Culver City, California, in metro Los Angeles, plans to address traffic and mobility challenges resulting from three decades of transit oriented development (TOD) around light rail. To both create and achieve community buy-in for a new, recently approved visioning plan, the city started 2017 with a multi-pronged community engagement campaign that:
- Increased citizen stakeholder participation in planning discussions about traffic and mobility improvements related to the TOD District.
- Incorporated community traffic concerns and solutions into transportation planning for future projects.
In addition to research, David Alpaugh, principal of urban design and planning at Johnson Fain, helped the city community engagement effort that went far beyond typical town meetings held after plans are developed.
Looking Back at Culver City’s TOD
Before the light rail station, streets reinvented Culver City’s downtown, Alpaugh explained.
“The TOD expanded the energy into the east side,” he said.
The high density development that followed the light rail station offered housing, retail and workforce opportunities. There was initially skepticism around density, like parking ratios, and other transit concerns, and there has been a ripple effect of traffic impacts on residential neighborhoods in the surrounding areas, said Alpaugh.
To address concerns and plan for the future — the TOD-related visioning plan was part of a larger general planning effort — Culver City had many questions, like “What portion of the traffic is simply passing through?” said Alpaugh, whose firm studied the city’s traffic. City residents number just under 40,000, according to Data USA, but daily trips coming in and out are about 72,000 — many of them in the area of the transit station.
Those looking for faster routes through neighborhoods increased traffic, he said. So residents began asking the city to look at ways to mitigate traffic — better pedestrian crossings and sidewalks, stop signs, speed bumps, “granular things at a small scale,” he explained.
But their mobility issue is a much bigger problem.”
Economic Development Continues to Drive Traffic Eastward
As industry continues to grow beyond nearby tech hub Playa Vista, the demand for space to operate in Los Angeles is moving eastward.
Amazon is taking over the former Culver Studios, and other big names are moving into the area, Alpaugh noted.
To win citizen support, Culver City implemented the following four community engagement tactics.
#1 Engaging Citizens Online with an Interactive Transit Map
Key for Culver City’s community engagement campaign was engaging citizens online, and it began with a website.
‘How do we get there from here?’ was Culver City’s interactive and engaging TOD visioning plan website,
The intent of this visioning plan is to build on the strengths of the TOD. District, examine area mobility and circulation, and plan for the next decade and beyond of Transit Oriented Development. We want to work with you to establish a comprehensive and effective program of alternative transit and mobility improvements to address first and last mile mobility and local circulation needs.
The main feature — an interactive consultation map tool — was in use through August 2017. It allowed people to drop a pin on the map, post comments and propose solutions with icons to categorize — public transit, cycling, traffic and pedestrian — and give a thumbs up or thumbs down to other comments and solutions.
On May 3, 2017, user DLeblanc3 dropped a transit pin proposing an electric bus route between downtown and the station that got three likes:
there should be a small bus runs from the Metro to downtown Culver City and picks up through out the rout. It would be wonderful if it picked up at Huguera and Lucerne also. If they ran a rout through out the neighborhood to make less cars at Metro station. A run to Hayden track to get people to work and back to metro.” .
By the end of the online community engagement campaign, there were approximately 50 comments and suggestions. They came from residents, those who work in the area and some Los Angeles residents on the other side of the TOD — with both likes and dislikes for solutions proposed.
The city’s TOD visioning plan community engagement site also offered:
- Plan updates and downloadable files for review
- Events information
- A link to videos from workshops
- A direct comment and email update subscription tool
#2 Getting all the TOD Words Out on Social
Since February of 2017, the city “exponentially increased outreach and fostered community input,” according to Shelly Wolfberg, assistant to the city manager in an October 2017 Vision blog.
Culver City uses the company’s tools, creating and posting news stories, website pages related to city projects including the visioning campaign for the TOD District and polls. From February to October, the city increased it’s Facebook reach by 1,253 percent and engagements by 872 percent and Twitter impressions by 228 percent and engagements by 219 percent.
The city used social channels to post information about design community roundtables, workshop videos, plan updates and more:
— City of Culver City (@CulverCityGov) June 13, 2017
The city also used Nextdoor to announce it would present learnings from listening sessions and workshops.
#3 & #4 Listening & Looking at Traffic Through Citizens’ Eyes
Culver City also held a series of workshops to advance the TOD conversation beyond specific neighborhood concerns into larger mobility questions.
The variety of formats addressed issues at whole range of levels,” said Alpaugh.
Between 75 and 100 people showed up for the first four listening sessions, augmenting the city’s online engagement effort. But a dynamic series of “open” workshops offered residents a chance to peel back the layers. About 200 people participated in the following events:
- “Bikeshop” invited cyclists to discuss mobility challenges from their point of view.
- “Walkshop” later in the day explored the Culver City pedestrian’s point of view.
- “TOD Talks” addressed complete streets through a succession of speakers that followed the popular, digestible “TED Talks” format to explain buzzwords and concepts related to the TOD visioning effort.
- The final workshop was a panel presentation of local architects talking about mobility and transportation design issues.
Alpaugh noted Culver City leveraged residents prestigious in these field. “While the discussion became abstract at times, the panel talk elevated the conversation amongst the community,” presenting high-level transportation concepts, said Alpaugh.
In addition to the workshops, Culver City held more intimate focus group meetings for people and groups with specific concerns, selected from the first four listening sessions, and design roundtables with a TOD working group.
Alpaugh acknowledged that while participation numbers “could have been higher,” the process engaged “the right people and the right critical mass.”
No Critical Public Comments for the Visioning Plan
The results of both the research and citizen engagement pieces contributed to final presentation of the study and community engagment effort in November, 2017, Alpaugh said.
“By the time we got to Council, a fairly large number of community constituents came to the council meeting (30-40 or so) there were very few public comments that were critical.”
When Johnson Fain presented, there were no negative comments from the community and there was unanimous approval for the study, according to Alpaugh.
Their voices had been heard,” he said.
Moving TOD Forward
The visioning plan expands the boundaries of Culver City’s TOD District to include commercial properties ripe for development, and establishes in clearer terms:
- Local micro-transit to address first/last mile but also transport employees in high-density areas from transit center and employment centers.
- Neighborhood interference that discourage traffic in some areas — like better pedestrian crossing, improved sidewalks, more stop signs, etc.
- The need for a transportation demand management ordinance as a governing mechanism that would require participation in TOD-wide or city-wide programs to reduce individual automobile use, such as employee public transit incentive programs.
As a result of the study and its 4-part community engagement campaign, Culver City is able to move forward on a number of paths, said Alpaugh.
One might include an on-demand electric microbus, as suggested by a user of the interactive transit map and included in the final report’s Smart City Recommendations.
In principal, there is agreement amongst the residents to proceed,” Alpaugh concluded.
Some transit improvements related to the community engagement campaign, have already begun, such as new bus stop furniture.