Walking or bicycling to school could get safer for eastside students under a street improvement plan outlined last week during an open house at Boyle Heights City Hall.
Speed humps, curb extensions, high visibility crosswalks and roundabouts are some of the improvements planned near Breed Street and Sheridan Street Elementary schools as part of the Safe Routes to Schools initiative.
Lea este artículo en Español: $5 Millones Asegurados para Arreglar Calles
The office of local Councilman Jose Huizar and the Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation (LADOT) hosted the public event, which included displays showing where and what types of changes are in the works for Breed and St. Louis Streets, from Sheridan Street to 6th Street, and along Soto Street from Wabash to 8th Street. The streets run parallel and are all within a one-quarter mile radius of the “High Injury Network (HIN)”, Los Angeles streets with the highest concentration of traffic collisions that result in injury or death with an emphasis on those involving pedestrians or cyclists.
The Safe Routes to Schools program is an effort between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the city’s transportation department to make travel safer for students going to and from schools. Over 500 LA Unified schools were looked at and the top 50 schools in need of improvement — based on such factors as the number of students living within walking or cycling distance of the school, number of traffic collisions in the area and “burdened with the poorest health outcomes and economic conditions” – were identified.
In Boyle Heights, Breed and Sheridan Elementary schools made the list.
Huizar worked with the transportation department to secure $5 million in funding from the California Dept. of Transportation Active Transportation Program to pay for improvements, which, according to Boyle Heights resident Veronica Bañuelos, are long overdue.
Bañuelos told EGP residents have been asking for safety improvements along St. Louis Street for years. “We live in a very dangerous area,” she said in Spanish, noting that she has witnessed multiple accidents on the street in the same week.
There are no stop signs on St. Louis Street between Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and 4th Street and cars speed through the area without stopping for pedestrians, she said. “We requested a stop sign but we did not get a response from the councilman,” until now, she said, happy to see the changes coming to the area.
Boyle Heights resident and Union de Vecinos (Union of Neighbors) member Maria Benitez said the community had grown frustrated by what she claims was Huizar’s lack of response and his failure to show up for scheduled meetings with the community group.
Huizar spokesman Rick Coca disputed the characterization of his boss as unresponsive. In an emailed statement, Coca said the councilman’s staff has met regularly with Union de Vecinos “to strategize and work on important issues in our community.” The councilman himself met with the group in the fall of 2015, Coca said, adding that the improvements outlined in the new initiative directly “address the concerns outlined by Union de Vecinos and others.”
Another Union de Vecinos member, Juan Estrada, at the open house complained that the area is just to “overpopulated and cars don’t respect pedestrians.”
Taking in the proposed changes, Estrada said he would like to see the speed limit lowered through the area and more stop signs on other residential streets.
For some people, especially children and the disabled elderly, crossing some streets can be “suicidal,” Estrada said.
The intersection at Cesar Chavez and Soto Street is one of the most dangerous zones in the area, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
The HIN data show that collisions involving people walking or bicycling are 2.5 higher than the citywide average. There have been 44 collision-related injuries, including two fatalities involving pedestrians and bicyclists along Soto Street, between Wabash Avenue and 8th Street.
L.A.’s transportation department estimates about 60% of Breed and Sheridan students walk to school daily.
Margot R. Ocañas, pedestrian coordinator with LADOT, told EGP the goal of the program is to improve safety for people walking to school through enhanced street engineering, traffic enforcement and safety education.
“This neighborhood has a high density of students who do walk and bicycle so it is very imperative that we address concerns about traffic safety and put in what we call safety measures,” she said.
On Soto Street, for example, traffic signals will be installed at Boulder Street and 3rd Street. Bike “safety zones” will be added on Breed Street and on St. Louis.
To slow traffic down, nine speed humps will be added on St. Louis Street and ten on Breed Street, between Sheridan Street and 6th Street.
Huizar said in a statement that he’s proud to be partnering with transportation officials in this much-needed project.
“Protecting our children is every parent’s biggest priority and these upgrades will help bring profound safety improvements to students and families in our community,” he said.
Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in January 2017 with completion set for late 2018.
City of Los Angeles transportation officials are conducting a “thorough line by line analysis” of city bus services to determine what the city’s Commuter Express, DASH and Cityride Services should look like in the future.
The analysis process will include public meetings, workshops and an online survey, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT).
L.A.’s diverse residents have diverse transportation needs, says LADOT, explaining that transportation needs along with the rise of new residential pockets and commercial corridors are already changing how people use public transportation.
Input received from residents during the analysis period will help shape such things as where new transit routes should be located and answer questions about whether or not the current system is meeting residents needs, the agency said.
The information will also be used to evaluate the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the city’s Commuter Express and DASH, along with strategies to increase ridership and revenue for the transportation systems.
The transportation agency says it wants to insure they are “providing the right types and levels of service and at the most reasonable prices for riders and taxpayers.”
Two public meetings have already been held; the remaining four are scheduled to take place between June 15, 16 in downtown Los Angeles, South L.A., San Pedro, and on June 17 at Ramona Hall in Northeast L.A, from 6-7p.m..
For more details on times, dates and meeting locations, go to http://www.ladottransit.com.
Hundreds of people attended a community meeting in Northeast Los Angeles last week to weigh in on the different options being considered for bike lanes on North Figueroa between Avenue 22 in Cypress Park and Avenue 60 in Highland Park. Thirty minutes into the meeting, people began to walk out, complaining it was a “waste of their time.”
The June 12 meeting, hosted by Councilman Gil Cedillo at Franklin High School in Highland Park, was a follow up to a meeting in May, which according to several first-hand reports dissolved into outright hostility between pro-bike lane and anti-bike lane participants. Both meetings were billed as opportunities for the community to provide feedback on the Los Angeles Department of Transit’s (LADOT) proposals for improving bike safety along North Figueroa.
In 2010, Los Angeles approved a citywide plan to increase the number of dedicated bike lanes in the city as a way to create safer cycling opportunities and to encourage more residents to use this form of transportation in their daily commutes.
The plan highlighted several priority areas, including Northeast L.A. The original proposed route ran along North Figueroa from San Fernando Road to York Boulevard, but has since been cut by more than 2 miles. It includes four possible alternatives, including one that calls for removing one of two southbound traffic lanes — referred to as a road diet — which appears to be drawing the most heated responses on both sides of the issue.
Lea este artículo en Español: Participantes Dicen Reunión Sobre Plan de Bicicletas Fue una ‘Táctica de Obstrucción’
Prior to his election last year, Cedillo expressed support for the road diet plan but since taking office has opted to hold more community meetings on the proposal, saying people who travel the corridor and businesses along the route have expressed concern that reducing lanes for cars will cause traffic tie-ups and increase emergency response times.
But supporters of alternatives to physically separate cyclists from cars and trucks, say slowing traffic by 45 seconds is not too much to ask if it prevents injuries to cyclists and saves lives.
“We are advocating for bike lanes on NorthFig because it is part of the master plan that the city already approved,” Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition member Alek Bartrosouf told EGP before the meeting. “There are a lot of cyclists supporting this movement, we have like 1,500 petitions signed online and about the same amount on paper,” he added.
However, the biggest controversy at last week’s meeting was not the proposed street changes, but the meeting format which included a lengthy lecture by CD-1 Special Projects Deputy Sharon Lowe on how participants should behave, Cedillo introducing and thanking friends and staff for their support and discussing several topics unrelated to the bike lanes, and Nat Gale of the mayor’s office speaking on the Great Streets Initiative that includes North Figueroa between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60.
Responding to the raucous May meeting, Lowe warned attendees to be civil and to refrain from clapping, cheering or making any other disruptive noises, or risk being ejected.
Some of the restless participants turned to social media to air their frustration: “It is now 45 min since this community meeting was scheduled to start and it is just Cedillo talking about himself,” tweeted HLP90042.
“If I had a 20 person staff and a $2 million budget, I sure wouldn’t have treated public so disrespectfully,” tweeted Flying Pigeon LA, a bike shop in Cypress Park whose owner Joseph Bray-Ali is an ardent supporter of bike lanes.
Dozens of people walked out early, telling EGP they felt “disrespected” and were unhappy Cedillo chose to “filibuster’ the meeting rather than listen to their feedback.
However, Cedillo’s communications deputy, Fredy Ceja, told EGP via email that the councilman “took the time he felt he needed to connect with the audience” and to address concerns raised during the May meeting. “The councilman felt the meeting was a success” because it addressed the current plan and other alternatives to address public safety on Figueroa, Ceja said.
“We are pleased with the outcome, it was an improvement over the first meeting,” Ceja added.
In his 15 years attending hundreds of community meetings, Bray-Ali said he has “never seen something this ridiculous and insulting … And that not clapping, if we are together as a group they cannot enforce that. Whether you are opposing or in favor, think of all the man hours that have been squandered” here, he said.
When discussion did finally turn to the bike lanes, LADOT representative Tim Fremeaux explained that residents were being asked to vote on one of the four options under consideration:
- No change,
- Option 1: Install buffered bike lanes—removal of one-southbound traffic lane,
- Option 2: Install bike sharrows (arrow and bicycle signage used to remind drivers to share the road with cyclists) – 2 lanes each direction, or
- Option 3: Install a climbing bike lane—southbound sharrow—two traffic lanes in each direction.
Audio problems, however, made it hard for many in the audience to hear parts of the presentation, including the question and answer period, adding to the frustration and both proponents and opponents yelling at the presenters that they couldn’t hear anything. “Bare with us,” LADOT’s Michelle Mowery pleaded with the audience.
But not everyone left upset last Thursday. “What Councilmember Cedillo heard loud and clear in May is that safety is a huge issue on the street and that was reflected in [this] presentation,” Erick Bruins told EGP.
“At the end of the day, no one is going to remember one or two poorly run outreach meetings,” Bruins said.
“At this point, Cedillo has all the information he needs to make a decision.”
Moving forward, LADOT and the council office will select one of the alternatives, with the plan being to begin construction sometime in July.