So the other day, I found myself walking on La Cienega between La Cienega/Jefferson Station and the corner of La Cienega and Washington.
This area is surprisingly industrial, which makes walking on the west side of La Cienega a little bland – there’s just not a lot there. We’re not talking about the huge factories or distribution warehouses you find in the IE; this is all small scale industry – small businesses and workshops. I have no problem with urban industrial districts, quite the opposite; for example, in my post on the Union Station area, I noted that progressives have a weird proclivity for waxing nostalgic about well-paying industrial jobs in theory, and regulating them out of existence in practice. From a selfish point of view, the world would be a little less magical if I didn’t get to smell See’s Candies making chocolates from the Expo Line when the wind blows the right way.
Industrial uses, by their very nature, have a high ratio of square footage to employees. If the west side of La Cienega is industrial, it’s kind of a border vacuum, so the east side really needs to pick up the slack. The blob of SFR zoning between La Cienega and Clyde (in yellow) really doesn’t help in that regard. The areas that look like they’re zoned for multi-family (in orange) are mostly zone RD1.5 and RD2, which require 1,500 SF and 2,000 SF of lot area per unit, making them relatively low density. Really, there shouldn’t be any zoning this light on the Westside.
For its part, Culver City has both sides of La Cienega zoned industrial, and the residential neighborhood to the west is zoned Two-Family Residential, which only allows SFRs and duplexes. Again, this is ridiculously low for the Westside.
But really, I wanted to write about two specific locations on La Cienega, not general land-use (hey, I said this was a random post).
La Cienega and Fairfax
This first one should be uncontroversial. If you’re walking on the east side of La Cienega (the more interesting side to walk on), there’s no crosswalk for you at Fairfax.
This means that in practice, if you wanted to be safe, you’d have to detour all the way to Adams.
I’m aware that legally, there’s an “unmarked crosswalk” at Fairfax (as well as crossing Fairfax at Smiley and Perry). But let’s be real here. None of those locations have curb cuts. Crossing Fairfax at an unmarked crosswalk is dangerous, and probably nearly impossible at rush hour. It was Saturday morning, so my friend and I dashed across during a gap in traffic, but I wouldn’t want that to part of my day on a regular basis.
What’s really weird here is that at the signalized part of the intersection, they give you a crosswalk and pedestrian lights to cross to the traffic island – a place that, once you’re there, you have nowhere to go but back where you came. The problem for pedestrians on La Cienega could be fixed relatively easily: just add a repeater off the signal heads for La Cienega northbound on the ramp to Fairfax northbound. When La Cienega northbound is red, turn that light red too, and let people cross. There’s no need to add a new phase to the signal. Just a couple hundred feet of trench, a mast arm, two ped signal heads, and maybe three traffic signal heads. With luck, there’s spare room in the lamp drivers. I’d even accept a beg button here to placate traffic concerns (ped volumes are pretty low, but check out the Google Street view if you think no one walks here).
Now the other issue is less obvious: if you’re walking south on the east side of Fairfax, and you want to cross to the west side of La Cienega, this is a very roundabout path. Same goes for walking north on the west side of La Cienega and wanting to get to the east side of Fairfax.
You could still solve this without changing the signal timing. Drop another crosswalk on Fairfax, with the signals showing the same thing as the ones at the first crosswalk. Add a crosswalk on La Cienega on the south side of Fairfax, which would run concurrently with the signal phase for Blackwelder. This one would require a beg button; I think the phase for Blackwelder is actuated (i.e. only comes up when a car is on the detector). This one might require some new hardware in the case.
A longer term option would be to eliminate the high-speed geometry for the turn onto Fairfax, and tighten that move up into the main intersection. That would free up some space for a pocket park.
La Cienega/Jefferson Bus Loop
This idea will probably be a little less popular, and I’m not sure about it, but I’ll throw it out there anyway.
When the Expo Line was built, the La Cienega/Jefferson station got a 5-story parking garage on the southeast side and a bus loop off of Jefferson on the east side. The connecting bus services are routes 38, 105, 217, 705, and Culver City 4. The 105, 705, and Culver City 4 are just passing by on La Cienega, so in the interest of not delaying through passengers, we don’t want them to turn into the bus loop – they should just stop on La Cienega. The 38 runs from the Washington/Fairfax transit hub to downtown via Jefferson – a route not much different from Expo Line itself, and I wouldn’t expect many transfers. Turning into the loop would be trivial but unnecessary for the 38 eastbound, but would cause delays for the 38 westbound.
The only service for which using the loop really makes sense is the 217, because many trips originate or terminate at La Cienega/Jefferson, and it’s a time point for the route. The 217 never runs headways less than 12 minutes, so the traffic light for the bus loop is really only going to be used by 5 vehicles per hour.
On the other hand, the driveways for the parking garage are unsignalized, so your only option is to turn right onto La Cienega northbound or Jefferson eastbound. The former is fine, but pretty much no one wants to go east on Jefferson – they just came from downtown and probably want to go west on Jefferson or south on La Cienega. Want proof? Go hang out there in the afternoon, and watch how many cars come out and flip a u-turn in the middle of Jefferson. With minimal onsite work, the garage driveway could be reconfigured to use the bus loop traffic light so that traffic can turn left (there’s no current aerials, you’ll have to take my word for it).
A lot of people are probably not happy that the garage was built in the first place. The 476 parking spaces provided probably added something in the vicinity of $10-12 million to the cost of Expo Phase 1. To recover that cost, even with generous assumptions (5% interest rate, 50-year return period, each spot used 330 days a year), you’d have to charge over $4 per day for parking. Currently, the garage is pretty full, so it is being used, but Metro is giving the parking away for free. It’s unfair to subsidize parking for people who can afford a car, considering that the median income of LACMTA rail riders is about $26k and 55% don’t have a car.
I’d have no problem charging for parking, though note that since the garage doesn’t fill up, the marginal value of parking is currently $0. As ridership increases, charging for parking should become more viable. I’d also be pretty excited to see what someone could do in terms of adaptive reuse, and that might be a faster way to recoup the cost of building the garage. But until one of those things happens, why not make the best of things as they are today, and make it easy for drivers to turn left on Jefferson? I’d rather see people drive to a transit station than drive the whole way.