The Mar Vista road diet has tempers flaring, but shouting people down only makes things worse

By Damien Newton

The author is a board member of the Mar Vista Community Council and former editor of Streetsblog LA.

The reconfiguration of Venice Boulevard has been the dominant conversation in our community over the past month. At the June 13 meeting of the Mar Vista Community Council (an elected board of volunteers who live in the community), the city made its case for removing two lanes of car and bus traffic in favor of protected bike lanes.

The reaction was fierce. The city’s representatives were jeered and heckled. Many attendees, frustrated by increased traffic congestion since the change, booed and even shouted down anyone who dared to voice support for the changes our even suggest the pilot project test period should go forward.

The following night, the MVCC’s Great Streets Ad-Hoc Committee responded to community concerns by passing a resolution calling for Venice Boulevard to return to its original six-lane configuration. That motion comes before the MVCC Board of Directors at our July 11 meeting.

Currently there are two points of view concerning the project in Mar Vista. The first is that the “road diet” is a pilot project that will last for a year (or two if it’s going well) and should be allowed to run its course. The second is that the changes are so awful that they must be undone immediately.

If you get your news from the Nextdoor social network, you may believe that nobody likes these changes. But if comments on Nextdoor truly reflected what communities believe, the anti-development Measure S would have cruised to approval this March instead of getting crushed by a 2-to-1 margin at the ballot box.

Personally, I have been supportive of the project in the past, writing previews for Streetsblog LA and attending Great Streets meetings held by the neighborhood council before I joined as a board member last summer. I am generally supportive of projects that make streets safer for people who are bicycling or walking, as that is what I am usually doing.

Knowing this issue will remain contentious, I hope that we can come together as neighbors and agree to a set of basic facts so that we can have a productive conversation about the best way forward, instead of repeating the acrimony we saw in June.

First, let’s not romanticize how great Venice Boulevard was before the road diet. Five people died along the one-mile stretch of road, now a focal point of the city’s Great Streets program, in the past decade. There was a significant amount of congestion at rush hour, and the bike lane had a reputation among bike commuters as one of the worst in Los Angeles because of the terrible road conditions.

At the same time, let’s not minimize the bad experiences many commuters are having since the road diet, especially at evening rush hour. My personal experience along this stretch of Venice Boulevard hasn’t been as negative when I’ve driven, biked or walked the street in the morning, but I’m told that congestion is far worse in the evening than at other times of the day.

Supporters of the project, myself included, have posted comments about our experiences on the dieted stretch of road that don’t match the rhetoric against the project that we’re hearing. That many of us are experiencing the project differently is one of the reasons we should be approaching discussions of the project’s benefits and downsides as neighbors with differing points of view.

Next, let’s agree that protected bike lanes aren’t some wild idea cooked up in downtown Los Angeles; they are a road design that has worked around the country and throughout the world to make streets safer for all. Maybe they’ll work here and maybe they won’t, but it’s not as though the city created a strange new design concept out of thin air.

This isn’t to say the current road design is perfect. Confusion about how drivers and passengers with disabilities can safely exit their vehicles and cross the protected bike lane to the sidewalk remains a serious concern. And some small business owners have expressed frustration that the design makes it more difficult for customers to get to their shops and restaurants.

But many of the people that have worked on the project, be they volunteers or professionals, have received their share of criticism. Much of this criticism has, sadly, become personal in nature.

Thanks to my previous job covering transportation and development in the city for StreetsblogLA, I’ve had a chance to get to know Jessie Holzer of Councilman Mike Bonin’s office and Carter Rubin of the mayor’s Great Streets program as professionals and people. I can tell you that both believe their work will make our communities safer and more attractive places to live, work and play. You may not share their vision — you may even think they are crazy — but they are hard-working and dedicated to what they’re doing.

Lastly, I hope we can agree that a recall campaign against Mike Bonin is a gigantic waste of time and resources that could be better spent. Bonin was re-elected a couple of months ago with over 70% of the vote, three times more than his closest opponent. He’s not going to lose a recall campaign, but the time and effort spent on such a Quixotic venture would surely divide the community and take our focus away from tackling issues to benefit all of us — such as improving the Great Streets plan for Venice Boulevard.

No matter how the board’s vote goes on July 11, this should not be the end of the conversation about Venice Boulevard. Four lanes or six (and I suspect it will be four lanes for the next year), I think we can all agree there’s more work to be done toward making this Great Street work well for all of us.

Visit lagreatstreets.org/venice for more information about the project and marvista.org to contact the Mar Vista Community Council.

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