With funding from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s RENEW program the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has created a “Model Street Manual. One of the most important ways to make our communities health promoting is to remake our streets and public spaces. In acknowledgement of this critical strategy, LA County’s RENEW initiative for stemming childhood obesity and diabetes supported an effort to rethink the way we structure our physical environment. A team of local and national experts was assembled to help the County come up with model streets and public spaces that are nothing short of environments conducive to good nutrition, exercise and wellness. The challenge facing the healthy streets team was to design streets that improve public health. And with that in mind, the team followed the lead of the New York City Department of Transportation and others in developing a new streets manual. Think of the manual as the DNA of LA’s streets dictating to city planners how to build a bike lane and how to turn a traffic island into a pocket park.
Now that the team has finished with its work, the RENEW street manual will become LA County’s roadmap for getting from our current landscape of too many streets that are “ugly and difficult to cross,” to streets that encourage walking, biking and other physical activity.
In LA that is like taking a backhoe and bulldozer to the places in your community that add nothing positive to the environment. In a County known for its multi-lane boulevards that sometimes seem to go on uninterrupted forever, the new manual outlines a vision that fosters more shorter blocks in a grid so that residents are encouraged to walk, jog and ride bikes.
Universal pedestrian access means sidewalks unhindered by utility boxes in the middle of the way as one finds today on too many of our sidewalks. Pedestrian Crossings can be built in a way that lets pedestrians safely cross the street without fearing for their life. Safe crossings at public transit stops are extra critical and performance measures should be used to evaluate the success of the new crossings.
Under the RENEW vision, all streets should be suitable and safe for cyclists and pedestrians as well as drivers. Most existing street manuals focus on how to design the street for cars.
Traffic Calming – designing streets employing lane reductions, medians, pedestrian islands, street trees, bike lanes, textured surfaces, raised pedestrian crossings and speed bumps can also help make streets safer.
Consistent with LA Metro’s expansion plans and County voters approval of Measure R, a half-cent transportation sales tax, the RENEW manual advises communities on how to better integrate transit into the community, using stops to foster a sense of community. Or, as one attendee of the planning workshop observed, when it comes to travel lanes, think beyond the car to bus lanes, bus rapid transit (BRT) and streetcars.
In a county known to many as a collection of disconnected suburbs, a good part of the challenge might be thought of as Retrofitting Suburbia.
By breaking through cul-de-sacs and breaking up long blocks with safe crosswalks LA will be rethinking itself and creating an environment that is more conducive to exercise and healthy living. The goal is nothing short of making a LA, a county with weather that is the envy of the world, a great place to walk and bike as well.
Joel Epstein, an editor at The Urban Times, is a Los Angeles resident, Metro rider, and strategic communications consultant focused on transportation, public health and other critical urban issues. For more about Joel visit: JoelEpstein.com.