Los Angeles Walks responds to the revised Mobility Element

Strolling the new East Cahuenga Alley in Hollywood.

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, using its streets for mobility and beyond. You can see all their recommendations at the LA2B.org site. Los Angeles Walks responded to their Recommendations for a Pedestrian-Enhanced Network with this letter. You can respond by leaving a comment here.

Claire Bowin and Jane Choi
Los Angeles Department of City Planning
200 N. Spring Street, Room 667, MS 395
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Re: Mobility Element: Recommendations for Pedestrian-Enhanced Network

Dear Ms. Bowin and Ms. Choi,

We write as the steering committee of Los Angeles Walks, 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. Los Angeles Walks is pleased that the City of Los Angeles has launched an inclusive process to update the mobility element of the City’s General Plan and is seeking to embrace complete streets, safety and multi-modal transportation as goals for mobility in Los Angeles.

We appreciate that city staff are considering pedestrian safety and enhancements as you revise street classifications and design a complete streets network for Los Angeles. It is encouraging to see that you are considering wider sidewalks as one method for improving walking conditions in the city. As you are aware, and as many commentators in the online and in-person components of your public outreach on the mobility element have noted, larger and better-maintained sidewalks are a necessary but not sufficient condition for enhanced walkability. Other factors that influence peoples’ decisions whether, when and how far to walk include:

  • Conditions, urban design and land uses on the building side of sidewalks that can detract from walking (such as parking lots, curb cuts, blank walls, and large front and side set backs); or that enhance walking (such as buildings extending to the front of property lines, multiple storefronts on a block, transparency in facades, ground level retail)
  • Block length and spacing between crosswalks
  • Conditions on the street side of sidewalks that detract from walking (such as fast, noisy, polluting vehicular traffic); or that enhance walking (such as frequent transit service, bike lanes, low speed limits and traffic calming, street trees to buffer traffic)
  • Safe street crossings at both signalized and unsignalized locations
  • Pedestrian amenities on the sidewalk (such as seating, shade, landscaping)
  • Public safety including adequate lighting
  • Land use and zoning rules that influence whether people live within walking distance of the destination that they need to visit regularly

While a mobility element and street classifications can’t remove all barriers to walking in Los Angeles, we believe that a complete street network can be designed to substantially enhance walking and to prioritize pedestrians uses where appropriate. Los Angeles Walks suggests designating three ‘layers’ of pedestrian-enhanced streets that can be used in different parts of the city and in some spots combined to create world-class walking streets. We also encourage street design standards that enhance pedestrian
safety in all locations.

  1. Shared Space streets: The city should designate certain narrow, low-traffic streets as pedestrian-enhanced shared spaces. In these streets, pedestrians would be expected and encouraged to walk not just on sidewalks but in all areas of the public right of way. Cyclists and some vehicles will also share the space with pedestrians. Very low speed limits and traffic calming road designs to prevent motorized vehicles from moving fast would keep all users safe in shared space streets. Alleys, low-traffic residential streets (especially narrow streets that lack sidewalks) and some short streets, dead ends or cul-de-sacs, etc are the types of streets that could be designated as shared space streets. The city could look at the Dutch woonerf as a model for shared space streets.
  2. Pedestrian overlay zones: Pedestrian overlay zones (or pedestrian oriented-district designation) can help make major commercial corridors and centers into better and safer places to walk. These zones address land use issues that impact the pedestrian experience. Los Angeles is increasingly using urban design guidelines, community plans and specific plans to shape a more pedestrian-oriented streetscape. A number of cities including Seattle use such zones to restrict new land uses that are unfriendly or dangerous to walking (such as car-oriented businesses, drive-through retail, parking lots at the front of businesses, excessive driveways and curb cuts, blank walls, etc); and/or to phase out/ amortize existing grandfathered/ non-conforming uses. We would anticipate that commercial and mixed use corridors, areas near transit stations, and new transit-enhanced and bicycle-enhanced networks would be good locations for pedestrian overlay zones.
  3. Car-free areas: The city should designate some blocks or districts as car-free areas. CicLAvia and temporary street festivals and famers markets prove that residents of Los Angeles will throng to streets when they do not have to contend with motorized traffic. Many cities around the world have made parts of their street network off limits to cars to enhance pedestrian access, create great public spaces, reduce pollution, promote public health and boost commerce and tourism. Los Angeles should identify areas that have high pedestrian activity or potential and plan to phase these in as car-free zones. The city can learn from the logistics of cities throughout the world in terms of granting limited access for delivery vehicles and emergency services; clustering parking on the edge of car free areas, etc.
  4. Streets designed for pedestrian safety and appeal: Walking safety and appeal can be enhanced along all streets through street standards that limit the speed that cars and trucks drive. As the City updates its mobility element, it should institute a moratorium on street widenings to endure that no street becomes more dangerous to pedestrians and/ or a worse place to walk. Street cross sections and design, including the number of lanes used by motorized traffic, the width of lanes, and intersection, signal, crosswalks and other traffic calming treatments can help ensure that vehicles do not exceed posted speed limits. The City should also reduce speed limits, starting with its ability to cut speed limits to 15 mph on residential streets in school zones.

Los Angeles Walks looks forward to continuing to provide input on the city’s revised mobility element.

We are happy to meet with city staff to discuss these and other ideas for enhancing pedestrian safety and access throughout Los Angeles.

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, Founder
Los Angeles Walks

CC: Los Angeles Walks Steering Committee

Top image: EaCa Alley in Hollywood is a great example of how to transform a space for cars into a pedestrian-friendly zone.

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