‘Slow Streets’ Modifications, Social Distancing Discussed By City Council

Councilmen Ara Najarian (left) and Dan Brotman debated the merits of “slow streets” enhancements on Tuesday night.

In the immediate future, the city will explore implementing what are called “slow streets” modifications in a variety of neighborhoods, which will be aimed at giving pedestrians and cyclists extra cushion as they cross into roadways to keep distance from those on sidewalks.
Longer term, officials will target other areas for demonstration projects, which would essentially be a temporary test run to see if it’s worth the fuller investment in installing pedestrian- and bike-friendly enhancements throughout the city. The City Council agreed to both items on Tuesday as part of a broader discussion on how to continue responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and what it means for residents.
“Social distancing, I think, is going to be with us for many months, and people [who called in for comment] mentioned how important it was to get outside,” said Councilman Dan Brotman, a staunch advocate for the proposals. “We do see a lot more people out and about. The sidewalks, as a number of people said, you find yourself having to walk into the street anyway, because you don’t want to get too close to someone else.”
On the other hand, Councilman Ara Najarian said he was concerned that the move would run afoul of Los Angeles County guidelines and directives regarding social distancing, citing a recent conference call in which Department of Public Health officials said they feared slow streets changes would result in more people congregating in violation of the “Safer at Home” orders.
“That’s one hurdle I don’t know how we’re going to get over,” Najarian said. “We all know there are legions of our residents who refuse to wear face coverings. We’re just going to bring them closer together.”
There are two basic interpretations of slow streets. An active slow street would use signage to block one lane at each access point to close off the street to through traffic, essentially only allowing residents, delivery drivers and first responders to drive through that part of the neighborhood. By contrast, a passive slow street remains open to through traffic but utilizes signs periodically that draw attention to high pedestrian presence there.
“A number of cities have done this, recognizing that more people are getting out walking and cycling and trying to create more room, more space and more opportunities,” explained Bradley Calvert, assistant director of community development. “Other cities have also seen this as an opportunity, with the limited amount of traffic on the roads, to in a way re-imagine the streets and how they could potentially be used.”
Calvert added that no streets would be fully closed through these changes and that a variety of outside funding mechanisms, including a partnership with the Southern California Association of Governments, were available to pay for the signs.
Demonstration projects would, well, demonstrate how more permanent modifications would function. The most obvious examples would be creating temporary bike lanes or “bulb-out” curb extensions to gauge the real-world impacts of those traits on a street.
“Some of the benefits here is that it really allows the city to test some of these concepts before committing full on to what could be very expensive infrastructure improvements,” Calvert said. “This allows us to do that on a more inexpensive basis and then measure and test that.”
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian supported exploring the proposals even if he wasn’t convinced they would pan out, on the caveat that they be implemented in neighborhoods where residents have clamored for them. He added that he was skeptical of adhering strictly to the county’s implications, given what he called an inconsistency among which businesses were deemed essential for the pandemic and therefore allowed to remain open.
“In concept, I don’t think this is a bad idea. I don’t even want to get into the logic of the county’s directives,” Kassakhian said. “I will respect healthcare professionals’ recommendations on how to remain safe, but let’s not sit here and pretend there’s any logic to some of these directives that are being handed down.”
Najarian, touting his longtime advocacy for active transportation and time on the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, acknowledged the unanimous opinion that Glendale needs slower street traffic — “It’s been one of our main complaints for at least 10 years,” he said — but said transportation planning needs more long-term consideration and less “shooting from the hip,” as he called this.
“We can’t just put a little street here and a little street there that doesn’t lead to anything,” he said. “This is the way transportation planners do these things. You don’t just throw something out and say ‘OK, we’re going to do a pilot program in three weeks.’
“The city of San Jose rejected this outright, and San Jose is not some conservative bastion,” Najarian added. “They are the active transportation hub of Silicon Valley.”
Najarian also echoed liability worries from Mayor Vrej Agajanian, but Brotman retorted and said the city would be more active in addressing broken and disrupted sidewalks if it was concerned about liability. Najarian contended that liability between a trip hazard sidewalk and a motorist careening into pedestrians was vastly different.
Brotman also opined that working with other organizations to network this infrastructure would be to effectively punt the issue.
“To tie ourselves up with a bunch of bureaucracy, that’s how you get nothing done,” he said. “That’s how cities get nothing done. They just plod along and nothing happens.”
Najarian ultimately stood alone in rejecting the two proposals.

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