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Bringing Los Angeles streets into the 21st century

Cyclists ride through the street at CicLAvia in downtown L.A. October 9, 2011.
Cyclists ride through the street at CicLAvia in downtown L.A. October 9, 2011.
Eric Richardson/KPCC

The City of Los Angeles launched a virtual town hall last week to engage residents in a discussion about how to create an updated street plan that is not car-centric.

Rather than widening streets to make room for all users, a key goal is to create a layered network with streets that prioritize different modes of transit, said City Planner Claire Bowin. For example, one east to west street might accommodate cars, while another caters to bicyclists or buses. The revised Mobility Element, the main policy document for transportation goals and strategies, is also aimed at lowering carbon emissions by reducing the time cars spend idling in traffic and encouraging alternate modes of transportation, she said.

That's where the discussion comes in. Traditional public workshops typically attract older residents, she said, and the virtual town hall is aimed at soliciting feedback from wider slice of Angelenos. Participants will help the city decide what streets should be priority transit streets, and can offer other ideas and proposals for the updated plan, Bowin said.

Questions on the site, ideas.LA/, change every few weeks to target different issues. Current topics include how users primarily get around the city and how they hope to do so in the future, changes residents think would make streets work better, and the street that is most representative of Angelenos. Users can respond to the questions or "second" and improve others' ideas.

So far, the town hall seems to be working, she said. Though most of the respondents have been male, the majority fall in the 20 to 40 year-old bracket, a previously underrepresented group at public meetings. 

The virtual discussion will last for six-months and will be rounded out with face-to-face town halls as well, with the goal of finalizing and adopting a plan in Spring 2014.

The city last created a transportation plan in 1999 and will keep the goals of The Complete Streets Act in mind when drafting the new plan, Bowin said. AB 1358, which passed in 2008 and took effect on Jan. 1, requires cities to move away from car-centric streets design networks in favor of those that are safe for a variety of transportation methods.

"If we have clogged streets, people don't have a way of getting around. It deters business and affects the quality of life," Bowin said. "We're rethinking how we have city streets and transportation designed to make it more livable in the 21st century."

The city also formed a task force to ensure feedback comes from number of stakeholders, including taxi drivers, pedestrian advocates and transit agencies. Members will meet every few months to discuss how the feedback from the virtual town hall relates to their own experiences and ensure their communities are involved in the conversation.

"Transportation is near and dear to our hearts. We're all users of it, whether we're walking or in car, we're all using our city streets so we want to make sure everyone is involved," she said.