Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Unintended Consequences of a Roadway Quick Fix

This is a joint statement from Investing in Place and Los Angeles Walks.

Never underestimate the unintended consequences of a seemingly good policy solution.

On the surface, the idea of mandating investments in on-street safety improvements makes sense. When the City has to restripe the street anyway is a logical time to change what that striping looks like, and that’s what the Healthy Streets L.A. ballot measure aims to do. We are excited that this issue is now front and center before the City Council. It is a testament to the work done by Streets for All for putting this idea forward and gathering the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed for it to go before voters in 2024. 

But here is where we disagree, painting random disconnected blocks of bike lanes while our sidewalks remain cracked, our neighborhoods flood in the rain and wilt in the heat, and bus riders continue to lack seating and shelter will not get us the city that we are working toward.

If the City Council adopts the Healthy Streets L.A. Ballot Measure as written, it would be tying its mandate to the City’s resurfacing program – which is structurally flawed, unpredictable, and inequitable – meaning the ballot measure is unlikely to produce projects with the durable community and political support needed.

It also could pull attention and resources away from efforts to implement truly complete streets with shade, accessible sidewalks, bus shelters and benches, and lighting, none of which are delivered by resurfacing and restriping. We wrote about this last month, as well as a separate but related motion the LA City Council is currently working on. It’s on the latter that the city should be putting its time and effort.

And unfortunately, the ballot measure is silent on the long overdue need to address the systems change we need in how Los Angeles manages and prioritizes its public works and transportation investments and programs.   

The ballot measure also includes a provision that anyone can sue the city if the policy doesn’t work for them. What low-income neighborhood has the means to sue the city if the city isn’t able to do what it says? Conversely, how many lawsuits a year are filed by individuals and neighborhood groups in the most affluent middle class neighborhoods of the city?

Any policy developed must include the voices of those most impacted, especially when it comes to public access to public assets. And the best policy outcomes we’ve seen also include the perspective and insight of those working on implementing and doing this work for the public agencies. These are the very real issues that are addressed by the motion put forward by Council President Martinez and discussed at length at the Public Works and Transportation Committees, but left to chance by the ballot measure. As a result, we have deep reservations about the ballot measure.

If you’ve been following Investing in Place and our work with our partners, you know we stand by better investments for walking, rolling, bicycling, and transit and prioritizing those dollars inclusively and equitably. That’s what we do. 

We are bringing this to your attention now because a key decision about the ballot measure is likely to be made in the next few weeks, and it’s clear that not enough people are at the table for this important decision. Asking City Council to adopt the Ballot Measure right now, as written, is the proverbial cart before the horse.

The Healthy Streets L.A. Ballot Initiative is expected to have its signatures certified by the City Clerk this week. The clock then starts for the City Council to decide how to move forward. City Council has 20 days to act upon certification with 3 options:

  1. Adopt it as written. (per LA City’s Charter, if the City Council adopts it as written, it cannot be changed unless it goes back to the voters. The City Council adopting it as written holds the same power as voters passing it)
  2. Let the voters decide, put it to voters in a special election (Call a Special Election to be held not earlier than 110 days nor more than 140 days after Council action on the petition to submit the proposed ordinance, without alteration, to a vote of the electors of the City)
  3. Let the voters decide, and put it to voters in the next general election (June 2024)

If the Initiative is certified by Friday July 22nd, the City Council will need to make a decision by August 12th. We expect this decision to be before the City Council in the last week of July or early August. This is a fast moving and important decision.  

There is a fourth path forward already in progress that we support: the motion put forward by Council President Martinez:

  • City Council continues to move forward with Council President Martinez’s motion and works with authors of the Healthy Streets Ballot measure to expand the conversation and who is at the table. The Public Works and Transportation Committees’ direction also includes an important and necessary “report back” from the Chief Legislative Analyst’s office that details the existing challenges within City agencies in implementing public works and transportation investments that improve our public right of way. The “report back” findings must inform this effort.

Until impacted communities living with the historical disinvestment in streets and sidewalks in their neighborhoods are given seats at the table, it is critical to stay the course with the Council President’s motion. Included in the Council President’s motion, and absent from the Ballot measure, is the plan to address the long-standing need for a Capital Infrastructure Plan that coordinates and prioritizes public works and transportation projects with equity baked in from the start. 

The City’s failure to implement Mobility Plan 2035 needs to be better understood. Anyone walking, rolling, biking, taking the bus, or driving around Los Angeles knows that our streets aren’t working. But why our streets continue to lack the access ramps, bus shelters, street lights, stormwater infrastructure, public bathrooms, sidewalk repairs and street trees that are essential public right of way infrastructure is a harder question to answer than how many miles of bike lanes got striped last year.

This is a critical junction on an issue that will direct investment in our streets and sidewalks for decades in the city. Act now and contact your councilmember to support Council President Martinez’s plan to move this issue forward inclusively and equitably.



Under the Surface: The Roots of LA’s Lack of Progress Toward Safer Streets

by Investing in Place