Lane closures on Venice Boulevard remain a lightning rod for public discourse

By Gary Walker

A July 11 community meeting about similar traffic lane reductions on Venice Boulevard had residents showing their colors — orange signs in opposition, black signs in support
Photo by Mia Duncans

Separated only by the Small Batch ice cream shop, L.A. Brakeless bicycle shop owner Anna Martin and Venice Grind coffee shop owner Demitrios Mavromichalis have both seen Mar Vista’s once-depressed commercial core morph into a lively downtown area over the past decade.

The two remained cordial neighbors until last May, when city officials launched a controversial reconfiguration of Venice Boulevard that removed one traffic lane in each direction to install protected bike lines between the sidewalk and parking spaces.

Now they barely talk, reflecting broader community division and acrimony surrounding the project.

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who declined to comment for this story, has explained Mar Vista’s road diet as a response to two Garcetti-administration initiatives: the neighborhood-centric Great Streets, which aims to reclaim commuter pass-through zones as pedestrian-friendly public spaces, and Vision Zero, a set of traffic-calming measures in response to rising road fatalities.

At the conclusion of year one, the city is still evaluating traffic safety impacts. But the social impacts are clear: social media posts screaming with vitriol, speculation and personal attacks; a recall campaign against Bonin that hasn’t taken flight but still won’t die; neighbors lining up against neighbors.

Supporters welcome the bike lanes and traffic-calming measures as safety enhancements that encourage people to get out of their cars and actually be a part of the neighborhood. Detractors say lane closures have failed to improve safety but succeeded in increasing commute times and encouraging cut-through traffic on residential streets.

Martin, who likes the additional bicycle lanes, said she no longer talks to Mavromichalis, largely because of his association with the Recall Bonin group.

“I’m glad that I know where he stands so I can stay away from them,” she said.

Mavromichalis says Venice Boulevard merchants have seen a roughly 30% drop in sales since last May, and he fears the worst is yet to some.

“We’re seeing businesses close up and down the boulevard,” he said, citing former Grandview Boulevard restaurant Louie of Mar Vista, the retail operation for local boutique soap-maker Soaptopia, and several others. “A year later, we’re no better; we’re worse.”

At least three Mar Vista Community Council members have resigned over what they describe as threats and innuendo surrounding the ongoing road diet debate.

The lane closures have also emerged as a litmus test of sorts for new community council appointees.

On May 8, board member Michelle Krupkin — a Vision Zero opponent — asked a candidate for a board seat a series of questions, including “what is your position on the road diet” before the vote. In April, she and two other community council members walked out of a meeting after they were unable to muster enough votes for their preferred candidates for open seats.

“This was the most painful and unpleasant experience that I’ve had to go through in my 15-plus years of being on the neighborhood council,” recalled board member Ken Alpern, an outspoken critic of the lane closures who joined Krupkin in the walkout.

Mitchell Rishe, a board member from 2012 until 2016, said it was the most divisive topic that he has seen in Mar Vista. Because of it, he no longer follows the business of his former council colleagues.

“I could not tolerate the bullying, threats and mean-spiritedness coming from the opponents of Vision Zero, which drove some of our best community council leaders to resign,” Rishe said.

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