More Streets for People Coming to Los Angeles Soon:
Great Opportunity for Neighborhoods Councils
Stephanie Speights is in the Masters Program in Urban Sustainability at Antioch University in Culver City. She’s doing an internship with CRSP here in L.A. Eco-Village and has a passion for transportation issues. She’ll be working with our community and neighborhood on the process and a plan for transforming our alleyway and a portion of Bimini Place into a mini park, thereby radically reducing traffic in LAEV and generating a variety of other benefits for the neighborhood.
On Wednesday, May 16th, Stephanie and I attended a meeting at the LA office of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) where Architect and president of the L.A. City Planning Commission, Bill Roschen, gave a presentation on the City’s s4p program, along with Public Health Policy Analyst Margot Ocañas.
By now, most of you have heard about the City’s first s4p project, the Sunset Plaza triangle (at Griffith Park Blvd. and Sunset in the Silverlake area), or if you haven’t, check it out here: http://flyingpigeon-la.com/2012/03/a-place-in-the-sun/
What most of us probably hadn’t heard is that the 11,000 square foot plaza was accomplished by the City in partnership with local community groups in an unprecedented four months and for under $30,000! (Of course, the community groups worked and advocated for this many years before the City actually got involved).
Planning Commissioner Roschen is passionate about pedestrianizing our city. Inspired by New York City’s transformation of Broadway into a public plaza, Bill envisioned, advocated for, and accomplished the s4p policy for Los Angeles and sees this as a first step for many more pedestrian plazas in our city. Bill indicates that making an s4p happen should be relatively easy, since there are no EIR’s, no traffic studies, and no street construction work required. “We’re just dealing with paint, planters, chairs, umbrellas and table arrangements–nothing permanent…if it doesn’t work, it’s easy to tweak or eliminate… It’s the low hanging fruit on the way to less traffic and more people oriented spaces,” says Bill. The Department of Transportation is responsible for implementing the s4p.
From Margo’s perspective and that of the County Health Department, which was the City’s major partner on the Sunset Plaza Triangle, getting people out of their cars and onto their feet is a public health issue. Margo adds, “Pedestrian plazas are a good start as is our public transit system, but it needs, lots of layering of the nodes of plazas and transit.”
I have also been attending the Mobility Task Force meetings in which the City is updating its Mobility or Transportation Element, and the layering of nodes of transportation has been a major thread running through these meetings, that is, how all the types of transit are connected to maximize their use, efficiency and effectiveness (feet, bikes, shuttles, buses, trains, etc). (You can check this work out at: http://ideas.la2b.org/los-angeles-la2b-livable-neighborhoods)
Reminding us that currently 60% of our City’s land uses are auto related (and here in the central city where LA Eco-Village is located, it is as high as 85%), Bill says that the City is in a process of dramatic change with 150 train stations planned in the coming decades providing major opportunities for transit oriented development. Heading the Mayor’s TOD Committee, Bill suggests that we should be doing 40 public plazas a year in LA. “The fundamental issue is safety,” he states, noting that the City is working on a template that will make it easier for community partners to get their local projects in gear.
Community groups will have to organize and fund raise for their plazas, but communities will be able to do their own programming. “These projects must be below the curb,” adds Bill, “That is, there can be no removal of curbs, no construction of any kind; we are simply re-purposing the existing street space, and that is what makes s4p so simple: it’s completely reversible.”
“The system is broken,” Bill stated in terms of how difficult it has been for communities to do anything in redesigning or re-purposing their streets or reversing congestion. “We are among the most expensive, but least effective,” he adds, stating “We’re a city about politics and should be a city about policy!” He says the City’s s4p template will provide parameters for creating plaza designs based on the square footage of a potential project, e.g., how much and type of paint needed, planters, chairs, umbrellas, etc. Community partners need to keep their concepts simple and reversible, or the effort could cost more.
These are excellent projects for the City’s Neighborhood Councils to get involved in, Bill indicated. S4p plazas can become focal and meeting points for neighborhoods. NCs can provide seed funding that can leverage other funds to make the projects happen. Good grassroots leadership is essential, and we need to develop a lot more of it, especially getting people-oriented architects and planners onto our neighborhood councils, that is, professionals who are committed to planning for people and the environment rather than for cars. Bill notes that the City Planning Department staff has been reduced from 450 people to 234 people in these down-sizing times. This means that grassroots leadership working in the public interest can become our City’s most important agents of change: Citizen Planners.
Let’s get to work on this. If you want to be involved in our vision and planning for an LAEV s4p project, contact me (213/738-1254) or Stephanie (310/663-8967).