I often get push back from a few urban residents and business owners, whenever I speak at events and propose the idea of widened sidewalks, increased tree canopy, and raised, marked, and/or buffered bicycle lanes. My campaign is not merely in support of a changing streetscape, but for an evolution in how we coexist.
A mixed-use sidewalk in Lisbon, Portugal – comfortably accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists alike.
The resistance to my proposals is almost always borne of an innate fear of change. There exists in many of us an unconscious aversion to change, perhaps founded on a sense, however mistaken, that the status quo is always safer. Let’s be clear: it is only safer for those who benefit from that structure, and that structure is always perilous if it sits on unstable foundations. The pillars of fear, untruth, greed, and violence are made of the weakest mortar.
 
While it is true that the “evil we know” may be more predictable than an unknown and unquantifiable alternative, our evolution is based on a drive to innovate and disrupt. How do we reconcile these instincts that seem so diametrically opposed? We must become living testaments to the notion that oil and water can coexist. It seems a silly suggestion, until you look around at the turmoil that is escalating in otherwise developed communities.

So long as we respond to the “other” with fear and aggression we will never advance our society. We won’t evolve. We must, therefore, offer proposals for change and improvement that are tenable. Proposals tend to work best when they offer opportunity and options.

  • It might be something as relatively innocuous as getting a town to accept a plastic bag ban; offer them compelling and creative alternatives, such as reusable bags branded with their favorite store. The consumer gets a quality freebie, and the store gets the best sort of marketing possible: free grass-roots brand evangelism!),
  • convincing your community to finally accept that urban infrastructures require multimodal transportation options, and the streetscape is no longer the exclusive domain of the single-driver combustion fuel vehicle, but rather a vital part of our urban landscape that must be shared and managed with thoughtful consideration for all (develop a well-planned and comprehensive network of multimodal transport options, including pedestrian, bicycle, and public; ensure these options function efficiently and are well-signed; enforce the law for *all* stakeholders; and provide follow-up metrics to prove the merits of the model: social, safety, environmental, and economic);
  • or encouraging society to accept and adapt to the often complicated but unavoidable complexities and nuisances of the present world in which we live, with a view to improving the future *together*, as opposed to yearning for a yesteryear that only existed for an entitled few.

How do privileged individuals such as myself support positive change, without injecting our own ignorance or arrogance? How do POC, women, the disabled, and other underrepresented constituencies secure their overdue rights, without feeling that they must do it all alone? Societies do not advance by fragmentation. Lasting change works best when we are all invested. How do we acknowledge the nuances that comprise every individual, so we each feel empowered and represented? How do we, ourselves, practice this inclusivity when we’ve perhaps never had to exist in a constant state of powerlessness and underrepresentation?

The questions will be many, and embedded with complexity. I worry that the portal to a stronger society, which can only be unlocked by the many keys of a truly enlightened and unified community, will remain locked longer than we hope. I fear we’ll struggle: pushing angrily against each other, instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, confronting the obstacle together.

I don’t have the answers. Our politicians believe they are supposed to provide solutions, and we reinforce that sense with our demands and complaints. Perhaps our political system and its representatives are only supposed to provide thoughtfully crafted legislation and infrastructure. Then, We The People, are obliged to manifest the sustainable solutions that will advance our society, through our daily actions and interactions. Whatever the best option may be, it will not be discovered, let alone developed or deployed, unless we work together. At this juncture, this may seem an unrealistic and possibly untenable option. Do you have a better option? One which recognizes the humanity in each of us? One which respects and supports our equality, even though it may not yet be realized? One which refutes hate, social fragmentation, oppression, and exclusion? If we are only willing to listen to or read opinions that conform to our pre-existing beliefs and values, the status quo will be maintained, until it falls apart – a victim of its own internal frictional forces.

The challenge is in putting that change into action in a way that recognizes the urgency of the need, the diversity of given circumstances, and the enormity of the baggage we each bring to this journey.  How do we bring about positive change – inclusively, enthusiastically, intelligently, sustainably, meaningfully, realistically?

My ideas and initiatives sometimes seem unconventional to many, but I have never been so vilified as when I first proposed a new streetscape redesign in the City of Burbank, California, back on September 21st, 2009. One member of the City Council actually accused me of being part of a United Nations conspiracy to rob US citizens of their rights! Thankfully, the party responsible for that particular point of view is no longer in a position of municipal authority.

I spent nearly 2 years vociferously campaigning for this redesign, supported by my fellow City Commissioners. It was an uphill battle, greatly aided by smart advice from my friend Janette Sadik-Khan, during her tenure as commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.

A number of city residents, reliable members of the NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) constituency, enthusiastically sought to paint (if you’ll forgive the pun) my initiative as an unrealistic and socialist land grab (I’m not making this up!). Groups such as the hard-working Walk Bike Burbank got involved, working diligently to educate citizens on the potential health, safety, and community benefits of our initiative.

Nearly 8 years later, we are vindicated, in the excellent article below. One street. 8 years. At this rate, a fully multimodal transportation infrastructure is still a long way off. I will, however, not surrender my firm belief that our cities need to be more accessible, inclusive, diverse, and community-oriented than they presently are. With more than 82% of citizens living in urban areas, it is more important than ever to ensure that we make our cities more livable, walkable, bikeable, workable, breathable, and affordable.

#NeverGiveUp

After 7 years of study, the new Verdugo Avenue redesign proves safer for everyone

By Patrick Dickson|Apr. 24th, 2017

Back in 2010, the City of Burbank began a pilot transportation safety-study by reconfiguring some of the traffic lanes on Verdugo Avenue to include a center turn lane and bicycle lanes.  Prior to this, Verdugo was a solid four-lane street with two lanes in each direction.  Verdugo was chosen because of its lower vehicle traffic relative to other parallel streets, its residential character, and because the street serves a number of locations attractive to bicyclists and pedestrians.  Indeed, the Downtown Burbank Metrolink station, the Olive Recreation Center, John Burroughs High School, Lincoln Park, the Buena Vista Library, the Mary Alice O’ Connor Family Center, and the Verdugo Recreation Center are all accessible and connected by Verdugo.

The new lane-reconfiguration was initially installed March 2010 and since then, every conceivable aspect of its new operations has been closely studied and monitored by the City.  Originally a four-lane arterial street with no center turn lane, Verdugo Avenue was reconfigured into a three-lane roadway that added a center turn lane, maintained two motor vehicle through lanes, and added bicycle lanes between Olive Avenue and Hollywood Way. The purpose of this reconfiguration was to reorient the street to match the two-lane segments on each side of the corridor, improve motor vehicle and pedestrian crossing safety, calm traffic, and add bicycle lanes as identified in the City’s Bicycle Master Plan.

Immediately after the new configuration was implemented, the City did not see a significant impact on travel times, but did see slightly reduced the number of collisions.

Then, after a prescribed 18-month review of this new lane configuration, further analysis confirmed the results of the first six-month review and further demonstrated the reconfiguration did not impact travel times, yet continued to reduce the number of collisions occurring there.  In order to expand the scope of this study to include further statistics on Verdugo – the City began collecting additional vehicle counts, bicycle counts, vehicle travel times, and safety statistics.

What has been revealed by this safety program is that westbound Verdugo travel times remain relatively constant, but eastbound travel times have increased slightly by a little less than two minutes overall.  It has also been shown that vehicle queue lengths increase at the peak hour at Buena Vista and Hollywood Way.

Yet, average daily traffic volumes on Verdugo Avenue continue to be consistent with the data collected in 2010 and 2011, and continue to support the observation that Verdugo carries the same number of cars with three lanes that it did previously with four lanes. Burbank’s observation supports the theory developed from many other cities where these reconfigurations have been done that reducing through lanes and adding a center turn lane does not affect roadway capacity on streets with volumes of 18,000 cars per day or less. Without a center turn lane, the innermost lanes of four lane streets must be used by both left turning and through vehicles; thus removing two inefficient through lanes and replacing them with a dedicated turn lane achieves a similar level of roadway capacity.

According to a recent Burbank public staff report, counts taken in March 2017 by the City confirm that cyclists indeed use the bicycle lanes on Verdugo Avenue, though the volumes continue to be lower than initially counted when the bicycle lanes were installed in March 2010. Bicycle count variability is due to a variety of factors including weather, time of year, and the activity of nearby schools and parks. Bicycle surveys for all periods were conducted while school was in session and weather was not inclement.

Biggest benefit proves to be dramatic drop in severe collisions

While decreasing travel times naturally appeals to motorists; decreasing serious injuries caused by collisions is every motorists’ need.  Now that the Verdugo Avenue reconfiguration has been in place for over six years, and because the facility has been operating for so long, the city has been able to take a comprehensive look at accident data that occurred six years before and six years after the reconfiguration. It becomes obvious to all residents that the changes in accidents are the most compelling reason for maintaining Verdugo Avenue in its current configuration. The number of accidents that occurred before and after the reconfiguration declined by about six percent. However, the types of crashes that occurred changed dramatically. The most severe crash types – head-on crashes, broadsides, and overturned vehicles – declined substantially. In particular, head-on collisions were reduced from nine collisions to zero, and broadsides were reduced 24 percent according to a recent Burbank staff report .

The City report also suggests the dramatic reduction in severe crashes may also be attributed to the installation of the two-way left turn lane and the reduction in travel lanes, which reduces the number of vehicle conflicts at each intersection along the corridor. While severe collision types decreased, rear-end and sideswipe collisions increased after the installation of the reconfiguration. Upon first glance, the reconfiguration should have decreased rear-end collisions due to the new center turn lane. The increase in these collisions is not believed to be directly related to the reconfiguration; instead, many experts believe these crashes could be due to the increase in distracted driving due to smartphone use. In 2010, it was estimated that 20% of people had smart phones. In 2016, this has climbed to 77%. The rise in rear-end and sideswipe collisions is likely attributed to distracted driving. If rear-end collisions are removed from the analysis, there were 62 crashes in the six years prior to the reconfiguration and 43 crashes after the reconfiguration, or a reduction of 31 percent.

Accomplished using previously approved Measure R funding

The City of Burbank is now poised to extend the bicycle and pedestrian friendly improvements on Verdugo Avenue.  Previously approved funding sources for this nearly $900,000 effort comes from a combination of grant funds, local match, Measure R Highway funds, and Transportation Development Act (TDA) Article 3 funds, if required, to construct the project without using any City General Fund dollars. This project is eligible for all of these funding sources, and will provide the following improvements:

    • Install left turn arrows at Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Way to reduce conflicts with pedestrians, including those walking to the Buena Vista Library, Lincoln Park, and the Mary Alice O’ Connor Family Center. This will also decrease left turn delays at the two busiest intersections on Verdugo Avenue. The left turn arrows will only be triggered when there are four or more vehicles waiting in the left turn lane.
    •  Upgrade the flasher at Virginia Avenue: to use button actuated rapid flashing beacons to enhance safety for pedestrians walking to Jordan Middle School and the Olive Recreation Center.
    •  Upgrade signals at Buena Vista Street, California Street, and Catalina Street: with new traffic poles, bicycle detection, countdown pedestrian signals, and pedestrian buttons to enhance safety for pedestrians.
    •  Install traffic cameras at California Street and Victory Boulevard: to monitor traffic congestion and operations.
    •  Install striped bicycle lanes between Clybourn Avenue and Cordova Street and between Virginia Avenue and Victory Boulevard.
    •  Install striped bicycle lanes between Olive Avenue and Victory Boulevard to connect to existing bicycle lanes at Main Street. A small four-block segment of this stretch will be marked as a signed bicycle route (no separate lanes) in the eastbound direction because the street here is narrower than the rest of Verdugo.

New Verdugo Avenue proven safer for everyone

Verdugo Avenue has been one of the most extensively monitored streets in the City, and updated data shows that the street continues to efficiently accommodate motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians without substantially increasing congestion or delay. More importantly, the reconfigured Verdugo Avenue has reduced collisions and increased the safety for all roadway users, particularly by significantly reducing severe crashes like head-on collisions and broadsides.

Given that the street continues to operate safely and efficiently for everyone, and is demonstrably much safer for motorists, Human-City Burbank recommends further expansion and increased application of these low-cost proven safety and humanizing-type transportation improvements throughout Burbank by adopting this successful, proven and time-tested, “Verdugo Avenue Reconfiguration Model” for many additional appropriate Burbank locations using new Measure M local return revenues as required.  This type of roadway reconfiguration has been thoroughly proven to dramatically improve safety by providing more inclusive and complete streets that more equitably benefit everyone in Burbank.

Director of Policy & Planning for Walk Bike Burbank, local chapter of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Patrick is also a member of the Burbank Transportation Commission representing active transportation interests for the benefit of everyone.

 

Silicon Valley!

Silicon Alley!

Silicon Beach!

Silicon Forest!

Silicon Prairie!

“It’s in the trees!
It’s coming!”

When will the startup gold rush fever end?

I have been trying for 8 years, with varying degrees of success, to encourage people to stop heeding the false prophecies of certain (not all) Get-Rich-Quick Venture Capital investment vehicles, and instead seek out the truly thoughtful innovations that have the potential to bring as much social value as fiscal value to the marketplace and communities in which we exist today.

It’s time for us all to stop playing this game of “my vaporware is shinier than yours”, and try to sincerely help inventors, innovators, and other creative business builders develop the types of sustainable business propositions that can build workforces, communities, steady revenue streams, and the types of long-term economic stability that was once the hallmark of great nations. It requires time, humility, and perseverance. It requires collaboration, vision, and generosity.

Watch this clip featuring Bernie Sanders. You need not agree with his every political position to recognize the veracity of his observations herein. It applies to our approach to so many facets of life and society:

“The truth is, at some level, that we are in this together… The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it’s very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is “I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m gonna worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars.”

So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child, I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say “hey, this whole world, I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.”

The Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and one of its initiatives is to provide members with fancy new gold credit card style membership cards, replacing the former paper-based version. My reaction, when I heard this, was one of disappointment. Every initiative taken by an organization today has consequences and implications that reverberate across multiple sectors. In this case, the AEA failed to take advantage of a priceless opportunity to enhance member services, increase member engagement, and exhibit a very simple but impactful degree of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).

More than 7 years ago, the Census Bureau determined that there were nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the U.S. A stack of all those credit cards would reach more than 70 miles into space — and be almost as tall as 13 Mount Everests. If this number of credit cards were thrown away every three years, the stack of credit cards would reach almost 43 Everests high after a decade. These plastics do not biodegrade in landfills. Not so fancy.

Actor’s Equity is not a lone offender, though. When SAG and AFTRA merged, the new union had an opportunity to revisit its longstanding use of plastic credit card member IDs, but opted to stick with the short term functionality of plastics, long-term sustainability be damned. The Producers Guild and other industry organizations are equally guilty. My frustration would be less justified if there existed few alternatives. However, companies such as Discover Financial services are offering cards made of BioPVC™ and other biodegradable alternatives; well-established technologies such as mobile apps present a plethora of creative and operational opportunities; and other technologies such as NFC offer yet more potential, as their adoption becomes more widespread. So why the lack of innovation or sustainability best practices? Is it an absence of imagination? Aversion to change? Financially motivated obduracy?

As current Chair of my city’s Sustainability Commission, I have benefited from the past four years, learning about the negative consequences of unsustainable practices (both in business and personal life), as well as about the positive implications of Green and other more sustainable commercial and community options, be it through renewable materials sourcing, alternative energy programs, commercial district redesigns, and many other areas. Many initiatives in sustainability offer up more than a single-pronged benefit or solution. It’s not just about environmental conservation, or clean air, or recycling. It’s about positioning ourselves, our businesses, and our communities for a more environmentally, socially, and financially robust future.

Had the AEA decided to explore options for member identification, other than the current plastic card tradition, all sorts of exciting avenues to member engagement and empowerment might have been revealed. Imagine a mobile app (what actor does not have a mobile phone?) that represents not only the individual’s union identification, but also a resource for direct connection to their credit union, membership affiliate discount programs, health insurance tools, personalized pension and 401K insights, dues status (and mobile payment processing), and much more, besides. The cost savings to the AEA and their members alike would be enormous, the raw materials no longer needed (plastics, papers, etc) would be mountainous, and the ability to connect more dynamically with membership would elevate the usefulness, value and – by extension – collective bargaining power of the AEA.

To those who would argue that they would not wish to entrust such data to a mobile device that might lose power, break, be stolen, or otherwise be compromised…I suggest they note that more wallets are stolen and lost than mobile devices. The Baby Boomer generation may not be able to acclimatize themselves to the notion of a cardless society, but I personally am quite excited by the idea of saving money, time, and materials – simply by aggregating the contents of my wallet into a well-protected, institutionally insured, cloud-based ecosystem that poses no more risk to our identities than we currently face today. The promise that lies in such innovation far outweighs the risks, and I can think of no better collective to act upon this promise than Actors themselves. This opportunity seems to have been missed, but I sincerely hope that other organizations might think a little more expansively about each initiative they take, going forward. The smallest tweak might offer far greater rewards (and savings) than they might imagine.