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The latest streets and transportation news from Streetsblog California

Today’s Headlines

  • Some transit agencies are offering riders discounted Lyft, Uber fares (Route Fifty)
  • The next generation of bike advocates (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition)
  • Newsom moves to fire top regulator after questions about increased fracking permits, conflicts of interest (AP News)
  • Boston tries a “people-protected bike lane” protest (Boston Magazine)
  • An epic bike trip creates a bicyclist (Self)
  • Autonomous vehicles:
    • Were wildly overpromised (Fast Company)
    • But the technology is so cheap! (Wired)
    • Will struggle with how and where to drop off passengers (Forbes)
  • Can Congress reverse rising trend of pedestrian deaths? (Curbed)
  • Congress working on federal highway bill (Route Fifty)
  • Catch the symbolism in your daily commute (Quartz)

More California headlines at Streetsblog LA and Streetsblog SF

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It Took a Village to Make This Overland Avenue Crosswalk Safer

For years, I’ve been concerned that someone crossing Overland Avenue is going to get hurt by a driver turning from the freeway off-ramp. For one thing, a recent study found that more than half of drivers don’t look for people in a crosswalk before turning right.

For another, the area has a lot of pedestrians who need to cross the streets. The Overland crosswalk connects to Palms Park/Rosalind Wyman Recreation Center, which hosts a daycare center. There is a public library next door, and Notre Dame Academy Elementary School is across the street. The crosswalk is a continuation of the Dunleer Footbridge that crosses over the Expo Line at the far side of the park; this invites more pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Palms Park is also the birthplace of BMX, but that’s a totally different story.

Map of the offramp/Overalnd crosswalk site - via Google maps
Vicinity map of the 10 Freeway off-ramp/Overland/National intersection – via Google maps
Driver turning onto Overland - via Google Maps
Drivers turning right onto Overland – via Google Maps
Pedestrians crossing Overland. Photos by Jonathan Weiss
Pedestrians crossing Overland. Photos by Jonathan Weiss
Parents with kids crossing Overland
Parents with kids crossing Overland

Crossing Overland heading west means dealing with car traffic exiting the westbound Rosa Parks (10) Freeway and turning right (to head north) on Overland Avenue. Drivers wait to dash right on Overland like racers awaiting a green light on a drag strip Christmas tree. Meanwhile, people entering the crosswalk may be corralling kids and/or tuned into their devices.

In 2015, there were signs warning drivers to watch for pedestrians, but they were out of sight, and the people waiting to cross west were hidden behind a fence and overgrown weeds. Near misses were common. So, I thought I’d do something about it.

Overland offramp
Overland offramp in 2005

I emailed L.A. City Transportation Department (LADOT) management and cc’d the area homeowners’ association. I asked about installing a more visible “turning vehicles yield to pedestrians” sign.

Standard turning vehicles yield to pedestrians sign
Standard turning vehicles yield to pedestrians sign

Both groups were receptive, as was the local City Council office. In fact, the HOA was already trying to do something about the crossing.

But – so often there’s a but – the off-ramp and signals were in Caltrans’ (the state’s transportation department) jurisdiction.

LADOT emailed Caltrans asking that the graffiti-covered “Turning Traffic Must Yield to Pedestrians” sign be replaced with a symbol-type sign. LADOT also noted that “the existing fence and the power pole at the northeast corner partially obstruct the view of pedestrians.”

The overgrown weeds were promptly trimmed. And, over the next four years, new signs went in. Unfortunately, when the new signs were knocked over, the old style came back, and they were still invisible to drivers at the front of the line waiting to turn right.

I may have complicated matters by later asking for more than just the sign. I’d seen a flashing yellow right-turn arrow on Venice Boulevard–a state highway–near the Culver City Expo Line station. It is approved for use by the state, and appears in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD (2009) Section 4D.04 Standard 3, E.2.).

Flashing yellow turn signal - with yield to peds signage - at Venice and Robertson
Flashing yellow right-turn signal – with yield-to-pedestrians signage – at the intersection of Venice and Robertson Boulevards, near the Metro Expo Line Culver City Station

Then, via a Streetsblog article, I learned about pedestrian head-start signals (called a Leading Pedestrian Interval or LPI) being installed on Broadway. So I suggested that, too.

Week after week and month after month I’d shout at drivers dashing toward my family and me as we crossed Overland. That was enough to motivate me to keep trying.

Maybe a year ago, a leading pedestrian interval was installed. Then, this past June, a right turn signal with a flashing yellow arrow was added!

Now people crossing have a walk signal while cars wait at a red right turn signal. After the pedestrians get a head start and the signal turns green (for cars going straight or left), the right turn signal flashes yellow.

What did it take? Persistence and support from stakeholders and office holders. State Senator Holly Mitchell sent Caltrans at least two letters. L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz’ office always responded to my email missives with support. Koretz’ staff convened an LADOT/ Caltrans meeting. The park manager and HOA showed up when asked.

Leading pedestrian interval
Leading pedestrian interval (walk signal precedes green light) on Overland
Flashing yellow right turn arrow from 10 Freeway offramp onto Overland
Flashing yellow right-turn arrow from 10 Freeway offramp onto Overland

Will the signs, the flashing yellow arrow, and the leading pedestrian interval save someone from injury or worse? I’ll never know. I do know that the crosswalk is safer today than it was in 2015. And I’m glad I had something to do with that.

Today, I want to do one more thing: express my gratitude to L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz and his senior deputy Jay Greenstein, LADOT Assistant General Manager Daniel Mitchell and engineer Mo Blorfroshan (who retired the week the signal went in), Westwood Gardens Civic Association president Marilyn Tusher, Senator Holly J. Mitchell and her senior deputy Charles Stewart (also retired) and senior field representative Sonia Lopez (along with her other staffers), and Palms Park director Laura Campfield. Thank you all!

Jonathan Weiss practices law, lives in Cheviot Hills, and served as an appointed representative to the L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee between 2009 and 2016. He is also a boardmember of Streetsblog L.A.’s parent nonprofit, the California Streets Initiative.

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Tactical Urbanism — With Toilet Plungers

It’s time to flush mixing zones down the toilet!

Activists “fixed” the city’s most controversial and dangerous intersection design in the simplest manner — deploying simple toilet plungers to keep cars out of a “mixing zone” on Fifth Avenue on Tuesday night — in the latest effort to highlight the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero shortcomings and symbolically deposit them in the bathroom fixture evoked.

Mixing zones have been deployed for several years by the city to, theoretically at least, let drivers safely turn through bike lanes and give cyclists space to veer around them, but in practice lead to drivers almost running into cyclists and in some cases killing them. So on Tuesday night, before Transportation Alternatives’ die-in in Washington Square Park, members of the Transformation Department deployed some well-placed toilet plungers near 10th Street as a barrier to give cyclists and drivers safe, conflict-free passage.

The activists, who comprise Twitter’s best-loved rogue government agency, said they “wanted to show how easy and inexpensive it is to fix this known danger.”

This bit of tactical urbanism forced drivers to choose: drive over a bunch of stuck up plungers or drive around them, which meant stopping to let a series of cyclists moving up the street go through the intersection first. And as the video evidence shows, the drivers waited and the cyclists took the light (and hey for you prescriptivists out there, don’t forget the people going straight through the intersection have the right of way over people turning).

Look at that! Instead of “balancing” the desire of motorists to get where they’re going as fast as possible without any hitch or speed bump, human or otherwise, the more vulnerable road users got where they were going safely.

The good news is that the DOT is moving away from mixing zonesalong First and Second avenues in Manhattan and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, in favor of semi-protected offset crossings. It’s a switch that the Transformation Department told us is “a huge improvement,” with just one caveat: “The problem is the pace of these improvements,” the group said over a DM. “Where they are happening, it’s only as streets get repaved. There’s nothing stopping DOT from moving faster.”

Another caveat: Not all drivers know exactly what to do at an offset crossing, as many of them veer too far into the side street on turns, blocking cyclists as they proceed — with the right of way! — straight. And the city’s own report — “Cycling at a Crossroads” [PDF] — is very clear that all intersections have shortcomings. One thing iscertain: Cyclists say they feel more “comfortable” at offset crossings, the report showed.

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On Sustainable Development, California–and the Entire Country–Has a Long Way to Go

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

As rankings go, this sounds good. The Bay Area cities of San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward scored the highest in the U.S. on achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals [PDF]. These are goals that the 193 member nations of the U.N. agreed to aim to achieve by 2030.

They include seventeen distinct goals, from eliminating poverty to reducing inequality to turning back climate change to maintaining and providing clean water. All of them are crucial for creating sustainable, healthy societies.

So it’s great, isn’t it? The Bay Area, and other cities in California, must be well on their way to achieving many good things. California cities that ranked in the top ten nationwide among the 105 largest U.S. cities and Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) as defined by the census also include the south Bay Area cities of San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara, counted as a single MSA, and the San Diego-Carlsbad area.

But the highest score is 69.7 out of 100. In school, that would be counted as “just barely passing” or, depending on the teacher, an out-and-out “fail.”

Worse, the average score of cities nationwide is 48.9. According to the report, “none of the United States’ largest metro areas have overall ‘good performance.’ The best performing cities are sixty to seventy percent of the way to achievement, and the worst performing cities are only thirty to forty percent of the way there.”

Among those cities with low scores are Bakersfield and Fresno.

“The next ten years are crucial for cities,” says the report. “Indeed, as so much of the population lives in metro areas in the U.S., progress in cities will be essential for the U.S. as a nation to achieve the SDGs.”

The report is a way for the U.N. to track progress, using 57 different measures, some of which they have scant data for. It is an effort “to foster dialogue” about obstacles to achieving the goals, and to provide context and support for communities working on these issues. It also serves as a benchmark against which to measure future progress on sustainable development nationwide.

It’s clear there is a lot yet to do.

One of the fundamental principles behind the Sustainable Development Goals is that all segments of society should be included and counted. To that end, it incorporates what it calls “Leave No One Behind” indicators, folded into some of the goals. These include things like childhood poverty, food insecurity, food access, school poverty disparity, the gender wage gap, the low-income energy gap, racial segregation, and women and racial representation in government.

The top-ranking California cities do not rank high on those scores.

For example, people of color are under-represented by an average of sixteen percentage points, and in the worst performing cities by more than forty. Those low-scoring cities include Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario.

The report is full of caveats about data gaps, and does not spell out exactly how each city scored, other than a generic color–red for bad, green for good–on each goal.

Right off the bat, there are going to be questions. For example, the Bay Area cities got a green rating for the goal of No Poverty. That’s hard to square with the reality on the ground. How can there be no poverty when high rents are pushing people out of their homes? How can any report give a good score on this when there are hundreds of homeless people living in tents and sleeping on sidewalks?

One of the goals is “Sustainable Cities and Communities,” which incorporates a number of indicators such as Sustainable Transit, Rent Burden, PM 2.5 (emissions) and Overcrowded Housing. Only two metro areas are moving towards the 2030 target on Sustainable Transit, which measures how many commuters use bike, rail, walking, or carpools to get to work. Surprise! Those are the Bay Area and New York-Newark-Jersey City.

“In 103 metro areas,” says the report, “less than one-third of commuters get to work sustainably, a huge area for development across the U.S.”

Interestingly, the researchers found that an area’s score on “Good Health and Well-being” was a decent predictor of its overall score.

The Sustainable Development Goals are:

  • no poverty
  • zero hunger
  • good health and well-being
  • quality education
  • gender equality
  • clean water and sanitation
  • affordable and clean energy
  • decent work and economic growth
  • industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • reduced inequalities
  • sustainable cities and communities
  • responsible consumption and production
  • climate action
  • life below water*
  • life on land
  • peace, justice and strong institutions
  • partnerships for the goals*

*These were left out of the 2019 report because they were too difficult to measure.

Explore the report here.

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Copyright © 2019 SCSI Damien Newton, All rights reserved.

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