A controversial plan that would trim vehicular lanes along the Figueroa Corridor to make room for cyclists and pedestrians is closer to reality, as stakeholders who in the past expressed concern about losing business, and who indicated a willingness to use the legal system to fight the project, have relaxed their opposition.
Representatives from the offices of Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council members Curren Price and José Huizar convened a nearly four-hour meeting on March 21 with representatives from the California Science Center, the University of Southern California and auto dealership owners the Shammas Group to try to come to an agreement about the specifics of the proposed My Figueroa project. Although the initiative has been roundly cheered by cycling advocates, some business owners on the heavily trafficked corridor have worried that cycle tracks, which are protected bikeways, and a general slimming of car lanes would slow auto speeds and reduce revenue.
Reaching consensus on the $20 million effort is key on both the legal and financial fronts. My Figueroa is funded by Prop 1C bond money, and the deadline to complete construction is Dec. 31, 2014. The city is seeking an extension; previously, officials risked losing funding if work did not start by January of this year.
Many of the new details and agreements were revealed on Tuesday, March 25, during a meeting of the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee. Among the most important was the announcement by an attorney for the Shammas Group that his client would withdraw a formal protest to the project if certain concerns are addressed, among them keeping the entrance and the exit to all eight dealerships free from traffic tie-ups.
Additionally, representatives from Price’s office said the Ninth District councilman is no longer seeking an alternative design of routing bicyclists over to Flower Street.
“From the start, I have said that this is a great project with the potential to be an incredible asset for the City and for the Ninth District,” Price said in an emailed statement to Los Angeles Downtown News. “But far too often elected officials attempt to rush through projects like these, ignoring the concerns of stakeholders, only to discover after completion that you have significant flaws in your project. This is why I have asked that we allow stakeholders to continue the conversations they have already started.”
Last August, Price filed a motion asking the city departments of Planning and Transportation to provide an in-depth analysis on how to mitigate the traffic congestion caused by the removal of vehicular lanes on Figueroa Street. Currently, Figueroa is an 82-foot-wide roadway with seven lanes: Four are dedicated to north/south vehicular traffic, a fifth southbound lane is used for traffic or parking, a sixth lane serves as a turn lane or median, and the seventh provides parking or a peak-hour bus lane.
The My Figueroa plan proposes offering four lanes of north/south vehicular traffic and a fifth lane for turning; the rest of the space on either side would be dedicated to parking, bus platforms and protected cycle tracks.
Rather than have cycle lanes on both sides of the street, several area stakeholders had wanted to re-route southbound bicyclists, saving an additional lane for cars. That alternative is now dead.
USC Bicycle Coalition President Matthew González said he is excited about the project moving forward. He believes it will be great for the Figueroa Corridor, and that it will provide a foundation for developing more holistic streets throughout the county.
“Improving pedestrian, bicycle and public transit infrastructure along the Fig Corridor will do a lot to reduce the number of motorist-to-bike and bike-to-pedestrian accidents, better connect all residents along the corridor to local businesses, and make great progress toward fostering innovation by better connecting people in a healthy way,” Gonzalez said in an email.
Work still needs to take place before construction begins. Tasks for the departments of Planning and Transportation include resolving entrance and exit issues for the auto dealerships, USC and Exposition Park, and preparing an education and marketing campaign for the project so that everyone from business owners to commuters knows what to expect. Additionally, there needs to be an analysis on how the lane closures will impact filming in the area.
The MyFigueroa proposal has been in the works since 2008, when the State Department of Housing and Community Development awarded the city the Prop 1C grant for multi-modal transportation investments. It appeared to be moving forward last year, until the opposition from area business interests erupted. That led to the latest round of meetings and the city analysis. Perhaps the most interesting finding from the Planning Department’s recent examination is that the project would not significantly impact businesses in the area despite the density of traffic on the corridor.
The issue has ignited passions, particularly within the city’s growing bicycling community. Scores of bike lane supporters packed the meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, many with helmets clipped to their backpacks or briefcases.
Dominick Rubalcava, the attorney representing the Shammas Group, told the council committee he is happy with the progress that has been made, and is hopeful that a solution can be reached on the remaining concerns. If that happens, he said, the Shammas Group will withdraw the appeal.
Darryl Holter, the CEO of the Shammas Group, did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but in an emailed statement to Los Angeles Downtown News reiterated the role that the business community has played in the formation of the project.
“Businesses and institutions who formed the Figueroa Corridor were the ones who obtained the funding for the project,” he wrote. “We have identified specific problems and asked the DOT and the City to work with us to resolve them. The project will be ready to go forward when these issues have been adequately addressed.”
The departments of Transportation and Planning are expected to report back to the PLUM committee in three weeks. From there, a construction timeline could be identified.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013