LA City Council sends back financial report on cost of safe streets measure

City News Service
Saturday, February 17, 2024
Measure HLA: How street safety proposal would impact LA streets
Supporters of the measure believe safety if the top priority, but opponents say it could reduce traffic lanes and add to congestion.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The City Council Friday asked its staff to perform further financial analysis of how the passage of a street safety measure on the March ballot would impact the municipal budget and existing programs that do similar work.

Matt Szabo, the city's administrative officer, provided the council with an updated report on the implementation costs related to the Healthy Streets LA ballot measure, a resident-led initiative that would require the city to install street modifications described in its Mobility Plan 2035 whenever street improvements are made to at least one-eighth of a mile of roadway.

The Mobility Plan 2035, a 20-year city planning document for improving L.A. streets and promoting other modes of transportation such as walking, biking, or other transit options, was adopted by the City Council nine years ago. But since then, the city has only implemented 5% of the plan -- with some staff from the Department of Transportation calling it "aspirational.''

According to Szabo, Measure HLA would cost the city $3.1 billion over 10 years, which is an additional $600 million from his original estimate in November 2023. He noted that, if approved by voters, the measure would become effective roughly five weeks after the election.

The report came before the council as a "note and file,'' meaning it required no real action from the council. But several city council members criticized the report for not providing an accurate financial analysis and failing to provide a complete picture of what Measure HLA means for the city.

"I have some real concerns about some of the multipliers we're using in terms of the costs,'' said Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who chairs the council's Budget, Finance and Innovation Committee.

He added, "I feel like I need to mention that when you talk about multiplier, you also need to talk about both sides of the equation as well.''

The city of Los Angeles has a "serious'' traffic safety problem, he said. In 2023, traffic violence took the lives of 336 Angelenos and over the past five years more than 1,500 residents have been seriously injured annually.

"While we can't put a price on a life, certainly traffic violence affects all of us,'' Blumenfield said. "Just less than 24 hours ago, there was a women killed in my district walking across Ventura Boulevard at an unmarked crosswalk, which we intend to ultimately mark.''

He also pointed out that the U.S. Department of Transportation has reported that the value of human life at $11.6 million dollars, and the value of a traffic-related injury is $210,000. The economic cost of traffic deaths and injuries in Los Angeles is more than $4 billion a year, he said.

"When we talk about the cost of traffic safety measures, we should also keep that in mind in terms of the enormous cost that we have right now of not putting in critical traffic safety measures.''

Szabo said the measure would not provide any financial resources to the city to implement the plan, meaning city officials would have to work with existing pools of funding to meet its requirements.

The estimates were conservative, he said, not including escalators. He highlighted mobility plan components -- the bicycle lane network, which is 376 miles of planned bike lanes; the bicycle enhanced network, 238 miles of protected bike lanes or bike paths; and pedestrian enhanced districts, and 1,120 miles of sidewalks, that are required to be in good repair and ADA compliant.

It's estimated that it would cost $670 million to fully establish the bike lane network, $420 million for the bicycle enhanced network and $2 billion for sidewalk repairs.

"There a are number of other priorities, a number of programs, that will have to compete for the same dollars that will be required to implement the mobility plan,'' Szabo said.

Streets for All, the organization that led efforts on the ballot measure, has criticized the CAO's numbers, stating that it would actually cost $286 million over 10 years to implement pedestrian enhanced districts and bike networks.

While Blumenfield stated he did not support Measure HLA because of the possible legal issue attached to it -- voters would be able to sue the city if it fails to adhere to the measure -- he said aspects of the report conflated prices. He said he would dig into a few areas such as the cost of street resurfacing, implementing American Disability Act compliant curb ramps, street repaving costs, and sidewalk repairs.

He noted that the city is already legally required to make certain modifications to streets that are listed in the mobility plan, mainly ADA requirements.

Szabo noted that costs would increase if the improvements took more than 10 years, ending in 2035, since "costs go up every year.''

Szabo also raised concerns over a backlog of sidewalk repairs, of about 7,700 requests, at some 3,500 to 4,000 locations across the city, costing nearly $900 million over five years to eliminate.

Councilwoman Traci Park called HLA an "unfunded mandate'' and questioned staff whether the mobility plan, as enforced by Measure HLA, if approved, would impact the city's Pavement Preservation Program.

Park has come out against the measure alongside certain groups, including firefighter unions, who have concerns about how the measure will impact their response times to medical emergencies if traffic lanes are reduced to accommodate bike lanes or other features.

A representative from StreetsLA, also known as the Bureau of Street Services, said the measure could lead to the deterioration of streets as a result of delays to repavement and resurfacing services, and increase the city's liability.

Council President Paul Krekorian and Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez expressed their concerns on how HLA would interact with the city's sidewalk repair efforts and impacts to the General Fund, respectively. Szabo reiterated that sidewalk repairs are done during resurfacing efforts and performed to conform with ADA.

Councilwoman Imelda Padilla, who had concerns with HLA, zoned in on grant funding, and elicited a response from Szabo acknowledging that the departments need a coordinated office for grant work.

Both council members Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez were frustrated with the report.

Hernandez noted that the city made a $1 billion investment in the Los Angeles Police Department to cover raises, and the city needs to invest in safer streets "because we have failed to save lives.''

Krekorian also made a point that HLA may inhibit Metro transit projects or construction, so that will be another topic to look into at the committee level.

Councilwoman Nithya Raman said the mobility plan may have some intersection with existing obligations.

"I'm not quite sure how those overlap with what is required of us in the mobility plan and what additional costs we would be incurring from doing this work under the aegis of the mobility plan,'' Raman said. "I think untangling that will help us have a much more straightforward discussion.''

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