Investing in Pedestrian & Bicycle Infrastructure

16 Jan

The momentum around improving our streets to accommodate pedestrian and bicyclists continues to grow. Los Angeles has recently launched an effort to make 53 of the City’s busiest intersections more pedestrian-friendly by restriping crosswalks to increase visibility and decrease vehicle-pedestrian collisions. And, though recently scrapped, the LA City Council’s proposed $3 billion road repair bond measure promised funding for sidewalks, crosswalks and bike infrastructure as well (though a majority of the funds would have gone to benefit drivers). Although it’s been a long time coming, bicycle and pedestrian improvements are becoming part of the larger conversation when it comes to infrastructure.

Bicycle and pedestrian planners have long known and advocated for improvements. Now, it seems, those ideas are beginning to move from concepts and pilot projects to recognized policy. In Los Angeles, the Department of Transportation has adopted the “continental” crosswalk  (better known as “zebra striped”) as the standard throughout the County. High-visibility, bright green bike lanes are becoming the norm across the County – first Long Beach, then Los Angeles, and now Santa Monica. And bike share programs have gone from quirky pilot projects to citywide programs. Los Angeles is set to roll out its first nine bike share kiosks in April 2013 – just in time for CicLAvia!

In spite of these gains, real fiscal challenges remain. The federal stimulus package, which generated approximately $43 million for street and sidewalk fixes over the last three years, was exhausted last summer. Similarly, funding from Proposition 1B, which passed in 2006 and provided $87 million for road work in Los Angeles, will be exhausted in June of this year. In light of growing demand for these improvements, how can local officials prioritize their limited transportation infrastructure dollars? Here are a few ideas:

Prioritize Cost-Effective Safety Improvements: Los Angeles is already moving in the right direction with the City’s “Pedestrian Safety Initiative.” The program has identified the most dangerous intersections in the City and proposes relatively cheap fixes as a first step.

Prioritize Safety Improvements Near Transit: Safe and easy access must be integral to the design of new and existing station areas. Enhanced pedestrian infrastructure has the potential to increase transit ridership as well.

Measure: We cannot improve what we cannot measure. Data that looks at bicycle and pedestrian patterns is out there, but it’s spotty and not readily accessible to the public. In a nod to harnessing civic technology and reducing data collection costs, local decision-makers may also consider combining official data with crowdsourced information.

Adopt Multi-Modal Level-of-Service Indicators: The traditional form of measuring street efficiency uses the standard level-of-service, which favors moving as many cars as possible as quickly as possible. Multi-modal level-of-service indicators measure the quality of pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation experiences. It takes into account all modes of transportation, focusing on the movement of people over just cars alone.

As density in Los Angeles continues to increase, walkers and bikers will invariably come into closer proximity with drivers. Walking or biking down the streets should not be a daily hazard. With increased  infrastructure, a few policy fixes,  and more awareness, walking and biking in Los Angeles can and will be a better experience.

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