Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Learning from Lancaster: 3 lessons on completing streets and improving quality of life

Last month, Investing in Place met with parents of the First 5 LA Best Start community in the City of Lancaster to talk about transportation concerns. We were joined by Brian Ludicke and Randie Davis of the City of Lancaster planning department, and a diverse group of over 50 parents and children — many who were African-American, Latino, or spoke Spanish as their primary language at home.

In short, parents in Lancaster wanted to see their tax dollars go towards improving crosswalks and sidewalks around schools and more affordable and reliable bus service for students. From a city managerial perspective, safe and walkable communities is not just a health and wellness issue, but in Lancaster, it’s a fiscal and economic development issue. For example, Lancaster was able to build a thriving economic base after the effects of the 2008 Great Recession because of their investments in attracting and retaining small businesses along its Downtown corridor.

As Brian Ludicke (Planning Director for Lancaster) alluded to in his experience working on Lancaster’s Boulevard project (a national Complete Streets model), in order to have a well-functioning city with great quality of life, you need political support, community advocates, and citywide policies with teeth (like a Safe Routes to School plan or Complete Streets policy). It is possible, as Brian demonstrated in Lancaster, to build towards a safe, walkable, and economically-vibrant community.

In all, we were on the same page: we all wanted to understand how to create a safe and walkable community for all, especially youth getting to and from school. This sentiment from Lancaster parents reflected the general viewpoint from LA County as a whole — in a poll we conducted in May, we similarly found an overwhelming number of LA County voters wanted safe, walkable communities.

For Investing in Place and our countywide work, we learned three lessons from the Lancaster forum that would be useful for other cities as they begin to implement Complete Streets projects (and “completing” streets in general):

    1. Good planning and policy starts with listening and intentionally seeking solutions that offer better transportation options for all, starting with the most vulnerable like youth, older adults, and people with disabilities. In our experience, addressing the barriers that the most vulnerable experience today — like access to frequent and reliable bus service, shaded bus stops, safe sidewalks and intersections — helps to strengthen quality of life for all.
    2. Work with businesses, residents, and city departments to build trust and develop shared goals.
    3. Be persistent about building community and political support — and measure progress and outcomes. For example, the City of Lancaster invested $10 million to redesign Downtown Lancaster and has since received over $125 million in new economic activity and a 26 percent jump in sales tax revenue. These types of measurable outcomes are important when making future investments in completing streets, especially with new elected decision-makers.

Thank you to the parents and organizers of First 5 LA Best Start Lancaster for hosting us, and special thanks to Brian Ludicke and Randie Davis of the City of Lancaster planning department for joining us.

For a flashback on the movement for Complete Streets in Los Angeles County, check out this video from a few years back as advocates were building support for Metro’s Complete Streets policy. Still much more work — on advocacy, implementation, and oversight — to be done.

To read more about Brian’s work with the City of Lancaster, please see his interview with Streetsblog Los Angeles here.

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