To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Tentative signs of progress in Metro's transit network design

A new template for future subway and light-rail routes finds Metro moving toward a much-needed consistency, if colorlessly so.


By Christopher Hawthorne, December 31, 2013

 Metro station
 A rendering by architecture firm Johnson Fain shows a Metro subway portal using the transit agency's new "kit of parts" design strategy.

For two decades, and especially since voters approved a $40-billion transit tax in 2008, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has ranked among the most important patrons of public architecture in Southern California.

It has often seemed remarkably ill-suited for the role, burying architects and planners near the bottom of its bureaucratic hierarchy and turning out an uninspired collection of subway and light-rail stations.

But there are signs of a new respect for architecture at Metro: With the Los Angeles firm Johnson Fain, the agency is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive design template for future routes, including the Crenshaw Line, Regional Connector and Wilshire Boulevard subway.

 The "kit of parts," as it's known inside Metro, will dictate everything from the architecture of new stations to the design of ticket kiosks, benches, lighting, stairs and turnstiles.

Although the spare and modern design marks a clear improvement over Metro's wildly uneven status quo, it is also overly restrained, even bloodless. What it's lacking more than anything is the colorful, informal exuberance that has always animated the most significant L.A. architecture and design.

And the way the new template will be rolled out suggests some of the practical obstacles that continue to dog Metro. Even in the best-case scenario it will be at least a decade before the inconsistencies in station architecture across the transit network are significantly ironed out.

The initiative is largely the brainchild of Martha Welborne, an architect who was named Metro's executive director of Countywide Planning in 2010. The approach to designing and building stations that she inherited somehow managed to promote both wasteful spending and sub-par architecture; it was more kit of pork than kit of parts.

Some routes, such as the Expo Line to Culver City, used a consistent station design but didn't match earlier lines. Others, like the Red and Gold lines, used different architecture for each station, often in an effort to drum up community support for new transit routes. That gave us a parade of clich├ęs: film reels on the ceiling in Hollywood, neo-pagoda architecture in Chinatown.

Not only were many of the stations disappointing architecturally in their own right, they didn't coalesce into a meaningful larger whole or help symbolize the dramatic expansion of mass transit in Los Angeles. (With more than 75 stations in the planning pipeline, Metro is essentially doubling the size of the rail network in less than 20 years.) And when every station on a given rail line is different, upkeep can be a major headache.

The solution was as obvious architecturally as it would prove to be difficult politically inside Metro, where the ability to dole out elaborate design packages for new stations had become a valuable bureaucratic chip: Make the stations uniform.

Once Metro had selected Johnson Fain, Welborne and the firm's architects, led by Scott Johnson and Brian Knight, studied the best examples of subway and light-rail architecture around the world. They came away particularly impressed with the stations in Zurich, Copenhagen, Singapore and Washington, D.C., among a handful of other cities where the transit architecture is both ambitious and consistent.

The architects also took on the slippery task of defining and even categorizing L.A.'s sense of place. They collected and analyzed some of the quintessential images of the city and its architecture: David Hockney's paintings of the Pacific Design Center and Mulholland Drive; museum installations by Robert Irwin; photographs by Julius Shulman of houses by Richard Neutra; John Van Hamersveld's poster for the movie "Endless Summer."

Next Johnson Fain got to work designing a standardized version of pretty much every element that goes into a new Metro station, including signage, lighting and furniture. The architects brought in graphic design firm Sussman/Prejza and landscape architecture and planning firm Melendrez as consultants.

Complicating the task has been the diversity of the station types Metro is now in the business of building. The Crenshaw light-rail line alone will include elevated, ground-level and below-ground stations.

For the elevated and ground-level stations, Johnson Fain has produced a linear design in which a series of gates or portals are topped by a glass canopy that operates as a kind of spine.

It's here that the architects' minimal approach pays the most obvious dividends, with a design that is simple and open to the city around it. At the same time, happily, sun and rain protection should be better than in many of the existing open-air stations. Maintenance should be easier too.

Portals leading to below-ground stations, including stops on the forthcoming Wilshire subway, would stretch a wide glass roof above a transparent pavilion held up by stainless steel columns.

The rollout of the new station design will be uneven. Extensions to both the Expo Line and Gold Line are being built by outside contractors and won't use the template.

Metro has also been adding huge new canopies to the entrances to various Red Line subway stations. Their design, by the firm STV, predates the kit of parts too.

It's possible that over time existing stations — on the Blue Line, say, which opened in 1990 — will be rebuilt to match the Johnson Fain design.

A separate issue, as Metro begins to consolidate the design and construction of new lines in-house, is the general restraint of the new template. Welborne is fighting the good fight, to be sure.

But the Johnson Fain design is more Apple Store neo-Modern than suggestive of contemp
orary Los Angeles. The architects have settled on a sleek, passive transparency to underscore Metro's new architectural message of consistency and efficiency. All that work analyzing L.A.'s sense of place has had a faint effect on the ultimate design.

It would be a pity if the new stations, in an effort to avoid some of the architectural missteps that have plagued Metro in recent years, were content to recede entirely into the background.

Public art in the new stations may also help, though I would hate to see architecture let off the hook quite that easily. Quintessentially L.A. design elements should be incorporated into the kit of parts from the start, rather than being treated as something to be tacked on.

A budget-conscious architectural approach doesn't have to mean a placeless or sterile one, as L.A. architects past (Charles and Ray Eames, Cliff May, Rudolph Schindler) and present (Barbara Bestor, Hank Koning and Julie Eizenberg, Frank Gehry) have made clear.

An irony here is that the efficient, mostly black-clad Zurich stations by architect Kai Flender, a clear inspiration for the kit of parts, are noticeably less neutral, despite their Swiss pedigree, than the Johnson Fain design.

Meanwhile, the kit of parts has already faced enough challenges inside Metro to suggest how politically complicated it can be to pursue bold design at an agency of its size. To pick just one example, Sussman/Prejza suggested giant Ms, appearing to be partially sunk into the pavement, to mark the entrance to every station.

The letter would have been split into two parts, allowing it to operate as a sort of alphabetical gate. But some Metro officials balked, according to Welborne, fearing exiting passengers might have their view of cars and moving trains blocked by the giant signs.

The loss of the oversized M is emblematic of the various ways in which the kit-of-parts design risks being diluted before we see it in built form. The new stations, after all, don't need less color or verve. They need a good deal more.

It also suggests the importance of baking a stronger L.A. flavor into the station design from the start. What's native to the architecture, rather than what's added around its edges, will be much harder to trim from the final product.

LAPD misses the mark on strategies to improve safety on our streets


December 27, 2013

Pedestrians in downtown LA December 2013

Has this ever happened to you? You’re waiting to cross a street at a marked intersection downtown. The signal changes to let you know it’s safe to walk and you’re all ready to stroll across the beautiful new continental crosswalk, except there’s a car in your way.

You might have noticed the story on the LAPD’s jaywalking crackdown that’s been featured in the Downtown News, KPCC, and, most recently, the New York Times. Tickets are being issued for jaywalking, even at marked intersections, if the pedestrian leaves the curb after the “countdown” begins. While we’re grateful to the pedestrian advocates featured in these stories like Brigham Yen from DTLA Rising, who provided great points that supported walking in LA and questioned the value of the LAPD’s intentions, we are very unhappy with this new “safety campaign.”
Los Angeles Walks finds the new LAPD strategy of targeting and ticketing pedestrians who are jaywalking deeply troubling.

Pedestrians in DTLA - December 2013

We walked around downtown during these past two weeks to see evidence of jaywalking pedestrians who were making our streets unsafe. Instead, this was the scene we saw happening most often. At almost every intersection, pedestrians had to navigate around cars which had blatantly disregarded the marked crosswalk. When the countdown began, we often could not make it all the way across the street in time because there were so many obstacles in our way.

The LAPD says they are ticketing pedestrians to improve safety. So here are some safety figures. In 2010, the City of Los Angeles had 219 roadway deaths. 100 of those fatalities were pedestrians (Source: 2010 SWITRS). That means almost half of the deaths on LA streets were pedestrians. Yes, we agree: Los Angeles absolutely has a safety problem for those traveling on foot.

That’s one of the reasons it’s unsettling to read LAPD Chief Beck’s rationale for the pedestrian ticketing in the KPCC interview cited by the New York Times:
“Chief Beck said the crackdown was a matter of public safety and traffic flow, noting the frustration of drivers trying to make turns and faced with crosswalks filled with people.”
And the Downtown News article quote from Lt. Lydia Leos:
“We’re heavily enforcing pedestrian violations because they’re impeding traffic and causing too many accidents and deaths.”
So close to half of our city’s roadway fatalities are people on foot—but we’re targeting the walkers instead of the drivers? How could pedestrians be the ones causing collisions when it’s illegal for cars to make turns or enter the crosswalk when pedestrians are present?

Quartz points out another inequity issue for our most vulnerable street users. A parking ticket in Los Angeles will cost you $58, while the tickets LAPD are handing out to pedestrians who start crossing during the flashing hand are $197! $200 is a serious financial burden, especially if police are targeting low-income residents who are most likely to be traveling on foot.

Here’s our question: When do the drivers blocking crosswalks get ticketed? And why is that not the focus of the crackdown?

Check out this short video taken at 5th and Spring last week. As you can see, the cars are impeding pedestrian movement. Moreover, on wider streets in many parts of the city, the countdowns are often far too short for walkers of varying abilities to safely cross the street. It’s clear that targeting people who are crossing at marked intersections with the signal is not the right approach to make LA safer.

Los Angeles Walks encourages LAPD to revisit this “public safety” strategy immediately. Protecting people who are driving at the physical safety and financial burden of those walking in LA must end immediately. Perhaps the LAPD could visit with Mayor Garcetti, who has launched the Great Streets Initiative earlier this year. Or talk to the City’s Department of Transportation, who have implemented many safety initiatives for all roadway users. Or perhaps they could speak with the City’s Planning Department who is hard at work on a Mobility Element update for the entire city to support walking, bicycling, transit and driving.

1987 Los Angeles Pedestrian Bill of Rights

We’d like to see city leaders and agencies support a more multimodal Los Angeles with a unified “people first” vision.  Maybe it’s time to dust off this Pedestrian Bill of Rights, created by the city way back in 1987(!) and remind LAPD especially of goal #9, “Have needs of pedestrians considered as heavily as the needs drivers.”

In a Car-Culture Clash, It’s the Los Angeles Police vs. Pedestrians


By Adam Nagourney, December 25, 2013


 A police crackdown on jaywalking in Los Angeles carries with it a $197 fine for offenders.

LOS ANGELES — In a city of seemingly endless highways — with its daily parade of car accidents, frustrating traffic jams and aggressive drivers — the Los Angeles Police Department these days is training its sights on a different road menace: jaywalkers.

 It is not quite “Dragnet,” but the Police Department in recent weeks has issued dozens of tickets to workers, shoppers and tourists for illegally crossing the street in downtown Los Angeles. And the crackdown is raising questions about whether the authorities are taking sides with the long-dominant automobile here at the very time when a pedestrian culture is taking off, fueled by the burst of new offices, condominiums, hotels and restaurants rising in downtown Los Angeles. 

“We have to encourage this, not discourage this,” said Brigham Yen, who writes a blog on downtown development, as he stood at a bustling corner in the city’s financial district at lunchtime the other day, casting an eye around for a police officer in the shadows. “We should let pedestrians in L.A. flourish. We shouldn’t penalize it.” 

The police say they are simply trying to maintain order at a time when downtown Los Angeles, once a place of urban tumbleweeds and the homeless, is teeming with people competing for pavement with automobiles. “There’s a huge influx of folks that come into the downtown area,” said Sgt. Larry Delgado of the Central Traffic Division. “If you go out there, you are going to see enforcement.” 

Still, the enforcement has struck many of the pedestrians — the new kids on the block — as more than a little one-sided and strikingly strict. When Adam Bialik, a bartender, stepped off the curb on his way to work at the Ritz-Carlton a few blinks after the crossing signal began its red “Don’t Walk” countdown, he was met by a waiting police officer on the other side of the street and issued a ticket for $197. 

“I didn’t even know that was against the law,” he said. “I was like, ‘You are the L.A.P.D., and this is what you are doing right now?’ ” 

These pedestrians are confronting not only the police, but a historically entrenched car culture that has long defined the experience of living and working in Los Angeles. With its wide streets, and aggressive motorists zipping around corners, cutting in and out of lanes and sneaking past red lights, Los Angeles is hardly built for people who prefer to walk. 

Yet times may be changing. There are an increasing number of people using bicycles, taking advantage of an expanding network of bike lanes. Los Angeles is in the midst of a major expansion of its subway and bus system. Much of the urban planning in recent years, particularly downtown and in Hollywood, is intended to encourage people to give up their cars in favor of public transit, walking or biking. 

From that perspective, the crackdown is a coming-of-age moment for this city, a ratification of how far it has come. It is a matter of simple mathematics: There are now enough people around to ticket. 

When Charlie Beck, the Los Angeles police chief, appeared on KPCC, a public radio station, for his monthly call-in program last week, he was repeatedly asked about the focus on pedestrians. Chief Beck said the crackdown was a matter of public safety and traffic flow, noting the frustration of drivers trying to make turns and faced with crosswalks filled with people. 

“This is the most crowded period of the year in downtown,” Chief Beck said. “A lot of that traffic can be impeded by pedestrians who are not following the rules in crosswalks.” 

But a number of people argue that Los Angeles is taking the wrong side in this pavement tug of war, and failing to adjust to changing times. 

“L.A. needs jaywalking,” said Nelson Algaze, a Los Angeles architect who was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, lives in Manhattan Beach and works downtown. “It’s so stupid. What it does is it inhibits the vitality of Los Angeles. When you go to New York, when you go to Chicago, when it’s safe to cross the street, you just cross the street. You just do it.” 

Blair Besten, the executive director of the Historic Downtown Los Angeles Business Improvement District, said she was concerned that it could scare off tourists from other parts of the country, not to mention tourists from other parts of this vast city. 

 “There is an issue of people walking across the street with little consideration of the fact that there are cars, they clearly walk out in the middle of the countdown and take their time to cross the street,” she said. “But I’m not sure that a task force to ticket people indiscriminately is the best policy. I don’t know if I want someone’s first experience in downtown to be a ticket for jaywalking.” 

 Jeff Grotke, 49, a bankruptcy lawyer who works downtown, said he crossed a street midblock on the way to Bankruptcy Court when there was not a car in sight. He was stopped by two officers and given a ticket. 

“Honestly, I cussed them out for about five minutes,” he said. “I told them what a stupid waste of time this was, and wasn’t it great that they had two police officers standing there when there are obviously more important issues out there.” 

The police said that they had not yet broken down summonses issued in that part of the city to pedestrians and drivers, which would document how intense the crackdown is. But Sergeant Delgado said there had been nearly 125 accidents involving pedestrians and motor vehicles this year, and that was before the onset of the holiday season. 

“We have a big area where people use cars and there are pedestrians walking around,” he said. “So it’s more important to control that and have some civility.” 

This has proved particularly perplexing for anyone who has spent time in other cities where jaywalking is hardly a police priority, and people do not think twice of stepping off the curb after the Don’t Walk sign flashes on. (A little-known fact: It is also illegal in New York to step off a curb the moment the light starts blinking red. But it is rarely enforced and even when it is, the fine is $50. )

“You can always tell someone from California in an East Coast city, because they are the ones waiting at a crosswalk,” Chief Beck said, adding, “Jaywalking seems to be a sport every time I go there.”

Many people moved downtown precisely because they do not want to drive. “They want that sense of, this is an urban area where we are going to be able to walk everywhere, bring our own bags to the supermarket,” said Mr. Bialik, 27, who grew up in San Francisco. 

At lunchtime the other day, crowds surged at the intersection of Figueroa and Seventh Street, the red warning light blinking for 16 seconds for people wanting to cross Figueroa. Mr. Yen, the downtown blogger and advocate, watched the scene with barely restrained glee. 

“This is the busiest intersection in downtown Los Angeles,” he proclaimed. “Look at all these people! It’s beautiful. It reminds me of New York.”

If You Ride the Subway to Work You're About to Get Screwed


By Emily Badger, December 30, 2013

If You Ride the Subway to Work You're About to Get Screwed 
The federal commuter tax benefit is an obscure subsidy most Americans have likely never even heard of. But it's a simple illustration of the many subtle ways that official policy in the U.S. incentivizes private car travel over mass transit.

The benefit allows employees to devote a pre-tax chunk of their income to commuting costs, like parking garage fees or mass transit passes. Traditionally, though, the benefit has been nearly twice as generous for drivers as transit riders. In 2008, for example, transit riders were allowed to set aside $115 a month; car drivers (and their employers) could forgo paying taxes on up to $220 in income each month.

The 2009 federal stimulus package finally equalized the two benefits at the higher rate. But transit advocates have continued to fight over the benefit precisely because the higher transit subsidy keeps expiring – as it is set to do again on January 1. Come Wednesday, if you ride the subway or bus to work every day, your benefit will drop from $245 to $130 a month. If you drive to work, your benefit will actually inch up from $245 to $250.

The difference has practical implications beyond the principle involved here: Local agencies like the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority have suggested that ridership (and revenue) drops when this subsidy does. And commuters will be particularly affected in cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, and Miami, where a large share of workers get to work every day by transit.

So what's Congress' problem this time around? It never got around to extending the transit benefit in 2013. Congress may still do so in the coming year, but that could take months. And, in the meantime, the federal government will go back to disproportionately subsidizing people who drive to work.

There's a valid argument to be made that the government – and taxpayers at large – shouldn't subsidize any commutes, whether people get to work by car, by bus, by train, or by boat. But while the government continues to specifically subsidize parking (even as it battles traffic congestion on other fronts), it's illogical not to offer an equal benefit to commuters who take cars off the road. If anything, we should be talking about how to bring bike commuters into this equation, not how to keep mass transit riders there.