Below is 2017 City Council District 5 Candidate Paul Koretz’ full questionnaire response to Bike The Vote L.A.:
1. What role do you see for walking, biking, and transit in improving the lives of Angelenos?
I took a trip with an LA transportation planner friend to China in 1998. We visited a number of cities, most notably Beijing. Their system was one that I would to see us emulate. Millions of people were using bicycles, transit, and walking to get around. People were using bicycles everywhere. It was incredible. Hardly any private ownership of cars.
We met with government leaders and spoke with them about how difficult it was to get the public to move toward bicycles and to create bicycle lanes and paths in a built-out city where streets were designed for cars, like Los Angeles. We explained that we were trying to figure out how to move in their direction transportation-wise, and strongly encouraged them not to copy Los Angeles as they become more affluent and people want private ownership of cars. As the world knows now, they didn’t listen to us. Beijing traffic is a parking lot, and air quality is worse than LA on its worst day ever. Gas masks abound, and one can always see the air.
We need to have a system of bike lanes that is connected enough that less skillful cyclists can get to their destinations without fear of being hit. Right now, most of our system is still bits and pieces. We need to move towards a connected system that would allow a much higher percentage of cyclists to get to their destinations by bicycle. (Personally, I did the 500 mile+ California AIDS Ride, but I don’t possess the skill to ride my bicycle safely to work at City Hall on a major commercial street like Beverly Boulevard without a bike lane). I have
helped us to move in that direction. Working with the late Bill Rosendahl, we had the City commit to spending a percentage of our Measure R funds on bicycle and pedestrian improvements, which I believe was a first. I also helped get a substantial grant in the Mid-City West area for bike lane funding. Years ago, I cast the deciding vote to create the bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood when I was on the City Council there. I have also been a supporter of bikesharing, and unsuccessfully objected to Los Angeles selecting a different vendor than other Westside Cities. We must make those systems work together for bikesharing to be as effective as possible.
The logical thing to do to help people walk more (remember the song “Nobody Walks in LA”?) is to make crossings safer. As bureaucratic and costly as our process is, I have gotten new traffic signals added, with more in the process of being installed, like those on Pico Boulevard. There are more in the queue, including an important one on La Brea. I have also pushed our transportation bureaucracy to add a few seconds to crossings where senior citizens don’t have enough time. In addition, the City of Los Angeles, at my request, is about to put in a mid-block crossing on Westwood Blvd. between Kinross and Weyburn in the Village, to make one of the most dangerous, frequently jaywalked spots safer. Also, we have abandoned some underground street crossings near schools because of dangers of adults loitering in the crossing and causing trouble. I believe those issues can be overcome and those crossings re-opened.
Like bicycling, but even more so, connectivity is crucial. I believe many more people will use LYFT, Uber, taxis shuttles, bicycles and walking for the last mile, but 5, 10, even 20 mile gaps in our transit system make it almost impossible to rely on these transit options as an alternative to the automobile. Also, some flaws such as the atgrade crossing of EXPO at Overland and Westwood slow north-south traffic while reducing east-west traffic. I fought against that element of the EXPO line once I was elected to Council, but it was already a done deal, and the EXPO Board voted unanimously for the at-grade crossing. I was appointed to the Board after that.
I have helped to get the EXPO Line built while a member of the EXPO Board, and have supported the Purple Line connecting much of my district to transit.
I am pushing for adoption of a different mode of transportation, Personalized Rapid Transit, or PRT, to fill the gaps in our system. It is inexpensive (roughly 20 million dollars a mile!), quick to build, partly because it is largely prefabricated, cheap to maintain, bypasses stops until the destination is reached, and at top speed (with the newest technology being modeled in Tel Aviv) can travel 155 miles an hour. It is a system of above-ground automated vehicles that provide a personally safe environment because, the way in which its designed, you are only physically travelling with your those in your own party. Also, PRT exists in various places in the world, including an older system in Morgantown, West Virginia, which has a history of no fatalities.
A complete PRT system could be built that connects all the gaps in our system in as quickly as five years. This would be critical, not only to quickly address our worsening traffic, but because automobiles create much of our climate-changing air pollution. Climate scientists agree that without reducing our greenhouse gases dramatically within ten years, we may reach the point of no return for human survival. If we can build such a system and get other cities across the country and the world to do the same, we can contribute mightily toward reducing climate change. Also, Measure M does not fully fund the transit lines identified in the Measure, and some will not be built for 20 years or more even if we do get the funding. Using PRT, the entire plan could be funded with only the Measure M money, and the projects could be completed decades ahead of schedule.
A positive development to transit in LA is that millennials seem very willing to abandon automobile usage. If this trend continues, combined with the development of these modes, we may be able to dramatically reduce traffic and air pollution in the coming years.
2. In 2015, Los Angeles approved Mobility Plan 2035, the first update to the Transportation Element of its General Plan since 1999. Mobility Plan 2035 puts “safety first” in transportation decisions, and provides a vision for a transportation system composed of safe and quality transit, bicycle, pedestrian, and automotive options. Do you support the goals of this plan, and how would you like to see the plan implemented in CD5?
Yes, I support the goals of this plan, and have received some blowback from constituents for doing so. Many are angry because of the places where we have reduced a lane of traffic and replaced it with a bike lane, such as on a portion of Palms Blvd. Drivers are inconvenienced and they don’t see many bicycles on the bike lanes. I recognize that it may take some time for both a cultural mindset shift toward thinking more of bicycles as a viable mode of transportation, and greater connectivity of bike lanes to make them a more widely used alternative. It takes some vision.
My answer to question one also describes my vision for implementation of the Mobility Plan in CD5, as well as across the city.
3. Mobility Plan 2035 enacted a ‘Vision Zero’ for Los Angeles, with the goal of eliminating traffic-related deaths within 20 years. In order to meet this goal, LADOT identified a “High Injury Network” to prioritize safety improvements on L.A.’s most dangerous streets. However, after a year and a half, we still haven’t seen much action to reduce transportation-related deaths on City streets. What do you see as the hold-ups for improving safety on Los Angeles streets, and how would you work to address these impediments in reducing speeding to save lives?
The City of LA is using a data driven approach to prioritizing intersections and neighborhoods where a high percentage of traffic fatalities and severe injuries occur. Other government entities, especially LAUSD, employ a more haphazard approach. In many instances, LAUSD is listening to the loudest voices, especially those of LAUSD parents, to drive their priorities. A successful program will not work that way. These solutions must be data driven. We all need to get on the same page so we can coordinate and prioritize the right intersections. This is clearly one of the hold-ups. I will work with the County, School District and City to prioritize the areas of greatest need. Funding is limited (although we recently obtained additional grant funding) and must be spent in a very targeted way.
One of the impediments is simply that everything involving government takes time. Things are moving forward, but on a methodical timetable. Also, everything involving engineering and construction takes a lot of time, so the first and most expeditious area of focus is the public education and outreach component.
Some progress has already been made. LADOT has identified a network of streets as a High Injury Network (HIN), where strategic investments will have the most impact in reducing severe injuries and deaths. Despite making up only 6% of our city streets, almost 2/3rds of pedestrian deaths and serious injuries occur in the HIN. People walking and biking combined statistically make up for 15% of collisions, but account for 50% of all deaths. It has been decided that this is where the earliest focus will be. We are developing a citywide media campaign, implementing the vision zero education and outreach strategy. An RFQ process is concluding and contracts are soon to be awarded, after which a planning phase will occur, and then the outreach and education will commence.
We are also increasing enforcement in the HIN, but traffic enforcement has limited success. After heavy enforcement in an area, people return to their old habits in a month or two. We don’t have resources to constantly patrol every area that needs it. However, in many areas we can’t even use radar and ticket speeders because our speed surveys have expired. We must follow through on our Vision Zero goal of updating 100% of the expired speed surveys by 2017.
San Francisco’s Vision Zero effort utilizes an online tracking tool so people can see what is being done in real time and hold the city and their elected leaders accountable. This would also provide more awareness to the public of the areas in which progress is being made and the things that are being done. I am going to explore introducing a motion when Council returns to session, to suggest that we implement such a tool.
4. Angelenos recently approved Metro’s transportation funding plan, Measure M, with an impressive mandate of support from over 71% of voters. What opportunities do you see for Measure M to improve the options for how Angelenos get around? Given that Measure M will return millions of dollars directly to the City of Los Angeles each year, do you support increasing the funding the City allocates to making it easier and safer for Angelenos to walk and bike?
I proudly supported and campaigned for the passage of Measure M. It will make a tremendous difference in how Angelenos get around. I will continue to advocate for State and Federal funding to expedite the construction of Measure M projects.
I support prioritizing the projects that move around the most number of people, not just the most number of automobiles. This includes projects that improve pedestrian and bike infrastructure, improve sidewalks, and multi-modal projects that increase the vibrancy of local streets and neighborhoods. Working with Mayor Garcetti, I will continue to hold the Metro Board accountable and ensure that they follow through with their commitment to improving bicycle and pedestrian safety.
Of course, I support increasing funding to make it easier and safer for Angelenos to walk and bike. As previously mentioned, I pushed to spend money on biking and pedestrian infrastructure with Measure R local return funds as a member of the City Council’s Transportation Committee and budget committee, and supported the LA City Bicycle Plan in 2010. I will continue to lead the effort to prioritize such spending.
5. There is universal agreement that Westwood Boulevard is a dangerous street for people walking and bicycling. Westwood Boulevard is identified as a corridor on LADOT’s High Injury Network, bike lanes were considered a priority in the 2010 Bike Plan, and the project has wide community support, including from UCLA and the Westwood Village Improvement Association. However, implementation of continuous bicycle infrastructure on Westwood has stalled for years. Prioritization of safety improvements for the street was removed from the Mobility Plan 2035 by an amendment co-authored by Councilmember Koretz. Will you commit to implementing quality bicycle infrastructure on Westwood Boulevard during the next Council term? (If not, what specific alternative do you support to improve the safety of people walking and bicycling in the area, and to address the high rate of crashes related to speeding on Westwood Boulevard?)
I agree that Westwood Boulevard is a dangerous street for people walking and bicycling in Westwood Village. It is a corridor on LADOT’s High Injury Network. That is why I want to discourage cyclists from using this street. As the Councilmember representing Westwood Village, I consider any other approach to be totally irresponsible. I did not support the location that was proposed for the Mobility Plan 2035. This proposal would have squeezed bike lanes onto Westwood Boulevard, while not taking into consideration the dangers this presents to bike riders. There would have been too many spots for interaction between cyclists and buses, as well as cars making turns. Because I agree that there needs to be a North-South route into Westwood and UCLA, I support moving the bike lane ONE BLOCK over to much safer Gayley Avenue, which does not have 900 buses and tens of thousands of cars daily. Having to travel one extra block for safety purposes seems like a tiny sacrifice worth making. I would note that the Westwood Blvd. route has widespread community opposition, including every Westwood homeowners association, neighborhood council, and community council. It also has the opposition of the business organization that officially covers Westwood Village, the West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
I just want to highlight that while on the L.A. City Council, I have provided leadership on a number of bicycle related issues:
- I helped secure very substantial funding for bike lanes in the Mid-City West area;
- I helped implement a set of bike lanes that cross West Hollywood and Los Angeles boundaries on Fairfax Avenue;
- As a member of the Council’s Transportation Committee, I worked with the late Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, then Chair of the Transportation Committee, to fund the installation of many bike lanes and pavement marking projects throughout the City;
- I authored the motion adopted by the City Council to permit a person to secure their bicycle on a parking meter stand without violating city law; and
- I authored a motion adopted by the City Council directing several city departments to report back quarterly on their progress of implementing the 2010 bike plan, which is part of the City’s commitment to transform L.A. to a multi-modal transportation system.
As for pedestrian safety, I am pushing for mid-block crosswalks where possible, to prevent mid-block jaywalking accidents. A key midblock crosswalk location is about to be installed in Westwood Village on Westwood Blvd. soon.
6. Bike share systems have started to be installed across Los Angeles, but as systems expand to different areas of Los Angeles and neighboring cities, experts foresee two major obstacles: stations that are discontinuous/too far apart and stations with unsafe walking conditions that limit access. How would you envision the growth of bike share in the City of Los Angeles and regionally?
One of the most valuable elements of bike share is to provide the first mile/last mile to transit. We need to expand to have bikeshare at every transit stop. Also, I believe bikeshare will initially draw in a high percentage of more casual riders—one would hope bikeshare would be placed near bike lanes and paths to provide greater safety for such riders. Studies have shown that bike share replaces some car trips and leads to greater levels of bike ownership, as more occasional riders become regular ones. As we expand bikeshare, we can keep stations more contiguous, which will help the program become more successful. We also should focus and spend some of our now-committed $25 million a year in sidewalk repair on the sidewalks near transit stations and bikeshare stations or in some cases both. I had to battle to get a sidewalk built leading to the Sepulveda EXPO station, and am still fighting to get passible sidewalks leading to a couple of the other EXPO stations in my district. These would be needed for bike share placements as well.
We also need to be sure that bikeshare vendors across city lines can work in cooperation with each other. I argued against LA selecting a different vendor from the vendor selected in other Westside cities because of the difficulties in coordination. Inability to coordinate will make bikeshare much less practical where LA shares boundaries with other cities such as Culver City, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica. A mutual acceptance policy must be implemented by all these cities, including LA.