences in these districts. Los Angeles Walks opposes the establishment of a Vehicle-Enhanced Network as written since some of the measures identified for the network would endanger pedestrians and other road users; reduce the walkability of streets; generate increased driving, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; and undercut the complete street goals of the Mobility Element update.
I. Feedback on the Proposed Pedestrian Enhanced-Districts
Los Angeles Walks supports the inclusion of Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts in the mobility element as a way to enhance walking in areas of the city that are heavily used by pedestrians and/or areas with potential as spaces for walking. While we believe that every street and public space in Los Angeles should be a safe and pleasant place to walk, Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts can help create highly walkable areas that can be expanding centers and hubs for pedestrian streets, neighborhoods and lifestyles. We have several suggestions for developing, locating and maximizing the benefits of these districts and related pedestrian enhancements:
- Examine other indicators of pedestrian activity. The factors and data that the City analyzed to create an initial map of potential areas for Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts are all useful indicators of places that should be enhanced for walking. We encourage the City to also identify areas with low rates of car ownership (in order to enhance equitable access) and high frequency transit corridors.
- Add enhancements beyond the sidewalk. As we noted in our January comments, improved sidewalks and safe crossing are essential for safe walking but the nature of the surrounding street and built environment are equally critical to make places where people actually want to walk. Moderate enhancements should include zoning as Pedestrian-Oriented Districts and measures you’ve already included in Vehicle-Enhanced Network concept to “consolidate driveways; for new developments, restrict driveways where side street or alley access is available.” Comprehensive enhancements should include traffic calming, lower speed limits, bans on auto-oriented land uses such as drive-thru restaurants, and prioritization for parklets and street plazas.
- Create pedestrian-friendly corridors between Districts. Certain streets that may not qualify for pedestrian enhancement because of lower population density and fewer surrounding amenities may still need pedestrian enhancement due to their use by local residents and at-times dangerous conditions for walking. For example, residential streets (especially those in hilly areas that lack sidewalks or those used as cut-throughs between busier streets) deserve enhancements to make neighborhoods more walkable and to become safe links between residential areas and the denser Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts.
- Link Districts in a Pedestrian-Enhanced Network. One solution might be to follow the model of the Los Angeles Bicycle Plan and consider Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts as the equivalent of the Backbone Bike Network. Residential streets in need of pedestrian improvements could become the equivalent of the neighborhood network, receiving traffic calming or shared street treatments.
II. Opposition to the Vehicle-Enhanced Network
Because two of the biggest obstacles to walking in Los Angeles are a legacy of car-oriented traffic engineering and the resulting real and perceived danger that vehicles pose to pedestrians, Los Angeles Walks also examined the draft of a Vehicle-Enhanced Network (VEN). We consider it to be unacceptable as currently presented due to the inclusion of measures that would make streets less walkable and more dangerous. Some of the proposed interventions in the concept, such as expanded express parking meters and restrictions on driveways, make sense. Others, including more roundabouts and more left-turn arrows, can be beneficial if designed to protect pedestrians rather than purely to move through traffic more quickly. However, we have several objections to the Vehicle-Enhanced Network as presented.
1) The VEN runs counter to five of the six goals of the Mobility Element:
- Streets prioritized for cars do not put Safety First. The VEN violates the purpose of Complete Streets by endangering some road users (pedestrians and cyclists) to grant quicker movement to vehicles. Increasing vehicle traffic and increasing vehicle lanes will likely lead to more crashes, injuries and fatalities. As Jeff Speck points out in his book Walkable City, large cities in the United States with wide, fast streets prioritized for vehicles have up to five times the traffic fatality rates as big cities with streets designed for, shared by (and slowed down by) pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and transit.
- Streets enhanced for vehicles are not World Class Infrastructure. Adding vehicle lanes runs precisely opposite to the international movement for world class streets, which embraces a Complete Streets philosophy and focuses on road diets, bus rapid transit, protected bike facilities, green infrastructure, and placemaking rather than lane and traffic expansions. If anything, the Vehicle-Enhanced Network would move Los Angeles back decades by embracing the traffic-engineering mistakes of the past. Removing street parking for vehicle lanes is a goal that goes all the way back the 1924 Los Angeles Major Traffic Streets Plan and its condemnation of the “promiscuous mixing of different types of traffic” (through trips vs. local trips). It is not a serious or forward-looking priority for 2013 and beyond.
- Streets enhanced for vehicles do not provide Access for All Angelenos. First, almost 20 percent of households in Los Angeles do not own cars, and private vehicle ownership is the most expensive of the common forms of urban mobility. In addition to being inequitable, redesigning streets to advantage the movement of more vehicles would reduce access to Angelinos utilizing active transportation. Heavier traffic flows create streets where most people do not feel safe riding bikes. More obese streets also widen the perceived and actual distance that walkers will need to travel to cross traffic, endangering pedestrians and discouraging people from walking.
- Streets enhanced for vehicles certainly do not promote a Clean Environment and Healthy Communities. Increased vehicle miles traveled combined with less walkable and bikeable streets will lead to more crashes, injuries and fatal injuries, air pollution, asthma, cancer, physical inactivity, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Streets enhanced for vehicles are not Smart Investments. Streets bring economic value to communities and to the City when they become good places with diverse land uses that support local businesses and other places for people to shop, stroll and connect. Streets designed to allow as many vehicles as possible signal that these places are areas to avoid. These mini-highways drain value from the local and city economy. There are many areas on streets chosen as part of the potential Vehicle-Enhanced Network that have potential as walkable places and/or that are heavily walked and used by local residents despite poor design. These streets and neighborhoods should not be further harmed by increasing vehicular traffic.
2) The VEN is unlikely to achieve its implied purpose of reducing vehicle congestion. Studies agree: Increasing vehicle travel speeds increases congestion because induced demand from more car lanes will cause more driving. The wider streets of the VEN will again fill with cars, leading to more demand for more road widening, and a downwards cycle of frustrated drivers, dangerous streets, and a more polluted, less healthy city. Fortunately, there are alternatives to road expansion. Provision of alternative forms of transportation is important. Land use rules and forms that enable people to live closer to where they work, shop and recreate are also critical since proximity is ten times more effective than speed in allowing people to reach more destinations. (There are many studies to support this: go here and here [PDF] to read more.) Fortunately, the City of Los Angeles is updating community plans, studying transit corridors and preparing to update its zoning code, so there is an opportunity to align land use and mobility to promote walkable communities rather than design wider, more dangerous vehicle-enhanced streets.
3) Los Angeles Walks is doubtful that the City of Los Angeles needs another Vehicle-Enhanced Network. Los Angeles already contains a quite large Vehicle-Only Network: 181 miles of highway. Most of the 6500 miles of L.A.’s streets have been widened and sped up in past decades so that nearly every mile of the street grid is prioritized for vehicles. After a century of favoring cars on the streets of Los Angeles, it is time to prioritize people.
In conclusion, Los Angeles Walks strongly supports the Pedestrian-Enhanced Districts and opposes the Vehicle-Enhanced Network as proposed in the EIR Scoping Materials.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this critical element of the City’s General Plan that will move Los Angeles into the 21st century with strong support for active transportation that complements our dynamic communities.
Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss these or any other ideas in more depth or if you have any questions or concerns regarding our comments.
All the best,
Deborah Murphy, Executive Director
Los Angeles Walks
CC: Los Angeles Walks Steering Committee
Top image: Sunset Triangle Plaza is a great example of what could become the center of a Pedestrian-Enhanced Network.