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Transportation and Mobility

Facing A Possible Voter Mandate, LA Leaders Kickstart A Plan To Make Streets Safer And More Equitable

Pedestrians in the shadows from the sun cross a street
(Al Kamalizad for LAist)
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The goal seemed straightforward: Create safer, liveable streets and reduce reliance on car travel. When L.A’s City Council passed the Mobility Plan 2035 back in 2015, the intent was to “set the stage for the way we move in the future.”

To get there, city leaders committed to specific improvements on thousands of miles of streets, including:

The results are lacking: Nearly seven years into that plan, there’s little to show for it, including no clear assessment of how much work has even been done to date. In the meantime, traffic violence has only gotten worse in L.A. (and, to be fair, across the U.S.).

The city's lack of progress compelled critics to propose a ballot measure which, if approved, would make L.A. actually follow its own plan. Now city leaders have acted to get ahead of that potential mandate.

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What’s Happening Now

City Council members on Wednesday unanimously approved a motion directing the City Attorney to create an ordinance to “ensure that the city installs improvements listed in the Mobility Plan 2035 when performing street resurfacing and slurry seal projects.” (Councilmembers Joe Buscaino, Gil Cedillo and Paul Koretz were absent from the meeting.)

The motion — co-authored by Council President Nury Martinez and councilmembers Monica Rodriguez, Curren Price Jr., Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Kevin de Léon — also directs the city to take several steps to study and eventually implement the mobility plan with scale and equity in mind, including:

  • Creating a “Unified Project Coordination Office” that will report to the Board of Public Works. This office will coordinate work across various city departments “to ensure that maximum mobility and environmental benefits are provided when any city project is constructed within the public right of way”
  • Tasking the City Administrative Officer to develop a funding plan across departments to ensure projects are prioritized based on improving “regional accessibility and overall health and economic outcomes for people who have historically been disadvantaged by race, class, physical ability, gender, age, or other discriminatory conditions”
  • Building and publishing a dashboard that “allows the public to easily see all projects that the city intends to implement”

That said, amendments made to the motion last week “exclude routine maintenance” — like filling in potholes, repairs related to utility services and tree planting — from triggering required improvements.

The Mobility Plan Implementation Ordinance is expected to be drafted within 15 days. Under its guidelines, the general managers of LADOT and City Planning, along with the Board of Public Works, must work together to create both citywide and neighborhood mobility corridors— after consulting with emergency responders.

City leaders also requested a comprehensive report to examine how much of Mobility Plan 2035 has been installed on city streets so far — indicating it has not been adequately tracked to date. That report is expected to include the share of upgrades in each council district and in specific neighborhoods.

The City Council motion acknowledges that — despite the mobility plan being on the books since August 2015 — the city “has implemented less than 3%” of it.

A Direct Result Of Safety Activists’ Efforts

Stock Traffic Safety Vision Zero
(Chava Sanchez
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The motion passed Wednesday is based on proposals written by Healthy Streets LA, a coalition of safety advocates and community groups that have been gathering signatures to put a ballot measure to voters. Their measure would compel the city of L.A. to actually follow the mobility plan leaders adopted back in 2015.

Michael Schneider, one of the petition organizers and founder of the advocacy organization Streets For All, said his group is set to submit more than 120,000 signatures to the city on Thursday.

Ahead of turning in those signatures, Schneider said his group has been working for months with Martinez, the council president, to push for the motion passed Wednesday.

Schneider said they made her a simple pitch: “If the voters want this and it's going to come to them anyway and potentially be imposed on them, why not be a leader on it and proactively do it?”

“We also don't think it should be the most controversial thing in the world to have a city follow its own already adopted plan,” he said.

Traffic violence is one of the most serious issues affecting Los Angeles... The fact that it is unsafe to walk or bike even a short distance greatly limits the mobility options of our city's residents, especially the poor.
— L.A. City Council motion

For Schneider, the path (or bike lane) forward comes down to a basic principle: “If we build it, they will come.”

“More people say they'd ride a bike if they felt like they weren't gonna die,” he said.

Given that many of our daily trips are under three miles — plus our typically picturesque weather and the rising popularity of electric bikes — Schneider believes building out a protected, well-connected bike network would “unleash a revolution.”

“Once the snowball gets started, no one's going to look back and be like: ‘Oh, man, I wish we had one more car lane on the street [when] 1,000 cyclists now are using it.’”

A digital rendering shows a street with lots of trees, people walking, a protected bike lane and car traffic in the background.
This rendering shows initial design concepts for cyclist and pedestrian improvements on Melrose Avenue. City Councilmember Paul Koretz later killed the plan, citing the impact to people driving cars.
(Courtesy L.A. Bureau of Street Services)

That might seem like wishful thinking in a region known for its car culture — and where some lawmakers have rolled back changes to limit cars under intense pressure from constituents.

But Schneider argues that if people agree that traffic is terrible and the status quo isn't working, it’s time to emphasize space for people over space for cars.

“Maybe my solution of bus lanes and bike lanes and pedestrian improvements is different than [their] solution of building more parking garages and trying to add more lanes,” he said, “but my solution has been proven in other cities throughout the world.”

What’s Missing?

Boiled down: coordination.

“In order for the Mobility Plan to be implemented effectively and efficiently, the city needs to improve coordination between departments that work on street infrastructure as well as meaningfully partner with agencies that operate public transit,” the motion states.

That’s where the “Unified Project Coordination Office” will come in. Schneider said it’s a good idea for the city’s mobility work to have “a single conductor, making sure the trains go on time across the board.”

One example: Mobility advocates want the city to routinely add safety upgrades like bike lanes when streets are repaved, something called for in the existing plan. That’s rarely happening now, often because different aspects of the work are handled by different departments, which don’t always communicate well.

The Ballot Measure Is Still Moving Forward

A person on a bicycle crosses a wide street in a crosswalk. Pedestrians are walking nearby.
A cyclist rides across a busy intersection in Koreatown.
(Chava Sanchez

Despite Wednesday’s vote, Healthy Streets LA is still working to get their version of the mobility plan ordinance on the ballot for voters. If their petition is validated by the city, it would go before the City Council, likely in August, according to Schneider.

He hopes the city will adopt the Healthy Streets LA version of the ordinance outright. But there’s a key difference, Schneider explained. The activists’ version is stronger and can’t be changed without another ballot measure. The city’s ordinance “will leave the door open to any future council changing it with eight votes pretty easily.”

“Unless we get this enshrined into law, as if the voters have done it themselves and [make] the bar very high to go back and change it, my concern is that all of this progress could be lost when we have a new council president or a different mayor,” he said. “It’s just not a risk that we're willing to take.”

One concern safety advocates have about the city’s version is the inclusion of the Board of Public Works, and the L.A. police and fire departments in the decision-making.

“There's already a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” Schneider said. “You add Public Works, and you add [LAFD] and [LAPD], and it's just going to slow everything down.”

Specifically, Schneider is concerned public works officials could change aspects of the mobility plan and that police and fire officials will hamper street changes, citing emergency response concerns.

“They want every road to sort of be designed like a highway, so the .5% of the time they need to use it like a highway in an emergency, they can,” he said, contending there are other solutions that won’t trap emergency vehicles in traffic.

L.A. Streets Are Only Getting Deadlier

The mobility plan’s lack of progress coincides with the related shortfalls of L.A.’s Vision Zero program, a safety initiative launched by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2015 with the goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2025. That plan calls for improving street infrastructure and adding more safety features that compel drivers to slow down and be more aware of people walking and rolling.

But with just a few years remaining to that target, L.A.’s streets are deadlier now than they were in 2015, especially for people walking.

Last year, 294 people were killed in crashes on city streets, according to city data. In 2015, when this safety effort began, there were 186 traffic deaths. Pedestrians make up the largest share of victims, with 132 people on foot killed last year by drivers — up 50% from 2015. Thousands of other people were seriously injured in crashes over that time period.

2022 is on track to be even deadlier, based on preliminary collision data through mid-May.

Many of the goals of Vision Zero and Mobility Plan 2035 overlap. But many community safety activists have told me over the years that while the city is great at creating plans and setting worthwhile goals, it struggles to put in the work and dollars to achieve them.

This new effort to make mobility improvements the rule, not the exception, does represent a step toward safer, more equitable streets. Schneider said he’s thrilled that city councilmembers under Martinez’s leadership “are taking it seriously.”

“If nothing else, it's brought the conversation back into the mainstream press,” he said. “Street safety, safety for pedestrians, safety for cyclists [and] the mobility plan, which I would say if you polled most people on the street, they don't even know we have one.”

What questions do you have about getting around L.A.?
Ryan Fonseca explores the challenges communities face getting from point a to point b and the potential solutions down the road, sidewalk, track and bike path. 🚴🏽‍♀️ 👨🏿‍🦽 🚶‍♂️ 🚇 🚙 🛴 🚌