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Joel Epstein

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Lessons From Brooklyn for the LADOT

Posted: 08/25/11 01:00 PM ET

Like a victory lap coming off its big win in the Prospect Park West Bike Lane Battle of the Bulge case, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) is continuing its public space transforming work with its makeover of accident-prone and pedestrian menace Grand Army Plaza.

Long a challenging environment for even New York's most alert cabbies, truckers and intrepid walkers and bikers, the transformation of Grand Army Plaza continues with a new lane for those coming off of Eastern Parkway, new landscaped pedestrian islands, a new traffic signal and better signage and wayfinding.

And the beauty of this project is it has been embraced by some of the vocal critics of the adjacent bike lanes, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Earlier this week I toured the thoughtful project, which has something for everyone and the impressive Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch at the center of the Plaza with NYCDOT's Assistant Commissioner for Traffic Management Ryan Russo.

The Plaza, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, is a monument to the country's Union soldiers for their service in the Civil War. On a beautiful Brooklyn morning after a night of heavy rain, Russo showed me how drivers circling around the monument from Eastern Parkway or Flatbush Avenue will now be able to more safely access Prospect Park West and the entrance to Prospect Park. Likewise, once completed pedestrians and bikers should find it easier to get safely across from the Brooklyn Public Library and Prospect Park to the monument via a new crosswalk that runs from the monument to the park.

This is the kind of project that even bike lane adversary cum former NYCDOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall (Mrs. Chuck Schumer) and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher litigator Jim Walden can't take issue with.

As I saw when researching earlier pieces on other NYCDOT's projects, New York's DOT has done an exemplary job crunching the data, developing its plans and conducting outreach to the community before putting its crews to work on well-designed complete streets projects that enhance pedestrian and driver safety while improving the flow of traffic around the 24/7 city. Los Angeles, the LADOT and its new General Manager Jaime de la Vega would do well to reach out to the NYCDOT and to study the data-driven programs New York has implemented to reduce traffic congestion, improve car and pedestrian safety and increase the amount and quality of public space in the five boroughs.

While showing me the Grand Army Plaza project, Assistant Commissioner Russo pointed out a former traffic island that the NYCDOT has earlier reclaimed, turning the triangle into a bit of landscaped green in the asphalt jungle.

LA, like New York, has countless traffic triangles like this, often forlorn affairs, which for small money could become rainwater catchment basins beneath islands of low irrigation southern California greenery. And like New York, LADOT already has the labor on the payroll so we are not talking about vanity City Council projects too costly to undertake in a time of eternal economic retrenchment. Indeed perhaps the first of de la Vega's new public space traffic triangle projects should be the already existing but shamelessly fenced off Bundy Triangle Park at Santa Monica Blvd and Bundy Drive in West LA. Businesses at this eyesore of an intersection will benefit from the attention, as will the many West LA families who live nearby with nowhere else in the area to take their young children. LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has promised action on this "park" and we have made some nice progress towards its reopening since we began meeting with his office several months ago.

As we have read countless times, New York under Mayor Bloomberg and his smart, hardworking team at the DOT is remaking itself into a city known for its parks, open space and complete streets philosophy that recognizes the role the roads play for drivers, buses, pedestrians and bikers in mobility and recreation. Seeing the latest of NYCDOT's efforts in this regard drives home the countless opportunities LA has to transform itself from a great big freeway to a complete streets model for the Southwest. Let's hope General Manager de la Vega has the vision to look beyond the hood of his Hummer to New York and other model transportation departments for inspiration and counsel.

Yours in transit,
Joel

 
 
 

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