As we reported last week, Investing in Place, Los Angeles Walks, AARP, and Tree People recently convened stakeholders and representatives from the Mayor’s Office and Bureau of Engineering to discuss Safe Sidewalks LA, the City’s new pedestrian infrastructure repair program.
While we learned a good amount about the planned implementation and structure of the new program, we at Los Angeles Walks remain concerned about the lack of detail in a few key areas. Over the coming weeks we will elaborate on those particular concerns. We will begin by considering the City’s discretion in making repairs.
Despite some positive signs, most notably the recent groundbreaking of the MyFigueroa complete streets project, mobility advocates have been frustrated with the seeming inability of the City of Los Angeles to come through on safety-enhancing projects that present any sort of implementation challenge. Most often, unfortunately, a project to increase the safety of all road users is deemed “controversial” due to opposition from either a particular group or a particular City Councilmember. Proof of widespread opposition isn’t required; just a whisper has been enough to shelf projects that would provide a vital connection for Angelenos and/or would surely save lives.
We are therefore very concerned about the lack of detail regarding how the decision to either postpone or exempt a submitted Access Request (see earlier post) will be determined, and who will have that discretion.
The legal settlement that was the impetus for Safe Sidewalks LA includes a remarkable number of clauses that give the City discretion to postpone or exempt a safety issue. Five paragraphs stand out (highlights ours):
- (i) The City shall prioritize remediation, installation or other construction for locations that do not have site constraints or technical infeasibility issues, as defined in the standards set forth in Section 12.9 below;
- (ii) With respect to unusually expensive installation or remediation concerning any Pedestrian Facility, the City shall have the discretion to address such items in connection with larger, street-related capital projects at such locations;
- (iii) Work on difficult sites may be postponed if there is an alternative accessible route within no more than 200 feet of the condition at issue (to the maximum extent feasible). Such alternative routes will be identified to persons with Mobility Disabilities in accordance with applicable ADA Title II regulations;
- (iv) Locations at which site constraints make strict compliance with applicable design standards impracticable may be made compliant with the standards set forth in Section 12.9 below to the maximum extent feasible;
- (iv) there exists a technical infeasibility to installing or performing a Program Access Improvement at the particular location because of topography or some other factor, including if remediation would be “technically infeasible” as defined by Standard 106.5 of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
Our concerns begin with the vagueness of what constitutes an “unusually expensive” or “difficult” site. These terms are not defined, which is understandable, as the City likely did not want to be legally bound to repair facilities immediately if the repair would bust the budget.
However, with the lack of a clear set of guidelines or other planning document that the public can view and comment on, we do not know how Access Requests will be sorted as either feasible or infeasible.
Since immediately infeasible work may be postponed, our next concern is for how long may work be postponed? Indefinitely? Or is there a set period? If the City will be able to delay an Access Request or other repair to include in a future, larger street-related capital project, is there a time limit as to when that larger capital project may begin? How can the public, and especially those with mobility disabilities, be ensured that the future capital project would include the repair, that it would be remembered by City staff, and that it wouldn’t be excluded for cost or other reasons?
Where will the money for making signs for alternative accessible routes around “difficult” sites come from? If someone submits an Access Request, and the site is deemed “difficult” and an alternative accessible route is identified, will the original requester be notified of that fact? Or will they simply be told that the repair is not feasible?
Lastly, if a project can be exempted entirely due to “topography or some other factor,” will the requester or public be notified as to what that “some other factor” is? Will there be a chance for either the requester or the public at large to appeal an exemption?
As an example of our concerns, the photo above shows the north side (looking west) of Melrose Ave. from Wilcox Ave. past Cole Ave. near the Paramount studios. It is clearly not accessible (see the poles?). If an Access Request is made for this sidewalk, what will happen? Either the utility poles will have to be moved, an easement will have to be taken from the adjoining properties, or space will have to be taken from the travel/parking lane (or some combination of those options).
Any of those options will be expensive, and possibly even “difficult.” Will the City just say the project is infeasible and exempt it? Will the City say it’s too “difficult” and postpone work until some future work on Melrose Avenue? And when would that be? Would they postpone work and sign an alternative accessible route on the south side of Melrose?
Safe Sidewalks LA was created to fix these problems, but how can we be assured that it will?
We worry about a program where the most troublesome and dangerous chokepoints are exempted or effectively postponed forever, leaving intact the most pernicious gaps in our accessible network. We worry about a program that fixes all the tree root rollercoasters and greater than half-inch gaps, but fails to fix the blocks-long stretches of three-foot sidewalk. We worry about a program that lets our leaders and City staff off the hook for making “difficult” choices that prioritize safety and accessibility.