Mar Vista Community Council decides to stay the course in road diet showdown

By Gary Walker

A sharply divided audience both jeered and cheered L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s continued support for Venice Boulevard
traffic lane reductions
Photo by Roy Persinko

Mar Vista residents opposed to the loss of traffic lanes on Venice Boulevard were dealt a setback on Tuesday night, when after a boisterous public meeting the Mar Vista Community Council voted 10-1 to reject a citizen-driven motion that would have asked the city to reverse the changes.

Opponents of the Great Streets pilot program that moved parking away from the curb to install a protected bike lane have vowed to continue the fight there and in Playa del Rey, where similar lane reductions have triggered widespread commuter backlash.

“I do not like it and I will oppose it to the very end,” vowed David Sumption, an engineer who lives in Mar Vista. “It doesn’t take a genius to design a bottleneck.”

The council meeting at the Mar Vista Recreation Center drew a sharply divided capacity crowd of about 450 people, many lining the walls or crowding into doorways. Those against the lane reductions, many waving bright orange signs that read “Stop the Unsafe Street Project” dominated the left side of the building. On the right, supporters of the traffic-calming measures and protected bike lines — many of them from alternative transportation and sustainability advocacy groups — held up black signs supportive of the citywide Vision Zero campaign to eliminate traffic-related deaths.

While supporting the continuation of the pilot program road diet for as long as a year, council members added a request for traffic studies and surveys as well as data on public safety response times.

Despite widespread complaints of exacerbated traffic congestion causing them longer commute times during the morning and evening rush hour, many on the council concluded it’s just too early to pull the plug on plans that have been in the works for years.

“Great Streets can be really transformative and a great point of pride for our community so I support it,” Mar Vista Community Council Chairman Rob Kadota told the crowd.

Changing the lanes back is “not a solution right now,” added council member Paola Cervantes. “Let’s gather the data so we can have more information.”

Council member Holly Tilson, who represents a western portion of Mar Vista between Beethoven Street and Walgrove Avenue, cast the lone vote in support of undoing the road diet.

“I’m torn,” said Tilson, but “I don’t think creating a bottleneck is the way to have a Great Street.”

The most anticipated speaker of the night was L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose office is spearheading the Great Streets project in Mar Vista.

“I’m not going to hide the ball: There was a clear intent to slow down traffic,” said Bonin, who went on to explain that reducing traffic-related injuries and deaths is the primary objective.

Inundated with complaints about roadway reconfigurations in Playa del Rey, last week Bonin ordered the restoration of a second eastbound traffic lane on Culver Boulevard between Nicholson Street and Jefferson Boulevard.

Though reiterating that he’s open to tweaking road configurations over time, on Tuesday Bonin appeared to be holding firm on Venice Boulevard for now.

Alternately cheered by supporters and booed or even heckled by detractors — some of them shouting “Recall Bonin!” during the meeting — Bonin said he’s heard a lot of support for the new bike lanes on Venice Boulevard. “But I’ve also received homophobic slurs and threats,” he said.

Resident Steve Cohen, who opposes the current reconfiguration of Venice Boulevard, noted the hostility that has dominated the conversation around it.

“The polarization in this room is unnecessary because the engineering is wrong,” he said. “The idea is good, the execution is bad.”

Resident Michael Brodsky called on road diet opponents to consider public safety.

“The defining moment of my childhood was seeing my grandfather hit by a car and later dying of a stroke,” Brodsky said. “I’m for anything that slows down traffic.”

Great Streets aims to make the stretch of Venice Boulevard between Beethoven Street and Inglewood Boulevard safer and more inviting for pedestrians, but some local business owners have complained about declining foot traffic since the implementation of the road diet.

That includes Christine Nichols, who owns the C. Nichols Project art gallery on Venice between Boise and Stewart avenues.

“I’m asking for a more workable solution,” she implored.