The reconfiguration of Playa del Rey streets has a purpose: saving lives

By L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin

Brigitte Burdine was killed by a speeding car on Culver Boulevard

Brigitte Burdine had a heart of gold. Her friends called her “a mother to everyone” and “our shoulder, our rock.” She came to L.A. to break into the entertainment industry and found her calling as a voice casting director. But it was Brigitte’s tremendous love and concern for others that set her apart.

She frequently hosted voiceover training workshops where she met and mentored young talent. When a close friend was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Brigitte brought the neighborhood together for a fundraiser to help with the medical bills. She was still planning that fundraiser when, shortly after Christmas Day in 2010, she was struck and killed by a speeding car on Culver Boulevard.

Too many lives have been lost like Brigitte’s on the streets of Playa del Rey. People you might have known: Marc Schacter. Michael Lockridge. Naomi Larsen. And Jack Tawardy, a beloved neighborhood cobbler. Dozens more have been seriously injured by speeding cars.

The devastating loss of a loved one to a traffic collision is not a rare occurrence in our city. In fact, it is the No. 1 cause of death for children under 14 in Los Angeles. These tragic stories are too often forgotten, and in some cases cruelly and intentionally dismissed.

Since the reconfiguration of major throughways in Playa del Rey, I have received many emails — mostly from the South Bay — describing collision victims as “ignorant” and “too stupid to use a crosswalk.” I’ve received social media comments from beach cities residents suggesting periodic deaths and severe injuries are an acceptable cost of their unfettered commutes through Playa del Rey. I categorically reject those statements.

I know we can do better. We don’t need to sacrifice another mother or child to make way for as many speeding cars as we can jam through our neighborhoods. Instead, we can solve this problem. And in Playa del Rey, neighbors have been working with my office for years to address the dangerous conditions on our neighborhood streets.

A few weeks ago, the city started working on two separate but related projects to improve safety in Playa del Rey. First, crews re-striped Vista Del Mar to move parking to the west side of the road and to remove travel lanes as a way of preventing crashes like the one that killed Naomi Larsen there in 2015. Then, crews re-striped and narrowed Culver Boulevard, Jefferson Boulevard and Pershing Drive to add bike lanes and make the street safer for all who use it — especially pedestrians.

The traffic slowed, in some cases more so than was anticipated, and the calls and emails to my office began. There are neighbors in Playa del Rey who appreciate the efforts to create safer streets. There are others who feel trapped in or locked out of their neighborhoods. Both groups have legitimate points, and I want you to know that I’m listening and that I’m working to fix it.

The re-surfacing and re-striping are now completed, so traffic should begin to improve now that crews are done working. Also, some of the traffic we are experiencing now will ease over time as commuters grow more accustomed to the new configuration. But I don’t want to wait for that to happen before considering additional ways to improve the situation. So, at my direction, city departments have begun developing options for relieving traffic while preserving safety on the street and, once ready, we’ll bring those to you for your feedback.

While exploring these improvements, we’ll continue to get more input so we can continue making our streets safe and efficient in a way that works for Playa del Rey. But I want to be clear about something: My responsibility is to my constituents. My responsibility is to keep Playa del Rey and those who live here safe. My obligation is to provide for the residents of Playa del Rey the safe, vibrant and inviting downtown area that they’ve yearned for, much like Manhattan Beach has with Highland Avenue, or Culver City has with Culver and Washington boulevards, or Venice has with Abbot Kinney Boulevard. We should never buy into the notion that convenience is worth endangering lives.

With respect to our friends in the South Bay — many of whom have made clear they would rather see a four-lane highway traverse Playa del Rey — I refuse to solve their 405 Freeway traffic problem on the backs of the people I represent. I will not risk the lives of those who live here or visit here in order to provide a convenient cut-through for their commute to Santa Monica or Marina del Rey. And I can’t, in good conscience, give in to people who are aggressively anti-Playa del Rey — including those now objecting to city efforts to repave Playa del Rey streets as some intolerable “final straw.”

But if anyone anywhere has constructive ideas about how to keep people safe on our streets while minimizing impacts to traffic, I have always and I will always welcome that discussion. Our region is home to some of the most brilliant people on Earth, and I believe strongly that by bringing smart, concerned minds together, we can solve almost any problem. We can have safe streets and minimal impacts to commuters. We just need to come together to improve on the progress we’ve made.

Not everyone will agree with every part of this, but as long as we are all working toward a common goal — safe and inviting neighborhood streets that minimize traffic— we can make Playa del Rey an even more vibrant community.


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