Planning officials provided a number of quick updates on mobility projects at a special City Council meeting this week.
Many of the updates concerned typical long-term planning topics such as circulation studies, while more pointed projects such as the Verdugo Wash linear park also came up. No decisions were made, as the presentations were information-only, but many of the projects are due to come before the council again for myriad reasons.
This is perhaps the most wide-ranging of the city’s plans, as it encompasses all facets of transportation and safety for those undertaking it. Pragmatically, it’s more of an approach than it is any singular project.
Vision Zero is a movement that originated in Sweden that aims to change the culture surrounding transportation and modify longstanding mobility norms to prevent serious injuries and deaths from transportation-related collisions. For example, instead of viewing traffic fatalities as an inevitability of modern life and foisting best practices on individual drivers, Vision Zero encourages viewing deaths as being preventable and engineering to account for the likely failures of people into design plans.
“This is a holistic and all-encompassing philosophy and approach to improving roadway safety, and it includes all modes of transportation,” explained Bradley Calvert, assistant director of community development. “For us internally, it also encompasses many departments, from the enforcement from police, to the implementation from public works and engineering, to the planning that [the Community Development Department] does. This is really about safe street design and speed reduction, because we know that speed kills us.”
Considering a Vision Zero approach to transportation initiatives will require unlearning some outdated practices, as Calvert explained it. Very often, surface roadways were designed to move vehicles quickly and to minimize congestion. While those designs have the motorist in mind, they often function to the detriment of pedestrians or cyclists.
The year “2019, for pedestrian collisions, was not a good year for us,” Calvert said, “and definitely shows the need to move forward with the citywide pedestrian plan in the same spirit as the bicycle transportation plan because we have seen a decline and stabilization of those.”
In some locations, Calvert noted, it may be appropriate to actually remove right-turn lanes to stymy motorists inclined to thoughtlessly engage a turn with pedestrians on a collision course. Though that would ensure occasional pileups of vehicles waiting in a travel lane, slowing down those travel lanes ultimately is a Vision Zero goal.
One-way streets may also be a consideration in some cases, Calvert added, though those often encourage speedy motor travel.
“Yes, it does assist in moving automobiles faster, at times,” he added. “What it also does is create a more hostile environment for multiple modes of transportation, including bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Councilwoman Paula Devine said she has recommended some one-way streets in the past — Doran and Louise streets, she said — and hoped to continue exploring them as the city considers roadway changes later this year.
“One-way streets have been my bailiwick for six years, since I’ve been on this council,” she said. “Hopefully, maybe this summer we can get to that. Mr. Calvert is making a really good argument against one-way streets, I have to say, but I still think it’s worth looking into.”
Of course, in the quest to make a more walkable city, Calvert said it won’t be just the safety infrastructure that manifests the change.
“While we can do all the safety improvements that we need to make it a safer environment, the experience is what’s going to encourage people to walk more as well,” he said. “Not just how safe it is, but is it an enjoyable experience? Is it a walk that someone wants to take?”
Bicycle Transportation Plan
In crafting those pedestrian plans, the city is expected to lean into what made its bicycle infrastructure planning so successful, and also continue implementing the bike improvements.
“The purpose of this plan is to create a network of routes — rather than just discreet lanes, discreet facilities — that allows our residents and our users to be able to go north-south-east-west,” Calvert said, “and move from employment centers to commercial centers to residential centers with a connected network of bicycle facilities.”
Though the full transportation plan, which was crafted in 2012, has not been implemented, the pieces of it that have have “in our opinion, worked effectively” Calvert said. These pieces include dedicated bike pathways such as the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk and the “sharrows” that delineate bike lanes that share roadways with vehicles.
Calvert pointed out that 2012 was a peak year for bike collisions in Glendale.
“We have seen a steady decline since then,” he said. “Granted, 2019 went up slightly compared to 2018, but was still below 2017 — really, below every year’s level with the exception of 2018. We do believe that the work that was put forth in that plan…has done what it’s intended to do.”
The age of the plan will necessitate updates to certain facets, but Calvert said those would happen when funding and time became available for the individual projects. It was clear from council comments that the sharrows would have to be rethought.
“It might have been good at the time, but it’s really out of date and not what a city like Glendale deserves,” Councilman Dan Brotman said. “We’ve got, what, 60% of our infrastructure right now as sharrows? I strongly feel sharrows on high-speed roads are not bicycle infrastructure. It’s extremely dangerous riding down those roads, sharrow or no sharrow.”
Added Councilman Ardy Kassakhian: “I don’t want to seem Pollyannaish and think we’re going to live in a culture like Denmark where we’re going to have more bikes than cars. I think we’re maybe a ways away from that but we can certainly make the bicyclists that we have now much safer. Sharrows seem to be a target marker for some drivers, unfortunately.”