Walking Works for LA

students walkingOne of the simplest ways to reduce the traffic congestion that surrounds LA’s schools in the morning and in the afternoon is to support children as they walk and bicycle to school, yet the City of LA continues to engage in a charade that’s all talk and no walk (or ride!)

All it would take is to fix the sidewalks and repair the streets that kids walk and ride as they commute to and from school. Add some refuge islands and roundabouts and streets would be safer to cross. Complement that with some speed tables and shared street design and our streets would work better for everybody.

Typically, the debate over the delivery of city services comes with LA’s standard “budget crisis” excuse but in this case, there is significant federal (SRTS) and state (SR2S) funding that can be used to support children as they walk and bicycle to and from school.

Safe Routes to School is administered by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and there is funding to provide infrastructural improvements as well as funding to  address distracted driving through education and enforcement. Programs that educate and encourage parents, teachers, administrators and students on pedestrian and cyclist safety also qualify.

The City of LA is a notoriously weak performer in the competition for SRTS and SR2S funds, not only failing to qualify for its proportionate share but then defaulting when it does qualify by failing to execute the funded projects.

Funded parties are given four and a half years to spend the money they qualify for or they get “red-flagged” and are suspended from further grant cycles until they clear their past projects.

The City of LA spends more time arguing for extensions and exceptions than it spends simply working on the streets, enforcing the law, educating the community, and encouraging healthy and safe behavior.

This bureaucratic traffic jam within the City of LA has resulted in lost revenue and a missed opportunity to reduce traffic congestion and make our streets safer for everybody.

During the last funding cycle, the City of LA failed to even submit funding applications that would demonstrate a citywide commitment.

As if broken sidewalks and busted streets are hard to find!

In the competitive Safe Routes to School funding process, projects that come with community support do better than those that are simply proposed by traffic engineers seeking funding for routine scheduled roadway improvements.

Yet the City of LA has the audacity to set a deadline for community nominations that falls on this Friday, January 20, 2012.

How does the City of LA expect the community to engage in a process that offers no real opportunity for real participation?

Surrounding communities (the ones that beat LA in the funding competition) have formed Safe Routes to School organizations that engage the community in ongoing campaigns that use the funding process to educate the community.

Children who walk and bicycle to school are more likely to reach the recommended goal of 60 minutes of physical activity each day, they will arrive at school energized and ready to learn, and they take an active role in their well-being.

What does the City of Los Angeles have against Safe Routes to School funding and why is it so reluctant to get competitive?

Last year, a group of community advocates took a Safe Routes to School project to the City of LA in search of support and a commitment to enter it into the pool of submitted projects. It was an ambitious project, one that proposed improvements to a busy arterial with four schools within walking distance.

stephen boxThe traffic engineers looked at the project and expressed a lack of interest, advising the advocates to take it to the Council office for support, after all, “We get paid the same whether or not this project gets funded. The difference is this, if it gets funded, we have more work to do.”

The honesty is refreshing but the revelation is contemptible.

To charge the City of LA with a lackluster commitment to LA’s most vulnerable mode share, children walking and bicycling to and from school, is a harsh charge but the evidence stands.

The City of LA’s infrastructure is unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists and the token gestures at improving the walkability and rideability of the neighborhoods around our schools fall far short of a commitment to our children.

The City of LA’s performance in past Safe Routes to School funding cycles pales in comparison to smaller surrounding cities with smaller staffs who somehow are able to translate a real commitment to public safety into great projects. LA, on the other hand, turns in weak projects, complains about “Fair Share,” and then fails to spend the money when it eventually qualifies.

The City of LA is currently in the process of preparing for the State of California’s Cycle 10 SR2S process which comes with a deadline of March 30, 2012. (City of LA has given community members until January 20, 2012 to submit their projects)

The City of LA has two months to come up with innovative and inspirational projects that will not only make it safer on our streets and sidewalks, but that will also serve as an invitation to walk or to ride, improvements that encourage great behavior and bring neighborhoods together.

stephen box
If the City of LA is unable to come up with at least two great proposals per Council District for this coming funding cycle, perhaps it’s time to look at the Cities of San Fernando, Rancho Palos Verdes, Burbank, Covina and Claremont. What are they doing that LA isn’t doing?

The City of LA has a long history of talking the talk, but when it comes to Safe Routes to School can it walk the walk?

Stephen Box


  1. Joe Weinstein says

    Safer streets and walkways – a great and necessary goal. But how much of the congestion is due to kids who would – but now can’t – walk or bike somewhat safer routes? versus kids who anyhow are too young and live too far away, or whose family anyhow has such a kid and therefore the parents find an auto trip necessary and then further dropoffs of their older kids convenient for all? I agree that for older kids who can walk or bike, and for younger kids who live close to school, the way to and from school can be the simplest way to get needed exercise. Especially here in greater LA, where you can be comfortably outdoors almost all days of the year.

  2. TCinLA says

    How unsurprising that the drooling otherwise-unemployables of the Los Angeles bureaucracy can’t do something this easy the right way. The truth is, they can’t do anything right! In the West Valley, they managed to take a major secondary arterial and turn it into a 2-mile traffic jam during rush hour, in the name of providing space for bicyclists. I refer to Wilbur Avenue between Nordhoff and Devonshire, a major cut-through for people trying to get to work in the mornings and home in the evenings. In the year since these idiots put in the bicycle lanes that cut the usable part of the street by half, I have yet to see ONE person on a bicycle using these lanes, at any time of day (Perhaps the fact it’s a several-mile uphill street has something to do with that.

    Had the morons who did this taken a serious look at the neighborhood, they would have seen they could put bicycle lanes on Vanalden, where there is not traffic to make things dangerous for the cyclists and the neighborhood there is more conducive to an enjoyable ride – without making things worse as they did.

    And of course, for the past year people have asked that they reconsider this, but they can’t be bothered.

    Why am I unsurprised? In 40 years in this town I have yet to see one decision made by any decision maker in the government here, be county or city, that has not made things worse. Sometimes I think we should have let the Russians nuke this place back in 1962 as an improvement to the planet.

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