July 23, 2014
When it comes to the New Urbanism, smart growth and other planning
trends, there is the theory and then there is the implementation in the
actual places we live.
It comes as no surprise that the former is easier than the latter.
of the many excellent tenets of these efforts to wean us from
unsustainable sprawl surrounding the world’s metropolitan areas is that
alternatives to the hegemony of the automobile must be encouraged.
Accordingly, planners and activists have pushed for, and now are
implementing, bicycle lanes on city streets that formerly were reserved
entirely for car and truck traffic. In relatively flat, compact,
gridlocked places like Manhattan, this is an especially compelling idea.
And in many ways, it has worked — more bikes are on the road. But the
pushback from cabbies and drivers has been tremendous.
In Los Angeles, an ambitious bike-lane program to set aside
hundreds of miles of pavement in the city for cyclists hit a roadblock
last week when Councilman Gil Cedillo backed away from support for a
bike lane on Figueroa Street in Highland Park, saying removing a vehicle
lane would cause too many traffic problems at peak commuting hours.
Planners and cyclists, pushing back at that turnaround, say that the
estimated added 47 seconds of drive time for cars on Fig is well worth
All California cities are required by law to update
their general plans, which include mobility elements, every 10 years.
That few cities in our own region really bother to do so is harmful to
their citizens’ quality of life. But it’s also no wonder: The plans are
filled with abstract jargon and acronyms that seem far from the way we
actually live our lives.
Pasadena is in the midst of its own plan update. While never
without controversy, and far from perfect, other cities in the Whittier
and San Gabriel Valley areas can learn from the citizen-driven ways that
for two decades now Pasadena has gone about the process, with its City
Council listening to both its volunteer commissions and thousands of
ordinary folks for input rather than simply relying on staff.
last week the kinds of conflicts between suburbanism and urban cores
that naturally arise as our cities change occurred. One group of
downtown residents — thousands of people now live in the Playhouse
District and Old Pasadena, where few did before — pushed planners to
abandon the old Level of Service traffic analysis that focuses entirely
on autos and trucks to analyze a city’s mobility.“Not only does LOS
ignore non-auto modes, it impedes them, because the mitigation measures
that result from an LOS analysis typically make conditions worse and
more unsafe for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users,” the Downtown
Pasadena Neighborhood Association wrote to the city.
Planning commissioners say Pasadena has gone further than any
California city with the exception of San Francisco in already
abandoning LOS. City planners would never think of widening a street,
for instance, knowing that simply invites more traffic. But the fact is
that San Francisco undeniably has more transit alternatives than
Pasadena does currently. Even if we want to abandon our cars, most of us
are stuck with them until city shuttles like Pasadena’s ARTS buses,
along with regional light rail, are made more accessible to all.
Smart growth is in our future. We’re presently still a bit dumb, but with aspirations.