After much controversy, LADOT General Manager Jaime De La Vega will step down. A holdover from the Villaraigosa Administration, De La Vega came under scrutiny by department managers for his abrasive attitude. It is worth noting that De La Vega came in when the LADOT was dogged by numerous scandals, to which De La Vega succeeded in controlling the damage and addressing deficiencies. It was also under his leadership that the department took an increased interest in bicyclist and pedestrian needs. In the meantime, LA Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri will serve as the interim general manager of LADOT.
In other news, the Los Angeles Times editorial board expresses its doubts about the proposed Downtown LA streetcar amidst clearer construction cost estimates… and the feeling is mutual in this response to the editorial. The Los Angeles Downtown News published a much lengthier editorial denouncing Angels Flight management for various lapses of judgment while operating the historic funicular, even as the National Transportation Safety Board faulted the funicular’s lack of safety features. Also, NBCUniversal continues to bring local audiovisual content to video screens across the Southland, with the venture now expanding into TransitTV. This means that bus riders will now have an hour of NBC programming piped into those ubiquitous TV screens and into their commutes, much to their dismay.
Meanwhile, the LADOT continues to receive heat for the proposed configuration of the Hyperion Avenue Bridge that is set for a seismic retrofit. LADOT proposes widening existing road lanes with few provisions for bicyclists and pedestrians. The LADOT recently held the first official meeting on the project, where bicyclists expressed concern that the proposed design further endangers bicyclists who must share lanes with drivers. Amidst the complaints registered by attendees, Tomas O’Grady of Enrich LA proposed an alternative configuration that calls for a road diet through the bridge, a bike path on one side of the same bridge and another bridge connecting said bike path to a separate proposed bike bridge that would traverse the Los Angeles River.
In tune with the increased visibility of bicycle advocates, the Los Angeles Times printed another set of articles that discussed the viability and culture of bike travel in Los Angeles. Columnist Paul Whitefield laments the perceived imposition of bicyclists on city streets in a “Quixotic quest” to make them equal to automobile travelers. Despite advances by municipalities to improve safety and promote bike usage, most commuters remain hesitant at biking to work or anywhere else. Encouraging bicyclists to “share the road” instead of building segregated and safe bike paths endangers these same cyclists who will almost always lose when a car hits them, according to Whitefield. Case in point: Wilshire Boulevard, which has no bike lanes but cyclists brave the street anyway, as columnist Ted Rogers explained.
Over the years, LAX has slowly bought properties in Manchester Square in hopes of either using the properties to expand the airport or at least create new air-related facilities. Instead of using eminent domain to purchase the properties all at once, however, the airport has negotiated sales with individual property owners. While most owners sold their properties to LAX, others have held out and stayed in the neighborhood. This has led to a rather eerie sight: Some houses continue to stand even as they are completely surrounded by barren lots.
Finally, KCET offers a photo essay on the construction of Wilshire Boulevard east of MacArthur Park. Today it is hard to fathom that the boulevard actually had its eastern end at the aforementioned park. However, various interests came together to formulate and advance an extension of Wilshire Boulevard, which served communities as far west as Santa Monica, to Downtown LA. Construction of the extended boulevard involved purchasing properties, demolishing numerous buildings and crossing MacArthur Park. The new road opened in 1934.
Speaking of anticipated decisions, the Metro Board approved initial concepts for LA Union Station as part of the station’s master plan. Staff recommended that the Metro Board look further into one particular concept, which calls for building a bus plaza to the west side of existing rail tracks, vastly expanding the existing pedestrian corridor underneath the tracks into a concourse, and removing the Patsaouras Transit Plaza as a means to extend said concourse. The concept also incorporates the proposal to extend the westernmost tracks to the south as part of the Southern California Interregional Gateway project, while HSR is not mentioned. The study team will now look into specifics on the concepts, with an update due next spring.
While construction continues on the Pasadena to Azusa segment of the Foothill Gold Line extension, the segment further east to Claremont remains unfunded. To wit, officials from the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority are asking Metro to add the project to a list of projects that a proposed new sales tax measure could possibly fund. While the Authority is also looking into obtaining state and federal funds, CEO Habib Balian believes that funding the project locally through a ballot initiative is the best way to move forward. Balian believes construction could begin as early as 2017 if funding is secured. Gold Line officials are also discussing possible station designs for the second segment of the line.
Regarding the other end of the Gold Line, Whittier officials are anxious to have the line brought from its present terminus in East LA to their community. Metro is currently reviewing two optionsfor such a Gold Line extension, to either Montebello or Whittier. The Metro Board is expected to select one of the two routes next spring. However, even with Measure R money, construction would not begin for another 15 years. Not lost on this fact, the Whittier City Council voted to hire a lobbyist that would educate Metro, in anticipation of a route vote, on the merits of bringing the Gold Line to Whittier.
The Los Angeles City Council considered challenging a recent state ruling that legalizes ride-sharing services such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar (now dubbed “transportation network companies”) across the state and establishes regulations to that effect. This was done despite a veto threat by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who supports such services. Ultimately, the City Council voted not to appeal the new rules. The city has been under pressure by existing taxicab companies to eliminate these new and innovative services. However, the state Public Utilities Commission makes a clear distinction between services hailed curbside (which is in the purview of municipalities) and those hailed through other means (which is under the jurisdiction of the CPUC). This disparity in enforcement should be fixed at the state legislative level, according to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.
Councilmember Paul Koretz, however, will have none of that. As with most people and businesses in California who try to thwart progress, Koretz is resorting to the accusation thatthe CPUC violated CEQA, believing that in trotting out rules that ride-sharing services must abide to, the CPUC ignored the environmental impacts of enabling such services, even if they are regulated.
If you’ve driven or cycled on the road, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve broken the law. It is not surprising to Damien Newton, founder and editor of Streetsblog LA, who is also a bicyclist. He owns three of them, and also has a car. Newton is happy with the new state law mandating drivers to keep a distance of three feet from cyclists. Newton moved to Los Angeles in 2008 from the east coast and became involved in advocating for cyclist causes by hounding city council members. Since moving here, Newton has seen the improvement in the city’s bike-friendliness with an increase in bike lanes, among other things.
More than 1,000 concrete buildings in Los Angeles may be at risk of collapsing in the event of an earthquake, but researchers have declined to provide a list of these specific structures. Older buildings may appear strong, but they lack the steel necessary to keep columns in place. This leaves them susceptible to sideways movement during a big earthquake. UC Berkeley engineering professor Jack Moehle is leading the research and said he and others conducting research could be legally liable for any possible errors in the list, as the data may not be entirely accurate.
Mayor Eric Garcetti also expressed concern about the possibility that building owners mistakenly included in the list could sue, as this would decrease the structure value. One other concern is that retrofitting these buildings can cost thousands of dollars. However, once the list of buildings is revealed, further examination of each will be required to assess if the building requires strengthening.
Seismically vulnerable structures are not the only thing that city hall has to worry about these days. Now come reports that city staff knew about price increases on the LA streetcar project but were told to keep quiet on the matter. When proponents first proposed the streetcar, estimates ranged between $100 million and $125 million. However, staff did not account for inflation and utility relocation costs, especially if those utilities were unknown to exist. Now the cost has soared to $200 million, dampening the enthusiasm of those who both want the streetcar and those in Downtown LA who voted to tax themselves for it. Thanks to these revelations, staff may have to shorten the route so as to serve fewer venues just to keep the project under budget.
Not helping matters is an internal revolt at the LADOT, where those opposed to recent managerial changes by department general manager Jaime De La Vega took their case to the City Council. Specifically, existing workers took exception to the hiring of outside contractors to replace managers who know the internal workings of the LADOT. De La Vega defended his moves by stating that they are consistent with an internal review of the department and would bring experienced managers to positions where their leadership would be of utmost use. De La Vega was appointed by former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011; it is unknown if current mayor Eric Garcetti will retain him.