Draconian traffic lane reductions in Playa del Rey and Mar Vista aren’t making neighborhoods any healthier or safer, they’re enabling the next tragedy

By John Russo, Jordanna Thigpen and Brooke Eaton

The authors are community organizers in Playa del Rey, Venice and Playa Vista affiliated with KeepLAMoving.com, formed in opposition to traffic lane reductions in Playa del Rey and Mar Vista.

Traffic reconfiguration opponents have plastered signs like this one (on Highland Avenue) throughout
Playa del Rey, Westchester and Manhattan Beach
Photo by Joe Piasecki

In last week’s issue of The Argonaut, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin justified his newly implemented “road diets” with an insulting diatribe about rich commuters from outside of our communities using our residential streets as highways. The truth is that Bonin’s “road diets” are wildly unpopular with his constituents and he refuses to admit it. He is replacing arterial lanes with bike lanes and parking on the premise that safety and commute times are mutually exclusive. Rather than objectively looking at facts, data and the numerous solutions that can truly make our streets safer, Bonin is misrepresenting details and using divisive rhetoric to force his personal ideals on us.

As part of the grassroots coalition fiercely opposing this injustice, we have a message for Councilman Bonin, which we bring from tens of thousands of residents of Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Westchester, Venice, Marina del Rey, Culver City and Mar Vista: We are opposed to these road diets! We are the people who live with the increased congestion, increased pollution and longer commute times to and from work every day. It is our voices you refuse to acknowledge. It is our experiences you callously dismiss as hysterical and hyperbolic. You seem to have gone into hiding since implementing the changes, refusing to take calls from people who oppose your view. You even delete or block negative posts from your social media feeds. You send assistants to public events to take the flak, and ignore the fact that there are many less draconian ways for bikes, pedestrians and
cars to safely co-exist.

We challenge you to come to our neighborhoods and meet the patient who couldn’t make it to a critical doctor appointment, the hourly employee who lost her job, and the single mother who had to pay an extra $200 for childcare last week. Look them in the eyes and tell them they are having irrational emotional reactions to the new lane configurations. Come to Culver and Venice boulevards and talk to the business owners who’ve been trying to get a meeting with you. Listen as they say they may lose their businesses, their livelihoods, because sales are down as much as 25%, then tell them they are overstating the problem. Are you deaf to the impact you’ve had on hourly workers who use the affected streets? These individuals punch a clock and get paid for every minute at work. Their employers and coworkers depend on them being on time. How many people will lose their jobs because of your lane reductions?

And let’s not forget the most important users of these roads: first responders. Every second counts when police and fire departments drive to an emergency. Even seconds lost navigating the gridlock you’ve created can mean the difference between life and death. Why haven’t the lives that could be lost due to longer emergency response times been considered? And what gave you the right to essentially disable the Area G Tsunami Evacuation route?

Councilman, if you were really trying to prevent tragic deaths, such as the ones you have exploited over and over again in your communications, why didn’t you do something back in 2013? You visited Vista Del Mar then — two years before Naomi Larsen’s death — and identified it as a high-priority area for pedestrian safety improvements. You saw the LADOT proposal to install additional lighting and crosswalks, along with medians, barriers and “No Ped X-ing” signs. Still, you took no action. Repeated failures to follow traffic engineers’ recommendations put the city on the hook for $9.5 million. You now use Ms. Larsen’s death to justify your scheme, yet you wouldn’t testify at her lawsuit and face the family that lost their daughter as a result of the city’s negligence. Furthermore, the accidents you cite all took place at night (three out of four after midnight) on poorly lit roads without safe crosswalks. Your lane reductions would not have changed those conditions, which is why road diets are notably not among the DOT’s recommendations.

You say you want our streets to be safe. Yet on Culver alone we’ve counted 13 accidents in the past three weeks. Considering the six accidents per year
you cite to justify your plan, that’s shocking. How many more people must risk serious injury before you admit your “pilot program” is a failure? The sad fact is the “safety improvements” you have championed will not prevent the next tragedy. They’ve shortened the time until one happens again.

There are solutions that could go a long way toward improving safety and traffic flow for everyone. Your office and the DOT have been flooded with suggestions that include removing the parking on Vista Del Mar (there’s ample lot parking to assuage the California Coastal Commission), reducing the speed limits, adding lighted cross-walks, and installing green bike lanes on non-arterial roads. These are just some of the many low-cost improvements that can benefit all stakeholders.

You may envision a utopian future in which everyone rides bicycles everywhere. But that isn’t the reality of life for people with children, the elderly and the disabled, to mention just a few. L.A. doesn’t yet have the public transportation infrastructure to support the carless future you dream about. Mass transit is what your office should focus on, and we will stand with you if you do. We live and work on the Westside, and we know it is possible to meet the needs of commuters and enhance safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. Admit you made a mistake and restore our car lanes now. And restore our confidence in your judgment and leadership.